It’s been a while. I hope you’re doing good up there and enjoying watching me and my adventures, laughing at the rain falling through my bedroom ceiling in the mountain, watching the hikes and adventures I’m participating in with the friends I’m making and enjoying the writing.
I thought of you today, and the last three days, more so than usual. Here’s why..
The last three days I’ve been hiking the Colca Canyon, the second biggest Canyon in the world Grandad. You’d be so interested to see pictures of it and be overwhelmed by the landscapes I’ve seen.
Originally, I’d wanted to hike the Cahatuasi Canyon, which is most definitely the path less trodden on, but it’s impossible to find yourself there unless you put a lot of effort into it and you’d need to hike it alone. I chose to do the Colca Canyon across three days rather than fit it into two days.
Together with the boyfriend of a friend of mine in Arequipa, we got up at 2.30am to be collected. I’m in a private room, because it’s cheap enough and it might smell of sick but that’s totally fine because I have a double bed! Anyway, we arrived at our starting point and realised that the majority of people our age were starting the two day hike – 7 hours the first day, 3 hours the following day. We were joined by two sets of parents and their 18 year old children who are travelling South America (brother Sam take note!) and we set off, both of us wondering why we didn’t man up to complete it quicker – we couldn’t have misjudged the situation more so, splitting this hike over three days was much better.
We started hiking with our tour guide Eddie, and the majority of the three hours is downhill. Don’t get me wrong Grandad, it’s hard, it’s especially tough on the knees and although I know you would have told me you would have been fine doing it, you would not have been. The rocks and stones slip around a lot and the journey feels longer than expected, having said that, the views are magnificent and I couldn’t help wishing that I could actually show you pictures of what I was seeing. I’ve never seen views like it.
We reach our base for the night and it is absolutely not as described to us by the tour agency. In fact, I’m pretty sure they photoshopped a completely different “bungalow” to our pamphlet – as the rooms we were given were nothing short of mud shacks. Now, I’m not a prude, I’ve travelled and stayed in many less satisfactory places before, but this was slightly taking the piss. There were actually REAL ROOMS laughingly placed opposite our mud shacks and when the German parents complained to our guide (who seemed to have skipped the mud shack for a four walled room as well) they were the told the cost of paying for a nicer room was essentially the same price as our tour. I went to shower in the muddy shower cubicle, after being told there was some hot water, but after standing underneath for 5 minutes, I realised there was a strange noise above me. I looked up and saw the shower head spewing water and shaking, like it was going to explode over me – clearly there wasn’t enough water, let alone hot water to let it function – and I quickly turned it off and ran out before I got knocked out by it.
Despite the terrible accommodation, we were hopeful for our lunch and dinner. I had of course eaten so well on my four day hike to Machu Picchu, I was looking forward to the vegetarian option they provided. What the tour agency failed to mention when Lares and I booked the trip was that their “vegetarian option” (which of course they cater for, they had told us definitely) was actually just the sides of the meat option – aka rice and avocado and two slices of tomato.
Without sounding rude.. it was bullshit (sorry Grandad, but it was). I had just hiked three hours to arrive in a mudshack and be fed a handful of rice. Suspiciously, our tour guide never ate with us – rare – which over the next couple of days led me to believe he was eating a lot more than us, hidden away in the kitchen with the locals. Another little piece of bullshit was the fact that, isolated on a hill, we had no access to any other food or water. This meant we had to buy bottles of water from this family who found it appropriate to charge the Gringos 12 soles for a bottle of water – £3 – and charge me £2.50 for a mango juice with more water than mango inside.
We returned to our rooms, and Lars and I looked at each other as we were surrounded by dripping water from the Bamboo roof, huge spiders crawling right by our beds and bloodstains on his pillow. It was therefore great timing when a giant, flying, beetle monster landed on my towel and I screamed for Lars to get rid of it. Lars and I decided to push our beds as close as possible to try and avoid them touching the walls, whilst giving eachother pep talks. We reminded ourselves these experiences were true and authentic and we should try and enjoy it as much as humanely possible. We went to bed, rain dripping on our heads, listening to the sounds of the German teenagers over the wall – as the wall wasn’t built high enough to separate our rooms completely – and tried to look forward to the following 7am start, hoping breakfast would be more substantial.
