May Day (or Mayday?!)
I woke up at 7 yesterday morning to the sunlight filtering in through the orange window covering feeling well rested. The girl in bed across the room was also stirring, and in time, we both sat up, smiled, and introduced ourselves. I find out her name is Andrea, she is Swiss, travelling around the world for a year, and is getting ready to board a cargo ship in Manzanilla, Mexico, bound for Shanghai, China. Damn. And I thought I was brave.
Then I check my phone. May 1st, 2014. I’d be lying if I didn’t admit to being filled with this kind of manic anxiety as I typed this. The kind that makes it difficult to keep a coherent train of thought (so I apologize for the sporadic nature of this post). I feel a little bit like I’ve been yelling ‘mayday!’ as my plane goes down, but rather than my life flashing before my eyes, the last four months are flying through my mind’s eye. How is it May 1st? How is it, that in Seattle, the weather is sunny and in the 80s, and I am preparing to wrap up my time in South America into a neat little bundle, give it one last hug, and tuck it away into a special place within me forever. How?
As I type this, my new friend Gena is sitting across from me, practicing her French on Duolingo. She found out yesterday that she has been traipsing around Peru for 6 weeks with a broken arm… Oops. This is our terrible view from the rooftop area of our hostel in Arequipa:
Last night we got drinks – Gena a couple of beers, and 2 pisco sours for me, of course, and caught up on the last 3 weeks of our bizarre and wonderful lives in Peru. I – made it as far north as Huanchaco for my first ever surf lesson, then down to Huaraz for some fresh air in the Cordillera Blanca, then back to Lima, then to Ollantaytambo and Machu Picchu with my parents, and then to Arequipa where I happened to find my dear friend Sheena (follow their better, consistently updated blog here) AND find Gena again. Since our first meeting in Lima, she had been to Ayacucho for over a week, back to Lima, then to Arequipa. We had both met countless wonderful people in those three weeks, people that taught us about philosophy and patience and kindness and politics. And there we sat, drinking our beer and Pisco sours.
When I look back at where I started, crammed into a plane in Miami bound for La Paz, about to cry I was so hungry and frazzled from rushing through the airport, it’s hard to imagine it was the same trip. The innumerable experiences I have had would be nothing without the people I shared them with. The people from Argentina to Holland, who taught me to laugh more a misfortunes, to not judge, to eat well, listen to good music, sleep anywhere, to enjoy life because it is indeed short, and we may as well take care of each other while it lasts. They were the people who taught me about their country’s policies and politics, and listened with amusement and minimal judgment as I attempted to explain why “America” had a reputation for being obsessed with guns, even in the wake of an elementary school shooting. We spoke of revolutions and dictatorships, of education and healthcare. We talked about family and our complicated relationships, of addiction, of our failed endeavors and greatest successes. And of course, we talked about life and death and what an astounding world we lived in.
Between the soul bearing conversations, celebrity banter, and discussions of bodily functions gone awry, we ate instant potatoes and packaged soup, fresh pizza and the finest dry-roasted rack of Patagonian lamb that $10 can buy. We walked, wandered, strolled, slogged, hoofed and huffed and moseyed, down cobbled streets and up rocky mountains. We boarded boats and busses and trains and taxis, subways and cablecars, motorbikes and moto-taxis, we floated down rivers on yellow inner tubes. We drank lots of wine and ate sushi on night busses, we cooked and cleaned and occasionally bathed. We sang Simon and Garfunkel and Joan Baez and tango and music in Portuguese. We drank Malbec and Mate and Pisco and Fernet and Singhani and gallons of fresh fruit juice. We sat for days on semi-cams busses and streaked across the desert in a 4×4, mercilessly ridiculing the rude Frenchies we’d met and simultaneously adoring the nice ones. We sat on the beach, smoked cigarettes, danced, drank, played games, ate more good food, and helped each other through some weird times. I would say that overall we enjoyed life, all the while gaining a slightly wider lens through which to see it.
On the other side I have been consistently humbled every time a local – no matter how well educated or well-traveled- looks at me wistfully when they find out I am a US citizen. I have my moments of shame for my country, but for the most part I have been reminded of how lucky I am to have been born in the US, and I have done my best to be a good citizen of the world, the way most people I have met, both local and foreign, have been.
All this said, I think my real growth will have to continue at home, away from this fairytale land of international travel. Only then will I know how I have been shaped by my experiences here. Travel is (I think) one of the most wholesome and holistic ways to expand your mind, but I also have observed people that never stopped traveling, and while in some ways I commend their nomadic lifestyle, in others it almost seems as though they have missed the point. To travel is a romantic way to live, but to never return home seems to take the gift for granted. This life is made up of more grit than the risks involved in travel, and those that never return to the grime of daily responsibilities can lose sight of what a privilege it is to experience a new place and culture.
My experiences so far have been nothing short of enthralling and magical, and as much as it doesn’t feel like real life, this world has been my reality for the last four months. I am finishing my thoughts here on a night bus, and it is time for me to put myself and my nostalgia to bed for a bit – I will surely be surrounded by more Martian Peruvian landscapes when I wake up. Ultimately I am so thankful to the cosmos, be it Pachamama or someone elses God, for allowing me to partake in the world like this for a time.
I will do my best to completely catch up my South America blog up as I end this journey and begin a new one with Doña Eulalia in Calderas, Guatemala. Thanks for reading