walk like an inca

And then up the ladder of the earth I climbed
through the horrible thicket of the lost jungles
to you, Machu Picchu.

Tall city of stones stacked up in steps,
at last a dwelling where what is earthly
was not hidden under slumbering clothes.
In you, like two parallel lines,
the cradle of lightning and humanity
rocking together in a thorny wind.

Mother of stone, spume of the condors.

Highest reef of the human dawn.

Shovel buried in the first sand.

This is the spot, the place where they lived:
here the fat kernels of corn were carried up
and fell again to earth like red hail.

Here the gold wool came off the vicuña
to dress the loves, the burial mounds, the mothers,
the king, the prayers, the warriors.

Here men’s feet took their rest at night
next to the feet of eagles, in the lofty lairs
of the meat-eaters, and at dawn
they trod with thunderous steps over the rarefied fog,
and touched the ground and the rocks
until they knew them in the dark or in death.

I look at their clothes and their hands,
the traces of water in the echoing hollows,
the wall worn smooth by the touch of a face
that looked with my eyes a the earthly lamps,
that oiled with my hands the vanished
timbers: because everything –the clothes, the hides, the vessels,
the words, the wine, the bread was
gone, fallen into the earth.

And the air came in with orange-blossom fingers
over all the sleepers:
a thousand years of air, months, weeks of air,
of blue wind and iron mountains,
as if soft hurricanes of running feet
were polishing the solitary enclosure of the stone.


Arise to birth with me, my brother.
Give me your hand out of the depths
sown by your sorrows.
You will not return from these stone fastnesses.
You will not emerge from subterranean time.
Your rasping voice will not come back,
nor your pierced eyes rise from their sockets.

Look at me from the depths of the earth,
tiller of fields, weaver, reticent shepherd,
groom of totemic guanacos,
mason high on your treacherous scaffolding,
iceman of Andean tears,
jeweler with crushed fingers,
farmer anxious among his seedlings,
potter wasted among his clays–
bring to the cup of this new life
your ancient buried sorrows.
Show me your blood and your furrow;
say to me: here I was scourged
because a gem was dull or because the earth
failed to give up in time its tithe of corn or stone.
Point out to me the rock on which you stumbled,
the wood they used to crucify your body.
Strike the old flints
to kindle ancient lamps, light up the whips
glued to your wounds throughout the centuries
and light the axes gleaming with your blood.

I come to speak for your dead mouths.

Throughout the earth
let dead lips congregate,
out of the depths spin this long night to me
as if I rode at anchor here with you.

And tell me everything, tell chain by chain,
and link by link, and step by step;
sharpen the knives you kept hidden away,
thrust them into my breast, into my hands,
like a torrent of sunbursts,
an Amazon of buried jaguars,
and leave me cry: hours, days and years,
blind ages, stellar centuries.

And give me silence, give me water, hope.

Give me the struggle, the iron, the volcanoes.

Let bodies cling like magnets to my body.

Come quickly to my veins and to my mouth.

Speak through my speech, and through my blood.

“las alturas de macchu picchu”, by Pablo Neruda

we made it, in the end. and it was the journey that mattered.

jonno and i completed the exhillarating and gruelling four day inca trail. our guide kept inadvertently referring to it as the “inca trial”… which was often an apt malapropism. yet i wouldn’t have traded any of it. because without it, machu picchu would have been missing its mystery.

the trail is about building. it’s about testing and discovering. it is challenge interspersed with small miracles. it is said the incas used to take 2 weeks to travel from cusco to machu picchu – they knew there is merit in overcoming obstacles. there is wonder to be found at the top of a mountain you didn’t think you could climb. there is awe in coming around a corner into a clearing of majestic peaks as far as the eye can see. there is the heartening of hummingbirds that flit about like magic when you are gasping for air. there is the dew of the cloud forest that refreshes when you’re drenched in sweat. there is encouragement in looking back upon how far and high you have come. there is relief in reaching the end of an endless downhill. there is the music of the birds you can only hear at 4200 meters of solitude. there is the inner reflection that comes with long stretches of endurance. and the inca trail is all these things: wonder, awe, heart, refreshment, encouragment, relief, music, solitude, reflection, endurance.

and on the last day, upon arising long before dawn, setting out on trembling tired legs, surmounting the last uphill and finally, momentously arriving at the sun gate to take in that world famous view… upon seeing the mountains, the valleys, and the lost inca city of poetry bathed in mists and light… you realise that it is the mystery and magic you wanted all along. and it is the inca trail which gives machu picchu its magic.

and it *IS* magic.

7 Responses to “walk like an inca”

  1. Nicole
    September 20th, 2006 21:25

    Congrats! The Inca trail is on my list of things I need to do before I die.

  2. Stacey
    September 21st, 2006 09:21

    Congrats on persevering! Wouldn’t have been the same if you had arrived by helicopter, would it? ;-)

  3. Antoinette
    September 21st, 2006 16:16

    I’ve been reading your blog for awhile now. And this entry gave me chills. I recently spent a month in Bolivia and cannot wait to make it back to South America to do this trail myself. Kudos.

  4. Anglofille
    September 21st, 2006 20:40

    what an evocative description! i’m not sure i’d have the wherewithal to do this trek, so congratulations on this accomplishment. i look forward to seeing the photos!

  5. Jen
    September 22nd, 2006 00:09

    thanks y’all. photos coming very soon!

  6. daddio
    September 25th, 2006 11:05

    i am reading along thinking, boy she is not only a great writer, but a teriffic poet too. oh well.

  7. abigail
    September 25th, 2006 19:38

    I’m interested in hearing more about the trail – and whether you had trouble with the altitude. We’re considering a trip next year but I’m not in the best shape (hopefully ski season will help with that!) and I have had trouble at altitude before, so I’m not sure if I should attempt it :-x

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