Sunday, June 9, 2013

Machu Picchu 2013

     Oscillating between terror and excitement, hunger and boredom, I sit in the Panama City airport en route to Peru, holding a Spanish version of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and an English to Spanish dictionary, trying to learn a language before landing in a country where I'll be alone thousands of miles from anyone I know, again.  
This is me after ten hours of buses, flights, and airports,
one more flight to go.  
     Schools always preach against cramming for exams.  They say to study regularly and to have a systematic method.  Life, my life anyways, destroys that little theory.  I need to learn Spanish and I need to learn it now.  There's no slow build-up to needing a language.  You fly from a country where people understand you, and then land in a foreign place with only wits and a good attitude and a backpack.  
     An hour car ride in with Tim and Alex crossing the Panama Canal and hugging goodbye at the station, then a two hour bus ride looking out the window at the paved parts of Panama to get to a giant mall, where I bought a few essentials for an adventurer like me; a Detroit Tigers baseball cap, an indestructible camera, and Tom Sawyer en espanol.  
     I saw the hat in a shoe store as I stopped to admire a pair of hiking boots, looking down at my worn tennis shoes and weighing the idea of a new pair of boots to break in verses some shoes with a lot of miles on them, and I saw the blue hat with the orange Detroit 'D' and felt the place in my chest which carries the memories of summertime baseball and walking past Mom's craft shed and garden on the way to the pasture to field grounders and get under pop fly's with Dad, and I decided I needed a ball cap.  
     One of the best things about traveling with a little coin in my pocket is being able to pay for a cab driver to be waiting at the airport with a sign that says, "Zac Watson."  This little expense is one of the my favorite things in the world.  It's not as good as seeing a familiar face, but in a foreign place I don't know or understand, having someone waiting for me who knows the way out of the airport and to the hotel is worth whatever it costs.  
     And so for my first day in Peru, after being in airports all night long, trying to sleep on a bench while a guy in a business suit plays a computer Mortal Combat and sings loudly and poorly in Spanish, I spend the first few hours eating a Peruvian breakfast of bread and alpaca in a bowl of broth, and drinking coca tea.  
     I happen to be in town during a holiday, 'Cristo de something or other'.  I came around the corner of an Incan ruin, "The Temple of the Sun," rebuilt by Spanish conquerors into a church, and in the courtyard I see a crowd.  For me, crowds generally mean it's time to turn another direction, but above their heads I could see some kind of rope swinging through the air.  Lots of ropes spinning, twenty or thirty, whizzing through the air, and then I heard a snap, and I didn't understand what was happening, but had to find out.  
The coca tea everyone drinks in Peru.
The leaf is where cocaine comes from,
but the tea's safe and helps with altitude
     Men in white masks were standing in two rows, forming a gauntlet, each swinging a whip above their heads and as some volunteer walked or ran through the center of them, they'd swing their arms and bring that whip down hard on the victim's shins and calves.  I have no doubt it was real, and no doubt it hurt.  The resulting crack could be heard from a hundred meters away over the din of a thousand people and a small brass band.  
     I spent the day watching this, trying to wrap my head around it and not being able to do so, but some strange part of me wanted to walk that gauntlet, but it didn't feel like something a foreigner should do, so I just watched, but I spent a lot of time thinking about it, finally deciding that it was a really stupid thing to do.  Knowing something is stupid hasn't stopped me from doing a lot of things, what really stopped me was thinking about the welts that'd form on my legs just a couple days before climbing Machu Picchu, and I didn't want to screw up the rest of my trip before I got to the ruins.  Maybe if they were still swinging their whips when I got back to Cuzco.  
The gauntlet of white masked guys with whips.
