Hola de Peru!
6 weeks since my last post! A little longer then intended, but, well… I’ve been a little busy…
Sept 30 – Oct 11
The last two weeks in California were a range of feelings only temporarily felt in a staccato of emotions. I can honestly say I have never felt more loved by a group of friends and family in my entire life. I feel so lucky to have such an great support system. The question often came up, ‘how do you feel’. I really didn’t know. I felt like a record with a handful of tracks, repeating the same songs over and over again. To be honest, I really had no idea what to expect. I was beginning to realize how… easy? my life was at that point and a bit of me questioned the choice I had made. Obviously, I was not going to change my mind, but it was harder to uproot than expected. The days before I left the state I started to de-attach; I really didn’t want to feel much. I just wanted to begin.
I left my job. On that Friday, I turned in my computer and badge, and with the last few things from my desk, I drove home with a very dirty car. I went to the car wash, took the things from my car, walked into my house, and thought…. Where do I begin? I had avoided packing up until that point. I had gone through all of my things a few times to start sorting through the items to keep and to give away. I also started organizing various items into groups and putting assigned bags near grouped items. That said, everything was still very much tucked away into its assigned spot. I had not actually packed anything… and that was a problem, because I was expecting to leave on Monday.
Since moving back to San Diego in 2015, I had moved houses 5 times. In my mind, I thought 2.5 days from start to finish was all I really needed. This time was different, and it took MUCH longer than expected. My mom drove from Newport to help me. I am SO thankful she came down. It was exactly what I needed to stay focused and not get overwhelmed. We made it through to Saturday afternoon and had most of the house packed, and quite a bit of it in my car. I still had some packing left and needed to thoroughly clean the house. We had a few unexpected hick-ups and rather than pushing through all night, I opted to just take a BREAK! I was unemployed after all, and it was my first chance to just stop and enjoy these last moments with my mom. We ate pizza in the backyard with my lovely neighbors. The next morning, my mom and I woke up REALLY early for sunrise. We grabbed a couple of coffees, and sat on a bench at Buccaneer park to watch the world wake up. It was a really special morning. After church, we ran a couple of errands, sat through a lot of traffic, and I sent her on her way home. I finished packing and cleaning, and my incredible neighbors let me crash at their place because I gave away my bed.
Time to start driving! This was my 4th time making the one-way drive between Tulsa and San Diego. It’s 24 hours of driving time, and I prepared a little differently this time. I setup my passenger seat as a staging area, carried 1 large duffel, 1 backpack, 1 bag of snacks (with items I didn’t love to avoid any unintentional snacking), and 1-12x12x6 bin for papers and small items that would inevitably clutter or get lost in the car when I really needed them. I also prepared a ‘cross-the-country-go-to-kit’. This contained: Vicks Vapor Rub (the #1 best item to have when driving through many climate changes), sunscreen (only really needed for the left arm and left side of the face), Chapstick (made by my dear friends during a DIY brunch we had many months back), a handful of essential oils, and painters tape (which I have discovered is substantially better than post-its, thanks Mom!).
I had originally planned to drive straight through and end up at my Dad’s house by the 16th, but I changed plans last minute and fit in a few friends/family visits. I stopped in Gallup, NM that first night. I think I got in around 10/11pm. Woke up early and made it to my friend’s place in Oklahoma City. I had the opportunity to meet her daughter for the first time. Very cool experience. The next morning, I drove an hour to my great-aunt & great-uncle’s house. It was a Wednesday, and I didn’t have to work!? It was the first time I had ever visited them by myself. We spent the day talking and catching-up. They live in a pueblo of around 8,000 people. They took me to lunch at a local diner where at least half a dozen people came by to say hi to them. They had lived in the town for (I think) around 50 years! Later, we drove around and they showed me different houses where they resided, and FIELDS of oil tanks, HUNDREDS of oil tanks. We made it back to their house and chatted some more, before I left that afternoon. Another very special day.
