Peruvian thoughts

They left my luggage in Paris.

As, I discovered enroute to Machu Picchu (not being a very good micro traveler yet). I wouldn’t have my gear for the Inca Trail. This was a shock. I had spent weeks planning what to bring, visiting stores in person, and browsing hours worth of trekking pants, head lamps, and waterproof everything – once wet in the Andes, it stays wet, so I experienced. In the end I had my hiking boots, but nothing else.

I think a part of me wanted this. What did I actually need, really? I was forced to decide rapidly. A colleague’s Backpacker’s Theory of Life popped into my head. When you go backpacking, you think about what you can’t live without. Substance trumps style. You need something /someone that shows up consistently without a fuss. Society drives us to overconsume, completely exaggerating what’s essential, but when we take a moment to step back and think, we realize these “essential items” crowd out more important things – they just take up space in an already overloaded backpack. So, what do I actually need to complete this trail happily and healthily? What do I need to live happily and healthily?

I believe hardship builds character. I didn’t just want to do Machu Picchu or even the Inca Trail. I wanted to learn something, which deep down I believed would only happen through adversity. And I did learn something. A simple reminder you cannot prepare for everything. With some basic preparation, health, and a savings account we can overcome difficulties. There is little need to stress. Easier said or known than understood or felt – but experience helps. Clearly, I, we were very lucky, nothing serious happened. Lost luggage, is hardly hardship. In fact, we had the best time.

The Inca Trail and Machu Picchu were supremely beautiful, made all the more mystical by low hanging clouds. Along the way, we saw Inca and pre-Inca sites. Not only did we learn about their impressive culture, we experienced it, all facilitated by a truly amazing guide. Most important, was our guide and group, who became our trail family, the Green Chinchillas. You’re working hard, discovering new limits, both physical and mental, at high elevation. You’re thankful you packed light and hope your fellow trekkers also believe substance trumps style. We got to know each other, fueled in part by mutually overcoming shared challenges. It was also really beautiful, always, at sunset, sunrise, in the rain (barefoot, up hill both ways ;), from the cold summit, to the exasperating heat of the lowland sun. We talked: new business ventures, how to save the world, shared books and podcasts; I learned about high fashion and didn’t argue with my brother much. A girlfriend pushed herself completely outside the range of her experience, having never camped before, to spend three sleepless nights next to her boyfriend following a passion. The eldest, more than sixty, talked about how, following Machu Picchu, he and his family were going to the Amazon for a week of shamans and ayahuasca.

I missed nothing. We ate very well I must admit. Beyond this luxury, not to mention porters, a clean toilet, and unfailing gear, what people missed were showers and their own beds. A little surprisingly, no one missed (out loud) their social media, as much as we took pictures for social media. In fact, one night I got cell service to check on my luggage, and became so noticeably offset that my new trail family asked me what happened. It was just the barrage of today’s world that I had so pleasantly disconnected from. In a terrible, connected, instant, the weight of my chosen responsibilities came crashing in. What have I done? It seems I need to clear out life’s backpack some.

Which is to say, go. It will be okay if your plans go astray, but go with good people, get an excellent guide, and push yourself. Disconnect. Take time to be present. Yes, the Inca Trail makes it easier. Planning a backpacking trip makes you question what’s essential. Hardship builds character. But you don’t need to travel to disconnect, challenge yourself, or build new relationships. We can do more locally. Microtravelers should help. I’m working to change my own perspective and presently traveling vicariously through the Green Chinchillas pictures. Nearly a month later, our WhatsApp group is still active.

Kelsey O’Connor

Leave a Reply