“It was about the journey not Machu Picchu itself”! alison-sayer-mp

What started out as a personal challenge to push my physical limits quickly turned into much more when I decided it would be good to put my efforts to good use by helping with Halas Homes’ plans to create a bespoke dementia garden adding to the funds raised by our incredible staff and residents during a Memory Walk they took part in during September.

Working in social care is not ever easy particularly now with austerity, black holes, living wage and more expected for less; there has never been a time where we have to be more creative, energized, pro-active, accepting to change and positive, whilst always keeping the vision in mind of where we are going.

It is many years since I backpacked and climbing Machu Picchu proved to be a physical and psychological challenge where the re-inforcement of qualities of patience and acceptance had to be at the forefront of my thinking

On a grey damp morning (accompanied by Paddington Bear who was returning to deepest, darkest Peru with me) I departed from Heathrow with a stack of inspirational notes written by staff and friends and a promise to everyone that I would complete this trek as long as altitude sickness didn’t prevent me.

I had in my mind the end point which was me standing on the famous photographed point of Machu Picchu and, although I had purchased all necessary attire (in particular a camelbak to ensure I drank copious amount of water), I hadn’t really had chance to study the trip. As anyone who works in social care knows however much your to-do list is up to date competing agendas always arise. It doesn’t matter how determined I am to finish my last day before annual leave there is always just one more opportunity which must be taken in order to continually drive the organisation forward.

After my third flight I checked into a hostel in Cuzco to acclimatise with my new found buddies with whom I was to spend 4 days trekking. The top bunk was difficult to get into but we were all in the same boat – feeling sick, tired and lacking co-ordination and concentration and this soon broke down social barriers between me (a baby boomer) – and 5 millennials.

The Inca trail was to be 4 days trekking and I was shocked with my body on the first day. My legs wouldn’t work as quickly as I was used to and the altitude had a profound effect on my respiratory system. I knew I was the eldest in the group but found it hard to accept that I was not at the front of the group and, although the mind was willing, my body held me back; my breathing was labored and I knew I had to listen. Yoga came to mind and the importance of listening to your body and acceptance. The guide asked me why people came to his country to rush the journey without looking at its beauty and I realized he was telling me it is ok to be at my own pace on my own journey and after all isn’t it me who is always telling myself ‘DON’T FORGET TO STOP AND SMELL THE FLOWERS’

That night I bedded down next to a running stream and watched the stars in a night sky unspoilt by light pollution and this overrode the unspeakable toileting of our first night’s camp.

Day Two took us to Dead Woman’s Pass which was the highest point being 4,200 metres and never more did I listen to my body and accept that I needed to walk slowly and deliberately without stopping. If I stopped it was like starting the motor of a car up again on a cold morning when the car moves a 5mph and chugs along. The trick for me was to continue with determination and grit and walk at a pace which although annoyingly slow would get me there! Once again I reflected on yoga practice and especially acceptance. During training sessions at Halas Homes staff are put in situations where they experience what it is like to be disabled or partially sighted; to sit in a hoist or wheelchair needing personal assistance. Walking up Machu Picchu put my mind to thinking how I would be when aged and using a stick and being unable to push my body due to frailty.

This brought home to me how our training in values and culture here at Halas is so important in helping us to experience and better understand situations from the viewpoint of the those that are dependent on our care and support.

It was enlightening walking with such an interesting group of people who had different reasons and journeys in life directing them to the trek and this made the experience more interesting.

Eventually on Day 4 after 3 long and arduous days we arose at 4.30am ready to admire the wonderful sunrise over the mountains to Machu Picchu. Sadly however the clouds are low and the view is mystical if not bright and clear. We continued our journey to our ultimate goal and the rain and damp ensured that we tread carefully and methodically. I had been told of the last push of high steps and, as I clambered up (on all fours) with the weight of my back pack bearing down on me, I was so excited to reach the last step. The view was not as I had envisioned for my yearned photograph and yet it didn’t matter.
There we all stood – a group of people who I had not known previously but with whom I had been through so much and discussed, laughed and analysed much about life with. The realisation came that the journey with this group of tremendous young people had been what this had been all about. Not only had I learnt yet again the importance of patience and acceptance I had made new connections without email, iphone, ipads, Facebook or twitter but by ‘being’ by ‘listening’ by accepting our differences and our similarities.

So what started off as a personal journey to a final destination ended up with 5 new friends, 4 days trekking, altitude sickness, several nose bleeds unspeakable toilets an ascent of 4,200metres in 30 degree heat with coca leaves for altitude sickness and a feeling that essentially we all are pulled to nature which nurtures us, feeds our souls and teaches us so much about ourselves.

I asked the group to send me thoughts on what they had learnt from this trip; they were all so positive and energizing but the two which sum it up all so well and can be applied to each of us were “We need to get out of our comfort zones every now and then”’ and “We can learn and grow from every situation presented to us”.

I had a fantastic experience and so far have raised over £1,700 for our dementia garden and, although I doubt it’s going to get any easier in social care, it has been a positive experience to roll back the years and remember to always keep in mind that youthful feeling when anything seems possible ………….