It’s taken me awhile to gear up to write this post after my trek to Machu Picchu. What I have realized after my trip to India is that the lessons from my experiences take some time to sink in, sometimes years after the fact. I am a constant student of life, so I’m still learning these lessons, but I’m going to take a stab at sharing them here.
Energy is palpable
While reading The Celestine Prophecy on my flight, I learned that there is a certain mystical and spiritual energy in Peru. I won’t say that I felt it from the start, but there’s a certain magic in Cusco that I could feel when we arrived. This energy became obvious the night Josie, Christine, and I had dinner with Imran and Leila, a couple from Atlanta in our trekking group. We sat down and began the pleasantries of “where are you from” and “what do you do,” but almost immediately, each of us honed in to the topic of connection “how did you meet” and experiences “where do you enjoy traveling and why.” It felt like the best first date ever! Not only did we find tons of topics we could all relate to, but everyone also naturally contributed and added to the depth of the conversation. As someone who is jaded with the idea of networking and small talk, this experience could be described as organic, vibrant, and full of flow. I felt completely refreshed by our conversation and genuinely excited to spend the next 5 days walking alongside these wonderful people.
Fall down but rise strong
The night we landed in Cusco I woke up with a jolt and ran to the bathroom. I had food poisoning, and it kept me up for the next 6 hours. I was supposed to spend 2 days relaxing and acclimating to the altitude, but instead I completely depleted my system. I recovered by the following afternoon and felt good enough to sightsee. The day we started the trek, we took a huge van down to the mountain base and drove along switchbacks for 3 hours. All of the back and forth made me extremely carsick, and by the time we got to the starting point, the fresh air was a huge relief. We summited to 15,000 feet right after a big hearty lunch, and as soon as we began the ascent, I felt a dull headache coming on. By the time 6pm rolled around, and we still hadn’t reached camp, I was feeling absolutely miserable. As soon as we entered the campsite, one of the trekkers got sick everywhere; altitude sickness had claimed its first victim. I managed to get settled and then go to the dinner tent, but within minutes I was outside heaving while everyone cheered me on. I went to bed with no dinner that first night and slept fitfully.
The next morning I felt much better, thankfully, because it was our longest day – 10 hours downhill in the rain – and it was hard. I wouldn’t find my full strength or my stride until Day 3, but each day I made physical and mental progress. As hard as it was, I felt in awe of my capabilities, empowered by my fortitude, and humbled by little improvements each day. In hindsight, I told Andy that part of me just wanted to see if I could do it. In the weeks leading up, I feared how hard it would be, but once I was actually walking, I had no complaints or frustration with the hand I was dealt. I was simply grateful for falling and being able to get back up.
It’s not surprising as I devoured Brene Brown’s Rising Strong recently that this quote captured me:
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; because there is not effort without error and shortcomings; but who does actually strive to do the deed; who knows the great enthusiasm, the great devotion, who spends himself in a worthy cause, who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement and who at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly. So that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.” Theodore Roosevelt
One step at a time
I had never experienced problems hiking at high altitudes in Denver, but I had also never trekked as high as the Salkantay Pass. To reach the summit, we had to climb the final 1500 feet via switchbacks for an hour. I remember how thin the air was and how tight my chest felt. My yogic breath was non existent, and it was a challenge to take 20 steps without stopping to gasp for air. We would try to force ourselves to keep going, but whenever anyone said they needed a break, the entire group would breathe a sigh of relief. Then Christine said to us, “We have no rush, let’s just take it slow and steady.” That mantra kept me going to the summit and guided me for the rest of the trek.
This mantra has actually been echoing in my head the past few weeks for different reasons. I found that as I came back and surrounded myself again with the inevitable talks of babies and the beautiful pregnant friends in my life, that I felt a sense of urgency to catch up to them and to share their experiences. I had to remind myself that I’ll eventually reach the summit, but if I move too fast, I can’t catch my breath and enjoy the beauty of the moment. The lesson I learned in that grueling one hour segment is a path that I must continue to walk daily as I call upon patience and trust to see how this incredible life unfolds.
Play to your strengths
In my last company we read StrengthsFinder to help us each understand our individual strengths and the makeup of our team. The trek was an opportunity for me to see this happen in real time with relative ease and very little discussion. In such an enduring, physical feat, it happened organically. We noticed that Amanda and David were super fast uphill climbers, and Bigne and Joerg moved swiftly downhill (without poles!). Leila had all the first aid supplies, Josie had all the right gear, and Christine was the encouraging coach. Imran made us laugh, and Amy documented the journey. By Day 3, I found my flow and lead the group in a methodical, steady uphill ascent with rhythmic breath. I felt the same synchronicity of leading a yoga class but without speaking; I just set the pace and everyone followed.
That afternoon when we got to camp, it began to hail, and we got stuck in the lunch room for a few hours. The tin roof made the loudest uproar I had ever heard, but it was soothing. A few of us began stretching in a small circle, and within a few minutes, I was leading a full yoga class to the entire group and our guides. By the time we laid down for savasana, we were cramped like sardines in between tables, chairs, and discarded hiking boots, and we heard the rain stop completely. The air was peaceful and calm, and I could tell that everyone felt grounded and more connected. It was one of my favorite moments of the entire trek.
Personal work benefits the group
Fast forward to our last dinner in Aguas Calientes the night before we go to Machu Picchu. The amazing porters and chef were cooking for us in an actual restaurant that night, and someone suggested that we invite all of them to join us for dinner. The group quickly added 6 chairs and a table to accommodate. Our guide then stood up and thanked the group for each doing our own personal work to understand ourselves and what makes us happy. It didn’t click for me until that point, but I realized that there was no drama, conflict, or ego in our group. Everyone came to the trek with a sense of purpose, an open mind, and the willingness to work for the good of the group. This translated to the kindness I saw before my eyes as we welcomed our porters and chef to share the space with us as one unit. The trek would not have been successful without our guides’ careful planning and the porters’ immaculate execution. The experience would not have been the same without the delicious meals our chef seemed to prepare out of thin air.
That moment at dinner crystallized the insights discussed in The Celestine Prophecy for me: we each recognized each other’s energy and were open to the energy within our group; we rose above any struggles for power and instead lifted each other up by playing to our strengths; this caused a flow that drove all of us forward in sync.
The Eight Insight…The Interpersonal Ethic
We can increase the frequency of guiding coincidences by uplifting every person that comes into our lives. Care must be taken not to lose our inner connection in relationships. Uplifting others is especially effective in groups where each member can feel energy of all the others. By seeing the beauty in every face, we lift others into their wisest self, and increase the chances of hearing a synchronistic message.
– The Celestine Prophecy
This trek touched me in so many unimaginable ways. I knew it would leave a lasting impression, but I had no idea what form that would take. Even though I easily forget and have to constantly remind myself to be patient and trust how life will unfold, there’s a river rock I picked up that now sits on my altar as a reminder. I’m beyond grateful for the entire experience, and I truly believe that “the journey is the destination.” Thanks to my fellow trekkers and Alpaca Expeditions for such incredible memories!