Unshaven, sweaty, thirsty; a walk through the Andes.
We had been walking for days. We passed breathtaking scenery and ancient Incan ruins without admiring as much of their beauty as a few days ago. The pain in our thighs and the thinner air was making the journey less charming. We stank of sweat. We contemplated breaking a finger, an ankle, nothing life threatening but just something that meant a helicopter would come end our sufferings by dramatically swooshing us off the top of the Andes. To add to our self loathing, every once in a while, porters would run passed us with kilos of equipment on their backs making it look stupidly effortless. We stood there breathing heavily trying to look noble. As we hiked up, I started creating silly fairy tales and recounting them to my friend hoping it would keep her mind off the fact that I had gotten her into this. There was still a chance we’d make it to the end.
I was already getting nervous when I heard him complimenting me on my hiking skills, which was a load of rubbish as I had fallen three times for no apparent reason just this day and I was red and puffing whenever I got to the night camp.
The Inca Trail. 4 days walking parts of the ancient Incan road leading to the mysterious Machu Picchu. I had been planning this for months. By planning, I mean emailing the tour company and paying them took quite a few months. And it only took so long because I messed up the trip dates and so they had to reapply for all the permits probably while voicing a few Spanish insults. I did actually try training for the hike but got bored and stopped some time before we came out here.
Our guide on this seemingly great yet arduous adventure was a Peruvian tourism graduate of about 35. Even though he had finished his studies something like 10 years back, you could tell he was very proud of it. He brought tourists up this trail every week and had been doing so for years. His flat was in Cusco but he was never home. I spoke with him a lot and laughed at his anecdotes about previous hikers. One woman, he said, chain-smoked the whole time. She didn’t make it very far. One of the porters had to put her on his back and carry her down the trail at top speed while she was choking on her coughs. When I think back now, I see he mistook my friendliness for something more.
So came our last night before reaching the site. We were about to go meet the other hikers for a celebratory drink when he asked to speak with me in private. I told my friend to go up ahead naively thinking he might want to mention tips we owed them when we reached destination. They were all very uncomfortable when it came to money talk.
He started walking in the very dark woods and because I am trusting, I followed. After all, we had been sleeping alone in the middle of the Andes with these guys for days. He finally stopped and I sat and waited. I was already getting nervous when I heard him complimenting me on my hiking skills, which was a load of rubbish as I had fallen three times for no apparent reason just this day and I was red and puffing whenever I got to the night camp.
– “I really want to kiss you,” I heard him whisper.
My head was already shaking from side to side before he finished his sentence. It was completely involuntary. My brain had suddenly decided to understand what was happening. Problem was he couldn’t see all this because we were standing in pitch darkness. He was holding the only flashlight and it was turned off. I think he had been expecting the reaction. I shuddered at the thought of the kiss.
– “You could stay with me,” he continued.
– “Where?” I asked stupidly still hoping I was misunderstanding the situation.
– “In Peru. In Cusco. You could stay.”
The proposal was sweet yet creepy. He was more than 10 years my elder and not a handsome man. I shut my mind to the little voice telling me he had probably made this proposal many times before. Surely, at one point a lovely hiker would have agreed to a passionate moment with her tour guide just to be forever separated the following day and came home with a dramatic tale of heartbreak. I, instead, decided it was time to get back and started stumbling in the darkness looking for the way we had come. As he realized my panic, the flashlight switched on. I followed it back.
I sat next to my friend, grabbed a glass of wine and downed it. Interrogation was splattered all over her face. He had this sad expression. I am embarrassed to say that later this night before falling asleep, lying in my tent, I did consider what it would be like living in beautiful Cusco and having a husband come home once a month. I shook the idea away quickly. Next morning the memory was so ridiculous it was already fuzzy. Maybe that was just grogginess from all the wine we ended up drinking. The sunrise was up ahead. Only a few more hours walk, I thought slightly hung-over.