Tuesday, April 8, 2014

"Do-overs", Machu Picchu and other Goodness

If there is one moment I could "do-over" in life, it was the moment that my older brother, Zack, informed me that he and Carolyn were getting married.  

The scene played out something like this...

Our family was in Florida for our annual Thanksgiving gathering.  I was in the living room as Zack, Carolyn and Mom were in the kitchen.  Mom just updated Z & C on a recent date I had been on. This prompted Zack to yell from the other room: "Well, let me know if you want me to put an 'and guest' on the invitation to our wedding on May 23 (2009)." 

Whoa whoa whoa...  This was a lot of significat information given to me in one sentence. Prior to this moment, I had spent a few hours with Carolyn at a rather chaotic event in which the POTUS made a visit to my grandparent's farm. And now she was marrying my brother. I had no idea it was this serious. And how did this date come up I had been on?  (I can't even remember the guy now...) But the thing that was registering more than anything else was that I was supposed to be in Peru during the last two weeks of May. And it was a free trip!  Well... A free trip with strings attached. I was supposed to help my friend, Gretchen, chaperone 15 kids on a trip throughout Peru... including a visit to Machu Picchu... a destination at the top of my "Places to Travel Before I Die" list.  I would only be able to attend one of these events, and it was quite clear which one it would be. 

After blinking back tears that had formed at the realization I wouldn't be going to Peru, I pulled myself together, went into the kitchen and congratulated my brother and future-sister-in-law with what could have been a much more enthusiastic congratulations. 

I realize how selfish this exchange sounds. And I realized it 4 years ago as well. I have since aplogized to Zack and Carolyn and have explained I wish I could "do-over" that moment and express true happiness for them at this significant moment in their lives. I think they have forgiven me.  And I'm so thankful they have found each other. 

Just as I'm thankful my younger brother, Luke has found Rachel. But I made sure to make this year's travel plans known to Luke before things got too serious. (Yes... selfish again, I know).  

The scene played out something like this...

Luke and Rachel had been together for a month and it was now Valentine's Day.  I asked Luke how he celebrated with his new Valentine. He shared his plans to which I jokingly responded "Well, just don't plan any 'major events' (like a wedding) until May of 2014."  Luke says, "Why don't you tell Rachel that."  I had never spoken to Rachel before and thought this would be a rather awkward "first exchange". Luke passed the phone to Rachel and we exchanged pleasant greetings but I insisted that Luke could tell Rachel what I had just said... which he preceded to do.  So, I'm not sure how it all worked out, but Luke and Rachel will be getting married 10 days after I get home... in a little over a month!  I can't wait to celebrate with them!  (If you missed the story of their engagement, check out "Living the Dream" from August 4th)

And so, this is a little of the story of how I came to visit Machu Picchu when I did. As Annette and I made plans on how to spend this year away from teaching, my first plan was to spend 6 months living in Cusco. As you can see, I didn't make it to Cusco until 7 months into my travels and I only stayed for 2 weeks. (Other places somehow weaseled their way into the itinerary.)  And it has all worked out just as it should. 

I was also blessed to share my experiences in Cusco and aroud the Sacred Valley with my friend Ann Colbert. Ann and I knew of each other shortly after she moved to Vail in 2007, but we have decided that we officially met in the hallway of an office building as we "camped out" to secure a good number for choosing condo units in a newly planned construction project in Edwards, Colorado. Yes... Affordable housing is so hard to come by in the Vail Valley that people spent the night in an office building.  But then the market crashed, the development never happened, Ann married Travis Colbert, moved to Leadville to start a burgeoning coffee business with Travis called City on a Hill Coffee and Espresso, I bought a condo in Miller Ranch, and planned to travel the world for a year. I guess you could say life happened. But the night before I left the Valley last summer, I had the chance to meet up with Ann for dinner. We seemed to have a pattern of having one long, heart-to-heart conversation a year to catch one another up on the latest. And this was our annual event.  As I had thrown out to many friends, I told Ann that she and Travis were welcome to meet up anywhere on the itinerary.  She expressed genuine interest in the Peru leg of the trip and we agreed to keep each other up-to-date on potential plans.   So, in February, I sent her an email to see what her spring was looking like and to see if joining me for the trek to Machu Picchu was an option. Amazingly, she said she could come!  

And so, Ann and I met in the reception of the EcoPackers Hostel in Cusco on Friday, March 28th at 8 in the morning. She flew in for a whirlwind 10-day trip, including a 5-day trek to Machu Picchu on the Salcantay trek, a more affordable, more scenic, less stony alternative to the Inca Trail.  We spent the first day touring around Cusco, including a delicious stop at the Choco Museum and some quality lattes (hard to come by) at Jack's Cafe.  I also had my 3rd meal in 3 days at Los Perros as Ann got to meet fellow travelers Dan (from Huaraz times) and his new travel buddy, Jeremy from Aix-en-Provence, France. 

