Before I met the man who is now my husband, I planned a three-week trip to Peru. The idea was to work and live in an orphanage for two weeks and then hike the Andes for four days to see Machu Picchu. I was interested in volunteering at an orphanage because I was in my late thirties, boyfriend-less and felt destined to be a lonely, old and childless cat lady. The orphanage work (caring for the kids and helping to repair the building, too) was in preparation for a possible future adoption. I really wanted to be a mom (and figured that if there was a motherless child out there, maybe we could be less lonely together). The hiking to Machu Picchu idea came about because I was writing and editing for an architecture magazine and wanted to see what a mountain-high, fifteenth-century Inca compound looked like. But I almost died getting there.
Here's most of a post-trip letter I wrote to my fellow Cusco, Peru, orphanage volunteers (who were smart enough to daytrip via train to Machu Picchu):
...I'm still trying to pull it together after returning to CA. Haven't unpacked yet. Still need to develop my pics. AND I need to go to the doctor to have my ankle looked at. Why? Because I sprained it on the treacherous, life threatening, can't-believe-it-was-that-difficult, pushed-me-over-the-edge (literally and figuratively) damn Inca Trail. Man, it was by far the most difficult thing I've ever done. And it was as mentally taxing as it was physically horrible. It rained most of the time. There were loads of rocks and mud which meant it was difficult to keep your footing. I, of course, fell down the side of a small cliff and inherited loads of bruises and cuts and blood all up the side of my body. I got dehydrated one day. And on the last day, I sprained my ankle. Someone lent me their walking stick, since apparently two legs weren't enough for me. So the stick helped me hobble to the finish line on that last day, when there was an obscene amount of rain and it was pitch black because we left at 4 a.m. I'm pretty sure that I literally crawled a portion of the muddy, rocky trail on that day. Dignity is overrated. I was so bruised and exhausted and one-legged...no shower in four days...and my guide, Jose Titto, still kept trying to make out with me. Geezus. It was funny and scary and amazing and beautiful and overwhelming and impossible all at the same time. I hiked my ass off and still kept a good pace (was never last) and was one of the only people who carried a pack the whole time. I was trying to be tough/authentic--everyone else hired a porter to carry their packs for them. Silly me.
The people in my group were fun but did not even come close to being the kind of human beings that the five of you are. I'm so privileged to have spent that time with you. I'll never forget it.
And lastly, it seems almost absurd that my boss expects me to now sit at a desk and perform for eight hours a day. My attention span is completely shot and I can't sit still for that long. I keep trying to explain to him that in Peru you work for four hours and then sit for at least two hours while someone runs out and gets supplies or moves scaffolding. Eight hours straight? Ridiculous.
So I hope all of you are well...you're in my thoughts...I'll send pics/CD's, notes, etc. soon.
Lots of love,
LauraI'm just going to be honest and tell you that climbing the Andes felt a lot like childbirth and my first year of motherhood. One took four days; the other took about thirty seven hours and 365 days. Either way, I highly underestimated both experiences. While I felt as though I should be beaming with joy and wonder, I instead questioned how or if I would make it to the end. And there were times, too, that I felt completely alone. I hiked the Andes alone (I was with a group, but every person was in a pair: couples, friends and family, who helped each other up or down the mountains and slept together in their tent each night.). And even though I have the most wonderful and loving husband and child I could ever imagine, there were times during my first year as a mom that even he couldn't help me and she took so much from me that I wasn't sure I could go on.
But I did make it. And I'm happier and stronger than I have ever been. Sabine gives back about a thousand times more than she takes now. So much so that I miss her when she sleeps and can't wait to see her each morning. There's a light at the end of what can be a dark tunnel of the first year of parenthood. And no, I did not have postpartum depression. That year is just f*cking hard. And everyone is too busy telling you how great having children is that they forget to tell you that it's also terrifying and a lot like careening down a dark road with no brakes, road map or SLEEP and the weight of the world on the hood of a car that you've no idea how to drive. But there's a light. I promise.