Balkans- Part One
I wore my Fitbit during the 16-day Balkan adventure, over seven countries. The stats are staggering: 199,693 steps, climbed 387 floors, walked 92 miles, averaged 3500 daily calories, and returned home 10 lbs lighter. Whew! I’ve always loved traveling, but only decided to get serious about it, upon my return to the USA, three years ago. As I edge towards my mid-forties, my goal is to visit sixty countries by the time I hit my fiftieth birthday. I am more than halfway there and with a lot of traveling to do, between now and then.
By far, this was the longest, most extensive and tiring trip I’ve taken. I decided to use group travel, with no idea, the company, while it does have a range of ages traveling, mostly catered to an older crowd. Other than myself, there was a 33-year-old from Nottingham, all the others were over 60 years old, with the oldest being 77, an American from Boston. It didn’t take me long to get over the massive age barrier, as I threw myself into the experience, and really enjoyed every single day! We stayed in 11 hotels, took an untold number of bus and train rides, with the longest journeys being 11.5 by train, and 9 by bus. By the last day, I couldn’t care less what happened to my suitcase-I would have been happy if someone took it off me for good.
Slovenia. Our trip started in the capital city of Ljubljana, often called Europe’s green capital. It’s a perfect eco-friendly place! Filled with culture, art, music and German architecture Our guide informed us, it’s one of the richest and most developed of the Former Yugoslavia, and by far THE cleanest place I’ve ever visited. Endless vehicle restricted areas, underground parking, etc. I did not see one piece of trash on the ground! People were incredibly helpful and friendly. A shopkeeper gave me a free magnet after I bought a handmade ring, another immediately altered a belt that was too big. Locals went above and beyond to ensure our time there was memorable. Lake Bled is one of the most beautiful and tranquil lakes, I’ve ever laid eyes on. The view overlooking the city from the Ljubljana Castle tower is magnificent. I found a calligraphist in the church’s chapel making bookmarks; my request simply stated: “Live Your Dreams” Grabbing a bite one of the city’s cozy “Grostilnas” gives you a chance to taste a wide variety of mouth-watering local dishes.
Croatia. The women in the city of Zagreb truly look after themselves- even the elderly with canes and walkers, were well kitted out. Wowsers. Zagreb has a large mix of Austra-Hungarian architecture, with wide socialist buildings. The Cathedral and 13th century St Mark’s church is a highlight. Most tourists spend their time in the more popular cities of Split and Dubrovnik, which made Zagreb a delight to explore, without rubbing shoulders with strangers at every turn. If you’re ever in Croatia, please plan a visit to the stunning tourist attraction of Plitvice National Park- a pride for Croatians! The park boasts 16 interconnecting lakes, waterfalls, and beautiful wildlife. Dubrovnik, the old city, and World Heritage site, was crawling with tourists. The popularity of Game of Thrones is a huge factor. Locals explained the municipality is thinking of a way to have fewer cruiser ships dock daily. I have this love affair with Cathedrals, and Dubrovnik has a particularly breathtaking one. The old pharmacy, thousands of years old, marketplace, and impressive sweet shops are not to be missed either. Dubrovnik took my breath away!
Bosnia & Herzegovina. Put it on your list. Especially if you like history! First stop- Sarajevo. We arrived at the train station where the time stood still. Ironically, on the day of our tour, it would be the coldest day, with nonstop rain. Other than Macedonia, it was one of my favorite countries on the trip! We visited the symbolical bridge, where the events which took place there, eventually led to WW1. There is a LOT of history here. Eye witness accounts relayed stories of the thousands of lives lost in the siege in the early nineties, the infamous tunnel, built by the Bosnians in an effort to maintain some method of control. The tunnel meant they could organize theatres, schools for their children, etc. The father of our local guide still has shrapnel in one of his legs. He saw his best friend killed before his eyes. Too many nations stood by and watched women and children die in the streets.
