Trekking the Inca Trail with My Brother - Reflections on Family Travel

Trekking the Inca Trail with My Brother - Reflections on Family Travel

On Sunday I head south to Peru for two weeks to explore the Tambopata Rainforest and trek the Inca Trail. It's a special trip for me because for the first time, I'm able to share what I am lucky to do for a living with a family member; my 'little' brother, Eric, is trading his Sloan Kettering research scrubs and NYC subway commute for ancient Inca footpaths through the Andes and bushwhacking in the southern Peruvian Amazon. Amazingly, though we've both hopped around the world quite a bit and were even somewhere in Europe at the same time, we've never actually traveled together outside of the United States.

Ruining my brother's first birthday...

Growing up Eric and I spent hours outside pretending to explore dense, fearsome jungle (the woods at the end of the street) or imagining we were on safari in Africa, flailing about in the backyard as we acted out the wildebeest stampede scene from the Lion King. (Obviously we were caught in the middle of the Great Migration; I imagine two kids throwing themselves to the ground, rolling about, army crawling and screaming must have been an interesting sight to passers-by on the street.) So it is a bit of a childhood dream turned-reality that we get to finally have an international adventure together. 

It is also fitting that we get to embark on this particular trip together because a few short months ago, future plans as we knew them were not all that certain. Eric and I were scheduled to trek the Inca Trail back in early December. Permits were issued, flights were bought and being a good trekker in the making, Eric was hiking the hospital stairs on his lunch breaks to train.  But in early November of 2013 our mother came down with an acute lung condition that was life-threatening. 

Deep sea fishing is a family tradition (except not for my mom, she gets sea sick!)

And in reality it was more than life-threatening; my mom's condition deteriorated so rapidly at such a devastating pace that her doctors didn't even play at being hopeful. "Get family here, say your prayers, don't leave the ICU and don't even think about flying back to Seattle" was the gist of the prognosis I received when the head Pulmonologist and ICU nurse sat me down in the little room with lots of kleenex where bad news is delivered.  So we lived in the hospital and laid down awkwardly on the tiny couches and chairs in the bad news room and my mom's ICU cube, holding her hands or staring at the ceiling over several agonizing days.  It culminated with my mom (a devout Catholic) receiving Last Rites from her priest before she said her potential brave goodbyes to all of us when it was determined that intubation and sedation was the last and best option to save her. Thoughts of a sibling trip to Peru were nowhere in my head during that surreal time when my brother and I together weathered the transition that I imagine most children go through at some point; from being your parent's child to taking care of your parents. My dad was a wreck and my mom was in a coma so we had to really be there for each other and our family. 

Wildland Adventures has always been a family company and creating trips catered to 'family travel'  is a core specialty and strength. In fact, the office often feels like a family here (complete with our herd of dogs) when we grill out for sunny picnic lunches and slackline on nice days or pop the bubbly to celebrate a birthday with an impromptu office happy hour. I don't have any biological relatives anywhere near the west coast, but my Wildland family certainly rallied around me in my time of need with coworkers offering love and support (both emotionally and with my day-to-day workload) while I spent more time in Pittsburgh and on airplanes than in Seattle. Family comes first - there was never a question - and I am grateful to everyone here and to my colleagues in Peru for that unflinching approach, fully embracing what it must mean to be a family company.

Just some of the 'Wild Family' sharing the love!

After two weeks of endlessly bad news and bleak outlooks, my mom's fighting spirit finally threw off the gloves and started to get scrappy.  Little by little, assisted by an overwhelming amount of people power and an excellent team of doctors and nurses she started to improve until she was finally discharged after a month. She has been at home since Christmas and each week brings small victories, most recently the medical OK for her to finally venture outside if it ever gets above freezing in Pittsburgh again.

Wildland founders Kurt and Anne Kutay, ever the supporters of family travel, encouraged Eric and I to reschedule our trip when we felt ready. So we're headed to Peru together this weekend on a brother-sister adventure to two of the world's wonders (Machu Picchu and the Amazon)! Though I've been to both areas before, it will be a special experience to rediscover Peru with my brother, particularly in light of our recent bonding experience that was not quite as fun.  I'll be blogging about the trip as often as possible to share my personal insights on a 'family' trip to Peru and also so that our mom can follow along at home.  Posting a photo for her to see of the two of us at Machu Picchu will be a special moment indeed - maybe I'll even get to take her with me on another future trip someday. 

Wildly yours,

Kirsten Gardner
Peru Program Director 
Follow my travels on my blog

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