Hindsight is a most wonderful thing. It’s been over a month since I returned and reflecting on my experience made me wish I had someone who could’ve given me some sound anecdotal advice. And so in retrospect, here are my words of wisdom for my fellow friends of the world & wandering nomads alike, enjoy!
Essentials (particularly for the Inca Trail):
not in any particular order
- A headtorch – Let’s face it, late night bathroom trips wouldn’t be the same without them. You’d probably be a fumbling mess. Even going to the toilet with one was a bit of a chore, but it sure made it a heck of a lot easier. Could not have done without one.
- Rain pants – Yes, I know what you’re thinking – they make you look like a dork and can’t really be considered as actual clothes. You don’t need to be a psychic to work that out – I shared the exact same sentiments prior to the trip. But seriously, if you’re going to do the Inca Trail (or the Lares), you may have already heard from fellow travellers that it can rain any day of the year regardless of the season. And when it rains, it pours. Continuously. Trust me, when you’re wading knee-deep in Amazonian waters, you’ll wish you didn’t wear those black skinny leg jeans (idiot move, I know).
- Waterproof gloves – Seriously, I can sense a waterproof/water-resistant theme coming on here. But when your tent is leaking from torrential downpour and you’re trekking for 10-11 hours a day in the rain, your hands will freeze (especially if your agua-drenched knitted gloves feel like iron mitts). I seriously couldn’t feel the ends of my fingertips that day. Invest in a pair, they are worth it. I made do with Nike Dri-fit socks as a substitute (through a kindly gent in my group who was selflessly helping people out left, right & centre), thank goodness.
- Microfibre towel on the Inca Trail – This is important. Because if/when it rains on the trail, your limited clothing options you packed will not suffice in keeping you relatively dry. Can also double up as a pillow when rolled-up or folded (wish I had thought of that at the time, again – hindsight!). When you’re sleeping in a leaking tent, it will be especially handy. Ditch the notion that you don’t need one ’cause you’re not taking a shower for 4 days, cause you may end up getting showered in rain and that’s when you’ll be regretting it. Sleeping in soggy clothes is an experience that is not overly desired (and can lend itself to pneumonia). Also, opt for an air mattress (worth the extra couple of kilos). And make sure you pick up a cheap poncho on the way.
- Walking sticks – I’m beginning to sound like an old lady. My folks had a good laugh at my expense when I unabashedly mentioned I’d rented walking sticks or “poles”, for want of a better term (Note: they’re in their sixties). Being a relatively healthy-ish 22-year-old, I must admit I read about this on a tripadvisor forum prior to the trip with a dose of skepticism and scoffed, then thought about seriously considering it afterwards. As silly as it may initially sound, it actually is pretty logical. A lot of people recommend them for steadying your step downhill, but I found them super-helpful going uphill. It was like walking with another pair of legs, no joke. Who wouldn’t want that!? Another tip: if you’re struggling walking uphill, walk in zig zags. I couldn’t have made it up to Dead Woman’s Pass without these two bits of advice (funnily enough it ended up being my favourite day of the trail and highlight of my trip). If you’re lacking in upper-body strength (or in your quads) or just need a bit of extra support, then rent a pair. Don’t be too proud and take the high road, cause you may not be able to reach the high road, quite literally. It also makes it a lot easier on your knees.
- Baby wipes! – perhaps taking 80 was too many… but they’re always handy. I got these biodegradable ones from wotnot.com.au. Put them in little packs and carry them in your jacket pockets, dayback, etc.
- An open mind – to trying new things – come on let’s face it, you wouldn’t have picked South America if you weren’t a bit of a thrill-seeker, am I right!? Pisco sours, cuy (guinea pig), sand boarding… you never know until you try! Also understand that if you’re expecting 5-star luxurious accommodation, then you’ll be sorely disappointed. I actually liked the quirks and simplicity of most of the accommodations, and on the whole it was better than expected.
- A basic understanding of Spanish – A little more than ¡Hola! and ¿Cómo estás? would be good, as you won’t get very far with that. I found that people in Peru tend to speak a bit more English than Chile & Bolivia, but that’s probably a bit of a generalisation. But one thing they all love is that you try to speak Spanish, as it’s sign of respect to their country. If you’ve gone to the effort of planning your trip, you might as well immerse yourself and learn the language. Try and learn phrases you can use. If it helps, carry a little phrase book. Also, note that there are some nuanced differences in pronunciation and word connotations between Spanish in Spain and Latin America.
And most importantly…
- A good sense of humour – even when you’re spewing on the streets of La Paz next to llama foetuses, it may not be so hilarious at the time but you can laugh about it later. I have a love of still sharing toilet stories to friends and family to this day as they look on with disgust while I guffaw away.
Things I should’ve omitted:
- A dress – perhaps it’s a cultural thing, as locals in all three countries (Chile, Peru, & Bolivia) didn’t seem to wear dresses or flip-flops and tend to stick to more conservative dress. Fashion is not of the essence here. You can get away with wearing jeans to fancy restaurants.
- Pocketknife & binoculars – Personally for me, I found I didn’t need these items. Although I went to the Amazon jungle and did the Inca trail, there wasn’t a time where I had to go all ‘Bear Grylls’ and pull out my pocketknife for any particular use. Though I could see how this could come in handy for some travellers. As for the binoculars, if it’s a lightweight one, then sure. But if you’re trying to pack light, then I don’t suggest packing one that although looks small, weighs a fair bit. I used it once. If you’re David Attenborough-esque in your travels, then take it. As in, if the ratio of number of times used outweighs its weight, then you’d probably be best to take it.
- Sneakers – a good pair of hiking boots and flip-flops will do. It just adds more unnecessary weight for you to carry. Vans are actually the same weight or possibly even slightly heavier than my Columbia hiking boots. Hardly wore them.
That’s all I can think of now. Thank me later. If you have any queries about my trip (there is no such thing as a silly question), don’t hesitate to contact me/comment below.
What are some of your travelling tips? Have I left out any essentials?