You might have supposed that the Inca Trail would start somewhere within the shores of South America, possibly within the cultural boundaries of the Inca's vast historical domain, certainly at a place with a degree of Andean altitudinal elevation. In spite of the fact that the god-king's empire stretched from southern Equador to northern Argentina, and was laced with a network of trails that would allow his civil servants to administer his dominion, only this plethora of trails has now been reduced to The Inca Trail and its official start at km84. Or so I had assumed.
"KLM are pleased to announce.....", "we will start to board through gate .... and invite those travelling with small children....", "we ask all remaining passengers to remain seated....". It's the bugler's reveille, the call to arms, all to rise and form a queue, to create a human plug that clogs the departure gate. The supercilious, the travel snob, or at least those who are ear-budded into their iPhones remain seated and so get their first sighting of The Inca Trail. An incongruity, this vision of goretex-jacketed, day-sac-backed, stick-waving Trailers, is that the line is not in Lima or Cusco, not even Aguas Calientes, but in Amsterdam's Schipol airport.
A collection of individuals who have yet to bond into a shared-experience group, as evidenced by a lack of group selfie photography. A demographic defined by fitness, grey hair and a lack of carry-on plastic bags stuffed with duty-free cigarettes. All in contrast to the neighbouring departure gate that's loading a Miami-bound cargo of Caribbean Cruisers. The blue-rinse brigade of flowery shirts, white cardigans and inappropriate shorts. A contrast that is stark as they all emanate from the same north European street, out of a similar pay grade. Only their waistlines and leisure uniforms differ.
All of which leads me to consider our supposedly anonymous, chameleon-like attire. Of course, our clothing doesn't shout "Trailer", "Cruiser", or "Vacationer". It's only with a bit more inspection that I can't help but notice the outdoor-branded trousers, the walking (read 'sensible') shoes and an industry-standard Ortlieb pannier. It's this last item that is giving me some concern. It's new, shiny, never used, brand new. It will scream 'newbie', 'innocent', 'virgin' to the first long-distance cyclist that we might encounter. Hopefully we will have acquired some Atacaman dust to add a patina of experience. The problem is, they're German made. Experience dictates that it will take years for them to acquire their street cred.
We're off on our travels again, heading back to collect our bikes from their southern wintering home, to head off in some as yet undefined direction. Only we're already twenty eight hours behind our ticketed schedule. But that's another traveller's tale, one that has yet to be resolved.
For the moment we all have our own itineraries, our own identities, all defined by our own uniforms, with our own trail to follow. We join the queue.