Saturday, June 25, 2011

Day 18: 6/22/11...seck-see WOO-mahn?

     Prepare for the most epic day of the trip. So much to remember. To start with, this is the day where I was at the highest altitude of my life (with my feet on the ground). 12,800 feet. I don’t know if I’ll ever be at that height again.

     Cusco is surrounded by Inca Ruins. There are a set of 4 connected by a road that goes right up one of the mountains that surround the city. So that was the plan for the day – to get dropped off at the top and walk down past each of them. It’s about a 45 minute drive up, and the taxi cost me all of 5 bucks!

     The top ruin, Tambomachay, seemed to be pretty interesting, but small. It was in a nice location with running streams and amazing views. There were some paths leading away from the paved areas. Some of them said “Don’t Enter” (I supposed) but some didn’t. None of the paths looked official, but the fact that some were marked as forbidden and some weren’t made me curious. So I started off on one.
     Let me say – usually I follow laws and rules pretty obediently. I also don’t really consider myself a risk taker at all. But something about a path – especially one that appears to not be well-traveled, drags me forward and around the bend. It’s a vice that I’m not sorry I have. But if someone wanted to kill me, a mysterious path and a trap would be all that it takes.
     Over the first hill, after looking back to see if anyone was pointing and about to say “Hey!”, I saw an Inca ruin built into the cliff wall in the distance. Now it was a done deal, and I set out.

     I kept telling myself that if there’s a path, someone must walk on it regularly, and there’s no sign saying not to take it, then it’s all cool. But really I knew I wasn’t supposed to be doing this.

     For the most part the path stayed pretty easy to follow. It was only about a foot wide or so, and hugged some steep sections of the hillside. There was tons of llama poop – so I started to wonder – is this path used and or created by people? Or just a track that llamas like to follow? But every once in a while I’d see a human shoe print in the dust to keep me confident enough.

     There were squared-off sections of land but nothing planted in them. But it didn’t take me long to see that the ruins I wanted to get to were on the opposite side of a valley and stream. So I started to look, in vain, for a path that would head down to the stream and hopefully a bridge.

     I started hitting some dead ends, and some paths that faded off, as well as those that seemed to go up instead of down. During one of these retracing of my steps, I heard: “baa-aa-aa”. I looked ahead and saw a shepherd dressed in Inca clothing with a herd of sheep, on this thin path about half a mile away and heading towards me.

     A terrible spectrum of dooms opened up before my mind: I would soon be dodging gun shots after being mistaken for a poacher. / The guy would go get the cops. / The llamas would drive me off the mountain. / I would drive the llamas off the mountain and I’d owe him a llama herd. / It was his land and I was trespassing and I’d have to marry his ugliest daughter. I looked despondently at the still distant ruins and turned tail, crouching as I double-timed it back down the path.

     I just couldn’t give it up, though. There had to be some way across the stream to the ruin which was now on my way back but tantalizingly across the stream. I saw something similar to a bridge but couldn’t see how to get down to the path below that went to it and across to the other side. So I decided to head cross country to it.

     There was just some grassy slope to go down. No big deal. Except SLIP. Didn’t realize it was wet. Some mud is just “Eww, my shoe’s dirty” and some mud is “Here we go down the mountain in brown butter!” This was the 2nd kind. I was just hurtling down on my ass with no hope of stopping until I just did. Well, I was closer to the stream, but now not fit to be seen in public. And also covered in evidence of my unsanctioned explorations.

     There was nothing to do but sludge ahead. I was on the other side, though, and closing in on my goal. The shepherd behind was nowhere to be seen, so I supposed that I was OK. But then I see llamas coming from the other direction! It was like a special force of livestock was tightening up a perimeter around me in a cruel game of cat and mouse.

     I decided I would try to lay low, holding my tripod which – it suddenly occurred to me – might look like a gun from a distance. But very quickly there was a pissed off border collie flying up the hill right at me, barking and yapping and growling at me. It stopped a few yards away and looked down the hill, still barking as he did. I followed his gaze, and he was looking down at his masters, who were on the opposite hill and taking no apparent notice of me.

     The dog was basically keeping between me and the livestock – so I believed that as long as I stood still, and the shepherds didn’t sic the dog on me, I would be OK. He was a pretty well trained dog after all! Once the herd passed, he rejoined them, and I moved cautiously on. But after a couple minutes, I realized I’d left my tripod back there. I went back to get it and the dog started after me again. But the herd was far enough away that he didn’t feel the need to come back the whole way, I guess.

     Finally, covered in mud from the waist down, my secret mission exposed by a border collie, I came upon the Inca hideout. There wasn’t a whole lot to it at all. But it was ancient, and I wasn’t supposed to be there, but I was. So I felt pretty good about the whole thing. Mostly because I was the only foreigner in sight. No other tourists had dared to embark on this quest – comfortable on their air conditioned buses and having brochures read to them by guides – brochures which probably didn’t include my private Inca fort. My muddy butt was a badge of honor!

     It was pretty simple to get back to the “official” part of the ruin site. Luckily, the way I came back allowed me to skip past the guard station in the front, so I didn’t have to catch any hassle from The Man. Another good thing about it was that I got to see the main ruin from a different angle, and I could see the jealous faces of the bus riders. “Hey! Howcum HE gets to be on that side?”

     I also was able to walk through a regular-people village. It was a little impoverished but not really that bad. They seemed to find me a little out of place.

     I sat down to have some water and granola bars, and was visited by a timid and hungry dog. I shared my granola bars with him and we had a good chat.

