As you may recall, my goal was to travel from Berlin, Germany to Antarctica -- without any money. After an intense period of planning, I successfully traveled through 11 countries to reach my final destination.
My travel route was dotted with touristic highlights, like Niagara Falls and Machu Picchu. And I had to visit them --- all without money.
Machu Picchu is roughly 50 miles from the city of Cusco, in the middle of the Andes. The city was built by the Incas in the middle of the 15th century. Nowadays tourists reach this ancient Inca town by booking a four-day trekking tour along the trail: 50 miles at an altitude of up to 15,000 feet!
My only chance to visit this site for free entailed working among the Peruvian porters who carry the heavy luggage of the tourists. One of the trekking agencies' owners in Cusco by the name of Fidel Castro (no joke) granted me this opportunity to take the job without any wages and just join the next group.
On the first day there was a lot of laughter among the 16 members of the trekking group (who came from the US, Canada, France, Germany and Ireland) at the expense of the inexperienced German who was now a porter. Even the three local porters were amazed that I wanted to lug the heavy baggage.
The first day was ok, since I only had to carry 40 pounds (instead of 80 pounds) for the first 12 miles, but the first night in the bivouac shelter was a nightmare. While the group slept in their tents, I had to sleep with the porters in the shelter and had only a blue plastic sheet that separated my sleeping bag from the extremely cold and hard floor. I fell asleep at 3 a.m., only to awaken at 4 a.m. when the alarm clock of Gomerciendo, the cook, went off. I was supposed to prepare breakfast for the group, but I ended up just sitting and shivering in the corner.
By six in the morning, the group started for the second leg of the trip; they had six hours to reach the afternoon stop at the Abra-Salkantay pass (which has an altitude of 15,000 feet). By contrast, we porters had to make this in just three hours time, so we basically ran! We had to wash the dishes, dismantle the tents, pack the horses and prepare lunch at the pass so that it would all be ready by the time the tourists arrived.
It quickly became clear that my idea to work as a porter was insane. I couldn't keep the pace, even though I only carried half the weight that Gomerciendo, Yuri and Nico carried on their backs. After half an hour I managed to remain standing but frequently panted and bent forward to gulp air.
Yuri asked me to pull myself up and to keep up pace because we were under an enormous time constraint. "The clients do not want to wait at all up there," Yuri admonished.
I continued to follow the three porters and the horses, but physically I was not able to make it. I felt dizzy, and my legs felt like rubber.
A short while later I was quite far behind them when Yuri started shouting down the hill: "Amigo vienes, Rapido! Rapido!." This was the polite version, but basically he just meant, "Hurry the f--- up and don't get on my nerves."
Shortly thereafter Gomerciendo, Yuri and Nico came down the hill. They had never seen such a loser-porter in their life. They were annoyed and asked me to stand up, but no chance: The 13,000 feet altitude and the weight just brought me to the ground.
The three porters quickly determined that 20 pounds of my luggage could fit on the horses. So, from then on I only carried about 20 pounds up the mountain, but the altitude made it feel like 80 pounds.
But even then I wasn't able to match their speed. I dragged myself through a breathtaking altitude of snow-capped mountains. Every step felt like a kick in the teeth. After breaking for the second stretch of the day, Yuri told me that he normally earns $50 for a five day hike. I am still speechless that tourists have to pay so little money for so much effort.
Shortly before the pass at 15,000 feet, I was able to overtake the tourist group. The three porters had passed them long time ago. The groups cheered loudly when they saw me passing them, but Gomerciendo and Yuri didn't cheer when they met me later on. They were pissed off because I had joined a serious business where everybody is scared to lose their clients, if something goes wrong.
Yuri informed me that this simply couldn't go on like this for the next two days, so I could only continue as a low-weight porter and kept the pace of the tourist group. No more packing horses and dismantling tents anymore for me either.
The next two days were ok, and the porters and tourists had a great laugh about this unusual porter who just didn't make the cut.
It was a great experience and I managed to reach Machu Picchu, but I must admit that out of all my ideas on how to travel the world for free, this was definitely the one I would not do again. Sorry, Yuri, Gomeriendo and Nico.