The Inca Trail – Where I felt closest to nature
The universe, with all its phenomena.
Of all the definitions of ‘nature’ I could find that was the one that most hit home.
Applying that to a single place is an arbitrary, visceral process, but few parts of the earth tick the box for me as well as the Inca Trail in Peru.
And in particular ‘Dead Woman’s Pass’, the highest, most challenging and most beautiful part of the trek from Cusco to Machu Picchu.
Getting back to nature is about challenging yourself against the elements and landscape that made up the world long before man started to fill it with skyscrapers, roads and everything else that money can buy.
Nature is the natural world as it exists without human beings or civilisation – that’s another dictionary definition.
Of course, the Inca Trail itself is man-made, but at ‘Dead Woman’s Pass’ that is a dubious definition.
It is as much loose shale and rocks as it is path, particularly when descending.
Four thousand two hundred and 15 metres above sea level, ‘Dead Woman’s Pass’ is so named because it is said to resemble a supine woman.
But half way along the hike to the highest point on the Inca Trail, I took to wondering if Warmiwañusca – as it is otherwise known – earned its named by claiming the life of some previous, poor traveller.
My breath was short, I had a nagging headache in the corner of my skull and a persistent, intense ache filled my thighs, calves and shoulders.
The Inca Trail, for all its brash beauty, is not for the faint hearted or faint legged – and ‘Dead’s Woman’s Pass’ sees the hike at its lung-busting hardest.
For me, the climb consisted of five minutes heaving my sorry carcass upwards, two minutes panting as I regained my breath from both the exertion and the spectacular scenery that had taken it away in equal measure, and 30 seconds taking another pull at my oh so precious water. Repeat, seemingly ad infinitum.
Even the otherwise tireless porters who accompany tour groups, bearing 20kgs worth of clothes, tents, food and even stoves on their backs, stopped to chew altitude sickness defeating coca leaves.
But Warmiwañusca does have a top, and after two hours of uphill slog that lifts trekkers 900 metres further towards the heavens, I made the summit.
It is these moments that make the Inca Trail so special. The feeling of achievement is incredible, the views you are greeted with equally fulfilling.
It makes the walking, all the sleepless nights as rain batters the outside of your tent and the soaking boots, trousers and ponchos more than worth it.
How could it not be when you are at one with the universe and its phenomena.