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Favorite thing: Some people, especially experienced backpackers, prefer to trek solo. I am not an experienced backpacker, so I went with an operation. You can arrange to join a group either before your trip, or you can find one when you get to Cusco. The only caveat with the latter is that you're subject to their departure dates which may not match your time frame. In my opinion, it's better to plan this kind of thing in advance.
The travel and trekking agency I used provided us with a full time guide during our 4 days hiking the Inca Trail in the Andes, as well as wonderful porters who miraculously carried ALL of our baggage (large backpacks) as well as the cooking paraphenalia AND the tents. That meant that all we had to do was concentrate on putting one foot in front of the other in order to achieve our Zen. (and it wasn't always easy!!).
Fondest memory: If I had to do it over again, I would still go with small group like I did it the first time around. The people I met were fantastic, and very diverse. By day, we all supported and encouraged each other during the trek, and by night, we traded stories and laughs and really enjoyed a great rapport that only comes with these types of intense, shared experiences. I would not trade that for the world.
Favorite thing: When you're trekking, you will tend to break for the day fairly early. We usually stopped by 4:30 pm, had some "quiet time" to ourselves for an hour or so, then we gathered for dinner in the "meal tent" around 6:00pm, by which time it was already dark. Sure, you're tired from the day's hike, but not everyone can fall asleep (or want to) by 9:00pm. I recommend participating in some "pop-psychology" games that are entertaining and even sometimes a little revealing! I didn't bring along any such games on my trip to Peru - but I remembered about this "down-time" thing for my Nepal/Annapurna trek, and so I brought a specific book along which had fun games to play in the evenings.
The book is called "Kokology" ("kokology" is the study of "kokoro" which in English means "mind" or "spirit"), by Tadahiko Nagao and Isamu Saito (apparently "kokology" is big in Japan?) It's a small paperback book, easy to pack and to carry along. The quizzes are designed to reveal a person's "hidden" attitudes about sex, love, family, work and so forth.
It can be pretty entertaining, especially in a group dynamic!
sharing the Inca Trail
Fondest memory: Over the next three days, we would hear the phrase repeatedly when any of the offending group would offer something from their stash of goodies. Though food was included on the five day guided trek, it was explained to us that it was just the basic meals and we would have to bring snacks to get us through the long days of hiking. Of course, weight was a factor and you couldn’t just bring as much as you wanted or you would be stuck carrying it. For me, a bottle of wine was not a high priority item, especially when you consider weight and the fact that the empty bottle should be carried out. I would be willing to wager that bottle still sits behind that first night’s camp. I would have loved to explain this to them, and finish with a snide remark, like “this is what we call backpacking,” but contrary to popular opinion, Americans are not as forceful with their views as people think or as another nationality who shall remain nameless here. At any rate, I held my tongue for three days and I was not the only one that felt this way. The funniest incident was when a couple from their group explained to me that they had met some Americans that wouldn’t share some candy with them one day, even though they were having energy store problems. I have to add that I hike with a cap I was given from Australian Frisbee players that perhaps gives me an appearance of being an Aussie. I have to assume they confided in me on this point, thinking I was from Down Under and not the USA. I nonchalantly tried to explain that people generally bring just enough for the trip, not wanting to carry too much. I for one brought five chocolate bars. I crave chocolate when I hike and that is what I bring for myself. I don’t need someone else’s potato chips or particularly wine or beer on a hike. I don’t think a person should expect someone to give them chocolate just because they are ill-prepared. (concluded below in Fondest Memory)
- Hiking and Walking
Finally, this is what I call sharing
Fondest memory: To be fair, the weather was awful on the trip and surely added to the air of discontent amongst the group. Still, we all tried as best we could to fit together and I certainly made an effort to talk to everyone as for me traveling is as much fun in meeting other travelers as it is to see the countries you are visiting. By the fourth day of the trek, everyone was ready to let loose with a little steam release. With Machu Picchu looming early the next morning and the most modern campsite of the trip secured, everyone enjoyed some creature comforts missing for a few days. You could take showers, buy snacks, even beer. I had arrived early in the afternoon with Doreen as we had forgone some ruins, having seen more than enough over the previous three days. We enjoyed a couple beers and were in great humor by the time the others arrived. The dinner party was a blast, with everyone making amends and generally having a great time. I had been thinking of buying this big round of beers ever since I was given a small glass of wine the first day, and finally I would get my chance. I paid the cashier gladly and made my way back to the table, juggling the bottles as best I could. Finally, I would get to show what I called sharing.
- Hiking and Walking
walking in the footsteps of the Incas
Favorite thing: If you have the ability, then by all means visit Machu Picchu by walking the Inca Trail to this dream travel destination. The lush mountain scenery is among the most beautiful in the world.
Fondest memory: Somehow, I had made it back with the ten bottles of beer and carefully placed them on our table proclaiming, “this is what we call sharing.” I had heard the same phrase too many times over the previous five days. It seemed a nursery lesson I had not managed to learn according to those trying desperately to instill the tenet in my evidently inferior brain. The Inca Trail had not only been a physical test but one of patience too. It had started innocently enough with our group standing in the rain for an hour as the tour leader searched in vain for a missing entrance ticket. Other than the weather, it was no problem as it was a short easy day of hiking. There were fourteen of us on the trip, hailing from around Europe and the United States and it seemed a good enough mix until very near the end of the first day when over half of us were made to wait for some stragglers pulling up the rear. The weather was changeable and you could only stay comfortable by walking at a good speed and not stopping for too long as you would get cold, which we stood there doing as we waited. The tardy showed nearly an hour later and kept walking past us and did not wait on their way to the camp, one of them particularly fit and impossible to keep up with. This didn’t seem fair and we seethed when we learned they had stopped for lunch in a small village en route. There was some obvious tension at the dinner table that night and perhaps to ease it somewhat, the guilty produced a bottle of wine, casually remarking, “this is what we call sharing.” It was said using a diction that recalled Sesame Street and I thought little of it, assuming it was a joke I didn’t get. (continued below in Fondest Memory)
- Hiking and Walking
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