New Strength – by Haley B. Jones-Chiaramonte

I am no hiker, nor do I claim to be. In fact, I always considered myself more of a city girl. The reason for this came from growing up in Mendon Utah with my best friends’ family flaunting their “Patagonia” brand clothing and playing around in their garage of ski poles, cross-country gear, and worn out hiking boots. I decided a long time ago that wasn’t for me, so no, I’m no advanced hiker, adventure seeker, or thrill enthusiast, but over the course of the past month, I’ve discovered a new side of myself… a stronger side through a hike I hadn’t planned on, an adventure I never looked for, and a thrill I now enthusiastically write about.

A little over six months ago, my husband approached me about visiting Peru. He had found an amazing deal online and was thinking about purchasing the trip. I hadn’t read much about Peru before, nor had I heard of any big cities, beautiful beaches, or fun things to do there. South America has always been a bit of a mystery to me, but I figured, if Adrian thought it was a good idea we would have a great time.

After booking the tickets, we didn’t think about the trip for a long time. The reason for this was simply LIFE. We got busy, too busy to even think about leaving the comfort of my own bed for a third world country and toilets that don’t flush. Summer came and went, fall came nipping at our heels, and trouble loomed. I lost two people who were very dear to me, my friend Stevie to suicide, and my Grandma Joy… both within 10 days of each other.  Not only this, but the other stresses in life seemed to keep piling on.

“I don’t want to go anymore”, I kept telling Adrian. He kept reminding me that our dads had both committed to the trip and we couldn’t cancel it.

It wasn’t until a day before we left that I actually googled “Peru, what to wear”. Being busy with school, I hadn’t even looked at our itinerary for the trip yet, but I saw lots of posts from avid adventurers and travelers suggesting good hostels to stay in, which leather boots worked best for hiking, and mixing cocoa tea with advil was the best remedy for altitude sickness.

This was not my kind of trip. I knew that instantly. So instead of reading into the hype, I packed as best as I could by emptying my school backpack, bringing an old pair of worn-out tennis shoes (I didn’t want to ruin my good ones), finely fitted work-out gear, and a rain jacket. In the sad, depressed and hopeless state I was in, I figured it would be good enough.

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We spent a couple nights in Lima and then took an old rickety plane to Cusco, Peru. This is where I found my new self. 11,000 feet above sea level, among this ancient Incan empire is where my strength, humility, and new self was hiding. The self that allowed me to forgive, let go, and move on.

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Walking through the streets and experiencing symbols of old traditions and people kept me breathless, which had nothing to do with the lack of oxygen in the high altitude air. The cobblestone streets, the chapels, and most importantly, the people who hold their heritage so high, smiling and laughing, even though there style of life is so poor, humbled me. I realized I was in a new world, their Incan world, and I’d better be prepared for what they had in store for me.

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After leaving most of our belongings in Cusco, only taking what we absolutely needed in our backpacks, we heading towards Machu Picchu by bus, train, and foot. It took almost a day and a half to get to the most valued city of the Incans. I already felt I was becoming a new person, due to the education and knowledge I had gained about the people who lived along the trail in the 15th century and the people we encountered along the way.

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My mind was far from my troubles at home, and the sadness I had experienced from loosing two people I loved. I was on my first real adventure and with my dad, my husband, and my father-in-law by my side, we walked through the final passage at 7:00am on the morning of Tuesday, November 13th, onto the sacred ground of Machu Picchu. The sun was rising, clouds lifting off the tips of the mountains surrounding us, and llamas grazing the pastures of this historic city.

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After taking many pictures, we toured the city, exploring the many mysteries of the grounds, then made our way to trek the highest peak in Machu Picchu called “Huayna Picchu”. Only 200 are allowed on this trek, due to the steep nature of it and dangerous hiking path. In fact, the only thing keeping us from falling off this majestic mountain was a steel rope that I grasped anxiously for 2 hours until we were finally at the top. We had done it. I still don’t know how, I’m terrified of heights, and yet, I felt no fear. Among the butterflies, and humming birds flying gently around me, I felt a sense of calmness, gratitude for the people who had created this beautiful place, and relief, like I could let my troubles go on top of this Peruvian mountain, and they were not allowed to follow me home.

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By the time we got back down, and started our long trek home, my body was shaking, every limb hurt, but my mind had never been stronger. I can’t describe the feelings I had, except to say I was reborn. Elevated by the journey I had just taken and not ready to forget that feeling of accomplishment and strength.

Since then, it took us 1 train, 2 buses, 5 airplanes over a course of 4 days and several South American cities to get back home to Salt Lake City, Utah. All the while, I have still retained that sense of peace. I broke my boundaries and ventured into the unknown. I was able to let go of my sorrows and stand awed that the strength of a people I hardly knew. It has reminded me that we are all capable of anything. Whether it is building a city of stone, climbing a mountain, or just the nearest tree, we are all capable of the unknown. I had always had the strength, humility, and peace inside me, but I was afraid to venture out and find it.

I am no hiker, thrill seeker, or adventure enthusiast…no, I am just a girl who found new strength and the ability to let the universe guide me.

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