Despite what happened here, the resilient spirit of its people is reflected in their kind and easy smiles, eagerness to help, and generous hospitality! Apparently, it’s not unusual to be invited in for dinner/tea, even if you just met. The visit to the tunnel will always be etched into memory. There is a wall lined with photos of volunteers and servicemen, who worked for years, using manual tools. A water pump was the only available type of machinery used. A sweet older lady, whose home still stands with shrapnel in its walls, and is still alive, often waited with water, to give the weary men and soldiers, as they exited the tunnel. The original was about 800m long. Today, visitors can only walk about 25m, due to airport security. Celebrities like Angelina Jolie, Morgan Freeman, and Robert De Niro have visited and walked through portions of it. Please visit if you can!
The particularly scenic rail journey to Mostar was fantastic! We traveled through mountains once occupied by the Serbian army. The scenery gave nothing about the region’s dark period away. Cobblestoned streets, old stone buildings, and the famed Mostar Bridge, which spans the Neretva village, is something out of a fairy tale. Traditionally, local men go around collecting money from tourists. Once they get to about 30 Euros, a swimmer, dressed in trunks, jump into the lake below, which is some 23 meters high, to the delight of onlookers. The Genocide Museum sobers, but I was encouraged by thousands of handwritten, kind notes, lining the walls of an entire room. From strangers to visitors and locals alike. I always take time to add notes to places like this, and mine was a simple “Thank you” next to my name, along with one of my favorite quotes “If we judge people, we have no time to love them”. The ethnic cleansing in Bosnia is a huge stain on the world. Lest we forget.
One post cannot is enough, to squeeze the beautiful magic of my Balkan adventure into. Naw. I will conclude next week. Happy to answer any questions you have, if you’re considering a visit to these parts!
Until the next post,
Plitvice Lakes National Park (Croatia)
A few days ago, I returned from a 16 day/7 country Balkans adventure. My head has been spinning ever since, and honestly, I am still trying to catch up on much-needed sleep. On average I slept about 5.5 hours each night. But, who needs sleep for an undertaking of this nature? You sleep when it’s all over. What a thrill ride! It started in Slovenia, then onto Croatia, Bosnia, Serbia, Montenegro, Macedonia, and ended in Kosovo. Yes, I am knackered.
In the coming weeks, I will share with you my experiences. I need to finish gathering my thoughts, and catalog everything I saw, felt and experienced. I traveled through the Balkans with a group of strangers, who later became friends. I’ve also done solo travel. I thought it fitting to share some helpful advice, that has served me well over the years. It’s intimidating traveling alone. There is a fear of loneliness and boredom, staying safe, budgeting, and so many variables to consider. I hope you find today’s entry most helpful!
Traveling solo can be a great adventure. If you travel alone, you’ll get to know yourself better and follow your own schedule. If you’ve been holding back, these tips will make it easier for you to head out alone. You’ll learn how to deal with three of the most common concerns.
Coping with Loneliness and Boredom
You may wonder whether you’ll get lonely if you travel alone. The truth is that learning to enjoy your own company makes solitude rewarding. On the other hand, you can surely find companions if you feel like mingling.
Engage fully. Be mindful of your surroundings. Getting caught up in new experiences as you travel will leave little time for boredom.
Take a tour. A day tour is ideal for meeting new acquaintances. It’s easy to strike up a conversation when you share the same interests with others and you’re away from your usual routine.
Dine out. Look for places with communal tables or ask your hotel to recommend them. Eat at the bar if you feel conspicuous at a table.
Stay at a bed and breakfast. The owners of a bed and breakfast may be happy to talk about local attractions. Hostels are another good choice. There will likely be other guests and maybe even other solo travelers at these types of places.
Frequent local businesses. Visiting the same fruit stall every day will quickly turn you into a regular. Exchange greetings and let them know you appreciate any advice on what to see.
Talk to new people. Approach your fellow travelers or locals who seem friendly and helpful. Trains and coffee shops are two good places to start.
Do volunteer work. Sign up with a non-profit organization and perform group volunteer work. For example, travel to exciting places while building new homes through Habitat for Humanity.
