The movie “127 hours” flashed across my mind. I began picturing myself with a twisted ankle, crying for help with my voice echoing in the Peruvian Andes, but to no avail. Perhaps my idea to hike up to Machu Picchu alone was ill-conceived, after all.
Let me back up for a moment. I had been traveling all over Peru with a friend, Katie, for a number of weeks this past September. I wanted to see Machu Picchu—an architectural marvel built at the height of the Inca Empire. Katie had been to Machu Picchu before, so we parted company for a few days—I was going to explore the mysterious ancient city, while she visited with some friends in a nearby town.
The moment I arrived in Aguas Calientes (the town at the base of the mountain that leads to Machu Picchu), I bought a bus ticket for the following morning to ride up to the site. This is what most tourists do. But at dinner that evening, a fellow tourist urged me to hike up. I didn’t know this was an option. He told me that it would be quicker and more “authentic” to make my way up on foot. Yes, it would take 1 ½-2 hours, depending on what kind of shape I was in, but the line to board the bus could take just as long and I’d just be standing around. Better to hike.
It didn’t take long for me to be convinced. I am a Body & Soul Fitness instructor after all. I love movement and challenges! So, a hike in the wee hours of the morning would definitely be in order!
Backpack on my back, I headed toward the path around 6 a.m. I breezed past the long line for the bus and was excited until I started to realize that I was alone, and had told no one of my plans. I would be hiking up a steep, secluded mountainside without a compass or cell phone or many provisions to speak of.
I began to worry and envision the worst (as I mentioned at the top), when I ran into two couples on the same journey—John and Diana from Germany and Stephanie and Drake from Canada. We introduced ourselves and it wasn’t long before we began swapping stories, snapping pictures, and laughing together as we huffed and puffed our way up the steep trail. Drake apologized repeatedly for bringing up the rear. And Stephanie joked about how she wanted to take lots of pictures before Drake broke up with her for talking him into this excursion.
When we got to the top, we celebrated with handshakes and one last photo to commemorate the moment. I’m pleased to say that we completed the trek in only one hour! On my own, not only would I have taken longer, but I probably would’ve been anxious (remember the twisted ankle scenario?) and stressed (wondering “how much farther?”) and tired and lonely. But having traveling companions made the same journey lighter, more bearable, and actually a joy!
I spent the remainder of the morning and afternoon exploring every corner of the city on the hill—the carefully-built stone structures, the Inca bridges, the fantastic vistas. By 2:00 p.m., my feet were beat so I determined that I would take the bus down. (My spirit was willing to hike down, but the flesh, weak.) To my disappointment, I discovered that the line for the bus down was twice as long as it had been to take the bus up the mountain that morning.
So I found myself, once again, setting off to hike alone. To my pleasant surprise, I encountered another group doing the same thing—a lovely family: a mom, Jane, her son, Riley, and her daughter-in-law-to-be, Andrea. We connected on the way down, and since I was more fatigued than at the start of the day, it was more critical than ever to have friends make the journey with me. I think they were just as happy to have me as a distraction to their exhaustion, as I was for their company. (Side note: it took us longer to hike down than it had to hike up! We were all pretty wiped!)
Now that I’m back home, I’m grateful for the life lesson from that day. In these challenging times, with so many natural and man-made disasters we need each other more than ever. I hope and pray that each of you have fellow travelers walking alongside you. Life can be so rough. Let’s not go it alone.
Hilda Labrada Gore is the DC metro Regional Director and Director of Communications for Body & Soul Fitness and teaches classes in Washington, DC. She is also the host of the Wise Traditions podcast. For more encouragement from Hilda, go to holistichilda.com.