There’s something about the human brain that has us making grand plans for the future – both near and far – when we really can’t predict whether we’re going to be given another day on this earth.
When it comes to our dream vacations and bucket lists, it usually does require a great deal of planning. There’s all the logistics involved, money to save, and anticipation to enjoy (often the best part of any trip!).
But this year, the COVID-19 pandemic has caused disappointment for millions of travelers. However, the response one man had to his canceled vacation of a lifetime can teach us all a few things.
Ah, yes, human beings are very good at setting high expectations and having the best-laid plans – only to end up with an outcome not unlike that experienced by the Griswolds in National Lampoon’s Vacation series.
We dream big, take risks, and buy carts full of Christmas decorations and wrapping paper at half off on December 26th – we know we’re mortal, but have faith that we’ll see another year. It’s a survival mechanism.
But this year, every person of every age has encountered some big-time disappointments.
Whether we wanted to or not, whether we’ve stayed healthy or not, the theme of this year has been “Cancelled Plans.”
And the travel industry and the eager tourists who support it have been the biggest victims.
Take Jesse Katayama, a young man from Japan who, at the age of 26, already has a bucket list. And on that list was traveling to the legendary Incan heritage site, Machu Picchu.
It’s on many peoples bucket list to see this modern wonder of the world in person.
Archaeologists believe this mountain citadel high in the Andes Mountains of Peru was built in the mid-fifteenth century for the then-emperor of the Inca.
It boasts a remarkable feat of engineering that historians believe was built by a culture that believed in human sacrifice, astronomical powers, and some very strange animal-like gods.
Sure, we’re all in awe of gothic cathedrals and ethereal art by the Renaissance masters done around the same time periods. We can relate to these exquisite forms of expression and their importance to western civilization as westerners ourselves.
But Machu Picchu fascinates the modern-day traveler because it’s mystical and mysterious and in such a breathtaking natural setting. We all need a little mystery in our lives.
So Jesse Katayama had his trip all planned out and everything booked. He was expecting great things – just like the rest of us fools who never knew what was coming.
In March of this year, Jesse arrived in the little Peruvian town of Aguas Calientes where most travelers begin their Machu Picchu adventures.
And then… well, we all know what happened next.
Bucket lists kick the bucket…
Yep, here’s poor Jesse – young, excited, and so close to the adventure of a lifetime. He could see Machu Picchu from the little town where he was waiting so patiently for his turn to visit the World Heritage site.
But on March 16th, the Peruvian government closed the site to all tourists, just as the coronavirus was beginning to be perceived as a true global threat.
Jesse was stranded like many other travelers all over the world. But with government mandates piling up by the day, Jesse thought there were worse places to be.
After all, he was stuck in a beautiful little South American town with a view of his dream experience visible every morning while he took his daily jog. So close, yet so far away. (Jesse must be a very patient soul, because that would just tick me off.)
The townspeople were friendly, and now he had plenty of time to practice his boxing on some of the local children in preparation to open his own gym once back home in Japan.
He was having a great time and considered it just another adventure as he settled in and became an honorary citizen of Aguas Calientes, feeling not at all like he was in the “hot water” for which the town was named due to its thermal baths.
This guy has the patience of a saint. He waited and waited, not knowing when all the restrictions and shutdowns and other life-altering crap would end. He was happy, but the mountain was still calling…
For seven long months.
That’s how long Jesse held out hope that “maybe tomorrow they’ll open the site.”
But when your dream vacation turns into being holed up for seven months, six-and-a-half of which you didn’t plan on, you begin to run out of something more important than patience – money.
Just when all hope seemed lost and Jesse was making plans to go back home, his impact on the town and his positive nature led to word of his situation being spread.
A local tour company, Andean Roots Peru, and Peru’s Ministry of Culture got wind of Jesse’s impending trip back home with “empty hands.”
All that patience paid off, because Jesse got the surprise of a lifetime and an experience no one else will ever have.
All we need is just a little patience… (Sing along with me, fellow GNR fans!)
Long after his planned March visit, Jesse was given permission to enter the Machu Picchu heritage site and explore it all by himself. That’s right, other than the park site’s chief (liability alert!) and a couple photographers (this will make us look great!), he was the sole tourist on his expedition.
The Peruvian government says plans are in the works to soon reopen Machu Picchu at 30 percent capacity, but no date has been set. Jesse Katayama knows how special it is that he was able to see this wonder at a time no one else can.
Jesse has not only crossed one item off his bucket list, but he’s made some lifelong friends, experienced the kindness of strangers, and had his fifteen minutes of fame as somewhat of a local celebrity in Peru.
He wouldn’t trade being “stranded” in this little town for the world. He’s had lots of time for soul-searching, which he says has given him a new perspective on life.
And he’s leaving a little part of him behind in this special place, admitting he’ll be shedding more than a few tears when returns home soon.
While the events of this year have cancelled a lot of important plans for us all, Jesse Katayama has inspired a lot of people with his patience and willingness to go with the flow.
After all, it’s the little moments of each day that make a life, not a two-week vacation that we set such high expectations for – expectations that often leave us disappointed in the end.
So, go right ahead and stuff your attic with clearance Christmas decorations this year. Make grand plans, and plan to be here for them.
But live every day like it’s special in and of itself… like it’s your last day. Enjoy every seemingly ordinary moment.
In the words of one of my favorite memes, so appropriate for the year we’re all having, “This too shall pass. It may pass like a kidney stone, but it will pass.”