Being Alone

I’ve always loved to be alone. Always. My poor brother was stuck with the worst sibling in the world because I’d rather play by myself than with him. And it’s not like he wasn’t fun to play with, I just had my own games in my own imagination that were better played by myself.

I enjoyed myself at college a lot more after I decided to splurge for a private room. I had great roommates too! It wasn’t their fault. I just did better by myself.

So when I was planning my trip to Peru, I didn’t think twice about my six days alone at the end. Joe and Brian had done the Inca Trail before I came and Joe wanted to do other things besides Machu Picchu again, so I decided to schedule my Machu Picchu tour after he left. No big deal. I do great alone.

Then it was time for him to leave.

Me: “I’ll walk you out to the taxi.”

Joe: “No, that’s okay!”

Me: “Are you sure?” To be interpreted as, “Please let me walk you out to the taxi and squeeze every ounce of human interaction out of you.”

Joe: “No it’s fine!”

And then we said our goodbyes. And he left. And within seconds I realized I was more alone than I’d ever been in my life.

I quickly realized there’s a difference between telling my brother I want to play alone, but knowing he’s still out there to play with if I want, and having my brother be on a different continent.

There’s a difference between staying in a private room, but having roommates to chat with in the kitchen, and not speaking the same language as most of the people around you.

For the first time, ever, I was really and truly alone.

So I sat in the lobby until the wifi went out, and I couldn’t interact with Facebook anymore.

Then, I went to my room and listened to a podcast while doing some laundry because heaven forbid I’m alone with my thoughts.

I flipped on the TV and found an episode of Will and Grace in English. I’d never watched Will and Grace, but I definitely enjoyed it at that moment.

Finally, I decided I had to actually leave the hotel at some point so I went to Choco Museo – the Chocolate Museum – for a brownie because chocolate cures all.

The next day, I did a walking tour of Cusco and went to the Inca Museum. I discovered one of the hardest thing about being alone is having no outlet. While walking through the museum, I wanted to discuss what I was seeing, but there was no one to discuss it with. Right now I’m taking in a lot of information and sights and emotions and having no one to discuss them with is difficult.

As probably expected, with the difficulties, I’ve found some pretty amazing perks of being alone too.

I ate dinner at a restaurant all by myself, the thought of which always sounded too pathetic to be attempted before. It ended up being incredibly empowering.

And the truth is, I’m never alone for long.

Yesterday, I ate lunch with a Swedish Energy healer who lost his mojo after breaking up with his girlfriend, and had spent the last 10 days with shamans in the mountains getting it back.

I went on a tour today with people from all over the US and Europe, and spoke with nearly everybody, including eating lunch with a couple from Diamond Bar, not far from where my family now lives.

One of my goals on this trip was to get better at approaching people and small talk. Even so, Joe always mocked me because I chose the table at the restaurant furthest from everyone else. But the last few days I’ve been forced out of my comfort zone and been able to talk to more people. Realizing you are NOT always painfully awkward is a good feeling.

Now, I’m sitting in a tiny hotel room in Urubamba, a town in the Sacred Valley between Cusco and Machu Picchu. The hotel itself is gorgeous and full of flower gardens. My first inclination was to text Joe and let him know he missed out of one of the best hotels of the trip, but there’s no Wifi. No television. I’ve refrained from flipping on my iPod (I don’t know how long that is going to last, though, if I’m being honest).

For now, I’m sitting alone with my thoughts, which is proving to be one of the most difficult, yet one of the most rewarding, parts of this trip.

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PS Turns out there’s wifi in the lobby after all. But I wrote this before I knew that! I think it mostly still applies.

Amazon Lovin’

Even though my introduction to the jungle was a little bit rocky, I LOVED it there. It is beautiful. There were butterflies everywhere (along with other bugs, but we ignored those), everything was just green and the people were so kind and laid back.

The first few days were spent reading, sleeping, and doing yoga in our jungle bungalow. Then, we moved to Yakari, where we zip lined, walked rope bridges through trees, and kayaked. I did all those things!!

I’m just comfortable here. I don’t know what most of the guides are saying, especially when they use English, but it’s fun to just go along with it all.

The next day rained. A lot. You can’t really complain when you’re in the rainforest.

We went on what would have been an easy walk through the jungle, but became a long game of hopscotch through the mud. We then boarded a canoe and floated around on a gorgeous lake. We stopped for lunch and the rain stopped as well, which was great because then the monkeys came out to eat! I’d been wanting to see wild monkeys the whole time and was seriously satisfied. Unfortunately I didn’t get great pictures, but the flash of red in the bushes is one!

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My favorite part was a nature walk in the dark. The guide enjoyed showing us the largest spiders, ants, and other creepy crawlers he could find. My favorite part, however, was the end. We came across a gigantic tree, probably ten feet across in some parts. He told us to turn off our flashlights and the whole area lit up with fireflies. The indiginous people believed these trees were holy spirits that could help with difficulty, and a bunch of other stuff I didn’t really understand.

As I stood in the jungle near this tree surrounded by fireflies, I felt connected to the spirit of the jungle. I felt connected to its history, plants, animals, and creepy crawlers. That space was truly majestic.

