Confession: I’m fat in one of my favorite photos, and I’m not afraid or embarassed to share it with you today. The photo you’ll see in this entry means the world to me, embodying everything I want to be–regardless of my size.
The fall of 1999, I studied abroad in Buenos Aires, Argentina, one of the most amazing experiences of my life. While I loved every inch of Argentina, my host family and my university, I wanted to explore more of South America.
I’d dreamed of traveling to Peru and visiting Machu Picchu ever since I started taking Spanish classes my freshman year of high school. Everything about it just mesmerized me, and when the opportunity to go to Peru arose that semester abroad, four friends and I jumped on it.
We plotted and planned for weeks, and before we knew it, we were on a Lloyd Air Boliviano flight from Buenos Aires to La Paz, Bolivia, where our trek to Peru would begin (via Lake Titicaca, straddling both Peru and Bolivia, and Cuzco, the ancient Incan capital).
They call Machu Picchu a spiritual vortex, and to be honest, I didn’t believe it until I was actually there. Something literally transforms you.
Machu Picchu stands nestled high in the Peruvian Andes, a hidden Incan village until only the 1930s. There are only three ways of getting there from Cuzco: hike the three day trail, take a rickety 5-hour train ride, or take a 20-minute helicopter ride. Due to lack of time, we opted for the helicopter, and found ourselves with our noses pressed against the glass windows, our hearts thumping as the pilot skimmed the mountains, hurling us toward what appeared several times to be an imminent death. (Let’s just say visions of the book and movie ALIVE weren’t lost on any of us!)
Upon landing, we walked about a mile to the station where buses make a 40-minute trek from Aguas Calientes, the pueblo at the foot of the mountain, to the top of Machu Picchu. Imagine the most narrow, winding road your mind can ponder, and picture it on the bank of a mountain, bending and twisting all the way up to the top. Now imagine a packed, jerking, wobbling bus carrying you there. My heart was going a mile a minute.
Having just read The Celestine Prophecy, I had a feeling this entire experience would be particularly amazing. As we crested the mountain peak, I saw Huyana Picchu (the monstrous mountain opposite Machu Picchu) in the distance, and I just knew I was in a sacred place.
Mist rimmed the tops of the mountains and it felt like it could rain at any given moment, yet the sun would peek its head out of the heavy clouds, flirting with us as they day went on. It looked like there were people up on the terracing atop Huyana Picchu, but I couldn’t fathom how the hell they got up there. Little did I realize later that day I would have climbed to the top myself.
We had been signed up for a tour in English, but the guide was not the best and after walking around the ruins for about a half hour completely lost in our own thoughts, she announced that anyone leaving for the hike up Huyana Picchu had to go right away. She estimated travelling time up and back to be about four hours. None of us had heard about this option, and since we were fed up with our guide, we jumped at the chance.
I wasn’t in the best physical shape so I admit I was a bit hesitant, but then thought: carpe diem… this was a once in a lifetime opportunity. And I knew the view at the top would be worth every bead of sweat dripped. I ran after them and never looked back.
The hike is not easy. People have died, as they couldn’t find correct footing and have fallen off the mountain. It is required that every single person attempting the hike signs in a log-book, with his/her vital stats. After logging in, we began the hike.
We were not in hiking attire, and we only had one small bottle of Peruvian water for the four of us. We hadn’t eaten all day, and Laura’s one ‘Milka’ chocolate bar was our only form of sustenance. But damn it, we were gonna do it. Huyana Picchu, the huge mountain directly across from Machu Picchu, was our challenge. After two hours of solid climbing, physically and mentally drained, we finally got to the highest peak where I took this photo, my favorite. I call it “On Top of the World” because in so many ways, it was how I felt, and where I was.
Never before had I been so awe-struck with my surroundings. I soaked it up like a sponge, not wanting to leave. Never before had I felt such gratitude for my body, which had carried me to this peak. Or my mind, which had encouraged me to keep going, when my legs were aching and my back breaking.
We stayed at the top for a good hour, staring out in disbelief at these ancient ruins whose very existence high in the Andes literally defied all logic. It was hard to say goodbye.
The hike down was equally challenging, and we were dripping by the time we reached Machu Picchu and the ruins again. We were the last group to return that day and as we signed our names back in the log-book, pride radiated off my damp skin. I had done it. We had done it.
Because it was so late in the afternoon, much of the tourist scene was already gone and we were pretty much the only group left. We ambled around the ruins for a bit, and I pulled out my journal.
Engorging myself in the dream-like world around me, I wrote furiously and snapped photos, including the one at the start of this entry. It was, indeed, a spiritual vortex, and I finally understood it.
That day, I vowed to myself to return, and hike the whole Incan trail next time. I haven’t made it back yet, but I know I will.
I just keep thinking, if I could always embrace that body-love I felt climbing Huyana Picchu that day in October, 1999, I think I’d be a much stronger, healthier woman.
That day, I wasn’t a “fat” girl. I was girl who just climbed a mountain. And I had never felt prouder.
How about you? What was one of your proudest moments?