November 17 – December 7, 2019

Proverbs 16:3

Commit to the LORD whatever you do, and he will establish your plans

November 17-23, 2019 [Arequipa, Peru]

I packed my bags and headed for my new temporary residence on the rooftop terrace of a complex in Yanahuara a neighborhood in Arequipa.  I really loved the new location and it was closer to the historic district which made for nice walks throughout the day.  I had it in mind to be very scheduled and diligent with my Spanish studies, but to be honest I failed miserably at this. 

I spent the week in between a range of activities.  The terrace had a *fabulous* kitchen with a wall of glass doors leading out to the deck that overlooked the neighborhood and grand bridge that unfortunately blocked the peak of Montana de Misti.  I took the opportunity to cook a LOT of my meals.  I missed cooking, and with the lack of day to day pressures, this chance to relax, listen to podcasts and music while enjoying the scenery was a welcomed routine.  I especially enjoyed cooking in the evenings.  The air was cool, and I found a strand of Christmas lights and a few candles that served as my primary light sources.  The market was about a mile away.  There were 2 supermarkets (1 in the basement floor of a very elite mall) and the 2nd was down the street in a 2-story building where you took your cart up a floor to get to the food.  There was an actual outdoor local market next to the supermarket, but as this was my first round purchasing a large quantity of groceries, I was not confident enough in my Spanish speaking abilities to navigate the situation. In the states, I make a point to space out or buy limited quantities of many items for cost savings.  Here in Peru, I found and bought all of the grocery items I wanted! I bought avocados, passion fruits, fruits that looked like passion fruit but weren’t and were slightly sweet and tasted DELICIOUS, almonds, pecans, jar of peanut butter, quinoa, organic yogurt, sauces, spices, rotisserie chickens, blue cheese, another type of cheese, really nice meats, precut vegetables which I was unfamiliar, and a number of other items.  In total I’m embarrassed to say I spent a total of $70.  This is a ridiculous amount of money, especially when my weekly rent was $77, but I missed cooking and my body was (and still is) craving nice salads and a high protein/fat diet.  So, I made my way home by taxi with bags of groceries and meal prepped by candle light. 

I kept the rest of my week pretty mellow.  I managed to get at least 6 Spanish lessons in online.  I also went for a lot of walks around the neighborhood and took many afternoon naps.  To get to the historic district from my Airbnb, I walked through a long park that bordered the river and ‘International Club’ which was more or less a country club.  The park is a little neighborhood oasis. At any given time, you would see fathers playing soccer with their kids, older ladies knitting on a park benches, many young couples in full embraces, groups of younger people sharing ‘special’ drinks from old soda bottles.  Towards the end of the long stretch of park there were llamas left to graze during the day.  Large trees scattered throughout and pineapple sized flowers that smelled like honey suckle lining the sidewalks.  I turned left out of the park to cross the bridge into the historic district.  It was at the end of the bridge where the street vendors appeared, restaurants, and all of the historic points of interest spread across the city.  I took a liking to this one particular desert called ‘Sopa de Lucuma’ at the restaurant Capriccio.  I liked this desert so much in fact I had it a total of 3 (yes 3) times.  The dish came out on a large rectangular plate with a cream and chocolate swirled pudding type spread, then there were these three-gumball size fried balls dimpled on top.  When you cut into the fried balls, they oozed out steamy chocolate lava.  I realized on round two of this magical desert experience, that one ought to pour spoonfuls of the pudding concoction on top of the fried balls before releasing the chocolate goodness from its fried shell. YUM. YUM. YUM.

