I’m a list maker. Since the release of the 2007 movie “The Bucket List”, most people have adopted the term and have some sort of “must do” list floating around either in their head or on paper.  My list used to be called “Things to do in this lifetime” and now has been re-named my Bucket List.  The thing is, many people wait until they are much older or faced with a serious illness to start paying attention to their Bucket List.  I believe the time is now – it is a philosophy I embrace in all of life.  Don’t wait.  Don’t procrastinate. This moment is all there is, so use it wisely as if it were the last.

I also believe in actually doing what you say.  I have learned that saying what you want to do, and doing it, creates a positive influx of energy into your being.  You feel good about keeping your word and accomplishing what you thought needed to get done.  This can be as simple as getting the laundry done or going to the gym.  All the energy expended in beating yourself up about not going to the gym or making excuses is a drain of your vital force.  This rule also applies to the big things in life.  If you have always dreamed about visiting Australia but every year fall back on taking the same old trip to Florida, then you are robbing yourself of an experience. Dreams are made for experiencing!

Speaking of dreams, back in medical school one of my closest classmates Tim and I spent a lot of time hiking.  Truth be told, there were even times we skipped class to go for a hike.  We entitled the hikes “The Meaning of The Hike” and had deep conversations as we climbed the mountains of Phoenix, often in temperatures of over 100 degrees.  We realized that becoming Naturopathic Physicians was a total experience of our beings, not just about memorizing facts. What we learned about ourselves on those hikes helped to shape us into the physicians we are today.  One day the subject of Macchu Pichu came up and we said, “Now that would be the Ultimate Meaning of the Hike!”.  At the time, over 11 years ago, I was a single mother in medical school with two small children and there was no way my life circumstances were going to permit a trek to Macchu Pichu.  But I clearly remember saying, “As soon as both my boys are in college, let’s go and do it”.  So remember – when you are creating the story of your life and you say you are going to do something, it’s empowering to actually DO IT!

My bucket list reflects those things in which I’m most invested. I[JT1]  am drawn to see the world on a very intimate level.  I desire to learn all about its inhabitants and the methods they use for healing.  I feel compelled to serve the needy by sharing what I know and learning from and with them.  Throughout my life I realized that most of the experiences I had on my list would need to take place once my children were grown.   My first priority always has been, and always will continue to be the needs of my boys.  Driving my boys to their afterschool activities and creating a rhythm for their childhood didn’t seem to meld so well with trekking around third world countries.   Since I had them when I was quite young, a mantra in my mind was always “When the boys are in college I’ll be able to…”  It was very important for me to honor that mantra and make it real. As a parent raising children in your home, your life is devoted to their needs.  I know of nothing more powerful a person can contribute than a well-balanced child to go forth out into our world.  Often there is sacrifice involved in this endeavor.  The sacrifice is often financial, as we all know how expensive our little offspring can be!  But the sacrifice also involves many other levels of our own development.  Many of our own hobbies, dreams and desires get tucked away neatly into little corners as the demands on us outweigh the hours in our days and nights.  When the empty nest occurs it is a time to rekindle a connection with you.  A time to check in and ask: Who am I? Why am I here? And most importantly, What am I going to do about it?!?

That is why when Dylan, my youngest son, left for college in August of 2009, one of the first action items I took was to begin planning our trip to Peru.  I left with Tim for Macchu Pichu only 8 months later in April 2010. This would be a significant marker for a major transition period of my life.

Machu Picchu (Quechua: Machu Pikchu) – “Old Mountain”) is a pre-Columbian Inca site located 2,430 meters (7,970 ft) above sea level.  It is situated on a mountain ridge above the Urubamba Valley in Peru. Most archaeologists believe that Machu Picchu was built as an estate for the Inca emperor Pachacuti (1438–1472). I knew this treasured archeological empire had something to offer me…I just wasn’t sure what!

About three months prior to leaving for the trek I had a cycle that came very early.  Not a big deal, as I like to think of myself as flexible – until I realized that if all my subsequent cycles came at 28 days I would be due for my period the morning we set off on our 4 day trek through the Andes to reach Machu Picchu.  To say I was not very happy about that would be an understatement.  How was I going to climb to 14,000 feet when I typically didn’t even go for a run while having my period?  I knew that the tents we would be staying in would not be Red.  Oy Vey was all I could think!  Since I am perimenopausal, maybe I wouldn’t have to worry and I would have another early or late cycle and all would be well.

