Standing on the summit of Pisco, eye to eye with the other snow-covered giants, I no longer felt cold, or tired, even though we had been hiking since midnight and the sun was just beginning to rise over the Cordillera Blanca. Instead, I felt weightless and powerful as I relished the fact that I had just climbed a mountain.
I can't honestly say I did it with much style. Although this was one of the "easy" mountains to climb, by the last hour my head was reeling, my stomach was churning, my nose was running, and I was dropping to my knees after every two dozen steps. Each time I stopped, the guide waited patiently while I counted ten deep breaths, struggled to my feet, and resumed my painstaking uphill shuffle, counting out each set of steps - one, two, one, two, one, two.
Throughout my Peace Corps service, I asked myself almost every day how I would ever be able to make it through two years; the answer was always the same - one step at a time. And again, I won't claim it was always pretty. There were tears, illnesses, meltdowns, and a fair share of failures, and I wouldn't hesitate for a second to call my entire experience in Peru an uphill shuffle. More than once I found myself getting bogged down in frustrations and forgetting the bigger picture about why I was here in the first place.
But in spite of everything, eventually I looked up from the snow beneath my boots and realized I was only ten steps away from the top - and only ten weeks away from completing my Peace Corps service - and it really didn't matter anymore how much I had struggled along the way. Every step I had taken in the past two years, no matter how painful, no matter how small, had carried me up to that point, 5,800 meters above the sea, and from way up there, it's hard not to see the big picture.
Whatever kind of magical brain-freeze I experienced on top of Pisco, I came down the other side with a profound sense of peace about the past two years. I had my share of struggles and failures, and certainly there are things that I wish I could have done better, but I have also been successful in many ways. Now, with only a few short weeks before I move on to the next adventure, I feel complete knowing that no matter how many times I fell on my knees throughout the journey, I always got back up and kept going, one step at a time.
Thank you for all of your support over the past two years, and I hope you have enjoyed sharing some of my experiences through my blog. I'm not sure yet what comes next, but I have every reason to expect something great.
A final farewell from Peru,