4 July 2016
Sacsayhuaman (something like “sarc-say-wha-mahn”) is an Inca site above Cusco which we visited today. The team is mostly in good shape altitude wise and managed the 200m lift in altitude to this modest hill above the city without any drama. However some are still feeling a tinge green. Hopefully another nights sleep, tomorrow’s descent into Mollepata, and the fact that we are camping at Cusco altitude later in the day should mean everyone gets another two nights of acclimatising. I am hoping that helps since we do need to get everyone over that Salkantay Pass the following day. Having said that, there is a Plan B for anyone who is forced back by the height – a bus trip back to Cusco, up the Sacred Valley and meeting us at Machu Picchu in five days time. (The Machu Picchu site is significantly lower than Cusco). Follow the white rabbit»
Diary, 2 July 2016
Ana-Sofia has advised us that Cusco and the area we are trekking is not considered the ‘Andes’ (or Las Sierras) but rather the ‘Cloud Mountains’, an area or region that borders the Amazon jungle, but which features its own type of forest. That sounds good to me and besides, is suitably poetic. I look forward to seeing it as we bore through a sunny sky and I gaze out over mountains and gullies that share the same brown hues as those in Afghanistan. There is no vegetation around Lima and I was reminded that this is one of those rare coastal deserts, Lima being the largest desert city after Cairo. We are all on LA2023 this morning but slightly subdued over yesterday: time differences, jet lag and constantly being on the move all taking their smallest weight of flesh and spirit. Diamox is slowing some of us as well. Follow the white rabbit»
Friday 1 July 2016
1337 hours and the aircraft frame vibrates and shudders as the undercarriage, not designed to be aerodynamic in any way thrashes through the air below us. As the undercart is cleaned up over Botany Bay everything settles down and the slightly alarmed look on Kavitha’s face vanishes. We have been delayed an hour due to congestion at Sydney airport, a delay that only reinforces my impression that this piece of infrastructure is a serious embarrassment. Anyone in denial over Badgeries Creek has not repeatedly been inconvenienced by this third world airport of ours. Anyway, I am assured our flight will make up time over the Pacific and that our already tight window to make the connection through to Lima will not be further constricted. “Relax” the assured cabin attendant tells me. “We know who has tight connections on this flight”. His multitude of boy scout like buttons and badges twinkle in the sunlight thrown into the cabin by the low Sydney winter sun. I know he is just assuring me in order to get me to my seat but there is little else I can do or say. Follow the white rabbit»
For reasons that elude me now I failed to post my Kilimanjaro diary when we ascended that mound in 2014. As my thoughts now turn to the Salkantay Track and our walk up that path to Machu Picchu I dug out my diary/log from our previous expedition. My final entry is an interesting prelude to our next major adventure.
23rd December 2014
On QF566 and an hour out from Sydney. And so it ends. I have done the last head count and with it the cares of the trip drop away. It has mostly gone as planned though the unexpected cost of tipping porters is a disappointment as were the additional costs here and there which I had attempted to cover in the planning. Everyone seems to have accepted these surprises with good grace but I am keenly feeling them as planning failures. I console myself with the fact that I have taken 15 trekkers to the top of one of the worlds deadliest mountains (more ‘climbers’ die here than anywhere else) and back without mishap. Follow the white rabbit»
It has been a long while since I have put pen to paper but travel, if anything is what will shake the muse loose. I usually observe something like this after a long break from writing and settling into an aircraft seat. This time I am pre-empting that moment. Sydney is oppressively humid and the sweat clings to my jeans and pulls my shirt to my back, even before I move. Sitting at my desk is a liquid business. But I want to start my diary before we head out. We have accumulated our clothes and equipment to our packs after collecting them from assorted bins and boxes – I have not really sorted my gear properly from Ama Dablam, Afghanistan and a couple of house moves. And here we are on the plane, with little writing done. There is an assortment of gear in the hold below this seat and yet more that has to be sorted when we get to Tekapo where we join the climbing company. I figure we can just throw everything at the pack and then sort the gear then. I am looking forward to doing this trek/climb with Kavitha. Too often these trips are done on my own and it’s a real privilege to have a companion – who is of course much more than that – to embark on this adventure too. She is taking quite a leap in such a mad caper but I am confident she will enjoy herself. The relaxed instructors will help with that too. Follow the white rabbit»
Nothing is ever silent. Ever. Except perhaps in space but I have no point of reference for that experience and so have no capacity to comment. There can be a stillness, but never silence. There is that moment that sluices into seconds and the feeling of a lifetime of ages when a zealot of some stripe or another initiates his bomb. The crump resonates through every part of you and welds a connection of gazes as your eyes instantly lock on the eyes of others and you all wonder together if you are next.