     So I went out to dinner and drank a Peruvian beer with phenomenal alpaca steak with rice and tomatoes, the largest corn I've ever seen, all with hot sauce and bell peppers.  I ate alone as my waitress breastfed a baby I didn't realize she had until the blanket that was rolled up like a carpet and tied across her back started crying.  First she rocked her whole body to swing the baby, but the noise turned into crying, so she sat and undid the knot formed by the corners of the blanket meeting at her chest, and she unrolled the blanket, then tucked her shirt up and the baby fed while I ate my llama and drank my beer.  
     We politely try to speak.  Me in awful Spanish I use my dictionary to hammer together a sentence I'm sure is wrong, but the chef comes out and with the waitress they are so friendly and smiling and urging me to use Spanish while they try to explain things to me in words I can't comprehend.  I try to ask how old the baby is, and find out he's four months, and so I try to say that his hair is really long, and that got a lot of laughs.  Not sure what I actually said, but they repeated it to themselves a few times and giggled often.  All in all, it's one of the better conversations I've ever had about babies.  I prefer not understanding answers to questions I don't really know anything about.  
     The meal is delicious, and I tell them so using Dora the Explorer Spanish.  They are happy and grateful for the complement, but watching Peruvian women's faces transition from a smile to a laugh to a relaxed form I see in the cycles moments of deep sadness.  They have native Quechuan ancestry with Spanish mixed in and lifetimes in mountains and jungles and altitude and heat, and on the way from a smile to a laugh there is  a moment that borders on tears falling.  
     Peruvians cannot say "Zac," nor "Zachary."  It takes "Sacha," "Chaka," "Shree," and finally, "Mr. Vrahtson," being yelled through the hallway in the morning to finally get my attention that my ride to take me for the tour I booked the day before was waiting for me outside.  So I take a ride on the back of a scooter to a bus that's waiting for me with ten other people and a guide. 
     We spend the day driving around Cuzco, seeing Incan sites and getting brief descriptions and glimpses into the history of the culture.  We stop for "bathroom breaks" at roadside craft bizarres and everyone buys trinkets and little bags and bracelets, and pets a llama or two.  
     I haven't looked up the difference between alpaca and llama, or if alpaca is an adjective or how to properly use the terms, and maybe someday I will, but in Peru the term seems interchangeable.  Alpaca is on most clothing labels and menus, llama is what they offer to let you pet when it's eating grass in front of you.  
     I'm the only English speaker on the tour besides two Australian which bail halfway through the day to catch a train to Machu Picchu, but I'm befriended early on by a Venezuelan guy who speaks perfect English, and at some point even makes fun of me for buying a "man-bag" purse for my camera.  But Gus and I are quick friends and most of the pictures from that day are taken by him, and he also translates everything for me, and the two of us become good at negotiating local prices down to reasonable levels ("I'm not paying thirty-five solas for my man-purse, twenty."  And Gus says, "Viente.").  
     That night the bus let us all off in a square I didn't recognize, so Gus and I walked around looking for a place to eat, and had some fun haggling down prices on things I was planning on mailing home for Christmas, and I had another alpaca dinner and said goodbye to my new friend and headed back to the hostel.
     In my room it was quiet and I wasn't tired (probably because I drank a bunch of coca tea at dinner), and I think spending the day with a friend had me missing friends many miles away, so I hung out in a sort of rec room and ended up talking with a couple girls from Hong Kong and Australia, and met the guys I was sharing a room with who were smoking pot out a window.  
     We went out for a quick dinner and laughed quite a bit.  We talked about trips to do and trips we've done.  The problem with traveling is you keep meeting other travelers, and they only tell you about places you haven't been that you must get to.  
     The same scooter guy came in the morning to pick me up, and I was ready this time when he yelled, "Schakra."  I'd spent the morning before breakfast organizing my bag and splitting it into two packs.  Leaving more than half my stuff with the hostel for a couple days because I wouldn't need it for my trip to Machu Picchu.  Never carry more than you need.  Need everything you carry.  
