This is part 2 out of 3 for my blog series on my journey to Machu Picchu on the Inca Trail. Read part 1 here.
As I sit in front of my touchscreen desktop computer, the aroma of coffee lulling me and enticing me, I cannot help but feel grateful that I was able to make such an adventure come true.
Surviving the Inca Trail was not just about hiking for four days on my way to a world-famous destination. It was a pilgrimage through the last few remnants of a life where mother nature rules. There was no iPhone tower to check my Facebook feed (which I have quit checking for the most part), the bathroom facilities were painful to look at, and not to mention the rain, the bugs, and the cold. There was little of the artificiality that I am used to in Houston where at the touch of a button the cold is replaced by heat and the heat is replaced by cold.
If there is one thing I learned in Peru it is to be grateful for the life that I live. The memory of the trail might be hazy in my mind, and yet I can still feel what it was like to walk those ancient steps, to breathe the fresh Andean air, and to move through clouds.
After all, who doesn’t dream of walking on the clouds when they were a child?
Day 2 of the Inca Trail: Dead Woman’s Pass
Day 2 was the day I had been preparing for for months. It was my sole motivation for taking the stairs to the 5th floor at work at least 3 times/day. I even dabbled on the static bike for 30 minutes a couple of times per week to get my mostly sedentary legs ready for action.
Ok, so call me lazy. Maybe my prep work was not exactly marathon-prep-worthy. But all that stair climbing I did in the months prior to the trip did prepare me for what was to come. From all of the reading I had done prior to the trip, and from our guide’s warnings, I was already dreading day 2 of the trail.
The day started out wet. It had rained throughout the night and the rain had not ceased by sunrise when we all arose.
The porters made their way to all of the tents offering us coca tea, which I must say tastes pretty good. Then, after an amazing breakfast fit for the strenuous morning ahead, we set out for the most challenging part of the trip.
Thankfully, as you can see in the picture above, my backpack was now relegated to a porter and I was free to focus on staying alive… and the scenery. The scenery was important too.
#God bless the porter that carried my bag the rest of the way
#Best $60 USD I have ever spent. EVER!
The beginning of the trail was not too bad. Then came the stairs. Never-ending, uneven, jagged, impossible, wet stairs. Anytime you felt like the end of the staircase was near, you could discern more stairs in the distance.
More and more stairs.
Approximately 4,000 feet worth of stairs.
We walked through clouds for part of the journey so getting wet was inevitable. Hence, we all looked like shy-guys with our colorful ponchos as we moved uphill.
In addition, the rain also made the trail a little harder to deal with as the majority of the trail is made of stone. Stone, which when wet, was very slippery and dangerous.
As for the landscape, it had now become jungle-like. Quite honestly it almost felt like I was in the middle of an enchanted forest and I was walking amidst faeries. For part of the hike there was even a small stream of water that made a delightful sound as it trickled through the rocks downhill.
After a good 4 or 5 hours of upwards hiking and a lunch break, finally, the light at the end of the tunnel (literally, that’s what it looked and felt like). The top of Dead Woman’s pass:
The climb was all about slow and steady. Slow and steady. All those years of deep-breathing yoga exercises paid off as I climbed my way to the top.
It is interesting to compare hiking the Inca Trail to writing a novel. Part of the reason I have been MIA is because all of a sudden I got it in my head that I was going to write a novel. And so I have spent the last 2 months and a half typing like a mad-woman.
My initial word-count goals were pretty small and easily achievable so that I could accomplish some small wins. Then, I started to gradually increase my word-count goal by a thousand, then two thousand words.
It’s been like an uphill battle. But if there is one thing I learned from hiking the Inca Trail is that slow and steady also gets you to your destination. And even when you feel like there is no hope and the light at the end of the tunnel is beyond your reach, if you keep going, slow and steady, you will eventually get there.
I feel like this is also a metaphor and testament that there is no magic pill in life for achieving success. There is no drive-thru solution that you can pick up in a matter of minutes for all of the problems in your life.
Slow and steady also gets you to the top. So enjoy the journey for it makes reaching the top all the sweeter.
Another interesting metaphor: achieving success is not the ultimate destination. Believe it or not, after we reached the top of Dead Woman’s pass, we still had a good two-hour hike downhill.
Now, remember how I mentioned it rained pretty much the whole time?
Remember how I also mentioned the trail was mostly made of rocks that were very slippery when wet? Ok, well, I fell. At least twice.
Just because we were now going downhill did not make the hike any easier. In fact, with unsteady knees and wobbly legs from the hike uphill, I would say that it was actually harder going down. Who would’ve thought.
Day 3 of the Inca Trail: Playing Amidst the Ruins of Abandoned Inca Cities.
Whereas day 2 was long, wet, and tiring, day 3 was delightful, bright, and exciting. If I was to ever to return to Peru again, I would want to go back to the ruins we passed along the Inca Trail during the 3rd day of our hike.
Again, with no heavy backpack to hold me back, I was able to enjoy the experience in a way that I would not have been able to appreciate had I had a burden on my back (this blog post is just full of nifty little metaphors, isn’t it?).
Now, there are a couple of reasons why day 3 of the Inca Trail is absolutely by far my favorite day of the hike.
No. 1: The landscape was breathtaking and the weather was delightful.
We encountered more stairs along the way, but after the second day’s hike, these were piece of cake.
No. 2: We not only passed many archaeological ruins along the way, but we actually got to play in them.
Now, as an Anthropology major in college, despite the common misconception that all Anthropologists are Archaeologists, Archaeology was never a subject I cared for. I am actually more of a cultural and linguistic Anthropologist.
But boy, do I lack the words to describe the incredible joy I felt playing in these Inca ruins. I think I get what Archaeologists feel like.
Just to be able to be there, on this mountain among the clouds, it was one of the most exhilarating experiences of my life. In that place where hundreds of years ago, before the Spanish colonized Peru, people went about their daily lives the way we go about ours with our cars and our electronics and our cloud-based apps.
#Being human is fascinating
Taking The Road Less Traveled
At some point during the hike, our tour guide gave us the option to take the road less traveled. Ahead of us, he explained, we would come up to a fork on the road.
The path to the right would take us to our campsite after a short walk (bear in mind that at this point a walk of an hour really is considered a short walk). On the other hand, if we took the left path, we would come up to more archaeological ruins and may even run into Alpacas. The only problem? It would triple the time it would take us to get to our campsite.
Guess which path we took?
It goes without saying that sometimes the road less traveled is often the most fulfilling one. Even when the odds seem to be against you, happiness doesn’t come free, and sometimes you have to choose happiness every single day.
For me, the road less traveled has been getting up two hours early to read or get writing done. It is only mid-May, and this year alone I have read 11 books already, and written 40k words towards my novel.
Every day we are presented with the choice of what we will make of our lives, and I have found that choosing the road less traveled is the only road worth taking.
By the time we arrived at the campsite I was spent. My entire body was finally letting me know it was over all the exercise and that it was time to lay down. Dinner, coca tea, and off to sleep. We had a 2 to 3 hour hike to Machu Picchu the next day that we were starting as early as 4 in the morning.
Thanks for reading, and see you in a couple of weeks when I share my thoughts on Machu Picchu and Lima, Peru.