On The Road Again

Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. And he said to them, “What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?” They stood still, looking sad. Then one of them, whose name was Cleona’s, answered him, “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?” He asked them, “What things?” They replied, “The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place. Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but they did not see him.” Then he said to them, “Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?” Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.

                  As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. But they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.” So he went in to stay with them. When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. They said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?”

Luke 24:13-32

Over the past year I have had the joy and privilege to go on two extraordinary walks. At this time last year I was in the middle of a 35 days walk of over 1000 km across the north of Spain, following the accent Camino de Santiago. As of this writing I have just returned from a much shorter (thank God) walk of 5 days, 79 km on the Salcantay Glacier Trek, up and down through the Andes in Peru to Machu Picchu. While both of these “walks” were in very different settings and very, very different terrains, they have many things in common. The key similarity being that they are both associated with a destination. The Camino ends at the Cathedral of Santiago or St. James in Santiago de Compostela, Spain. Santiago is the traditional burial site of the recovered bones of St. John the Apostle and has been a major pilgrimage site for over 1400 years. Machu Picchu is the famed “Lost City” of the Inca “discovered” by Yale archeologist and explorer Hiram Bingham in 1911 after being lost to the jungle during the Incan genocide perpetrated by the Spanish Conquistadors under the command of Francisco Pizarro in the 1530s.

While both these walks are to someplace, it is not the destinations but the journeys that I will never forget. Traveling on foot, sometimes with great difficulty, and breaking bread three times a day with once strangers, is possible one of the fastest and most ordinary yet extraordinary ways to get to know others and yourself and to build community. Jesus understood and practiced this throughout his ministry. Whether it was on the road to Galilee or the road to Emmaus, Jesus spent time walking, talking and eating. These are three of the most human of activities, yet we tend to rush through them. We more often then not walk simply to get somewhere and eat in a hurry, frequently in silence, to get to our next task.

If I have learned anything in the past 51 years and in particular in walking and talking with strangers or my loved ones through life, it is that – it is not the destination that makes us who we are but the journey.

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The Salkantay Trail – the who, what and where of my time in Peru.

Now that I am back home and have both reliable internet access and have had some time to reflect, I figured I would post a couple of blog entries over the next couple of days. This first post will be some facts (the who, what and where of it all) and a few images from my short time trekking in Peru. The next, will hopefully be a little more reflective, an opportunity for me to share a few thoughts on what this time away has meant to me.

When I first conceived of this idea of trekking/hiking to Machupicchu in the Peruvian Andes I had assumed that I would go by way of the “Classic Inca Trail.” After a little research I came to the conclusion that this route was far more crowded than I would enjoy. So, I did a little research and found that a few years ago a new trail was developed to take some of the pressure off of the Inca Trail. This sounded perfect, so I booked my guide and paid my money for what is called “The Salkantay Trail.” So called because of the fact that on the second day we hiked to the Salkantaypampa or Salkantay Glacier at the altitude of 15,200 feet (the highest point on the trek). Me being me, I had gotten so excited about this trip and the new route I had not thoroughly read the information on it. Yes, I had read all the “important” stuff like cost, date and what was included and not included, but I had not read the route description completely. As it turned out, the route I had chosen was much higher, steeper and longer (both in miles and days) than the Inca Trail. Once I discovered this, I have to say I was a little concerned. As a 51-year-old man who is not in bad shape but could use to lose a fare bit of weight, I thought this might not be the best of ideas – but that has never stopped me and hopefully never will. No guts no glory, no pain no gain – after all this was supposed to be an adventure, a personal, physical, spiritual and psychological challenge. AND IT WAS.

The Facts: 5 days & 4 nights, 78 km/50 miles (vs. 43km/27miles for the Inca Trail) and the most extended steep hiking I have ever done. At one point we climbed upwards for nearly 3 hours. Distance hiking has never been my problem – I did well over 1000km last summer in Spain on the Camino de Santiago. It is the steep grade of this hike that I found so grueling. And it was great.


The guide service I used was SAS, a locally owned and operated company. Because I was on my own a group of 10 of us were put together along with a guide, asst. guide, cook (food was very good and prepared under very difficult circumstances) and small support staff of a couple of porters and 2 others. The group put together was one of the best parts of the trip. As I said, I am 51 years old and the next oldest person in our group of 10 was 28 years old. At first I thought this might prove to be difficult and I might feel like an outsider, but it was really fun and they all proved to be great to hang out with and really pushed me physically. I was also the only American in the group – but since they were mostly European, they all spoke beautiful English. I joked that the only people on the trip who had trouble with the English language were the Australians and the American.

The Group: 2 Australian men, friends since high school, 1 a cardiac nurse (which I found morbidly reassuring) and the other a geologist with an offshore oil rig contractor. 2 women from Austria, long time friends and recent grad school grads, an Italian man who had attended grad school with the 2 Austrians, a German couple, she just having graduated from a masters program in psychology and having spent 4 months in Nicaragua working in a clinic and now traveling in South America with her boyfriend and 2 Koreans, a man and a woman, who had just graduated from Rice University in Houston. All were good athletes and many very strong climbers with years of experience traveling the world (Aussies) or climbing the Alps as weekend recreation.

