I couldn’t book the Inca Trail in advance, as I didn’t know when I would get to Peru. I had six weeks in South America to play with, my very first travel experience on my own. And, unlike every other aspect of my life, I didn’t want to plan this trip. I wanted it to emerge organically, I wanted to ‘Go With The Flow’. In other words, be a completely different person to my actual self. So, I booked my flight to Chile, my first two nights in a hostel in Santiago, and a flight home from Rio six weeks later. The in between bits were to be a mystery. “How exciting!” people said to me. “What the hell am I thinking?!” I said to myself, over and over as I waited for my flight to be called at Heathrow.
As booking one of the much sought after permits for the protected Inca Trail wasn’t going to be an option, an alternative solution for the pilgrimage to Machu Picchu would be required. And, as with so many of the best parts of my travels to date, the answer came during a chance conversation with a total stranger on an overnight bus (from Bolivia to Peru on this occasion). Her suggestion was a 4-day tour called the Inca Jungle Trek. Her friends had done it and raved about it. It sounded very adventurous, but I did seem to be undergoing a strange metamorphosis from my usual careful, considered and reticent self.
I went to the travel office she had recommended in Cusco, and was somewhat trepidatious as to whether I had the balls, or the physical ability required, to undertake the many, many miles of trekking, the white-water rafting, the zip-wiring (Eeeek!) and cycling through the Andes. There was only one way to find out.
Despite my previous nervousness, these audacious endeavours were to be a revelation to me. I proved to be surprisingly intrepid once released from the usual confines of my life. The hiking (though indeed challenging) was thrilling, with all the winding up and down on precipitous cliffs, overlooking bewilderingly steep valleys. I coped as well as the next person with the exertion. Though significantly older than most on the trip, I am, it turns out pretty stoic and hardy when it comes to physical effort (though the gazillion steps up to Machu Picchu from Aguas Calientes are a complete killer, and anyone that tells you otherwise is lying!).
We stayed overnight in a jungle lodge on a mountainside which was truly stunning, we took to some devilishly choppy water in a soap dish for 17km of white-water rafting, (this is so much fun!), and we did the scariest thing I had ever done up to that point in my life – zip-wiring across a towering river canyon. Oh no, not once, but 6 times!*
* It was on this day I invented the ‘Do I feel like I’m going to die today?’ test, to assess:
a) Should I be doing this at all? (if the answer to the above question is ‘Yes, I do feel that this activity may cause my untimely death’, you should probably trust this gut instinct and have a rethink. Your sub-conscious may have spotted something you haven’t, and it is pretty well-trained and trustworthy when it comes to keeping you alive and stuff), and
b) (only if the answer to the initial question is no), Can I release my fear enough to try and enjoy some part of this crazy-ass thing I am about to do?
In the case of the zip-wiring experience, since I had good vibes about the crew we were with, the equipment they used, the really solid looking wires etc, I had a serious talk with my nerves, which pretty much amounted to “I do not feel I am going to die today, and therefore, you my dear, can bugger off!”. It was still pretty scary, but I sucked it up, I grinned throughout, and I was pretty damn proud of myself after the event.
All of these things that I did were truly immense, a wild ride, the most daredevil things I had done in my entire life. And that is even before we talk about visiting Machu Picchu itself, (which perhaps I will do another time). It came as a tremendous shock to me that I was able and willing to be so adventurous. And then, in my travels that followed, I found myself actively seeking these types of experiences out. Things my mother would cringe at. Things I never in my wildest dreams thought I was the sort of person to participate in.
Travel has opened my eyes to facets of myself I never knew existed. I am delighted to have discovered them, and excited to see what else I don’t know about myself that some future foreign adventure may introduce me to. I’ll keep you posted :)
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