Saturday, 26 January 2008

First steps on the trail

The persistent pitter patter of the rain on the dome of our tent and the hoods of our jackets was to become the soundtrack to our Incan Odyssey. Over four days we covered 45km, along lush green valleys, up impossibly steep steps, past cascading waterfalls and cloud forest vegetation. Our ultimate destination was the eponymous Machu Picchu, the religious centre of the Incan civilisation. However, as with all treks, the destination was only the culmination of an incredible journey.

The first day's trekking flattered to deceive. Bathed in sunshine, with hard dusty trails underfoot, the going was good. After two hours of undulating trekking we stopped in a shaded valley, by a babbling brook for lunch. My experience of trekking food is squashed cheese, crackers and the odd chocolate bar by the side of the trail. This lunch, and all the meals to follow, were a world away from that. A large mess tent with canvas stools and linen table cloths became our culinary retreat after long hours on the trail. Three course meals of fresh fruit, meat and vegetables, prepared by an industrious cohort of chefs and porters, were as good as we've eaten on our trip so far.

Around 4pm we reached our camp for the night. Located at the foot of the valley that leads up to Dead Woman's Pass and directly below a set of Incan remains, our tents were ready and waiting for us on arrival. After a brief cup of Coca tea and a change of clothes, we headed up to the village to watch the porters playing football. To one side of the pitch, amongst the remains, a small group of local children were playing football and climbing on the walls. What was a site of cultural interest to the many trekkers, was the local playground for the kids. The next hour or so was spent playing football with the kids and showing them photos and video of themselves. Unlike the kids in the cities there was no ulterior motive in their playfulness; no "one photo, one Sole" or "one caramello Meester", just the infectious giggles from seeing themselves on video.

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