Where the Porters Slept on my Inca Trail Hike

Two things happened during my first Midwest Mountaineering presentation that gave me pause. I received a bunch of questions at the end, which is good because it means you gave a stimulating, exciting lecture. Most of them were of the variety of, “how much does this trip cost?” and “is the water safe to drink?” but I had one guy ask me a question that was a little tougher to answer.

He referenced my photo of our camping arrangements (seen to the right) and asked, “where did the porters sleep?”

On the one hand, I suppose that was a fair enough questions because I hadn’t addressed the issue, but on the other hand it sent me off on kind of a long-winded tangent because it kind of sounded like he was asking me if we were exploiting our porters.

Well, the truth is that the porters do a heck of a lot of work for not all that much money. Yes, I felt a little bad about this and slipped them tips frequently, but what the hell does that accomplish? Honestly, in my ten years living in Peru, I reflected a lot on what a person could do to actually make a dent in overcoming the poverty in the world. Part of my solution was to dedicate years of my life to teaching English. Sure, I was paid for this, but by the standards of what I could have earned, I was paid almost nothing (besides, I think it’s better to charge something for a class, even if it’s a pittance just to establish a professional relationship–the same thing is true about wearing a tie to work even when you don’t have to…it gets you in the right frame of mind).

Anyway, I said that I kind of remembered a red tent, but that I thought they stayed in the houses of friends and family along the way.  Looking through my photos, I came across the above image of a little hut that was right next to our campground. I assume the red blanket is the source of my thinking there was a “red tent” (weird how the brain works eh?).

Again, I don’t know if the guy was trying to be judgmental, but my opinion is that basically anyone in America can get their hands on hundreds of thousands of dollars if they really want to, and if they want to help people out in the world they should really pay for it themselves before being critical of others. I’ve managed to keep in touch with a lot of my old students on Facebook, and I’ve been pleasantly surprised how well life has turned out for them, so I honestly don’t feel I owe all that much anymore.

The other thing that brought me pause was the comment of a sour faced woman who approached me after the talk and semi-angrily declared, “I’d advise you to mention that the terrorism in Peru is nothing compared to what the people of Mexico are going through?”

This statement came right as I was happily chatting away with several people who were gushing about how much they enjoyed my presentation. We all kind of stopped when this woman spoke up, and even she kind of wore the expression of “what I’m saying sounds a lot stupider now that I’m saying it rather than just thinking about it.”  I said something to the effect of, “yeah, it’s a shame what’s going on in Mexico,” but I didn’t go further than that.

When you’re giving a speech to the general public, you never know if people are stupid or ignorant or what. My wife often comments that idiot Americans are fairly likely not to even know where Peru is (when I told my wife of this incident, she assumed the idiot probably thought Peru was a part of Mexico). I don’t know if this woman really cared about Mexico, or if she didn’t know anything about the suffering Peruvians went through during the worst years of “Shining Path” terrorism (which I think it’s fair to say was on par with anything Mexico is going through today). Or maybe she just thought it was my obligation to mention Mexico since I was giving a speech on South America and she was semi-scolding me for being derelict in this duty (For the record, if that was her thinking then I strongly disagree with her on what my obligations were/are).

Anyway, if anyone was curious, the above picture is the type of hut the porters generally stayed in, and Peru is currently enjoying a prosperous period with limited danger from terrorists.

For those of you who haven’t already, make sure you do me a favor a pick up my books Beyond Birkie Fever and The Bone Sword over at the Rhemalda Bookshop!  If you happen to write a review somewhere, please let me know!  Also, add Birkie and Bone Sword to your cart on Amazon.com!

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