From airplanes to currency exchange, all the intricacies involved with travel are incredibly new to me – I’m the biggest n00b when it comes to hotel checkout times, bartering etiquette and not being robbed blind by locals. For me, what defined my South America trip stretched from from the sweltering chatter of wildlife in the Amazon to the stunning 4000m Andean mountain views…but also the three hours waiting in line under harsh sunlight while trying to cross the Bolivian-Peruvian border by land (and the crafty old grannies moving through the crowd and eyeing our back pockets), the bout of food poisoning while hiking the Inca Trail (and the lack of toilets that accompanied this pleasure), and the dizzying lack of oxygen and short of breath that defined any physical movement I attempted.
What proved to be way more physically challenging that I thought would be, but also way more rewarding, was The Inca Trail, which ended up being the highlight of my trip. My normally OK fitness level was reduced to a pitiful wheezing as I crawled up the mountain at a pace that would lose to a lump of rock in a race. I spent most of the trek staring daggers in envy at the llamas who had made the mountainside their home, chewing the grass with a lazy contentment. I
We had a team of 21 porters whose perseverance and spirit stumped us every time we arrived at a campsite, gasping for air as they applauded us for our arrival, even though they had already run, ahead of us, with 25kg strapped to their backs to ensure that we camped in comfort — and when I say comfort, I’m talking three course meals, hot chocolate snacks and blow up air mattresses – it was insane. I remember sitting in the mess tent for breakfast one day and all of us thinking that we would be totally fine with a slice of stale bread and jam, and they brought in omelets. They even had hot chocolate and powdered milk, and one of the porters woke us up every day at the ass crack of dawn with a friendly smile and hot mugs of coca tea.
If you ever head to do the Inca trail, I highly recommend one thing if you’re a female: a pee cup. My most bizarre Amazon purchase served me well throughout the three days of consuming 5L of water a day (the altitude and physical exercise means you have to water yourself like a dying rat in a desert) and coping with a severe lack of toilets.
We had the most amazing guides, Bruce and Darwin, and one of my favorite memories is Bruce talking us through the history of an Incan ruin, our hushed group sitting on the ground as he lectured us on how life is like the trek. I can’t give that speech or its delivery justice but the general gist of it was: Life is hard, but you push through at your own pace and enjoy the ride along the way. His sincerity and passion for what he did affected me in so many ways – when we got to the Sun Gate he shook our hands and gave us big hugs and told each of us, “I don’t know if you know this, but you did something sacred.”