One of my dreams, for many years now, has been to hike the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu. I’ve been so fascinated by the place and have always felt a strong call to go to Peru, so when we decided to take this world journey, I of course had to include this experience in our itinerary. I didn’t know much about it other than it was fucking hard and fucking amazing. So I’m thinking, ok, Im pretty physically fit, between my yoga practice and roller skating, I would definitely have the stamina to pull this off. Mind you, Im not a “hiker” or a “trekker,” and I’ve never owned a pair of hiking boots or a piece North Face apparel. But I thought, hey.. we can do this, I mean how hard can it really be? Well…
Day one.. We have to be up at 5am, and any of you who know me well know that I hate getting up early, its painful and cold and immediately pulls the big bad bitch out of me.. but we do it. Our guide picks us up at our hostel and we’re off to meet the rest of our group. We all pile in the little bus that takes us up to the beginning of the trail. After we get over the early morning wake up bit, we are all just buzzing with excitement. There are a bunch of groups going on the trek and we all meet at the base camp to get our gear ready and then we are off. Thankfully we had a clear day as we began, because we are at this point entering the rainy season in Peru, so the weather had been very unpredictable with rain, sun, hot, cold, etc…The first day was about a 5 hour hike on what they considered the “easy terrain.” So many ups and downs and we were all like ” fuck,” this is the easy day? We were huffing and puffing along and sharing the road with llamas, donkeys, horses, and the local Peruvians. These cute old ladies dressed in traditional gear who were effortlessly walking the trail in sandals, and Im all, ok, if these chicks can climb the trail, then we can fucking climb the trail. I can’t explain the beauty… the fresh air, the connection with nature… really was so uplifting, and a few hours into it, I was feeling good, like ” I can fucking do this shit.” The trekking groups all have hired porters that run ahead of the group to get the camp ready before we get there.. These dudes were fucking hardcore. Men of all ages carrying 50 kilo packs, running up the trail in sandals. I couldn’t believe it. Im trying to drag my sorry ass up with boots, and walking poles etc.. and these guys are whizzing by me.
Anyway.. we arrive at camp and the tents are set up and we pick our tent, set up sleeping bags, etc. This is another challenge for me, because I’m more of a cozy hotel kind of girl rather than a camping kind of girl, but I was gonna suck it up and be in the great outdoors with joy! We have our first meal with the group, and we are with an awesome bunch of people, so we’re all chatting and eating (ravenously) and get ready to go to bed because our wake up call is… yes, 6am. And we were all preparing for day 2 which was supposed to be the “hardest day.”
Day two… we’re up, packed, with breakfast in our bellies and off to tackle the challenge of the day. So the reason why this is the hardest day is because we have a 3.5 hour pretty much vertical climb uphill to about 4200 meters, then a very steep drop back down into the valley. It starts slow.. the ascent is gradually moving up, and then boom we are going straight fucking up. Climbing old cobblestone stairs that are anywhere from 1 to 3 feet high, twisting and turning up the mountain. It was treacherous. My husband and I and two other guys were leading the pack up and I really can’t explain the amount of physical, emotional, and mental effort that we had to exert to get ourselves up. You can’t go too slow, because you give yourself too much time to think about the pain; you have to move with somewhat of a quickened pace so you can create a momentum. So we are moving like this for a while, until we hit the ” really hard part.” Again, an almost vertical climb up, and at this point we are quickly climbing in elevation, so its getting hard to breathe. Agony. And here, it doesn’t matter how fit you are, or how much experience you’ve had… the altitude owns you at this point and it makes moving and breathing so fucking difficult. There were people who had to climb back down, because their bodies just couldn’t handle it. It was interesting though, because when you have no choice but to make it happen, you really can make it happen. I just zoned into the experience (really being here now) and meditated my way through, without allowing one drop of self-pity to enter into the equation. And then eventually, I was at the peak. My sense of accomplishment was magnificent and I really felt like a fucking badass. Day 2 ended with a fun and misty climb back down the other side of the peak. It was wet, and a little tricky, but it was downhill, and all was good.
