The Right Decision
“Whew, this is exciting.” The trip in a rattling bus, up the steep, winding, eight kilometer switchback was taking the whole family to Machu Picchu. As the bus climbed, slowly traversing the mountainside from side to side, the village below grew smaller, the scenery became more breathtaking and the anticipation in the bus rose in a chatter of voices.
“Wow, look at all those mountain’s” gasped Stephanie, the oldest of the four grandchildren. Jacqueline, her sister, just nodded and stared at the receding jungle over the edge of the road, while the twin five year old grandsons seemed more preoccupied with the rattling bus than the scenery.
“How far is it?” asked Patti, my daughter in law.
“I hear it’s only about a 15 minute ride to the park entrance,” answered Steve, my son.
The road was steep, without guardrails, and very narrow. Occasionally, when our bus met another one coming down the road, the drivers had to find a convenient widening in the road to pass one another. The mist rose from the surrounding jungle and mingled with the exotic sounds of birds and an occasional waterfall. The bus trip itself was a daunting introduction to the ancient Incan wonders to come.
“Here we are. Let’s go right in and skip the souvenir stand,” I said anxious to get going. The kids weren’t happy with that decision, but had to follow. The inevitable native guide was waiting to lead us through the maze of hills, passages and reconstructed chambers, all on foot. Luckily Mary and I had been at Andean altitudes for a few weeks now so we were not winded by the normal pace of the guide. Steve and his family had been in Bolivia for a year already, so were fully acclimated.
“Man, look at those ruins. Beautiful…. And much more spread out than I expected,” I couldn’t help commenting as we arrived at the first plaza.
“Boys, get back here.” That was Patti, calling to the wandering twins.
The scenic vistas, the rambling rock walls, the patches of green with llamas grazing peacefully about were like a picture book, almost unreal. Yet we were here, personally experiencing this ancient holy site, imagining what went on in those chambers so many years ago. The adults were in awe, the two pre-teen girls quietly absorbed the scenes while the two twin boys looked for mischief, as always.
After the tour, we were free to wander and explore on our own the many corners and crevices that filled the park.
“Boys, you’ll like this a lot better. You don’t have to listen to a guide” I told them.
“When can we eat,” was the only answer I got. The rest of the family wanted to do more exploring, so they were outvoted and went along grumbling, their mother herding them on.
One of the most impressive sights in the park is towering Huayna Picchu, a rock outcropping that rises majestically from the plain of Machu Picchu, like a steeple of rock pointing to the sky. Its peak was the highest point in the xxxx Valley.
“Dad, let’s climb up there” called Stephanie, when she spotted tiny figures clambering up the narrow ledge trail to the top.
“Great idea. Dad, are you coming too?” Steve turned to me and pointed to the summit.
“Go ahead, that’s a great idea.” Mary urged me on.
“Yeah Dad, we’ll watch from down here with the boys and Jacqueline.” explained Patti.
I swallowed hard, and then looked longingly at the summit. I felt fine, a bit winded because of the high altitude, but my legs were not sore. Then I thought…. That’s another 90 minute climb. That path is narrow and winding. It looks treacherous. What’s a man my age doing up there? Am I nuts?
“Well, I don’t know. I think I’m still feeling the altitude. Besides, I don’t have good climbing shoes on. And I did end up with a lame ankle after walking with Dave last year on the Appalachian Mountain Trail. I think I’ll just let the two of you make the trip. Good luck”
“You can go partway with them and turn back if it gets too rough,” suggested Patti helpfully.
I paused again.” No, I’d rather watch them from here.”
There, I had said it. Not without a pang of envy. Not without a twinge of disappointment. I would have loved to go to the very top with them. The gnawing doubt in my gut told me that maybe I had finally reached that age where I couldn’t do everything anymore.
“OK, we’ll be back in a while,” chimed Stephanie as they set off, waving back to the rest of us.
We watched as they climbed, saw them get smaller and smaller, until we had trouble distinguishing which of the climbers they were. A periodic wave from the trail brought them back into focus.
“I’m really surprised you didn’t go” commented Mary softly as we watched together.
“I know. I was sure tempted. But I just felt unsure of how much I could handle.” I sighed. “No, actually, I had another reason. When Patti suggested I could turn around halfway if I got tired, I realized my pride would never let me do that and I would foolishly continue even if I hurt myself. Maybe I’m just getting smarter as I get older.”
J.P. currently lives in Virginia Beach, is a member of Hampton Road Writers Group and enjoys writing about his experiences. J.P. has previously published articles on disability topics in Exceptional Parent, has written a column on Federal Procurement for a DC professional journal currently teaches technical writing and does selective market research.