What I learned on a trail near Machu Picchu
Posted July 30, 2016
Several years ago, I was hired to lead a trip to Peru. The trip was organized by a group travel company and was expertly executed in every way, with the exception of the in-over-his-head host.
The adventure included time in Lima, Cusco and, of course, the UNESCO World Heritage site, Machu Picchu. Anyone who’s walked among the Incan ruins understands why in 2007 it was selected as one of the New Seven Wonders of the World by the New7Wonders Foundation.
After surviving a death-defying bus ride from the small staging town of Aguas Calientes up to the ruins, visitors are rewarded with stunning views that make you wonder if they’re even real. If you gazed for just five minutes without exploring and returned home, you’d never forget it.
As the more formal part of the tour ended, about half our group chose to take a bonus hike up Huayna Picchu, a mountain overlooking Machu Picchu that promised even more spectacular views some 1,200 feet higher than the ruins below. Our local guides estimated about an hour to take the sometimes steep trail and I took the bait.
Our group waited patiently in line — only 400 are allowed to take the hike each day — and hikers are spaced out in small groups for safety. Our gang began the flat early section of the trail together but before long, we’d spread out and I’d become the caboose.
After 15 minutes, I was still the caboose, but I’d been disconnected from the train and my wheels were barely turning.
As my thighs pressed on and the air became thinner, my legs and lungs argued over which hurt more. The sun had barely budged an inch when I parked on a rock on one of the many switchbacks.
A native guide had hovered close enough to see I’d taken a break. He asked how I was and I remember thinking the answer should have been pretty obvious by my inability to carry on a conversation. Or complete a sentence.
I thanked him for hanging back, assured him I'd be fine and encouraged him to catch up to the group. Plus, I thought, the view was already beautiful enough.
In broken but strangely beautiful English, he told me that if I thought the view from there was awesome, I needed to see what awaited. It took some coaxing, but I took his advice and resumed the vertical hike.
Three or four switchbacks later, at a point when the trail was so steep there were steel cables in the rocks for assistance, I stopped at a small cut-out and plopped to the ground like a bag of warm Jell-O.
I stared out at the horizon and once again thought, this is beautiful.
But I wasn’t alone. My young Peruvian friend appeared and with just the right combination of boldness and respect, he repeated his guarantee.
Don't stop climbing.
It gets better.
You’ve come so far and it's even more glorious at the top.
I had to admire his spunk as he seemed determined to carry his sunburned gringo buddy to the summit. “Thanks for the faith,” I said. Then I promised to stay put and suggested the group could gather me up on the way back down.
He wasn't satisfied. Because he’d been there before, this man I barely knew truly believed the climb was worth it.
With more faith in him than myself, we hiked on. And before I could third-guess the decision, we rounded a corner and I spotted my friends. I took the final steps and joined the group on a space so small it felt like the head of a pin.
The guide was right. The view was heavenly.
No boundaries. No limits. Just endless possibilities.
I’ve pondered this experience often in the years since, particularly when my challenges seemed too tough to endure.
I’ve discovered that when I’ve sat too long on the hike, someone always encouraged me to climb a little higher. And I’ve been blessed, no doubt, with great, godly guides who’ve always believed I had a little more in me.
Chances are you’ve found yourself on the trail, too. Could it be you’re even stopped somewhere today?
Maybe the terrain is tough and you've accomplished so much already.
Perhaps the view isn’t bad and you just need to catch your breath.
Hopefully, you’ve got a wise guide along on your adventure who’s close enough to see you and bold enough to lovingly challenge you not to be satisfied.
Be ready. That guide might suggest you climb just a little higher.
That guide might remind you no trial is too tough and no trail too steep.
And remember that sometimes you’re the hiker, and sometimes you’re the guide.
Jason Wright is a New York Times best-selling author of 10 books, including "Christmas Jars" and "The Wednesday Letters." Learn more at jasonfwright.com, or connect on Facebook at facebook.com/jfwbooks or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.