Day 3… was a 9 hour day. At this point my legs are starting to feel the burn. Its funny, because every time we asked the guides, if there was any more “uphill”.. they said “no… just a little bit.” uh… yeah, so day 3 begins with another vertical climb up…nothing like a heart stopping climb at 6 in the morning. We were all pissed, my husband was livid, and was like” I’m fucking over this shit..” me, I surprisingly zen about it. The rest of the day took us through all sorts of terrain. Mountain, cloud forest, rain, hail, up, down… for 9 fucking hours. But you just do it. There is no one to complain to, to one to cry to, you just pull the strength out of you and go on. The beauty and majesty of this forest was like nothing I’ve ever seen. Just feeling the cool air on my face, the mist on my skin, the stones beneath my feet, my legs moving me through… I felt like a fucking animal. Strangely peaceful and surprisingly strong. There is this great sense of camaraderie on the path because everyone is feeling it like you are. Everyone you pass, you say “hola,” to exchange a knowing smile, sharing the intensity of the moment in a glance. Day 3 ends, we are worked, but we are almost through, and excited to make the final journey into Machu Picchu the following day.
Day 4… It has been raining all night, and we wake up to a very brutal 3:30 am wake up call. We have to pack up and get ready to go. Thankfully I have brought my big rain parka, but my husband was stuck with a jacket that we thought was waterproof, but actually wasn’t. He is not a happy camper at this point. We had bought these cheap rain ponchos, but they ended up being these worthless sleeveless plastic bags that offered no real defense from the rain. Again, you have to make it work, so we managed to scrounge some extra plastic bags from the porters and I had to create a working poncho for him by slipping the plastic bags onto his arms and taping them to the poncho, a real fashion work of art. It was a real project runway moment, and we thought Heidi Klum would be proud. So its pitch black outside and pissing rain. Everyone in the group had their headlamps and full rain gear, then there was us, with our makeshift ponchos and our little bike lights. It was pretty hilarious. But we persevered and although we were rickety and unprepared, we managed to navigate our way down to the main gate, where we had to wait an hour in the rain for it to open. It is now 5:00am. Finally they let us through, and we begin another 2 hour hike to get into Machu Picchu. The road was very wet and was basically carved out of the mountain, so one wrong move and you were pretty much gonna fall right off the cliff. Our last crazy climb was the 100 (again vertical) steps that would take us to the Sun Gate, which was the official entrance from the Inca trail into the ruins. They were so steep that I had to literally climb up on my hands and knees, because my legs were so fatigued that I couldn’t just climb with my legs alone. So we’re up, and the sun is starting to rise, and it is shining on the great and magical ruins. It is a moment I won’t forget. Pictures just do not do this place justice, it is huge and magnificent and seemed to be just growing out of the mountain. How the hell the tribal Incas managed to build this place was mind boggling. We continued down the trail to get to the official entrance where you have to show your tickets etc… to get into the actual site. This part kind of sucked, because it felt like we were waiting in line for space mountain at Disneyland. Thousands of tourists are there, looking all clean and fresh; some come by train, some come by bus, and then there was the trekkers, fatigued and smelly and thoroughly worked. I must admit that there was a small part of me that felt that I was more entitled to be there because of what I had endured to get there… but I let it go of that and spent the next few hours enjoying the place that I had so longed to see. There is true magic in this place, you can feel the energy, it is so thick and real. It was worth every effort that I made.
The journey to Machu Picchu taught me so much about myself. Not only had I accomplished a huge lifelong goal, but I could see what I was really made of; that I could truly conquer anything. My mind and my determination gave me the strength to pass my physical limitations. This experience changed my life forever and I am so grateful for the opportunity to break through my barriers of self- doubt and pain. Mind over matter and a finish line crossed. Thank you.