A large table knelt on the immediate righthand side in the old stone outbuilding. Strewn rocks, chopped branches and chicken shit decorate the space. The windows, partially open, are a blend of sticks latched together operating as windbreakers, offering only imagined privacy. A plastic dining cloth adorns the table, its chequered design once glossy now faded, has been darkened by mud and other miscellaneous debris. Sitting uncomfortably, the seven of us congregate in what feels like a brooding and unhealthy silence. Not the type akin to exhaustion, rather a silence of words unsaid.
A conversation quickly ensues about adjusting the pace of the group and a potential reordering of the pack. I can see that I am partially to blame; an inability to hang back and a masochistic tendency to want to punish myself through over exertion means that I rarely stop for others.The understanding that we all share the same goal is met by the realisation that we all have varying requirements, ideas and wishes. The two planes clearly don’t align and group cohesion and synergy feel more and more evasive. I feel somewhat dubious that this fantasy trek I’ve conjured in my mind’s eye is going to be easy to follow.
After a typically heavy Peruvian breakfast of eggs, rice and chips we set off attempting to instigate the micro adjustments needed to find equilibrium between the seven. I fend off any notion about retiring to the rear and end up near the front once more.
Gathering food in Marampata we are under the impression it might be the last place to buy provisions before Yanama, some two days from now. The question of potentially hiring a mule to carry the bulk of our weight is flaunted once more like a pair of dirty old knickers.
I am initially conflicted with the same issue as before. Holding dear the trip I intended I am vehemently against having an animal aid our trek, believing it to be a cop-out. I sit obstinate, hanging on to my opinion as if it were the root of an oak and I a man latched to its barky extremities, dangling precariously over a mountain ravine. The group once more is divided, four for and three against hiring a mule to carry our resources to Maizal.It is fruitless to contest and idiotic to remain a roadblock to the majorities wishes. There is an insular feeling that the vague plans I intended are no longer going to be implemented and an odd, confused sense of loss sharpens in my mind. I grasp them for a moment longer in the same way you would your third child, there is a sense of devotion, though it is not the end of the world if you were to drop them.
Realising I could lean on ethical reasons as a vegetarian who holds all the conviction of a vegan (without the action) I could fan the animal cruelty factor once more like a lit paper bag. Though as it would happen, in a starved state, I would later eat tuna that night with the rest of the group, illustrating my seemingly flippant morals and showcasing that when one moral infliction occurs the rest come tumbling down like a poorly erected wall.
The provisions are procured and the trek continues by carving around the side of the valley on the path etched into the mountains. Paying entrance fees some kilometres before Choquequirao it becomes evident that there is an opportunity to stay in the Inca ruins themselves opposed to the campsite, which is situated some 300m below.
We stand together on the apex of the ridge, our bags hidden at the initial passage way where you entre, staring out at Choquequirao. The ruins are perched ominously on the apex of the mountain, steeped in verdant vegetation that encircles the area, we are caught by their beauty, care and precision. It is difficult to conceive of the people and their lives lived here.
Exhausted after our hiking and the constant jarring deliberations, we spend the time walking around the archaeological site with no more than a dozen other trekkers who have made the distance here. The fecund jungle entraps the space and we feel so isolated from the world, clung to the ridge of these proud Andean mountains.
Watching the sunset we allow the small group to leave before promptly erecting our tents in amongst the old quadrant of the buildings, which offer shelter from the wind. The feeling is immense. We sit and talk, make dinner and admire a situation and opportunity that would not have been possible in Machu Picchu for over 40 years. The journey here is definitely testing, and we ponder just how long this site will remain so untouched. With dialogue of a cable cart to be established at the base of the ruins in the not so distant future, Peru’s expanding tourism might swallow this place up
By Liam McGuckin