The Hancock-Henderson Quill, Inc.
By Miriam Rutzen
Author's Note: In 2012, as a West Central 2009 graduate and eventual 2013 Harvard graduate, I wrote a Quill summer series on Adventures in Leadership highlighting a sampling of our community leaders in preparation for my role as co-captain of the Harvard Women's Basketball team.
After college graduation, I attempted to pursue an overseas playing career through an agent, but eventually returned to West Central School District as a substitute teacher and then full time as an IEP specialist.
In August 2014, I joined the University of Colorado Women's Basketball staff as a Director of Basketball Operations under the leadership of Head Coach Linda Lappe (a Winfield Mt-Union alum). After two seasons at CU, March 2016 marked the transition of a new staff into the basketball program and I decided to use the opportunity to pursue my dreams of travel over the course of one year. The following series covers some of my stops along the way.
So far it's been six months, sixteen countries, three continents, and a great deal of jet lag. When I made a "bet" with my dad that I would make it to all seven continents by age 27, I never dreamed it would actually happen. Up until 2016 I had ventured to Australia (2009) and Europe (2013); on deck for the end of this month is Africa, which leaves me with only the most difficult continent: Antarctica. If you hear of anyone taking a boat down for like:two days, let me know, I'll stow away!
Let's start with the most challenging trip first:
Peru. In short, through a travel agency (Peru for Less) and backpacking group (Wayki Trek), I spent five days and four nights hiking the Salkantay Mountain trek to Machu Picchu, one of the Seven Wonders of the World. Unlike all of my other trips, I had no contacts and no organizations to run alongside. Which meant it was me, "The Quill" and "Flat Stanley" left to climb a 15,250 ft tall mountain with around 20, at that time, complete strangers. Mom said it was a good idea:
Quick Facts: Peru is a country in northwestern South America. Salkantay Mountain and Machu Picchu are found in the Andes Mountains, while the Amazon rainforest covers the majority of the country. It is most well known for the Incan Empire that was conquered by the Spanish Empire in the 16th Century.
Peru's main official language is Spanish, while other native languages are widely spoken as well. Two agricultural buzzwords are potatoes and alpacas. My time was spent in hostels in Cusco, Aguas Calientes, and Lima; as well as two long layovers in Panama City (where I remained in the airport).
Connection: None. Well basically none. I looked at the continent of South America and decided of all the amazing places to visit, with flight prices and logistics, Machu Picchu would in some ways be the "easiest". With references by a friend to Cohica Travel Blog and by another friend to Peru for Less travel agency, I purchased my tickets using KAYAK Flights at a decent price thanks to the long overnight and day-long layovers. Thankfully some of my contacts had visited and survived the hike before; they said I would be fine.
Favorites: The moonlit view of the glacier Salkantay Mountain as I made a 3am restroom run from my tent at 14,400 feet of elevation was unbelievable. Two disconcerting avalanches had occurred during the night, but during those twilight hours, it made the whole trip worth it as I looked up and saw the incredible scenery all around me. My second favorite moment was the fog dissipating from the Incan ruins of Machu Picchu-a mountain city surrounded by even higher mountains. The panoramic background was breathtaking as we explored the city ruins. My third favorite view was the cliffs in Mira Flores district, Lima, Peru. The ocean waves crashing against the cliff face as brave paragliders dipped and rolled in the wind was tempting, but I resisted.
Challenges: Stray dogs EVERYWHERE in the city of Cusco. Guinea pigs roasted on a stick. Gross. I did not work up the courage to try it, despite its popularity. Altitude sickness is a real thing. Hydrate. A lot. Or end up on a horse climbing up the rock ledges like I did on my first night of the trek. The climate and elevation variations were quite difficult to prepare for ahead of time when only bringing a backpack and tote bag. From 11,000 ft in a city hostel (avg overnight temp of 50 F) to 15,000 ft camping in a tent on a glacier (avg overnight temp of 15 F) to hiking and camping at 8,000 ft in jungle terrain (avg overnight temp of 85 F)-I was sorely unprepared.
Simply put, am I glad I did it? Absolutely. Would I do it again? Absolutely not. Would my mom? She says it is still one of her life dreams. Go figure.
Photos of my travels can be found on Facebook or Instagram: mrutzen25 and more in depth stories are chronicled at www.miriamrutzen.blogspot.com.