Seventeen of our eighteen trekkers are now in Cuzco, with Joanna doing a circuitous route of the globe thanks to KLM. She’s thankfully scheduled to arrive first thing in the morning and then our group will be complete. It’s hard to explain what it’s like to be surrounded by so many women with a shared experience, all united with a common purpose, and who’ve made such sacrifices and overcome so many obstacles to gather together in Cuzco, Peru.

This afternoon, after Allison, Katie and I came back from a morning walk through the artists’ neighborhood of San Blas, we walked into the hotel sitting room to find six trekkers who’d just arrived sitting together by the fire, and I had my first emotional moment of the trip. I was so overcome that Allison needed to come to my room with me so I could have a good cry. I still can’t believe that what began as our crazy idea more than a year ago has resulted in such an international event. During our round-the-circle introductions tonight there were tears and laughter and lots of hope. One thing we know for sure: that the space we create together is a safe place to cry, a place where no one will judge us or feel uncomfortable with our tears, and where everyone knows that no matter how distraught someone may look she will be better soon, because we have all been in her place before, many times.

The seventeen trekkers (we miss you, Jo!) plus our two intrepid leaders Cindy and Bridget, went out for dinner at a lovely restaurant in San Blas–as long as you could overlook the guinea pig featured prominently on the entree list–and reviewed our intinerary for the next ten days. Tomorrow we’ll make our first service trip to the orphanage in Urubamba, and on Sunday morning we’ll start our trek through the Sacred Valley, working our way up to ten hours of hiking per day. Angela and Allison are already jockeying for position on the burro that will accompany us but I’m betting they’ll blow everyone away with their sheer determination as they plow up those Andes. That is, once we all acclimate to the altitude, which gets a little easier each day. Here’s a photo of all  of us at dinner:

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And, afterward, when we went out night shopping at Azurita’s alpaca store around the corner from our hotel:

Linda, Cathy, Azurita Me, Megan

Okay, so my singular tip about traveling to Cuzco in July is this: remember to pack plenty of warm clothing. I was so enamored with packing light, for once in my life, that I brought only about half of what I need and have stubbornly insisted on making it work nonetheless, which has resulted in some pretty funky combos. Here’s a photo of me today, quite the Sudamericana fashion plate. Cathy says I look like I just stepped out of Huntington Beach or Berkeley but it feels more Vintage 80s Backpacker to me.

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This photo was taken outside an artist’s family studio in San Blas where Katie bought a stunning statue of an ancient woman weaving. The artist’s 80-year-old father Antonio makes the religious sculptures in the store and was sitting on the bench outside. He kissed my hand when he introduced himself and right away noticed the wedding band I’d purchased an hour earlier for this reason precisely. Of course, walking in a pack of nineteen women is a pretty good deterrent, too, even for los hombres de Cuzco. Tomorrow morning we’ll take a guided walking tour of the city, then prepare backpacks  for the 23 children at Ninos del Sol orphanage before heading out for Urubamba. The director there asked me to bring peanut butter and almond butter, which is hard to find in Peru. I shared his request with all the trekkers without really thinking that one through very well. Avishai, I hope your kids really, really like peanut butter — and that you have shelf space for 30 jars of Skippy. They’re on the way.