Other evenings I went for walks on the south side of the city to get better views of the sunsets.  I REALLY enjoyed the sunsets in Arequipa.  The colors in the sky were breath taking.  The way the dry hot air turned brisk and light was well worth simply finding a chair and watching the sky shift into dusk.  On one particular evening I found the Munanqui Tea House with probably the best tea menu I have ever seen in my life (https://munanqui.com)

It was that Wednesday mid-morning when I realized how significantly my life had changed.  I had been attending workouts a couple of times a week at the climbing gym, and the owner was planning for an outdoor hike which I was invited to participate.  I met up with the group and took a bus about 20 minutes out of town.  We ended up in this mosquito infested landing near the river with giant flat boulders prepared for our ascension.  As I was getting ready for a 2nd round of outdoor climbing (this time in the bright of day), I realized that it was in fact a Wednesday and I was hanging out with some Peruvians, Frenchmen, and one kid from the states and we were just climbing some rocks.  No meetings, no emails, no ‘making the donuts’ 😊, just hanging out in Peru climbing some rocks.  Life is good.  I did three climbs that day, each one harder than the next.  It was weird looking down and having your feet dangling above 50-70 feet of space with only your toes tucked onto a ledge and fingers barely griping a hold.  I only fell once on the first climb, but the entire experience was more than invigorating.  I felt very confident until the last climb.  I had just made it to the top and was ready to descend when I looked down, and the guy belaying me had received a phone call which he promptly TOOK while I was preparing (mentally) to repel.  Not my favorite moment in life… After climbing I made my rounds to my first Peruvian ceviche and I was more than impressed by the food.  

Throughout the week I had the opportunity to play frunton with some new friends.  Frunton is a Peruvian sport very similar to racquet ball/tennis.  It has a racket and a baseball sized plastic ball that you serve against a wall and the opponent(s) receive the ball from the wall and proceed to smash the ball as hard as possible against the wall while keeping the ball within the boundaries.  Although similar to tennis, it removes all necessary fundamentals of the sport. Rather than encouraging a forehand with complete follow through over the shoulder and bent knees, frunton strongly encourages a brass swing in any conceivable direction so long you’re aiming towards the very tall wall.  The sport is fun and high intensity.  I am surprised by how long it takes me to get the hang of it, but fortunately the people I am playing with are patient and even let me serve twice on my turns (which was very necessary).

That Saturday, I prepared stuffed Caihua with vegetables, sausage, pepper jack cheese and sweet potatoes.  Afterwards I was craving my favorite desert and made my way to town.  After taking the last bite of the Sopa de Lucuma, I started to hear music coming from the street.  I went to the door to see what was happening, and I found an entourage of street performers and people carrying this doll shaped idol on a platform.  Group after group of musicians proceeded coordinated dancers in full costume performing dance routines over and over again led by whistle blowers maintaining the masses.  I paid my bill and made my way to the plaza where I knew a set of stairs that would lead me to the rooftop to watch the parade.  I was surprised to see that I was the first of only a few people who would arrive in the location.  The parade went on for some time.  I finally managed to speak with someone who explained that the event was in honor of some type of music goddess.  Apparently if the people in the town need a blessing of music, they can go ask the doll for assistance.  I stayed long enough to see a couple of people bowing before the doll gesturing the sign of the cross as they knelt. 

November 24-30, 2019 [Arequipa/Yanque, Peru]

Sunday came around and I was excited to attend an actual church service.  I went into town for an early breakfast and made my way to the church.  Church ended up lasting 5 hours which would have been fine had I understood more of it.  I was following along during Bible school and sang along to the worship songs, but as we got into the announcements and regular message, I was completely lost.  Towards the end of service, they had me stand up and say hello, which was nice and awkward since I couldn’t really say anything back. I smiled and nodded and sat down quickly.  It was a very friendly group, and many people came by to greet me afterwards.  I tried my best, but dipped out quickly. 

