It wasn't like this on the website

Undefined shapes emerged from a night’s restlessness, their damp sleeping bags not softened by emaciated sleeping mats, their tousled heads wondering why this four day trek in Peru had seemed like a good idea when they booked it.

The website promised us a hearty breakfast. We each looked at what was called an omelette, because it was made with eggs, but there was no name for the gobbets of grease glinting in the light of our head torches.

No way out. A linear walk.

We were 13 individuals, including 6 demob happy students with their 12-pack of toilet rolls that had not fitted into their rucksacks. For them the concept of “Time” was for losers who worked. “We leave at 7 o’clock” was not even a song title they recognised.

It wasn’t like this on the website, but I was here, not on the website. It was before dawn at Soray Pampa with 22km to go today. Yes this was a memorable trek. That much I agreed with the website. It was also my long-planned for holiday in Peru. I would not be coming this way again, so I needed to get my silver lining machine into gear. I needed to find some positives. This was only the morning of Day 2.

I was walking in the Andes, on the Salkantay trek, aiming to reach my highest ever altitude at 4,600metres. I put one foot in front of the other, composing ever more grumpy emails.

“You said.” Stomp. Walking pole slips a bit on the loose gravel.

“I got.” Stomp. Second walking pole planted more aggressively.

“You promised”. Second walking pole planted too aggressively and slightly wedged, so needs to be pulled out. I lose the rhythm of my stride, and of my irritation as I notice a small white flower, tucked in the lee of a pathside rock, flowering with a smile, in a far more difficult terrain than that of a tourist mis-sold a four day walk.

The gap between sweeping vistas of well-equipped expectation and the reality of “bring your own and do it yourself” opened up somewhere between the links in the chain: company in England, their associates in Peru, actual cook and guide making a living from people passing through their country.

Stomp. Irritated of Tunbridge Wells was back in her stride now. Stomp.

Before I set out I had read all sorts of tips about dealing with altitude. Pills to take: ginger root and ginkgo biloba any one? Teas to drink: coca with its frisson of the cocaine connection; the local suggestion of muna.
No one had suggested drafting letters of complaint in your head, but concentrating on the cutting turn of phrase certainly worked for me. I was still refining my pointed concluding paragraph when I found myself at the summit of the Salkantay pass. A wooden sign with the height in meters (and in the even more impressive-sounding 15,253 feet), showed that, despite not being on my dream trip, I had arrived where I wanted to be.

Z W Bates

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