As I waited at the entry point to the Inca Trail, I watched the crowd of porters milling around. Even with mandatory maximum weight requirements in place, the porters bent beneath packs filled with camping gear, cooking equipment and hikers’ belongings.
For three days I enjoyed my trek up and down the steep Inca Trail. When we awoke, our porters greeted us with hot tea and a warm breakfast. When we left camp, we knew they would take everything down and carry it safely to our next stop. When we stopped for lunch, our porters presented us with a full-course meal. When we finally reached our camp in the evening, the porters had pitched our tents, prepared warm buckets of water for bathing and offered yet another full spread of food.
For three days I was able to appreciate the beauty of the Inca Trail with its stunning orchids, fantastic array of hummingbirds and incredible views because I wasn’t weighed down with the physical or mental stress of cooking, setting up and breaking down camp, boiling water or cleaning. The porters made the logistical aspects of this unforgettable experience effortless for me.
On the last night in camp, our guide explained how, on our final morning, our group would hike to Machu Picchu while our porters went to Aguas Caliente to catch a train back to Cusco. I was devastated. It turns out that tens of thousands of people hike the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu every year … and thousands more make the trip over and over again but have never set eyes on Peru’s most famous Inca ruins. Going to Machu Picchu is very costly, and while millions of people visit it each year, very few Peruvians ever do.
I returned home from Peru excited and energized by the fantastic experience I had, but I was also disappointed. Knowing that the porters who hike the Inca Trail will never get to experience Machu Picchu has stayed with me.
We have established the Karikuy-Haugen fund to make this experience a reality for some porters. For approximately $150, one porter can travel to Machu Picchu, spend the day at the site and travel home again. It is my hope that, as you begin to plan your trip on the Inca Trail—or if you’ve recently returned—you think about the porters. They make your trip on the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu possible. Please help make a trip for one of them a dream come true as well.
-JoAnna Haugen, kaleidoscopicwandering.com