Pursue solitary activities. Visit an art museum or lie on the beach with a good book. Enjoy the peace and relaxation you get from being alone.
Protecting Your Safety
Security is an important concern for any traveler. Some basic precautions will reduce your risks.
Blend in. Looking like a tourist may leave you vulnerable. Walk with confidence and step inside a hotel to check your map.
Be alert. Observe what’s going on around you. Ask your hotel to advise you about where it’s safe to walk. If you’re near an unsafe area, avoid unnecessary risks by taking a cab to your destination.
Watch your money. You may want to wear a shoulder bag strapped across your body or under a coat. Consider using a money belt or clip. Solo travelers are often the perfect target for pickpockets.
Assess your fluency. Language skills also matter. Ask yourself if you can communicate clearly in case of a medical emergency.
Gather your documents. Put a copy of your identification and health insurance in your pocket. Leave a second copy with loved ones at home.
Check-in at home. Speaking of home, give your full itinerary to at least one person. Call or text them every few days to let them know you’re okay. There have been way too many instances of travelers disappearing on a trip and nobody realizes it for quite some time.
Pack light. Leave your valuables at home. Traveling with minimal baggage increases your comfort and your ability to move quickly.
Sticking to Your Budget
You may run into what’s called “single supplements” on cruises and tours. This is when the venue charges single travelers extra to try and make up for the lack of a second customer. Still, there are plenty of ways to vacation affordably on your own.
Save up in advance. Put money aside gradually. Small amounts add up over time.
Be flexible about timing. You’ll tend to find the best deals at the last minute or several months before your departure. Be open to traveling during the off-season for further monetary savings.
Look for special bargains. Check discount travel sites and look for deals. Some venues may even be willing to waive the single supplement.
Accept roommates. Contact travel companies who specialize in solo travel. Ask to be paired up with another single traveler who is headed to your same destination.
Spend a whole week at a pumpkin festival or browse the Louvre at your own pace. Avoid being intimidated by the thought of traveling alone. Solo travel creates memories you’ll treasure for life.
Until the next post,
Photo Credit: Mark Adrianne
Recently, a sweet, dear friend reached out to me for advice; how to deal with negative people. I thought about my experiences. Humbled by the trust placed in me, I asked for a little time, to formulate my response. For years, she had dealt with negative nannies, another day or two, won’t make much difference. In my line of work and personal experiences over the years, I had my fair share of dealing with negative energy.
I am sure, you know someone like this. Since they’re everywhere, it’s important to know how to coexist with them. Negative people can have an impact on your attitude and your day. But that doesn’t have to be the case. There are ways to mitigate the effect negative people have on you.
Negative people will drag you down if you let them. Take steps to minimize the impact they have on your life. Practice gratitude each day, and you can maintain a positive perspective. Block negative people out with headphones and stay away from as many negative people as possible.
Negative people are not going anywhere, but you can learn how to deal with them, and still be a positive person. I hope you found these suggestions and tips helpful. Though not a one size fits all approach, like everything else in life, take what you need and leave the rest.
Until the next post,
I’ve been working on several projects for the past few months; one of which is eBooks and Course creation. Occasionally, I will offer excerpts from my courses and books here, as well as free resources and handouts, leading up to the launch dates. I am passionate about empowering others to see beyond their sometimes limited tunnel vision. As a Social Worker and Life Coach, guiding clients to overcome tough times is a daily occurrence.
I have worked hard not to let fear paralyze me! Every time I step outside of my comfort zone, I am always amazed by just how I accomplish. You can too. Your experiences are shaped by your thinking. Even obstacles have a value when you can see it. You can develop convictions that will help you to feel happier and achieve more, regardless of the situation. Consider these empowering beliefs that you can start using today, to transform your life through the power of positive thinking. The suggestions are taken directly from the current Ebook I am currently editing.
Game-Changing Empowering Beliefs
Empowering Beliefs to Help You Strive
An upbeat attitude increases your happiness and productivity. Question your old assumptions, so you can replace them with a new sense of certainty about yourself and your future. Adopt empowering beliefs that build up your confidence, and prepare you for greater success. Start today.
