I’ll admit, I look like I belong at the beach in Malibu rather than in a tent on a mountain in Peru. But crushing challenges and stereotypes just so happens to be one of my favorite things to do, so guess what my brain thought when I heard about the Inca Trail hike? Oh, there’s a more difficult way to get to Machu Picchu than taking a bus and a train? Sign me up.
This isn’t an ordinary hike like the uber trendy Runyon Canyon in LA. But since even I wasn’t fully aware of what the Inca Trail was, I’ll start by saying that it’s an ancient, sacred, pathway through the Andes Mountains, that the high class Incas used to take to get to Machu Picchu so they’d be higher to the Gods (the lower class would take the MUCH faster way by just following the Urubamba river). Now, it’s one hell of a history adventure which takes four days of hiking and three nights of camping to complete. People who have done it will swear that it’s the only way to visit Machu Picchu, even though it totals over 26 miles, 27 hours of hiking time, and three summits that range between 13,000 and 14,000 feet above sea level.
It’s an extremely challenging adventure, and most people would take one look at my scrawny legs, blonde hair, lipgloss, and pink “hiking” backpack and think there’s no way I’d ever want to, or be able to hike the Inca Trail. Me? Pee in the woods and not shower for four days? There’s no way in hell, right?
Wrong! I immediately replaced my heels with hiking boots, and instead of taking a two hour train to Machu Picchu with the rest of the 3,000 tourists that go there per day, I joined the 200 adventurers permitted to be on the Inca Trail at one time. As much as I would have loved to brag that I backpacked the whole thing by myself (I would have died), the only way to to hike the Inca Trail is if you take a tour. Usually I’m not thrilled about going on group tours, since I typically do travel solo and am the odd woman out, but aside from it being the only way to do the hike, it also made sense considering the amount of camping supplies and food we needed to bring, plus it ended up being an incredibly good time!
Somehow, I had insanely good luck with the entire trip too; I was able to squeeze in last minute with Valencia Travel Cusco (which I HIGHLY recommend), and my fear of being third, fifth, or seventh wheel was obliterated when I met our team of only one couple from Sao Paulo, an awesome lady who decided to just go travel the world solo now that her kids are grown, and the one thing every girl crosses her fingers for on a multi-day trip…a cute tour guide!
So yes, it was difficult for me at times, and yes, I know I look like a ridiculous “LA girl” who’s scared to break a nail or God forbid, a sweat, but I was able to laugh about everything, including the things people would probably expect me to do and say, and ended up owning the Inca Trail, like a fearless female adventurer should! So now let’s have a laugh at how the stereotypical “LA girl” traits could technically still apply to this girl hiking the Inca Trail!
1. She Has to Be Stylish and Put Together
It’s really easy to look stylish everyday when you wear the same outfit. I love when people think I go out of my way to look good, because in reality, I usually only pack gray or black leggings, jeans, and long-sleeved shirts, and switch them around to make different outfit combinations. It’s easy, comfortable, and warm, and I don’t care if I’m seen in the same outfit twice as long as it’s not covered in something gross.
Want to know how my makeup happens to look good in all of those pictures of me sweating while hiking the Inca Trail? I put on waterproof mascara at the beginning of the trip so I wouldn’t have to re-apply it for four days, and used face powder with SPF over my sunscreen which took two seconds in the morning.
She Spends Hours Doing Her Hair
My hair mysteriously decides to look good when I travel, even if I’ve been hiking and sweating for hours. Those hours of hiking the Inca Trail could technically be considered time I was doing my hair, since I usually twist it into a bun on top of my head, and clip it so that by the time I take it down, it makes nice wavy curls. I obviously didn’t use hair styling tools on the Inca trail, and couldn’t even wash my hair if I wanted to.
Those locks that seem like they took hours to style, are actually being held up by natural salt spray (AKA sweat), dry shampoo, some bug spray, and a little twist of the wrist.
2. She Works Out Her Thighs
Ok, so maybe it’s a little obvious that there’s a bit of a fitness craze in LA, but I am definitely not a part of it. I don’t go to the gym, I hate working out, and I claim that traveling is what I do for exercise. But luckily, the Inca Trail makes up for all of those missed Stair Master sessions, and inclined walks on the treadmill with its steep ascents and staircases! Hiking up to a 14,000 foot mountain summit is enough thigh exercise to last me all year!
Of course I still have nothing to show for thigh muscles after all of that…but I do have a shirt that says I hiked the Inca Trail, which is proof that I did four leg days in a row!
3. She Does Squats
Guess where you have to go to the bathroom when your hiking mountains and there’s no normal toilets to pee in? The ground. Although I would love to avoid doing squats at all costs, I had to do quite a few of them on the Inca Trail when I had to pee. I personally preferred to just go in a bush rather than the strange, scary camp toilets that looked like a urinal in the ground, but either way, they both required some pretty solid squats to avoid peeing on your own feet or clothing.
Since I already had my thigh work-outs from walking, I got pretty good at rapid squat-peeing, mostly to avoid having to be in the urine-smelling bathrooms, or having someone walk up on me in a bush. Note to any ladies thinking of doing the Inca Trail or any type of camping in general: Bring feminine cleansing wipes instead of or in addition to regular baby wipes and toilet paper. Think about why (hint: no showers), and thank me later.
