One Step at a Time

It has been almost 3 years since my most epic travel adventure. I met my best friend in Lima, Peru and we journeyed hiked Machu Picchu together. I dedicated the hike through this world wonder to my incredible Mom. 

I traversed part of it alone to honor the steps my mother took during her last month on this Earth. For the most part, we were in step with each other the whole time. Overall the journey was a full body trust exercise. We climbed one of the highest peaks, but the challenge was increased by the short window of time we had to get to and through the course and back on our flights. 

I did not visit Peru for the first time to visit this wonder - I wanted to volunteer (see Teach Every BODY post). My first time in Peru was right after my graduation from Smith, within a year of my mother’s passing. She was a cancer survivor, but officially passed away after a cardiac episode. In the weeks leading up to her passing, her breathing became more strained. She never had asthma, but she started to gasp for air as she spoke and traversed familiar terrain. I always knew she struggled with her knees, but she moved quickly and spoke energetically because of her long strides and her amazing heart strength. In the weeks before her passing, she worked, and loved — deeply. She worked at her job as a visual merchandiser for Calvin Klein; she worked to fulfill our annual tradition - moving me into my room at Smith and helping to decorate it; finally she worked to clean my grandparent’s house in Jamaica and fellowship with our family over fruits and vegetables of the land and sea. I had no idea her body was struggling to pump oxygen through her blood cells as the ER doctors at the hospital she checked herself into described, because every step she took was powered by love. I have no medical expertise to explain why she passed so suddenly, or memories of her last days on this earth, but when I learned about the physical challenge associated with hiking these peaks, I decided to dedicate my own journey to her. 

 

My best friend and I just coincidentally ended up planning trips to Peru at the same time 4 years later (2019). She had a business trip scheduled and I planned to stop in Peru on the way to a summer school course on Black Feminisms in Bahia, Brazil. When we realized we were going to be in the country a the same time, my adventurous bestie invited me to go to Machu Picchu with her and her partner. I agreed, knowing that I always wanted to make the trek. At the point when I agreed, I thought it would be a leisurely hike. My adventurous friend, is also one of the most prepared people in the world, and shared her packing list and helped coordinate arrangements. Not only was it a multi-day excursion, but we were very susceptible to altitude sickness that could prevent us from finishing the journey. 

I realized we would have to take a plane, a train, and a bus to get to Machu Pichu, and we had to take the first two legs together, with a night in a hotel, before the bus for the first part of the journey, but the trip home combined all three legs in one day - after the hike. It was like my favorite show, The Amazing Race, but it instantly became more spiritual. 

I decided to dedicate the journey to my mom when I learned that the high altitude of the trip could constrain my breath. The steps of Machu Pichu were small and steep, but the added altitude challenges made me feel like I was preparing to experience the same shortness of breath that my mom did in her last journeys. I wanted to reframe this shortness of breath as a life journey, and not just something associated with tragedy. I of course opted for this discomfort when I arranged travel to this incredible Incan structure and my mom did not, but I felt like across both instances we were compelled by our hearts. I did not know there would be a pandemic that would make the trip impossible just months later, or that the tourism board were considering closing the site for preservation, but these facts made the journey even more significant. 

I took pictures and video “All the Way Up” in the words of Remy Ma and Fat Joe, and I felt my breathing become more belabored the closer I got to the top. As I climbed, taking small sips from the water canteen that snaked through my backpack, I at most points could not see the top. When we took breaks I noted each time it was the highest I ever climbed in my life - but still I wasn’t at the destination. When the trees finally opened to show we reached the highest peak, I took a video. I felt like I ran each leg of a 4x400 relay, and my heavy breathing in the video indicated my embodied empathy for my mom’s journeys. As I reached the final marker I thanked God for his wonderful creation, the people who made this journey possible - local and familial - and for the chance to truly see the depth of my mommy’s love - one step at a time. 

Happy Mother’s Day to all of my fellow adventurers 💕💖

 


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