I've never had the patience for details so by default I'm a big picture kindof girl. As far as traveling goes, this part of my personality allows me to dream big and do great things while having very little expectations.  And as far as expectations of the Inca Trail went I had none. And hot damn if the Inca Trail didn't provide the most gorgeous scenery I have ever had the privilege to see.  I'm not sure why I'm surprised, and maybe I'm not, I just didn't think about it.

The Inca Trail is a well-traveled 4-day hike and almost every day of the year about 400 travelers, guides, and porters start the journey from the beautiful mountain town of Cusco.

I arrived in Cusco at 1pm the day before I left for the trek where I spent the day gasping for air, feeling flu-like symptoms and other tell tale signs of mild altitude sickness. I suppose if I even thought of a guidebook I would have planned my trip differently to allow time for acclimatization.

No, I wouldn't have.  

My trip was perfect, ass kickin' and all.

The first day on the Inca Trail was spent hiking a gradual incline through a deep and narrow valley surrounded by edifices so staggeringly high and lush green it was hard to believe I was still on planet Earth. 

I very randomly met three of Max Gordon's friends along the trail.  It took four sentences to figure out that they were 26 years old and from Burlington, Vermont.

"Do you know Max Gordon?' and the rest is history.

I hiked with a company called Weiki Treks which made us all feel like we were some kindof royalty who enjoyed things like three course lunches and dinners, birthday parties, pancakes, mango flan, ceviche, and happy hours atop mountain peaks.

The six other people who I was serendipitously paired with for the hike were truly the funniest, coolest people I've met in a long time and the friendships were instant.  I didn't just laugh every day; I crawled on all fours in laughter every day.  My crew quickly devolved into a bunch of people trying to make each other laugh while we feasted in our portable dining room. The exhausting and beautiful walks in between meals seemed like something to endure so we could sit down and start laughing over popcorn and powdered milk mochas. 

 

Day Two of the trek is aptly named Dead Woman's Pass.  Our guide literally said to us, 'There are many challenges in life. Today will be one of them." (!?!?) It took us six hours to ascend the 4,000 meter mountain pass in the pouring rain followed by bright sun and increasingly less oxygen every step. You'll be shocked to hear that I didn't pack well because I did zero planning and zero research.   My camera gear alone weighed 15 pounds and that was just what was hanging around my neck.  On my back you could find a change of clothes for each and every day, a couple of books, my journal, and a cure and ointment for every possible malady that would never arise.  Besides a rather humbling experience, Day Two offered hour after hour of getting to know all my new friends. We each told our life story, one by one, and I fell in love with everyone.  It's also worth noting that I dominated that evening in both charades and the four hands of Bullshit we played while crammed inside a one-man tent with three other people. 

 

Day Three was called The Gringo Killer, and I'll surely reference this day when talking nostalgically about my healthy knees. We ascended and descended 3,000 ancient stone steps in the cold and spitting rain for ten hours.  My body hurt, I was cranky, I got my period, and I was thirsty.  I laughed at lunch, but eventually had to sit down and cry for about 10 seconds.  The tightness in my calves rendered me unable to bend at the ankle which felt as weird as it sounds.  My new friend Abe aptly named his calves Donzel Washington and I couldn't agree more though I'm pretty pissed I didn't think of the moniker first.

 

Day Four had us up and at 'em at the non-hour of 3:30am.  We had our first glimpse of what we were told was Machu Picchu, but we wouldn't know because it was 6am and the morning fog still had hours before burning off.  We took many a tourist photo in front of a thick white wall of clouds which we found absolutely hilarious.  We spent the next three hours making fun of ourselves until the fog cleared.

 

Machu Picchu proved to be so mind blowing and magnificent no camera could ever do it justice.  In fact, I couldn't believe I was actually looking at it. The ancient city never found by the Spanish conquistadors is perched high amongst the giant fangs of the green Andes and is truly breath taking.  We spent the morning hanging around Machu Picchu and I took something like 400 photographs.  I doubt even one will do it justice.

 

After the hike was over and we made our way to the mountain town in the valley the afternoon and evening were spent either in a bar congratulating ourselves or remembering the good old days of four days ago when our knees worked.   We played drinking games on the train home and horrified every English speaker within earshot of our Never Have I Ever game.

I hope I never forget those four days on the Inca Trail and how much fun we had and how hard we laughed.  It ranks in the top experiences of my life and I never saw it coming. Three cheers for not planning!

A hot shower, laundered clothes, a good sleep, a day off, and a night out with friends had me ready for the next phase of my journey.

Off to the jungle I went. 

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Comments
Michelle Stone says:

Wow!!! Those photos are so beautiful I actually teared up. I HAVE to go there one day! Also, your writing is awesome and funny! :)

(02.28.14 @ 07:51 AM)
Jessica Brown says:

Tara,
Thank you for taking me on another one of your amazing trips!

(03.26.14 @ 10:41 PM)
sheila trieff says:

Stunning.

(05.04.14 @ 12:04 PM)
Better Drunk Than Wasted says:

Love the fog shrouded valleys

(07.11.14 @ 10:15 PM)