Today is an interesting anniversary in my life, it is the one-year anniversary of the day I completed the Inca Trail hike to Machu Picchu. Also known as one of the most amazing, gratifying, and fulfilling days of my life.
I mentioned that I did this a couple times before, but as this is the one-year anniversary I wanted to take some time aside from my typical posts and really reflect on the experience. To say it was life-changing is not an overstatement, and I didn't even get to snapchat it or Instagram it (well, obviously I posted on Instagram later, but not while it was happening, more of a "latergram" if you will).
I tried to think about all the things I learned on that trip, and I was able to boil down the lessons to these:
5 Lessons I Learned from Hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu
1) If you want something, make it happen. The world will not wait for you.
I want to travel pretty much everywhere. I love experiencing new cultures, meeting new people, and learning new things. I think that's part of the reason I went to college halfway across the country from where I grew up. And then I was so ecstatic to study abroad junior year in France. And then I knew I had to keep traveling. So when I got my first "adult" job out of college, and passed my CPA exams, I knew I had to go somewhere exciting (#treatyoself).
Catharine, one of my best friends from Tulane, and I had always discussed traveling to South America. So, when she called me randomly in December 2013, a few days after I knew I passed my CPA exams (also one of my proudest accomplishments) and asked if I wanted to buy a spot on a hike along the Inca Trail, I didn't think that hard about it. I said yes pretty much right away. The rest will work itself out later I figured, and it did. We bought plane tickets a few months later, booked hostels a little after that, and before we knew it we were off to Lima, Peru.
Note, to anyone who would like to hike the Inca Trail and not just take the train to Machu Picchu, the government only allows 300 people on the trail per day, including guides and porters, so make sure you reserve tickets about 1 year in advance with a reputable tour company (it must be Peruvian operated). We used Valencia Travel Cusco and I highly recommend them. If you all would like a more detailed itinerary or details on the actual logistics of the trip I would be happy to write a post on that, just let me know!Also if you're planning a trip to Peru and have any questions please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will be happy to answer as best I can!
2) Unplugging from technology feels really, really good
When we were on the trail there was NO technology. No cell service, no internet, no nothing. We had to actually interact with the other hikers in our group and our guides *gasp*. This led to awesome dinners where we tried to sing the "Riff-off" from Pitch Perfect, played a game called "2 rocks", and listened to amazing stories about Incan and Quechuan culture told by our guide, Claudio. It really reminded me of what's important in life. It's so easy to get caught up in technology by always being connected via phones, emails, social media, etc. Sometimes unplugging (whether forced or by choice) is what it takes to really put everything in perspective. I think I'm going to try and find a day in November to totally unplug again and just spend time with Alex (and my cat Kalliope) and just enjoy life off-screen.
3) Nature is the world's prettiest painter
The Inca Trail is one of the most bio-diverse hikes in the world. The entire hike is only 26 miles, however you go through mountain passes, valleys, cloud forests, and tropical jungle conditions in that time. I saw some of the most amazing scenery that I have ever, and will ever, see. Pictures just don't do it justice. It really reminds you that sometimes the prettiest instagram is waiting for you right outside at your local park.
4. There is 100% such a thing as over-packing. You need so much less than you think.
Dear Laura, if you ever go on a hike that involves you carrying your clothing and personal items on your back for four days at high altitude again, please do not pack the following: cream blush, dry shampoo, jolly ranchers, chocolate covered almonds, 6 t-shirts AND three long sleeve shirts AND four tank tops (only bring 4 shirts please), waterproof mascara, an iPod shuffle, lavender essential oil, and 'Not that Kind of Girl' by Lena Dunham.
I did not need any of that. If you are packing for a hiking vacation ask yourself, will I want this after a physically exhausting day? Will I want to carry this on my back for a 14-hour hike each day? If the answer is no, do not bring it. Also, you will not be showering or wearing make-up. You will take sponge baths because that is all that is available to you. You will learn to deal with this for four days. You will survive.
Also, take that time to remind yourself of how much you take for granted every single day. I don't want to get preachy on here, but when you're schlepping your stuff up a mountain because you couldn't go four days without certain items you start to think how silly it all is. And then you realize what's really important, the people you're with, the experiences you're soaking in, the adventure you're having. This is why I always like to try and get Alex "experiences" for presents rather than things. I usually get him theater tickets (we're both suckers for a good musical) but the experience is so much more fun and spending that time together is so much more valuable that another object.
5. The hardest things in life are the most rewarding
Not going to lie, I wanted to turn back on day 1. I was working out, occasionally, before going on this trip. I'd go to yoga maybe 2 or 3 times a week and a spin class now and then. I was not prepared. My feet have never been more sore. My arms have never been more sore. My back has never been more sore. I was so physically and mentally exhausted I thought I was not going to make it. I was happy I purchased traveler's medical insurance because that would cover the costs of my medical evacuation. I legitimately thought about trying to twist my ankle so my guide would carry me. It was HARD. But it was so amazing. You guys, I don't think I can convey in words what getting to the Sun Gate and seeing Machu Picchu in the distance is like. It just makes every ounce of your being happy.
I am not faced with anything nearly as challenging in my everyday life. But sometimes I do face problems that stress me out and cause me anxiety. I try and remind myself that often the hardest things, what is causing me the most stress, will reward me the most in the end. Sometimes I try to remind myself how I felt at the Sun Gate. Smiling ear to ear, buzzing with life and adventure. And sometimes that is enough to get me through whatever I'm dealing with in my everyday life.
Sorry for the long post! I really wanted to write that for myself, but I hope you all enjoyed it! Have you ever been on an amazing trip or had a life changing experience? What was it? I hope you all have an amazing Thursday!