I arrived in Peru at the tail end of February 2010 in preparation for my awesome Machu Picchu trek leaving the first of March. That didn’t happen. I was a little bummed about not getting to see Machu Picchu, but in true adventurous spirit said to myself “I’ll be in South America for a while… we’ll see what happens.” I explored Cusco and Arequipa. I went on a tour of the floating islands on Lake Titicaca. And went sand-boarding on the dunes in Huacachina. I flew over the Nasca lines and marveled at the shapes. And then I put Peru out of my mind. I started on my first volunteer project in Cartegna and promptly put my missed opportunity at hiking the Inca Trail out of my mind.
But when meeting other travelers the conversation always seems to go somethitng like this:
Random Traveler: How long have you been traveling for? Where have you been?
Upon hearing that I have already been to Peru but did not get to see Machu Picchu, it inevitably goes like this:
Random Traveler: Dude! You have GOT to go to Machu Picchu. It’s EPIC. Your trip will be nothing if you don’t get to Machu Picchu.
At this point I don’t even bother trying to explain that a natural disaster occurred not long before I was to hike Machu Picchu and that I am grateful that said natural disaster did not occur while I was hiking Machu Picchu.
More time passed and I helped build eco-friendly hiking trails and count howler monkeys in the dry forest [which is a total misnomer since it’s soaking wet 6 months out of the year]. I catalogued orchids in a cloud forest. I tagged turtles on the Galapagos Islands. I climbed volcanoes in Ecuador. I caught malaria in the Amazon Rainforest. I volunteered in a health clinic and taught classes on respiratory infections, influenza, and tuberculosis. I chilled out and took surfing lessons on the coast. I went hiking in Keulap and Chachapoyas. I met up with friends in Cajamarca. I rented an apartment and hosted a Thanksgiving dinner with and for travelers.
And then my roommate asked me this question. In Novemeber.
“Someone just cancelled in my tour group to hike Machu Picchu. Do you want to take their place? It’s the first week of December.”
Did I? After all, 8 months earlier I came to Peru a month earlier than my first volunteer assignment required for the sole purpose of hiking Machu Picchu. But was that still a goal? At the risk of sounding extremely pretentious, Machu Picchu was becoming just another box to tick… just a way to impress my fellow travelers. I wasn’t helping anyone by climbing it. I wasn’t learning Inca culture and this wouldn’t be a culmination of assimilating all that knowledge. I had done so much more than I had originally intended to do, and I still had a half of a continent to explore.
“Oh and this isn’t the standard 4day/3night trek This is a 9day/8night 100km hike”
holyfuckingshit…. that’s a long ass hike I thought. And my roommate… she used to climb mountains. For fun. And for fun I like to sleep. And then before I realized the words were out of my mouth “I’m in,” and I had a paltry 6 weeks to get my ass into shape. There was no turning back after that. My previous longest hike was a measly 2 day 16 miler in Chachapoyas.
Did I go? Oh hell yeah. Was it amazing? Incredibly so. Was it the most physically and mentally challenging thing I have ever done in my life? Without a doubt. Was it worth it?