You’ll be glad you did!
Kindly use this form to contact me. I will get it right over to you! I hate spam, and will not share your email address with anyone. If you are my friend on Facebook, you can direct message me.
Until the next post,
Views on The Inca Trail
Who LOVES to travel?
I get a massive buzz from it. For the past several years, my life has followed somewhat of a pattern. I work, save money, travel, return, rinse, and repeat! In the US, vacation days are like gold dust! There is something to be said, about the thrill of hopping on a plane, to a place you’ve never been, where no one knows your name, and the excitement of a different experience every day! I’ve told a loving universe, of my desire to travel for months at a time, volunteering from one country to the next, without the worry of having to return home, because I’m out of vacation days, or need to earn money!
Getting away can also be stress-inducing, especially as your departure gets closer. Years ago, I put off my trip preparation for weeks! The anxiety drove me nuts. I am so much better now at planning. In recent months, I’ve gotten inboxes, asking travel-related questions, from friends and co-workers alike. I am always happy to share my love of travel. I come alive giving tips, and hacks. Recently, I found myself reliving so many experiences, as I looked through multiple photo albums, containing years of memories. I am so grateful for the people, experiences, and opportunities presented to me.
In a month, I am off on a two-week adventure to Europe. I am so damn excited. This vacation is different, because it’s the longest one I’ve taken to date, coupled with the number of countries I plan to visit. Earlier this year, I set a goal to visit fifty countries, by the time I am fifty. I am approaching my mid-forties, and only just realized, by the time my birthday rolls around next year, forty countries will be off my list! So, I figured, why settle for fifty? Not me! So, it’s now sixty I am certainly going to try and smash this number!
The questions gave me an idea for this topic. Listed below, are things you should take into account before you go. Of course, the list is not exhaustive. If you find them helpful, have suggestions, or questions, I’d like to know! You can also email me, using the contact form above. In the future, I plan to blog about more travel-related topics; surviving the airport wait, long haul flights, trip planning, in-country support, etc. Follow my blog to get instant updates on new posts.
Ready. Set. Go.
What are the vaccination requirements for your destination?! If you are traveling to parts of South America, Africa, and Asia for instance, you need to be prepared. In some cases, you will not be allowed to leave the airport without proof of certain vaccinations. Consider the fact there might be a nationwide shortage of the one (s) you need. Always check at least 3 months in advance. There is a chance, you have not graced the door of your Doctor’s office in a while, for an annual checkup, no time like the present. Some health insurance plans, do not cover certain travel related vaccines. I needed Yellow Fever for Ghana, and was close to $200 out of pocket.
Seriously consider getting travel insurance! This aspect of trip planning is often hotly debated in groups. To me, it’s a no brainer. While I love the excitement and unknown in distant lands, there are some things I need to prepare for. Sickness, accidents, evacuation, repatriation, and yes, even death! I have seen, one too many Go Fund Me’s on social media, from families, begging for donations to bring their loved ones back home. Have you planned, and paid for a trip you can no longer take? You’ve lost out on thousands, in most instances. Consider annual plans if you’re a frequent traveler. Buy shortly after your initial trip payment, to save time and get better coverage.
If you are traveling with a friend or spouse, try selecting the middle and aisle seats respectively. Not many travelers want to sit in the middle. Unless the flight is full, you will end up with a seat between you two, giving you space to get a bit more comfortable. Go to sites such as Seat Guru, enter your flight details, and get advice. Sitting in the back of the plane, is also a good way to go if you are not fussy.
Make copies of your flight information, itineraries, and other travel documents, especially your passport. Take an extra step, and email a copy of the front page to yourself. There is nothing worse than being the victim of pickpocketing, lost/delayed luggage, etc., and not having access to this most important document. In the unfortunate event, you need to apply for a new one, it will speed things up. Always give a copy of your travel plans/itinerary, to at least one trusted person back home. Notify your State Department/Foreign Office of your travel plans (can be done online in most instances). Write down the address and phone number of your country’s embassy.
