When Roberto Carcelen called in the winter of 2011 and asked if I wanted to do a six day hike from Choquequirao to Machu Picchu, I knew I couldn’t say no. I had just finished up a brief stint as the editor of LivingInPeru.com, and an interview I’d conducted with Roberto had gotten him some national press. In 2010, Roberto had become Peru’s first winter Olympian by competing as a cross-country skiier at the Vancouver games. He was doing the Choquequirao hike as part of his training for Sochi, and also accompanying us would be a world champion cross-country skiier from the Czech Republic named Martin Koukal. The trip sounded like a great adventure, and even then it seemed like a marvelous grand finale to a decade spent living, working, and traveling in Peru.
Anyone who has spent a serious amount of time in Peru needs to go to Choquequirao. When I first came to Peru in 2001, the Machu Picchu trip was a walk in the park. You didn’t have to make any hotel reservations, and you could make the hike up Wayna Picchu simply by checking in at a gatehouse. But since becoming named as one of the seven modern wonders of the world, the whole sacred valley has become overly crowded. The increased tourism is great for Peru, but I can’t help feeling some nostalgia for the days when Machu Picchu seemed like my own hidden little gem.
Roberto’s route to Choquequirao started at a small town called Cachora. The first day was a 20 mile hike that put us at the entry gate to Choquequirao. To say it was a difficult hike is an understatement. Although the Olympians floated up the mountains like clouds riding a favorable updraft, it took everything I had to lug my considerable bulk up into the Andes. I was so exhausted from the hike that I didn’t even notice the ruins of Choquequirao shrouded in mist on a nearby mountain until after I awoke the next day.
Hiking through Choquequirao was something out of a dream. I saw exactly one other tourist the whole time. There’s something special about exploring Inca ruins when it seems like you’re the only person in the world.
After Choquequirao we continued on through the mountains getting into terrain that was more and more remote. First we crossed a mountain pass at 14,000 ft of elevation. A few days later we crossed one at 16,000 ft. Eventually we made our way into Aguas Calientes and spent our final day exploring Machu Picchu.
Obviously the experiences of that trip were too numerous for me to recount in a short article like this. Over the years I’ve done dozens of stories about that trek for a variety of magazines and web pages, but I never felt I really captured the significance of that hike. I finally realized that the experience of hiking from Choquequirao to Machu Picchu was more than just the days spent on the trail. That week was the crown jewel of the entire time I spent in Peru, and without the context of what I’d learned in that decade abroad, the stories of the hike would never quite resonate correctly.
So I set down to record the best stories of my years in Peru. It was fairly easy to do since I had a good collection of tales that I’d been telling for years at parties and other social gatherings. I found the stories lined up into a coherent narrative very well, and in July of 2015, Perseid Press published the novel Reckless Traveler, a novel about living and learning about life in South America.
I think that anyone who enjoys travel will get a kick out of Reckless Traveler. It’s different than other travel novels in that it covers an entire decade rather than just a two or three week trip. Anyone who has been to Peru knows that it is a country with a special kind of magic. I don’t think an artist has ever existed who could capture the magic of Peru and put it into text, but I think Reckless Traveler does manage to capture the effect that Peruvian magic had on me. So if you’re curious about Choquequirao, Machu Picchu, or travel in general, give Reckless Traveler a look. There’s also a pretty good chapter in there about the time I was taken hostage by terrorists toting AK-47s that you’ll probably find interesting.