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March 1, 2001

Survivor in South America

By Bridget McCoy

After lunch I fell asleep by the gurgling river for a few minutes before it was time to resume the hike. Just as we started off again it began to rain. The afternoon portion of the hike (over Dead Woman's Pass) was also in no way like the one in the morning.

Straight up over boulders and dangerous slick rocks we trudged, the group beginning to separate as the hardier trekkers led and the less agile fell as far as three hours behind. The rain didn't stop either. Disheartened I arrived at camp at about five that night. I looked at the mud and tents, knowing I had to get up at five the next morning.

Hurting and cold, I wanted to cry. This was day one.

Don't Quit

Luckily we were a group and no one was allowed to feel like quitting. We cheered each other on and made it through three days of rain, snow, misery, cold and - believe it or not - fun.

By the third day I was building stone paths to my tent trying to make it a little more homey and inviting. We were all "flying like birds" down the steep stone steps, sometimes as many as 3,200 in a row, as advised by Roland, the Swiss-German of the group. I didn't have to ask for a hand over a particularly narrow mountain pass anymore, there was always one extended. We laughed at our muddy faces and stinky unshowered selves and on the last night before we arrived at Machu Picchu we had a celebration with the porters and our guide, Vicente. We danced to traditional Peruvian music around a fire and drank a traditional wine.

The stars came out and I felt the spiritual essence I had heard Machu Picchu generated. I felt the warm camaraderie I had experienced at GVR Company in Chicago for two years. The feeling you get when the people around you support you, share hardship and success with you.

The next morning at 4 a.m. in the pitch black we started off on the last 5 kilometers (about 3 miles) of our hike to the lost city of Machu Picchu.

In the cold and misty rain we trudged up more steps, over one last pass and finally in the distance saw the lost city, a seeming impossibility, a technological wonder in the middle of rugged mountains. The fog rose as we approached and, rather silently, reverently passed through the sun gate.

Appropriately, there were three llamas blocking our way. If it had been too easy it just wouldn't have felt so good.

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