Welcome back to Women Who Wander. I’ll admit it has been a while. I’m on the move again soon so finding time to write it getting harder and harder. But better late than never, right? For those of you who do not know, Women Who Wander is a blogger series here on my blog where other female travellers can share their expereinces with solo travel. Oneof my favourite things about having ablog is reading these stories. Being able to talk to people who have thrown caution to the wind and set off on their own. Be it for a weekend or a year. Solo travel is such a empowering thing and hopefull this series will inspire you to try it out. This week, Cherene talks about her incerdible experience of hiking the Inca Trail in her 40’s.
Cherene Saradar is the creator of the blog, Wandering Redhead, focusing on socially conscious adventure travel. She also works as a nurse anesthetist in Miami. Cheren has been traveling herr entire life but in the past few years the desire to see new places has intensified. Wandering Redhead was started 2 years ago as a way for Cherene to share her travel tips and stories and has evolved into a blog specializing in socially conscious and adventure travel.
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Step. Deep breath. Step. Deeper breath. Panic. Sip water. Keep going. This is how I spent many hours hiking the infamous Inca Trail. That was the edited version. What was actually going through my head went something like this: I am going to die. Why the f*&$ did I sign up for this?
Let me back up. I “discovered” the joys of hiking in my late 30’s. I thought myself to be in decent shape. I had many places on my bucket list and some of those are in hard-to-reach places involving hours of walking straight up a hill. I refuse to let a few hours of suffering stop me from seeing something amazing, so when a group of much younger friends invited me to hike the Inca Trail, I said YASSS!
I read about the difficulty, about the altitude, and all those lovely things that come with altitude. Headaches, dizziness, nausea, fatigue, difficulty breathing, etc. Sounds awesome! I worried how I would possibly keep up with all the others. A mountain climber friend advised me to train on the stairs in my high-rise; to eventually do it in hiking boots with a backpack. I lived on the 34th floor. Eventually, I was able to do this twice with hiking boots. Surely I was ready to hike anything!
Let’s Do This
Our arrival to Cusco was delayed a day by bad weather in Miami. There went my extra day of acclimatizing. When I finally did arrive, I did everything possible to optimize my health. I didn’t drink alcohol (this is a sacrifice!). I drank the hell out of coca tea (coca leaves are a traditional Andes cure for altitude sickness). I drank gallons of water, consumed many other herbal remedies, as well as the blood of an alpaca. Just kidding on that last one.
My hotel room was on the 2nd floor and walking up the stairs once had me huffing. The others said they felt the same, but I suspected they were being kind. The night before the hike, we met the rest of our group. There was one person older than me…a 63-year-old woman. Hmmm, I thought, maybe I won’t be the slowest person.
The beginning of the hike was at a lower altitude than Cusco, so we breathed easily here. This was the “easy” day. Ha! Once we came to our first incline, I really felt the pain. I had to stop halfway up. My lungs burned and I hungrily gasped for air watching every hiker in my group, including the much older woman, stroll past. I was having an asthma attack mixed with anxiety, which makes asthma worse. I used my inhaler and somehow just kept going. I was assured by our guide that it wouldn’t be too much worse that day. He was mostly right. When we finally arrived at the campsite, I was spent. Two more days of this?
We came to a sign with a trail map. Here it is:
Note the steep incline, the ascension of 4000 feet over 6.4 km. The first day was only 1400 feet over 12 km and I was dying! I almost choked on my coca leaf when I saw that the arduous climbing this day was the flat part. I nearly passed out seeing the next day’s trek: hours of uphill to the summit at almost 14,000 feet. Surely everyone else was just as worried. Nobody looked worried. I struggled to look calm. Thank you, botox!
To The Summit and Beyond
The next morning my muscles were already aching. I popped some pills and chugged several cups of coffee. We were encouraged to go at our own pace and we didn’t have to stay with the group. There was no way to get lost and one guide would always be in front and another in back. There were some superstars in the group always in the front, a good hour ahead of everyone. Surprisingly, I wasn’t the slowest person. One of the guys was having knee issues. The two youngest girls were from New York City and had never hiked before. They actually had a harder time than any of us.
Each group of people hiking that day had their fast and slow people. I was happy to see other middle-aged folks. There are incredible ruins along the Inca Trail that you can only see if you do this hike. Anyone can get to Machu Picchu, but not everyone can do the Inca Trail. There isn’t only a fitness barrier…there’s a daily limit of 200 tourists permitted on the trail.
The weather in the cloud forest was annoying. It rained, then stopped and was hot, then rained again. I had to put on a parka, cover my backpack, and put away electronics, then five minutes later, reverse that process. Finally, that magical moment came when I reached the summit with the porters from all the groups cheering and high-fiving each arrival. Serendipitously, a rainbow appeared. Words can’t express the jumble of emotions at this point: joy, pride, exhaustion, and wonderment.
The Rest Was All Downhill
Well not really. There was a second, easier summit, but mostly the 3rd day was downhill. This was miserable in a different way…as in my knees will never be the same. The last day, we woke at 3 am, hiking with headlamps to arrive at the sun gate of Machu Picchu for sunrise. This is it…what we worked so hard for. The site is open early only for those arriving from the Inca Trail.
Watching the sunrise through an ancient Inca Structure, designed so the rising sun passes through it was supernatural. Machu Picchu, although truly as magnificent as one would imagine, wasn’t as special as the entire journey. All the Inca structures along the way were deliciously uncrowded. Even though Machu Picchu has crowd limits, it felt crowded. We walked around, marveled at this ancient city in the clouds, one the Spanish conquistadors never found and then went to the town of Aguas Calientes and made up for several days of no alcohol.
I couldn’t imagine seeing this iconic site any other way. If a moderately-in-shape 40-something with bad knees can do this, relying upon her own stubbornness, maybe you can do it too!
Finally, If you are interested in writing for Women Who Wander, you can contact me at email@example.com. Can’t wait to share your stories