For the first time since I crossed the imaginary dividing line from middle age to senior, I felt old.
I have just returned – and almost recovered – from a five-day whirlwind trip to Peru planned by my 27-year-old daughter. She thinks I can do anything. She makes me believe it. But I almost didn’t make it.
Thank God the first challenge turned out to be the hardest. Had I gone just to Machu Picchu and enjoyed the sights like thousands do each week, I would never have attempted her two other challenges. But more on that in a later post.
We arrived in Cusco on Sunday night and took a taxi on a two-hour, bumpy ride to Ollantaytambo in the Sacred Valley. We stayed at the wonderful Hotel Miranda in the middle of town. Its gracious owner answered every question and met every need. And yes, some even tried coca leaf tea there.
The next morning, part of our group of seven climbed up a nearby hill to see the town’s ancient ruins. My cousin and I, senior members of the group, made what turned out to be a wise decision to conserve energy.
In the afternoon, we were picked up by a driver for Skylodge Adventure Suites. Never heard of it? Google it. What they have online is more than I could ever describe in words. Essentially, it is a hotel of four transparent pods anchored into granite rock 1,300-feet above the ground. To get there, you climb some 900 rungs wearing state-of-the-art climbing gear.
After arriving, I looked up. I was excited and ready to go. The pods didn’t look that far away. We donned our equipment, got a safety briefing and started the trek. My cousin – who is deathly afraid of heights – and I brought up the rear. To reach the first rung, you had to stretch your leg up, about three feet off the ground, and then reach above that to pull yourself up. My first thought was that there was no way in heck I could do that, even though I am in decent shape. Still, I am almost 62. My second thought was that if all the rungs were that far apart, I would never make the top.
“Lady, are you sure you can make it?” The friendly guide was smiling, as if to say, he KNEW I couldn’t. That lit the fire under me and I was off. There were a few rungs with significant gaps on the way up the sheer wall. Each time, I dug deep, took a big breath, and asked God to help me meet my daughter’s expectations. And each rung took me closer to the top.
My cousin – my hero – never wavered. She kept her face to the wall the entire climb and never experienced the amazing vistas the rest of us could see. But she put one foot in front of the other, one hand above the next hand, and never stopped until we made the summit. How could I do any less when I was following someone who could not even watch someone else stand anywhere near a ledge?
While the climb seemed to take forever, I am proud to say we made it in about two hours. In looking at comments from other climbers, 90 minutes to two hours was the norm. THAT was encouraging!
We were ushered into the top pod, the dining area, where we were finally allowed to disengage our hooks and sit down. I wanted to cry. Instead, I looked out into the vast wilderness below and marveled at God’s handiwork. At the same time, I marveled at the strength he instilled in me.
We enjoyed an amazing three-course meal. Yes, there is an oven in the pod! I was shocked out of my reverie after dinner when we were told to don our gear, hook up to the cables and turn on our headlamps. We were hiking, again, to our pods for the night. I had a moment of panic when I saw we were expected to climb in the dark. Again, I had to dig deep to follow the group out of the safety and comfort of the dining pod.
As there wasn’t another choice, I followed. We hiked a short distance to the first pod, which would hold the three “moms” in the group. We climbed down through the hatch into the pod where luxurious beds awaited us. There was a small curtained area hiding a camping toilet and tiny sink. The entire pod was transparent, offering views from every angle, but billowy curtains inside provided as much or as little privacy as we wanted.
We set a speed record for getting in bed and I drew the curtains aside. The views were astonishing. Spectacular. Sandwiched between a sky freckled with million stars and the twinkling lights of the village far below, we slept.
Early morning light brought unending vistas. It literally took our breath away to see that we were hanging on the side of the mountain, the lush green valley far below. We dressed quickly in the morning chill and waited for the guide to come get us. After a hot and filling breakfast, the guides gave us time for photos. Then we were hooked on and climbing again to get to the first zip line platform.
Six zip lines later, we were on the ground. I can honestly say I finally understand why people sometimes kiss the ground after deplaning!
I gazed up at the pods far above me and, again, thanked God for the strength and courage he gave me. I looked at my precious daughter and thanked God for allowing me to fulfill her belief in me. I turned to my cousin, who conquered probably the scariest “height” moment she would ever face, and swelled with pride.
I did it. We did it. And it is a treasured experience that forever will be etched into my memory.