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Losing my Phone and Trusting the Jungle

I’m a little over halfway through my Peru trip! I’m currently sitting in a hammock in the Amazon jungle. It’s beautiful here and I don’t want to leave.

Three days ago we were in Puno near, Lake Titicaca, the highest navigable lake in the world. It was great but it was cold. The air was thin and I think I was allergic to the alpaca blanket in the hotel or something because I hadn’t stopped coughing in two days. Needless to say, I was thrilled to land in the warm, thick-aired jungle three days ago.

A taxi picked us up and took us to our “hotel,” which was this little cabin at this lodge in the middle of the jungle. Our host was incredibly sweet and greeted us with freshly squeezed pineapple juice. We decided to spend the evening in town to find some wifi and secure a few travel plans. We had our lodge call a taxi. He dropped us off at the plaza and 30 seconds after he drove away, I realized my phone wasn’t in my pocket. I’d left it in the cab.

I was panicked. I knew the longer the taxi was gone, the less likely I was to ever find it again. We found a pay phone that took approximately 283 tries before it took my money and tried to call our hostel, but the number we had “no existencia” – didn’t exist. Joe suggested we go to Yakari, a jungle tour group we needed to see anyway about some activities later in the week. We did and told them what had happened.

“Oh was the driver a skinny guy?” The receptionist asked.

“Ya!” we replied.

“Oh yeah, I know who that is.”

Apparently Kapievi, the place we were staying, uses the same taxi driver a lot, and in this small town, this was common knowledge. The Yakari woman made a few phone calls and the next thing I knew, we had found my phone. The taxi was far away and wouldn’t be back until later that night, but he would drop my phone at the Yakari office when he arrived.

I couldn’t believe it. I had been sure my phone was gone, but they had found it and were really worried about helping me. Everyone in the touring office, lodge, and taxi driver were working to get me my phone back.

There’s nothing quite like losing something and being at the total mercy of others to feel completely comfortable in a place.

As annoying as losing my phone was and as mad as I was at myself for it, I don’t know if there’s any better way to feel at ease. The jungle had welcomed me, scatter-brained and all.

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Juanita in Arequipa

I have been in Peru a week! I can’t believe it! In some ways it seems much longer and in others it is going by so fast! I’m currently in Puno, my fourth town in a week. Tomorrow, we will tour the floating islands of Lake Titicaca.

The last two days were spent in Arequipa, a relatively small town in the Southern Highlands. In the middle of the city is the beautiful Plaza de Armas filled with Palm Trees and lined by a large cathedral on one side. We spent both nights dining on the balcony above the plaza.

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My favorite thing about Arequipa, however, was Juanita.

Juanita is a 650 year-old body frozen in time. Given as an offering to the Inca gods somewhere between the ages of 10-12, she stayed buried in the frozen ground atop one of Arequipa’s highest peaks until the late ’90s. At that time, a nearby volcanic eruption melted the ground around her. She fell into a crater with her face exposed to the sun for about 9 days before archeologists found her. Her face is, therefore, dehydrated, but the rest of her body and hair were kept nearly perfectly in tact. She now sits in a refrigerated glass case in the Museo Santuarios Andinos, where I met her.

Before we met Juanita, we watched a video about what human sacrifice meant to the Incan people. They explained how children were chosen because of their innocence and how she probably felt proud to be picked for this task. She would have also found comfort, the video said, in knowing she would now go live with the gods.

The video concluded by pointing out that, Inca gods aside, Juanita did do a great deed for her people by embodying and preserving the Incan history and story, and that she did have something she should feel extremely proud of.

A few minutes later as I looked at the shriveled little girl in the box, I couldn’t help feeling conflicted and sorry for her. As someone who has struggled with “perfection” and trying to live up to others’ expectations, I knew she had no choice, no matter how the video framed it. She was told that her entire people’s salvation depended on her death. A death that included hiking to freezing cold and extremely thin air, drinking intoxicating drugs, and receiving a deathly blow to the head. She had to do it.

She would have died knowing that her parents and people were proud of her. And that may have been enough. I wish she could have known that she would continue to impact people, including me, a half century later.

Thank you for your sacrifice, Juanita, although I wish you hadn’t had to do it.

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Pictures weren’t allowed in the museum, but here is a picture I found of her online.

Nasca

Yesterday we spent the day in Nasca. It’s a cute little tourist town all concentrated on one thing: the Nasca Lines.

The Nasca Lines are these huge designs in the desert created by the Nasca people. They include geometric shapes as well as pictures of a whale, spider, humming bird, monkey, condor, and much much more. They are so huge, the only way to see them is by flying over them, which is what we did.

The lines were made by removing a top layer of dark dirt to allow for the lighter dirt underneath to show. They would then line the shapes with rocks.

No one is really sure why the lines are there or their meaning. We heard 3 different explanations yesterday alone. Some think it has to do with water, others with the stars, and some say it was to talk to gods. Like Stonehenge, they’re meaning is an unexplainable mystery.

Meaning aside, they are gorgeous pieces of artwork. I had a hard time getting a good picture from the little plane but here’s some to try and show what we saw.

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