Welcome to my travel blog! Last year I went to Vietnam and this year, I decided to do a solo backpacking trip to Peru.
Interestingly enough, the comments from friends and people were always the same:
Me: “Why not.”
“So who are you going with?”
Me: “I’m going by myself”
“EHHH?! Damn, you’re a brave soul.”
I have never quite understood these reactions. I’ve been given odd looks as if I were crazy. Even my doctor looked at me as if I was possessed by demons!
Yes, travelling alone in a foreign country seems a bit intimidating (and kind of crazy) but I’ve never really had that kind of fear. Doing these kinds of things are second nature to me. I’m always curious. I try not to let fear hold me back. And I have been successful with that on this trip as I did many things for the first time such as rafting, zip lining, and hiking. I have taken many important lessons and even had some eureka moments during my journey. I will share some of them with you. The rest you can figure out your own life lessons on your adventures.
Lesson 1: In this world, there is good in people and places where you would least expect it. For the most part, we are governed by our own assumptions and perceptions of people and places. It takes courage and an open mind to seek the truth, dispel preconceptions, and understand why things are the way they are.
Pros and Cons to Backpacking
Cons: Backpacking is hard. Well for me at least. Physically carrying a giant backpack equivalent to a luggage with wheels is too heavy for me to carry.
I’ll admit I feel the need to bring lots of things that are probably not really necessary. But I always justify bringing it anyways by convincing myself I’ll have a use for them (but I never use them on the trip). The backpack I used was 70L. I carried almost 50 lbs on my back and it was towering over my head threatening to drag me down if I got unlucky and tripped (Tip: You should pack aiming for a weight at most 15% of your body weight). You have to prioritize what you need to bring because you have such a limited space. And you can only carry so much.
Pros: It’s convenient because you can just easily pack, get up, and go.
Fortunately many hostels provide lockers and storage space to leave your stuff if you leave for a bit.
You learn the value of absolute essentials and what’s not important enough bring. And you cut down on your spending due to limited space in your bag.
By spending I meaning shopping for yourself. I’m a bit of a shopaholic and I love buying clothes. Carrying a travellers backpack helped me save lots of money!
Preparing for Peru
For a while, I really wanted to visit Machu Picchu. So I did my research.
Things to research before travelling to a place:
- Health (i.e., outbreaks, disease, risks)
- Tourist attractions
- Daily expenses
- Customs (e.g., appropriate attire, tips)
- Best time to travel
I found you have the option of taking the trains (which are expensive) or get there by various treks. I decided on doing a trek because I wanted a challenge and something different. Originally I wanted to do the Inca Trail but it was booked till July. It’s so popular you have to reserve 8 months in advance. I didn’t even know I’d go to Peru in that time. So I booked another trek that lasted 4 nights and 5 days named “The Alternate Inca Trail.” Funny story. I was looking into the trek and learned the Salkantay Trek was the most difficult hike and is recommended for experienced hikers. I have never hiked before and I was not physically active so I didn’t want to do that. I did train for the trek I reserved in February. I trained harder in March after I found out through email the Alternate Inca Trail was actually the Salkantay Trek! I thought I’d be screwed. It really motivated me to do some really intense cardio and strength resistance training for at least an hour a day 5-6 times a week.
Looking back, I’m happy I was oblivious to what I was getting myself into. I’ve met so many people along the way throughout my journey working towards conquering Machu Picchu. I’ve met a friend during my school semester that was passionate about working out. He was pretty ripped so I asked him to help me out in the gym. His name is Taru. He’s now a certified trainer if anyone needs help getting started working out. We became really good friends. I would have never been able to get through my training if it wasn’t for Taru and a whole slew of other friends cheering me on and working out with me.
As for travelling around Peru, I did not plan anything. It was the best decision I had ever made for this trip. The moment I set foot in Peru, I had a full schedule of tours, activities, and chilling with friends. I learned from Vietnam many of the same tours offered online are so much more expensive than if you were to book the same thing locally in the country. There are a diversity of activities and places offered that you cannot find or research on your own online so this year I decided to just go with the flow.