The next day I took on the adventure of walking across the bridge that had been staring at me from my rooftop. It was not particularly easy to get across. I suspected a pedestrian lane as I had seen many people walking across.  When I made it to the entrance of the bridge I was slightly intimidated to cross.  I found it strange that on this very busy 4 lane bridge there was an ice cream vendor setup between the round-about and bridge entrance. I watched as two or three taxis came zipping over to park and request their order from the passenger window.  I continued past and walked over the river to the neighborhood on the other side.  My objective was to make it what appeared to be a very large park per the map.  I somehow missed my turn, and ended up in this very kid friendly neighborhood.  The neighborhood was quite literally decorated with child art.  Pictures hung from the trees and were taped to the light posts.  It was like a parent’s refrigerator door decorated the town.  I finally made it to the park, but after fighting swarms of mosquitoes, opted to continue into town to run a couple of errands. 

That night I made it home and began craving some skewered meat. I had remembered seeing a street vendor setup nights before with a grill. My neighbor and I walked to town and we each ended up purchasing 3 skewers each for less than 5 soles (<$2).  I had two carne asada and one stick of corazon…  This was the week of appreciating street vendors, and I kept having random cravings for street food.  One night I had an urge to track down the churro lady… another successful mission, and dang that stuffed churro was delicious!

I was trying to find different things to do in the city.  I came across a chocolate making class at ‘The Chocolate Corner’ and signed right up.  This was hands down one of the coolest classes I have ever taken.  The host was Mark, a professional chocolatier who had studied chocolate in a 4-year program in Belgium. He met his Peruvian wife and later moved to Arequipa to open up a shop. The access to cocoa and other prime chocolate-making ingredients are readily available in Peru.  Mark thoroughly explained all of the details involved in the cocoa manufacturing process.  Not only did we make truffles and chocolate bars, but we taste tested different ingredients, and he showed me the secrets to preparing a perfect chocolate bar.  It was a real life ‘Willy Wonka’ experience, and to top it off, he gave me the recipes!

It was Thanksgiving week, and I was debating what to do.  I had met a lot of really cool people in Arequipa, and thought of hosting a little get together for a group.  On a whim I sent a few messages out and had a pretty good response.  I confirmed with the Airbnb host, and he agreed to let me host a few people. The day before Thanksgiving I came up with a menu, made a grocery list (in Spanish), and headed to the market.  This time, I was going to the real mercado, none of that supermarket business.  I had three large bags in tow and a list.  One of my proudest moments was successfully making a round through all of the vendors and buying almost every item I needed using what little Spanish I had started to pick-up.  I opted to cheat a little, and I did stop by the supermarket for just a few final items (specifically queso azul and 4 rotisserie pollos).  I made my way back home by taxi, and prepped food until 1am listening to every country song and child hood favorite hit I could think to play. 

Thanksgiving Day, I played a round of frunton and invited a few more friends to Thanksgiving.  The early morning frunton game was accented by a coffee invitation by the three older men that hung around the courts and spent their mornings conversating under an umbrella covered table near the courts.  The conversation had revolved primarily around religion to which I thoroughly enjoyed.  I understood large chunks of the conversation, and was even able to speak (with some assistance) here and there. 

The Thanksgiving dinner count had grown a bit, and I was up to around 13 guests.  I still needed to pick up a bus ticket, so I made my way across town to the Terminal station.  Upon arriving home, I hit the ground running and continued prepping the food.  Everything was taking quite a bit longer than expected, as I believe I had used quite a bit of propane in the week prior.  It all worked out and the dishes turned out wonderfully.  The guests were a mixed bunch, some I had met from climbing, another from my Spanish school, there was a group of four that I had met from the previous night who lived in Flordia and were traveling to Arequipa to visit their friends and family, and of course my neighbors and friends from frunton.  It ended up being an incredible night, and we topped it off with a venture into town to watch some local jazz. 

The next day was a bit of a whirlwind. I hadn’t quite planned on it, but on a whim, I emailed a Workaway program in Colcoa Canyon.  Colcoa Canyon is around 3 hours north of Arequipa.  It’s a hub for tourists, and throughout the city of Arequipa there are tour groups all over the city offering pretty expensive treks through Colcoa. The canyon itself is said to be deeper than the Grand Canyon.  The Workaway I had applied to was a resort hotel in the village of Yanque with horses, gardens, and a planetarium.  I had initially sent an e-mail and was rejected as I was only going to be available for less than 2 weeks, and there was a 3-week minimum.  The day after my rejection e-mail, I received a follow-up that there was a German couple who had planned to stay, but had a family emergency and needed to leave.  With the opportunity available, I booked a bus for Chivay and left the day after Thanksgiving. 

