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“.....don't 'clown' on me, but sad to say much like the stereotype, my 'brown-ass' did not grow up hiking, I did not have extensive hiking experience let alone on back country hikes” ...insert, Machu Picchu....
Deep in the longest mountain range (above water) in the world lies an abandoned civilization known to us now as Machu Picchu. There are more ways than one to get there, yet perhaps the most famous known as the Inca Trail.
Concern about erosion due to overuse lead the Peruvian government to limit the amount of trekkers per day. One needs to obtain a permit prior to arrival which is checked upon entering what's known as the (official) Inca trail. Only approximately 200 trekkers per day are allowed. I had to book over 4 months in advance as with shorter notice everyday was already booked. I have read (and have been told by tour operators) at times one needs to book up to 6 months in advance.
It's required by the Peruvian government, for you to have a guide. I thought at first this might be just a way to keep people working (which to be honest is a good idea), but after having done a 4 day hike, I would not recommend going without a guide (if that were allowed). I made sure I was in tip top shape prior to going (trained capoeira 3 days a week, rode a bike on average 10 miles a day).
I wouldn't say everyone going needs to train as if entering a triathlon, but it is a good idea to be in some sort of decent shape. As well as having a guide, it's recommended you hire a porter per person. I thought to myself ... " a porter? really? I'm in good shape I can do this". If you are an avid hiker, and have extensive experience with back country hikes, prepared with food and water for multiple days in remote back country with limited to no access to drinking water, accustomed to high altitudes, then perhaps you 'might' be a good candidate to not hire a porter.
Now, don't 'clown' on me, but sad to say much like the stereotype, my 'brown-ass' did not grow up hiking*, I did not have extensive hiking experience let alone on back country hikes, and I had a heavy backpack full of camera gear which did not include my tent, thermal sleeping bag, food & water. So, yes, I hired a porter. (*more on this in Machu Picchu PART 2)
"..Along the trek it goes without saying the beauty is beyond breathtaking. Just as 'breathtaking' for me, was the very personal dialog with my guide.."
After having done the trail, to be honest, even if you are an experienced hiker (don't laugh), I would 100% recommend hiring a porter and not consider this to be 'booshy'. If you plan on carrying a decent camera with a lens or two, OR if you would like to enjoy the hike, and get there in 4-5 days, all the while eating & sleeping when needed, this is the way to go. Otherwise, it could triple your trekking time (which would be fine except for the permit you have is only for a certain amount of days paid in advance). I hired a personal guide, not a tour group guide. 1 guide for every two people, and in my 'group' there were only 4 trekkers and 2 guides. I love this extremely personal experience which brings me to the next paragraph.
Along the trek it goes without saying the beauty is beyond breathtaking. Just as 'breathtaking' for me, was the very personal dialog with my guide. As the hours and eventually a couple of days progressed, the conversations went from 'isn't that pretty', and 'did you see that Andean condor!..' to discussions regarding the treatment of Native Americans in the United States. My guide was of Native (Peruvian) Indian descent.
At first we were discussing my background (racially/culturally) and as I began to explain the overall mix (mom's side = German & Irish; Dad's side = African American, French & Cherokee). He didn't seem to recognize "Cherokee" so I explained what little I know about my Cherokee heritage. He then asked questions, “where do they (the Cherokee) live?... etc.
Only then did it dawn on me that he didn't know about the decimation of the Native Americans during the 'building' of what's now the United States. Not long after he and I began discussing this, the other guide came over to join the conversation. They began to share with me that many indigenous groups/tribes of Peru were still very much alive and active within their culture. They (the guides) were completely in shock when I went more in depth about how Native Americans were treated and the state of many Native American reservations and culture within the United States.
We (the guides/meself) spoke beyond sunset on the treatment of native people by non native run governments. I felt as though this dialog ignited a torch in each of us to research (after our trek) on the subject. This knowledge would help each of us living in a ‘democracy’ to be more prepared regarding how we vote/for whom and how to take action when there are potential threats to the lives of disenfranchised citizens. For example, in 2012 the Peruvian government approved more gas exploration in an area close to native tribal land (The Camisea Expansion*). As of 2014, they were pushing for the expansion of this exploration which would potentially threaten the lives of native people (residing nearby)*. Sound familiar? (DAPL*).
Eventually as the sunset, and the cool air came upon us, we thanked each other for the wealth of information shared, smiled then retired to our tents in preparation for the next morning's (approximately 20km) trek.
Read more about the hike, it’s challenges and discussion regarding the lack of African American’s in ‘numbers’ on hiking trails in part 2 of Machu Picchu, Inca Trail
*The Camisea Expansion: http://www.survivalinternational.org/about/Camisea