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. James 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 possibly 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.

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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