4 out of 4 stars
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Jim Santos was not a likely candidate to hike the Inca Trail. At almost 60 years old, well over 200 pounds, and struggling with a drinking problem, he was in no condition to take on the grueling four-day path through the mountains leading to Machu Picchu. After living through childhood trauma and then the grief of losing his first wife to cancer, Santos was stuck in a cycle of depression and guilt, which he identified as Survivor’s Guilt. He eventually married again and was determined to allow himself to feel accomplished and happy. Santos decided to take on the Inca Trail to prove to himself that he could achieve great things. He was hopeful that setting this goal for himself and working to meet it would help him finally break free of the crushing weight of Survivor’s Guilt.
An Uphill Climb by Jim Santos is a nonfiction book that is part memoir, part travelogue. The book is broken down into two parts. In the first part, Santos switches between his own journal entries from three different time periods: in 2008 leading up to his wife’s death, in 2009 when he attempted to move forward with his life as a widower, and in 2016 and 2017 during the year he trained and prepared for the Inca Trail hike. He also provides insights into his family history and childhood trauma. Switching between these different formative times in his life helps the reader understand where his Survivor’s Guilt came from and why he wanted to take on such an incredible task. Part two of the book follows Santos and his wife along the Inca Trail. He records their ups and downs on their quest to make it to Machu Picchu by sunrise on the fourth day.
I really enjoyed the author’s voice throughout the book. He spoke with raw honesty about his past trauma and his successes and setbacks as he prepared for his hike. He didn’t try to make himself sound better than he was or provide excuses for his weaknesses. He fully owned his choices and mistakes and explained how he would try to do better next time. He spoke with a sarcastic, self-deprecating humor that made me feel like I was swapping stories with a friend.
I also enjoyed that he included photos of his journey. These photos included those taken along the Inca Trail, as well as from his training hikes all around Ecuador, which was his home base during the year he prepared for the hike. The photos were not professional quality, but they were still colorful and nicely done, and it made the book feel even more authentic. His candid descriptions of the hike itself really helped me understand just how strenuous it was. He did not sugarcoat the journey or try to convince others to do the hike themselves. He was honest that it is not for everyone. It should only be done with proper training and equipment.
I can’t think of anything I disliked about this book. I did notice some errors, but they were minor and didn’t take away from the story. I am happy to rate this book 4 out of 4 stars. There is some profanity included in this book, as well as some references to abuse, so readers sensitive to that content should proceed with caution. I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys travel, especially if they have considered hiking the Inca Trail themselves. It would also be a great read for anyone attempting to overcome past trauma.
An Uphill Climb
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