Tip: Don’t book too much of your tours online. Wait to you get to your actual location before you do it. You may be interested in other activities so have your itineraries flexible but at least have an idea of where you want to go and what you want to do.
“If the universe is like water and you flow with it, you’ll be led to where you need to be.” – Michelle Phan.
This quote resonated with me on this trip and I can confidently say it’s true. Sometimes we’re too caught up with things far into the future we forget to appreciate what’s given to us in the present moment. It’s fine to plan things for the future but think of your plans as a template. You have an idea of it but you are not committed to it in case life throws you something new and better.
At the beginning of my school semester, I felt a sense of I dread. I was disheartened by many things and wasn’t ready to go through another semester. What kept me going was spontaneously booking my trip to Peru. It was a difficult semester as I was dealing with depression. I still do not feel comfortable talking about it to this day. I have the irrational belief that people would be uncomfortable or judge me because of what I went through. The topic surrounding mental health is still a stigma in society as it’s not acknowledged as an actual disease. But what you go through is very real. And very painful. Unless you’ve experienced it yourself, it’s hard to understand it or explain to others.
I had a hard time getting through school. Fortunately, I was able to get the help I needed before it escalated further. I now have the self-awareness and hopefully the resiliency to face internal and external challenges should I ever fall back into that dark place.
Three days before my trip, I received some upsetting news. My lola had passed away. An important figure who taught me unconditional love exists and to face the world with kindness and smiles was gone. It really struck a cord and brought out renewed sadness for every obstacle and pain that I had gone through during that last school semester.
I was grieving in Peru, but I was also undergoing changes. I have discovered a lot about myself and have come to understand a lot of my habitual tendencies. Change came for the better. And with change also came acceptance.
There were many unfortunate incidences on this trip. The first one that happened was losing my debit card at my first layover in Mexico City. I lost my credit card one week after this so I had limited funds for a short amount of time. For the debit card, I don’t think it was stolen. I most likely may have left it in an ATM machine and forgot to retrieve it. I found out I didn’t have it right before I was boarding. I talked to customer service at Aeromexico but they said to just call my bank to get a new one. Going through that amount of stress was not fun. I had many questions circulating in my head. Questions like What if someone took all the money I had in my bank account? Will I have enough for this trip? Was it a sign that I shouldn’t be doing this trip?
I remember looking out at the window of the airplane and seeing the view of the sunset. It was absolutely beautiful. I stared at it for a good fifteen minutes. Forever etched in my memory, I will remember how brightly the sun shone despite being covered by a blanket of dark, black clouds. Its rays penetrated and illuminated the clouds. You’re going to laugh but that scene was how I envisioned heaven to be. There was some magic to that scene. My fears and doubts disappeared, I felt that sunset was sending me a message, maybe it was a sign from my lola telling me everything was going to be okay. That incident was a reminder of how much I still wanted to go to Peru despite everything that has happened. As the plane descended into Lima airport, my neighbour on the plane told me the same thing I was feeling when I watched the sunset.
Everything was going to be okay. It will all work out in the end.
There were periods where I was in fact alone. I wanted to be alone. I found out I liked being alone a lot actually. During that period I had the space to think, reflect, and grieve. It gave me the time to heal from wounds and old scars.
I have met many friends from across the globe on this trip and so I’ve never really been alone. I don’t think there’s such a thing as travelling alone because you’re always meeting new people. Meeting other travellers who I could relate to and just get it. People who get why it’s awesome to travel alone and be curious to see as much of the world as we possible can. It was comforting to meet a few of these travellers. There’s a misconception that people travel and escape because they’re unhappy with their life. There is some truth to that I’ll admit but I don’t think that applies to everyone who loves putting themselves out there.
