It’s a scary thing to touch your human limit. It’s terrifying to push past it. When we travel “off the road” we inevitably test our limits in different ways; comfort, safety, hygiene, and on one foolhardy trek to Choquequirao ruins; stamina. Deciding to hoof it 66km with 15kg backpacks and no guide or mule was both brave and incredibly stupid, not to mention attempting a five day journey in just four: something we would quickly come to regret.
Considered a harder trek than both the Inca and Salcantay, Choquequirao, a beautiful crude stone Incan ruin, lies atop a 3,100m tall mountain in the Apurimac valley. The terrain is very rough with either loose stone or thick mud forming 45-degree-plus trails that zig-zag like intestines up and down the sheer faces of the mountains. There are bugs. There is burning sun. There are freezing nights. There is rain…and more rain. And there are landslides of falling rocks. Exhibit a; one local making the climb in a construction worker’s hard-hat.
Had we not been gifted early-on a pair of makeshift bamboo walking sticks from a young Californian woman returning with her guide, we may not have made it. In fact the kindness of strangers is the most shining memory we keep. Meeting a group of locals on their way home we were invited to share some hot maíz kernals and queso on the side of a patch of murderously steep trail. On our last day, once again climbing, and this time under a sun so bright we covered our arms in mud when our sunscreen failed, with only a half litre of water and a few crackers left, we met a delightful visiting family who, in exchange for our ridiculous story loaded us with their own water and two chocolate bars. Or The German, Klaus, a full-time traveller, who, despite the freezing rain and fog, inspired us with a custom tour of the ruins. Our fairy godmothers, all of them.
No spin class, boot camp, or marathon could compare to the shit-kicking we received going up that hill. We both entertained legitimate fantasies of simply letting our bodies teeter off the side of the mountain if only to end the climb. Trades were attempted with the powers that be; our first borns for a lighter pack. Perhaps our packs would have been lighter had we not brought nine avocados and two, yes two, bottles of red wine. Desperate to lose the goddam weight from our load, we chugged that grape juice like it was going out of style and offered it to anyone who passed by. Though our bodies failing us was not fun, this paled in comparison to the breaking of our stamina. Day 3, we crawled the last hundred metres and collapsed, one bursting into uncontrollable laughter, when nothing was funny, the other into tears, when nothing was sad; our bodies like two used tires by the side of a highway. But dinner that night – fried egg on rice with tomatoes in lime juice – with a farmer and his family in a dirt floored hut, tasted like a Michelin star meal.
As much as we hurt, as miserable as we could become at times, if we took those small moments to appreciate the present, we found meaning in the trek – mistakes and all. We walked up those hills so focused, with our noses to the steep incline of dirt and would suddenly remember to stop and look out at the incredible landscape of snow-capped mountains that expanded around us. Even if we only spent 30 minutes at the ruins we took three days to reach, those 30 minutes were gorgeous; walking alone as if discovering the place ourselves. Though this trek broke us and wrecked us for days after, we found comfort in the knowledge that we had accomplished something, had pushed ourselves past a limit, even if an embarrassing amount of chocolate was required. What counts in the end, what is important to the human spirit, is that we endured.
What is Dirty Roads?
We are two girls, dedicated to an elevated travel lifestyle. We trek the Earth with camera and pen in hand to document an experience. We believe in respecting the land and the indigenous cultures we encounter, tasting authentic and delicious handmade foods, challenging our world views, seeking incredible beauty, and above all going beyond our nerves. Travel is not travel without a dusty face.