Next stop was my girl L’s house! I love going to her house. I love seeing her, I love seeing her baby girl, I love seeing her family and driving to the town where she lives. This girl is empowering, and she loves JESUS. She will pray with you, listen, she’s a straight arrow and a firecracker in life. She took the next day off work so we could hang out together. We went to a coffee shop that evening and had some fancy tea in some fancy cups that neither of us understood how to use. We ended up spilling tea everywhere. Haha. The next day we took her baby girl to the COOLEST harvest festival I have ever seen. Only in Oklahoma would they stack round barrels of hay on top of each other and make slides, attach ropes, and provide limited adult supervision and say okay kids (of ALL ages) have fun… That place had more activities then we had time. We made it home that evening and painted/carved pumpkins. I left a few hours later to make it to my last destination, my Dad’s house!
Finally, home! Gosh it’s good to be home. There’s something so cozy and safe about coming home. It’s the night of October 17th, and I was scheduled to leave on the morning of October 28th. I thought, of course that’s enough time to get all of the things done that need to be done before I leave for a year. I was WRONG. WRONG. WRONG. At this point, I had running to-do lists. I had gotten pretty good at adding things to the list as they came to mind. 5 legal note-book sized pages of to-do lists later, I finally got everything done. Dad was an incredible sport. He had taken the week off to hang out with me. He drove me all over town, and I rode with him on all his errands. We got a lot done, and we really enjoyed hanging out with each other. We had some fun times too. We went fishing, made a road trip to Arkansas for the day. I got to have lunch with my mom’s side and see my dad’s family too. I keep saying ‘special’, but these days with family and friends were indescribable. During this time, I also got to see another very special friend and her baby girl/husband. We had dinner together one evening, and it’s just… I don’t know, day after day, I realized how much I value these people in my life. I have such authentic and genuine people in my circle, and I am so grateful and thankful for them.
Oct 28 -29
It’s THE day. At this point I have packed and repacked my 40L bag probably a dozen times with an inventory of every item in a spreadsheet. The amount of detail that went into preparing for this moment, in retrospect is kind of unbelievable. But, 4 weeks in and I can say it was definitely worth it…
But I digress… my Dad and bonus-mom drove me to the airport at I think 3:30/3:45 in the morning… they are troopers. I start to actually get excited, even though I’m going to spend the next 36 hours in 5 different airports and on 4 different flights. The flight from Tulsa to Dallas was short, I take the bus and metro from DAL to DFW, get through security, and hear an announcement for a weekly prayer meeting. With 4-5 hours to kill before my next flight, I head towards the chapel. Quite a few people are in attendance including a Mormon girl named Grace who is starting her mission. We chat for the next hour, such an interesting conversation. I still have 3-4 more hours, and well… I begin to take full advantage of that Priority Pass Select that came with one of my travel cc’s. Turns out there are NAP LOUNGES in the airports?! WHHHATTT how am I just now learning about these?! After my nap, I head to the food and drink lounge where you can get FREE FOOD. We all know how much I love free food. Another hour or so later, it’s almost time to board, so I head over to the gate to fly to Mexico City. Once in Mexico City, it’s time for the next round of fancy lounge living. I arrive, make it to the 5-star lounge where I proceed to take a SHOWER, yes, that’s right, a SHOWER… in the airport… then have a ridiculously delicious dinner and grab a couple of snacks to go, and head to the next gate. Mexico City takes me to Lima where I repeat the lounge experience, and I finally make it to my last gate heading to Cusco. During the layover in Lima, I had a chance to speak with my buddy in Barcelona. Another great friend, who is easy to chat with and speaks candidly. I shared that although this experience is fun, I still felt disconnected. He shared that at some point I will have these moments where I will sit on a figurative rock and know I finally made it. That last flight to Cusco, I looked out my window and saw THE rock. The Andes mountains, snow peaked and breaking through the clouds. The snow reflecting the early morning sun and the mountain threatening the plane with its mass and grandeur. As we landed, I shed a tear, and thought to myself… I made it.