One thing that had a significant impact on me was the people I’ve met and shared a connection with in the short amount of time I was there. Seeing amazing places are great, but it’s the people and the memories that you share with others that gives travelling so much meaning.
It amazes me the people that we converge with at some point in our lives. How we meet at the right place and time. I believe these encounters happen for good reason. Perhaps they have an impact on your world views which may be minor or significant. Regardless, the experiences you share together may be treasures you hold as permanent memories. I’ve taken a lot of things from these interactions such as what I want and what I deserve through these friendships.
THE SALKANTAY TREK
Covering 72 km of trekking and reaching an altitude of over 4000 m, the Salkantay Trek is a challenging trek recommended for the most experienced hikers.
I don’t agree you need to be a hiker to do this trek. Six of us have never hiked before in our lives and we took on the most challenging one. I did train 3 months in advance for this hike and it definitely paid off. The altitude was really hard on my lungs as I was huffing and puffing for hours, but I was still able to keep going.
Day two and day five was the most physically challenging days. Hiking for about 9 hours on day 2 and 4 hours of going up and down the stairs, I’ve lost about six pounds.
MY TRAINING ROUTINE FOR MACHU PICCHU:
Work out for an 1 hr – 1 hr 30 mins at least 5-6 days a week.
- 15-20 mins of cardio on the treadmill. Have the incline between 6-10.
- Strength resistance training
- Leg workouts (e.g., lunges, squats, leg press)
- Ab workouts (to strengthen your core)
From Aguas Caliente, you have the option of taking the stairs or the bus up to Machu Picchu. My whole group decided to take the stairs up and I figured why not? We walked all this way, I may as well. It would feel more satisfying anyways.
I got up at 4 am and walked 20 minutes from the town to the entrance of the bridge that leads to the 3000 steps up to Machu Picchu. It was pitch dark so having a flashlight was an absolute must. I had no idea how to get to the bridge so I just followed a group of travellers who were far into the distance praying they were going the same way as I was.
Once the gates opened at 5 am, I climbed the 3000 steps. Average time to get up is about an hour. I finished in 40 minutes completely drenched in sweat. When we reached Machu Picchu, we watched the sunrise and I was in awe.
Lesson 3: I worked for months to get to where I was. I understood at that moment that there was no such thing as impossible. We all have the capacity to do anything we set our minds to. The biggest obstacle we have is ourselves. What’s really scary is when we stop ourselves from doing something we think we can’t do.
Machu Picchu, the small city that housed 400 inhabitants, its identity hidden by the protection of the mountains. I pondered what it would have been like to live in this small city and contrast it to our lives in modern times. Life was so simple back then and people really didn’t need much. Life was good if you had enough to meet your basic necessities and enjoy in the company of others. Our lives are so complex now. Its intertwined through globalization and coupled by technology that enables us to live longer, travel farther, and increase our wealth. Some of us do not feel satisfied with what we have and always feel the need to have more (I can be guilty of this at times) so we’re never really satisfied.
The city was discovered only 100 years ago and 60% of it still remains a mystery hence the reason why it’s one of the seven wonders of the world. Now this city was for the upper class people who held occupations such as artisans, butchers, etc. The common people lived down in the mountains. There are two prominent mountains by the city, Machu Picchu and Huayna Picchu Mountain meaning Old and New Mountain. The city was incomplete as the Incas fled the city to hide in the jungle when the Spaniards arrived and invaded Peru.
I hiked up Machu Picchu mountain with some of the members of my group and it took a friend and I an hour and forty minutes to get to the top. It’s all stairs going up. It. Was. Hell. You never know when you reach the top because it feels like it’s never ending. It’s really discouraging as you climb up but you feel a sense of accomplishment and sense of relief when you reach the top.
My travel agency ViewPeru was amazing! They addressed any questions and concerns I may have had prior to the trip and our guide Willy, was awesome! Everyone there was so friendly. I would recommend this agency. If you’re interested in the Salkantay Trek or other treks, the link for the itineraries and the locations to where you go is here.
