Author: gortoner

Salkantay: Trekking to Machu Picchu

Trekking is one of those bittersweet activities I spend almost as much time dreading as I do enjoying. That small but persistent part of myself that would prefer to spend most days with my duvet over my face, half-listening to some Netflix series, questions why I’d put myself through such a thing. The sheer effort of it, imagining it, exhausts me. But coming to Peru – to Cusco – one of the most desirable and beautiful places to trek in the world, I couldn’t give in to this disheartening part of myself. Missing out on the renowned and hugely popular Inca Trail, which books out six months in advance, me, my brother and my mum – who had flown in to visit – were booked on to the Salkantay Trek. That’s five days of intense walking, going up to 4630m and all ending at Machu Picchu, the ancient Inca village counted among the world’s Seven Wonders. After my few stagnated weeks getting to know the polished cobbles of Cusco’s historical centre extremely well, I’d been looking …

Chicuchas Wasi: Fighting for Girls’ Education in Peru

My final Global Giving project, and what’s brought me to the bustling high altitude town of Cusco for so long is a girls’ primary school nearby. Chicuchas Wasi was started by Rae Lewis, who I had the pleasure to touch base with first in California. She told me the story of how the school began when she was travelling in Peru. Moved by what she saw and wanting to help, she did so at first by looking after street children in her own home. I finally get to meet her partner in all this, Ruth Uribe, who lives in Cusco and directs the school. She picks me up at the bottom of the steps to her home and we drive the short distance over to the school, including a struggle with a rocky dirt road. We bond over our language studies, as Ruth’s learning English just now, speaking in both Spanish and English over the idiosyncrasies of our languages, double-checking vocabulary and points of grammar with each other. Placed amicably among the rolling hills of …

Hostel Hopping in Cusco

I have a habit in this blog of dwelling particularly on the many and gruelling journeys between my destinations; the hours in airports sleeping on my rucksack and the long transport delays you come to expect from Latin America. Perhaps this is because these challenging experiences place me into a heightened and particularly perceptive state where all that passes is memorable and eminently reportable. My journey from Medellin to Cusco was no exception. Rushing down to Peru in time to cross over with Rae, founder of the school I’d be spending some time visiting there, meant three flights in 24 hours and a brief sleep in notoriously dangerous, underwhelming Lima. In fact, the usual gymnastics of flight check-in and boarding were further complicated that Sunday by my one-hour sleep and the enduring effect of the bottle of gin I’d shared just hours before in emotional farewell with my Medellin flatmates. I felt a mixture of nausea and amusement as I approached the desk at my first airport, a mood which endured through most of that …

Language immersion in Medellin

The lights blink off briefly on the plane as I’m shaken awake by a particularly violent patch of turbulence. There’s an announcement, too rapid for my waking mind to process. It’s not translated. The ground beneath my window is dramatic and strangely close. It’s not long since we took off. The aircraft continues to shake itself from side to side and I sense too the definite lurching sensation of steady descent. The lights fade to blackness and I’m left without the means to search for panic in the eyes of my fellow passengers. Only to look into the inexplicably approaching mountains. I sit back in my seat and close my eyes. Such are the fictions we create for ourselves when travelling alone. After six frustrating hours waiting in Bogota airport with few distractions, I fell asleep into my window frame as soon as I boarded the plane. But I hadn’t really understood how short the journey would be and awoke bewildered and, without reference points, convinced myself of a different fate for that journey. But Google …

Taxi rides in Bogota: a brief stop in Colombia’s capital

I say farewell to the US with another long bus journey back to LA and one more rather jaded day in suspense of my onward flight and what awaits me in Colombia. My third couchsurfing host takes me to an open mic night straight after I arrive in the city, where I originally planned to perform some poetry, but I’m a little relieved that a considerable delay in my journey has made this impossible. We watch a wonderful mixture of poems, comedy, music, nerves, oversharing, and like any open mic the quality meanders between sublime and tragic. I try to lap up what more I can of LA in the hours that remain to me, and manage to explore some of downtown before the heat forces me back into air conditioned cafes and the absorption of writing. I even fit in Venice Beach in the daytime before my flight, as it’s on route to the airport, but sunbathing properly proves difficult with all my belongings in tow. As I walk down the strip and look …

Play-writing in Berkeley: a new life perspective

I find myself repeatedly in the City Lights book store during my time in San Francisco, stumbling upon it in my walking, sometimes consciously, sometimes not. I stop to run my fingers over the spines of the many works of my admiration, of Frank O’Hara, of Bukowski, of Jack Kerouac. I while away hours between those shelves, losing myself to its history, its words, its poetry. And every minute I spend there cements an ambition which has been forming itself in my mind ever since I began travelling: to become a nomadic writer. The inspiration for this idea and the person who woke me up to the real possibility of this kind of lifestyle, happens to be who I’m staying with in Berkeley. We first met in Junax in San Cristobal, the wonderful volunteering mecca I have frequently exulted about, and as he made his way back up to Canada and home, our paths happened to cross again in California. His life for the past decade has been split between working and saving back home …

Tsunami: a dream extract

Something about the texture of the plastic under sheet on the mattress beneath me, a barrier to the persistent bed bugs of the household and the strongest deterrent our eccentric anti-chemical host is willing to impose against the infestation, keeps me from true sleep. Instead I catch it in fretful bursts, waking to the exultant shouts of freshers starting their university lives in and around the UC Berkely campus just minutes from my hostel. I wake again, late enough now for the sounds to have receded. Peace settles again on the neighbourhood. It washes over me, and though I’m awake I feel luxuriously content nestled in my blankets watching the early sun. As I lie there, it feels strangely natural that for thirty seconds or so the bed shakes minutely beneath me and I think back to an early physics lesson and a small textbook illustration demonstrating the lower end of the Richter scale. A man sits up in bed looking mildly surprised, captioned ‘1-2: very faint tremors felt only during rest or sleep’. An …