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A young arriero leads a mule across fresh snow in the Peruvian Andes. Photo by Benjamin Swift (2016 Fall Semester Photo Contest Finalist), South America Semester.

Team Dragons @Machu Picchu Mountain

*imagine my sports caster announcer voice coming over the radio*
GOOD AFTERNOON, ladies, gentlemen and yak fans everywhere! We are back. It’s the bottom of the 9th here at beautiful Machu Picchu field and the visiting team, the Dragons, are up to bat. They have QUITE the challenge to overcome in this final inning as they trail the home team, Machu Picchu Mountain, 1 gazillion bazillion stairs to none.

These first 8 innings have NOT been easy on the Dragons. After the first 2 innings (days), the score remained 0-0, with neither team making any advances, as the Dragons had to postpone their trek for two days when a few of their key players appeared to be coming down with some different illnesses. When they finally took off and stepped up to the plate in the 3rd inning (day), they were quickly trailing 0-4 because of a devastating mishap (sickness) that took 4 Dragons, Mahesh, Jill, Cat and Colleen, off the initial trek team roster. Although the Dragons’ opposition scored a few more runs in the 4th inning with its combination of brutal heat and killer inclines, the Dragons were able to even out the score at 7-7 with the help and support of teamwork, encouragement, taking a nice slow and steady pace, one emergency caballo, and plenty of snacks (ESPECIALLY those energy balls).

The Dragons really shined and took a solid lead during their time exploring the ruins of Choquequierau in the 5th inning (10-7). They were there with almost no other tourists, learned a great deal about one of the most successful empires in history, the Incas, from their 1st and 3rd base coaches/guides Percy and Edson, and got to venture through the vast ancient ruins of homes, agricultural terraces, storage buildings, meeting areas, and sacred llama constructions. But as successful as the 5th was, the Dragons were not sure if they could ever prepare themselves for what was to come in the 6th inning: an 11.5 hour trekking day (with both extremely steep inclines and even steeper descents). The Dragons truly thought they may fall so far behind during the 6th inning (or not complete it at all) that they should just forfeit the game. HOWEVER, in a surprising turn of events, every single Dragon was able to successfully make it around (some may even say zig-zag around) the bases with the great support of their teammates– although such a long inning and the huge effort required did leave them utterly exhausted and drained of energy. The score was 19-14 at the end of the 6th (I know, a pretty high scoring ball game).

Unfortunately, this exhaustion made hiking up to a mountain peak during the 7th a bit of a struggle, so the opposing team snatched a few more runs to even the score out at 19-19. However, with the return of 3 out of 4 of the missing Dragons right at the end of 7th, the Dragons felt ready to go into the second-to-last inning with a sense of renewed motivation. Then, unexpectedly, at the start of the 8th, one of those returned teammates got hit hard by a pitch and had to be benched yet again. There was also some miscommunication between the Dragons in the field during the 8th, and although the team successfully made it to their campsite at Aguas Calientes at the foot of Machu Picchu that night, they were down 23-20 entering the final inning.

So here we are, the bottom of the 9th. Two outs and the Dragons are trailing by 3, so they have QUITE the mountain of an obstacle to overcome. With Sophie and Bridget on third, Judah and Mahesh at second, and Reid and Sean on first, Jesse Moore is stepping up to the plate to try and get himself and his Dragons up and down Montaña Machu Picchu and back home to win the game. Hannah, Emmy, Max, Jill, Colleen and Cat are loudly cheering from the ruins’ dugout as their teammates cross their fingers and hold their breath (or wait, are they just so tired that they are barely breathing anymore..??) in anticipation. The Mountain lets the pitch loose…. Wow that’s a 98mph fast ball…. Jesse narrows in on it….. The Dragons are readying themselves for the sprint (or very slow walk/crawl) home….. *CRACK* THERE IT GOES… UP…. UP… AND RIGHT ON UP TO THE MOUNTAIN PEAK AND OVER THE WALL. THAT’S A HOME RUN LADIES AND GENTLEMEN!! THEY DID IT, THEY MADE IT TO THE TOP OF MONTAÑA MACHU PICCHU!! DESPITE THE MANY TRIALS AND TRIBULATIONS, AGAINST ALL ODDS, THE DRAGONS HAVE SUCCESSFULLY COMPLETED AND WON THE GAME. Well there you have it everyone; thank you to all my listeners and goodnight.