The main reason we were going to Peru this year, was is to get to Machu Picchu on an alternate Inca Trail. [Spoiler alert: we made it!]
As many of you know, Bill and I wanted to do something physically hard, something inspiring, and something seriously challenging to mark our 50th birthdays. We wanted an adventure.
We trained long and hard for our trek this summer in the Rocky Mountains near Canmore. [Many thanks again to those of you who have supported and encouraged us, and to those of you that came along on long day hikes along ridges and up Canmore, Kananaskis & Banff area peaks to help us prepare for our adventure.]
There isn’t just one Inca Trail. The entire country of Peru is crisscrossed with 40,000 to 60,000 km of Inca trails (the number depends on what guide you are talking to) that were built throughout the country in the time of the Incas. These roads lead from Cusco, the centre of the Incan Empire, to the 4 corners of the realm. The Incans were, in this respect, the Romans of South America.
Many of the Inca trails still exist today and are used by farmers (see the photo of a coffee picker that we came across on our route, below), hikers and archeologists. I’m constantly amazed by the ingenuity & civil engineering skills of those Incas who, without horses or beasts of burden, built amazingly large-scale projects throughout the country that still exist, by the very nature of how well they were built, today.
Our hesitation to doing the official Inca Trail, was that we’d read that the Peruvian government limited the trail to 200 travellers a day, along with their porters, guides and cooks. That kind of mass start and crowded trail conditions was not what were not what we were after!
Of course, the reality was that the Salkantay Trek, which is unregulated, is used by a lot of trekking companies, and at times is quite crowded, with perhaps even more people on it. The end result was that we were having 4am starts to avoid crowds on the trail, which was not that fun, even for an early bird like me!
This trek was probably the hardest physical thing I’ve done in my life. The distances were long, there were no rest days or significant times to recover, and each day we were hiking for the better part of the entire day. Shorter distance days took almost as long as the greatest distance days and simply represented harder hiking conditions. So they were long days, but they went through incredible scenery.
There’s no doubt about it: this was an incredible experience. We passed through some of the most incredible landscapes I’ve ever seen in my life. Each day was different. There is something so amazing about passing through a series of landscapes and communities, slowly, on foot. This was not the usual tourist holiday: it was the real deal, filled with slice-of-life moments and wee bits of adventure.
Come along, over the next few blog posts, as I share with you some of the experiences we had, some of the things we learned, some of the things we saw on our trek.
Trekking up a mountain’s shoulder, hiking through a flowering alpine meadow, snowshoeing through a dense pine forest, or taking in the 360 degree views from a ridge top vantage point make me feel alive. The experiences in these places give me a profound sense of space and place.
Travel does a similar thing, pushing me out of my comfort zone, exposing me to new experiences, new people and new ways of thinking; it also gives me that sense of space and place in this world.
I believe that life is lived in the contrasts: when you experience simplicity and complexity and life's ups and downs, whether they be physically in this world or mentally in your own personal inner landscape, you know that you are truly living.
The bigger they are, the more there is to explore!