As a parent of a first year/now second year, the prospect of heading off for a couple of weeks to a distant land excited me and provided a perfect opportunity to strengthen the father-son bond. I was honoured to be asked to act as trek doctor to the group also, a role I enjoyed 15 years previously on a similar organised trip to Peru.
We enjoyed two preparatory/training weekends which were led by mountain leader Louise Lawerence, a veteran guide who would accompany us to South America. The first was over the snow-covered Slieve Feilim Mountains and ended at Glenstal. The second was to Carrauntoohil in the Magillycuddy Reeks in excellent weather and an overnight camp at Cronin’s Yard.
All participants performed well and were satisfied with their equipment, clothing and footwear. The briefings provided an opportunity for Q+A on all elements of the trip including itinerary, altitude, sleeping arrangements, transport, food and beverage, risks etc.
Finally, the big day arrived and we jetted from Dublin Airport to Cusco via Madrid and Lima and nobody got lost or left behind! Arriving in Cusco we were greeted by our team of Peruvian guides who were to be our companions for three weeks. Cusco (3399m) is a typical South American city with huge Spanish influence, a large square and imposing cathedral. Most of the streets are cobbled with lots of places to explore or simply hang out and soak in the atmosphere.
Getting acclimatised to the altitude was the first challenge and started as a guided tour of the old city built by the Incas and ended at the statue of Christ overlooking the city with its rambling streets and terracotta roofs.
We rewarded ourselves on our first outing with some of the local cuisine which was excellent and some of the boys really got in the spirit and enjoyed the national dish, roasted guinea pig!
We set off on the next leg of the trip to paint a school and enjoyed the best of Peruvian hospitality and were treated to a cultural extravaganza of song and dance, all the while acclimatizing for the challenge ahead. Our hosts were generous and appreciative and for their visitors provided an appreciation of what can be achieved with so little.
The Salkantay route to Macchu Picchu is much more visually spectacular than the classic Inca Trail to Macchu Picchu which I had experienced years earlier and just as challenging. Our daily trek involved an early rise, a hearty breakfast in the mess tent, breaking camp and assembling the bags which were packed onto mules by our porters. On our backs, we carried rucksacs with spare clothing and waterproofs. There is something spiritual about trekking at altitude, perhaps it’s to do with being closer to the heavens and enjoying the splendour without the intrusions of normal daily life?
The food on the trip never failed to surprise us with variety and nutritional value, particularly as the mod cons of a conventional kitchen were curtailed by the terrain and conditions.
Nothing prepares you for the visual impact of Macchu Picchu and the backdrop of the mountains when you enter the lost city of the Incas. Everyone climbed Macchu Picchu mountain and the views and perspective of the ancient city could really be appreciated.
There was no pressure on time at this stage and many of the group lingered for hours until the UNESCO site closed and we made the descent to the frontier town of Aqua Calentes.
We returned to our hotel in Cusco via train and settled back into the easy groove of life in Cusco, well pleased with our achievements. Cusco was buzzing with excitement as Peru had got to the final of Copa Americas 2019 against arch-enemies Brazil for the first time in more than 40 years and many of our intrepid explorers donned the obligatory Peruvian strip of striker Guerrero No 9! Sadly Brazil won the match and some of us made our way to Paddy’s Bar, the highest bar in the world to drown our sorrows!
This Peruvian adventure ticked all the boxes for me personally and I know has instilled the spirit of adventure in the boys and their parents who went on this trip. Hopefully, 2020 will bring a new trip to another far-flung part of the world and allow more boys an opportunity to grow and broaden their minds.