Since returning from Peru on Saturday, I have been asked so many times, “How did it go?”, What was it like?”, “Did you make it??”
It is hard to describe quite what trekking in the Andes was like. For me I think the best way to describe it is that is was wonderful and yet so very hard at the same time. Like many things in life I suppose, and especially things worth doing… Wonderful and so very hard all mixed together!
First, some of the hard bits… The altitude absolutely and literally took my breath away! I found breathing so tough at altitude and I was surprised at how little things left me completely out of breath. Things like brushing my teeth or getting dressed. No wonder you have to walk so slowly!!
The walking was gruelling (maybe not for everyone, but let’s face it I am not all that fit and on the walk I regretted every slice of chocolate cake I had ever eaten!) and consequently (and coupled with jet lag, general lack of sleep and altitude) I felt absolutely flattened every evening! Oh my goodness, I was usually in bed by 8pm… Completely unheard of for a night owl like me, but by the time dinner rolled around I usually felt like I could barely string a sentence together!
But in amongst the challenges there were some beautiful gifts too… One of these gifts came as something of a surprise for a raging extrovert like me. Despite going on this trip in a group of 28, for some time each day I would find myself walking alone (usually because I was slower than most). This time was so precious to me, I soaked in the beauty and complete stillness of the surroundings and I relished in the opportunity to quiet my soul and enjoy God’s glory. What a gift this was and what a contrast to the constant noise and busyness of my daily life.
Probably the most amazing and emotional moment for me was reaching our highest point on day three of the trek. We had steadily gained altitude since starting the trek and the third day was the pinnacle and saw us reaching an altitude of about 4,450m (about 13,500ft) above sea level (to give you a feel for how high this is, people sky dive at 11,000ft).
As I walked that morning I knew this moment was coming and for about half an hour before reaching this point I found myself walking by myself. For this half an hour I kept welling up just thinking about the road I have walked over the past two and a half years and by the time I reached the top I completely dissolved in tears…
But they were not tears of sadness, they were tears of gratitude.
I remembered how this time two years ago I was in the middle of active treatment, I had just had a mastectomy and axillary clearance and was waiting for my radiotherapy to start. I was so weak and tired and could barely walk around the block. I felt like I was hanging in there for dear life, fervently praying for a brighter day. At that time, if you had said to me that I would trek in the Andes just two years later I would have probably wept for different reasons and I would never have believed you!
As I ascended that hill on that third day, the words, “I am back! Thank you Lord that I am back!” ran through my mind and I was overcome with gratitude. Our guide, Mayra invited us each to choose a rock and to put all of these rocks together into a pile (which reminded me of this similar imagery in the Bible of people piling up stones as memorials and as thanksgiving). As we put our rocks in that pile we were encouraged to say a prayer. That was a really special moment for me and I thanked God for his faithfulness and for my restoration so far and I prayed for my family for the future. It was such a special moment, one I was privileged to share with others and one I shall always cherish.
There is so much more to say as it is impossible to reflect on all that has happened and all that God has spoken to me about in one go… But I will say this! Wow! What an experience! Thank you to all of you who have sponsored me, supported me and cared for Joel and Jonts while I was away. I am truly grateful!
I know I haven’t said anything about climbing Machu Picchu itself, but I will. 🙂 Look out for that post coming soon!