Of course that is not what the universe had in store for me; my monthly cycle came exactly on 28 days for the next couple of cycles.  So here I was in early April looking at a due date for my cycle completely aligned with the first morning of the trek.  Instead of remembering the universal rule that everything is always in alignment, I panicked.  How could I delay or bring my cycle on early?  I consulted numerous colleagues including mainstream gynecologists.  I obviously wasn’t going to do anything unnatural so the consensus was I would take a higher than normal dose of bio-identical progesterone starting a week before the trip in hopes of delaying my cycle…

On August 16, 2010 we arrived in Lima for a quick overnight before boarding another plane to head off to the area of Cusco, which is located at 11,200 feet.  It is mandatory to acclimate in Cusco for a couple of days before beginning the trek to Macchu Pichu.  We were greeted with Coca Leaf Tea, friendly faces and beautiful sights.  Our acclimation process took place along the water rapids and city streets.  It is remarkable how slow you need to move when simply walking at so high an elevation, especially when going uphill[JT2] !

The morning before our trek we were set for white water rafting as part of our acclimation process.  As I was putting on my bathing suit in the hotel, my period arrived one day early.  Tim asked me if I wanted to stay back at the hotel and skip the rapids.  I considered it for more than a moment.  I was so disappointed and discouraged that the extra progesterone had not prolonged my cycle as it theoretically should have.  Instead, my period had come a day early.   I will say, however, the extra progesterone had a beneficial impact on my premenstrual experience…I made note of that!

The symptoms of high altitude sickness include dizziness, fatigue, shortness of breath, headaches, insomnia, rapid pulse, lack of appetite and nausea.  The symptoms of having your period include dizziness, fatigue, shortness of breath, headaches, insomnia, rapid pulse, lack of appetite and nausea.  I cannot honestly tell you how the high altitude affected me as all the lines were blurred. However, as in the medicine I share, the diagnosis is not always so important.  The labeling of “what we have” tends to make the mind feel better but often does nothing to heal the physical body.  It is the understanding of the underlying imbalance that creates cure.   I can, however, share how I felt –read above for the complete list of symptoms as they all wove in and out of my being throughout the trek!

As we travelled through town on our way to the water rapids one of the first things I did to treat myself was to stay completely and entirely hydrated.  In addition I was taking my homeopathic drops of coca – a wonderful treatment for the high altitude.  My head was pounding and I wondered how I was going to first, stay focused, second, not fall out of the boat and third, enjoy myself.

I looked at Tim and we knew this was the prelude to “The Meaning of The Hike”.  We were both ready for “The Meaning of the Rafting Trip”.  I noticed a lot of fear coming up in me.  The rapids were just that…RAPID.  I had a pounding headache and was fantasizing about my bed back at the hotel.  As soon as we arrived at the site from which we would set sail things moved quite quickly and within 15 minutes I was in a wet suit, plunked into the raft, and we were on our way.  Within 16 minutes I was paddling with my oar and screaming with delight, a huge grin on my face!  The in-the-moment thrill was upon me and all else was forgotten.  I felt fine and had the time of my life.  The hours down the rapids went ‘way too fast and our guide, Alaine, was sorry he couldn’t honor my request for an extended time on the river.  As I lay on the riverbank basking in the strong equatorial sun and soaking up some vitamin D, I pondered what had just happened; how my physical experience had so strongly transformed itself within seconds.  I knew that it wasn’t in my head.  I truly did have an intense headache before embarking down the river and I truly was fearful that it would interfere with my ability to participate.

The fear part was easy to understand.  How often do we waste our imagination imagining the worst when what follows is often the best?  I had simply chosen love over fear.  My love of the water and love of adventure had taken precedence in the moment, but where had my headache gone?  We theorized that the fresh cool water and the oxygen it contained had helped, as well as the influx of adrenalin from the rapid ride, along with the power of the moment and redirecting my focus.  My Buddhist training had taught me this long ago; our attachment to our suffering is what creates our suffering.  The mind/body connection is always there even if we forget to acknowledge it.

However, the next morning as we drove out to mile marker 81 where we would begin our trek, my “friend” Fear was back and riding prominently in the van with me.  I was pretty exhausted as this was the second and often heaviest day of my moon cycle.  How was I going to trek for 8 hours carrying my backpack knowing that once started on the journey there was no turning back?  I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that thoughts of leaving me at a hotel (with a spa!) to wait while Tim did the trek were creeping into my consciousness.  Anger at my period for being present was rising as well.   Yet, there is no stopping a redhead and I knew that the only choice was perseverance.

