We were woken up at 5:30am today with the now-familiar call for Coca tea outside the tent. As soon as you hear the old man’s voice, it is customary to de-crust your eyes as quickly as possible, unzip your sleeping bag, ditto the front of the tent, to find the cook and his fourteen year-old nephew standing there, dressed, since probably awake for hours even though they went to bed later than you did, waiting for your gentle rise to give you the cup they’ve been patiently holding for minutes. You grab it, say gracias and move on to a breakfast made of a delicious Quinoa/apple drink, homemade bread, a perfectly-sized frittata and, of course, more Coca tea.




Day two is the one… The day we were told from the beginning is the reason why you mount the Lares Trek as opposed to the Inca Trail, it is the day you ascend from three thousand meters to four thousand, three hundred (that’s 9800 feet to over 14,000) during a difficult four and a half hour climb. We knew this, of course, still a tad nervous. But one of the things I love about this hike is that there is no turning back, there is no helicopter rescue, there is no extra horse, no Segway waiting if you feel less then able, you have to complete the challenge you signed up for, you have to punch through the self-built wall of your invented limitations, must go forward! And so forward we went, Zoel upfront chatting up Hilton, our guide, asking about all the newness, questioning, wondering, arguing, wasting his oxygen…





If you go skying in winters, when you’re lucky, often do you find yourselves in the company of alien landscapes, peaks and valleys on the horizon reminding you of the movies and documentaries you once watched and in which the protagonists venture deep into nature, risking their lives for rewards incomprehensible, or to find the $100,000,000 in fresh U.S. mint stolen by treasonous FBI agents in a daring midair highjack. Either way. Point is, rarely do we ever venture into or through those peaks and valleys, we look at them from afar, compare our puny stature against the elements and logically walk back. Not this time. The idea, this time, is to go into and through. And so forward we went…





Never in my life have I ever been surrounded by such beauty at once, with my family at my side, against scenery that makes not just my back but my jaw, drop. We walked, and walked, and walked, up, and up, and up, through unending mountain paths with Sebastien wearing his Air France blanket as a turban and Zoel still standing in his inadequate Nikes zealously recommended by an incompetent, and hopefully former, Foot Locker employee. Incredibly, he was not complaining, not really. Not once during this entire day did I hear him ask “how much longer?” usually a regular refrain during our comfortably-seated car rides from NYC to his Nana’s house in Philly… I was astounded.





Thing is, this climb is more than just a matter of incline but a matter of a change in inclination, mine, and my brother’s, and my son’s. Without as much as a look or a whisper, we agreed to change today. When our point of view was elevated due to the actual change in altitude, so did our perspective, it had no choice in the matter. What are we doing here on this mountain surrounded by strange things and strange people? I am 45, he is 40, the other 12 and so small we feel as we encounter wild horses near a lagoon on an unexpected plateau, giving us some welcome respite from the incessant climb, that we started to look within and at each other differently. We challenged ourselves today and it changed us, slightly. Not consciously of course, but the inevitability of our geographical rise led to inevitable humility in front of these basic ingredients of life, something I have missed in my daily customs, worrying too often about my status, my worth, my standing. Here, the only standing that matters is my position on the hill.



The last hour of the four and a half was the hardest, naturally. Loose rocks on the edges of this peak made it all the more dangerous to follow closely the others, especially un-assisted by the right shoes, animals or walking sticks. Reaching four thousand meters, the oxygen made itself scarce and you could feel the headache tap you on the back of the head once in a while, so I would stop and breathe in deep through my nose and expel that air fast through my mouth a few times in a row so as to help out my fatty blood make it to the top. Each of us found his own groove, his own pace, slowly, step by step, unfortunately looking down at our feet instead of the majesty all around so we wouldn’t trip and fall. And up we went some more…

Finally, the top was in sight, reachable…



Then, finally, the top was reached.

Zoel collapsed. Sebastien sat and looked around. I shed a tear.



Now, if you find me over-dramatic telling the tale of what was merely, after all, but a five-hour walk, I completely understand but, no disrespect, you can go duck yourself. (I have been told to keep this blog PG-9.)


This walk, I have never done anything like it, never would have wanted to, basking in my sedentary over-privilege, not even getting up to change the channel most days, why on earth would I ever walk dozens of miles to get somewhere perfectly accessible by train, which probably has drinks?! Well, because being here represents a further blast of pick axe in the destruction of who I thought I should have been and the laying of a foundation for reconstruction I have long written about and, little by little, putting in practice. It’s nothing, I know, but it feels like something to me. And I bet it feels like something to Sebastien and will, one day, to my son.

Now, it was only noon by then if you can believe it (I couldn’t,) and we weren’t quite done! We had another hour of downhill walking to our lunch spot and another two to the night camp. Let’s go!


