so we met the british columbians at orientation, and everything out of their mouths was negative. to be fair, it was more the woman that complained about things. the man didn't speak much, and when he did it was often indiscernable, much like the way paddington bear speaks.
the woman began by complaining about what equipment came with the tour and what didn't. now on the tour company's website (and in every e-mail the tour company sent me) there are VERY CLEAR lists of what equipment is included, what equipment isn't, and what is recommended for you to bring with you. did they read this? oh no, the day before the tour mrs. british columbia is huffing and puffing that walking sticks are not included. did we know this? yes. did we go to a local shop and rent walking sticks for less than a dollar a day? yes.
moving on! then we discussed the porters. the british columbians did not want to carry anything and would be hiring two porters to carry their things. fine. but when our fearless guide explained that the porters take your things and then transport them up the mountain for you with jedi speed so that said things are waiting for you at your tent, mrs. british columbia had a thing or two to say about this.
apparently, she wanted the porter to walk with her at all times, so that she could access whatever she may need at any time. now, most people had a very small bag that included: water, jacket, camera, and a snack, which was very very light and they carried that with them while the porters carried their heavy stuff, like their sleeping bags, sleeping mats, and 4 days worth of clothes. no, mrs. british columbia cannot carry her own water. she wanted the porter to act as an indentured servant and fetch her things for her as needed.
our fearless guide explained that the porter cannot walk that slow, it's actually painful for them. and that she would carry the three or four personal items she needed throughout the day and the porter would take the rest. then there was much muttering back and forth between the british columbians, and the bolshevik and i exchanged knowing looks, dreading what would happen on the trail with these people.
now, the bolshevik and i assumed that since the british columbians seemed to be rather clueless and easily bothered, that they probably hadn't traveled much. but once we we were on the trek, we quickly learned that they had traveled all over the world. they had lived in china, south korea, europe, vancouver, etc. then we found out that they were currently touring the continent of south america. the bolshevik asked some questions and with a sigh of relief we found out that they were traveling in the opposite direction as us. phew!
but then we realized a little something. here were the british columbians spending months touring south america ... did they know any spanish? no. now, i understand that if you tour europe or asia, since there are so many languages spoken you may choose just to rely on english. but in south america, aside from brazil, spanish is the only language spoken. how can you travel around for months without bothering to pick any of it up? we had to wonder .... "do these people just travel the world, oblivious to the fact that they are annoying the crap out of everyone around them?" the answer is yes.
so far this may seem a bit petty. oh dear blog readers, i am saving the best for last ...
the last night we all sat around the tent discussing what to tip the porters. it is customary to tip the porters, the cook, and your guide. let's recap: the porters carried everything up a fucking mountain for us. but the british columbians were very upset at the idea that they would have to tip anyone.
mrs. british columbia said, and i quote, "but it's their job, isn't it?"
yes, it is their job to schlep our stuff up a mountain for four days like pack mules. sadly for them, that is their job. i'm sure they're not paid very well, nor do i expect that they receive medical & dental insurance.
the group decided that each person would contribute s/150 (soles) for the tips. this is the equivalent of about $50 american dollars per person, to be split up amongst 9 porters, 1 cook, and our guide. this is not a lot of money people (although generous in the peruvian economy). i've tipped people in nyc way more for doing way less. i won't even tell you what i tip my hair stylist.
but the british columbians stood firm that they did not want to tip, that it was ridiculous, and that we were being very american. now, i am not a big patriot, but one thing we do well in the states is tip our service providers. and i stand by that! (a dollar a drink at bars, 20% at restaurants, 20% for taxis, $2-3 per suitcase at the airport)
after much fighting between the british columbians and the rest of the group, we collected the money from everyone. and wouldn't you know it, every single person gave in s/150 each ... except for the british columbians, who gave in s/150 for the two of them. yup, they tipped half. (and they used more porters than any other duo in the group)
but wait, there's more!
after the tipping, the porters went off to pack things up for the evening. our fearless leader explained about our morning options. as i explained before, we needed to wake up at 3:45 for two reasons:
1. to see the sun appear from behind the mountains at the sun gate, and watch the breathtaking view of machupicchu becoming drowned in sunlight.