Arriving at our destination, we were dropped off in a big field and introduced to our team.  We were going to be supported on our trek by our guide Zack, and six porters; Mathias, Apprichio, Leonardius, Edgar, Claudio and Ricardo.  Zack spoke English, while the others spoke Quechua, the language of the highland villagers.  We stamped our passports at the checkpoint for the Inca Trail and were on our way.  The first thing you do is cross over the rapids via a thin suspension-type bridge.  Crossing this bridge was symbolic to me of leaving behind civilization for the next 5 days.  I turned off my cell phone.

We hiked for about 3 hours and made it to our first campsite for lunch.  We were extremely surprised at what awaited us.  The porters had already arrived and set up our lunch campsite.  We had a dining tent in which we ate with our guide Zak.  Edgar the chef was beyond creative in attending to my special dietary needs of no gluten, dairy, soy or sugar.  Appricchio was our waiter.  (Yes, we had a waiter in the middle of nowhere.  We never got over that one the entire trek!) Even better, he wore white gloves and a white coat. Lunch was delicious and our stomachs were quite satisfied.  We digested while exploring the first of many Inca ruins we would see over the next couple of days and then were off once again to make camp before dark.

Our first night we were up in the highlands where a few villagers lived.  We spent the night camped in one of their yards.  They were lovely people who were very happy to share their space with us. Unfortunately, the living arrangements were nothing special.  There was no turn down service and I spent quite awhile arranging piles of clothes under my sleeping bag to take the pressure off my lower back.  It’s amazing however, what extreme exhaustion will do for you.  I barely could stay awake through dinner and found myself passed out for the night.

Grateful for the good night’s sleep I was greeted immediately in the morning by my other new “friends”, Pounding Head and Nauseous Stomach.  Although the food was so delicious and so attentively prepared, it was hard to eat a lot.   We then partook in a sharing ceremony with our porters and guide.  It was a bit frustrating to not be able to speak directly with them due to not speaking the language.  At that point, I made a commitment to do my best to learn as much of a language that I could before visiting another country.  However, Zak did a great job of translating as everyone took a turn introducing and sharing a little about themselves as well.   The basics were exchanged, smiles and laughter were shared and by the end of the ceremony we had become a “family”.  We were then ready to begin day 2, the hardest day of our trek.

Everyone speaks about day 2 because that is the day you climb Dead Woman’s Pass to the highest point at 13,650 feet. I couldn’t help wondering why they had to name it Dead Woman’s Pass…  But first the morning was filled with the Twisted Forest, which was both hauntingly beautiful and painfully exhausting.  As an avid hiker and runner I like to make good time.  I am always the one who is at the front of the hiking group, moving fast and getting my heart rate up.   I have to admit I even quit a hiking group because everyone hiked too slowly for me.  Yes, I was a hiking snob.  Now, here I was in the Twisted Forest being passed by all the other groups that were trekking as well.  I processed my self-critical emotions of defeat, disappointment and embarrassment and with the support of Tim and Zak began chanting “Slow and Steady”.  All I needed to do was go “Slow and Steady” and eventually I would arrive at the afternoon camp.  Whenever I felt despair that I wouldn’t or couldn’t make it, “Slow and Steady” would rise up from myself or be shared with me from Tim or Zak.  We were like a single organism, working together with a common goal.  It became a meditative march.  One foot in front of the other, don’t fall down, don’t twist an ankle, heavy breathing, head pounding, stomach churning.  ”Slow and Steady”.  “Slow and Steady”.  Every once in a while when I lost my connection to the moment, “Are we there yet, Zak?” sprung out from my lower consciousness.

Eventually I arrived, as we always do.  A couple of bites of my lunch were all I could manage and then the jewel of the day, the afternoon nap.  It was only for 30 minutes but each minute was savored.  It amazed me how in any other situation this nap would have been for the rest of the day as I was purely and utterly exhausted, yet arising from the nap I was now looking at taking on Dead Woman’s Pass.  On our way we saw white tailed deer playing in the fields.  And on the climb I couldn’t say a word.  “Slow and Steady”.  I observed as some seemed to dance up the hill and others struggled alongside of me.  Again, this was such a new experience as I was usually the one bouncing ahead. A new depth of self-compassion and self-appreciation entered me.

