When we started out on our 42 kilometre trek along the Inca Trail, I was full of morbid questions; questions I really should have researched before booking the trip.
“What happens if you get sick along the trail? Do many people slip over the edge? Are lightning strikes common? What’s the toilet situation?”
When my guide gave me the facts about illness (namely from heatstroke and altitude sickness), I made a deal with myself to not be the baby who got sick. I was going to trek my little heart out and swan into Machu Picchu on day four like Beyonce, flawless. #iwokeuplikethis
And flawless I would have been, had I not developed some kind of hideous malady on the third day of the hike, which resulted in me spending our lunch stop passed out on a rock, then taking the 1,000 metre staircase descent at a snail’s pace and having a full-blown meltdown a few kilometres from camp. Tears, stamping feet and cries of “I’m just going to sleep here, I DON’T CARE IF A MOUNTAIN LION EATS ME!” ensued, before collapsing in a crumpled heap on the path while my husband and two guides looked on in bewilderment.
Thanks to too much sun, not enough water and a severe case of constipation, I had turned into the baby I had promised not to become: the embarrassing lame-o who had to be carried into camp on the back of a porter. It was a fine moment in my travelling career. Our guide helped me to my feet, gave me a muesli bar and shuffled me a little further down the path, to where my ‘taxi’ stood waiting.
Never in my life have I felt such shame – a five-foot-nine woman being strapped into a large piece of cloth on the back of a four-foot Peruvian man. Feet off the ground (just) and towering above his head, the porter – with the height of Tattoo but the strength of Thor – proceeded to run me down the hill into camp at breakneck speed, arriving to the claps and cheers of not just my tour group, but ALL the day three trekkers (seriously, there were hundreds of them). While some may have relished in the regal welcome, I did not.
While I blush and squirm whenever I recall the fateful ‘carrying’ experience, it’s an important story to share. When you’re on the verge of collapse and hysterically ranting on the side of a mountain, there’s no shame in getting a (literal) lift. Here are some other important points to keep in mind on the Inca Trail:
Altitude sickness is a thing
Spend some time letting your body acclimatise before setting out on the trek. It doesn’t matter how young, old, fit or flexible you are, hiking in altitude can affect you very differently. If you do start to feel unwell, chat to your guide, and take it easy.
Coca leaves don’t really do anything
Other than take your mind off how sore your feet are or how dizzy you might feel. But you should munch on them anyway because, you know, you’re hiking the Inca Trail.
Yes, there are toilets
Yes, they are hideous. But don’t think you can get by without doing a poo for four days by taking an Imodium every day of the trek.
Your group are your family
Over the trek you will laugh together, cry together, you’ll hear them throwing up, carry their daypacks when they’re struggling, you’ll share your lollies, and they’ll put a smile on your dial when you think you’re going to die.
When you’re offered walking sticks, take them
Even if you’re as sure-footed as a mountain goat, parts of the trail can be pretty hairy and it’s handy to have something to lean on when you’re traversing those high passes (sans safety rails).
Bring proper shoes
You don’t need to invest in super expensive hiking boots or uber-fancy sneakers, but make sure your shoes fit you properly and have good grip. Otherwise, your toenails may fall off. They probably will.
Watch out for bugs
There are no mountain lions along the Inca Trail. If anything’s going to eat you, it’s likely to be a fly or a mosquito.
When you get home…
…get a massage. No question.
It’s all worth it
Even if you cried, threw up, or spent part of the trail bound to a porter’s back like an enormous human-shaped shell, getting to the Sun Gate to watch the sun rise over Machu Picchu will leave you feeling like you can do just about anything in the world.
For all your Inca Trail needs, check out our Peru adventures here.
Feature image c/o Daniel Antunes, Flickr