That night we made plans to explore La Valle Sagrado (Sacred Valley) outside of Cusco.  First stop was exploring ruins in Pisaq. It was here that I started to talk to the crew about some new ideas for my Bed and Breakfast dreams. They were good sounding boards. 

We made our way to Ollantaytambo, a super cool town that is built on original Incan foundations using the same street layout that the Incas had created. My traveling companions had to listen to me express how much I liked this town about 10 times too many. But I really liked it!

The next day, we explored the ruins around Ollanta before having our second delicious meal at La Esquina on the Plaza Mayor. We then made our way back towards Cusco with a stop in Salinas (where they mine (?) salt). 

I stuck my finger in this little salt rivulet to taste the salt at the same time as I asked Ann if she thought it was safe to try. I realized my stupid mistake in time to spit out the salty water, hopefully, before any harmful bacteria could make its way through my system. So far so good...

Then we headed to Moray... a supposed Incan agricultural experiment in determining proper elevations for farming certain crops.  I'm more inclined to think it had spiritual significance, but regardless, it was a cool stop. 

And then it was back to Cusco to gear up for our early morning departure for Salcantay. Ann, Dan and I joined a group of 10 others and guide Miguel for this adventure in the Andes.  We had great company, 

amazing food (Really! For camping at least!), 

a fun guide 

and incredible views along the way. 

And on Day 4 we rolled into Aguascalientes!

It was great to get cleaned up and find a latte. And in the process, run into Paul... fellow-camper-outer for the West End development who was in Peru with friend and Battle Mountain classmate, Brady, now a teacher at the Denver Center for International Studies. They were traveling with students and happened to be walking down the street when both Paul and I did a double take with a "how do I know you?" look.  Small World!

The next day we had an early morning to get to Machu Picchu. It began to seem that "Machu Picchu" and "Get there early" were phrases as closely related as "peanut butter" and "jelly" or "Beaver Creek" and "Not Exactly roughing it".  Regardless, we heeded the advice of fellow travelers and left our hostel at 4:30 am to secure "first in line" status for when the gate opened at 6am. Our plan worked.  Dan arrived first in line, with Ann close behind... And me about 10 people back. Let's just say that there is nothing to wake you up quite like a heart-pounding 2,000 some stairs to the entrance to Machu Picchu. And that was just by 6 am. Over the next 8 hours we hiked to the top of Wayna Picchu, to the bottom and back across Machu Picchu and finished our visit to one of the New Seven Wonders of the World at the Sun Gate, the top entrance to Machu Picchu off of the Inca Trail. 

Machu Picchu was incredible. I was amazed as I considered the way of life for about a thousand people who had made their home there some 200 years ago. I also recalled learning about the Inca civilization in Mrs. Guariglia's 6th grade Social Studies class and being fascinated by the ruins that had been found. But to imagine that it was possible to visit such a place didn't even register. And now, here I was. It's crazy the path life takes. And again, it has all worked out just as it should. 

Upon our return to Cusco, I had booked a few nights at the Niños Hotel, a place Annette had stayed during her visit in 2012. I decided to splurge here by spending twice as much each night than I was paying at EcoPackers, at a whopping $25 a night. But after our trek, I thought upgraded accommodations would be appreciated. And, the money goes to a good cause. The woman who started the hotel was a Dutch tourist some twenty years ago. She ended up taking care of about a dozen boys who were living on the streets of Cusco and found a way to support them by opening this hotel.  Today there are two Niños Hotels in Cusco as well as a restaurant for children that serves some 600 kids each week. When I checked out the hotel before booking, there were two young boys dressed in their school uniforms knocking on the door. They were greeted by the woman in the reception area with a piece of bread for each of them. After i had booked a room and was leaving the hotel, I noticed a large basket of bread hanging just inside the entrance.  Kids know that this is a place that cares about them and their needs. Hospitality and serving the underserved merge at Niños Hotel. I think this is my heart. I stood outside the door and fought back tears as I took notes on my phone for ideas for my future B&B. 

Our stay at Niños was wonderful. Ann and I shared some amazing conversation over breakfast the last two mornings as we both considered our next steps in our careers. We talked about strengths and interests. She validated me in what I perceived mine to be and encouraged me to continue to pursue the path I seem to be on. We also spent time sharing our "life stories" and how The Lord has worked in each of our lives and continues to grow us.  I was so blessed to share this part of my trip with Ann. She has an adventurous spirit, a generous heart and caring soul.  We both agreed that we can't wait to have coffee again in five years and see what path our lives take. 

And I have faith that it will all work out... just as it should. 

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good,for those who are called according to his purpose.  - Romans 8:28

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