In February of 2015, my wife and her best friend decided that we were all going to trek over the Inka Trail to Machu Picchu. A trip to Peru had long been on my wife’s friends bucket list and now we had our reservation and were all set to visit Machu Picchu in style. It wasn’t until after the reservations were made and the deposits paid that I actually found out that this is a formidable trek complete with two mountain passes that top 13,000 feet and thousands of stone steps that accent both the assent and the decent.
Upon realizing the magnitude of the challenge that we were facing, I began gathering up Ace the dog for somewhat regular, ok somewhat irregular runs, around our neighborhood. These runs included some hills and were the best training that I could carve out time for. My wife found some time in her schedule to take a couple of hikes through the course of the early summer before our August trek. By the time that we arrived in Cusco and felt the effects of the altitude on our bodies, our preparation, or lack their of, for our trek became a source of stress and trepidation about our upcoming “Trek of a Lifetime.”
On our first day on the Inka Trail, the effects of the altitude felt by our group ranged from blue fingers, to strange feelings of someone strangling us from behind. These symptoms did little to rest our minds fears of what awaited the next day. Our conversation around dinner was light and fun. No one was ready to come out and admit that they were afraid that they may suffer permanent brain damage from lack of oxygen the next day. I secretly spent a few moments arranging all of my different varieties of coca products to make sure they were easily accessible in my pack before going to sleep that night. At one point, as I looked at my array of coca leaves, coca candy, coca gum, coca chocolate and coca energy bars, I wondered if surviving Dead Woman’s Pass would be worth the months of rehab that I was bound for back in the states to kick the wicked coca leaf habit that I was about to develop.
Tranquillo is my new favorite word in any language. I am not allowed to say this word again to my wife until after I have finished composing a funny and witty obituary for myself, because she will kill me. The Inka Trail can have that effect on people. Regardless, Tranquillo essentially means mellow or chill out or be cool. Or all of those things at the same or different times, which is why I like the word so much. It is also the word that my brain assigned to the key concept in our Inka Trail survival. The key to surviving Dead Woman’s Pass (or Dancing Unicorn Pass if you prefer) is to only move as quickly as you can without losing your breath. For me, this was incredibly slow, especially compared to the teams of porters who were running past us with over 50lbs of gear on their back. We did not set any land speed records on our way up the pass, but much to our surprise, by barely moving, we were able to make our check points in about the same amount of time that the brochure said we should make them in. Never have I celebrated so much my ability to go so slowly, but when climbing Dead Woman’s Pass, that is what you do. And we did it. And we made it. And we all thought that much of our nervousness and fear of the trek might have been a bit overblown.
Special Thanks to Alpa Expeditions for Making Our 5 Day Inka Trail Trek an Amazing Experience. If you are considering the Inka Trail or any other trek in Peru, you need to use Alpaca Expeditions. They treat their porters well, which not all companies do, and they provide a level of teamwork and service that was clearly a cut above the competition. Throughout our trip, we remarked how thankful we were for our team and the professionalism that they exuded.