I don’t know about you, but I easily get lost in my handbags; so it’s crucial to be able to navigate new surroundings. Duh, get a map! Of course, some have a preference for paper versions. Furthermore, you might not have access to Wi-Fi/data to access one electronically. I love offline maps, such as maps.me, which gives turn by turn directions, of practically anywhere in the world! The app is FREE, detailed, and very functional. Another good option is Tripso; which doubles as a guide and map. Roam at your own pace, and discover thousands of locations, packed with experiences to suit a variety of tastes. There are many paid apps available.
Take a mini first aid kit, or at least, the essentials. Use items already in your medicine cabinet. When I hiked the Inca Trail earlier this year, altitude sickness was a beast! Headaches every day, lack of sleep, tiredness, and sore muscles, only contributed to the discomfort. I didn’t need to purchase extras. Walking around all day can result in calluses, blisters, and tired, aching feet.
Roll clothing, or fold them the Marie Kondo way. I have not used her methods. However, I can attest to using packing cubes and rolling clothes. Cubes are space-saving, allows for easy identification of items, and avoids clutter. Total game-changers. I have not reverted to my old habits! I always pack two extra outfits in my carry on. If your checked baggage doesn’t arrive the same time you do, you’ll have clean clothing to tide you over.
Regardless of what’s in your suitcase, mark FRAGILE on the outside! This tip came directly from an airline employee. I’m willing to bet, all of us have seen videos of the total disregard shown by baggage handlers. Marking your items as fragile reduces the risk, of them being tossed around, and protect them from damage.
Invest in a decent international adapter, and a portable charger. When I volunteered in Dodowa, Ghana, electricity was unstable. To my dismay, I couldn’t charge my phone using the outlets. To make matters worse I had left my charger at home, relying solely on the mercy of others. Ugh. An extra battery would have come in handy. I was a lot more prepared for the Inca Trail, as we couldn’t charge our devices for almost four days.
Today, with so much technology readily available, it’s easier for us to remain in touch with family and friends while traveling. Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp are great for this purpose. Add your friends and family, on the latter, before you leave. Notify your cellphone carrier of your travel plans. Turn OFF data roaming BEFORE you land. Unlock your phone before you leave, this allows you to purchase a cheap local sim plan if you chose to. Most major US carriers, have long-distance plans either already included or available to purchase, with slow speed data.
Look up monetary conversions ahead of time, though exchange rates change daily. Buy local currency before you go. With proper notice, most banks will order these for you, charge the regular exchange rate, minus fees. Avoid airport exchange counters. If you need more, use a bank or ATM at your destination. Some travelers prefer to load money on a cash card. Find what works for you!
Finally, let your bank/credit card companies know you are traveling! Nothing worse than having a transaction declined abroad, for being flagged as fraudulent. Same thing for credit cards. A simple phone call will do, or in many cases, use the mobile banking app. One extra thing to note, if you live in the West, look into travel hacking. Please be responsible with credit! With that being said, you are already paying monthly cellphone, cable, rent, and other bills, but are they translating into rewards for flights, hotels, activities, etc? Stop leaving money on the table. Travel hacking has revolutionalised the game for me.
I hope you found these tips helpful. Traveling has changed my life, which only began, outside my comfort zone.
Where will you travel to next? Perhaps a fun quiz can help!
Wherever your next flight takes you, remember, “If you think adventure is dangerous, try routine, it’s lethal.”
Until the next post,
First, to my faithful followers, sincere apologies for not posting in a few months. I’ve been focused on a few projects; compiling my next book, and completing required certifications to transition into a new career. The next several months will be equally busy, but at least the bigger commitments, have been sorted. I am now working setting up my business, as well as editing the final manuscript. The book will be on shelves by September. Good times ahead!
A few short days ago, America celebrated 243 years of Independence. It’s a national holiday. I spent the time with my sister. A first. Usually I don’t find myself in deep thoughts on this day, but this year was different. I reminisced on how much the past three years in NYC, has shaped and molded me. There is one important area of my life, I’m now in control of. I gained a new level of personal independence. Not in the terms you might immediately think of. I have been on my own for more than two decades. I am quite capable of taking care of myself. However, this particular area of my life kept me back from fully progressing.
