Friday, July 22, 2016

Adventuring in the Andes - Machu Picchu and Beyond

We stopped once again, closed our eyes, and slowly inhaled and exhaled five times as I counted on my fingers with each breath. After a mutual check of, “good?”, “good?”, “good”, Katie and I continued on, pointing toward the next small step or corner of shade where we could stop for a “breathing break.” Despite having conquered the “Condor’s Pass” summit just the day before at 14,000 feet, our bodies were taxed and pushing ourselves up Machu Picchu Mountain, at a lower altitude, still wasn’t coming easily.

Looking down on the ruins from Machu Picchu Mountain

My best friend, Katie, and I had long been awaiting the day to check Machu Picchu off the top of our bucket lists. And here we finally were.  After a 3-day trek through the Sacred Valley we spent one night in Aguas Calientes (often referred to as the town of Machu Picchu) before rising early for the buses which take eager travelers to the Incan ruins.

We stood perched overlooking the ruins as the morning sun rose over the famous site, taking every cliché Machu Picchu tourist picture we could think of. Then our guide, Tio (uncle) Wilson, took us on a tour back in time around the ruins. At every turn there was an architectural feat or a design stroke of genius. At which point Katie and I pondered how we would have survived as Incans given our near failure of our high school physics class. We’ll just say we got “a lot of support” from Katie’s dad on our partner projects. Thanks, Jim.

Although our day trip to Machu Picchu was fascinating, and should be on every traveler’s list, in the end it was not the highlight of my adventure to the Andes. Instead, my most fond memories will be the ones that are not sites to see or places to visit, rather moments of joy and connection.
  • Building a bond with our new “familia” of trekkers, tour leaders, and porters on the Lares Trek.

  • Gently telling Katie that although she hated me taking pictures of her suffering altitude sickness against the most beautiful background, one day, she’d laugh looking at them and thank me. I don’t think she’s quite there yet. One day
I know...I'm an evil friend.

  • Feeling elated that we made it successfully up and over the passwhich we all stared up at during breakfast the second morning gawking, “THAT’S where we’re hiking?!”

  • Playing hide and seek with the cutest little boy at our second campsite as he giggled hysterically. I’m not sure why this is a magic gamebut it breaks every language barrier for children.

  • Waking up to the most beautiful sunrise over a small lake high in the Andes while llamas roamed free around us.  Llamallamallamallamallama.

  • Struggling up the mountains as school kids stormed pass us with ease on their daily 8 km + hike from their school bus stops to their villages.

  • Sharing these extraordinary experiences with Katie and her boyfriend Chris, who was a happy go-lucky addition to our traveling crew. He definitely needed that light-hearted spirit to survive an international trip with the two of us.

  • Paying respects to Pachamama (Mother Earth) on our final day in Lares, with a reminder from Tio that whenever life gets challenging, think back to this peaceful, blessed, and thankful day.

Often after the laborious part of planning a trip we most look forward to the events, but it’s the small moments that we stumble upon serendipitously which end up being the most memorable. Remember when you’re traveling that not everything goes as planned all the time (unless you work with me – shameless plug). But when things go sideways, take advantage of the unexpected memories that may result.

Just ask Katiewellmaybe give her a few months first. But I’m sure she didn’t want to get sick on the trip. But I guarantee she’ll remember the small, funny things that happened like the mule Trueno who helped her up the mountain and her very limited ability to speak with the horseman, Nestor, who ended up being a great motivation with his constant smiles and happy demeanor.


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