While Machupicchu was amazing to see and experience, it was the trek and the group that was by far the best part. I pushed myself physically and was supported by everyone, as we supported each other. You know me – it is these little communities that we create or find ourselves in that make life the joy and the adventure that it is.

The wounds of Jesus and Thin Places

As I was walking through the slums of Cusco, Peru, a taxi driver pulled up and asked if I needed a ride. I said “no gracias”/ “no thanks” I like to walk. His response was a common one, “why.”

Heads up – this is where I go all church geek:
Those of you who know my preaching, my theology and person spiritual journey, know that I believe to know God we need to know Jesus and the only true way to do this is to know the wounds of Jesus. To touch the wounds of Jesus. To do this we need to know the wounds of the world. This is a part of the Incarnation. Wether it be the in slums of Cusco, the ruins of the Inca – a once great nation of people, our politically and economically forgotten inner cities, a student stressed to the point of contemplating suicide in a suburban high school, a gay kid afraid for his safety if he comes out, an old man at the bed side of the fading love of his life, a girl who has been told that she is not pretty/thin/popular enough or a beggar on the street……. – to know Jesus, like Thomas, we need to touch his wounds. Only then can we fully proclaim “my Lord and my God” in our words and though our lives.
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Tomorrow I get picked up at 5:30am to leave on my trek. 5 days of walking in the mountains, through sacred lands in very thin places. Thin places where the veil between us and God feels like you can reach right through and feel the other side. Where God’s presence is not clouded by the here and the now. This is why I love the mountains, the pure and rugged beauty of it all – you just know that you are in a holy place.
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Special Dinner Addition

Tonight I went to a very nice traditional Peruvian Restaurant named Incanto. This is what I had for dinner along with a lovely glass of wine. It was all very good and the service was great.:

Quinoa chowder, traditional chowder (not in Maine) made with quinoa, fava beans, olluco, soft fried egg and Andean cheese

Cuy (Guinea pig, just like the one that kept getting loose when you were a kid)), marinated and roasted to crispy served with and huacatay (black mint) sauce, rustic coriander and yellow mashed potatoes and an arugula, andean roasted corn and water crest salad.
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Thank God this is Not a Land of Guns and Fences

There are 5 major archeology sites near cusco. That is why it is called the Sacred Valley (this was the center of Inca culture at it’s height), including The Throne of the Inca (or king). There are many, many tours you can hook up with or arrange your own private tour to these amazing pieces and places of history. Most (read normal) people do this by group bus, van or car. Well, I decided to get a ride to the furthest point and hike the 5 (it turned out to be 8.54 (GPS watch – very cool) oh well) miles visiting each of these sites and then back to Cusco. Now there is a trail -on which I did not see a soul on it for many miles. Arriving at each archeological site the parking lots are full of busses and vans and all the usually suspects.

Oh ya guns and fences: So on the way from one site to another I saw something off the trail that caught my eye so I went to investigate, turned out to be just a small ruin. To paraphrase the movie masterpiece that is Apocalypse Now, “Never get off the trail”. Well in trying to get back on the trail, I got lost (don’t tell my wife) and spent the next 30+ minutes bushwhacking very carefully down an incredibly steep terraced farm with some large bushes that I did not know and some coca plants mixed in for local tea use only (you can tell by the quality and not being hidden and oh ya no guns).

Before I left, my father told me not to do anything stupid – well that would be no fun at all.

The last and most significant site of the 5 is Sacsayhuaman, an amazing temple and burial place for priests of the sun god. I walked around for awhile being constantly amazed by how the Inca built with massive stones and no mortar but perfect joints. I could not stay long however. I wanted to walk the whole way back to Cusco and with a thunder and lighting storm rolling in I did not want is place, no matter how beautiful, to become the burial place of this priest of the Son God ( get it sun/Son).

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My Andean Adventure Begins

In my last post, in January, I let those who have so much spare time that they read this blob, know that I was going to Peru for a 5 day trek to Machu Picchu.

As Priscilla was driving me to the train station, for the second time Monday (the first time we got there and I had left my phone at home) to catch the train to the airport she asked me a funny question. “Why Peru, and why climb for 5 days to Machu Picchu?” Well the question wasn’t funny, it was just funny it took her this long to ask. My answer was short and sweet – “because it is a place that has fascinated me since I was a kid.” That is the truth, but not the whole truth. The first part – the Peru piece is easy, that’s where the ancient ruins of the last great strong hold of the Inca peoples are. What Yale archeologist and the inspiration for the movie character Indiana Jones, Hiram Bingham called “the Lost City of the Incas.” So basically because – it is there.

