Huayna Picchu: Conquering Fears

This is less a story of climbing a mountain and more a story of conquering fears. This post is about facing anxiety and pushing through. You see that mountain behind Machu? Yeah, that really tall one? That’s Huayna Picchu. Guess who climbed to the tippy-top of that yesterday??!? 🙂

You may not know it from this post, but I actually have a fear of heights. It gets bad around ledges without a railing, in small airplanes, and see-thru elevators. When I was planning this trip to Peru, I had zero intention of climbing Huayna. I mean, LOOK AT THAT BEAST! I got shaky legs just looking it at. Then my travel buddy started talking about it and it got me thinking…

How often will I be in Peru?

I may uncover more secrets of the Incas if I continue on the trail…

If they could do it, I could too.

I really want to see the Temple of the Moon and find the arrow stone (if it exists).

It’s one thing to want to climb it, but another to put yourself in the situation. They only allow 400 people up each day. One group of 200 at 7am and another group at 10am. I was secretly hoping that tickets were sold out and I wouldn’t have to make the decision. Nope. We spent the first day at Machu and the whole second day was left to Huayna. From the moment we bought the tickets I had this anxiety pit in my stomach. It was something I desperately wanted to push through and say that I had done. Yet I felt my normal defense mechanisms kicking in: I got extremely short and angry toward my friend. I couldn’t sleep well. I was ‘zoned out’ on the bus up to Machu/the base point for Huayna.

Then came our turn. We had to sign in with our full name, country of residence, show our passports, time in, etc. In the back of my head I was thinking “great…they are accounting for people in case they don’t make it back”. Ay yi yi.

Then we started. We had to cross over a small part of a neighboring mountain before starting the trek. Luckily the Incans left a nice little trail for me:

The climb was very steep and demanding. The stairs were taller than my normal stride. Most of them I had to put both feet on before I could proceed to the next. When the trek got tough and I started getting scared, I literally had to tell myself to put one foot in front of the other. I kept looking up, hugging the side of the mountain, and moving forward.

I wanted to climb this mountain for many reasons. But mostly, I thought if I could conquer this, I could conquer just about ANYTHING. Finding the courage to leave my corporate job? No problem, I climbed Huayna! Needing inner strength to change major life situations? I scaled a f@#$ing mountain!!! I knew it could be done and I was on my way.

This was definitely a case of something that was worse in my head than it was while I was going through it. I think the hardest part was getting through the first entrance and starting. After a while I even began to enjoy myself. The Incans built in several ‘break points’ along the way with astonishing views of Machu:

Don’t mind the heavy breathing in this video… 😉

Some of the most trying moments:

The key was definitely baby steps and forward momentum. It looks terrifying, but when you are there, taking it piece by piece, it’s quite manageable. The fear was more of a temporary rush but I kept reminding myself how far I had come. It was enough to get me to the top! As we got higher, the views kept getting better. The whole time I was thinking…How could the Incans build this in the first place? A trail on a mountain so steep? It blows my mind!

Another view of Machu, with the scary side stairs (The Incans obviously had no fear):

I started getting used to the height after a while and really started enjoying the history of it all. The top of the mountain was not flat but a series of giant rocks at angles…that I was terrified I would slide off of! I had to sit down during this video, but here is proof we were at the very top! (notice the cloud line…)

We rested a bit and I took a few rocks from the top of Huayna for a little souv. On the way down there is a little house with two doorways and windows. Yep, right smack on the side of the mountain. I will explain my theory on this and the entire Machu Picchu site when I have the time to blog about our exploration in more detail. For now, here’s a pic of me in the doorway:

And here is the awesome view looking down from the little house:

The climb down was just as challenging as the way up. There was less a sense of security when you were looking down and seeing how far you could fall. But overall, I already had this amazing sense of accomplishment. I did something major that I didn’t want to do. It’s obviously important to stretch yourself. For someone like me, who is generally risk-averse, I was very proud of myself for doing something uncomfortable and coming out beaming on the other side.

Once we got back we had the BEST celebratory drink and meal ever. It was like when you go camping and food astonishingly tastes better than ever. I had never felt like I earned something so much in my life! Here I am drinking my purple corn sour:

Cheers to a great hike, conquering the deepest of fears, and having grown stronger (and wiser!) because of this whole experience.

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Rain and Mountains in Aguas Calientes

I’m sitting here in a little pueblo lounge in Aguas Calientes, sipping coffee, listening to the rain and watching the people go by. Things have been happening a million miles a minute and it’s nice to just sit and write. There is a big ass mountain to my left, and to my right, and well, all around me. I feel small in the world.

I’ve just finished a beautiful lunch of beef empanadas and squash soup:

Ok, and maybe one of these…

Food in Peru has been unexpectedly over-the-top delicious. So far we have tried: Alpaca, Cuy (Guinea Pig), Mate tea, Pisco Sours/Pisco Punch, Maize everything, Andean cheeses and a Quinoa salad to name a few. I’ll post more food pics when I get back because wifi is too slow here.

