If I’d taken the Classic Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, I would have had to share it with some 500 people a day. I prefer something off the beaten track, where I can feel more attuned with nature and experience something unique. A Community Inca Trek gave me the opportunity to venture out in a smaller group and stay in remote villages along the way.
I prefer something off the beaten track, where I can feel more attuned with nature and experience something unique.
In between long hikes, clear blue skies, archaeological beauty, and sun-blushed views of the snow-capped Peruvian Andes, I camped with locals and gained an understanding of what it’s like to live there. I also had a chance to volunteer in the villages. Many tourists don’t realize their impacts on the local environment, so it’s good to be able to give something back.
I set off on a five-day trek to see Torres del Paine National Park in Patagonia, in the company of two perfect strangers… and everyone else on the crowded trails. I had heard of the pristine beauty of Torres del Paine, and the amazing view at the end, but the real reason I was on this trek was my determination to make my South American adventure a real adventure, not just about beach hopping and bar hopping.
I threw up in the washroom of the administration office, and began the 32-kilometer stretch to Glacier Grey.
So, after a few hours on an ancient bus, I hopped off at the trailhead, threw up in the washroom of the administration office, and began the 32-kilometer stretch to Glacier Grey with nothing but a backpack full of granola bars, instant coffee, a kettle, and a different flavor of rice for each night. And a camera, of course!
When I tell people I’m an avid traveler, I say so with both pride and shame. Pride: because world travelers tend to be among the most environmentally conscious, culturally sensitive, socially progressive people you’ll ever meet. Shame: because, as a traveler, I cause more damage to the environment, and more disruption in the lives others, than people who stay home.
We couldn’t come to Peru and skip Machu Picchu, but we’re skipping the crowded Inca Trail. We’ve found an alternate route boasting fewer trekkers, more Quechua culture, and unencumbered vistas of peaks, glaciers, and rivers: the Lares Valley Trek.
“Sing, Jandaia!” Every time I speak the name of this sand-drenched place, I’m giving a command to its parakeets. The name of this state in Northeastern Brazil is Ceará, which means, “Sing, bird!” The native bird of Ceará is the Jandaia, a parakeet whose shrill call sounds much like its own name: Jan-dah-ya. The little bird’s yellow, red, green and blue feathers mimic the sun, as it sets over endless desert sands leading to beautiful sandy beaches.
On Saturday morning the ceaseless rain wouldn’t call it quits. It wouldn’t even take a break for the lonely hour of noon, so people braving the soaked city streets could enjoy the midday meal. My expectations were not high. But as I strolled down these streets I’ve known all my life, I noticed something unusual about the way people were behaving, something the rain could not explain.
Remote, intensely difficult, not as famous as Machu Picchu: that’s why few trekkers visit the Inca city of Choquequirau, Machu Picchu’s Sacred Sister. But I want an alternative to the eroding, overbooked trekking superhighway known as the Inca Trail—which leads to Peru’s more famous sibling. Continue reading