The Inca Trail
When I talk to people about their bucket lists and places they’d love to travel to, Machu Picchu is often part of the conversation. I know that in my case, as soon as I decided to travel to South America, I knew I would be paying a visit to the ancient Incan city.
While there are several different ways to reach Machu Picchu, the most famous one is to hike the 45km, Inca Trail. Along with being the most well known trail, it’s also the most expensive and most difficult to book. Only 500 people are allowed to start the Inca Trail per day. Of these 500 permits released, only around 200 of them go to tourists, while the rest go to guides, porters and cooking staff.
Nevertheless, I knew I wanted to reach the city, walking along the same path that the Incan’s did 500 years ago. We had to book our trek 6 months in advance and paid over $600 for our 4-Day Classic Inca Trail tour with Llama Path.
I did a lot of research on tour companies before deciding to trust our experience to Llama path. The reviews I read said great things about the guides, the food and the overall service, but what really differentiates them is that they are known to treat their porters very well.
The porters are paid slightly more money and are all supplied with proper shoes and uniforms, whereas, I saw porters from other companies wearing sandals, while carrying 25kg backpacks along the rocky Inca Trail!
Llama path is also the only company that has a “Porter House” in Cusco. The majority of the porters live outside of Cusco. The Porter House gives them somewhere to stay, the night before and night after their treks, so they don’t have to pay for accommodations. This is also a place that they can bring their children to be educated and taught English.
I think a lot of this treatment derives from Llama Path’s story. The owner of the company started out as a porter. He went back to school and eventually became a guide and fell in love with an English woman, who was part of one of his tours. They moved to England together and then returned to Peru years later, to start Llama Path and to start creating positive changes in the treatment of porters.
Our journey was about to begin. Luckily, we had a very small group. Our Inca Trail group consisted of myself, my Dad and a New Zealander, named David. We were accompanied by our guide, also named David, 7 porters, and a chef.
According to the trail maps provided by llama Path, the first day is supposed to take around 7 hours from start to finish. We started from a place called km 82 and set out for Wayllabamba, which is where we would be stopping for lunch. The trail was uphill most of the way, but it was not overly steep, so I was able to hike with little effort. It was a great chance to relax and enjoy the views.
Although, it was a relaxing hike for me, my Dad started to tire quickly and had to take breaks frequently. Just the slight incline in the path became a great challenge for him. I noticed that his breathing was shallow, loud and out of control.
I did my best to teach him to control his breath and his thoughts. I explained to him how our bodies and our minds are connected. By calming our minds and our breathing, our physical state naturally becomes calm as well. Also, when we breath wildly or have stressful thoughts in our minds, we waste energy, which can otherwise be focused towards our physical actions.
One of the highlights of the day was stopping to view the ancient ruins of Llactapata. We sat and listened as our guide, David, told us stories of the Incan Empire.
My Dad was really struggling. He kept apologizing for slowing us down. In truth, it didn’t bother any of us to have to go at a slower pace. I personally don’t usually hike to go fast. I prefer to enjoy the journey. However, in his mind, he felt like he was holding us back, and this was affecting his own experience.
David told me that I should go on ahead. As much as I wanted to hang back and walk with my Dad, I felt that it would be best for me to go on ahead. I wanted to take the pressure off of him, so that he could go at his own pace and enjoy himself. It was a tough decision at first, but I realized that I had to put my trust in him that he could do it on his own. He didn’t need me there to pull him along.
Lunch Is Served
When we arrived to our lunch destination, we were greeted by the porters who gave us a standing ovation as we entered the camp. I was surprised to see that they had already set up a tent for us to eat our lunch in and that our food was ready to be served. One of the porters served us a delicious, 3 course meal. This was the first of many meals we would have along the Inca Trail that blew my expectations out of the water.
We still had to push on for another 2 hours before reaching Ayapata camp site, which is where we would be spending the night. This part of the path was more of an uphill climb. As we continued on, I started to see a few of the other tourists on the trail turning back. I knew this wasn’t good for my Dad’s moral.
However, David was doing a great job of continuously encouraging and urging my Dad on. David told me that some guides will let their customers turn back as soon as someone says they can’t do it. He told me that when he sees that someone is struggling, it just means he needs to do a better job of motivating them. He said that any of the good guides think this way.
I really appreciate this philosophy. I believe that one of the worst things that we can do to people we care about is tell them to give up when they are struggling. Or to tell them not to try something that may be difficult. When we do this we are basically telling them that we don’t believe in them and they shouldn’t believe in themselves either. Think about this the next time you are about to “protect” someone from failure or disappointment.
We Made It!
When we arrive to Ayapata, our tents were already set up and the porters were busy preparing our dinner. I remember being really proud of what my Dad had accomplished that day. I always knew he could do it, but it was great to see him show himself that he could.
