16.11.2010 - 26.12.2010
One of my favourite Buddhist poems is called An Autobiography in Five Chapters. It describes someone who walks down a street and continues to fall in the same hole in the sidewalk. It is an analogy of the human tendency to make the same mistake over and over until eventually managing to avoid it. Eventually, the person sees the hole in the sidewalk and walks around it, and in the last chapter they walk down a different street. It’s funny how sometimes, just when you feel like you are growing wiser and more enlightened, something happens which brings you back down to earth and makes you realise how far you still have to go.
Since leaving the animal park, where I spent nearly 3 months volunteering in Bolivia, I have taken every opportunity to have some down time and recharge. As fun as my time there was, I felt pretty burnt out and out of balance when I left. When I arrived in Cusco I purposely chose a quiet hostel, booked myself into a private room, and made a conscious effort not to meet people (which probably sounds strange, but to me it was absolute bliss and just what I needed). I returned to eating lunch everyday in the central market and interacting with the locals there, catching up on my much missed fruit shakes, and devouring the rest of my book. I tried to do yoga and meditation most mornings and could feel myself coming back to more of a zen state.
One of the things I was also keen to do was to get back into trekking in the wilderness. So I organized to do the 5 day Salkantay trek to Machu Picchu (prounouced ‘machu piKCHu’, meaning ‘old peak’, as appose to ‘machu piCHu’, meaning ‘old penis’). The trek was fantastic. We hiked about 8 hours per day, climbed 4600mts above sea level to see the enormous, snow covered Salkantay mountain, and then headed into the jungle. We visited Machu Picchu on the last day and it completely exceeded my expectations. Its huge size and large degree of preservation make it so impressive and fascinating, and the mountains and valleys that surround it are incredibly beautiful. The fact that the city is perched right on the peak of a huge mountain, feels like you’re hovering above the earth with your head in the clouds.
Despite enjoying every minute of the trek, it was long and hard and by the end of it I felt tired. After waking up at 3am in the morning on the last day to hike up the 1800 steps to the entrance of Machu Picchu, and only arriving back into Cusco at midnight that night, I was spent. I had no energy left for sentimental goodbyes to the group and just headed for the closest taxi and straight to bed. The next morning I woke feeling pretty worn. But I did some yoga and meditation, and finished off with my usual mantras of ‘wishing myself to be calm and free from anger’. After a glimpse of inner serenity, I felt psychologically armoured to tackle the day and do the things I needed to do.
First on my to-do-list was returning the rental gear to the rental shop, with my Austrian friend, Miguel, who I had hired the gear with. We were feeling a bit nervous about going back because one of Miguel’s rented hiking boots had fallen apart during Day 2 of the trek, and we were not sure how the owner, an overweight, hot blooded, Eastern European man, whose shady character was obvious from the beginning, was going to take it. Things proceeded rather well until, as we had anticipated, Miguel brought up the issue with the boot. The owner refused to take any responsibility over the faulty shoe and started demanding that Miguel pay to get it fixed, refusing to give him back his deposit until he did. Things escalated quickly from there with the owner refusing to listen to a word Miguel was saying, but rather shouting to his face “fix my shoe” at the top of his voice. Suddenly I felt my patience run out and I started yelling too, telling him that he was so obviously in the wrong by renting a faulty product and how could he not recognise that. Somehow the boot ended up in my hands and with the tension and fighting having reached epic levels I decided I would show him what I thought of his shoe and threw it out onto the street. The act certainly worked in terms of shock value as he didn’t really know what to do then. After that he refused to give us any of our deposits back for any of the gear we rented off him, so I explained that if he was going to act that way, we were entitled to keep the gear we rented (which was two sleeping bags). I then proceeded to rip out his copy of our invoice from his book (“remove anything he could use as potentially incriminating evidence”, was what was running through my mind). Seconds later, Miguel and I stormed out of the shop still grasping our sleeping bags, with both parties exchanging mutual threats to call the police. In the end, we decided to head straight back to the hostel, rather than to the police station, and just leave the whole situation. He had made a decent sale on some sleeping bags and we were happy with the exchange.
On the way back were still both pumped with adrenaline but couldn’t help entering into a fit of laughter. Both of us continued to laugh out loud when we thought about it for the rest of the day. “Who throws a shoe?” was my friend’s response when I retold the story that night at dinner. But although I could laugh about it instantly and forget about it within a day or two, I was certainly reminded of how unfree from anger, and unenlightened I still am.
Apart from this crazy incident, I really enjoyed my time in Cusco. As well as some much needed solitude, I also ended up meeting some very nice people there, and enjoyed a couple of good dinners and drinks with them. The trek was great and Machu Picchu was a definite highlight of my trip. I found the best hot chocolates in all of South America in Jack’s café, loved the local food that I tried – especially the cerviche, and pisco sours became my new favourite cocktail.
And though I momentarily found myself in a familiar hole in the sidewalk, I managed to get out quickly, and can reassure myself that I often manage to walk around it. Hopefully one day, I’ll walk down a different street.