     The scooter was late, and it was smaller than the one the day before.  It was designed for exactly one average sized man and maybe a small dog or backpack.  Not two full grown men, one fat, the other slightly taller than average and carrying a large backpack.  So my knees stuck out sideways like I was on a tricycle, and in a high-pitched electric motor scream we flashed down the mountain between buses and vans with my knees brushing against fenders and bumpers as we zigged between them to shoot between lanes of traffic.  
     I was the last one to arrive at the van, so I ended up riding up front in the shotgun seat, which I thought was cool.  But on a curve at three-thousand five-hundred meters up the Andes mountains the door decided to swing open of it's own accord, and I spent the rest of the ride with one hand holding the door shut and the other death gripping the dashboard like a cat clawing up a barn wall with a frothing dog below.  
     Made it to the top of the mountain, and unloaded.  Then donned helmets, arm pads, knee pads and shin guards in the high altitude cold.  We then were assigned mountain bikes, and spent the next four hours riding down a beautiful mountain road, only peddling at times because I wanted to, but not because I needed to.  Four hours of winding downhill, passing from above the tree line to a moderate climate to jungle to tropical river valley.  The smells transitioning and changing as the humidity and temperature rising, stopping to peel off layers of clothes and by the end being in a t-shirt wet with sweat.  
     In the first five minutes the guide tried to pedal hard to get in front of me, and he peddled into a curve, and then braked on some gravel and rocks on the asphalt, and I watched him, thinking that what he was doing seemed kinda dumb, and as I was trying to decide if I should try to keep up with him, his back tire lost traction as he braked and he went down on his hip with the bike rolling up on him, and they slid together on gravel a couple meters caming to a painful looking stop.  I didn't want to brake on the curve, so I went past him a little bit and slowly stopped, and looked back at him as he looked up at me.  He knew I was giving him a look that told him I thought he was an idiot, and I didn't realize I was giving him that look until he looked away ashamed.  And so, without knowing any Spanish, I felt like for the first time I'd successfully communicated my thoughts, and felt kind of bad about it.  
     So our guide rode in the van for the rest of the day, and as a group we bonded because we were leaderless and had to keep an eye on each other.  
     Tours are so damn hokey.  I really do hate them.  Groups of people being shuttled around and hand fed "culture" and history like we're getting some special experience.  It was nice to lose the guide.  I just rode my bike and relaxed into the wind and had fun racing strangers and taking pictures and speeding through creeks and switchbacking down into the valley.  I laughed at myself when I felt bad for being in better shape than most other people, because I wanted to go farther and faster than most of the others.  One guy could ride though.  And we leap frogged each other most of the day, and developed a mutual respect without ever having a conversation.  
     And then that night after dinner, whitewater rafting was brought up.  There was an open slot if anyone wanted to join in, and I was the first person to volunteer.  Even though it was a guided tour, there's something about the raw power of water that makes even a tour seem a little dangerous.  And it was a good adrenaline rush.  
      A river cannot be made docile, and there are no tethers or harnesses.  If you slip out of the raft, they'll get to you, but you have to help yourself. 
     They were small rapids, but small rafts to go with them, and a three hour after dinner river ride was perfect.  Feet locked into the bottom of the raft, getting smashed with cold water breaking over the bow, we laughed and stopped at a beach to play a paddle balancing game with whistle blasts directing you to step around your paddle, and when you lost you had to dance like a chicken or do a sexy dance.  Most were of the chicken dance persuasion.  
     Then into a cab and on to the next hostel.  Over an hour car ride on a dirt road with rockslides and streams to cross and a dark cliff into nothing on one side and a jungle wall on the other and a pure, clear Milky Way stretched out above us, and Spanish pop songs playing on the radio and life felt pretty damn good.  
     Early to breakfast, around six thirty or so, pancakes with chocolate and banana rolled in them, and then the rest of the group went zip-lining while I decided to walk the village for a couple hours because I have no interest in zip-lining.  I remember being fifteen years old with Ed F. in the woods behind my house, and we tied a rope between two trees and I put a stick across the rope and tried to zip-line from one tree to the other.  The stick shifted, and I rode about thirty feet burning the skin from my thumb and pointer finger.  That was adventurous zip-lining; taking a third degree burn to your hand rather than falling fifteen feet to the ground below and breaking a leg is a decision everyone should make at some point in their lives, and I just don't think you get that kind of intensity on a guided tour.  
