Today I donated a painting to Theo’s school fundraiser. We bought it in Peru a few years ago from an artist selling his work at a small market outside a church in Lima, I think. We loved its gentle earth tones mixed with gold and geometric patterns, but there is a little figure at the bottom that may represent a spirit of some sort, and we’ve never been comfortable with the way he looks out at us. It probably wasn’t one of our wisest purchases, but at least it wasn’t expensive. We will always have our memories of that trip instead. And it was quite a trip. My husband David had been wanting to go to Peru, in particular to Machu Picchu, before his legs were too weakened by the neurological disorder with which he is afflicted. He had been keen to go two years earlier when Theo was two years old, but I had vetoed that trip knowing that I would be carrying our toddler up and down the hill and that would destroy my back.
So, we waited until Theo was almost four and made our first trip to South America. After a couple of days in Lima, we flew to Cusco, a stunning Spanish colonial city built at 12,000 feet above sea level and on top of an Inca city, which the Spanish had destroyed. Fortunately, the Spanish didn’t find the ruins of Machu Picchu, a 15th-century Inca settlement constructed of huge rocks that were somehow carried up the mountains and used to build dry stone walls, using a technique called ashlar, in which blocks of stone are cut to fit together tightly without mortar. Machu Picchu, with its extraordinary architecture, spectacular scenery and lovable llamas, was well worth the effort. It was worth the struggles with the altitude in Cusco, the 3am wake up in Ollantaytambo to catch the train to Aguas Calientes, where we then rode a bus up the hill, from where we then had to climb up to the site to get there before 8am to beat the heat and the crowds. And somehow the three of us managed to get ourselves up there, David leading the way with his cane, followed by Theo clambering up on his little legs, and me behind them watching their steps while trying not to lose sight of my own. When we reached the top, we saw a number of fit young hikers who had spent the last three or four days hiking the celebrated Inca Trail that runs through cloud forest, rain forests and offers some of the world’s most spectacular views. Sure, that’s some hike, but we felt just as proud as they surely did that we’d made it all the way up there safely.
We celebrated by sticking four candles into a bun in the Machu Picchu outdoor café and fighting with the wind to keep them lit as we carried the bun over to Theo. No souvenir that we bought on that trip to Peru could ever top the memory of singing happy birthday to Theo the morning of his fourth birthday up on Machu Picchu.