October 27, 2004

Machu Picchu: The Facts...Or Not!

After four gruelling days camping and trekking on the Inca trail, we finally arrived at the world famous Inca city of Machu Picchu, perched high upon the ridge of a mountain draped in clouds.

On our arrival, a German, who had miscalculated the dangers of high altitude, dehydration and pace, suddenly dropped in front of us, and went into a convulsive fit. A female doctor, who was trekking with another group, tended to him in the correct manner, whilst my wonderful trekking companion, Kitty, lent her shawl to cover him.

When I was a child perusing books about Machu Picchu, my dream of finally arriving at the site was certainly less disturbing in nature than the reality that actually greeted me. However, I am glad to report that the German appeared to recover, and was immediately rushed off to hospital. So much for his dream of seeing Machu Picchu.

However, unintentional mirth soon became the main course of the day. Our guide, Oscar, had just recently been promoted from porter to guide, and this was his first trek in the new position. Among the small group I was trekking with, was a lovely couple from Brazil, and they were determined to pick Oscar's brains for information about the enigmatic Inca and their city. Unfortunately, each time they threw a question at him, our guide would go off on a tangent of garbled facts, that never seemed to answer the question asked.

Finally, in desperation for information, they threw Oscar a basic inquiry: How many people are estimated to have lived in the city, during its peak? A fairly elementary question, that you would expect to be answered by a guide. However, once again, Oscar went off on another ramble, clearly unsure of what he was talking about.

My Brazilian friend repeated the question, but Oscar continued to spin nonsense like an unskilled politician. In the end, the Brazilian lost his patience and said, 'Just give me a number. Anything off the top of your head. ANY NUMBER!' Oscar paused and accommodated with a simple, but ludicrous reply: 'Eight hundred.'

As we continued looking around, a young Brazilian psychology student asked our "knowledgeable" guide a question that even he should not have been expected to answer. After visiting a temple building within the vast city, which had obviously been the home to far more than eight hundred Inca, our slightly ditzy student threw this classic at Oscar: 'Which house did the Inca live in? And where is it?'

The entire group broke out in uncontrollable guffaws. It was like asking a guide in New York, which apartment the Americans live in? By this point, I had had enough of Oscar's explanations, and so I made an escape, and tagged along with an expert guide, who was excellent.

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