We woke up for breakfast at 7am, and silently met the two German families at the table, eventually asking how their night was – which was pretty much obvious by their stern faces, which eventually turned into humorous grins. After laughing about our individual, awful experiences, one thing that I realised Grandad, was how much I kept thinking how lucky it was they were there – despite it not being a great experience – to share it with their children. How lucky the teenagers were to have parents there to be able to travel with, and have such incredible times together. How easy it seemed and how I would have given anything for that. I don’t think I ever really got across to you how much it meant to do things with you Grandad, because it was easy and natural – and I craved easy and natural so much in my life Grandad. As easy as it was for these parents to fly into Cusco to join their kids, it was easy for us to go to lunch together and venture into town and go to the theatre. I know I could go with Mum and Dad to a restaurant, but it’s not the same. We’re always joined by carers, things have to be planned and booked and the effort sometimes doesn’t even seem worth it. I never told you Grandad that I used to cry, up until the age of maybe 20, when I used to see mothers and fathers together with their kids away on holiday, out together, enjoying life, carefree whilst I was watching Dad lose his mobility, one fall at a time. I used to get so jealous of girls having days out with their mums, knowing that the option of that happening was limited and I would feel bad for it costing Mum and Dad to get two carers out just for me to spend time with her – I didn’t think it was worth it either. I felt embarrassed to ask for her time, and I felt guilty for not including Dad, or if Dad was included he’d be in his wheelchair and I’d feel bad we were walking and he wasn’t. It was also so much easier hanging out with you Grandad, and that’s what makes life without you so much harder – because life WITH you in it was just so much easier. It didn’t matter that I had a family situation I struggled to deal with when you were there. I didn’t feel such a sharp pain of jealousy, anger, regret and guilt when I saw families together because I had you.
That’s what I started thinking about on the second day of hiking Grandad, post a handful of rice and avocado for breakfast. I started thinking about my guilt, and the guilt I still carry like a lead in the bottom of my stomach. As I kept walking up and up rocky, steep mountains, tripping over stones for an hour, struggling to catch my breath with my legs burning, before heading downhill for another two hours, I realised that it wasn’t my fault. I couldn’t save my Dad from MS, no matter how many years I had tried to save him, desperately telling him he would be okay whilst he was lying on the ground, or in hospital with pain and tears in his eyes. It wasn’t my fault I couldn’t make him better, and it wasn’t my fault I was able to walk and he wasn’t. It wasn’t my fault I was well and he wasn’t and it was never my fault as a 15 year old school girl that I wasn’t the one in the ambulance and he was instead. I had to still go into school to take my GCSEs and A Levels, pretending to everyone everything was okay when everything was NOT okay but I didn’t have another option, no one could know – I didn’t WANT anyone to know. I didn’t want their sympathy or their looks trying to understand the feeling of seeing one parent constantly going into hospital and the other parent not eating out of stress. How could my 15 year old friends understand that? How could I expect them to relate and why should I put them in that position? Hell, even my year 7 school teacher didn’t know what to say when I casually told her Dad was in hospital again, my fingernails digging into my palms to stop myself from crying. It wasn’t my fault I couldn’t control life and the blows it delves to innocent, unknowing people and it wasn’t my fault that I couldn’t magically change fate.
Similarly Grandad, as I was slipping over rocks, once so close to the edge of the Canyon that I winced, and then racing ahead of the group in the Canyon towards the end of the second day of hiking, wanting to almost outrun these thoughts going through my head, I’m sorry I couldn’t save you either. I tried and tried to make you see sense and to tell Mum about the falls you were having and hiding from her. I tried to make you feel young at heart and told you it happened to everyone – even I used to fall over I used to admit to you (missing out the fact that I was definitely, maybe, perhaps a little more drunk than you were though) but it was no use. I ran into the chemist opposite Iceland after you’d told me about your garden fall, after I bought you more food than you wanted because I was worried you looked skinny and I was desperately looking at all the different types of knee bandages to help you with the pain – maybe it would stop the falls?? I never bought it in the end – I think you or Mum told me it was unnecessary – so I’ll never know if it would have helped, but the reality is it probably wouldn’t have done. I tried to make you see sense that you might fall down the stairs if you didn’t take the stair lift, that it was DANGEROUS to live by yourself, that I knew you were capable of everything and anything and this was not to break your ego, but to ensure you kept on, but you wouldn’t listen. I tried Grandad, I tried to save you too and I couldn’t and now, whilst alone, with the silence and then the screaming of my mind, both awake and through the nightmares I still suffer with, I have to try and forgive myself for the fact you made your own choices, and there was nothing I could do to control that. As much as I’ve tried to control everything to make everything perfect, to make everyone well, I couldn’t and it wasn’t my fault that the accident happened. I have to try and remember that. I MUST try and remember that.
With tears peaking in the corner of my eyes, we reached our base camp for our second night at slightly better accommodation with a pool, but still with rooms with a door that didn’t fit or close but at least there were four walls. We jumped into the pool to freshen up and were told that after our three hour hike, we had another hour and a half to wait for lunch. This surely meant it was going to be a BETTER lunch than the day before right? Surely, I mean, why would it take an hour and a half if not? Well, I was very much mistaken, the “chef” was clearly scratching his balls for an hour and a half (sorry Grandad) because whilst everyone got a tiny bit of pasta (they knew I couldn’t eat it) I had rice. And avocado and tomato – so, essentially my breakfast.