Last night we went out and enjoyed the nightlife in Cuzco (believe it or not, they DO have a bar/club scene). I would say about 1/3 of the people in the clubs were tourists though. We spent a couple of hours practicing Spanish with the local bartender. He was very curious about los Estados Unidos and seemed to think that Las Vegas was our capital. 🙂 The club started with salsa dancing and about halfway through the night switched to a mix of US pop and randomly, some 80s beats mixed in… ♪ Hold the Line! Love isn’t Always on Time… ♫ We also sampled the local cerveza, of course.

This morning we woke up early to catch the train bus to Ollantaytambo. We’re learning so many little things…like even though our train tickets say “Cuzco to Machu Picchu”, you really have take a 2-hour bus ride up and down the mountainside first (sometimes above cloud level)…and oh, did I mention there are no rails preventing you from dipping down those clips? From Ollantaytambo we took the most beautiful train ride in my entire life to get to Aguas Calientes. To our left was the great and powerful Urubamba river. I felt like I was in the middle of a Lord of the Rings movie. There is so much beauty I honestly can’t keep up.

When we arrived in Aguas Calientes we had a porter from our hotel meet us at the train station and carry our bags for us. It’s tough to say so soon, but I think this little town is going to be my favorite! It’s got that close feel, like the streets of Venice, but very safe. The train tracks are the only way in and out. No cars. Cute little restaurants and cafes all over. I spotted a sign for “inca stone massage and reflexology” that I may have to take up.

Right now it’s siesta time – we have an early wake up call (5am-ish) tomorrow so we can catch Machu Picchu for the sunrise. I have seen so much in this country worth noting already. I have this strange feeling that although Machu is touted as the highlight, there are many undiscovered (or unpublicized) treasures waiting to be found.

Cuzco, so far…

HolyCultureShock! I’m in Peru! It’s incredible! Every time I travel I think “god, I have to find a way to travel more, I can’t believe what I’ve been missing!” This trip is no different. Every minute seems like an eye-opening experience. I’m doing all I can to take it in and not miss a single beat. It’s hard, but I’m up for the challenge.

We’re currently in Cuzco. It was a windy, stormy, and lightning-filled ride in. A little scary, but we made it! At el aeropuerto we were bombarded by locals selling us everything from tours to anti-altitude sickness pills. It was honestly a bit overwhelming and quite an effort to get out of the crowd. We followed a girl who promised us a taxi and she took us through the hoards of people. We arrived at what appeared to be a regular old car, and a very nice gentleman named Hilario took us to our hotel for 10 Soles. This was my first experience where I actually had to speak Spanish, as opposed to everywhere else where everyone seems to know English.

The cab ride was a little crazy. Cars drive fast and there seems to be no real laws for pedestrians. We did some exploring and had a fabulous dinner of alpaca and risotto (the alpaca was a little too smokey and game-y for my taste, but the risotto was a treat!). After a little shopping and a night walk, we slept for 14 HOURS! Call it jet-lag, call it adjusting to the high altitude, but I absolutely needed the sleep.

Today was spent exploring the Plaza de Armas, watching the many parades, going on a hike to the Sacsayhuaman ruins (aka “Sexy Woman” to the locals), and of course, a food crawl! My wifi is incredibly slow here so I cannot post many pictures. I’ll leave you with one on our hike today. I’m a big fan of getting lost and wandering around. Will update more when I can. Xoxo, D

Upcoming Travel

In less than a week I will be embarking on a HUGE adventure…I’m going to PERU!!!! 🙂 This trip has been a long time coming and as the days get closer it’s really starting to sink in. I’ve been busy reading all the things to see and do. Here’s what I’m most excited for:

1) Machu Picchu, duh!

(source)

I spent an entire semester in grad school reverse-engineering this beast to figure out its function (nerd alert!). I studied the waterways, the layout, the stones, the architecture, the land mass and crop growth, all in a giant systems engineering analysis. Time to see this baby in person! I want to touch the soil, feel the stones, breathe the mountain air, stand where my old Incan friends once did and see if I can get an intuitive sense of why this mysterious city was built. Ooooh my body aches with excitement! We’re going to spend a couple of days here so I hope to do some serious meditation/thought cleansing as well. What better place???

2) Ceviche/Pisco Sours/Mate Tea

(1,2,3)

’nuff said!

3) Train Rides

I heart old trains (and new ones too)! There is something about the journey, and looking out the window, and…if you’re lucky…sitting in the old dining car. In my fantasy life we would hop on the Hiram Bingham and do all of these things.

However…we will probably settle for the Expedition. Still cool, but on a budget:

(all pics from perurail.com)

Funny thing…when I was searching for train schedules, I forgot to select the route. It gave me a pop-up but instead of saying “choose a destination” it says, “choose a destiny…”. LOL. I much prefer Destiny!

4) Nazca Lines

Pray for me that those little planes get serviced!

5) Keeping an Open Mind and an Open Heart

My dad always used to say: “Travel every chance you get, it will keep your heart open”. There is nothing like international travel to remind you how big the world is and how insignificant your problems are in comparison. I hope to meet the people, observe their lives, just live and be happy. It’s easy to get so entrenched in the day-to-day that my worldview grows narrow. I want this trip to be the shot in my arm to jolt my life force again.

6) TO GET AWAY FROM WORK! PERIOD!

This is a given. But we built in plenty of down time on this trip to actually relax/do yoga/write/all that good stuff. I can’t wait!!!! 🙂