4. She Has to Talk to Everyone
According to stereotypes (a reliable source, I know), LA girls are very social; whether it’s the “life of the party”-type, or the “you can’t sit with us”-type. I’m the, “I just want to say hi and be friends with everyone”-type, which, on the Inca Trail consisted of me making friends with my hiking team, trying to learn Quechoa (the shaskies native language), and saying, “Hola, como estas?” to every person I passed on the trail. I’m not exactly outgoing, in fact, I’m pretty shy and quiet, but let’s be serious, everyone can use a nice little hello during an intense four day hike.
5. She Has to Eat Quinoa
The ever-so-trendy food of the moment in LA is of course quinoa, and low and behold, the place that it originates from is Peru. It’s true, I had to eat quinoa, but it was because it was used in many of the dishes our amazing camp-chef made for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. I didn’t even know there were so many different uses for quinoa! We had quinoa oatmeal, quinoa soup, puffed quinoa and chocolate snack bars, and even quinoa pancakes! According to what people in LA think, that means I’m a super healthy super-food eater!
6. She Gets a Tan
“Tan” would be the nice way of describing the second degree burns I got from the sun while hiking at 14,000 feet above sea level. Even with SPF 30 on, the strength of the sun so high up, mixed with the cool breeze that made me not feel it, resulted in the worst sunburn I’ve ever had before in my life. After turning into a ripe tomato, and not being able to sleep because my shoulders hurt so bad, the lovely peeling process began.
I essentially looked like I had a piece of thick brown leather across my forehead and nose, which not only hurt like hell, but looked gross AF as well. Even the back of my hands were burned from holding the straps of my backpack while I hiked! After that traumatizing tomato-coloring experience, I kept sleeves on my shoulders, gloves and a hat on, and enough sunscreen to make me easily glide down a slip-n-slide, to prevent further damage. The grossest part was that my face peeled off in chunks, which made at least seven people ask (including children and hot guys), “What happened to your nose?” or “Where did you get burned so bad?” or my favorite, “Why are you shedding your skin, you are not a snake!” SPF 100 from now on.
7. She Practices Her Yoga Breathing
There was a time when I attempted getting into yoga. Unfortunately my ADD and addiction to over-working ruled it out as time I could have spent writing, so it didn’t exactly last long. But fortunately, I recalled the constant annoying reminders by the yogis to ‘concentrate on your breathing’, because that actually helped me a lot when hiking the Inca Trail, especially uphill. In all honesty, I (as well as everyone else) thought my lungs and heart were going to explode during some of the ascents. Not only is it strenuous exercise, but there’s a lack of oxygen that high up in the mountains which makes it kind of hard to breathe.
So I forced myself to, “Breathe in with your nose, aaannndd exhale slowly through your mouth, ahhhhhhh.” It actually did help, but what I found helped even more was counting. At first I was trying to count my breaths, but that got too confusing, so I started counting the steps instead, which ended up aligning with my breathing, and making me feel A LOT better. For example, I’d inhale on a step up and count, ‘one’, then exhale when the other foot stepped up. Inhale on the next step up and count, ‘two’, then exhale on the opposite step up. This also distracts you from thinking about how much further you have to go.
8. She Doesn’t Get Her Hair Wet
I won’t lie, I used to be one of those girls who would freak out if her hair got wet because it would “ruin it”. Now, I get excited for some rain drops or waterfall water, because it always makes for an awesome hair-do that I didn’t even have to do! But, we (luckily) didn’t have much rain, and I didn’t get to see the waterfall until the third day of camping on the Inca Trail, so it’s true, I didn’t get my hair wet. Because there were also no showers.
That’s right, for four whole days, this little LA girl not only didn’t get her hair wet (aside from playing in a waterfall), but didn’t even shower either! To wash myself I would sit in the little patio area that zipped closed in front of my tent, and use the bucket of warm water, soap, and hand towel the shaskies would give us every morning and evening to wash up.
9. She Always Has Her Phone
No, I didn’t have service on the Inca Trail, and it was actually really nice to be temporarily disconnected. Yes, I did always have my phone, but it was because there were just so many awesome things to see that I was constantly taking pictures of. I also use my phone as a remote for my GoPro because you can see a preview of the photo that you’re taking on the screen, and I use the Notes app to write down names and information of the places that I’ll never be able to correctly pronounce.
10. She Takes a Ton of Selfies
I hate when people comment or point out that I’m taking a selfie, because the majority of my pictures don’t even fully have my face in them. That’s because I don’t want to take a picture of my face, I want to take a picture of the awesome place I’m at, and be in it since I’m proud I was there, without the focus of the photo being the fact that I’m taking a picture of myself.
You’re damn right I took a ton of selfies at ancient Inca ruins, and along the challenging four day hike that I successfully completed! I’m proud of myself, and proud to have been there, so you better believe I’m going to document myself in all of my pictures!
11. She Dominates the Inca Trail, and Reaches Machu Picchu Without a Problem
Ok so maybe this isn’t something that people would think about an LA girl hiking the Inca Trail, especially if they saw my non-official hiking boots, quasi-cute hiking outfits, and bright pink backpack. But, surprise! Guess who was always ahead of the group, and the first to reach Machu Picchu on the fourth and final day of the Inca Trail? This girl.
So I’m going to just go ahead and sit here as stereotype-squashing proof that you should not only never underestimate someone based on there looks or lifestyle, but also never underestimate yourself, because I’m pretty sure if I can hike through mountains for four days, anyone can.