Let me explain. A few short years ago, five to be exact, I felt I couldn’t live without a significant other. You see, as I have hinted to in other posts, I needed to be a part of a two-some to feel complete. I loved someone, who was no good for me, in any way. Circumstances brought me back to the USA, where the change, growth, and healing I desperately needed would start to take shape, both emotionally and physically.
Moving to another country and state, as big, energetic, and electric as NYC requires grit and determination. I knew I had it in me. I just didn’t know how hard it would be to fine-tune it. I had to gain a new level of individuality, which would take me to a place, I’ve never been, but urgently needed. I learned to do things on my own. I learned to love, not like, my own company.
So how did I gain this type of freedom? I went to places, and did things on my own. Coffee shops, concerts, movies, restaurants, museums. You name it, I did it. Alone. There are some who would say doing things alone is sad. Does it have to be? What is wrong with enjoying your own company? While I do relish time with friends and family, I also equally love time alone.
Once I changed my mentality, and in a way being forced to adapt, to the culture shock of moving from England to NYC, I became acutely aware of an astounding new level of freedom. A real game-changer! I became my own best friend. Truth is, not everyone will want to do some of the things I want to do, or be ready to step out of their own comfort zones. Am I willing to let these people hold me back, from doing the things I want to do? No.
One particular memorable example, was my trip to Thailand in November 2017. It was my first solo adventure. I traveled for more than 30 hours, to the mountains of northern Chiang Mai, volunteered for a week working with elephants, made new friends, and had a magical time. Once that was over, I would spend another few days, experiencing the sites and sounds of several cities, relying on my own instincts and decision making. I knew the person who left NYC for Thailand, was very different from the person who returned. I had traveled alone before, but not for an extended period of time, mainly taking a flight from one continent to another.
I do not make light of how I arrived here. For so many, the idea of venturing out alone, travelling solo, or doing anything by yourself, is daunting, sometimes embarrassing. It’s easy to get caught up in what others might think if you are in a restaurant, movie etc. by yourself. And so, we deny ourselves wonderful experiences, waiting until a friend, family, or colleague is ready to do something with them. I don’t make many promises, but I can do this; should you chose to take one small step, outside of the place where you feel most comfortable, and risk doing something solo, it will invigorate, liberate, and free your soul!
In my case, I had to stop depending on being part of a couple to feel complete. “I had to do something I never did, to get what I never gotten” Tony Robbins. My question to you today is; what are some of the things preventing you from being independent in certain areas of your life? A small step in one direction will be the catalyst for change your soul craves. Start doing things you have been missing out on for years, because you are afraid.
Life is too short. I stopped waiting around for someone, to show up and change the trajectory of my own life, and circumstances. You and I, owe it to ourselves to live the greatest life we are capable to living. There are no do-overs
Until the next post. Take care of yourselves and your families.
A week and a half ago, as I boarded the last leg of my flight home from Peru, I felt there was something different about me. You see, I had just successfully completed the four-day Inca Trail Trek, which culminates at Machu Picchu. I had experienced a shift. A transformation. There is no other way to describe it. Are you reasonably fit? Do you love the outdoors, can get lost in nature, and all things history related? Add the Inca Trail to your travel bucket list!
To prepare, I joined a new gym in late December. The old one wasn’t doing it for me anymore. However, it wasn’t until January, that I got serious. I worked out 2-3 days per week. Day two of the trek is the most difficult. You NEED to be fit. I researched and watched videos. There wasn’t much I could do about altitude sickness. As it turned out, I am allergic to Sulpha, an ingredient in the only prescription available. I had to go the natural route. I arrived in Cusco a few days before I joined the group, and start of the trek. Travelers don’t know how, and if, the altitude will affect them, until you arrive. Cusco is 11 k+ feet above sea level, time to acclimatize is essential.