2. if we didn't leave on time, the porters would miss the local train, and being unable to afford the "tourist" train, they would inevitably WALK BACK TO CUSCO.
now i'll tell you blog readers, i was tired. and i would've loved to sleep "late" until 6 am, but i couldn't do that to the porters. however, mr. and mrs. british columbia had a lot to say about the matter. they didn't want to have to walk when it was dark. they didn't want to have to wake up early. they didn't see what was so great about a sunrise. etc, etc.
so eventually the group decided to vote. we voted 5 to 2 that we wake up at 3:45 am. who were those 2 opposing votes? well, when the vote was cast mrs. british columbia said, "all for a sunrise? really? just to see the sunrise we have to wake up so early? won't the sun have risen before we get to the gate anyway?"
i wanted to say, "no, you dumb cunt. we're waking up at 3:45 so as to not fuck over the porters." but i kept my mouth shut.
in the morning we painfully awoke at 3:45. we went to the breakfast tent for breakfast, and everyone was moving very quickly. the porters were trying to serve us breakfast while simultaneously packing up the entire camp so that they wouldn't miss their train.
by the time the british columbians left the breakfast tent, the entire camp was deserted. all the other campers and porters were long gone. well, except for our little group of hikers who were waiting for the BCs to get their act together. then mr. and mrs. british columbia stormed up to our fearless guide and told him that they were refusing to hike.
it went something like this:
BCs: we told you last night that we would not hike in the dark
fearless guide: yes but we must if we are to make it to the checkpoint. please, everyone is waiting.
BCs: you can't make us hike when it's dark out. it's dangerous.
fearless guide: we do this every week. it will be fine. we will go slowly and by the time we pass the checkpoint it will be lighter. [checking his watch] the checkpoint has already opened. if we wait too long there will be a line.
BCs: we can't walk in the dark! we don't have flashlights![this is actually a bold-faced lie. they had flashlights. i saw them. and we all had flashlights, and some people even had headlamps.]
fearless guide: [wishing he could curse these people out but wanting to keep his job] it clearly says in the brochures that we wake up at 4 am the last day. it says that.
BCs: we said last night that we would not hike in the dark! this is ridiculous! i can't believe this is how you run things!
me: [thinking that no one talks to our fearless guide that way] we voted last night that we would wake up early. you guys never refused to hike.BCs: we agreed to wake up early, but not to hike in the dark. this is absurd!
bolshevik: [tag-teaming like a proper NYCer] you can't have it both ways! you understood that we were waking up early to hike to the sun gate by sunrise. therefore you must have understood that it would be dark before the sunrise.
at this point our fearless guide was a little overwhelmed at having two brooklynites join the argument. so he told us to go with the rest of the group (please read: non-whiners) to wait for him at a little lodge right before the check point. so the "good group" walked to the lodge in the dark (which really wasn't difficult or dangerous since everyone had a flashlight) and then we waited about 20 minutes for our fearless leader to placate the BCs.
the bolshevik and i were determined not to let these selfish british columbians ruin the last leg of our trek. so we high-tailed it to the sun gate, successfully making it in time to have the sun shine upon us as it emerged from behind the mountains. we watched as machupicchu was quickly flooded in light.
yeah, you fucking idiot. when you are on top of a mountain, looking at an ancient city on another mountain peak about a mile away, it will look small. IT'S FAR AWAY! things look smaller when you're far away from them. then they get bigger as you get closer. grrrrrrr.
and for their last trick, just to slow the group down a little more, the british columbians somehow got "lost" walking down the one-way path to machupicchu. yup. all you have to do is walk. there is only one direction to go. down. no steps. easy as pie. just head towards the ancient inca city on that mountain over there. a monkey could do it.
but somehow when the entire group had walked the hour to the ticket booths to get inside machu picchu, the BCs were nowhere to be found. our fearless guide actually had to go back and look for them. then when he found them, climbing around on some random rocks off the side of the trail, knowing we were all waiting for them, they complained that his instructions were somehow unclear and they didn't understand that they needed to walk on the path that goes straight to machupicchu (with no other possible offshoots of said path to possibly follow. one way. this was somehow unclear to these passive-aggressive selfish idiots.)
and then after our tour of machupicchu, we bid a much-anticipated adieu to the british columbians. hopefully to never ever see them again.