     A Czech couple stayed behind with me, and it was the guy who was a good bike rider from the day before, and his wife.  We talked quite a bit and became fast friends.  He spoke English well, and she mostly just listened, I think understanding most of our conversations.  
     They say something about not really liking other people in our group, and I launch into a huge discussion about how annoying the American girls in our group have been.  On day one, getting into the van the first thing I heard were the two girls complaining behind me about their hotel room, and about how long they'd had to wait outside to be picked up, and about how long they'd been waiting in the van.  I'd ignored them as best I could by just clinging to the door that would open at random and talking with the French guy next to me.  
     And then we got to the top of the mountain and it was, "The van stinks," "My bike is crap," "It's freezing out here."  If they were talking, it was about why something sucked.  
     So I go whitewater rafting, and of course I go with these two.  But there were two rafts, and when I sat down in one, they got into it, so I casually scooted across it and got out the other side, and went to the other raft, where I was with a great group of people laughing and high-fiving with paddles and not a negative word was said, except maybe the occasional "Oh shit!" when the nose of the raft dove under a wave, but that's understandable and forgiven.  And I laugh the whole river ride with an Argentinian girl, a girl from LA volunteering at a hospital in Peru, and a giant Dutch dude.  
     The guide sees how much fun we're having and he makes things more fun by hitting the best parts of the rapids and zig zagging across the river to hit the big water and keep the good vibes flowing.  
     Then we get to shore and the two girls, who are New Yorkers, are complaining about their guide and how cold they are.  How they missed all the fun parts of the river, and how it was too dark now and if the company was organized they'd have timed it so we were done while it was still light.  
     Then the Argentinian girl got into the van and her camera was missing.  So flashlights came out and everyone's searching the van, and the two American girls are actually helping and seem as concerned as the girl who lost the camera, and after ten minutes or so I decided it's not in the van, so I walk the road a little and check under the van, and find her camera buried in the dirt, clearly smashed.  The girl is grateful, but on the point of tears at the broken camera, and the two American girls are consoling her and are being very positive about, "At least now you can get your pictures off the memory card."  And they do cheer the girl up a little bit as we drive off.  
     And I end up in the taxi with them, driving through the dark Peruvian jungle and they're talking about how disorganized the trip has been and then they asked if I wanted to keep my bag in the back.  I was in the front seat with my legs folded up and holding my bag because I didn't fit, and again I was surprised that they were so thoughtful.  
     I decided that some people just need to complain in order to communicate and connect with each other, like fabricating hardships is how they bond.  And as I came to terms with that, I felt the release of a knot in my back, like I'd been holding onto other people's negativity and letting it tie me up.  And as it turned out, they were really nice girls who were pretty funny when they wanted to be, and I just ignored the rest.  
Mischael and Zybek
     Zybek and Mischeal, whose names I actually have no idea how to spell or properly pronounce, became quick friends.  We found we travelled extremely well together, and as we spent all day hiking together we found ourselves in the same places taking pictures, avoiding conversation in many areas, walking at similar speeds, laughing at the same situations and generally getting along together well.  
     Also, when we stopped for lunch at a restaurant in the middle of the jungle, they didn't like their soup.  So I finished my soup, and then ate both of their bowls, which is an instant way to get on my good side.  One thing I noticed about them, is when they didn't like their soup, they just put their spoons down, and moved the bowls out of their way.  When the American girls didn't like their soup, the whole table had to hear about how gross the asparagus was, or how there was way too much cilantro.  Then they had to point out how gross it was that I'd eat three bowls and how I was going to get giardia.  
