1. Water Bottle
I’ve noticed for a long time now that filling up your own water bottle before heading out on an excursion is like a rite of passage. When you hear the sound of the water flowing, whether from the lobby dispensers or running over rock, that is the sound of water reaching people. It is the symbol that when you go on a mountain outing, some things are your personal responsibility. And here, at this altitude, staying hydrated is absolutely fundamental: it is an act of kindness toward your own body, which is subject to the pressure of adapting to the elevation, and since most of us come from sea-level cities, we are not ready for that.
2. Hiking Poles
A lot of people think they’re only for old folk, but that is a prejudiced view. Hiking poles augment your support points, take away 25% of the weight burden from your knees during the descent, aid in balance, help you burn more calories, and prevent your hands from selling up over long-distance hikes. But one of the things I love most about using the poles is it lets me pay more attention to the landscape and less to the trail. Looking around while you hike is a luxury, especially when the terrain is uneven or steep, and it’s really worth it when you’re looking at the mountains of the Sacred Valley of the Incas.
What often happens to me is I get asked to lend out my poles. Whenever we get to the tricky part of a hike, whether it’s a steep descent, crossing a stream, or just fatigue or altitude sickness, I can accurately notice the eyes of that person who didn’t bring poles along turning magnetically toward mine. They always ask me to borrow them, I acquiesce, but not before preaching about their benefits for a few minutes first.
3. Energy Balls
That moment on the hike when the guide opens up his bag up with the energy balls brings me back to my childhood, like when an adult used to give out candy and it seemed like treasure to us. Hiking makes you so hungry, so if you want to keep up the pace, eating something that gives you an immediate energy boost is vitally important. I don’t know the recipe, but I am sure that those little balls are prepared very carefully, because they fill you with energy, but healthy energy. That’s why they are perfect for hiking at altitude, where you can’t eat just anything and you should avoid fatty foods or very strong flavors. Whatever the formula is, I dream about kidnapping a guide just to steal that precious little bag they always carry in their backpack.
…they are perfect for hiking at altitude, where you can’t eat just anything and you should avoid fatty foods or very strong flavors…
The day I hiked the Incañan trail, it was overcast, windy, and a little rainy. The way up was like a show: the clouds on the peaks, the damp grass, the water running. The path got steeper and steeper, and when we reached the pass, the wind was blowing hard and cold, so we stopped for shelter. It started to snow, so our vision was momentarily blurred. But none of that prevented Erick from taking out his coca leaves to make a pago (literally, payment), an act of appreciation to Pachamama, gratitude for being in such a place. It is a matter of reciprocity: I am there because the Earth permits it and I must give thanks to stay in balance. Giving to receive. I will never forget that moment. Nor will I forget the thermos with that hot infusion of coca-leaf tea that we drank to warm our bodies and continue on our journey.