When I made it to the top it was exhilarating!  There were many others up there and we all had a blast celebrating our accomplishment.  We took pictures, shot video and ate organic energy chews. We stretched our arms to the clouds and enjoyed the mist as they floated on by.   I felt great, momentarily relieved of all that had ailed me…As  one of my favorite saying goes, “this too must pass”, and soon it was time to head out and climb down to our camp for night number 2.

Life is full of choices.  Some choose cats and some choose dogs.  Some choose hot and some choose cold.  In trekking we get to choose between up and down.  Do you prefer climbing up, barely able to breathe?  Or do you prefer climbing down, breath intact but knees screaming for mercy?  The Incas loved stairs.  They were master builders of their time with limited technology, yet able to craft perfect dimensions that allowed stones to be placed on stones with no mortar needed as glue.  Many of these stairs were a long step down from each other and I now had yet two more new best friends, my walking sticks (one of which I purchased and one of which my guide lovingly loaned to me).  As high up as we had climbed, it was now time to climb down.  On our way down we noticed a villager coming towards us.  He too was tired and asked us in a universal language if we had any coca leaves to share.  Unfortunately, we did not.  They were all with the porters.  We wished him well and kept climbing down.  “Slow and Steady” became even “Slower and Steadier”.  The last thing I wanted to experience was slipping or twisting an ankle or a knee while out in the middle of the Andes.  The sun was sinking and our camp was nowhere in sight.  Things started to blur as my sunglasses made things too dark and I couldn’t locate my regular glasses.  And even “Slower and Steadier” set in.  Tim was way ahead and one of our porters had come back and offered to carry my backpack.  It was a warming feeling to be so supported by everyone.  With Leonardius carrying my backpack and Zak’s headlamp strapped across my forehead, I continued my trek with blurred vision in the dark.  They stayed behind me letting me go at my own pace.  No pressure, no expectations, just a gentleness and an acceptance of where I was.  It took an extra 60 minutes or so but I finally arrived (as we always do) at camp greeted by applause and warm friendly smiles on the porters’ faces.  I broke out in tears.  It had been an emotional day…  It’s the little things in life that often mean the most.  Every morning the porters would bring a bucket of hot water and, if we were lucky, a washcloth (sometimes they forgot!) to our tent.  I quickly settled in to morning and evening rituals of “showering”.  Within 60 minutes I had a clean body, a new set of clothes and a rat’s nest of hair piled into a ponytail…

It’s the little things in life that often mean the most.  Every morning the porters would bring a bucket of hot water and, if we were lucky, a washcloth (sometimes they forgot!) to our tent.  I quickly settled in to morning and evening rituals of “showering”.  Within 60 minutes I had a clean body, a new set of clothes and a rat’s nest of hair piled into a ponytail…

Day 3 was off to a start.  We dreamily watched the sun rise and the mist settle and I meandered over to the tent to join Zak for breakfast.  Mornings were reminiscent of being pregnant with more of an interest in dry heaving than eating.  I did my best to attempt to get some nutrition into my body for the long day ahead.  We spent the morning climbing yet another pass and entered into the Cloud Forest, which was my favorite place.  To move among the clouds is mystical.  I was a long way from home and had no contact with the outside world.  I was struggling with the physical challenges but I couldn’t have felt happier.

We then came upon Sayac Marca, another of the powerful Inca ruins along the trail.  Sayac Marca lies at 3,600 meters above sea level and is located on the tip of a very prominent ridge.  Of course, to visit the site you have to climb 98 steep stone steps up the edge of the mountain.  I wondered if I would just die at Sayac Marca!  It was worth the climb.  The view was spectacular and the wild flowers exquisite.  As I climbed down the 98 steep stones I was anointed with a new nickname, Queen of Sayac Marca.  I liked that and it made it all worthwhile! We then continued our journey accompanied by nature’s beauty.  The orchids were smaller than I expected them to be.  They were so delicate and intricately gorgeous and, yes, the hot pink ones were my favorite!  The terrain was very Jurassic Park-like and while watching a flock of beautiful green parrots fly over our heads, I wondered if I would soon see a Pterodactyl!    Zak informed us we had a surprise we would encounter before reaching our next camp.  I asked if it would be an elevator, and we all laughed.  Our surprise ended up being a cave built into the trail.  Plunged into darkness for a short time we could feel the internal forces of Mother Earth.  Tim and I had always had our most meaningful discoveries in a cave along our typical hiking trails back in Arizona and we were grateful a cave had been placed here for us as well.  In the dark we took things “Slow and Steady”….