I made it to the town of Chivay in the early afternoon.  I was able to pick up a few essentials, grab a lunch from a restaurant serving a ‘menu del dia’, and tracked down the collectivos (minibuses where you share a ride with a group of people).  Collectivos are super cheap (~$0.60).  I showed the address to the driver, and he told me he would drop be off on the street, and I should walk straight until I see the hotel.  We drove the 15 minutes, and sure enough the driver pulled over and pointed me in the direction.  I don’t know what I was expecting, but Yanque is a pretty small town (~2,000 people).  Based on a pretty small sampling I’m guessing the average income is somewhere around 3-4 soles per hour ($1-$1.30 per hour).  I stepped out of the bus on a dirt road with dilapidated building all around.  There wasn’t a person in site, and the wind had really started to pick up.  I made it to the end of the dirt road and could see the hotel.  It was then that I hear what I am fairly confident is a bee (but maybe in retrospect a very large fly?) Whatever it was got stuck in my hair.  At this point, I have a 40L pack on my back, a daypack on my front, and a cloth bag on my shoulder.  I am whipping my hair like a CRAZY person trying to get this bee/fly out of my hair, and it WILL NOT LEAVE.  I spend a solid 60-90 seconds running, screaming, flipping my hair and praying that I will not get stung while all of this luggage is strapped to my body.  And so, with a bit of my pride left in the wind and dirt, I arrive at Tradicion Colca.   

When I first arrive, I am greeted by a 19-year old Swedish kid who will soon be my closest friend at the ranch.  He speaks incredible Spanish and English, and really has a knack for putting the place into perspective.  The truth turns out to be, the ranch is a bit… over marketed.  There are very few guests, most shifts (5 hours per day, 6 days a week) are spent thoroughly cleaning already clean things, and apparently there is ‘nothing to do’.  Entonces, I put my things in my cubby hole of a room, and head to the lobby where there is pretty slow internet.  I start to research every opportunity in the area, and I manage to come up with a pretty decent list.  I share it with my new friend who is stocked at any opportunity to get out of the hotel, and we agree to go on a hike the next day.

December 1-7, 2019 [Yanque, Peru/Cocoa Canyon]

It’s my first formal day of work in a little over a month and a half.  As informed by my dear friend, I spend the morning wiping window seals, moving chairs, sweeping, mopping, waxing floors, and cleaning patio furniture.  It is what it is, and I look forward to the hike.  The next couple of days are spent like this:  work in the morning and hike in the afternoons.  I find a few trails walking distance from the hotel and we make our way to the area.  On our first hike out, and in typically Grace fashion, I navigate incorrectly, and we end up near a river.  We start to make our own trail, but we need to cross the river.  Rather than jumping across a bunch of rocks that seemed a bit dangerous to me, I opt to walk straight through the river.  I end up throwing my shoes across to the other side, and one ends up in a puddle, haha! My buddy and I end up following the river quite a way, and then ascend to where we spot a bridge.  We climb through the terraced fields around the edges of planted gardens, and make steep climbs to fields of sheep and llamas, eventually making it to the bridge leading back to town. 

The next day we make a second attempt at the original trail headed towards the Uyo Uyo ruins.  We were told that there was a waterfall in the area and keep an eye out for it.  The Uyo Uyo ruins were occupied by the Quichuay Indians before the Incas took over.  I am again impressed by the ingenuity and irrigation systems, and the fact that much of the structures are still standing.  We spot the waterfall and follow a trail that appears to lead to the base.  There are NO PEOPLE IN SITE, and I begin to be even more thankful for a hiking buddy to explore safely.  We find the base of the waterfall, and start to climb a very steep path upward.  We find our way to a rock that overlooks the entire valley. In the distance, we see the river we explored the day prior, the volcano, Uyo Uyo ruins, town of Yanque, and the waterfall.  It’s a pretty incredible place.  In the distance we hear the roll of thunder and start to head back to town.