This is where I kind of lost it. Fair enough to give me rice – but you could give me MORE RICE THAN A HANDFUL. I pushed my chair aside and strode into the kitchen where the “chef” aka some overweight teenager, two other youths and our tour guide were sitting eating MASSIVE bowlfuls of our rice and pasta – having given us saucers of it. I looked at the overweight teenager, dead in the eye scowling, and asked him for more food, where he promptly told me there was no more rice. I pointed at the saucepan with rice still in and told him in Spanish that there was more rice and to essentially stop bullshitting. He then proceeded to tell me he’d have to charge me an additional amount which is where I saw red. I’m hungry, emotional and not prepared to EVER be treated like an idiot Grandad – you’d be proud of my confidence now I’m sure.
“YOU HAVE A MASSIVE BOWLFUL OF OUR RICE”! I shouted pointing at his food and all his friends.
“WE PAY EXTRA FOR THAT” his sidekick shouted back.
“If you want to complain please Miss, phone up your tour company, they do not pay them a lot for them to give you food” Eddie interrupts the shouting match.
“Clearly enough to give them more food than us though?” I respond and ask him to call the company where I speak to a woman about our terrible portion sizes after all our hiking, and that I’m pretty sure I was paying to be fed, not to get ill from my lack of food. She responded to tell me “we told you it would be basic food. We told you to bring your own snacks” and so I said in typical David Nagioff style “I KNOW it’s basic , I don’t care about it being basic, I’ve lived in Africa for 6 weeks I’m FINE with basic, and I HAVE snacks. What I am not fine with is that I can finish my portion in one mouthful. I can fit the food in ONE HAND and it’s ridiculous, so yes the food as you’ve told me is basic, but I expect there to be food portion sizes big enough to live off after four hours of hiking”. She then asked to speak to my guide who said YOU DID IT she’s giving you three extra plates! – of pasta – not rice so I finished some dregs from breakfast but was glad I had spoken my mind. We returned back to our ant covered room and read for a bit whilst it poured outside with rain, noticing that a bit of the roof had fallen in and it was now Lars’s bed that was getting soaked and I was the one with blood stains on my pillow – what is it with the bloodstains?
We got up at 4am to start trekking uphill at 4.30am for three hours. It felt never ending, an hour in the dark, two in the light and was possibly one of the most mentally difficult, physically demanding tasks I have ever done. I thought climbing hills for 7 hours was hard for Machu Picchu but it was NOTHING compared to climbing steps of unsteady rocks for three hours, unable to see the top on no food. To be honest, I was so full from my rice (shock horror) and potato dinner I didn’t want anything, other than this hike to be over, and I hummed tunes and thought of all possible new subjects to write about to pass the time. Dogs joined us and left us, horses passed us with people on them galloping up to the top, but slowly, stone by stone, rock by rock we saw people at the top, and bang on 7.30am, the German teens and I made it, with Lars having arrived an hour earlier and the German parents and tour guide following us up about twenty minutes later. I looked around at the entirety of the Canyon I’d just conquered, and resisted the urge to cry. I couldn’t believe I’d managed a straight up hill climb, for three hours, I’d survived the terrible accommodation feeling terribly homesick for luxuries and friendly faces and not the faces of the workers who seemed intent on screwing us out of money.
We walked on flat land for another 40 minutes before eating breakfast – REAL BREAKFAST OF EGGS AND NOT RICE – and jumped onto a coach taking us to different viewpoints before arriving at out buffet lunch.
I’m not at the hostel yet, I’m actually still on the coach in traffic and fog, suffering the WORST stomach cramps due to the fact I chose to forget I’m allergic to gluten and dairy and ate Oreos and M&Ms and now my friend has quite rightly said my swollen belly looks pregnant and I’m in a lot of pain. Tomorrow, Lars’s girlfriend – who hates hiking and is currently chilling back in the town of Arequipa – has booked us onto a two hour walking tour of some pretty destination I’d found and stupidly thought was a good idea to get out of the way the day after our hike. The following day I head to Chile! I have to take a random bus and then another random bus before I arrive and hey I haven’t got a clue what I’m doing but I’m sure it’ll all work out. That’s another thing I’m trying to practice letting go of Grandad, control. Control can be good, but it’s not always good for me and so going with the flow can feel quite fun.
Anyway, those are my thoughts of the trip. I’ve been thinking a lot about my general life and relationships – things I used to talk to you about the whole time. You were always so knowledgable and so understanding, but now I’ve got to do it all myself, so I’m figuring things out, one canyon at a time.
I’m sorry again, for trying to help you and for it not working, but you did you and I could do no more. Slowly, slowly I’m trying to practise losing guilt and realising life has a way of beating me when I try and hold it down. I hope you somehow know that you are constantly in my thoughts and that I can feel your guidance in me and around me daily. I can feel your hand in mine and I can see you smiling above me, sometimes so strongly that it’s overwhelming. If you have any internet connection up there and can read this article, let me know somehow you’re watching over me, any sign .. even if you come back as dog poop, that would be okay by me – although sorry if I’ve already stepped in you.
Loving you forever Grandad.
Your favourite and only grand daughter