Joining organised tours and missing my daily shower are two things that do not make the top of my favourite list. Visiting a world wonder while connecting with new amazing people in the Peruvian mountain-tops take high spots on that same list.
When I think of a tour, I imagine lack of control over my time, unnecessary additional expense, and the potential of being placed with non-compatible people. My four-day Inca Trail to Machu Picchu trek with G-Adventures quickly disproved my beliefs on tour-groups, but my thoughts on replacing showers with small bowls of warm water remained the same.
Included in my excursion was a personal porter to assist with up to 30 pounds of my personal gear, camping equipment and food. I’m an over-packer, this is something I know about myself. I can’t seem to wrap my head around essentials. Trying to pack my necessities for four days into a 36L backpack seemed like an impossible task.
There was a total of 20 porters for our group of nine and two were very knowledgeable and experienced guides. While we huffed and puffed along the sometimes very steep trail, the porters breezed by us in sandals as if they were floating, with bundles larger than they themselves strapped to their backs.
With a guide at the front maintaining the pace of the first hiker, and one at the rear to accommodate the speed of the last, we felt no pressure to rush and the freedom to stop and explore the many sets of ruins exclusive only to those willing to hike the Inca Trail was something that never felt compromised.
The first three days offered us the views we had been dreaming of as well as challenged us all to push beyond what we were expecting. The entire second day dubbed Dead Woman’s Pass, was spent climbing up lengths of old Incan stairs made of stone through a steep mountain pass. The altitude surpassing 4,200 metres limited our oxygen levels almost making a dead woman out of me. It’s difficult to describe the feeling of thin air. Walking feels like running and climbing up steep stairs feels like sprinting in deep sand.
Every day when we would arrive at our next camp, the porters, in vibrant purple would be waiting in a line applauding for us as we arrived. The smell of fresh food was something we all welcomed as we wearily went to our tents that were already set up for us to freshen up and rest after a long day of hiking.
Prior to dinner, we all got together for Happy Hour — popcorn and hot cocoa. We would play cards and relax before getting spoiled with three-course meals and royal treatment by our amazing adventures crew.
We awoke at 3 a.m. on the fourth morning to begin our final push to Machu Picchu. Our headlamps illuminated the trail as the first and only rain of the entire trek trickled down our ponchos. After an hour in darkness and an incredibly steep long set of rock stairs, it was as if by cue the clouds lifted and the sun broke through. This was the moment we hiked four days for, and there it was in all its glory, the sun rising over the ancient city and wonder of the world, Machu Picchu.
Roaming around Machu Picchu with well slept and showered travellers who had opted for the 40-minute bus ride instead of the four-day trek had me initially feeling insecure about my weary, less than fresh appearance. The fleeting embarrassment was quickly replaced with pride as I looked over to my fellow hikers to see we were all proudly wearing the dirtiest pairs of boots that had just brought us over 40 km to see this wonder.
The best way for me to sum this experience up is into one clean cliché quote: It’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey. OK, it’s also about how many pairs of socks you pack — always pack excessive amounts of socks when you’re doing a multi-day trek.
Gina Petrovich is a Kelowna-based wanderer with a knack for adventure. She’s now sharing her adventures with the Capital News in a bi-monthly column.