On Tuesday, we are brave enough to take a bus into Colca.  A year or more ago, I paid the premium rate for an AllTrails subscription which enabled me to download the area maps.  In the app, I found a couple of routes that would take us to two of the prime sites that someone back in Aguas Caliantes near Machu Picchu had shared with me.  The first hike was a pretty short route that took us to see a valley where condors would fly between 8-10am in the morning.  With the guide of an AllTrails map, and the name of a one-way bus route, we headed to the Plaza to wait for the bus.  We each pay the 5 soles for what turns out to be a 1-hour bus ride.  The bus stops at each village and we watch the passengers come and go.  The Peruvian woman are all decked out in their traditional skirts, long sleeve blouses, vests, and be-dazzled hats.  We make are way to the destination when we realize AllTrails is having us dropped off literally in the middle of no where on the side of the road.  I feel confident that this is the place, so we knock on the driver door and have him pull over.  Sure enough, we find the trail and begin our short walk across the edge of the canyon towards the condors.  For lack of better words, the local troll comes to us asking to see our Colca Canyon pass.  Apparently, there is a 5-day pass that is required to be in the canyon.  This is the first time either of us are hearing about this.  At first, we are skeptical, but it becomes clear that this is in fact a requirement for all tourists.  The cost is 70 soles (~$23) each.  We explain that we are volunteering in a village nearby, and that we are only going on this short hike for less than an hour to see the condors before returning to work in the afternoon.  Eventually we talk her down to 15 soles each and she hands us a pass that is good for 2 days.   This was an unexpected joy which we only later realize the true value. After paying the troll, we embark on our 1.5 mile hike to the condors.  When we arrive, we see no condors. Only slightly disappointed, we find a nice place overlooking the canyon and eat our packed lunches.  As we are finishing up lunch, we see a bus pull up and it appears to be heading back in the direction we need to go.  This is very fortunate, as the place is starting to clear out and we were told the next bus wasn’t going to arrive for another 4-5 hours (if at all).  We speak with the driver, and he has exactly two spaces left.  He charges us 5 soles each, and we begin the ride back to town.  We soon realize that we crashed a tour bus.  This works out quite well for us.  We get the history of the area, and the driver stops at many places along the way back to let everyone out of the bus for pictures and a brief synopsis.  Fortunately for me, I have my trusty translator in tow, and my dear friend skips all the boring details and fills in the gaps with a lot of ‘blah, blah, blahs’. At one of the stops there is a man-made tunnel created from the rock. It reminds me of a picture my dad and grandpa took together when he was maybe a little younger than me.  I get my friend to snap the shot.   When we make it back to the hotel, we grab some lunch and decide to go to the hot springs.  The hot springs are across town (and by across town, like a 15-minute walk).  We walk down the steep hill, across the swinging bridge, and make it to the hot springs.  They tell us it’s 30 soles for 2 people, but we haggle down to 20 for 2.  There are 5-6 covered hot springs.  The pools have been carved out of the rock and are full of minerals. The water is naturally warmed from the active volcano nearby.  I haven’t had a hot shower in a few days and it is a relief to the body to relax in the steamy water.  After the hot springs we head back, and I work a 5-hour shift.  A few guests arrive, and I immediately know they are Californian.  I find out later they are actually from Rancho Bernardo and use to live near my old neighborhood.  I get the slightest bit homesick speaking with them, but we have a great conversation and enjoy sharing stories from Peru. 

