“If you didn’t sweat, cry, laugh and smell bad…you didn’t do it right.”
For many years the idea of going to Peru and hiking the Inca Trail was in my heart and on my mind. I would occasionally test my endurance by hiking local trails, check flight prices, refresh my Spanish and seek advice from friends who had gone on similar journeys. However, anytime I would get close to booking, something would come up causing me to not go.
Finally, in September 2016 I booked it. I officially was going to spend 10 days in Peru including a 4 day trek to Machu Picchu with Contiki. My solo trip would be in September of 2017. I had a full year to prepare. Trail runs, stair steppers and dieting became a way of life. After all, if I was going to push myself to what I thought would just be my physical limit – I was going to be prepared. However, little did I know, my preparation would be derailed and my life would completely fall apart.
On June 24, 2017 my father passed away. After 8 years of constant health battles and scares, lung cancer ultimately took his life. I didn’t care anymore. I didn’t care about waking up, going to sleep, eating, let alone care about going on some trip. I was at the brink of cancelling when – after talking with family & friends – I realized that is the last thing my dad would have wanted. In fact, he would have been so disappointed if I had put my dream aside. So, I decided to keep my plans and make this trip more than just proving I could physically do it but, use it to awaken my heart, my soul and to feel again.
It was crunch time! I had 2 months to get back on track. What do I wear? What equipment do I need? What? What? What? I had no idea. Luckily, there are a lot of blogs out there that give advice on these things. My favorite was The Ultimate Machu Picchu Packing List by Megan Spurrell. She gives the run down on literally everything! The other few things I packed that didn’t make her list were:
- Moleskins – those blisters can be a capital B
- Go-girl (thank me later)
- Mosquito net – just for your head – those gnats in the jungle LOVE biting that area
The day had arrived. My 23 hours of travel was about to begin and I couldn’t be more excited! Okay, sure…I wish the amount of time spent eating airport food was less but, guys – I WAS HEADING TO PERU!!!!
Cue *car slamming on breaks* noise.
Make that 36 hours of travel…I was delayed and had to stay over night in Miami.
Phew, I made it. Greeted with Coca Tea, I made my way to the hotel in Cusco where I would spend the next couple nights getting acquainted with other solo travelers on the tour, acclimatizing to the high altitude (this is no joke) and touring this beautiful city.
There were 5 of us in our group. One of my favorite things about Contiki is that you get to meet so many awesome people from around the world. In our group we had ladies from Scotland, London, Perth and Philly. Our guide, Joel, was a Cusco native and you could just feel the love he had for his home. The passion, knowledge and excitement that would radiate from him while he would teach us about the culture, history and archaeological sites made the experience even more priceless. I already knew this was going to be the best trip of my life.
We did so much our first day that I could have sworn I had been there a week. I was falling in love with Cusco. We toured the Plaza de Armas, Convento de Santo Domingo, and the local market. We went to dinner and made Pisco Sours, tried our first Peruvian cuisine, shared tons of laughs and began to form a bond!
Next to come was Llamas, Alpacas, and Vicuñas. I totally wanted to smuggle one home but, I am too pretty for detainment.
And can we talk about the colors you see while you are touring Peru? The country is full of color and natural beauty. After all Pachamama does watch over the land and bless all those who live there. But, I was blown away by the bright and beautiful colors of the clothing, the alpaca yarn and the homes that displayed their flag of Cusco. I’m totally not going to lie – I thought the city was super gay pride when I first got there and was extremely excited. But nope, that’s just the flag of the Inca territory. It’s still beautiful though and represents pride. #naivewesterner
We spent the night in Ollantaytambo, an adorable little town in the Sacred Valley rich with history and culture. It’s also known as the gateway to the Inca Trail. Yep, tonight was our last night in a modern hotel with toilets, beds and cell phone service. We toured the town’s ruins, had a delicious meal and then went right to bed. Tomorrow, we would start our hike – at 5:30 AM!
“I can do this.” “It won’t be that bad.” “Older people do it.” – Yeah I was just a little nervous.
