Photo by Jenna R.
When I first learned half a year ago that I would be hiking the Inca Trail, there were no words to describe my feeling of ecstasy. Not only were we going to one of the world’s seven modern wonders, but we were also being given the opportunity to complete a five-day variation of the Inca Trail — possibly a life-altering experience. From that point on the news stuck with me, happily buzzing in the back of my mind when I was supposed to be completing my math homework. It followed me through summer vacation, a quiet but ever present anticipation building in my gut. Now, I’m over a month into our Peru term and a few days removed from when we started the endeavor that is the Inca trail. I’m definitely no stranger to hiking, but I was still wondering if I was really prepared for a commitment like this one. Nervousness had settled in my gut and seemed adamant in its stance. It refused to leave no matter how much I reassured myself it would be okay.
The hike would only be a small portion of my wider experiences in Peru; however, it was especially important to me to take advantage of this particular opportunity. I didn’t want to walk the trail just so I could finish with a shiny medal to show off to my friends: I wanted to bring home a connection. That I had truly experienced part – not all (although I wish) – of Peru. That’s specifically why I chose the route that I did, as it passed through several Quechuan villages.
It meant more locals to interact with, more opportunities to understand and adopt their ideology. I didn’t want to be one of the tourists who stares at indigenous cultures through an invisible cage, separating us from them. That’s why I was so thrilled when the Quechuan people would happily engage in conversations and invite me into their homes. I was especially interested in their connection to the earth and their perspective on how tourism and globalization have affected their small communities. I had rather cynically decided that the locals must be upset by the touristic erasure of their local culture, and the Quechuan people happily proved me wrong. Most of the people I had the privilege of speaking to echoed an attitude of gratitude towards globalization and tourism for increasing their opportunities and the quality of life for their families. Their enthusiastic response quickly made me reevaluate my stance, helping me realize I was naive to think the locals would assume the same position as mine.
In the end the Inca Trail, as well as the whole of Peru, was an incredible source of learning revelations such as these. Similarly, I believe I managed to establish a greater connection with the earth while following the Shamanic principles. Every day brought new challenges and new views that left me breathless. I focused on painting mental images in my mind the entire time, wanting to be able to remember this experience forever. I took my pictures, I wrote in my journal, and most importantly I tried to forge genuine relationships that would make this journey very difficult to forget.
Photo by Jenna R.
So often, I worry that these are going to be the best years of my life. That once I leave high school, that’s it — it’ll all be over and never the same again. That’s why I like to put so much emphasis on making the most of every opportunity while I have them, and why I encourage everyone around me to do the same. Experience is the best educator, and this past year has proved this to me. I’d like to think that I’ll continue to climb for knowledge long past my high school years, just like I climbed the Inca Trail.