You hear nothing but feel everything that is decent and right shiver and collapse in that stillness. Sounds then wake and drift in behind the thudding of the blood in your ears, and your thoughts start to shift from your own selfish hide to wonder at those who have been unfortunate enough to have been caught up in the periphery of that sound. Follow the white rabbit»
A sly “would you like a taxi?” from a furtive looking Pakistani just outside the exit to Pearson International (Toronto). I like his style – he has parked himself underneath a sign warning visitors to ignore taxi touts. When I respond in the affirmative (we need a cab) he spins on his heel and beckons us to follow him inside, in the opposite direction of the taxi rank just metres away. So we ignore him and step into the frigid air and join a line of puffy jackets and faux fur collars.
India supplies the world with its cab drivers, our Pakistani tout notwithstanding. Our Sikh knows the building address we threw at him, and we are instantly assured we are in the right place. With no fuss at all he quickly pulls out from the kerb and spears into the night. It’s midnight and we have been travelling for twenty four hours. More actually. But I got about ten hours sleep across the Pacific so I am feeling pretty good given the distance travelled and time that has slipped under our keel. Follow the white rabbit»
Before the food cart drags itself up behind its vanguard aroma and I allow myself to be distracted by Jermaine Clement in ‘People Places Things’ I’ll jot a few notes in some sort of acknowledgment to penmanship I have neglected and which urgently needs resuscitating. And yes, that is ‘aroma’ which you read. It’s an experience of the senses after all, this fifteen hour haul through to Dallas, with Jefferson Airplane appropriately in my headphones, an aromatic hint of dinner, while the seat thrums in response to the airframe being pushed through that frigid air out there. We are on our way to Texas, a transit point on a journey through to Toronto. A year ago we were thawing out in Africa as we descended to the lush skirt of Kilimanjaro. Now we fly to colder climes and look forward to catching up with family. And seeing places I have not seen before. Follow the white rabbit»
I was a migrant. Past tense if you please. At some point you stop being a migrant and become a citizen. Not because of a piece of paper received from the government, but because you decide you are no longer a guest but rather a host. That you are not just part of the place, but of the place. Follow the white rabbit»
The tide silently pushes still water into the upper reaches of the seeping grey green gloom of this gully. Snatches of froth and the occasional bubble betrays the silent upstream flow of water beside me. The ground is damp so footfall is muffled. That of my colleagues metres ahead is non existent save for the occasional scuff of boot on rock. The sun has retired though it is not completely dark, but I figure in another twenty minutes we will need to retrieve and don our head torches. Something trills above me, its call echoed in the bush, by others, on the other side of that sliding, clear water. One trill among a constant shower of bird calls and notes that are scattered down among us. Our escorting treecreepers and fly catchers sing out their last light lullabies. A single cracking call from a whip bird went unanswered and he sulked off and kept silent. Wrens scold and chitter among themselves high in the rocks on my left. Follow the white rabbit»
We have left the door to the balcony open and the humid morning air heats the room and tugs impatiently at the lace curtain that flicks around the settee. We are not feeling as pressed as the breeze feels we should be, and take an indolent start to the day. The sea is bright green blue and is barely ruffled by the zephyrs that prowl our ridge, and the jungle is as jungle green as jungle ever gets, home to birds whose song we don’t know but which encourage us to lie back and soak it all up. When we eventually dislodge ourselves from the hotel and roll down the hill in the Blue Angel of Death we have no real plan except to travel north. We have decided that we will poke into places that catch our eye and avoid the one big attraction to the north, a well touted aquarium. Follow the white rabbit»