He was really proud of himself, but he was still a bit worried. He felt that Day 1 had completely pushed him to his limits, and the most difficult day was still to come.
The day that my Dad had been dreading arrived. Day 2 is by far the most difficult day of the trek. We would be climbing 2 passes that day. According to the trail map, the day involves 11 hours of hiking, 6 of which is straight up hill.
Again, I went on ahead, so that my Dad could go at his own pace. I really enjoyed the morning, since I had the path entirely to myself for most of it. I was able to enjoy the solitude and connect with the nature around me.
The first pass of the day is called Dead Woman’s Pass. It’s almost a 1000m vertical climb to the summit from where we camped the previous night, and at 4200m, is the highest point of the Inca Trail. I reached the summit quite quickly, so I had some time to hang out with the porters, while I waited. One of them let me try on his backpack. It’s amazing how fast these guys move with 25kg’s on their back.
About an hour and a half later, my Dad finally came into view, with David by his side. He was still quite far down the hill, but I could see that he was having a tough time. He would take about 10 steps and then rest, bent over, gasping for air. I decided to go back down the hill to meet him.
When I reached him I could see the pain in his face. He told me that he felt like he couldn’t physically take another step. However, he was determined. He kept saying that he was going to make it. We set little goals for him to achieve. We would set a goal of making it to a certain step up above, or to a spot where there was a slight curve in the path.
The Power Of Short Term Goals
My Dad would put all his focus on these little goals and then would rest again once he reached them. Following this system, he was able to make it all the way to the top. He was able to climb several hundred more steps up the hill after feeling like he could go no further.
It’s really useful to set little, measurable goals in all areas of our life. It can be difficult to stay motivated, working towards our big long term goals, when they seem so far away from us. Setting short term or mini goals allows us to work toward something that seems more tangible and real to us in the moment. Achieving these mini goals, shows us that we are making progress and fuels our motivation, which propels us forward, toward our big goals and dreams.
We reached the summit together and everyone at the top of the pass, cheered for my Dad. People kept asking if I was my Dad’s son, even when I first reached the top, alone. It seemed that my Dad had made friends with everyone on trail already and they were all cheering him on. It was great to see a smile break across his face.
The descent down towards our lunch stop, wasn’t much easier for him. It was quite steep and we had to be careful with each step. I stayed with my Dad for this portion of the trip. I wouldn’t have gone much faster on my own anyways, as hiking downhill is really hard on my knees.
At lunch, as my Dad lay sprawled out on the ground, he felt as if his body was completely spent of energy and we still had 4 hrs of hiking left.
Once we reached the summit of the second pass I felt relieved. I knew that the hardest parts of the Inca Trail were now behind us and my Dad had made it!
Near the very end of the day I broke off from the path to see some optional ruins, while my Dad and David continued on towards camp. I had to climb up some pretty steep steps to reach the ruins and once I arrived, the view took my breath away. It was a city in the clouds. Looking out, into the distance, all I could see was white, fluffy, clouds.
It was getting dark, and I wanted to finish the trek with my Dad, so I explored the ruins quickly, before leaving to catch up with the group.
Nothing Is Impossible
I had the biggest smile on my face as I entered the camp with my Dad and watched him put his hands up in the air to celebrate, while the porters gave him a standing ovation.
After 10 hours of hiking, he was too tired to even eat dinner. He went straight to the tent to sleep. He was physically and mentally exhausted. He told me that what he just did was the hardest thing he’d ever done in his life and that he was really proud of himself. I told him I was very proud of him too.
It was so inspiring to see him make it to the finish line that day. To see him accomplish something that he highly doubted was possible just a few days earlier. After having to turn back after completing only 1/3 of a 45 minute hike in Cusco, he really doubted he could do the Inca Trail. As he changed his thoughts from “I can’t do it” to “I am going to do it,” he was able to prove his initial beliefs wrong.
He overcame the toughest physical challenge of his life at age 55, after doing very little physical exercise for the past 15 years. He hit a point where he felt his body was failing and that he couldn’t take another step, yet he walked for another 8 hours to reach his destination.
“What the mind of man can conceive and believe, it can achieve” – Napolean Hill
It just goes to show how most of the things that we believe to be impossible, really are possible. The only thing that ever holds us back from achieving everything we want in life, is our own limiting belief system. We can have all the things we’ve ever wanted. We can do all the things we’ve ever dreamed of doing. We can become the person we really want to be. All we have to do is believe, with absolute faith, that these things are possible.
And as you read in this story, my father, proved to everyone on the Inca Trail that day, to me, and most importantly to himself, that nothing is impossible.
“Impossible is just a word thrown around by small men who find it easier to live in the world they’ve been given than to explore the power they have to change it” – Muhammad Ali
The story continues on in part 2. If you enjoyed what you read, go ahead and follow my blog. Enter your e-mail in the side bar now and never miss another post!