A mere 10 months before traversing Machu Picchu, Mary Ipser, 83, spent 36 days in hospital after brain surgery.
Mary, from Bellville, was forced to undergo the operation following a fall and later also had surgery for fusion of three spinal vertebrae which had caused the fall.
But Machu Picchu seemed too special to miss.
“Seeing such monumental achievements helps balance all the doom and gloom about mankind,” she believes.
The trip had been delayed for three years due to Covid and it was a family affair. Grandson Damian flew down from London to join her, her husband Claude (80), sons Adrian and Jonathan and daughter-in-law Chantal.
In the end she decided to tackle the mountain, with all its challenges along the way – including thin air at 2 400 metres altitude and steps a bit more challenging than most people would find them.
“I had great concerns about managing it,” she confesses. She’s a mere 1.49m tall “and the Incas knew nothing of low steps.”
She wasn’t expecting much from herself. “My confidence was low but here was a chance to see where it should be.”
Mary and Chantal stayed in Cusco while the rest of their group did the Salkantey Peak trek in the Andes. They then joined them in Aguas caliente (“hot water”), where they took the bus to the Machu Picchu National Park. At that point she was telling herself she would give it her best.
It wasn’t long before she had to stop and catch her breath.
“The rock steps to the highest levels are high and seemingly unending.”
She stopped and told Claude to meet her on her way down. She sat on a step to wait.
A guide soon came along and encouraged her by saying “You are a strong person. You know what you want to do”. He took her elbow and helped her to a terrace further up the mountain.
She saw Claude and the unknown guide took a picture of the two of them.
“The views are stunning and the stonework and history mysterious and totally awe-inspiring”.
She is very impressed by Peru.
“(It is) clean and beautiful with friendly and helpful people.
Claude and Mary are no strangers to adventure and clearly love travelling – having visited 76 different countries..
“(We have) brought many remarkable memories home, some wonderful, some crazy”. They were stuck between the border posts of Yugoslavia and Italy with Mary’s visas for both expired, they fled gunshots in the Lesotho Highlands and were lost with insufficient fuel in the badlands of the Skeleton Coast of Namibia.
”We” burst through an encircling bush fire in the Linyanti in Botswana, and raced the incoming tide along a 15 km beach in the Angolan desert with two fancy but lesser vehicles in tow.”
She says Claude encourages her to test her boundaries.
“I am glad I did. I have been enriched by visiting Machu Picchu and I feel better in myself.”
She remembers a striking moment. When they started descending and they got to the heart of the building another tourist saw her.
“You are amazing!” the woman yelled. “She asked where we came from and then asked for a photo opportunity with us to ‘send to my mother’”. Perhaps, Mary muses, the mother will soon go there as well.
As for herself?
She has only one question.
“Where to next?”