"Jordan, your moto is already here," Stephanie said, as I found my way out of the stall that served as a 2-for-1, shower and squatting toilet.
The gentle breeze touched my face, blowing my matted, dirty hair in front of my squinting eyes. The air was thick with cold mist; the clouds, tired, had stopped to rest and began to unpack their heavy load.
Our clothes were still wet from the previous day's journey into the valley, and we worried that another rainy five hour hike back to town would be too much for an already weary team.
However, the previous day's rocky decent into Parobamba proved too much for my already temperamental knee, and the group decided that I would not be joining them on the hike out, but rather, would be paying a local kid to drive me on his moto back to the next town.
I looked down the hill where my driver waited patiently. He was straddling a well-loved dirt bike, wearing a black rain poncho, a helmet sitting in his lap.
Oh, thank God,I thought.
I grabbed my backpack, buckling it across my chest and scrambled down the hill leading to the muddied road. I heard Stephanie telling my young driver,"Con mucho cuidado, ya?" She reminded him to drive carefully: the roads were wet and rocky and the rain was persistent.
As I approached the bike, the driver put on the helmet that had been sitting in his lap. Slightly panicked, I asked, "Wait, is there one for me?" He smiled and responded with a very matter-of-fact, "No."
My thoughts were soon filled with anxiety and morbid thoughts about a too soon death. But then I remembered what my co-workers often said to me when the day-to-day anxieties began to prove too much.
Just don't think about it.
So I put on my hood, hopped on the back of the bike, linked my arms around my baby-faced driver's waist, and I tried not to think about it.
The road was rocky and at times difficult to see. My hands, cold, gripped tightly to the black poncho in front of me. My legs were shaky and tired, squeezing the bike as if I were riding a horse bareback. There was no place to rest my feet. The dirt bike would occasionally stall, we would find ourselves uncomfortably close to the road's steep edge, a herder and her sheep would crowd the road leaving us to navigate through the maze. And though I knew what I was supposed to be doing, I found myself thinking a lot – too much, my co-workers would say.
I clung on tighter, my muscles tight and stubborn, I could not wait to have two feet firmly planted on the Peruvian soil.
Just don't think about it, just don't think about it – Jordan, just stop thinking about it, I repeated to myself.
But after praying for protection and safety and a solid, firm ground to stand on, my eyes looked up and away from the muddied, narrow, rocky, uncomfortable road in front of us and took in the majestic scene that enveloped us.
Lush, green, mist covered mountains jutted up around us. A white bird appeared, floating through the thick air, unaffected by the cold conditions. She began following us on our own journey through the llama fields and down through the damp, untouched valley. Each time when I thought the bird had left us to continue on her own journey, she reappeared. A sense of peace, awe and gratefulness overwhelmed me; I felt warm tears begin to flood my eyes. And for a moment, the fear began to subside. I stopped thinking about the what ifs and began to focus on what was.
The world was a beautiful place and I felt honored to be a part of it.
After an hour and a half, we found ourselves safely at our destination. My driver stopped and my wobbly legs gratefully touched the solid ground beneath them. I was covered in mud but in that moment, I did not care. I paid my generous driver and looked around for the bus that would be taking me to Calca.
I asked the señora that owned the little shop that I found myself standing in front of.
"Where can I find the bus to Calca?", I asked.
She looked at me, smiled and pointed at a fruit truck that was parked on the other side of the road. "There is no bus, but that truck is going to Calca." The drivers began ushering me over, alerting me that yes, they were in fact going to Calca. They opened the back hatch and there sat about fifteen other people on top of bags of produce, covered in blankets and hats, the bed of the truck protected only by a thin, dirtied tarp.
Well, this will be an adventure, I thought.
And so I climbed up the ladder, carefully stepping around the people and produce and found myself a spot on top of a bag of potatoes. I pulled my fleece sleeping bag out of my backpack, put on my hood and settled in for a three hour fruit truck ride through the Andes...