It was no easy feat getting up at 4 am to go stand in line at a bus station, at the base of a mountain, in the dark to begin the arduous journey of arriving in Machu Picchu before the sun came up.
We were tired, awake all night because the ceiling of our room in the town of Machu Picchu was moving with bugs and we kept the lights on to keep them at bay, or at the very least, to warn us of their impending advance towards us. Either way, we did not sleep.
Sitting on the bumpy bus winding its way like a corkscrew around the narrow road leading up to the “gate” of the famed Peruvian tourist attraction, was itself a small victory. We kept the motion and altitude sickness at bay as we avoided looking out through the dusty windows at the depths of mountain around us.
Arriving at last, we ascended the mountain and held our breath as we took our first look at the incredible scene before us. It was simply amazing! Machu Picchu was more than we anticipated and our response at being some of the first to arrive that morning to witness the sun rising was actually spiritual.
I shared this memorable moment with my youngest daughter, Soheila, who was in Peru for a month, volunteering at a health centre for disadvantaged women and girls in Cuzco. It didn’t take her long to expand her volunteerism to a local orphanage, where the conditions were as equally harsh and heartbreaking.
I joined Soheila after her volunteer duties were up and treated us both to a tour of some of Peru’s highlights. Seeing Machu Picchu was on my bucket list, but it was my daughter’s journey that inspired and awed me the most during my time in Peru.
Soheila embarked on this journey on her own initiative with a desire to make a difference in the lives of people less fortunate than herself. We helped her solicit donations for her cause through a very select group of people we were connected to. Soheila, 18, did everything else.
We were apprehensive about our daughter travelling to South America by herself, but trusted that she did her homework and we were comfortable with the fact that she spoke the language. But it was tough.
She kept in contact via text and the scattered phone call and I could sense a change happening in our youngest daughter. She was quieter, more subdued and more philosophical than before she left.
During the 10 days we spent together in Peru, I visited the clinic where she worked without basic medical supplies such as cotton balls, hand sanitizer, alcohol swabs and surgical gloves. Her cash donation to the clinic ensured these supplies would be available for as long as the money lasted.
The orphanage needed hand cream for the children, whose dried and chapped hands were near bleeding daily. They needed clothes, books, toys and attention. Soheila did the best she could with the resources she had.
While Cuzco and the other tourist places we visited were rich in history and culture, the poverty behind the city centres and numerous craft stores was overwhelming.
I witnessed my daughter’s increased kindness, generosity, insight, nurturing and accepting ways while I struggled to comprehend the challenges she faced before I arrived, and marveled that she did it on her own.