This may seem like one just for the girls, but tune in guys, you may just learn something!
Yes, just mere weeks ago I did not have the first clue about backpacking and here I am giving advice about it?! Í’m not saying I know very much about the whole backpacking lark, but what I do know is that it is possible to do it in style.
Firstly, before you start thinking that I’m carting my entire wardrobe around with me, my entire backpack weighed just 16.5 kilos. That’s right, 16.5. Including hiking boots. And children’s books. I have a 60l backpack with a 20l daypack – that held all the little bits and bobs and presents for the family. That amount of stuff (bar a cosy and completely gorgeous alpaca jumper which I bought here in Peru) is everything I have for the next four months.
Now, Huaraz is a popular stopping-places for backpackers, since it is the gateway to the Cordilleras Blancas Mountains and a whole host of wholesome, tent-pitching, mountain-climbing activities. Yet these people, toting backpacks far bigger and heavier than mine (filled with goodness-knows-what) seem to take pride in wearing a dirty T-shirt and something resembling pyjama bottoms – loose, striped, baggy things and pockets in very obvious and rather strange places – as if they were made for pickpockets. Occasionally they exchange this legwear for a more daring page of shorts, either cut-off denim or knee-length combat. The T-shirts, however, don´t change. The hairstyles (both male and female) are uniformly a scraggy, shoulder-length ponytail and there are always, always, slightly grubby-looking bands adorning one or both wrists.
Why?! I got my hair cut just before I came. I brought a teeny-tiny hairdryer with me. It does´’t take much to make my hair look more or less as it does at home. When it needs a cut, guess what? I’ll go to a hairdresser. They do exist, even in this remote part of the world, funnily enough. I also packed a pair of jeans. I can hear gasps of horror from hardy backpackers. All I read on blogs and websites about backpacking before I came was: DON’T PACK JEANS!!!! (plus or minus the odd exclamation mark). Let me remind you: 16.5 kilos. My favourite straight-leg, light-blue jeans are the most versatile item in my wardrobe. They´re hardwearing, great for running errands in, great in the evenings when it’s a bit colder. I can dress them down for the daytime and with the addition of one very lightweight top, they can be transformed for the nighttime. You can wear them on an overnight flight or bus-ride and they don’t crease. Why wouldn’t you bring jeans?
I also packed 2 dresses and 1 skirt. I know, outrageous. But the dresses pack up into practically nothingness. Both my dresses together probably weigh less than your average outsize grimy T-shirt. I also packed a selection of tops. TOPS, not T-shirts. I don’t like high necks, and I’m not so big on sleeves, so I have 4 or 5 pretty vests which go with just about anything.
But what about trekking gear? I hear you ask triumphantly. You can’t go trekking in jeans and a vest top! I have one pair of blue combat trousers suitable for trekking, a set of pink and purple thermals which double as pyjamas and a pair of camel-coloured shorts. My one and only T-shirt, which I will only wear on the Inca Trail hike, is the one given to me by the MNDA charity. Luckily the bright blue complements the shorts quite nicely. No, at the moment I do not have sleeping mats, sleeping bags, compasses, water bottles and whatever other mysterious items you need for a four-day hike, but most of it is being provided seperately by the tour company and once I leave most of my things at the hotel in Cusco, there will be ample space for a sleeping bag, plus a few other things.
Under no circumstances was I going to leave home without jewellery and makeup. I know this might make me sound like a pampered princess, but the fact is, I like mascara and I like earrings. I chose carefully, I´m not carting about my entire collection, but I have a very small, lightweight box of jewellery and another small bag of make-up. At the moment, I start teaching at 7:30 am each morning; I need concealer. And no way am I going to compete with those gorgeous women in Buenos Aires or Rio de Janeiro without my favourite lipstick.
I don’t know if by not wearing my pyjama bottoms and an old T-Shirt every day I’m committing some kind of cardinal sin against the rules of backpacking, or whether by wearing lipstick, it denies me entry into some kind of exclusive club, but I’m here, in THE backpacking continent, with a backpack. I just decided to put some nice clothes inside it. Is that really so wrong?