Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Warmiwañusca or bust.

What the fuck was I thinking?

I could be lying by the pool in a Tuscan tennis villa. Instead, I was gasping for breath in supermodel-thin air, already too knackered to walk around the donkey shit splattered on the trail. The Inca Trail.

"I'll give you $100 bucks U.S. for a ride!" I pleaded to a Peruvian cowgirl leading a pair of capable looking horses. She just flashed me a "stupid gringo" grin and kept going.


I had only been walking for a couple of hours, but it felt like days. Right off the bat, I had no intention of keeping pace with my traveling companions – a smorgasbord of fit British, Australian and Irish twenty somethings who left me in the dust shortly after our inspirational gathering at the first of many Incan pit stops for worship and reflection. With them, and with my blessing, went my reluctant 15-year old, who said he would never forgive me for making him come on this journey. Making matters worse, our guide kindly pointed out a Black Widow spider, and I just passed two clusters of retreating trekkies – wisely turning back, having surrendered any hope of crossing this pilgrimage to Hell off of their bucket lists.

I was screwed.

The Inca Trail is not so much a trail, as a trial. A series of irregular, steep, masochistic steps designed to crush the soul. No wonder the Spanish were so pissed off – their knees were killing them – and they likely had the shits from so much corn and quinoa. And, no wonder this celebrated schlep to Machu Picchu is considered a once-in-a-lifetime thing. You'd have to be fucking nuts to do it again.

Nevertheless, after a few warm-up jaunts to various ruins, there I was, alone on Day One – heralded as the "easy" day – my mind already wandering down the dusty path to Day Two, when we would climb 4200 metres to Warmiwañusca, or Dead Woman's Pass.

As it turned out, the first day's climb was hot, slow, steady and doable – but later that evening, all cozy in our tent, under a blanket of stars – a mild panic attack set in. What would happen if I was the dead woman on Dead Woman's Pass? I'm already oxygen deprived and I'm lying down! If I croak, how will the Little Bastard get home? Who will look after him? Will I clutch my heart and shit my pants – finally succumbing to 49 years of treating my body like crap? And what will they do with my body? Fling me off a cliff? Again, what the fuck was I thinking?

"I can't do this." I whispered in the dark, tears streaming down my face.

"Mom," responded the sleepy Little Bastard, miles away from his own personal comfort zone. "If anybody can do this, you can."

There are words that roll around in your head as we plow through the donkey shit on the path of life. Words like: Can't. Never. Won't. Fat. Unloved. Old. RRSP's. Should have. Wrinkles. Don't. Guilt. Ugly. And, regret.

Tuscany is for pussies.

For the next few thousand toenail-lifting footsteps, up and down the Andes, under a brilliant blue sky, came words like: Wow. Awesome. Yes, I'd love some coca tea. Sunny. Beautiful. Keep going. Amazing. I can do this. Birthdays are good. Orchid. Believe. Slow and steady. Alive. You're doing this. Butterfly. And, I'd kill for a solid stool and a toilet seat, but this hole in the ground will do.

After a 6 am start, on the afternoon of Day Two, and about 45 painstaking minutes from the top of Dead Woman's Pass, I was sucking wind with a bunch of fun, like-minded, out-of-shape women from around the globe, when our lovely guide Victor said, "My lady... Cynthia... I believe Jack is waiting at the top."

"No fucking way," I said, puffing, with my hands on my knees. My kid was happily resting at the campsite – shoes off, fed, and playing cards by now.

Doubts aside, I looked up to see the lanky silhouette of a 6' 4" teenager, motioning like an impatient 3rd base umpire waving in a blind, geriatric base runner.

He was waiting.

When I finally reached the top of Dead Woman's Pass, I succumbed to a different kind of heart attack. I fell into my kid's arms – sobbing – my heart bursting with love and self-worth and happiness. I have never felt so tired, and so alive. He patted my back and said, "Mom, don't make a scene. Let's go, I'm starving". We took a few pictures, then I released him, and slowly inched my rubbery legs down the whorish steps that led to our next campsite. My soul was skipping, even if my body wasn't.

Tomorrow was another day. The longest day. And the day after that, we would wake at 4am to catch the sunrise on Machu Picchu. The earliest day. But today, was the hardest day. The highest day. The day that made you ask yourself over and over, "What the fuck was I thinking?".

The best day.

Dead Woman's Pass, my ass.


Nadine at Maritime Travel will book you on a Gap Adventures tour to Machu Picchu and the Sacred Valley, with or without the grueling hike. She also gives a pretty good Tuscany. Call her at 902.429.7883. Oh, click on the JIM logo to support Elaine Shortt's pilgramage to Hell.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Break that bottle of bubbly Hernando and no Canadian Tire money for you.

"Define camping." I asked as nicely as I am able. "Is it camping camping – like sleeping on the ground camping – or is it Oprah and Gayle style camping, with lipstick and jammies and mattresses and stuff?"

Dead silence.

"Hello?" I said.

"It's camping." Replied, the not so adventurous sounding girl at the adventure travel company. "Tents on the ground camping."

I went on.

