Sidetrip Series: Machu Picchu / by Olga Kraineva

The Inca Trail was a team effort and an act of mental perseverance and determination. The body will follow what the mind dictates. If the mind says, “go forward,” the body, even with all its aches and pains, will oblige.

An interesting phenomenon happened to me on the trip. Right before even starting, my left knee started acting up. I have bad knees that can easily become strained after some heavy activity, but it was weird for them to start hurting before I did anything. For three and a half days, I trudged through the trail with determination and at points, tears because of the pain. Then, once we arrived at the sacred site, my knee miraculously stopped hurting altogether - even when going down steps, which just the day prior was an excruciating experience for me. I can only think that this was a metaphorical mental block coming to life physically.

 Look at those sexy taped up knees

Look at those sexy taped up knees

It makes me wonder if this was a physical manifestation of my anxiety coming to life. I have regular anxiety going on various trips, but once the destination is in sight, it dissipates. Why am I uncomfortable with the journey? Why does my mind deem the journey as “unsafe?” Why cannot the journey be enjoyable? Why is there always some impatience and rush to get from one place to the next? When is it not the journey that teaches us and provides us our strengths, what gives us beauty in both a physical manifestation and in wisdom?

Even amongst the pain, I’m thankful for being able to stop and enjoy the surroundings along the trail. Because the journey was damn beautiful. I think there are no less than 1000 shades of green in the jungles of Peru. The sweeping clouds brought the rain, which fed the mountains, allowing the green to continue to grow. There were so many different plants that hugged the slopes of the mountains which were so gorgeous in their own right. I often had to stop and admire the view: the trees dancing together across the varied elevation, with their heads in the clouds.

Coming back to civilization is jarring in two ways: the people and the noise. It’s so loud. As soon as we entered Machu Picchu, the sounds of the jungle gave way to chatter and the cooing of nature dissolved.

The jungle has its own noises, but overall we - human beings - are the largest disruption. We all have our own motivations, our own objectives, our own places to be, our own personal agendas. It can be observed from a minor perspective on the trail. We had 16 people with us traveling the four day, three night Inca Trail, each with their own personalities. We have the young stallion who rushes through the mountains hardly taking the time to stop and marvel at the views. Then we have the self-righteous, self-centered personality whose mouth runs 24/7, never stopping to listen to her environment, others or even herself probably. The confident woman whose prepared for the trek by taking Barry’s Boot Camp classes for nine months. We multiply that by thousands and we have what we call society, where everyone’s competing needs come together. To sit back and observe is a learning experience.

I am thankful for the trail showing me that rain doesn’t have to be scary; that the earth is beautiful with all of its offerings -  the sun, the rain, the rocks, the mountain slopes, the stars; that I am resilient and can rise up above from the doubts running through my mind; that there will always be a friend when you’re in need of support or just a laugh; that I can inspire others and be patient and loving and caring; that we are not alone.

Machu Picchu was covered in clouds and people when we got there, which made it anticlimactic in my opinion. We traversed 26 miles over four grueling days to get there and for what? View obscured and somewhat tainted, it didn’t seem to possess quite the same magic of the other archeological sites we passed on the Inca Trail. I said so much out loud and that’s when my friend reminded me that it’s not the destination, but the journey.

 Your friends will always have your back

Your friends will always have your back