The sharp red- and slate-hued peaks of the Andes dominate the horizon as we crest 14,870-foot Chilipahua Pass, the high point of our five-day trek to Machu Picchu. I hold my Sony camcorder low for a tracking shot that shows my cousin Anthony Claudia’s feet as he tops the pass. Then I tilt up to the expanse of mist-shrouded mountains.
Anthony and I—along with five other aspiring filmmakers—are hiking with Emmy award-winning director Michael Brown and his Serac Adventure Film School. The goal: trek 40 miles in the Peruvian backcountry and elevate our movie-making skills beyond the run-and-gun shooting that’s typical in trail-based videos. I’m no digital novice, but my tendency is to grab hundreds of clips and stills quickly and without real purpose, then let them sit on a phone or a hard drive, unseen. I want to learn how to craft a film that has both technical precision and a lasting story. And that’s where my cousin, Anthony, comes in. Anthony and I have been best friends for more than three decades, were both named after our grandfather, and stood as best man at each other’s weddings. But we’ve never been camping together, let alone on a life-list trek in one of the world’s iconic mountain ranges. I want to capture this first on film. I want to tell a story of travel and family, and to that end I have a surprise—another first—that I plan to reveal at the right moment.
Unlike the famously trekker-clogged Inca Trail, our route to Machu Picchu follows an uncrowded, camera-friendly path called the Ancascocha (Hidden Inca) Trail. In scenery and solitude, it provides the perfect backdrop for stunning footage. Over the course of five days, we won’t see another hiking soul—just local shepherds ushering their droves along a web of paths carved by centuries of wear. And on Chilipahua Pass, nothing but mist and sky and mountains.
As Anthony crests the pass, I know this is the moment to tell him the secret I’ve been keeping: My wife is three months pregnant with our first child, a girl. In planning my film, I wanted to connect family to adventure, and I can’t think of a better way than telling my best friend and cousin about his newest relative in a place like this. I focus the lens on my cousin.
“Hey, you know that little hat and gloves I bought the other day for my niece Gabriella?” I ask.
“Those weren’t for Gabriella.”
“Who were they for?” he asks. He sees my smile, and his face lights up. He gasps, “No! Are you kidding me?! Shut up! Congratulations!”
I zoom in on Anthony’s face. “Hello little person,” he says. “One day you’ll watch this.”