Hiking 4000m into the Peruvian Andes was good for the soul, and a great escape from the constant noise that blights our modern lives, writes Mariella Frostrup.
Having just returned from hiking the ancient Inca Trail, high in the Peruvian Andes, I've been thinking a lot about the sound of silence.
It's a quality so often absent from our lives in these noisy times with anything from visiting the dentist, to holding on a phone call, to shopping or exercising, marred by tinny and often truly awful tunes.
Then there are the one-sided phone calls, with fellow public transport users seemingly unperturbed by revealing personal details of their lives, from mortgage worries to romantic trysts, at high volume among total strangers. Add the traffic and jets, lawnmowers and rubbish disposal, chainsaws and reversing trucks beeping, and it's a miracle to get a moment's peace from dawn to dusk.
Post-Industrial Revolution, air pollution is a hot topic, but perhaps we should talk more about the noise pollution it also brought. For millions of us, the absence of silence has become an unremarkable part of our daily lives. One of the rewards of travel is to be able to see your own life from a different perspective, rather than being caught in the thick of it.
It's often only when you step away from what you're used to that you realise what you are missing. It was certainly true as I stood at nearly 4000m above sea level, looking back from vertigo-inducing heights to the path I'd been ascending for two days in meditative silence, focused on the simple action of one foot following the other.
In this cloud-swirling eyrie between heaven and earth, in a wilderness of lichen, orchids and ferns, birdsong was the only disruption. Trees were bent low by the force of the winds at altitude, but in that moment only a soft breeze rustled the pampas grass. Otherwise, there was peace; vast, echoing, soul-enhancing silence and a sense that I was a small cog in something much vaster and more enduring than my own short lifespan.
Unfortunately, my moment of karmic contemplation was short-lived, broken first by the arrival of my husband, panting loudly in the thin air, and then my two teenagers, who, oblivious to the magnificent view, continued their looping refrain that this wasn't a holiday but an act of parental cruelty.
"Where are the other kids?" they hissed at me whenever we stopped long enough to draw breath, and indeed, those we encountered on this ancient pilgrim path were definitely old enough to have chosen it for themselves.
The absence of Wi-Fi or phone networks, not something we missed back in 1998, was also apparently a crime against teenagers in 2019. On the first of our three nights camping, they sat miserably looking at their screens, willing the signal to miraculously reappear.
Having last embarked on the trek with my friend Penny Smith and 50 of the UK's Children's Society supporters two decades ago, I can confirm that, based on this recent experience, friends rather than close family make far better walking companions.
After four days of eight-hour treks and nights under canvas, we finally arrived, weary, at dawn, at the Sun Gate, the pilgrim's entrance to Machu Picchu. Dan, my 13-year-old son, had pretty much jogged the whole way, but for the rest of us there were moments of sheer exhaustion, and the rudimentary camping didn't help.
Yet the absence of connection to the big wide world, the focus required to complete the journey, and the restorative effect of leaving the noisy bustle behind left all of us with an unshakeable sense of euphoria that even now, back home and back at work, hasn't faded.
Finding such spaces in our frenetic lives, whether you travel halfway around the world or to a wilderness much closer to home, seems to me a vital ingredient for a healthy life and one we too easily forget to include on our diligently maintained agendas.
The beneficial effect of being able to log off occasionally is not to be underestimated. It's not selfish to step out of the fray for long enough to hear the sound of your thoughts and feel the weight of the ancient world, whether on a country walk, on the sea or under a tree in the park (with earplugs in). Such moments are as important as eating superfoods; two things the Incas, who built the trail and brought us quinoa, understood.
• Mariella trekked the Inca Trail with Cox & Kings as part of a broader Peru itinerary.