Oct 29 – 31
That whole, ‘I made it’ feeling, lasted approximately 6 hours. Cusco is REALLY high up, like more than 11k feet above sea level. I had hiked Mount Gorgonio and did not experience altitude sickness so I thought I would be fine. I also drank a ton of water in preparation for the altitude change, but little did I know….
I was staying with a newly married couple in their small 2-bedroom apartment and 1 bathroom. After waking up from a nap, I tried to eat lunch with my Spanish speaking host, and I started getting dizzy. An hour later I was vomiting like crazy and could not at anytime try to stand vertically. I tried the prescription strength nausea medicine, peppermint oil, coca leaves, nothing was touching this stuff. Finally, I thought to take some Dramamine and that turned out to be a life saver. The next day, I felt significantly better, but still pretty puny. I packed up my stuff and made it to the next place which was in the historic district of Cusco. I took it easy for the most part. I was leaving for Machu Picchu in a couple of days and had some logistical things to consider.
I board the bus at 7am to MP. The guy I stayed with the first day assisted me with booking my bus to MP, and apparently informed the bus driver of my sensitive stomach. The bus driver offered me the passenger seat on a 12-person bus which I GRATEFULLY accepted. It took 6 hours on probably the windiest road I have EVER been on in my life. The last hour is a dirt road, thousands of feet above the river, no guardrails, and speeds I’m guessing around 40 mph. Crosses and memorials dotting the road every other curve.
We make it to Hidroelectrica, and I deboard with a French couple. We make our way to the train tracks and started walking the 2-3 hours hike to Aguas Caliantes. I make it to my hostel and CRASHED. There was a slight change of plans and I made it to Aguas Caliantes a day early. I only brought my 18L pack, and dropped off my 40L pack at the next hostel back in Cusco days prior. I checked my room for a Bible and didn’t find one. I began asking around and realized, people don’t own Bibles in this town. It’s a town of 4,525 people, and it’s remote. You either walk there or take the Peru Rail, which is pretty expensive. I went shop to shop asking around (I had the free time), and in my broken Spanish asked people if they owned a Bible and if they wanted one. The answer was pretty unanimous. They did not own a Bible, and they did in fact want one. I tried downloading it on phones, and was successful in one attempt. The phones were a little older, and space was limiting. It was interesting to find that probably the poorest person I asked was the only lady who owned a Bible. It brought a whole new meaning to, ‘the last shall be first and the first last’.
That night I went to sleep and woke up at 2am to the sound of intense rain. I was on the top bunk nearest to the metal roof. Normally I would welcome the tink of the rain drops, but today was slightly different. First off, I could not fall back to sleep. Secondly, I lay in bed and worried the entire night. I did not go back to sleep and instead worried and prayed the rain would stop, and it did not. Well, until it was time to leave the hostel. Moments before I stepped outside, the rain stopped. It stopped long enough to get to the base of the mountain which was pretty far outside of town. I checked in at the ranger station and realized my poncho was back at the hostel. Whoops. The ranger lent me his and sent me on my way. The walk up the mountain was grueling, and it did continue to lightly rain. I made it to the entrance of MP while bus loads of very dry people deboarded, and once again the rain stopped. I had it in mind that the walk up the mountain wouldn’t be so bad, but in retrospect, I might have been a little more confident than I should have been. From the base to the top of Montaña Machu Picchu, I think was somewhere around 7500 stair steps. I was out of shape and not prepared, but the views were incredible and MP is one of those awe-inspiring experiences.