The fuller answer is, as always a little more complicated, it is that I have always had a part of me that loved adventure but was afraid to act on it. Afraid of shirking my responsibilities as a husband and father, afraid to spending money that could/should be spent elsewhere and possibly a little afraid of failure (not my comfort zone). Well things have changed, the kids are grow (most days), I have discovered the shocking truth that Priscilla does just fine on her own and in fact she keeps a list of movies that I don’t want to watch and as for finance, you only live once and let me tell you I am not getting any younger. As for failing, I now know that the truth is in the adventure not the “summit” and my walk in Spain last year taught me that I am capable of some things that even surprise me and I expect that you are as well.

So here I am sitting in the courtyard of a very cool little hotel in Cusco, Peru at just over 10,000 feet acclimatizing for the next three days before we begin our climb. A climb that will reach nearly 16,000 feet on the second day.

I love to travel, I love to walk, I love to experience new and very different places but most of all I love having a wife who understands me, for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer blah blah blah…..

Here are a few picture from the journey so far and I’ll write some more in a day or two before I am in that rarest of all place – a WIFI free zone.

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It Has Been Some Time Now

It has been some time now since I last posted to this blog. Reading back over my last post I see that I never let you know that I made it to Santiago. Well I did. I had a great last couple of days of walking and arrived in Santiago a few days earlier than expected, feeling great with the exception of a pretty bad cough. I spent a couple of days exploring the city and meeting up with friends I had made along “The Way.”

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Before returning home I spent a couple of days in Madrid seeing the sights and yes walking for hours on end around that beautiful and busy city. It took awhile to get used to the noise and crowds of Madrid after so much calm on The Camino but I enjoyed myself throughly.

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Now that I have been back from my walk for a number of months I have had many chances to reflect on the experience. I can easily say that it was certainly one of the most interesting/challenging/fun/rewarding things I have ever done. By the time I reached Santiago I, along with my walking companions, was quite clear that while we saw no need to do this exact walk again we all agreed we wanted to do something like it in the near future. The fact that I would never walk the Camino Franc again was pretty well set in my mind – that said I am already thinking about doing it again for my 60th birthday as this walk took place in the year I turned 50. Oh well, so much for making up my mind.

MY NEXT ADVENTURE:

This May I will be trekking to Machu Picchu, the ancient Inca site in Peru, by way of the Salkantay Trail. This is a very different experience and opportunity. While the Camino was 500 miles in 30ish days this trek will only be 30ish miles in 5 days. That said this trip should prove to much more physically demanding as it takes place at times at attitudes of over 16,000 feet. My schedule is to fly out of JFK on May 4 arriving in Cuzco, Peru the following day. Spend 3 days in Cuzco (the ancient capital of the Inca empire) acclimatizing and visiting the many Inca ruins in the area. At that point I will hook up with my guide and begin the trek to Machu Picchu, God willing and my lungs and legs surviving I should get to Machu Picchu on the 11th and return home on the 13th.

I will hopefully post from Cuzco both on my arrival and departure.

I love to walk, explore places new to me and to meet folks from different places and walks of life; The Camino did this for me and I look forward to the same from this newest adventure – now it is time to get back into shape.

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Nearing Santiago

The last two days of walking have been beautiful. The weather has been good and the terrain not to challenging. I have come to be convinced that the Camino path was designed by some very talented, yet sadistic, golf course designer, It can humble you and almost bring you to tears one moment and the next, give you hope and encouragement.
We have just two more days of walking and then we will arrive in Santiago. This is a strange thought as until a day or two ago no one seemed capable of thinking beyond a couple of days into the future – one step at a time, one day at a time – that’s how you get to Santiago.
As I will be spending some time in Spain after arriving at the end of this path, I will be share some more and hopefully deeper thoughts with you in the near future. For now some pictures from the last two days will have to do.

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Two Short Videos as Promised

Here are the two short videos I have been trying to upload from the other day. I finally found wifi with a large enough band width. They are not quite worth the wait but funny when you realize they happened within an hour of each other.
The best part is at the very end of the second clip, catch the facial expression on the cowherd in the very last moments of the video, even he thought the whole thing was kind of amusing – enjoy

A Good Day for a Walk

Today was the perfect weather for a nice walk. It was cool, overcast and dry most of the day. We did get about an hour or so of light rain but not only was it no problem it would have been missed after so many very rainy days.
As we have passed the 100km mark to Santiago the path is becoming much busier. That said, at times today it was quite quiet.
A very large percentage of pilgrims only do the last 100km of the 800km Camino. Tradition provides full pilgrim privileges to those who walk at least the last 100k. Modern schedules have made this a much more attractive and accessible goal for most. I am glad that this provides a piece of this wonderful experience to so many, but I would not trade my 5 weeks and 800km for anything – this time has been a real blessing in many different ways and I will be processing it for some time to come and will never forget it.

I still can’t load the video from the other day, but here are some pictures from today.

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