“This is probably going to be the hardest thing you’ve ever done in your life.”
I should have gone running the other way when the tour guide said that to me as we stood outside the hostel waiting for a van to arrive. It was 4 am and the driver was running late. We had a two-hour journey ahead of us. The tour guide was getting nervous, we needed to catch a train scheduled to leave Ollantaytambo at 6 am.
Just after 4:30 am our driver showed up and we quickly jumped in the van and headed out for Ollantaytambo. I tried to get some sleep but was distracted by the packs of dogs we were told came down from the mountains to search for food. I had never seen anything like it, so many packs of dogs all over the town in the early morning hours; no humans, just dogs.
We arrived in Ollantaytambo with enough time to use the facilities then boarded the train. It would be another 2 hours before we would begin the actual trek. I was admiring the views when the train came to a stop and the tour guide instructed the 7 of us that were in his group it was time to jump off the train.
We jumped down from the train and made our way up a path towards a wooden bridge. We crossed the bridge checked in with the park rangers and with our walking sticks in hand we began the 9-mile trek up to Machu Picchu.
Our 1st stop was at a set of ruins called Chachabamba that is located just before hiking up a mountain into what our guide called the cloud forest. As I began to climb that 1st mountain anxiety was slowly beginning to set in. I had no prior training and for a plus size woman, the strenuous hiking with the thinning air was beginning to take its toll on me. I did my best to shake it off and kept on hiking.
As we stopped for a snack and water break after coming out of the cloud forest, I remember looking down the mountain and thinking if I twist my ankle the wrong way I’m a goner! The path was narrow, the sun was beating down and the tour guide continually would shout, “Single file stay close to the mountain.”
It was not long after that water break that I began to break down emotionally. The air was so thin and it hit me, there was no way I could do this. It was too difficult for me. I began to cry. I am not talking a few tears, sobbing tears. It was a full-on emotional breakdown.
The tour guide had already instructed the other hikers to continue on without him. He needed to stay with the slowest hiker. At first, he slowly strolled along and would wait for me at certain parts of the trail. He offered to carry my daypack and began calling me his champion. He would offer words of encouragement to keep me going. My best friend, who was on the trek as well, would whisper in my ear, “You got this. You can do this.” each time I would stop to cry.
With each step I took they each cheered me on in their own way. I was the second to last person to cross the sun gate that day. It took me more than 7 hours to get there, but I did it. And although it involved an emotional breakdown and the loss of a toenail, I’d made it. I’d survived the Inca Trail!
I look back on the experience now and laugh, my friends and family love it when I tell them my Machu Picchu survival story. For me the best part of telling this story is passing on the lessons I learned, especially the last thing my tour guide said to me…
“If anyone ever tells you that you can’t do something, you tell them fuck you. I hiked the Inca trail!”