We arrived to camp.  No surprise that my head was pounding and, like a child yearning for a nap, I barely ate and collapsed on my mat for my 30 minutes of horizontal rejuvenation.  After five minutes the skies opened up and the rain came pouring down.  I swear the raindrops in Peru are on steroids.  Like little mini snowballs they were pelting the roof of the tent.  Since my constitutional homeopathic remedy is Phosphorous, I LOVE a good rainstorm, I settled in to the pounding and the rhythm and allowed it to lull my headache to sleep.  Of course, a thought or two snuck in about how wet it was going to be to continue the trek after lunch….Perhaps Zak would let us sleep longer, I dreamily decided, and drifted away to the beat of the drops.  I believe the rain is cleansing and I awoke from my nap 30 minutes later.  No, there was no extra nap time!

I started to get all my rain gear on.  I even had a raincoat for my backpack!  We ventured out into the wet and we had gone no more than two steps when the rain stopped.  It was the second time in 3 days that there had been a major downpour and as soon as I was in my gear the rain stopped.  Hmmm…what was the universe saying?  Be present in the moment, be prepared and remain flexible seemed to resonate.  We spent a lot of time this afternoon within our mantra of “Slow and Steady”, often saying nothing and participating in quiet contemplation, other times having fun with the video camera filming ourselves and learning about our surroundings.  As we were climbing up towards camp we were greeted around a bend by not one but two rainbows.  It was nature’s eye candy and we bathed in its beauty for quite awhile.  The Inca worshiped the rainbow and so did we!

Happily arriving at camp a bit early that night, we were wide-mouthed at the beautiful site Zak had chosen for us.  We were way above the other campers with the most beautiful view of Salkantay Mountain.  The name Salkantay is from sallqa, a Quechua word meaning wild, uncivilized, savage or invincible.  We totally were able to relate!  Directly to the north of Salkantay lies Macchu Pichu, at the end of a ridge that extends down from this mountain.  When Salkantay is viewed from Macchu Pichu’s main sundial, the Southern Cross is above its summit when at its highest point in the sky during the rainy season.  The Incas associated this alignment with concepts of rain and fertility and considered Salkantay to be one of the principal deities controlling weather and fertility in the region west of Cusco.

As we were going through our evening ritual of cleaning up from the day’s trek, Tim and I had some time to talk.  After all, we had come on this trek to experience the “Ultimate Meaning of The Hike” and neither of us had found it yet.  So there we were sitting in our tent, utterly exhausted and cleaning up to get ready for dinner when we both burst out laughing.  We had been chanting the meaning of the hike the whole time!  SLOW AND STEADY.  That was Macchu Pichu’s message for us and it took us three days of saying it and being it to finally understand it.  No matter how slow and steady we went, we always arrived where all the other hikers arrived.  No matter how slow and steady we went, we were able to enjoy all the beauty that surrounded us.  No matter how slow and steady we went, we were able to accomplish our goal.

We spent time talking about how we could use the mantra back home in our lives with ourselves and our patients for everyone’s benefit.  The saying “enjoy the journey, not the destination” hung at Southwest College of Naturopathic Medicine.  We all had taken a picture in front of that banner and now we had actually embodied it.  It was the journey to Macchu Pichu and into our own beings that was where the gifts had been.  The urge to race through life, to dive into another, and ultimately to not honor the rhythm of your very own soul was taught to us upon the trails of the Inca.  We had another good laugh at how life has to pound you over the head, often with a very large hammer, for you to get the lesson.  I realized once again that all is in order and my favorite Hebrew saying  -Gm Zoola Tovah – this too is for the good – really was applicable here.  As much as I had tried to shift the arrival of my period it came, and thank goodness it did.  For if it didn’t come when it did, I would have missed perhaps one of the biggest lessons of my life. SLOW AND STEADY!  Keep an open heart for yourself and others, never give up, maintain your focus and trust in the universe! We were now ready for dinner…..

