Stage 1: The crippling realization that you packed way too much stuff

And you’re going to have to carry your 15kg bag for four days hiking over massive mountains. Shit. At 5am in the hotel lobby, you now need to groggily decide whether to leave your down jacket, ski-gloves and piles of snacks in Cusco or to forgo your pride and pay to let a porter lug your stuff through the hills. Option 2 recommended — snacks definitely required.

Stage 2: Supreme smugness

It’s 3pm at home and you should be sat at your desk slowly plugging away at deadlines. But you’re here in the Andes on your way to Machu Picchu instead. Walking. If you could Snapchat your buds with a beaming, grinning photo of your sweaty face, #smugmuch, you would.

Stage 3: The desperate, thought-consuming hunt for shade

These mountains are dripping in trees, yet respite from the claustrophobic heat is nowhere to be found. Sure, the sun is more welcome than rain, but jeez. You walk, you sweat, walk, sweat, walk, find shade, collapse and chug down water like the first bottle of wine after Dry January.

Stage 4: Total, unabashed wonderment

It’s only Day 1 and you’ve already stumbled through several Inca sites high in the hills. You’ve been taught about Incan architecture, social structure, recreational natural drug use and that they knew the earth was round before the rest of civilization. You are baffled and speechless and can’t quite work out why Incans aren’t currently running the whole world.

Stage 5: Pure inferiority

The porters — who are carrying everything imaginable — are bounding up the mountain like bambis in spring. With the aid of only a ball of coca leaves stewing in their cheeks, they carry the food and the tents and the cooking equipment, a toilet and two large mess tents for socializing in under cover. Meanwhile, you have 7kg on your back and can’t muster the energy to smile through the burn in your thighs anchoring you to a measly shuffle.

Stage 6: “To hell with the niceties, just give me some goddamn protein!”

At the end of day one, and every day following, food becomes more important than manners. You will shovel food mercilessly into your mouth without coming up for air.

Stage 7: Wilting determination

Man, this is hard. Why, oh why, was this a good idea?

Stage 8: The Bear Grylls effect

You made it through Day 2 and are proud of yourself to say the least. You hiked up and over two mountain passes in rain, snow, wind and thunderstorms that split the sky meters from your scalp. You are a wild, feral, mountain woman and nothing can stop you.

Stage 9: Instant regret

Bear Grylls wouldn’t ache like this.

Stage 10: Bohemian rhapsody

Your surroundings look like the set of Avatar, butterflies so dazzling they look like they’ll vanish if you try to touch them and greens so absolute drizzling off trees they can’t be of this world. Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy? Who even knows.

Stage 11: All-consuming awe

As Machu Picchu slinks in and out of cloud in the morning atmosphere, you’re rendered speechless by the enormity of where you are and what you have achieved. You have no words for anyone or anything, but simply stare in bewilderment at Wayna Picchu and watch the show unfold below you.

Stage 12: Deep, cavernous hatred

As you trundle down from the Sun Gate to the citadel, you are confronted by people in jeans who smell of shampoo, huffing and puffing and complaining about how hard the walk up here from the entrance is. From there on, you despise the clean and resent those who didn’t make the pilgrimage to be there. You bite your tongue to vengefully prevent yourself from telling them that this is your mountain and they need to leave.

Stage 13: Unquenchable thirst

Beer, glorious beer! You’ve earned it, and you know it, so you down 3 large Cusqueñas with a hefty slab of steak on the side. Job done.

This trip was sponsored by Valencia Travel Cusco.

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