More than anything on this trip, I was looking forward to our trek to Choquequirao. At first, I was nervous because I have never done anything like this before. Unlike most of my fellow scholars, I am not what you would call an experienced hiker. I enjoy more small strolls through Whatcom Falls or a walk down to Boulevard. Nonetheless, for some reason, a trek sounded like an incredible learning and growing opportunity that I could not pass up. We started off with a night of luxury at a gorgeous guesthouse. In addition to taking care of all the logistics for the trip, they also provided us with our first hot showers of the trip and an extravagant series of meals.
The trek started off easy with an 11-kilometer stroll through an incredible mountain range. Unfortunately, due to my previous knee injury, I am very sensitive when walking great distances with changes in incline. Within the first half hour I started to feel major discomfort. I was given a choice. Either I could return to the comfort of the guesthouse and rest for the next five days while my friends continued this incredible journey, or I could let this be my defining struggle and growing opportunity. I decided to keep going.
At first, I regretted my decision because I could have made my life much easier, and I knew that nobody would have thought less of me for doing so. But I also knew that I did not want to pass on the primary reason that I had decided to join the international expedition. So, with the support of the people around me and Joseph behind me whispering, “don’t stop,” I proceeded to put one foot in front of the other for the next 11 miles. That was only the first day, and I could not fathom four more.
Throughout that first day, I was supported by my fellow travelers, and as I looked out over the giant mountain range, I could not imagine walking all that way. Along the way there was no shortage of smiles, laughter, and tears, but at the end of the day, we all found ourselves deliriously happy. Part of that had to do with being there, struggling together. The other part was that we had the luxury of having all our meals prepared by our camp chef, and let me tell you, they were all delicious. From pancakes with a caramel drizzle to egg-drop soup, to beef stir fry, the meals definitely made the long days worth it. My mom always says that food brings people together, and she was 100% right on our trek.
With Daniel’s puns, Lute’s random but hilarious comments and all of us around a table laughing, it was hard to remember how hard it had been and how much pain we felt that day. As the days went on and the mountain got steeper, my knee got weaker. Luckily, my mind got stronger to compensate, and our team brought a secret weapon. Napoleon, the emergency horse who understood me when no one else could, was there to save me when I simply could not continue.
On the third day, we finally arrived at Choquequirao. After hours of climbing through the cloud forest, we had arrived at the ruins. The views from the top made it all worth it. We had learned about the Incas in the abstract, but now it was all so real. Most of the group headed to a terraced mountain where the original builders had put in llama motifs made of white stones against the grey rocks, but I stayed behind.
I had the whole city to myself! I took advantage of that rare moment I had alone to reflect on my journey. I did some yoga and meditation and had the chance to digest the first half of the journey. When the group came back, we had a delicious picnic lunch and spent the rest of the day exploring until we started having thoughts about dinner back at camp. I know that the whole group found the trek exceptionally difficult, but it was more than worth it. Honestly, the trek itself was incredible. The fact that we had an entire city larger than Machu Picchu to ourselves was just a particularly sweet bonus.
On the last night, during evening circle, we had the chance to say one thing that we wanted to never forget from this trek. For me the answer was simple: I was so glad to have taken on this task with the most incredibly supportive people that I could ever imagine. Everyone worked together, experiencing similar pain and finishing strong together. I had learned that everyone had something unique that they found challenging. While my struggle was putting one foot in front of the other, other members of the group struggled with sharing a tent or eating new foods. I know for a fact that everyone found this a challenging trek, but when, at long last, we returned to our guesthouse, I found faces so full of joy that I would have turned around and done it all over again to keep that feeling alive. We were so happy we had done it. No matter how hard things got, we had each other and the support of our teachers to get us through and to help us realize that we were all stronger than we had ever thought possible.
~Esther, High School Student