"If you are young at heart..." Carolyn Leigh

 Last week in Peru I had one of those moments where I thought, “Shit. I’m getting old.” I was getting ready to head out on a day trip to the hot springs and was putting my boots on at the door. Rather, I started putting my boots on at the door but bent over and felt a little “creak”, and so I backed up like a slow UHaul towards my bed, plunked myself down and put on my boots there. Usually I just bend down, slip my feet into my boots, do them up whilst standing and bending over. Lately though, I realize that I’m now consciously looking for chairs, beds, benches or anything to sit my butt down on before I put on my boots. Does this mean I’m getting old? I’m almost 42 for cripes’ sakes! 

However, once there at Lares hot springs, I woke up and got my head out of my butt, so to speak. I had travelled there with two dear friends whom I met last year at Lares: Eduardo and Ines. Eduardo is Peruvian, and 80 years old. Ines is his wife, originally from Holland, and is ten years his junior. First of all, the way those two travel around in their Land Rover, camping out all the way from Lima to Quillabamba and around the Cusco area blows me away. When I met Eduardo last year in the hot pools, he was so animated and full of life, showing me books about the area, telling me about the spirits of the mountains and inviting me outside of the gates to their truck for lunch. There, I found Ines chopping veggies and preparing a simple yet tasty lunch. I joined them, and from thereon in, we became fast and furious friends. I spent my last day in Lima with them last year, and they took me to their home for dinner before bringing me to the airport just after midnight…still full of energy and vibrant. 

Back to Lares last week:  At night after our soak, Ines and I hung out at the truck and made some mulled wine, then downed almost the whole bottle while sitting in the front of the truck chatting until almost 11pm. Ines wasn’t the least bit tired; her energy is amazing. For breakfast the next morning, we met once again at the Land Rover and sat outside in the sun to enjoy our oatmeal and coffee. Ines gave me a camping chair to sit on, and then plunked herself down on the ground to enjoy her breakfast. I tried to tell her to have my chair, but she refused saying, “I like the fact that I’m 70 and can still sit on the ground comfortably.” She’s amazing. Once we were in the pools, I sought solitude and situated myself in pools that were sparsely populated. Eduardo on the other hand was the centre of attention in the tepid pool, filled with kids aged 3-7. There, he taught about 3 of them how to swim, was swinging them around, bobbing them up and down, and taking kid after kid for a “ride” around. His face was filled with joy and his energy was absolutely astounding. My idea of “old” was completely blown out of the water. These two had so much to teach me. 

On the way home we stopped to visit some ruins where Ines chatted up the workers, trying to find out all the information she could about the land; her curiosity and eagerness for new knowledge is truly inspiring. She worked for UNESCO for years in education and her passion for learning makes me feel kind of lazy and makes me want to learn more. Her optimism and enthusiasm makes me want to drink more coffee or chew more coca leaves. When we stopped in town to pick up something from the pharmacy which is very common in Canada, I realized that I had to go to 4 different pharmacies to find it. When I expressed my frustration she just smiled and said, “That’s the interesting thing about Peru…sometimes you have to go to many places to find what you need, but in the end you find it. Enjoy the differences in this country.” She is so patient and really accepting of all situations. She is a true mentor in so many ways. 
Eduardo has brain damage from several decades ago when the political scene here was hostile and the Shining Path, was anything but shining. He “knew too much” and was actually given shock therapy in hopes of repressing what he saw and knew. His mental health has deteriorated, and although he’s still loveable and sweet, he has some quirks. Recently, he has embarked upon collecting various unique items, mostly, rocks. He gathered about 25 rocks yesterday and schlepped them into the truck, and when he goes to gather more, Ines has to get rid of the first batch without him knowing. She is the epitome of patience and her devotion to him is beautiful. She simply accepts things as they are and believes that her life is beautiful. 
This week they drive to Lima, stopping in hot springs along the way, enjoying the scenery, enjoying each other, picking up and throwing away new rocks and stones. I’ve vowed to let go of the idea that I’m getting old and will do my best to walk in their footsteps; their energy, enthusiasm, love of life, love of knowledge and constant learning, travelling, and walking. I’ll find a chair to sit on, do up my boots, and go forth into the world knowing that I am and will remain young if I choose. The other day my courageous and brave Wild Women and I walked the Inka Trail and our last lunch spot was Winyawana, which is “forever young” in Quechuan. I thought of Ines and Eduardo there and said a silent “gracias”.

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