Our Andean Insights

         We’ve just returned from our amazing family trip to Peru! The highlight of our trip was taking the challenge of the mountain hiking trail called “Salkantay Trail”, an alternative route to the traditional Inca trail leading to the famous Machu Picchu.

      Now, that we survived the trip and returned home safely, we can declare with absolute certainty that every single step of the trip was worth it. And… there weren’t just few steps… only on the first day the pedometer counted 24 0750 steps; and the second day – over 34 288 steps… we definitely learned one of the most valuable life lesson: “One step at a time”… and so many other lessons… Everywhere you would rest your eyes, the beauty was breathtaking…As my son put it, ” this was a 5* experience”, and I couldn’t agree with him more.

      It wasn’t only the tremendous beauty, life, energy and the wonderful people that we met on our way that made our Salkantay trip a “5* experience”… there was so much more to it.

       We woke up the first morning at 3:30 am, left Cusco by bus, and around 9:00 am started hiking for the next 8 hours, for 15 km. Early in the morning I was very pleased to wear every single (out of 7) layer of clothes, and, like any wise mother, insist on telling everyone who earlier complained about wearing so many clothes, “I’ve told you it will be cold”.

Soon enough though, I got my very “hot and heavy mother lesson”: The More you have, the slower you move.

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       Once the sun was up, it felt like going straight from the middle of winter to summer. I started taking off the warm layers, one by one, each of them seeming to get heavier and heavier, the higher we climbed. It reminded me of a Romanian mom who was scolding her child to get over-dressed in winter; when the child was trying to say, “But Mom, I’m really not cold”, he unbreakable reply was, “Of course you are, but you don’t know it” :) .

       We camped the first night at Soraypampa (3850m; and -10 degrees Celsius), near the base of Salkantay glacier, under the most beautiful sky full of sparkly starts that I’ve ever seen.

       I remember feeling so intimidated early in the morning when I first met all the young, strong, athletic people in our hiking group. I couldn’t help it but say to my husband, “Oh, my goodness, everybody in the group is so young; we are so unprepared; what were we thinking to go on this trip?! how are we going to make it?” In a calm, reassuring voice, he managed to ease all my anxieties: “Don’t worry; we have a good average too” (indeed, the average age for the four of us was about the same with the age of each person in the group :).

        It was only at the end of the day, watching mesmerized the sky full of stars when it occurred to me that so very often we walk through life being driven by all the possible worries and fears and neglecting all the possible wonderful things that we could experience if we could just choose to…

Focus on what’s worth it, rather than on what’s worrying.

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          And, sure enough, although our children were the only ones that we saw on the whole trail, they actually saved our family reputation, being always first in the group, while we were always the last.        While at the beginning of the trip I was using them as an excuse for being the last one, soon enough the group leader generously offered me another important parenting life lesson: “Don’t hold them back” :).

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       The second day we woke up at 4:00 am, had a birthday cake for breakfast, celebrating my husband’s birthday (this trail was actually our family gift for daddy’s birthday and everyone was very committed to do our best and make a good, memorable impression).

     Soon we got ready for the most challenging day of the whole trip. For first part of the trail we supposed to climb an abrupt trek, for 7.5 km, going from 3350m to 4650 m, in about 3 hours. It wasn’t only the abruptness of the trail, but mostly the lack of oxygen and difficulties breathing that we had to cope with. Then we had another 15 km to walk until we reached the second night camp base.

        Our group guide showed us some plants (mint and oregano) that grow on high mountain picks and have very strong fragrance that are helpful in opening up the respiratory system and dealing with the lack of oxygen. The higher the altitude, the better the plants. It taught us again that, not only that

Nature has a solution to every problem IMG_1818.2

but also that IMG_1959.1.

       This first part of the trail was another chance for me to receive another “insight”, this time from my 10 years old son (while the Celestine Prophecy book that I read before going on this trip had its valuable revelations, we also got our own “Andean Insights” from our Peruvian experience :).

