In the mountains of Peru it was silent. Only a slight glimmer of sunlight started to peak over the mountains. Fresh air filled my lungs as I stared deep into the dark abyss, and for some unexplained reason, tears started pouring from my eyes. I had no idea why I was crying. What did this mean? I asked myself. I had just conquered a tremendous goal, yet I was crying. Could it be tears of happiness? Could it have been the feeling of exhaustion and fatigue from climbing a mountain at 4:00am? I wondered.
As the fog began to clear and the the scenery came into focus, I fell to my knees and broke down and sobbed. It hit me like a ton of bricks. I was surrounded by such natural beauty and serenity, yet I was quivering. The first thing that came to mind was how could such primitive people build such a massive and intelligent structure on top of an inhospitable mountain. The Incas called this architectural wonder, Machu Picchu, I called it…breathtaking!
As I sat in awe of this magnificent monument, I thought “how can so many people complain about their lives when they have so much, while others are content with so little?” What I saw in Peru opened my eyes to new found realities, an aura of spirituality overwhelmed me. I just cried right there on top of one of the Wonders of the World.
In Peru a few days prior…
When I experienced the grueling trek through uncertain terrain and intense climate changes to climb the top of one of Peru’s largest mountains called Salkantay, it was an eye-opening realization. It was the hardest, yet one of the most fulfilling adventures I had ever endured. It was the challenge that kept me climbing. My feet could only take me so far, it was sheer willpower that got me to the top.
Hello everyone! I introduced myself to the group of eight that would be my family for the next 10 days. I sat down next to a couple from Bosnia and was so intrigued by what I had learned. The couple were professional hikers! Just as I was getting to know them, the tour leader announced, “I hope you are wearing your most comfortable hiking boots because today we climb six hours before night fall.”
I was petrified. I had only trained at the gym for a few weeks before the trek climbing the StairMaster. I had NO idea what I was in for, but there was no way I was going to do the “touristy” Inca Trail hike. My desire was to be challenged. I had purchased the best hiking shoes money could buy. I did my research, had all the medications (just in case), and was ready to hike into the unknown.
Covered head to toe in warm clothing and layers, a winter coat, gloves, and a hat I begin walking uphill through the jungle. Just one hour of walking and the sky opened up. Buckets of rain pour down from the heavens. What a way to start this strenuous trek, I thought. Then, out there in the horizon I saw a beautiful rainbow and I knew everything would be okay from then on out. After some ups and downs and the delicious lunch of fresh fish and some matte tea (which aids altitude sickness), we arrive at our base camp just in time for the sunset, which was a stunning sight. I had never seen anything so beautiful in all my life. I live in New York City, so I’m lucky if I see a single star! The reds and oranges and purples that lit up the evening sky during sunset were breathtaking. I was speechless and didn’t think I would see anything more spectacular, but as the sky turned do darkness, the stars dotted the sky just like the starlight’s my father installed in my childhood bedroom. There was no pollution, no buildings, no noise. Time stood still and I was at peace for the first time in my life.
“Make sure to get a good night sleep, our tour guide said. Tomorrow we wake at 4am to continue upward.”
All I thought about was how I was going to prevent my feet from freezing in the 30 degree weather inside a small, barely insulated tent. As planned, we woke at the crack of dawn and it was still dark out. The group ate a warm breakfast together prepared by the local porters and we venture onward up the thin winding path. Because the air is so thin, I had to take some altitude sickness medication, to prevent me from throwing up or even passing out. Everyone went at his or her own pace and there were other groups on the trail as well. We would stop once and a while to talk to other hikers and share stories as an excuse to catch our breath, but nothing could prepare me for when I got to the top of the mountain. It’s the emotional feeling you get when you feel eternally fulfilled. Like you have meaning, as if your purpose in life is to be here and now.
The hike up the mountain was the most challenging physical thing I had ever endured. I had come to an understanding that this experience was not about me, or about the actual hike, but rather what I saw along the way. Farmers and children with no shoes, herding turkeys and other animals into a barn to be prepared for that night’s meal. Women in shawls selling candy on the side of the road to encourage us to keep climbing onward. Having meals with locals and drinking Pisco sours, which made everyone quite happy! I never experienced a happiness like this before. I am quite grateful for my loving family and all they provided me growing up, and I know that I am fortunate to have a three square meals a day—but these locals, these children have so little in their live, so much uncertainty, and yet they are content, even happy, with what they have. What I saw and experienced really made me feel that much more grateful for what I have.
People don’t make much money in Peru, but you never hear them complain. Back in the States in big cities like NYC where I’m from, people never stop complaining, and often make comments like, “how am I ever going to support myself on only $100,000 a year?!” After my trip to Peru, when I hear things like that, it really boils my blood! I learned a great lesson from interacting with the locals along my 10-day hike. First, never take anything for granted. Life, love, people can leave your life at any given moment. Always appreciate what you have, for you never know what tomorrow will bring. Lastly, it’s okay to cry. Cry from the sense of accomplishment. Cry from seeing a world out there very different than your own. Cry to release your inner ambition and maybe one day you will find yourself. While I cried more than a few times on this journey to Machu Picchu, the tears I left behind in Peru cleansed my soul. I finally saw the truth. There is a vast world out there waiting to be discovered and I’ve only started to scratch its surface. I want to see all that there is in the world. The good, the bad, and the ugly. The bitter AND the sweet, because nothing is perfect, but the life lessons you learn as you make your way to the top, will make you a better person each and every day. So climb on…
If you’ve ever been to Machu Picchu, Peru, or had a moving experience as I described, please leave a comment below and share your experience.