As we crossed the Amazon River – yes, I said that correctly – the Amazon River. So cool! I was taken in awe of everything I was seeing. The men with their mules, traveling to the town from the top of the mountain to get their month supply of groceries for their families. The llamas, just doing what llamas do. The vegetation. The mountains. The river. Everything was perfect. Can I just stay here forever? Nope, because I had about 25 more miles, 10,000 ft of altitude and a million tears to get through before I reached my destination.
Day 1: “Not so bad” they say. “It will be easy” they say. In all reality, it is tough. It is not the end of the world but, it is not at all easy. You need to be in somewhat decent physical shape and even then…you will struggle. As you start your journey through the Andes to your first campsite in Huyallabamba you will learn all about Inca steps. Jagged stone steps on steep inclines. So. Much. Fun. I cried, what would be the first of many tears this day. Not because I was sore. Not because I wanted to give up. It was because I was doing it. I was feeling again. This is what I needed. What I wanted. What I set out to do.
Day 2: The absolute hardest day. Today would test me. Not only was it physically demanding – you hike up those lovely Inca steps for 4 to 5 straight hours. But, mentally you really learn a lot about what you can handle. As my knees began to buckle and my breathing became faint (you hike 4,000 ft in elevation in 4 hours) my will to keep going was swiftly decreasing. Thank God for the amazing women in my group, for the most supportive guides ever and the insanely, bad ass porters that would jet by with all our luggage and equipment. Because of them, I was able to put myself in check and “get ‘er done”.
At one point on the mountain, I started crying and saying I was over it. It felt like it would never end. Then, a white butterfly – where there shouldn’t be any because we were so high up – flew around me and landed on my shoulder. Dad was looking out and trekking right along with me. We were doing it together.
I found a rhythm: stop to breath every 25 steps, drink water every 50 and keep positive. After 4.5 hours of uphill, passing through breathtaking cloud forests- we made it to Dead Woman’s Pass. Don’t worry, it’s called that because it looks like a supine woman.
It was an accomplishment that we were all so proud to have achieved. As we rested at the highest peak of the trail, we took in all the surroundings and prepared for what was next. Three hours down hill. Down Inca steps. If you think going up was hard, going down was a whole new challenge.
As we made our way down to our next campsite the views got even more amazing. From cloud forests at the peak to bamboo-filled, sub-tropical jungles in the valley – I never thought I would see all that I was seeing.
Day 3: Today was only 5 hours of hiking. After 7 hours day one and 10 hours day two, 5 hours was going to be a breeze. I was a bit nervous because they said day 1 was going to be easy and it was pretty tough but, today was not that bad. It was a steady terrain of ups and downs – all Inca steps. There were definitely difficult moments but, all in all it was a good day with more and more gorgeous views. We even got to the camp site early enough to catch the Peru vs. Ecuador soccer game. The porter’s had a cabin where they were streaming the game for 3 soles a person. It was a hidden gem and we were the only travelers included. Yeah – we were pretty lucky!
Day 4: Rise and shine was at 3:30 AM. Why? So we can get first in line at the check point when it opened at 5:30 AM – to be the first to start the 2 hour trek to the Sun Gate. We wanted to see the sun hit Machu Picchu at the perfect time and…we did. We made it to the Sun Gate within 1.5 hours. The gringo killers did not claim our group.
We did it. I did it. We made it to Machu Picchu. The view from the Sun Gate brought me to tears. I had never seen something so beautiful, breath-taking and cultural – in my life. Was this real? Did I actually make it. It’s been 2 weeks and I still can’t get over the fact that my body, my mind and my soul actually did it. I couldn’t have asked for a better group of travelers to have experienced it with either. Seriously, they all were amazing and I was so proud of each one of them.
After the trek, we toured the ancient site and then I enjoyed a nice Apu burger and many, many beers. Hey, I deserved it.
The next few days we would spend celebrating, touring more of Ollantaytambo and Cusco and enjoying our last moments together.
Peru, you are a beautiful, diverse, rich, historic city. I will always cherish the time I spent in you and I only hope to return again soon.
Most of all, thank you for making me feel again.
Until next time.