It was the first dinner we shared where I was not totally exhausted and was able to keep my head off the table the entire time.  This was our last dinner in the tent, for tomorrow we would arrive at Macchu Pichu.  Edgar cooked up a feast for us and the guys were smiling as I gulped it all down.  We dined on delicious asparagus soup with quinoa followed by grilled vegetables, juicy chicken and gluten free corn bread.   My appetite had finally returned and I was able to truly enjoy the scrumptious food.  The porters all joined us at the end and we had an appreciation ceremony for them.  I loved how we made a ceremony out of things that are often just brushed over in modern life.  It was easy to show appreciation for the men who had carried our bags, cooked our food, filled our camelbacks with water, set up a toilet tent and provided the spirit for our journey.  We showed our appreciation via words, hugs and with soles. (Soles are Peruvian currency.)  It struck me as to what was considered a generous tip, compared to what someone living in America would expect for all that they had done.  Life and all that it involves is always relative.   It poured again all evening and both Tim and I had a tough time sleeping.  The ground below us was not very flat and not very comfortable.  We tossed and turned and listened to the rain knowing that we had an extremely early wake up of 4am in order to reach Macchu Pichu on time the next day.

DAY FOUR – We woke in the darkness fully aware of all the light that would follow on this day of reaching Macchu Pichu.  We lingered in the breakfast tent waiting for daylight to show itself so we could be on our way.  Spirits were high and the mood was light as we joked about reaching Sanctuary, referring not to Macchu Pichu, but to the name of our hotel at Macchu Pichu where a bed with clean sheets and a shower with shampoo awaited us.  On a physical level I felt the best I had the whole trip. My menses was winding down and my energy was winding up.  Zak estimated it would take 8 hours from camp to reach the Sungate (the pinnacle from which we would first view Macchu Pichu) and this was the reason for such an early start.  This would ensure we would be there sometime in the afternoon and have time for our tour with Zak before he left us to catch a train back to Aqua Calientes.  We said another good-bye to our family of porters, for they would be headed back to their village today and unfortunately did not find themselves with train tickets.  They would have to walk back, which made me sad.  Only Mathias would be headed to Macchu Pichu to drop our bags off at the hotel before he too made the journey home on foot.  I wanted to buy them tickets for the train but found out it wasn’t so much a money thing but an accommodation problem.  Since the horrible landslides in January, the train availability was greatly diminished and the porters suffered due to this.

The first two hours of the day were composed of climbing down.  It had poured the night before and everything was slippery.  The steps were spaced far apart and with short legs it was a challenge.  “Slow and Steady” took on new meaning….With Tim way ahead and Zak way behind, I methodically made it down the steps and spent the time in deep meditation contemplating gratitude for my physical body and all that it allowed me to do on a daily basis that I often took for granted.  Once we reached the bottom of what seemed like a never-ending Inca staircase, we entered Nirvana.  The path was neither up nor down; it was actually flat.  With “Slow and Steady” deeply implanted within my being, I felt my pace pick up as I enjoyed the feeling of flying down the trail.  I spent this time alone moving swiftly just for the pure exhilaration of moving swiftly.  Not to beat to my own or another’s time, not to prove something to myself or to the guys, but simply because it was what my body wanted to do.  We arrived at Wiñay Wayna (Quechua for  “forever young”) three hours early. Zak was quite surprised!  Winay Wayna is an Incan ruin that is built into a hillside overlooking the Urubamba River.  The site consists of upper and lower house complexes connected by a staircase and fountain structures.  Beside the houses lies an area of agricultural terraces.  It was one of the most amazing ruins I had ever seen and we couldn’t imagine how Macchu Pichu was going to beat this.  We felt privileged, for only the few who trek the trail are able to view the majesty we saw here.  We spent some time laughing as I worked on my pronunciation of the site…  As we left this last architectural site we knew within an hour we would be at Macchu Pichu.  Feeling like children on Christmas Eve, our anticipation fueled us along this final leg of our journey.  We were with other hikers now and there was a nice sense of community building as nobody knew exactly when but we all knew soon.  Mathias passed us on the trails with our bags headed to the hotel.

It is here that I would like to pause and just acknowledge how impressive the porters are.  With about 60-75 pounds strapped to their backs and standing not very tall or wide, in nothing more but a pair of sandals (their choice – we learned they declined to wear hiking boots!) they move past us with sweat dripping from their faces but never a complaint from their mouths.  They are grateful for the opportunity to serve and provide for their families.  It is on my list to contact the Olympic committee and ask them why Curling is a sport and Portering isn’t.  Not that I didn’t enjoy watching Curling, but really now….