Planeloads of Korean and Chinese tourists pour into the customs and immigration area with us and we shuffle along looking decidedly out of place. We lack the designer tourist clothes, hats and sunglasses and don’t have any cute toddlers in pig-tails in tow. The large crowds at immigration mean there is no waiting for our luggage. But there is a moment of confusion as we search for the car rental pick up point – there are no signs indicating care rental. So we ask a very helpful person at the information desk. Her English is fortunately better by far than our Japanese which is limited to “hello” and a variety of brand and place names. Hokkaido. Kawasaki! She points us at the domestic terminal where we should look out for the name of our car company representative on the sidewalk. That makes little sense but we soon find a girls standing on the sidewalk with a clipboard, a list of names (including ours) and who points us to a bus. We duly get on board thanks to a whole lot of sign language and finger pointing and a little humour, and are carted off into the suburbs to a car park where we are introduced to the Blue Angel of Death. Well, we had to name it something. Follow the white rabbit»
We are off to Okinawa. CX138, seats 47J and 47K. Well, these seats will get us to Hong Kong at least. The notes are scratched with a crayon I found in the pocket usually housing flight entertainment guides and other weighty tomes I rarely read anymore. It’s been a long time since I logged anything. Far too long. But the crayon stirs the muse. Or is it the fact that I am in a plane again? Those muse sure do like to travel. It’s the day after the wedding and we slip away in that turbo hum of a jet airliner that tells us a long haul is ahead of us. Vivid lighting across Sydney paints the Harbour Bridge a bright mauve and the coat hanger stands out against the deep, black, empty space of the harbour. It’s 10pm and we are fatigued from what was a relaxed celebration but which was clearly draining nonetheless. Follow the white rabbit»
The air frizzed and hissed and for a moment I was forced to a stop as the air vanished in a flash bulb pulse of white light. Stopped in lashing rain straight out of God’s freezer as the accompanying crack and boom erupted around me and my eyes readjusted to the light. Not that there was much of that, my headlamp not seeming to make much of an impression through the wall of water I had fancied I could run through. The flashing sky that had rolled up and over the Bullen Range as the late evening folded into night had warned me of what might come, but as the storm smashed over me I had the briefest moment of wonder – should I really have committed to this bush track? I was convinced I was going to run this section in the dark. After all, my time down to Kambah Pool has been extraordinary in my view and I was feeling very good. Very very good. But it wasn’t long before I had fallen. Once, twice, then a third time. And then in one of those white out flashes I plunged into a hole in the track I couldn’t see, and hyper extended my left knee. Damn. But in the interests of making sure I was good for the whole race, and loath to have to call on other team members to cover me because of injury I resigned myself to walking the next eight kilometres. Just as fast as I could. Follow the white rabbit»
Some old stone warehouses scattered across Kandahar are in surprisingly good state of repair given they were constructed by the British in the nineteenth century. The square masonry and precise lines catch my eye as does the stonework. But the slowly gathering crowd is watching us approach and I take my eyes off the building and pay more attention to these local Afghans in rags. They are a collection of the poorest in the community. They don’t project any sense of destitution, but rather a sharp curiosity about what is going on around them. In this place everyone watches everyone else. And here at the old wooden gates to the British warehouse compound everyone watches more than most.
The gates are probably the original gates and I fancy colonial uniforms guarding the place. But the sharp eyed swarthy Afghan in his filthy robes is no glistening trooper. He takes some convincing but I am soon allowed inside along with my Afghan colleagues. I step into an area the size of a tennis court and the gate clunks shut behind me. This is a food distribution point and the NGO with whom my company is collaborating has set it up to channel food aid to those who need it. Naturally there are those who would try and get their hands on this food so they can sell it. Silk Road DNA runs deep in this place and any opportunity to make a buck is seized at the first opportunity. So my colleagues are careful to survey the community first, putting in the time and effort to identify those who will directly benefit from the largesse of western donors. Korean vegetable oil and Australian wheat in this case. Having surveyed the community, and pre approved the poorest citizens to receive this aid, there is now a careful effort to ensure it is only those folk who are granted access to the compound where the food is stored. Follow the white rabbit»