Wednesday is my free day.  It is finally time to explore THE Colca Canyon.  We board the bus and enjoy the 1-hour scenic ride towards our destination.  Again, we have the driver drop us off at some unknown location on the side of the road.  We find our way to a water hole where I purchase some water and my kid friend grabs a Twix (which he insists are from EU, lol).  The lady tells us there is no chance we’re finishing our hike in a single day.  We insist we know what we’re doing.  We start the descension, and continue the descent for the next 9 km.  The canyon is massive, and to be honest, at the beginning, I really didn’t think the map was going to take us all the way to the river at the base of the canyon.  Had I known that piece of information earlier on, I might have woosed out.  Remember this thing is deeper than the Grand Canyon.  But I must say, it was magical.  I’m not sure if it was the altitude or dehydration, but I sat for a while zoning out on the way back up, just staring at the vastness of it all, trying to grasp the size. It was a bit unbelievable and no pictures do it justice.  In total we ended up with 18.2 km, 27,237 steps, and 306 floors of stairs at 3,395M… Not to mention, I’m trailing this 19-year old kid who has the fastest walking pace I’ve ever seen. We made it back in record time and began looking for a ride back home.  On the way up, I started praying hard for a ride.  The thunder started rolling, and I was worried we were going to get caught in the rain.  The place where the bus dropped us was deserted.  We planned to hitchhike, but hadn’t really seen to many cars.  A commercial truck drove by, but didn’t have space.  A few minutes later we saw a car in the distance.  We stuck out our thumbs and they pulled over.  We asked for a ride to Yanque, and they said they would be driving near, and told us to hop in.  They were two friends from Madrid driving a rent-a-car through the canyons headed back to Chivay.  They were really nice, and the girl and I immediately hit it off.  She is a professional violinist and shared with us some of her work.  She also typed out a list of Spanish artists and songs for me to check out:

  • El Colectivo – La Sra Tomasa
  • La Bejazz (jazz flamenco)
  • Ahyvin Bruno
  • Flavia Coehlo
  • Ana Tijoux
  • Eskorzo
  • Jorge Pardo
  • Chano Dominguez
  • Silvia Perez Cruz
  • Bomba Estereo
  • Diego El Cigala
  • Javier Limon
  • Volando Junto a Ti (song)

Unbeknownst to us, they were on route passing right in front of our hotel.  They left us there, and we said our goodbyes.  Apparently, I left my hat in the backseat, and they were so kind to turn around and drive back to our hotel to give me the hat.  They hung out at the hotel for a little while, and we chatted a bit more. 

A few hours later a new volunteer arrived.  A really laid-back dude from Spain who has an infectious laugh.  My Twix loving-speed walkin’ friend wasn’t too thrilled about a handful of things going on at the hotel, and opted to leave early the next morning.

The next day I came down with another round of stomach issues.  I try eating very bland foods, use my oils, take the last of my probiotics/multi-vitamin/methylfolate, nothing really helped.  I ended up spending a majority of the next day in bed, then working, then back to bed. 

Friday was a very relaxing day.  It was just me and the Spanish dude, and not a single hotel guest.  Later in the afternoon another dude showed up. He was from the Bay area, and a professional cook at a Michelin 1-star restaurant.  I hadn’t eaten much for at least a day, so I was pretty stocked to have a chef show up.  That evening, the three of us decided to check out the Plaza and potentially go to the next town over.  When we made it to the plaza it was completely empty.  We hung out in the ONLY open place and played a few rounds of a new card game called ‘Cambio’.

Saturday morning, I woke up early to help with making a staff breakfast.  I was excited to help and got quite a few tips on omelets, hash browns, poached eggs, directions for making fancy infused butter with garlic/shallots/parsley.  Afterwards, we scraped the restaurant chairs and re-stained them. Later that evening, the three of us played more rounds of ‘Cambio’ next to a dying fire.   

September 30 – November 16, 2019

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. 

Oct 11-13

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. 

Oct 13-17

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. 

