Rating: 5 stars out of 5
Benicio Quispe is finally fulfilling the dream of his life, he is about to become a guide on the Inca Trail, a goal he has striven for from the moment he heard his grandfather’s stories as a young boy in the mountains of Peru. Benicio has just been hired by Huaman Travel, the top travel agency in Cusco, Peru and has been assigned Alberto Salazar, a seasoned and respected guide as his mentor. Benecio is overjoyed to find that he has so much in common with Alberto but they share far more than a passion for the Inca Trail.
Alberto Salazar learned a long time ago to hide his sexuality from all but his employer and friend, Miguel Ramirez. The small town he lives in and those around him, outside his closest friends, are unaware that he is gay. They all just assume his profession as a guide keeps him from forming lasting relationships. While that may be true, Alberto feels that to find someone who understands and shares his passions for the Incan culture as well as his passion for men….well, Alberto feels that will never happen. Until Benicio Quispe enters his life.
Benicio and Alberto find their attachment to each other growing deeper the longer they spend with each other on the trail and outside of work. But the fear of discovery and losing the respect of those they need to do their job as well as the friends and family around them keep them from acting on theie feelings for each other. It takes a group of old friends and their anniversary journey to Machu Picchu to convince Benicio and Alberto that it is worth reaching for the one thing lacking in their lives…a loving relationship and lasting partnership.
“The risks on the trail are easy compared to finding a path through the challenges keeping them apart.”
I have always wanted to hike the Inca Trail to see the Sun Gate and the ancient Incan city of Machu Picchu. For many reasons I never got there. Until now. Ariel Tachna’s amazing novel, The Path, finally made that possible. Ariel Tachna took this journey in July of 2013, The sights, sounds and experiences of the Inca Trail must have imprinted itself deeply upon this author because it translated into a story powerful enough to transport readers on to the Inca Trail itself through descriptions and imagery so vivid and compelling that I felt I was another traveler among them as they set out for 4 days of arduous hiking and inspirational wonders.
Tachna’s story allowed me to hike with a group of people up the steep trail to Inti Punki. Our knees and musclues groaned and breezing was labored at that high elevation. And every step of the way up the Monkey Trail to the rocks that form the Sun Gate that overlooks Machu Picchu was exhausting. But then to sit and watch in awe as the sun paints the sacred city in golden lights as it has for centuries? Incredible. More than once I found myself in tears of joy and discovery over section after section of a book who celebrated the ancient past of Mayan culture while continuing a journey of the present and future with two men who share their passions for the Inca Trail and culture as well as a deep abiding love for each other and life as a trail guide.
Ariel Tachna has done this before, steeped her readers in various cultures and landscapes both familiar and foreign but never have I felt so connected, so involved in the past and present as I did here in The Path. The Inca Trail once stretched from Cusco to Machu Picchu and in this story the author takes her characters and readers on that pathway once more. Tachna brings us intimately into the lives of the Peruvian people, especially those from the villages at elevations close to the heavens. Benecio’s home of Cancha Cancha, itself a small village, in the mountains at four thousand feet, a place for the few people, guinea pigs and llamas who can tolerate that high elevation. We walk through their homes made of mud and brick, through the characters and scenes, we taste the corn based beer of chica where each person is likely to have their own more favored recipe. We feel a part of these peoples lives and a part of this story.
I loved all the people I met in The Path. Benecio is believable and authentic as the Incan ruins he loves. The author brings us into his life on his last day as a non professional on the trail. Benicio is hiking the trail and listening and watching his guide, taking notes and thinking how he would handle the tour. And yet still Benicio is overcome with emotion as he sits and waits for the sun to rise over the tops of the mountains at Inti Punki. Here is a sample:
BENICIO QUISPE took a deep breath as he stood at the base of the Monkey Steps and stared up at the last section of the climb before Machu Picchu. They had been hiking for more than an hour already, with the sky slowly lightening over their heads, but the sun had yet to make an appearance over the highest peaks. Sheltered between the mountains as they were, they would not see the sun for another hour or more. Atop the Sun Gate, though, the view would be entirely different.
Gripping his walking sticks more firmly and ignoring the pain in his knees from overuse, he set his foot on the first step and began to climb.
His thighs burned by the time he reached the final step. He was glad there were only fifty steps in this flight, because they were too narrow and too steep to climb with the typical zigzag walk that had made the first three days of the hike bearable.
He paused for a moment to appreciate the clean lines of the Sun Gate. He had studied it, along with all the other Inca remains along the trail, as part of his preparation for becoming a guide, but this was the first time he had ever seen it in person.
The sun peeked over the mountain behind him, reminding him of the time and driving him forward so he would not miss the highlight of the trip and the whole reason for the three-thirty wake-up call that morning.
He stepped beneath the arch and froze, heedless of anyone on the trail behind him.
Machu Picchu lay spread out in the valley before him, cloaked in shadow still, though the sun?s rays had begun their descent into the valley.
All his life he had seen pictures of it, even before he started studying to be a guide. He had learned about it in school, seen pictures his friends and fellow guides had taken, but standing there and seeing it with his own eyes after three days of hiking stole his breath. His eyes prickled with tears as he forced his legs to work while, around him, other hikers snapped photos.
His guide began to give information about the Sun Gate and Machu Picchu and the final leg of the hike. Benicio knew he should pay attention to what the other man was saying. In a few weeks, he would be the one standing there with tourists looking to him for information, but the voice was a wordless drone in his ears. He had attention only for the holy city and the inexorable march of the sun?s rays down the mountainside. The sunlight reached stone and turned it golden, and Benicio could only imagine what it must have looked like during the reign of the Inca, when the city would have been filled with real gold. Even now, a ruin instead of the vibrant center of worship it had once been, the city captivated him.
That’s just a sampling from the prologue and already the magic of these characters and story has you in thrall. The pull only gets stronger the longer the time you spend on the trail with Benecio and Alberto.
Alberto is as strong a character as Benecio, although in a totally different way. Whereas Benecio is still so much a part of the mountain culture (he specks Quechua his native tongue along with Spanish), Alberto is more worldly. He is older, a seasoned guide of 10 years. Alberto is also gay and familiar with being discreet about his passions and hookups unlike Benecio who has known he was gay but had little opportunity to explore his sexuality in his remote village. The contrast between the two men helps Tachna bring her readers all the different worlds connecting on the Trail, two ostensibly Peruvian yet so unalike. And its not just the differences between Benecio and Alberto but those of the tourists themselves whether they are from a large Indian family on holiday (so funny and telling culturally) or a group from the States returning to hike the path together once more as part of a larger celebration.
The Path is a journey not to be missed. Ariel Tachna brings alive people, places and cultures you might not actually ever meet or travel to but when you have finished this story you feel like you have made a once in a life time pilgrimage to places that will continue to awe and inspire. An incredible trip taken with a author I can’t recommend highly enough.
I read this book twice, and each time its magic grew as did its hold on my imagination and heart. The Path by Ariel Tachna is definitely one of the best books of 2014. It’s one I highly recommend and will pick up to read again. I hope you will do the same.
Cover photograph by Ariel Tachna. Just amazing.
Sales Links: Dreamspinner Press eBook Paperback All Romance eBook (ARe) Amazon The Path
ebook, 254 pages
Published September 1st 2014 by Dreamspinner Press