"So, okay, I'm thinking I'd like to do the drive-thru version of Machu Picchu. In and out like a cheap whore." Of course, I didn't say that last bit, as there was already a distinct failure to communicate between myself and the wouldn't know adventure if it kicked her in the ass-girl at the adventure company.

Dead silence.

"You can't drive through Machu Picchu, ma'am." Was the eventual response from the lifeless creature on the other end of the line.

"I understand that, you stupid bitch, I wasn't being literal." I said, losing patience. "What I meant was, I didn't have a whole lot of time to stop and smell the fucking Peruvian roses. I want to be there, on top, feeling like I've accomplished something – then I want to catch the first burro out of there."

Dead silence.

It was around then, that I hung up and called Nadine at Maritime Travel.

It's not that I've always had a lifelong burning desire to climb Machu Picchu. It's just that it's there, and it would be nice to wake up on top of something other than a poodle and a pile of drool, icing, and night sweats after drinking too much at a party my neighbours felt obligated to throw in my honour.

I want an adventure – and besides – dragging the Little Bastard along will give him something to remember me by after I stroke out, or get gunned down by someone I pissed off for the very last time.

Control freak that I am, I already knew the dates, places, times, temperatures, history, culture, economy, geography, and every flight coming and going from Lima to Havenot. And, while my travel agent is qualified and eager to research and sort through all the details – I just needed Maritime Travel to deal with the insolent lack of adventure girl at the adventure travel company. (And find me a luxurious last night in Lima.) Besides, I don't trust that random travel companies aren't going to up and blow town, shortly after they have my deposit. Booking with good ol' trustworthy Maritime Travel means I don't have to deal with sweating the small stuff – stuff that could easily escalate into big stuff, if left holding the carry-on bag in some Peruvian shit hole.

"And about the sherpas." I asked, just after my camping concerns and before my drive thru queries. "Will even the tiniest, most underage, toothless, uneducated, malnourished and impoverished of luggage porters be strong enough to carry my Concha y Toro?"

Dead silence.

"Hello?" I asked.

"Did you say, Concha y Toro?" the unadventurous girl asked.

"Yes. It's wine. A liquid made from grapes." I told her. "I'm going to be 50."

Dead silence.

"And thirsty as shit."

Dead silence.


And so begins my attempt to climb Machu Picchu, dragging a reluctant 15-year old and a fat ass. Stay tuned. Plan your own adventure at Maritime Travel's Vacation Superstore this coming weekend at WTCC.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Off the coast of Happy, heading toward Bliss.

Once again, RRSP season came – and went – securing my bed in the government assisted nursing home.

And I don't care.

I am currently between the Croatian islands of Vis and some other island I cannot spell, nor afford. It is just past 9 am, and I think it is Wednesday.

But again, I don't care.

It is hard to explain the happiness one feels surrounded by this much beauty, fun people who were merely strangers a few days ago, and a happy kid – no longer a reluctant traveler after a few days of cycling and living on a luxury yacht.

Take for instance this morning. After a few tippy yoga moves on the upper deck – breakfast was a United Nations of fresh yogurt, plum jam, kiwis, tomatoes, cheese, strawberries, crusty bread and liverwurst – with a little Nesquik cereal the Little Bastard found in the local market. Broken English, German, Aussie laughter, some great 'Monty Python meets Rumpole' British humour, with a cup of coffee or two to wash it all down. Islands drifting by. The occasional porpoise. Sunshine.


Yesterday we cycled on the island of Vis, only recently opened to tourists after several years of military occupation. Tito (smart fella) hid from Hitler on Vis. I hid from reality, although the first 10 kms were a test – an uphill battle after a morning of heaving seas and stomachs – and there was a bitchy head wind messing with my mind. I wanted to turn back to the boat, and have Robert pour me a glass of wine. What the fuck was I doing out here? My knees were sore. My ass was sore. I felt old.

Then I thought of my friend battling cancer back home. She would love to be here – and we'd be laughing, and pushing each other up the hill. Her laughter rang in my head. That amazing, throaty, mischievous laugh. And, so, with that laugh in my heart, I kept pedaling.

Like Dori, the annoying fish played by Ellen Degeneres in Finding Nemo, I just kept swimmin'... all the way to the top, where the island did a big "Ta da!" – opening up the curtains to a 5 km ride downhill into a sleepy seaside fishing village, and a pistachio gelato. Or maybe lemon. Or maybe blueberry.

Standing up on the pedals like a drunk 5-year old, I succumbed to gravity, letting it pull me toward the sea. Ignoring the brakes, and leaning into the first corner – my bicycle bell suddenly started ringing itself. Brrrrrring! Another corner. Brrriiiiiiiiiiiiing! All the way down to the village – past churches, and vineyards, and yawning cats – my bell was laughing at me. With me. For me.

For her.

At the bottom, the Little Bastard was already tucking in to 3 scoops of chocolate gelato, and he was smiling. Or maybe he was laughing.

It didn't matter.

The boat is pulling in to our island of the day. 50 kms ahead with a 9 km climb before lunch. A late lunch hopefully.

Before the nursing home, there is Tuscan Tennis. And a Bhutan trek. Maybe a well-earned stomach bug or two in India. Skipping along the Great Wall. A safari? Prague. And tomorrow.

Just keep swimmin' and the bells will ring themselves.