Our trek began on the fourth day of our trip to Peru, and when that day dawned, I was terrified. We were going to be trekking through the Lares Valley and reaching altitudes of over 4450m above sea level – and I hadn’t done any training. Before I left for Peru, the thought of exchanging a good book on the beach for an hour on an exercise bike seemed laughable; once I was there, I began to regret it.
However, the trek wasn’t as bad as I was expecting it to be. Admittedly, I was expecting to be airlifted back to Lima within the first half an hour, but the point still stands. But I was pleasantly surprised: the trek was hard work, but it wasn’t too difficult for me to handle and I recovered very quickly. I was also fortunate in that I didn’t suffer from altitude sickness – the worst I had to contend with was shortness of breath and I minor headache. I was incredibly lucky not to be throwing up or passing out: at worst, the extent of my altitude sickness was never more painful than a minor hangover.
My lack of altitude sickness allowed me to really appreciate the beautiful Peruvian countryside. We began trekking at the best possible time, just as winter was easing into spring. It didn’t rain once – even though we woke up with ice on the tents more than once – and we were greeting by glorious sunshine every day. We really saw the Lares Valley at its best. There was still snow gleaming on the black mountains, enormous, blue-green lakes lay feet below the mountain paths, and scrubby green and brown plants covered almost every inch of the mountainside. As we walked, we passed herds of llama and alpaca grazing in between the rocks. Old shepherds’ huts were dotted around the valley, each one built of dry stone and looking as though they’d been abandoned for years. Occasionally, children from a nearby village would run up to us and ask for sweets, or try to sell us drinks or traditional Peruvian clothes. We learnt to carry a small stock of boiled sweets with us at all times, so they wouldn’t have to leave empty handed.
The full trek lasted about four or five days. During that time, I had a bath in a suspiciously yellow hot spring, almost fell down several mountains, almost got abandoned in some old Incan ruins and missed out on a chance to buy a litre bottle of beer. All the while, we were walking through some of the most beautiful countryside I have ever seen. At the time, it was a little bit difficult to believe that I was really there; it all looked so beautiful and so surreal that I felt as if I was trekking through Middle Earth.
And then, finally, we arrived in Machu Picchu.