We arrived at a wall that was literally straight up.  Boy those Incas had a good sense of humor, too!  I channeled my inner Spiderwoman and scaled up the vertical steps certain that Macchu Pichu lay on the other side.  If you leaned back even just a little bit it would not be pretty.  How in the world Mathias with all our bags strapped to his back made it up that wall is something that I am still pondering to this day.  When I made it to the top I found there was still more trail to climb and Macchu Pichu was not there yet.  We climbed and climbed and finally saw the marker for Intipunku (Sun Gate).  We were quite aware that this was the first view of Macchu Pichu we would have.  Panting for breath, we made it up to the top, stopping to savor the bittersweet ending of the trek,  and then hustled up the hill and made it to the top of Sungate with Macchu Pichu finally visible in the distance.  For the second time in 4 days, the tears came.  We were met by a group of tourists from California who gave us a hero’s welcome.  They snapped pictures with us, interviewed us wanting to hear our stories, and showered us with praise.  We truly felt embraced and it was such a fun moment.  “Thank you, Universe, for greeting us with such enthusiasm and admiration!”  After the ceremonial picture taking, group hugging and deep breathing, we took the hour trek down from Sungate to Macchu Pichu and enjoyed a tour of the most mystical ruins I have ever laid eyes on. We were surprised to find that there was a herd of llamas living here at Macchu Pichu and even more surprised when we came close to getting knocked over by two of them who were on their way to mate on the grand lawn of Macchu Pichu.  The attention of all the tourists was quickly diverted to the sexual escapades of the Macchu Pichu llamas and away from the ruins for a short while!  Zak did a fantastic job of taking us through Macchu Pichu and sharing its rich history with us.  We visited the different temple rooms, spent time at the sundial and were lulled by chanting tourists.  We were all there with a common purpose; to learn, explore and feel the mystical spirituality of the Inca.    After Zak finished our tour we said good-bye to him.  He was our friend and our fearless leader.  It was sad to say goodbye so we just said, “Until we meet again, dear friend…”

We spent the rest of our time at Macchu Pichu meditating in the presence of its calming energy.  My meditation was easy to slip into and very deep.  I felt like one with the earth and its silence filled my body.  I had no profound visions or physical experiences and I realized that was ok.  It is not always the profound that rocks your world.  It is the subtle and often mundane that shakes things up.  With the sun setting we journeyed over to Sanctuary and gave ourselves over to the hands of the spa.  This too had been quite a day….

Often change is something we strive for.  We set a goal and have a plan as how to achieve that goal.  We look for peak experiences like an out of body experience or a mystical encounter to institute that change.  I had hoped my journey to Macchu Pichu would provide that.  I had hoped that I would lay my hands upon the sundial (thought to be one of the world’s top 3 places of concentrated energy) and I would feel something that would drastically change me.  Now that would have made for a really great story….But that did not happen – I enjoyed Macchu Pichu but nothing spiritually awakening occurred while I was there.

However, it’s not always the destination that counts; it’s often the journey that matters more.  The return home from Macchu Pichu has been one of deep and profound change and I cannot even tell you how or why it happened.  All I can tell you is that it has happened.  First of all, I have recommitted and reconnected to the universe on a profound level.  While living in Arizona I ran a women’s group and routinely held rituals to honor the changes in the earth.  Deeply fulfilling and bonding, those experiences were manna for my soul.  Yet, somehow the hustle and bustle of Long Island got in the way and I let those practices fall aside.  While spending time on the Inca trail I kept connecting to the fact that the Inca people were so in tune with Mother Earth and honored her daily.  It was strongly spoken to my spirit throughout the journey that I too must again engage in ritual and ceremony to honor what surrounds us and affects us so deeply.

Finally, a level of cynicism I held in my mind is simply gone.   I’m not sure why.  To tell the truth, I was honestly pretty attached to it and enjoyed it.  But it’s gone.  I now have a deep sense of trust and faith.  The desire to find or chase has been replaced with the knowledge of “Slow and Steady”.  I have always known that my life is unfolding as it should be, but now I know it on a deeper and more profound level.  I am steadily creating the space in which life can find me and take me on its journey.   This personal struggle is gone.  Just lifted away, perhaps remaining in the clouds of the Inca trail….

The spirit of the Coyote is alive and well within me. “Slow and Steady” continues to live on within me. And alas, the climbing bug has bitten me.  Thoughts of Kilimanjaro are swirling through my head!