No Inca Trail Trek, considered one of the top ten treks in the world, would be possible without the tremendous effort of our Porters. I heard so many stories of how hard they work to make sure hikers have an amazing experience. I was not disappointed! One of the girls in my group, said she was expecting sandwiches. Nah! Initially, there was seven people in the group; four took on the Quarry Trail, and the rest of us, the Inca Trail. A team of twelve porters, who prefers to speak Quechua, the language of their ancestors, ranged from 18 years to 50+, an incredible chef, and a guide, were assigned to take care of our group of three. We felt particularly blessed.
Each morning, we were greeted with our choice of hot drinks at the door of our tent. As there were no shower facilities for three days, a bowl of hot water was also waiting for us. We had very early risings, but, the porters were already up at least an hour before, working to get breakfast ready. Following a filling meal, and once we were on our way, porters would dismantle the camp, and set out, always passing hikers along the way. Hours later, upon arrival to camp for lunch, we would be greeted with cheers and applause, for a job well done. Once lunch was over, porters would wash, rinse, and repeat.
Llactapata Inca Ruins
Day one is often called “Training Day/Inca Flats”. The guide jokingly told us, once we got completed this day, we would most certainly make it through the others. Starting at km 82, the trail of 7.5 miles adventure, took us 8,629 ft above sea level, through some of the most magnificent views on the planet. Passing through quaint small, rural villages, admiring Inca ruins, and ending the day at Wayllabamba. I found out, if you see hikers heading back on donkeys, it’s most likely because they’ve been overcome by heat, exhaustion, or the altitude
Stunning views from Dead Woman’s Pass
Day two tests your mettle, perseverance, and commitment to the trek. We hiked uphill for more than four hours, to the formidable Dead Woman’s Pass, the highest point on the trail at 13,829 ft. The air is even thinner at this level, oxygen is in short supply. I lost count of the number of times I stopped to catch my breath. The break at Dead Woman’s Pass was relatively short, temps were cold, so we had to keep moving. Next up, another three hours of downhill trekking over sharp, uneven, large rocks. After lunch, hours of uphill hiking took us to another pass; Abra de Runkuracay. The final hours of the day, would have us taking on savagely steep, sometimes dangerous, arduous downhill hiking. There is nothing, no safety barriers, nada, between you and a sheer drop to death (which has, unfortunately, happened to some). On this incredibly difficult day, you go from burning calves and hamstrings, to burning quads! By the time we arrived at camp around 6:30 pm, we were done for. Having been up since 5 am, hiking for more 10-12 hours. Sleep never really came that night. We camped at 12,829 ft, in frigid temperatures. I wore my extreme weather long johns, fleece pajamas, a puffy coat, hat, used a sleeping bag liner. ..all which did very little to starve off the temps! When I awoke the next day, it had rained the night before, I touched my hat, to find it mildly damp from condensation. Twice on this night, I woke up, struggling to catch my breath.
Example of the beautiful trails and Phuyupatamarka Ruins
Day three was more manageable. After the day before, we felt confident and empowered. As it turned out, we had to hike straight through after breakfast. The highest point for the day was almost 12k feet. We were so grateful to end the day at 2 pm at a ranger’s station. By this time, we had not showered for three days. I took the plunge with a cold shower in 50-degree weather. My team thought I was brave. No, just sticky! I was encouraged to see a few others doing it too. The last night meant a small ceremony, thank you’s, goodbyes, tips hand off, photo ops, and even a bit of dancing. I will never forget the porters. Ever.
We Made It
On Day four, we were awakened at 3:30 am, given sack breakfast, while the porters dismantled camp, and got ready to catch the 5am train back to Cusco. Once the Rangers checked documents, we were on our way, in the dark, using headlamps. About one hour into the trek, the large group of hikers ahead of us came to a stop. It had rained the night before, causing a large boulder became loose, blocking the path. We sat around trading stories, listening to songs, as men worked for about an hour, to break it apart, and clear the way. Right before we got to the Sun Gate, our walking poles served no purpose. Everyone had to crawl on hands and knees up a steep hill (known as the Gringko Killer). Upon arrival at the famed Sun Gate, we let out a massive hoot and holler!