The next day, I walked the train tracks back to Hidroelectrica and took a shared bus to Santa Teresa. I caught a ride to my next destination. A remote farm. A 45-minute cab ride (costing around $7.50) took me on a dirt road around the mountain and down a more remote road where the overgrown grasses on either side of the road were touching in the middle. The cab driver gave me this look like, ‘what are you doing here’. I arrived at the Yellow River, and I was the only guest staying at the farm. I can’t even begin to describe this place. There was the main house, a couple of guest houses, an out-house with a shower and no hot water, and the people who ran the place. They greeted me and we chatted briefly with my broken Spanish. No cell reception, so no translating assistance for the next 4 days. We figured it out though. The first couple of days I offered to help on the farm. I enjoyed working with the team to clear the fields and prepare the land for Cocoa plants. I helped the grandad pick Cocoa plants from the river, and he showed me the Yucca trees and dug Yucca roots from the earth for supper. We harvested bananas, carambola, papaya, and berries that were natural bug repellent. He showed me the mango and avocado trees that wouldn’t be ready until April. I ate what was roughly translated to ‘chocolate’ straight from the tree, but I very much question if that was actually chocolate. Each night the grandma would prepare 3-course dinners. The best utensils laid out with a fresh pot of boiled water to enjoy teas and miel. I read books and listened to my Spanish podcasts. One day the grandad took me for a walk on the Inca trail. It was a very enjoyable experience.
The last day I was there, the grandma and grandad rode to town with me to sell the harvested goods. The grandma insisted that I take a taxi to Cocalmayo and put me back in the taxi for the 10-minute ride out of town. I didn’t really know what Cocalmayo was, but I kept hearing the name and was down for the experience. Turns out Cocoalmayo is a place with 4 large pools of natural, clear, beautiful hot springs and one cold waterfall. I spent the morning jumping back and forth between pools before heading back to town for the 6-hour bus ride home.
I made it back to Cusco that evening, picked up my large pack and took the best hot shower of the trip! I went to bed early and woke up for another bus ride to Rainbow Mountain. A close friend shared that her co-worker from Peru insisted I check out ‘Rainbow Mountain’. Again, with very little research I booked a day trip to the mountain of colors. Turns out… Rainbow Mountain is 5,200 M above sea level… that’s over 17K ft … thankfully, the altitude sickness wasn’t a problem anymore. That said, 17k ft above sea level is REALLY high above sea level. Each step getting up that mountain felt like the earth was pushing against you. It’s a little over 4 miles, but don’t kid yourself, it’s an INTENSE hike.
Again, made it back to Cusco, but to be honest, I wasn’t really feeling the town. There was something about it that didn’t feel …. right. As I understood more of the cultural background, it made more sense to me. Cusco was the ‘Holy City of the Incas’, and the Incas had some pretty interesting theology. They were poly-theists who regularly sacrificed children to appease the mountain gods. On Sundays, the townspeople marched through the streets of the Plaza de Armas and had formal governmental ceremonies outside of the church during Mass. I was looking forward to my flight the next day to Arequipa.
Nov 10-Nov 16
As of tomorrow I will officially have spent 1 week in Arequipa. And I must say, I love this city. The temperament is very similar to San Diego. The people are very friendly, the city is clean and beautiful, every sunset has been spectacular.
I took Spanish classes Monday through Friday, and although I decided to opt for an alternative learning method, I found my Spanish teacher to be an enjoyable person and met a new friend that introduced me to a really good group of people. Turns out there is a small climbing community in the neighborhood of Yanahuara in Arequipa. On Tuesday night I met up with the group for the first time and we went on a night hike to go climbing under the full moon. I have always bouldered and never actually climbed outdoors. It was an incredible experience. I made it up to the top on my second try (admittedly with some significant assistance from the belayer). I will never forget the Spanish word for ‘foot’ (pie), as it was being yelled from ground to find a new foot placement. I went to the climbing gym on Wednesday night for a work out with the group. Looking forward to the one next Monday.
As the Spanish school organized my living arrangement, I found a new place for the next month. Tomorrow I will move to a rooftop terrace where I will have a fairly large room with a desk, bed, and large windows leading out to covered patio and outdoor kitchen overlooking the city. It’s in that Yanahuara neighborhood, where I keep finding myself. The other day I was walking around with my laundry trying to get it washed and I bumped into not 1, but 2 people at different times that I knew. Although my Spanish is still pretty terrible, I’m enjoying the process, and meeting these new friends is definitely ayudiendo.
Until next time (with hopefully not so much of a delay… ), buenos noches