Aug 2, 2016
By Maggie Peikon
Travel Light and Let Go in Peru
“I will not be the reason that they don’t go on this trip.” His words, just a memory to me now, still sting like alcohol on a wound. I was fortunate enough to see him in his last few days, but it did not—could not—take the pain out of losing him. My Grandpa died three days after his 95th birthday, and just three days before I boarded the plane for Peru.
Rewind four weeks and you’d find me, sitting in the grass. Alone. I’d just graduated college, and I’d also just broken up with my boyfriend of three years. In that moment, alone in the grass, I’d thought I was experiencing the worst pain of my life… my first true heart break. Looking back now, I realize it was just the unfamiliar, momentarily uncomfortable, feeling of letting go, of freeing myself.
I’d bought a new journal just for the trip. Spiral bound with a red leather cover. On it’s first page I’d placed an old photo of my Grandpa. I’d asked my nearest and dearest to write me notes on the following first few pages. Knowing I’d be home sick—knowing I’d, at some point, need the words of encouragement to reflect on when the going got tough. When I sat on the first flight of the day, I decided to read them all. An instant pang hit my chest remembering I’d asked my ex-boyfriend to write me something. Half of me wanted to rip it out that instant, the winning half decided to read it once, and never again.
I’d known about a week before we left that my backpack was overstuffed. If you’ve ever read Wild by Cheryl Strayed, it was an identical twin to her “Monster.” I had a hard time discerning between the things I wanted, the things I needed, and the things I couldn’t bare to be without—in packing, and in life. So, I packed everything. Once we hit the trail, I truly started cursing my inability to leave, and let go of, what I didn’t need. (For reference: I had a teddy bear, books I knew I’d never read, a literal pound of raw cashews, and three of my ex’s shirts because I “wanted him with me”… Ick.)
I struggled, wobbled, winced, and damn near cried, for the first hour of our trek on the Inca Trail. I was embarrassed, and worse, disappointed in myself. While I wasn’t certain I’d have the physical strength to breeze through this hike, I thought I had the mental strength to push through. My brother, two years older than me, and kind to the core, took me by my shoulders. “If you can’t do this you’ll have to turn around and go back down by yourself,” he told me “you can do it Marge, just stop getting in your own way.”
This became my mantra for the hike. In rhythm with my steps I’d say to myself, “get out of your own way.” By the end of the second day I’d found a strength inside myself, a willingness to let go of the disappointment that I wasn’t an expert hiker—or packer for that matter. A decision to let myself off the hook for not being what I’d envisioned, and an allowance to make peace with the fact that I was, truly, doing my best.
As the trail weaved on I lightened my load. At each pass I’d dole out cashews to fellow hikers. A heaven-sent porter from our guide group offered to carry my sleeping bag to alleviate some weight from my pack. By the time we got to our last camp site I had also given away all of my ex-boyfriend’s shirts. I’d discovered, at last, that I didn’t need them—didn’t need him—anymore. I was ready to take my final steps on the trail. Ready to reach Machu Picchu.
I felt lighter, physically, and emotionally.
I’m a big believer that the ones we love send us signs that they’re ok, that their spirit is at peace. While I hadn’t verbally asked my Grandpa to send me one, I believe he somehow intrinsically knew that I needed one. We walked around the grounds of Machu Picchu taking in all that it had to offer, the views, the history, the alpacas… Finally, we sat down to take a breath. No sooner did I land in the grass than a tiny butterfly landed right on my knee. Grandpa, was my first thought. I caught it in my hands for a moment, chin quivering, and smiled. I believed he was at peace, and for the first time in a long time, so was I.
I opened my hands, and it set it free, watching it fly away from me.
Freedom, for me, was letting go.
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About the Author
I am a fierce (vegetarian!) foodie, world traveler, and devoted DIYer. I love nothing more than to live fully, happily, colorfully, and creatively.