     We hiked eleven kilometers on fairly level terrain, at the end of the hike I had a lot of energy and wanted to keep going and exploring, but we were in town without much to do but walk around the shops, and we were going to Machu Picchu tomorrow, so I decided I should take it easy, and find the hot springs.  
     So I donned board shorts and went in search of warm waters, "Aguas Calientes."  All along my walk people were bundled in jackets and alpaca hats and wool ponchos and looking at me in shorts and a t-shirt like I was insane, but there are a few advantages to being from Northern Michigan, one of them is that everywhere else feels warm.  
     The hot springs were filthy.  A big disappointment with loud, fat Americans drinking beer and yelling across three pools "Carlos!  Dos cervesas!"  They told drinking stories and talked mostly about how much they drank in college and about parties past.  I found a corner of the pool as far from them as possible and watched them birddog every remotely attractive female in the area, and eventually alienate them.  
     I decided I should talk to the people next to me quietly, nicely and respectfully to try to salvage at least a small piece of their opinions of Americans.  I did this mostly by talking about what jerks these two idiots were, and then asking questions about how their trip had been so far.  After half an hour there was a group of about ten people standing in a circle struggling with English, Dutch, Danish, Spanish, and who knows what else, all having a good time, and I awkwardly realized I was the center of attention with explaining my job and sailing and boats in general, which is something I'm really tired of talking about, and I hate being the center of a large group and actively avoid it.  But what was good, was that the obnoxious guys tried to infiltrate the group of cool travelers that had formed, and immediately the circle tightened and backs were turned.  The two just stood on the outskirts holding their beers acting like they didn't care, but watching and listening for an opening to join in with us.  And we shunned them, and I felt like I'd won a great victory.  
     Three hours later (during which, the two guys had slammed about six beers and never once left the pool to pee, which tainted the taste of victory) feeling sticky and dirty I made it back to the hostel for a shower.  Cleaned and feeling pretty damn good, I went back out to find the restaurant my group had decided on for dinner.  
Guinea pigs ready for the oven.
     Not many people know this, but I have a superpower.  I can look at a menu in a foreign language, have absolutely no idea what I'm ordering, butcher the language as I talk with the waitress, and still end up with the best meal in the restaurant. 
     Nine people ordered, and everyone but the vegetarian was jealous of the plate that came for me.  I think I had some kind of guinea pig.  It was moist and succulent, tender and flavorful.  As I ate I thought of a girl I went through school with who had a guinea pig and brought it into class for show-and-tell.  It was named Marshmellow.  When I was done I cleaned my plate with a piece of bread and ate every drop of flavor, feeling bad for Marshmellow the whole time, but grateful for a full stomach.   
     The Czech couple and I made arrangements to meet at four twenty the next morning to start our hike.  They loaned me an alarm clock and I went to bed at ten, strategically arranging my pack and clothes so I could be quiet in the early morning and not wake my two Israeli roommates.  
     Slept well, but didn't need an alarm clock because I would wake up every couple of hours and my mind would wake me up screaming, "You're going to Machu Picchu!"  And then I'd check the time and fall back to sleep.  
     So I was awake at three fifty eight a.m. and turned the alarm off before it sounded, dressed, brushed my teeth, pack on and out the door by ten after four.  
     I left a bag of stuff I didn't need to take up the mountain in the hostel lobby, and Zybek and Mischael came out ready to hike.  They didn't have a small bag with them, so we put waters and lunch and snacks in my bag, and started walking.  
     From town it's fifteen minutes to the trail head, and there were about a hundred people in line at five a.m.   Make no mistake, Machu Picchu is a tourist attraction.  Busses start up the mountain at six, and leave every five minutes after that.  Hiking up is totally optional, and even with the decent pace we kept up, two buses beat us to the top.  Of the two thousand five hundred daily visitors, about three hundred hike up.  
