I stand at the top of Dead Woman's Pass with a massive smile on my face. In the background are two mountains with a gap between them. In the gap is an ancient ruin. Fog surrounds the top of the mountains.

A flashlight shines through the barrier between me and a cold, harsh morning. The bitter smell of cacao tea wakes me up. I hear my tent-mate start to stir and feel a heavy sigh rise through my chest. I clamp down on it before it escapes. Slowly, my aching body makes its way up and I crouch to avoid the roof of the tent. I’ve already got most of my warm clothing on; I just need my hiking boots.

I’ve never been comfortable with my anxiety. In part that’s why I challenge myself to large, life-changing trips: I want to prove that anxiety doesn’t need to hold you back. But this time feels harder and home feels further away.

Hiking boots on; beanie on. The cacao tea warms my hands as I make my way out of the tent and look out across the valley. The sky is so close here you can see rain falling below you onto such endless fields you realise roads are a figment of your imagination. I kneel and feel the dirt. Home was connected to this dirt thousands of years ago and it helps me ground myself. ‘Ha. Ground,’ I think to myself. This small pun gives me the strength to face the day. ‘By far the hardest day on the Inca Trail,’ they tell me.

I look to the south-west and try to pierce through the thousands of kilometres that lie between home and I. Unsurprisingly, it’s difficult. There are literally thousands of kilometres and my eyesight has never been that good.

I walk over to the breakfast tent that has been prepared by humble humans who have been tied to these mountains for centuries. They remind me that there’s more to us than our thoughts: humans have history, and feeling grounded is certainly worth something. I take a deep breath and a sip of cacao tea. Nope, still not a fan. But it certainly helps calm me.

Bags packed; backpack on. We start our ascent with the aim of making it all the way up Dead Woman’s Pass and down the other side. I feel short of breath for most of the walk. Carlos, one of my guides, walks beside me and offers to carry my bag.

Anxious thoughts run through my head and I nearly refuse. But, looking back between two peaks, the fog has cleared and I see a breathtaking view of ancient ruins – the history of a culture that raised Carlos. I’m on his land, in his home. I bend toward the ground and touch the dirt. A deep breath in to gather courage; a deep breath out to forget the thousands of kilometres. He looks at me with a tilt of the head and puts a hand on my shoulder. He carries my bag until we reach the top.

The Incas embrace me.

 

This piece was originally conceived for a travel writing scholarship application through World Nomads.

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  • Those moments when you're too lazy to meet up in Aus but will meet up in the UK 🙌 
My first ever overseas trip was with Edie. I was the worst companion: anxious, no idea what to do, scared, relying on Edie to come up with all the ideas and all the solutions. WHAT A CHANGE! Now I literally jump on a plane with no idea what language they speak in the country to which I'm going, with a small backpack and no plans. Plus, I moved overseas by myself! None of it would have been possible without that first trip with Edie, or without seeing her many travel photos and feeling all kinds of jelly 💃🏼 So thanks, m8. Y.A.L.T.
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  • Carrot cake in the countryside 🥕🍰
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  • Welcome back to bright and colourful photos, friends 🍉 Buranooooooo is my favourite!
📷 @lauritacolor .
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  • I was wandering around, looking for a place to get some groceries when I looked up and saw this beauty at dusk. Always look up.⁠
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  • Patterns everywhere. English buildings <3⁠
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  • Yeah, so, Chanctonbury Ring is thought to have been a significant place from around the sixth to fourth centuries BC. BC. I'll say it again: BC. Hol-y-crap-a-doodles. It's OLD. And when I visited and the fog rolled across while I climbed towards the ancient ring, it felt like there was a bit of magic in the air and I was the only person on earth.⁠
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  • @askitalian: how many bowls of pasta can I have before I throw up?⁠
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  • Beautiful buildings, bulbs and branches. The trifecta.⁠
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Mate, who am i?

(I ask myself the same thing)

Travelling can be really hard when you never feel like you're prepared. But, the more I do it the more I realise that being unprepared is the best way to travel. I’m Rowena. I live with depression and an anxiety disorder, which inspires a lot of my writing. My first reaction is to over-pack, over-worry, freak out, and give myself a headache. I’m consciously rebelling against that.

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