       Worried that this day would be too much for our children, we had the option to rent a horse that they could ride for the first three hours, on the most difficult part of the trail.  This would save their strengths for the next 15 km of hiking. IMG_2255

While my 7 years old daughter was very excited to have the experience of 3 full hours of petting a horse (she just loves animals), my son hesitated to go on the horse. We kept insisting that this is the best for him, that it will be a hard day and he needs the energy. At one point he replied, “Mommy, I want to do this and to impress you”. I strongly reassured him that it’s impossible for him to impress me more than he has already done by now, and he truly doesn’t need to do this to impress me. After a while, he came back and even more firmly stated,

“Mommy , I want to do this to impress myself.” IMG_2309.1

     I knew at that moment that this trail is going to be his initiation experience, his “rite of passage” into maturity, and he needs to do it for himself. But it also left me wondering, how often in life we take the chance to do something to impress ourselves?…  IMG_2593.2

       You can’t imagine the happiness lightening up his face when he reached the top of the mountain. .. It also revealed my next “Andean Insight”:

THERE IS NO GREATER HAPINESS THAN REACHING THE TOP OF YOUR HIGHEST MOUNTAIN.

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While we were complaining that “we are really stretching our limits”, my son confidently denied it, “No, because

                                                      THERE ARE NO LIMITS“.IMG_1947.1

When I asked him what’s the secret of his resilience, he simply replied,

JUST KEEP GOING; ONE STEP AT A TIME”. IMG_2213.1

It reminded me of last year when we got lost on Ceahlau mountain in Romania, on a rainy, dark night (no bright stars on sight, only surrounded by many pairs of eyes that we weren’t able to identify their owners :). At that, my children came up with a simple, yet strong formula of what to do in a crisis situation:IMG_2019.1

        The next couple of days it was my daughter’s turn to give me great insights on strength, determination and resilience. The second night, after making friends will all the animals that came on our way, she got sick, her stomach refusing to keep any drop of water or food in. Nobody in the family slept that night and in the morning, she was exhausted and pale, with no energy to even sit in the chair. But, after only one afternoon of rest (and several ice-creams as medicine), the next day, while still sick, she gathered all her strength and was able to hike another 15 km trail.

This time the path was beside a train trail. So she discovered a brilliant strategy to keep her mind out of the way – she just focused on counting the train trails, so she can forget about all the body aches.

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And, sure enough, while the boys were flying high on a Zip Line and wobbling on a suspension bridge, we counted 5314 train tracks and another 2886 mountain steps the next day to reach Machu Picchu.

And YES, we finally did reach Matchu Pichhu, watching the sunrise and the time spent there felt like an out of this world experience.

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      That evening, when asked how was the trip, our daughter responded with a big, exhausted smile on her face: “We walked for hours and hours and never stopped for ever and ever”. Before falling asleep, they still had energy for an “Inkasagge” (Inka massage) and to make up a song, very appropriately named: “It’s a hard enough day for me” :)

So, above all, I believe that, what made our Salkantay trail a “5* experience” was daring to take a challenge that each of us believed it was way above our limits, overcoming our worries and fears and, with all the sweats and pains on each step of the way, experiencing in the end the unbelievable feeling that “WE MADE IT”.

Knowing now for certain that…..

THE HIGHEST PICKS GIVE THE GREATEST STRENGTHS.IMG_2432.1

       Often we think that we need to be bigger, stronger, older to do big things, feeling that we are never ready to take a greater challenge. And here they were, a seven years old little girl and a 10 years old boy reminding us all the way that

WE ARE ALL THAT WE NEED AT ALL TIMES.  
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And… if ever in doubt of choosing between fears and what’s really worth, remembering that:

IT’S NOT THAT YOU CAN’T; YOU ARE JUST SCARED! DCIM100GOPROG0180387.IMG_2840

The Evening Prayer