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Photo by Tom Pablo, South America Semester.

mental notes on a trek

the week leading up to the cordillera real trek was filled with anxiety and a mad dash to collect as many layers and snickers as one could. both things could be used to keep one warm while hiking up to 5,000 meters over the course of 5 days.

this, against all odds, ended up being the time I was most thankful for my decision to take a gap year. I wrote the following entry on halloween, after finishing a 13 km hike over the course of 7 hours in which we crossed two passes, the highest being 4,800 meters.

I’m currently sitting in one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen with devil horns noelle, maggie, zora, and I bought for 13 bolivianos on the street of el alto. there´s truly no other place I’d rather be in this moment. the sun is shining on my back and I’m looking ahead at a crystal clear lake with snowcapped mountains above.

sure, the day was filled with profanities and I might not be able to take another step uphill, but now it is worth it.

trekking is purely mental, something my dad would love to say about anything. he always says that if you think positively about something, it will happen, and if it doesn’t end up happening then you weren’t really thinking positively about it. I was always scared to be the last in the pack of hikers, the weakest, and the one everyone had to wait up for, so I naturally would go to the gym wearing my big pack piled with my clothes and my hiking boots on my feet.

this actually ends up amounting to nothing when you feel like you can’t breath and your legs are giving out and you can feel blisters beginning to form on your feet. instead, trekking becomes a mind game. you just have to trick yourself into putting one step in front of the other. take a step, breathe, look around, feel free to say “that’s insane” when looking at what is around you. like when you can see lake titicaca and then turn 180 degrees to the right and see huayna potosi, the highest mountain in the cordillera. or when the night sky lights up in a falsh of lightning before returning to the greatest expanse of stars you’ve ever seen.

I am so grateful for this time in my life where I can wake up to a tent falling on my face, or almost get my eyebrows seared off when I was trying to make breakfast for my friends this morning. I’m grateful to huddle in our cooking tent while boiling water, and giggle about the fact that I’ve only eaten peanut butter sandwhiches for the past 2 days, and will continue doing so for the next 3.

I’d never been camping before this trip. I´d also never done more than a day hike, and even then my mom would have to force me to do those. when I explained this to our guide Percy, he asked in Spanish, “well, are you tired?” and I replied, “yes, but it’s worth it.”

there´s an answer for everything we do here. sure, I might not enjoy the quinoa stir fry, but it is fuel. when you´re cold at night, fill a nalgene with hot water and do some situps in your sleeping bag. if your oatmeal is too plain, scoop some peanut butter into it. if you were too eager with your serving, Clemente will always be there to finish your meal, even when his stomach is telling him not to.

here there’s no washing your hair, you instead put a hat on. there’s no changing your clothes, but putting more clothes on.

brush your teeth in front of alpacas, who are the funniest animals I’ve ever seen. take a poop while gazing at a stream glistening in the sunlight, but make sure nothing is going into your water source or else pachamama will make you pay for it.

enjoy every second, even if some of the seconds suck, because in a year you might be in college wishing you could go back and wear a rotation of the same three outfits and live out of two backpacks.

you might not wish you had an amoeba named Beatrice and a bacterial infection living inside of you, but I know I will miss being outside, learning from experience, and being with 12 other kids who might never be in the same place together again.