USEFUL TRAVEL APPS
Before or during my travels, I download a ton of useful apps that have helped me a lot on my trip. I like to do them well ahead of time as I learned in Peru, many places do not have great Wifi, some airports don’t even offer Wifi! There is a way around it I learned. Most of the restaurants have it but you have to buy food to get the password. That really blew my mind (first world problems). It took half an hour for a Facebook friend request to be sent once. Below is a list of apps you may find useful on your journey.
- Duolingo (Language)
- Booking.com Hotels (Hostel bookings included!)
- Hopper (Airfare price prediction)
- Google map (or another offline map)
#1: Having a language app is a quick and easy way to learn at least the basics of the language of your destination. It’s not enough if you’re staying in a country for a long time but it’s good to refer to. This app helps you learn the basics in the form of a game which is a lot of fun. Learning at least the basics is important if you’re going into a country where majority of the population may not speak english fluently. Also, you will not draw too much attention to yourself or be taken advantage of. An example is getting around the markets or catching a taxi. If you’re purchasing foods or souvenirs, if you can speak their language well, they will for the most part assume you’re local or you’ve been there long enough to know the prices of items so they will not rip you off too much.
#2 & 3: These were really handy to have. If I forgot to book a place for a night, I can just look at which hostels had available rooms and I can reserve and sometimes even pay immediately. If you’re a last minute person, these apps are great to have to find last minute lodging that’s available.
#4. Whether you decide spontaneously to book a flight to another nearby country or for whatever reason need to book a flight earlier or later, this is a great app to have that predicts airfare prices. It will suggest when to buy or when to wait. It even has charts on the average price of airfare tickets at a certain month.
#5. This doesn’t need to be questioned. It’s safe to say we all need maps to get to where we need to go.
I’m not going to get to much into my trip. I did a whole bunch of cultural tours and activities near Cusco or Lima. If you’re ever interested in Peru or have any questions, feel free to leave either a comment or directly message me. I recommend going to Peru. The culture and beauty of that country is beyond words. I wouldn’t mind going back again someday. If you would like to see the places I’ve been to, check out my travel vlogs! Link is posted below:
Lesson 4: We spend most of our life rediscovering ourselves over and over again. An old version of ourselves dies but a new one is reborn again.
Fun Random Facts About Peru
Disclaimer: Some of these facts are entirely from my own observations, experiences, and what I’ve heard.
1. Top Travellers in Peru
- Lone Travellers
- Group of friends
2. Peru once had a Japanese president. He is in prison due to corruption and crimes against humanity. His daughter is currently campaigning to become the next president.
3. There are over 4000 varieties of potatoes in Peru.
4. Quinoa is a staple and originated from Peru.
5. The Spaniards pronounce Cusco as “Cuz-co.” In Quechua, it’s pronounced as “Cost-co.”
6. Lima is the food capital. Many culinary tours are offered.
7. Pisco is the national alcoholic drink.
8. The president a couple of years ago made Pisko run through the fountains in the Plaza de Armas in Lima.
9. The Incas spoke quechua and it is still a language spoken today.
10. Because of the high altitude, Cusco is cold. Puno is colder.
11. Coca leaves are legal in Peru as it is often used medicinally for altitude sickness. It sold as candies, teas and chocolates.
12. Coca tea is really good. I drank it every day. The leaves are used to make cocaine.
Lesson 5: Don’t be afraid to go against the grain. Have the courage to follow your own convictions. Do you. One of the keys to happiness is letting go of what others think of you, prioritizing the things that mean a lot to you, and doing the things that make you happy.
Whatever adventures you may have whether it’s out exploring more of your own city or discovering a new country, may you enjoy the sights and sounds of a new culture and may you do it with an open heart.
Peru, gracias por los recuerdos.
I can’t wait to see where my next adventures will take me.
Adios chicos! Till next time.