As some of you know- especially if you follow me on instagram and/or facebook- I spent the week of Thanksgiving in Peru. It was my very first time on the continent of South America so I was super excited to visit. I went alone and even though I was a bit nervous about going to a new country which shaky Spanish language skills, I was more nervous about whether I would be able to survive the 4 day hike on the Inka Trail to Machu Picchu.
I’m not an experienced hiker by any means. My only other notable hike was when I went to the Grand Canyon in May. Even that was tough- and I didn’t get down to the river at the bottom! I was sore for days after the first day of the hike, it was only 7,000 ft above sea level and I wasn’t carrying a heavy backpack full of gear.
So this post is not a blow by blow account of the hike. I am not sure I can adequately describe that experience. Besides, a selfish part of me wants to keep those experiences to myself. Those emotions I expressed, the hard times, the joyful times, the times I wanted to give up, the times I felt victory … Or maybe I will change my mind later ;).
Instead, this post is about some of my reflections from the trip. Obviously, I had A LOT of time to myself. So I thought about so many random things and I’d like to share some of them. I can’t promise that some aren’t hallucinations maybe induced by high doses of coca tea ;).
An iPhone is not a car.
These profound words were spoken to me by Bill on the 3rd day of the hike. During the hike, there was no electricity to charge electronics like a camera or phone, there was no reception either – it wouldn’t even have made a difference to me as I chose not to roam. So my phone was on airplane mode the whole time and the plan was to have the battery last the entire 4 days and also use it to take all my pictures. We had arrived at a nice viewpoint and the tour guide was asking for our phones so he could take pictures for us and Bill said, “hold on, I need to turn on my phone”.
I was surprised and asked why he had turned it off. He said he turned it off every night and basically at all times unless he had to take a picture. Mind blown!!! I asked him how much battery he had left and he said 80% (I had about 60% by this point). I said “but, doesn’t turning it off and turning it on drain the battery?”. His reply- “An iPhone is not a car. The battery won’t run down by you turning it off and on”.
So I don’t know if that is true- but apparently it worked for him! One thing I can agree with though, the phone doesn’t need to be on at night- who needs a phone at night in the middle of the wilderness???
Oh- and my phone lasted the entire 4 days. I didn’t keep it off for very long because I felt the need to take a picture every 5 minutes, on average.
Alpaca vs Llama.
These are 2 very common animals in Peru. On my first day there, I met a Llama, an Alpaca, and a Pacallama (or is it Llamapaca?? – an animal with Alpaca and Llama parents). Even though the difference was told and shown to me several times, seconds later, not only would I have forgotten the difference but I wouldn’t be able to tell them apart!
I spent a lot of time on the hike thinking about Llamas and Alpacas and trying to picture them and remember the differences.
For the longest time, I made fun of Winnie because she wanted to see a Llama so bad and take a picture with it and I was like “nah, I’m good- been there done that”. So she talked for days about how we hadn’t seen any Llamas yet- especially as the tour guide had said we would see a lot. On day 4, we finally got close enough to Llamas and off she went for her picture while I proudly fished out my phone to show everyone this picture below and how it was sooo good and I didn’t think I could get a better one than that.
Than Jaime (tour guide) said “That’s not a Llama! That’s an Alpaca!”. Great! lol. Now I had to scramble to get my picture with a Llama. I can tell you- it wasn’t as good. But at least, I didn’t leave Peru without my Llama picture.
The letter ‘A’.
I think the people of Peru (or Cusco) must have a strong fascination with the letter ‘a’, or something. A word or name of a place can have like 5 a’s in it. I loved the sounds of the names, even though I couldn’t pronounce most of them correctly. I loved hearing people say them. There was Ollantaytambo – the town we started the hike at, Wayllabamba – my favorite name, where we camped the first night, Pacaymayo– we camped here the second night, Winaywayna– third night campsite, Urubamba– the river running through the mountains, and so many more.
I spent a lot time saying these names in my head during the hike…I mean, there wasn’t much else to think about when you are hiking 5-8 hours of the day in solitude :).
The term squatty potty was manifested to me on a deeper level on this trip. I had been duly warned ahead of time not to expect toilets or clean ‘restrooms’. I encountered the Inka Toilet, which is officially different from the squatty potty, and is basically relieving yourself right there on the Inka Trail. Yes, I had to do this one day- I am not proud of it, not ashamed either. When you gotta go, you gotta go. Luckily, it was #1. TMI?
