We often plan and travel with a destination in mind. But traveling is in the journey, not the end. Hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu taught me that. In this article I share my first attempt at hiking to Machu Picchu, why I didn’t make it and what travel lessons the experience taught me.
HOW IT ALL BEGAN – PLANNING THE HIKE TO MACHU PICCHU
There are many ways to get to Machu Picchu.We chose the adventurous way – the four-day Inca Trail. I did not pick up a guide book. I did not ask dear Mr. Google for any photos. That moment when I would walk the ancient road into the lost civilisation, I wanted to be 200% wow-ed.
After all, you need to go with a guide for the Inca Trail. It was the best opportunity to show up and be surprised. We chose G Adventures. What was the worst that could go wrong?
As it turned out, a whole lot.
ENDURING THE PAIN
At 3,399m above sea level in the ancient city of Cuzco, altitude sickness hit. You know that feeling when your face is swollen, your extremities are cold, and your head had a woodpecker living in it? That was me.
The rain whipped mercilessly on our backs for all four days on the Inca Trail. With a pair of running shoes, no fleece and no waterproof pants, I could almost hear someone say “Booyashaka” over and over in my ears. As we shivered in the rain, I told myself: bones of steel, brains of steel.
Finally, on the last day, I woke up with a smile on my face. Today was the day. My tenacity would finally bring me to Machu Picchu.
But the mountain had other plans.
In our haste to get to Machu Picchu before the sunrise, I sprained my ankle. Cursing under my breath, I pushed on. An hour later, I sprained it again. This time, I broke down. I sat on the ground and refused to move. My bones and brains had melted away into nothing but pain and helplessness.
The villagers carried me down the mountain on foot and in a makeshift stretcher. I was whisked straight into an ambulance that picked up several other locals along the way. It was strange to feel like I was having a party of injured folks, but I was in that ambulance for three full hours.
And that was how I hiked for four days along the infamous Inca Trail to Machu Picchu and left without seeing it. I wanted to be surprised by Machu Picchu. Instead, I was surprised by my ability to feel pain, frustration, exhaustion and utter defeat.
Two years later, I found myself back in Peru for a stopover en-route to Bolivia. I had hopes of finally witnessing the grandeur of Machu Picchu, and thankful for this opportunity to return. This time, with altitude sickness pills, a 3-in-1 winter jacket, waterproof boots and a fuller heart.
Traveling is in the journey, not the end. Till today, Peru and Machu Picchu have a special place in my heart for that. Of course, I have gotten a whole lot better at trip planning. And I always buy travel insurance.
Our travel plans may not always work out as we want them to, our health, the weather and other outside factors can impact our itinerary and experience. But it is important to remember with each expereince, even if it is not the one that you imagined when you planned your trip, you learn something new about yourself that you can take forward into your future travels.
Have you been disappointed by a travel experience, what did you learn from it and how has it helped you when travelling in the future? Please share your own experiences of travel or hiking to Machu Picchu with our readers in the comments below. Read Next > Ascending The Ruins Of The Sacred Valley, Peru