     But this place was originally for Shamans.  A holy place, designed with the intention of spiritual exploration and understanding.  Part of that design is the humbling respect derived from climbing a steep mountain.  The people who rode the bus didn't see the stars through the jungle canopy, or the quarter moon hanging over the peaks of distant mountains.  They didn't feel the stones placed a thousand years ago shift beneath their feet, or get the dust of thousands of travelers, seekers and adventurers caked into their pores, or develop the camaraderie and respect you get when sharing a hard labor with new friends.  
Zybek hiking down the mountain.
     After two hours hiking with the Czech couple, I feel I understand their relationship and their physical and mental capabilities, their patience and overall temperament, and in general know them better than people I've known for years.  And knowing that, I'd travel just about anywhere with these people.  
     When we got to the entrance for the ruins we were separated in the lines, and I made it through first.  There was a branch in the path, one led into the ruins, and another led up above them, to more ruins.  I hesitated for a moment, afraid to lose my friends, but Zybek is a smart guy, and we have the same sense of exploration, so I headed up confident they'd find me.  
     I made it to a step that overlooked the entire ruins of Machu Picchu, and just sat and observed.  I closed my eyes and felt the amazing emotion of having arrived, of being at exactly the right place in the universe at exactly the right time.  Then I had to ruin the moment by pulling out a camera and asking people to take pictures for me.  
     Then I sat and had yogurt and a few banana chips, and Mischael and Zybek made it up to join me, Zybek saying, "I knew I would find you here."  And I replied, "I knew you would, too."  
     We spent the early part of the morning climbing over the ruins, enjoying them before too many tourists were bused to the entrance.  We took pictures for one another and wandered, and stopped to snack, and wandered some more.  
     Around ten we ambled back towards the top of the ruins to find the trailhead for the mountain's summit.  After about ten minutes of just stairs, Mischeal and Zybek had a discussion in Czech, and then she said she wasn't going to hike to the top.  Too steep.  Too high.  
     I understood completely, and she turned and headed back down.  Zybek demanded that it was his turn to take the bag, because I'd carried it all morning, and he'd politely asked if I wanted to let him carry it, and I always said that I didn't mind carrying it.  But he now wouldn't accept that answer, and he put the bag on, and we started up again.  
     Walking without the bag made me realize how much three liters of water and three lunches actually weights.  I felt a bounce in my step and pretty much sprung up the mountain.  I had to check myself though, and decided to just stay behind Zybek, because he's a competitive person and if I started sprinting up the mountain he would be right on my heels, and he had the pack, so he should set the pace.  And also, if we raced up the mountain, I'm not sure who would win.  
     Being at sea-level for the last few months meant this 3,000 meter altitude was taking its toll, and my lungs were gasping for air long before my legs were feeling any burn.  But forcing myself to go slow, breathing in through my nose and out my mouth, and stopping often for pictures, meant that by the time we got to the summit I felt like I could have kept going.  
Hiding from the sun, keeping hydrated, and watching
     We had lunch in the sun on the top of Machu Picchu Mountain looking down on the temples and steps carved into the cliffside, I felt again that sense of being where I belonged- on top of a mountain in Peru.  
     The sun started to feel hot and the breeze was nice instead of chilling, and we headed down the mountain, going easy.  Zybek looked for Mischeal while I found a spot in the grass to take a nap.  When they came back I ate the rest of my food and they ate their lunches, then I ate the rest of their food, too, then laid down and wished I had brought more food.  But I slept well for about an hour, at some point being circled by llamas eating the fine grass I'd decided to nap in.  
     The best use of a baseball hat is napping.  Other hats have given me problems.  Cowboy hats have that round brim which hits the ground or balances strangely and slides off your face.  Floppy fishing hats always fall down over my nose, so I'm breathing the hot air in the cap part of the hat.  But my official on-field fitted Tiger's ball cap sits perfectly on my face with the brim balanced perfectly on my nose and I can turn my head either direction and position it to block the sun without stifling the air and it enables the perfect nap.  
     And I wake up looking at Machu Picchu, feeling rested and a little sunburnt and ready for a hike to The Temple of the Sun and a bridge along the Inca Trail and back into the ruins for more exploration.  
