The view from here
"Only 200 hikers per day are permitted to walk the Inca Trail. We’d hiked 39 kms to reach this point, there was no rush. Machu Picchu was built in the 15th Century, it would continue to wait patiently for us to arrive."
I recently returned home after 5 months travelling. We crammed 3 continents, 23 countries and 54 cities into the trip of the lifetime. Now I’m home, the most common question I get asked is “what was your favourite place?”. While this is impossible to answer, there's one thing I do tell people:
Put Machu Picchu on your bucket list,
This gets some surprised reactions from people who know me well. Despite living my entire life in New Zealand, I’ve never been much of a hiker. I’d previously never tramped more than 4 hours and I could count the number of nights I’ve slept in a tent on one hand. I’ve never owned hiking boots or used walking poles. The idea of being away from wi-fi for 4 days previously struck fear into my heart.
But I wanted to finish our 5 month trip of a lifetime with something truly epic. Ticking the Inca Trail and Machu Picchu off our bucket list seemed like the perfect adventure. I loved Aztec and Inca history at school and getting as far out of my comfort zone as possible before returning to reality/work in New Zealand sounded fantastic.
We were not disappointed, it was the top highlight of our trip. What was surprising was not just how breath-taking the scenery was, but how much the experience taught me but how much I learned about myself personally. The physical challenge I expected, but the self-discovery is what changed me.
I must admit we booked our tour in the midst of quitting our jobs and booking 5 months travel across Africa, Europe and South America. I read over all the information and then shelved in the back of my brain for a “much later date”. Occasionally while consuming too many pastries in France or beer in Germany we joked about the number of steps we’d be walking as the ultimate anecdote.
Prepare, prepare, prepare
When we arrived in Lima, Peru to meet up with our fellow Inca Trail hikers, we were travel jaded. We’d had over 4 months on the road and were at the point where not much phased or amazed us. As a result we rocked up to our first meeting a little underprepared. Sure we’d read the must-pack list and stocked up on insect repellant but hadn’t taken the altitude warnings that seriously. We’d spoken to a travel doctor before leaving but the advice about altitude sickness pills was filed away in the depths of our minds.
Our group was friendly and welcoming but their first questions were 1) how are you finding the altitude sickness pills? and 2) how much training have you done? We had a sickening realisation that we’d been too casual about our preparation. We managed to divert our attention and keep our mild panic hidden for the rest of the meeting. Turned out most of the people we would be travelling with had run marathons, hiked extensively or in one case, trained in an altitude gym. Cue regret about all the pastries I’d consumed in France!
By the end of the briefing meeting I was terrified. I’d gone from excited to paralysed. We’d paid the non-refundable fees and were set to depart the next morning. I couldn’t do anything about the lack of preparation but I did find a chemist to stock up on what I hoped was altitude sickness pills.
In my mind I turned over the possibilities. Trying in vain to create a plausible escape option or somehow turn back time and prepare better.
The fear of anticipation is always worse than reality
I remember vividly standing at the gate to the Inca Trail with a pit in my stomach. As I stared up a rocky cliff face I was overcome with worry and my confidence hit an all time low. I was lucky to have an extremely supportive husband, a fantastic guide and a positive group of travellers around me. Even if I had doubts about my ability to complete this challenge, they never did. I decided to adopt the same outlook. Even if I had to crawl my way to the top I was going to get there. It wasn’t going to be pretty but I would finish.
I was resigned to the fact that I would probably endure pain, exhaustion and mental barriers across the next four days, but I sucked it up and told myself it would all be worth it.
Over the coming days I learnt an important lesson, our brains can be powerful enemies, and often we’re stronger than we realise.
Day 1: Training day