Suzanne and I were two of 12 strangers sat round a table in Cuzco. The awkwardness of catching someone’s eye during nervous stares was the only thing keeping my mind from dwelling on the lack of oxygen being delivered to my brain. Sally, our guide, introduced herself and instructed the other 11 to do the same. Excellent, I thought, as one of my favorite things to do in my spare time is group introductions!! I can never remember the names of anyone who introduces themselves before me because I am always concentrating so hard on not forgetting my own.
In my mind it’s just “Darren Darren Darren Darren Darren,” then when it comes to my turn…”I’m Darren.” Then I can never remember the names of anyone who introduces themselves after me either because now I’m thinking, “Get in, I AM Darren, totally f*cking nailed that one!!” So we go round the table: Carol, Richard, Matthew, Natalie, Pablo, Hernan, Lacey, Doug and Sue, or something like that. Still strangers.
A brief rundown of the next 14 days follows from Sally, along with some advice on how to stop our eyes from bulging out of our heads due to the altitude. 10,000 feet has a way of sapping energy and appetite that I have never experienced before, and although I knew it was coming, I was still underprepared. And so began our adventure around Peru.
In the next two weeks, we would experience Machu Picchu, the Amazon rainforest and Lake Titicaca… or at least that is how I used to describe the 14-day hiking trip in Peru, but that was all about to change.
12 strangers, for now.
Before heading out on our first jolly, Sally brings up the issue of the World Cup Final, which was being played that day. The room had three new smiles: Hernan’s, Pablo’s and my own. The football mad Mexican father and son, plus Suzanne and I, waive our rights to the Cuzco markets, which we could forage through the following Saturday, and head out to watch football’s showpiece, agreeing to meet up with the group in the Square at 3:15 for our hike to the Sacsayhuaman Fortress. I figured we would have enough time to watch the World Cup be lifted, unless of course, extra time was needed to determine a winner.As we meet up with the rest of our group in the bustling centre of Cuzco, we could hear the oo’s and ah’s from the packed bars around the square still watching the game in overtime. Young Pablo’s frustration was visible, and I think Hernan was trying to hide his.
We begin our uphill hike to the crown above Cuzco, the ancient Sacsayhuaman Fortress. Within meters, we were all struggling a little; heavy breathing and frequent stops were par for the course. Hernan, determined not to miss the action, sticks his head around every door that has echoes of an excited Spanish commentator to keep tabs on the score. Still 0-0, he reports as the buildings and houses became even more sparse on our way out of town.
As we ascend the thin cobbled streets, the buildings have so far prevented views of the town below. We turn into a churchyard and for the first time are allowed to peer from on high. The afternoon sun lights up the terracotta roofs of the ancient Incan capital. Thoughts of Tuscany enter my mind. The view would have been breath taking, had I had any to take. We forge on and up.
The group now stretches out a little, with Sally in the lead along with the energetic youngsters, Mum and Dad in tow, while Hernan, Suzanne and I lag behind. As the three of us slow coaches approach the last, isolated house before entering the fortress, we hear an excited Spanish voice crackle from a distant TV set. Hernan’s eyebrows rise, “There can only be two minutes left!”
It was here, crouched in the doorway of a packed Peruvians family’s hut, that I would watch Andres Iniesta fire the last-minute goal that would deliver the World Cup to Spain — ironically, the conquerors of the native Incas so many years before. Suzanne gleefully rattles off photo after photo of me and my new Mexican friend huddled in the doorway. She was more excited by this than the event.It’s not like I needed a photo reminder. I instantly knew I would tell the story of how I watched the 2010 World Cup final many, many times. Probably embellishing it to include a beer with the locals (although that was not to be as we forged on to the top). This Active South America trip had produced its first “wow” moment, and within 3 hours of arriving… impressive.
Written by Darren