     Around four thirty the sun started to angle itself behind a surrounding peak and by five we were in the shade, and the ruins were mostly empty.  
     I considered that we as human beings are made in a large part by the experiences we encounter in our lives, and as the sun set I had no doubt that this day, and this place were a positive and deep contribution to my psyche.  
     Also, my legs were quivering and cramping up, and I'd been out of water since the summit because some dumb girl didn't bring any water and I insisted she drink some of mine so she didn't die, and she drank it all.  So now I was without water and possibly getting a little delirious.  But I got some water from the tap in the bathrooms at the entrance and then started the hike down.  
     Now, there's no real spiritual reason for hiking back down.  The bus ticket is nine dollars, and it'd be easy to sit in a seat and cruise down the mountain, but we decided we'd already hiked, crawled, climbed, and stumbled all over this mountain, we might as well make it a complete circle.  Also, the hike up in the dark meant we hadn't seen much of the trail, and we wanted to see what we'd climbed over.  
     Bus exhaust and snack machines, plastic bottles everywhere, latrines with no toilet paper and no place to drain but down so that sporadically along the trail you would encounter the effluent stench of two-thousand five-hundred backpackers' raw sewage, and even though we're in the jungle and on a trail that's been walked for a thousand or more years, it feels less like a return to civilization, and more like a reminder that we'd never actually escaped.  
     Back in Agua Caliente by six p.m. completed fourteen hours of hiking.  Straight to the market for water bottles, and I drank a liter in one sitting, and then we walked to the hostel to get our other packs.  I took a quick shower without soap, shampoo, or a towel, but just a freshwater rinse getting the salt and stench of the day off felt great.  
     Then we walked to the plaza to meet a group of people, one of them a girl from Hong Kong that'd been in my first hostel back in Cuzco that we'd run into on the top of the mountain, and said we'd meet for dinner.  A familiar face in a foreign place.  
     Zybek got a small bottle of the local alcohol, something made from something grown somewhere nearby, the kind of booze you'd use to kill a fish or get paint off your elbow, and I tried a swig and can't say I'd recommend it to anyone not in search of a headache.  Then I had a second sip, and decided that I'd definitely had worse.  After the third I knew it was time to eat something or risk becoming the loud drunk American.  So we stopped waiting for our friend and went to the nearest restaurant and sat down.  
     Then the group showed up and there were now six of us, and we decided to go elsewhere.  The waiter started jumping up and down and saying we had to come back and sit down and he kept dropping the prices on the menus, and when the prices when from forty-five solas for a plate per person, to twenty-five, we still said no and were walking away, and then he added a free round of drinks for all.  We sat back down and calmly ordered a round of drinks and the most expensive alpaca steaks on the menu, for twenty-five solas.  
     It was good sitting at the table with my Czech friends, a girl from Hong Kong, and a cool couple from Switzerland, all speaking English and then breaking off into hometown languages (except me and the Hong Kong girl, because I don't have any other languages, and no one speaks Cantonese).  
     It felt good to be part of the backpacking world.  I felt very at home surrounded by my people.  Trekkers, adventurers, travelers; my tribe.  
     And we all board a train at ten, which broke down five minutes out of the station and we sat till midnight.  I sat and appreciated the inside of my baseball cap some more, possibly snoring a bit.  But we eventually got moving and arrived at a bus station to ride to Cuzco, we all got on separate buses and said goodbyes in the dark.  
     I arrived in the city square a little before four a.m., and walked to a car where a man was sleeping in the driver's seat.  I knocked on the window, held up a brochure of my hostel and a few solas, and he took me to my hostel where I fully appreciated what it's like to have the little extra coin that can afford a single room.  And I climbed under the heavy wool blankets on my bed, and as I felt the weight of the layers of wool compacting my body into the old mattress, I felt like I'd accomplished something, and I slept the sound sleep of having arrived.