     Along came a Swedish or German woman who appeared to have her own personal Peruvian guy. I couldn’t tell if he was her guide or just someone she hired to carry her stuff around. She was the first of many to ask about my pants and to have a laugh about it. She had pants worth discussing as well, but the man/mule might have also been hired to repel unwanted attention.

     Right down the street was the second ruin site, called Pukapukara. I really am usually curious about the history of these sites, but the fact that I couldn’t read the signs and wouldn’t get any info without a guide sort of freed me up to use my imagination. I could pretend I was an explorer who stumbled upon these ruins with no previous knowledge available to explain them.

Some of the young girls had some questions for me:

“My pants? Yes. Slipped in the mud. Slid down the hill. Yup, it’s pretty funny.”

     After exploring a bit, it was time to walk down the mountain toward ruin 3, Sacsaywaman. I was soon joined by a really friendly local guy, and we tried to converse despite the language difference. The gist of it was this:

“My pants? Yes. Slipped in the mud. Slid down the hill. Yup, it’s pretty funny.”

     I stopped at the side of the road to get a water from a lady with a stand. After buying the bottle I said:

“My pants? Yes. Slipped in the mud. Slid down the hill. Yup, it’s pretty funny.”

     Finally I met someone who wasn’t quite as interested in my pants. Walking down the mountain, I pass this kid – about ten or eleven – lying in the grass and singing something. It was hard to tell if he was hiding behind a bush or just using it for shade. As I neared, he rolled up. I was just intending to say hi and move on, but he started talking to me. He gestured toward Cusco and said a word that sounded like Cusco, but I don’t think it was “Cusco”. But I said “Mm hm. Cusco”. He tried again. No comprende. No habla. Then he says, “You like seck-see WOO-mahn?” WHAT?

     Like I said, this kid is like ten or eleven, just lying in the grass by the side of the road near a farm house. I wasn’t prepared for a PIMP! He asked again and I said, no, gracias. Then he said “You want horse?” and gestured to some horses tied up nearby. Still surprised, I was thinking, “I hope he’s not suggesting…..” I just backed away slowly and kept on moving downhill.

     While I was still processing all that, I passed this teenage guy who was definitely hiding behind a bush, lying on his stomach. I turned to say “Hola”. He just kept on glaring off into space and didn’t say anything or look my way. I had a definite feeling that I had just escaped something being set up between the teen and the kid. For the next half mile I kept doing quick spin moves to catch anyone trying to follow me.

     With Tambomachay and Pukapukara being right next to each other, Sacsaywaman sure seemed like a long long way. I finally reached the sign for it and followed the road it pointed to. It didn’t seem like there was much traffic, and I found out soon enough that the road had collapsed from flooding or something a while back. So this particular route was closed to cars and tour buses and only open to horses and to cool guys hiking down the mountain.

     I was also able to get more of a feel of local Peruvian life by walking through the small neighborhood that the road cut through. I got to Sacsaywaman, which is one of the biggest Inca sites in the Cusco region. It was pretty darn impressive. When I paid to get in, a brief discussion with the guard resulted in:

“My pants? Yes. Slipped in the mud. Slid down the hill. Yup, it’s pretty funny.”

     I spent a long time at Sacsaywaman taking pictures and admiring the construction of the place. Again, not really knowing what the significance of anything was, I tried to guess at what grisly things went on there. I don’t believe in such things, but I did imagine I could feel a terrible energy coming from the place.

     It was around this point that I started to realize that I was getting sun burnt pretty bad. I also was dehydrated and exhausted. So I laid down in the shade of a wall and closed my eyes for a while. People thought it was weird, but at least they couldn’t comment on my pants.

     I explored the site more before it closed, and then started down towards Cusco. The main road continued the way I’d gone, but I came across a cobblestone walkway instead. Before getting there, though, I had to pass through a gauntlet of frenzied salesladies trying to nail their last sale. I’m pretty sure I could have haggled them down to: “Just take the piece of crap so I don’t have to haul the damn thing down the mountain and back up for the thousandth time.”

     Down the path was a little kid who spread his arms and signaled for me to take his picture. I said no but he insisted. Damn. I fell for that stupid trap. Some of the capitalists down here wait for you or lure you into taking their picture and then tell you that you have to pay them. The kid seemed to be alone so I didn’t think it would happen, but right away Mom appears with her hand out. Fortunately, I was totally out of money so she had to settle for a few pennies.

“My pants? Yes. Slipped in the mud. Slid down the hill. Yup, it’s pretty funny.”

     By the time I reached town it was dark enough so that people couldn’t see my pants quite as much. As I trudged down the thin cobblestone streets, I heard – for the 2nd time that day - “You like seck-see WOO-mahn?”

     No – not the same kid. A little older. But what the hell? Yes, I am in the market for a girlfriend – the free version, though.

     Back in the main square, commerce was still flourishing. I think I figured out a defense mechanism against aggressive trinket saleswomen. I’m going to bring a few trinkets of my own – like tiny statues of liberty – and offer to trade for whatever they’re selling. Then just make absurd requests for better trades. I also need some cheap art prints to offer to the many eager artists. Probably something that an artist should know but a con man wouldn’t – like Georgia O’Keefe, or someone.

     After returning to the hotel, I ordered some pizza. A box featuring Ron Jeremy’s face on it soon arrived and destroyed my digestive system.

     After eating, I started to have to deal with some serious sun poisoning. Chills along with fevery feeling, nausea along with thirst, etc. It really sucked. But it was such a good and adventurous day that I couldn’t let it end on a sour note.

1 comment:

  1. We can't wait!!!!, We are at the Lola house and waiting for your update!!!!!!!