Finding My Inner Hiker on the Inca Trail – Peru, South America

It might sound cheesy, but it’s true: I’ve wanted to go to Machu Picchu ever since I first saw the movie, Motorcycle Diaries. The film chronicles Che Guevara’s road trip through South America with his friend, Alberto Granado, on a beat-up Norton 500 motorcycle. Along the way, Guevara’s worldview broadens as he changes from a privileged medical student into a revolutionary, supporting the lower classes in Latin countries. It’s a coming-of-age film. While I may not agree with his politics, I can relate to the idea of self discovery on a journey.

I wasn't going to Peru "to find” myself. I have a pretty good idea of who I am. I am a city person. I am a writer. I am an amateur cook. I am an avid reader. I am a socialite. I am not a camper, a hiker or a nature lover.

As the trip drew near, I realized how preposterous this was. I was traveling to Peru to hike, camp, get cozy with nature and all its wild offerings on the Inca Trail on my way to Machu Picchu. I was reading online reports on the upcoming trek and coming across words like “grueling". Work is grueling, my vacation shouldn’t be.

Be sure to check out the trips we offer that involve trekking on the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu.

Fast forward to the first day of the trail; it was easy going. We crossed over the Urubamba River and made frequent stops: to look at ruins, native plants, for lunch. It drizzled for about a half hour, otherwise, the trek was pleasant.

Climbing, climbing, climbing
Climbing, climbing, climbing

Harsh reality of surroundings
I was outside, high in the mountains with no running water, electricity or hot shower to soothe my sore muscles. With the sun down, it turned cold quickly. I put on my jacket, long underwear, my gloves and hat. In fact, that night I slept in what I normally wear to go out skiing – I still froze.

Did I mention I am not a morning person? Imagine the rude awakening I had when I was called from my cold, hard tent at 5:30 a.m. I was not a happy camper, literally. I rued the idea of having to pack my things, strap them to my back and be led on a death march in near-freezing conditions. I’d like to say my mood improved after my morning coffee, but considering I was served instant coffee, it really took until 10:00 a.m. for me to recover completely. I apologized for my orneriness to my traveling buddies (some of whom were perplexed as to why I readily agreed to go on this trip). We rolled on.

For those familiar with the four-day trek on the Inca Trail, it’s standard that Day Two is the hardest. Our tour group, Peru Treks, had names for the four hikes on the different days: Practice, Challenge, Experience, Unique. “Challenge” is so named because most of the day consists of climbing uphill until you finally summit Dead Woman’s Pass at 14,308 feet. On our way, the group naturally spread out along the trail: the slower people at the back, the more experienced led.

At the top of Dead Woman's Pass
At the top of Dead Woman's Pass

Around 11:00 a.m., after climbing for more than four hours, we stopped for a snack. Refueled, I was ready to hit the trail – for the steepest climb. Much of the Inca Trail is either straight up or straight down – no switchbacks. You go uphill by way of stairs the Incas carved in the mountain side more than 600 years ago, a marvel in themselves. It’s not easy; combined with the thin air, it makes for some hard work.

Somehow, during the climb, though, I found my groove. It was a steady step, rhythmic, even. I was so into the pace, I actually had to remind myself to stop and look around — the scenery was stunning. Keeping the beat, I rose up higher and higher, passing people as I went. At last, with the top in view, I made my final push with a steady pace.

When I reached the top, I was the first one there. I would have expected to feel exhausted, wiped, but instead, I felt invigorated. Looking around at the top of the mountain with clouds blowing over me, I also felt closer to nature than ever before.

I got to Machu Picchu a few days later and discovered something new about myself. I was a hiker; I had just conquered 26 miles of mountainous terrain. I was a nature lover; I saw mountain vistas, tropical plants, wild animals and cloud forests that will know no equal. I may even be a camper, reluctantly. I can do it. I may never be a morning person, but I know that I won’t hesitate to tackle a hike the next time a mountain gets in my way.

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