I usually squat anyway when using public toilets; but that’s one level- it is a toilet. The squatty potties were basically holes in the ground. Some of them had flushing systems, though.Bathroom breaks had to be strategized as bathrooms weren’t everywhere. They were described like “the next bathroom is 3 hours away or at rest stop number 3”. You needed to be smart about how much fluid you consumed and when. Watch what you eat to make sure doing the #2 didn’t become an emergency or arrive at an inconvenient time. Use the bathroom while it was daylight because going in dead of the night may not turn out well. Also, it wasn’t uncommon to scout out a pee spot before heading to your tent at night so that should you need to pee in the middle of the night, you knew exactly where to go- usually a few feet away from your tent :).
Not everyone is [as good of] a photographer [as you].
I didn’t have a selfie stick. I traveled alone. So I was either going to have a lot of pictures without myself in it or ask complete strangers to take pictures for me, of me. For an introvert, that’s not always easy. Luckily for me, I was ‘stuck’ with the same 5 people for 4 days so after a while, I started asking without feeling awkward. Haha- I kid. It was always at least a little bit awkward. Lol.
Jaime took most of the pictures that I am in. He did it in one of my least favorite ways. He would always take about 20 photos of the same thing. Like why???? Why not just one or two?? Lol. So this left me having to delete photos- no big deal right? Wrong! Because I am such a detail oriented person, I find myself spending lots of time trying to find the differences between them and deciding which ones would make the cut. If he had only taken one or two, the choice would have been much easier or even if I didn’t make a choice, storage space wouldn’t be such a big deal.
Or the phone/picture would be crooked, or I would not be in the center of the picture (and I don’t mean when someone purposely aligns you to a certain side, I mean a clearly awkward off-centered picture). I know- I have issues …
But I should not complain. He was always willing to take the photos and I did get some amazing photos from him. I just have a lot of photos to delete now :).
The best time to quit.
I thought about this A LOT. Just for fun. Like, I knew I wasn’t going to quit- at least I hoped it would never come to that. I mean- no one ever plans to quit. Especially after paying all that money! But after seeing a few people quit on the first day, I’m not going to lie- I got a bit more nervous.
Looking back, I think the best time to quit may be the first day. You haven’t gone too far by that point. You haven’t suffered enough. Not so much ‘loss’. But on the other hand, maybe that’s the worst time to quit because you haven’t really endured any ‘hardship’ yet?
The first day, I saw about 5 or 6 people hiking back to the start point. On this part of the trail, there was ‘traffic’. By this, I mean people on motorcycles. I think they were there to transport people back to the start point if they decided they couldn’t move on or there was some sort of emergency.
The second day, I saw at least one person hiking back. Halfway through the second day, I understood why. This was the most challenging day for me. The problem though is, it is day 2 of 4 and you would have to hike back anyway. So you were basically doing close to 4 days of hiking. Therefore you might as well go through with the whole thing, right? I wish it were that simple.
Anyway, all this to say I spent a great deal of time analyzing what would be the best point to quit. I am just thankful it didn’t come to that for me.
One of Jaime’s ‘masterpieces’. I must admit- this was not one of my finer moments on the trail. Minutes before this, I was ready to give up. Thank you, Dead Woman’s Pass, thank you- for teaching me one more time what hard work, sacrifice, and perseverance mean.
Defining your success.
This is a principle I got to put into practice several times on this trip. I quickly realized I had to define my own success because if success was being the first to get to the designated stopping point, I would always fail and very quickly feel discouraged.
For me, success at some point became not dying on the trail. At another point, success meant getting to a certain point before a certain time. On some very ambitious days, success was not being the last to get the camp. One day, I was actually the first- but only because we all waited for each other at one point and I ended up being right behind the tour guide when we started off again and the path was very narrow so hard to be ‘overtaken’. lol. But I will claim that win!
One time, success was just being able to breathe. At 13,000 ft above sea level, oxygen is kind of hard to come by. Or holding my pee for x more minutes… I’m not going to lie- it was a very hard trek for me, the most difficult thing (physically) I have ever done. But I succeeded, I finished– which was my ultimate definition of success :).
I hope you enjoyed reading some of my reflections on my trek to Machu Picchu- there will be more posts on this trip and also the other parts of Peru I visited. Don’t forget to subscribe to my blog if you haven’t yet so that you instantly get notified whenever I post something new!
Till next time, friends. Keep dreaming, keep traveling!