We arrived at a community of six or seven houses near a lake where a tent was pitched for our lunch, another delicious five-courser cooked in a hovel…



They even made alphabet pasta, which Zoel readily put to good use, designing what I hope will be his first album cover…


In the middle of a perfectly pleasant meal, we started to hear the sky growl outside and what began as rain quickly turned to hail! I can’t wait for you to see the video of this, it was crazy beautiful to see the heretofore green infinity turn to a silvery shine before our eyes under the frozen punishment from the Inca Gods. We looked out in wonder, getting pelted. But the thing is, when you’re on a trek, there’s no waiting for it to pass. You’re done with lunch? You have to go because the schedule designed to reach your destination before night fall must be followed. So we went, again, covered and protected with what we had, or what we could find…





Incredibly, as tired as we were, as much ground as we had covered, we had much more to walk. Yet, here were the cooks and the fourteen year-old passing us, today as they did every damn day, going at the pace of their horses and wearing only sandals, putting us to shame with our tech fabrics and air soles. I asked Hilton, our guide, a straight question:

Me: When Peruvians see us Gringos with all our gear, walking breathlessly through their mountains, the same ones they walked every day, up and down since they were two without even thinking about the effort required, and they see us taking our breaks, and drink our water, and suck on our Coca, do they think we’re sissies?

Hilton (without a second’s hesitation): Yes.

Taken aback by his quick response, I thought he might not be familiar with my advanced allegoric slang, I re-phrased:

Me: Do they think we’re weak?

Hilton: Yes.

Ok, that was that then, forward we went…



Another night, another field of horseshit…

This one nearby a small town, inhabited by many more curious children who came to gawk at our bright orange tents and we astronauts in them. This place had enclosed facilities, quite a luxury after having become perhaps too familiar with the Inca bathroom a.k.a. next to the horses.



This second night was even better than the first. Prodded by Zoel, Sebastien and I started to trade rude stories of our youths, contrasting and comparing our experiences with nascent puberty, feeling like part of a bunk at summer camp. It was incredible, it was sweet, it was important. Zo was so excited, he could not wait to come back from dinner, his leg jumping all over the place under the table in impatience and a smile from frozen ear to ear.

It was cold that night, really cold. So much so that we didn’t sleep much even tough we put our sleeping bags together in a show of family heat. We were cold but we were tight and happy as clams.

8 Comments Leave a reply

  1. Christine
    Permalink to comment#

    I remember dragging you up Mount Beacon one crisp autumn afternoon several years ago, prodding your grudging ass along with promises of granola & lunch from Homespun (and probably some kind of booze afterwards), so while I’m impressed and not a little bit astonished by this journey, I am actually not all surprised by your decision to embark on it. One of my very favorite things about the Bouvarez is the fact that you are Seekers of the highest order; exploration is imprinted on your DNA. You are beings who are compelled to examine, unflinchingly, your inner and outer worlds, and then bravely wield your discoveries openly, as both atonement for your comfort and as shields against everything that is spiritless and ordinary. I’m with Gary–these posts make me feel like I’m somehow there with you in some small way. Thank you for sharing this extraordinary voyage.

    • stefan
      Permalink to comment#

      You are with us PRECISELY because as I live these experiences, I wonder at the same time how I will best be able to translate them for you through vocabulary and images, moving and still. To coin a phrase, you are always on my mind… And you are too kind in your description of our quests, they might be as noble as you describe only if we weren’t actually clowns with boarding passes… But thank you. And I’m going to need another drink SOON!

  2. daisy
    Permalink to comment#

    I’m lighting a praying candle of gratitud to the Gods of the Andes, better yet, I will kepp a flame burning perpetually

  3. Paloma
    Permalink to comment#

    Your courage impresses, specially Zoel’s. What an experience! I’m so happy you made it. Because of the challenge, the magic of the trip and the jewel that was you three spending time together. Zo’s alphabet past art is something. And your photos are wonderful as always.

    Seb told me the episode about Zo and the “poor”children. His feelings and worries about them are beautiful and impressive. But what imeadiatly occurred me was: wasn’t for us, instead of them, we should be crying because of the exaggerated amount of things we need for living? I wish I had the opportunity to talk about this with Zo.

    Please, send my love to him and all the Bouvarez. Wish you have great fun in your last days in Peru. And sure, thank you so much for sending Seb back alive, intact and handsome as always. Leopoldo and I missed him too much. Miss you!

    (sorry for my english, I’m working on it)

    • stefan
      Permalink to comment#

      Thank you Palo, you are right. And he is leaning those lessons, little by little, bit by bit. You MUST talk to him about it when you see him next!

  4. Gary
    Permalink to comment#

    So incredible and moving. I’m so so inspired by your writings here and this epic journey to Machu Picchu. Thank you for these posts – I know it’s not the same as being there — but in some small way I feel like I’m there with you guys.


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