53: The Right Place at the Wrong Time

53: The Right Place at the Wrong Time

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Miracles and More

The Right Place at the Wrong Time

A good holiday is one spent among people whose notions of time are vaguer than yours.

~John B. Priestly

I was so angry. My visit to Machu Picchu, the Incan mountain-top citadel in Peru’s Andes — a bucket-list trip — was totally ruined because my hotel’s night-desk attendant neglected to ring my room at 5:00 a.m. The plan was to meditate at the Temple of the Sun at sunrise to try and commune with the spirits said to still inhabit the sacred site. It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, now lost due to someone’s oversight. How could something like this have happened? Every single hotel guest had been awakened except me….

Finally up and dressed, bemoaning the fact there’d been no alarm clocks in the rooms, I dejectedly shuffled through empty halls to an empty reception area. The hotel was completely deserted. Everyone was up at the Temple. Staff didn’t even arrive until breakfast time, which would be served when all the tourists except me returned from their sunrise experience.

And then I heard it — a long, drawn-out, anguished moan. I couldn’t see where it emanated from — the lobby seating consisted of recessed banquettes, two steps down. I circled their perimeter and suddenly saw a young man, maybe twenty, lying prone, splayed out on his back, hiking paraphernalia dumped at his feet.

Another moan… I inched closer.

“Are you okay? Do you need help?” I asked.

The feeble response: “Dysentery.”

“How many days have you been ill?”

“Three, four…” he whispered.

“Are you alone?”

“Friends, hiking Inca Trail. Left me here this morning. Too weak…”

He was sweating profusely and shivering, and he was so pale except for his flaming red cheeks. I touched his forehead gingerly. It was burning. Somehow I sensed the situation was truly dire. My adrenaline kicked in, and disappointment over my earlier missed opportunity dissipated in a flash — it seemed like this kid really needed aid.

I ran through the silent hotel yelling for help, but no one was about. I didn’t see a soul until I burst through the double swinging doors of the hotel’s kitchen and found a chef prepping breakfast for all the returning guests. Even though I was out of breath and almost incoherent, the chef finally got the gist of what I was saying. But by the time the two of us returned to the hiker, he was already foaming at the mouth.

There’s a tiny town at the base of Machu Picchu, really just a terminus for the train that delivers tourists daily to the famous site high above the Urubamba River. A local doctor was in residence there in case visitors experienced health problems — usually altitude sickness due to the citadel’s 8,000-foot height. The chef frantically searched for the phone number and called him. Twenty minutes later, the doctor arrived by car, but the hiker was already fading in and out of consciousness. An emergency medical helicopter was summoned to fly him to the nearest hospital. I waited with him until we knew the helicopter was on its way.

What would have happened to this young man had I received my wake-up call? I would have been outside with all the other guests while he lay alone, in dire need, in the hotel’s empty lobby.

I returned to the dining room with the chef since I knew my tour group would soon gather there for breakfast. Guests slowly began trickling back from the coveted sunrise viewing at the Temple. Tour mates I’d been traveling with repeatedly asked where I’d been and mentioned seeing a helicopter flying toward the hotel. They thought perhaps a celebrity was arriving. When I explained what happened regarding my forgotten wake-up call, a fellow traveler confided, “You didn’t miss a thing. It was so noisy and crowded up there, no way you could’ve meditated. People were laughing, yelling, and jostling each other for photo ops. Others were snacking ’cause they were hungry. Some were even complaining about the crush of people. And another tour group regaled everybody with ‘Happy Birthday’ while breaking out cake and champagne for a member’s 50th.”

Everyone finally settled down for breakfast. Since my group had been awakened so early, our itinerary allotted time for a two-hour nap before our planned departure. And so I asked our tour leader if I could hike up to the Temple to meditate a bit while everybody was sleeping. Aware of the hotel’s oversight, he agreed. As I climbed up Machu Picchu’s ancient, chipped stone steps, I saw the emergency helicopter land at the hotel. I said a prayer for the hiker’s recovery and gave thanks for being able to help.

Up at the Temple, I was the one and only tourist. Blissful silence. Sacred space. Mystic murmurings. I was so grateful — it was a gift, heavenly. I positioned myself in a little niche, sitting on a ledge, and briefly meditated. I even saw a shimmering image of a man in traditional Incan dress in front of me, one of those promised spirits I had heard about.

I had the most spiritual, meaningful experience at Machu Picchu — being able to help someone in need — all because of a fortuitous mistake in timing.

~Marsha Warren Mittman

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