Machu Picchu; we had enjoyed gorgeous weather the previous three days, except for today. About twenty minutes after arrival at the Sun Gate, the heavens opened. Fog and mist abounded, making it hard to get decent shots. We certainly tried! We would walk another mile or two before arriving to the impressive Inca ruin. Everyone was in agreement; while the site was breathtakingly beautiful, the four-day journey there, is what we would remember forever. On our way down, we passed many tourists, who took the train and bus, huffing and puffing their way up to the Sun Gate. Some asked “How much further to the top?” I managed their expectations. Later, we laughed together at the questions; they really didn’t know what weariness felt like!
Many people attempt to hike the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu. Some don’t finish. During my time there, one chap, who obviously underestimated how tough the trail would be, turned back on the first day. According to our guide; hikers suffer heart attacks, on several occasions, porters had to evacuate people in the middle of the night off the mountains, due to medical emergencies. The trail is often steep and dangerous, some have fallen to their deaths, which is harrowing! Several tourists, through total stupidity, ignore the safety strings at the Sun Gate; in efforts to take ultimate selfie, also fell to their deaths. The day I left, I asked family and friends to send me travel mercies, and the universe was listening.
There are other several traditional ways to get to Machu Picchu; the less difficult and shorter Quarry Trail (which also doesn’t have the views and as many ruins), and the combination of train and bus. Question is, where is the fun in that? You will miss the breathtaking views, amazing history, striking natural beauty, stunning scenery, which sets the Inca Trail apart! En route, we passed by so many Inca Ruins, which served as resting shelters for weary Inca travelers, look out points, ceremonial religious sites, and farms on the way to Machu Picchu, which was discovered in 1911, and subsequently restored.
The story is, the Incas built treacherous Inca Trail, not because it was the easiest way to get there (no, there are quicker, shorter routes), but because they believed one must work hard, and suffer before entering the most sacred city. Word is the Inca Trail was reserved for VIP’s of the times.
On the Inca Trail, you will most certainly go through several stages; the acclimatization and shock of “why did I sign up for this?” Just go with it, and live in the moment! Pain; your legs will hurt; you will suddenly be acutely aware of extra nerve endings. You might not be able to move after most long days of hiking, but it starts all over again the next day. There is also a small bit of guilt: “Why do normal people put themselves through this?”. Bargaining and acceptance; you’ve made it to Dead Woman’s Pass? Anything else is possible. Acceptance, and Triumph; you’ve come this far, Machu Picchu is the prize. You got this.
We would spend another full day in Cusco, seeing the sites, before parting company. Peru has a rather homey feeling about the place. I got to practice my limited Spanish, on some very accommodating locals. Now, how did I chose the title of this blog piece? We were late getting to camp a few times, which meant the porters would get behind schedule, by an hour at the most. So many photos to take of our surroundings. In other instances, going downhill was painful for a member of the group, so we went at a slower pace. The cooks and servers didn’t know what to do with us. On day two, we were later than usual. The server, Antonio, whose nickname is Antonio Banderas, took sight of us arriving at camp, and exclaimed “We are gonna have to reheat the soup!” We spent our Happy Hour that night, reliving the look on his face.
More than a week after I returned home, my knees were still aching. I didn’t care too much! I take the NYC subway stairs better now. I remain very grateful for all the moving parts, especially the hardworking people who gave so much, so I could have this once in a life time experience. I will never forget Peru. I wanted to end the hike on my birthday, it didn’t work out this way. Circumstances meant, I had to change my dates. I now know, the people and experience, made the trip exactly what it should be.
Many of my work colleagues, upon my return asked: “Why do you want to go hiking on a vacation?” Of course, admittedly, they enjoy all-inclusives when travelling. I didn’t give much of an explanation, because we are obviously very different people! I’ve got Mount Kilimanjaro in my cross hairs now, with more time to prepare of course! We will see.
Until the next post,
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