Today, my Facebook “On This Day” reminder was my Peru trip – in 2013 I hiked the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu. This was my first many day hike and my first time realizing that I didn’t know anything.
I travelled solo, but I wasn’t originally booked alone. A girlfriend of mine was coming along and it was actually her idea to go to Peru! When she cancelled, I said to myself “Jackie, fuck it, go by yourself”. It was the best decision I have ever made. Most people got this funny look on their face when I said I was travelling to Peru to hike the Inca Trail by myself. Now I don’t think anyone is surprised by any plans I make.
Lesson Number 1
Other than cruises, I had never booked anything before with a tour company. You need a guide and a permit to hike the Inca Trail. How do you go about picking a company? I googled and read all the advice out there and believed that I had made a good choice with a company called Inca Trail Reservations. I booked the Classic Inca Trail – a 4 day hike and the pricing appeared to be a little bit below midway of what others were charging. For me, I wouldn’t book with this company again because:
- I was just added in with two other women (who had booked with a different company) to form a group of three. We were taken out on the trail by yet another different company!
- The gentleman at the downtown office in Cuzco was an ass!!
- Items listed on the website weren’t done – like hot water and hot tea – these items weren’t part of the tour company we were put with, although still listed on the website I booked with. It sucked to watch other tents belonging to other tour companies get hot water in the mornings.
- I wasn’t impressed with the treatment of the porters.
- They forgot about me! Part of the return to Cuzco was taking a train from Aguas Calientes to Ollantaytambo. I was to be picked up at the train station and transferred back to the hotel in Cuzco. That didn’t happen and I was left to fend for myself and get back in the dark. I was a little scared, but found a van full of other trekkers at the train station to tag along with and got a ride into Cuzco.
My lesson learned is to book with reputable tour companies and not believe everything I read on the Internet.
This chicken (?) from one of our campsites still gives me nightmares.
Lesson Number 2
Of course there’s a book involved! Was there any doubt? I read “Turn Right at Machu Picchu” by Mark Adams. It was fabulous! It’s two stories in one – you get to read about Hiram Bingham’s discovery of Machu Picchu in 1911 and Mark Adams’ own hike to Machu Picchu. I enjoyed every word of it. If you’re going to do this hike, read this book!
On this particular trip, there was another book that I remember very clearly, the new JD Robb (aka Nora Roberts) was released. These are the Eve and Roarke futuristic books and I highly recommend them for everyone! I saw the new hardcover on my way to Peru when I was in the Houston airport. I bought it. It’s a bitch to carry around a hardcover book in your backpack. I should have bought it on the return flight. I’m too ashamed to own up to how many books I actually had with me and lugged around.
I packed everything in my 65-litre backpack and it was heavy! I didn’t realize that I should only be carrying a daypack and there would be porters available to carry other items. Nor was the option presented to me to leave items at the Cuzco office. I headed to the trail with everything … and I had over packed. Once I got there, I was given a small duffel bag for the porter to carry and I put some stuff in there including the books I brought. The rest I carried.
My lessons learned are to pack only what you need, follow the packing list if you’re given one and do not bring hardcover books! I’ve limited myself to the basics for my upcoming around the world trip … with the Kindle app.
Lesson Number 3
Before I left, I went to the doctor and got pills in case I got traveller’s diarrhea. I was really worried about that for some reason.
Throughout the first day of the hike, most of the time there were little outhouses along the way and for a token amount of money, you could use this and were given some toilet paper by the woman overseeing the outhouse. They were clean and I took advantage of this. In contrast, the outhouses at the camp sites were disgusting. Also, along the trail, every time I saw a spot and thought “oh that looks like a great place to pee”, thousands of other people had already had that same thought. It’s sad that people leave such a mess and don’t apply the Leave No Trace Principles. Bury your poop 6-8 inches people! More regulation and clean-up needs to be done for the Inca Trail.
Day 2 was a nightmare and one of the worst days I’ve suffered through. About mid-morning a bladder infection started with a vengeance. Karma for all those hardcover books my porter was carrying. The guide that spoke English stayed with me because I was walking very slowly, in a lot of pain and stopping to pee every few minutes. I would need to get off the trail and find a spot to try to pee. A few times, we would go around a turn and the guide would hold people back and I would go on the trail. At that point, it was really nothing only the motions of trying to pee. I am an overly modest person and this was the day I got over that! I didn’t care who saw my butt in the distance. I thought about turning around, but at that time, it was the same distance to go back or to keep going.
The high point of the Inca Trail is Dead Woman’s Pass at 4,215 metres / 13,828 feet. When I finally got there I was miserable and had to pee yet again. There was a little hill that I climbed up to pee behind some rocks. Again, thousands had been there before me and I stepped in poop. Not dog poop or alpaca poop, but people poop. I got back down to where the guide was and I finally lost it. I was in so much pain and crying and I had poop on my boot. The guide asked me what was wrong and I lifted up my boot and screamed “I have shit on my boot. Does anyone not understand my English? I have fucking shit on my boot.” Not my finest moment, but I’m my Mother’s daughter and did not hold back. I have never been so miserable before. I sat down and the guide took off my boot and went and cleaned it up. Other hikers gave me a wide berth and I’m sure they still tell stories today about the crazy lady they saw in Peru with shit on her boot.
Here is me at Dead Woman’s Pass once my boot was cleaned. I don’t know where I found the smile, but there it is.
We kept going and I limped into camp, I could barely stand up the pain was so bad. I was hours behind the others who had already eaten. I did not eat supper (it was spaghetti), but went to my tent and into my sleeping bag. The duffel bag that the porter carried contained the medication I had for the diarrhea and it was in my tent waiting for me. There were 6 pills and I took them all. I woke up in the morning and was just fine – I had a great day 3 and 4 hiking!
I took a few lessons away from this. I always have a stash of antibiotics with me now in my daypack. I go to my doctor and beg and remind her of this story. Believe me, I can self diagnose a bladder infection. The other thing I no longer do is use toilet paper anywhere, especially some that others have rolled out and handed to me. I always bring my own tissues with me and nothing else touches by vajayjay.
Lesson Number 4
I was just not as prepared as I should have been.
The other 2 ladies in our group spoke only French and Spanish as did one of the guides. The lead guide spoke Spanish and English. Communication between the 5 of us was varied and interesting. I have limited French speaking skills, but learned some more and I also picked up some words in Quechua, which is the indigenous language of the Quechua people living in the Andes. I learned how to say please and thank you to the porters.
It rained and I survived it, but my rain gear was not as hardy as it should have been. I now have a number of Gore-Tex jackets, pants and gloves for hiking and mountaineering and am always prepared for bad weather.
As I said earlier, the tour company forgot about me! I now plan ahead to see where I will be and have the necessary contact information and anything else that is relevant either in my day pack or on my iPhone.
On a lighter note, check your clothing for things like holes and fit when you have a backpack on. I never noticed I had a hole in my pants until I saw these pictures.
For us busty girls, try on your hiking clothes with your backpack on and take pictures in the mirror BEFORE you leave. My backpack straps tend to push the girls out a lot more and combined with this tank top did me no favours.
Lesson Number 5
Always make the best of it! There is always going to be something about your trip that doesn’t go the way you planned or the way you wanted. It’s an awful lot like life. Enjoy every moment and each day to the fullest, because we never know when it will be our last.
After all that, I don’t want you going away thinking I didn’t like the Inca Trail. I did have a fantastic time and it was the beginning of my love of hiking. I went on and climbed Mount Kilimanjaro and I will do a post focusing on the Inca Trail and Machu Picchu!