Sometimes even fabulous city girls need a little survival handbook- such as when they’ve decided to pack up their beauty closet into a ZipLock bag and head off for a hiking trip in the wilderness. I recently did just that when I when I braved the Andes Mountains for 4 days on the classic trek to Machu Picchu. It was a memorable experience in many ways and I came home armed with a bunch of tips for the next TDO reader to hit the Inca Trail.
1. Airport regulations are still in effect. Some frequent travelers told me that they no longer care about the 3.4oz/Ziplock bag rule but that is a lie. They care..a lot. Due to my own laziness, I got my dry shampoo and sunblock confiscated before I even left New York. I paid for it dearly with dirty hair and a peeling sunburn.
2. Pack light but bring enough changes of socks and underwear. Mostly you’ll have to carry your own goods so less is more. I wore the same pair of black lululemon pants throughout my hike but I did bring a pair of jeans to relax into when I was at the campsite every night. There are no showers so you’ll have to do some mental adjustment but when you’re on the trail a clean change of underwear and socks feel like the best thing in the world. I changed at night before bed and felt fresh enough the next morning to continue.
3. Hand Sanitizer is the Cleanest you’re going to get. I can’t stress how much this helped me retain my sanity throughout the trek. Running water exists once every 3 or 4 hours and soap is nowhere to be found. Bathrooms are squat toilets (holes in the ground) and you never know what types of dirty things you come across. I recommend sanitizer by Shobha. It’s small enough that it’ll fit in any pocket and one spray is all you need to clean your hands. Another big plus it that it’s unscented! My friend brought along some Apple Martini scented hand gel which I’m sure only the jungle mosquitoes found attractive.
4. Learn to bathe from a box. Cleansing wipes will be the closest thing you’ll get to a shower on the trail. I wiped myself down with this every night at camp and (would like to) think that I smelled OK even after 4 days. It’s also important to find one that is gentle enough for your face so you can wipe off your makeup (yes, I did wear some even while I was on the hike). Once again I favored Shobha Freshening Cloths due to the fact that they are unscented and come in this great container with a snap close lid so they don’t dry out.
5. Multitask when you can. Just as in Prague, I used Chanel’s Hydramax + Active Teinte, which works as sunblock, moisturizer, and foundation in one. When I almost got it confiscated at the airport in Lima (due to not following the ZipLock rule- see above) I almost threw down and refused to board the plane. For lips, I only used one Juicy Tube which provided adequate moisturize and great color for photos. I brought along Prescriptives Eye Color Quad to take care of all my eye makeup needs and my lone travel brush: Laura Mercier’s Angled Brush which I rotated in different positions to use both for base and crease colors.
6. Read drug labels. As soon as I hit the altitude, I got sick so I started popping the Diamox. What I did not know, however, is that Diamox is a hardcore diuretic- which is a huge issue when bathrooms are every 3 to 4 hours. (Also using nature as your toilet is not an option unless you want to do it in front of hundreds of hikers). Plus it didn’t even help since you’re supposed to take it 2 days before reaching altitude so I suffered painfully and needlessly. My advice: listen to what your doctor tells you.
7. Wear appropriate clothing. No it is not ok to hike the Inca Trail in sneakers as I discovered while trying to maneuver down steep boulders in the rain. I got lucky but I could’ve easily lost some teeth due to not wearing proper hiking boots. Since most likely it will rain, bring a trusty and light raincoat. I highly recommend The North Face’s Grace Raincoat, which in addition to being lightweight, rain proof and stylish, has these great fleece lined zippered pockets. I regularly had my hand stuffed in there to hide from the cold and the zippers made toting my wallet and passport around much safer.
8. Lose the low-carb diet. You can eat all sorts of meats in Cusco- alpaca, beef, lamb, guinea pig etc. However, at high altitude you will not be able to digest it since your blood all goes to other vital organs to help them acclimate to the thin air. You will feel extremely uncomfortable and unhappy if you eat too many alpaca steaks the day before your hike because it will literally sit there in your stomach for days without digesting. Once you are on the trail, fuel up with carbs. I ate toast at every meal and in between I ate my favorite hiking food: Larabar. Larabars are raw and unprocessed and fill you up while giving you clean energy to burn. They contain no soy, added sugars, are gluten free, dairy free, kosher and provide a serving of fruit per bar. They come in all sorts of delicious flavors and I brought along a variety to keep things interesting.
9. Don’t take yourself too seriously. Ladies, hiking a mountain is not like staying at a 5 star hotel. Being high maintenance will get you nothing except a bad time and a trek group that hates you. The pains of mountain hiking is really part of the pleasure of the experience and you’ll end up meeting some of the coolest people on your trip (due to the fact that they too, are not high maintenance). So enjoy the views, forget about your sweat, and take comfort in the thought that you’ll probably drop 5 pounds in 4 days even while gorging at every meal.