Nov 1-10

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

September 29, 2019

I just came back from visiting my sister in Denver. While I was out there I had a realization that this is happening, and it’s happening soon. I landed in the San Diego airport with the anticipation of arriving ‘home’. Home, what a weird concept. Maybe it’s just an expression of the familiar? From the San Diego airport I took the shuttle to the train station. Riding along the coast I had an opportunity to see the harbor and cityscape as the morning light poured between the buildings. The train ride from Sante Fe to Oceanside was quiet. I overheard conversations and stared out the window watching the beach cities move past, knowing exactly where I was and what gorgeous views were to come next. Periodically seeing the ocean extend out to the edge of the earth. This was going to be my last return ‘home’ for at least a year. In two weeks everything was going to change. When I arrived to my flat, I found the mint in my window seal soaking in a coffee cup. It had grown enough of a root system to be planted. I found a nice place next to the lime tree.

August 21, 2019

54 days until I quit my very comfortable job, drive half way across the United States, drop off everything I own, put on a 40L backpack, and head to South America. 

It was September 9, 2017 when I found myself on a business trip in Poland.  It had been a whirlwind of a year.  At that point, I had traveled quite a bit for quick trips through Europe and Asia.  On that particular trip, I was with my manager and a couple of regional coworkers. We met at a restaurant for lunch, and a former coworker and friend also had joined. She was a little over a year into a Round the World (RTW) trip.  I used to sit two seats down from her in the office.  I recalled the first time she told me she was quitting her job to travel. She had a spirit about her I rarely, if ever, had seen.  I remember being quite upset when she said she was leaving, but I admired her bravery.  Years later, it was at that lunch in a hipster diner in Śródmieście, Warsaw that she stepped back into our lives with a backpack and a calm, reflective, worldly demeanor in tow.  We spent a lovely few hours catching up before making our way to the airport, stopping at a fruit stand along the way.  I remember sitting in the back seat of the taxi and I asked my friend a question, “When was the last time you checked an email?” She could not recall, maybe a few days prior? A week? I envisioned what that email might have looked like.  A flight confirmation or an email to a friend met in passing. Whatever it was, I had imagined it was far from the corporate jargon of reports, presentations, meeting invites, company mailers. At that particular point in my life, I was BURNT OUT.  I had burnt both ends of the stick for far too long, and although I was living the dream of traveling and meeting my targets, I wasn’t quite ready to admit to myself that I felt unfulfilled and honestly, just tired.  I fit in as much work and fun as I could, but I was running from my own problems and rather than face them, I threw myself into my work with everything I had.  The taxi arrived at Warsaw Modlin Airport, we parted ways.  I made my way to the gate, destination Lisbon.  The flight was delayed which was fine.  I sat with pen and paper in hand ready to free-write, but found myself in a complete trance.  In those moments, a somber heaviness began to descend. I knew what came next.  I was going to travel. Trade in my suit jacket and airport friendly heals for a moisture wicking top and Teva sandals.  I messaged my friend… how much does it cost? She gave me a number. Seemed outrageous, and I was in a little credit card debt at the time.  I started budgeting.  At first I thought I could save enough in a year.  A year turned into two, but here we are… 54 days away – 1 full time job and 2 side hustles later.  I am so thankful for the two years I have had to save.  It has given me the time to build relationships, work on those things from which I was running; I even found a church home. I’m going to miss this place.  As much as I am looking forward to this experience, change puts me on edge. I turned 30 a few weeks ago, a few grey hairs popping up… YOLO right?!  If not now, when… The only way I can describe it is it feels like I just bought a ticket to go sky diving… I’m in the harness and I can see people falling out of the sky, and I know how incredible and how scary and thrilling that experience is going to be. But first, I have to board the plane, get strapped in, walk to the edge, close my eyes, and JUMP. 

But right now.  I’m still just looking up, and while I’m down here on the ground, I’m going to see my family, hang out with my friends, speak in a language I understand, wake up in my comfortable bed with my all of my collection of things, and schedules, and consistencies… and I’m just going to appreciate today.