Published on March 31st, 2014 | by Amanda Linardon
How to (not) conquer the Inca trail
Read time: a bit over 3 minutes
Machu Picchu | Photo courtesy of Karl Norling, Flickr
After I locked in my eight-week trip to South America it slowly dawned on me that the Inca Trail might actually be pretty tough and I should probably try and prepare for it. So, with that as motivation, I’d been killing it at the gym – hammering the treadmill, pumping my legs on the bike, climbing hills on the stepper. I was going to smash the Inca Trail. Or at least, that’s what I thought.
When I arrived in Cusco a couple of days before the hike, I started to feel a twinge in the underpart of my left foot – the squishy, fleshy bit directly south of the big toe. Every time I put weight on it (which is something you do quite often when…y’know…walking) it hurt. ‘Must be a strain’, I convinced myself.
From bad to worse
Day one of the hike went pretty smoothly. I think the adrenaline helped me push past the niggling pain. The next day was the big hike up to Dead Woman’s Pass. Reaching 4200 meters above sea level was a thrill but my smile quickly faded on the long trek downhill to lunch. The dull ache was fast becoming an apocalyptic throb. By the end of that second day, the Inca Trek had turned into the Inca Hobble.
The next day went completely downhill, literally and metaphorically. Downhill equals pressure on your joints, which equals pressure on your feet, which equals pressure on any painful toes you may have attached to them. Good.
I persisted for a while, but I soon realised it was useless to keep going. I was a mess. I had two options: get a helicopter to pick me up (expensive) or have a porter carry me (not expensive). I chose the latter.
Piggyback vs. helicopter
My trekking leader called one of our porters over. He was a least a foot shorter than me and definitely weighed less. But this did not deter said porter. I hopped on his back and hugged his shoulders as he looped his arms under my legs and proceeded to run (yes, run) all the way down the mountain to the final campsite. And he was wearing sandals. I prayed he wouldn’t trip and send us both flying down the side of the mountain. But he didn’t falter once. Legend.
When we got to the campsite I tried to ignore my sweat stocked t-shirt (his sweat, not mine) and rejoiced in beating the rest of the group – they caught up with me an hour or so later. The porter was my hero. If my foot could talk, it would’ve thanked him. But it can’t, so I thanked him on my foot’s behalf.
The next day I somehow managed to limp to the Sun Gate for that glorious view of Machu Picchu. Being in the ancient presence of the Inca’s was just like everyone said it was.
By the time I got back to town, my foot looked like it belonged to an elephant and after a full day of tests I found out that I had a pretty nasty infection. I actually could have lost the thing. Imagine that.
Despite all of the above, I did enjoy some pretty cool experiences that I’d assume not too many travellers have had. I got to:
- Relax all day in a hammock on the massive terrace of an eco-lodge in the Amazon Jungle while the rest of my group sweated it out in thick jungle struggling to catch a glimpse of wildlife.
- Get pumped with pain killers in a Brazilian hospital after getting my foot operated on.
- Fly business class home for FREE so my foot could be elevated (thanks travel insurance). I didn’t make it to Argentina on my trip but I got to eat Argentinean steak with a real knife and fork in business class.
- Use all the sick leave I’d built up from work and get babied at home.
- Not feel guilty about not doing exercise (probably the biggest win of them all)
- Climb on a Peruvian porters back as he ran down a mountain. Awesome.