When I wrote this post I was sitting in a cozy, quaint, and family-owned pizza place outside of the city center of Cusco, Peru. My solo travels through Peru, the two weeks before I moved officially to Bolivia, were coming to an end and I was feeling relatively inspired and on fire this particular evening. It should be noted, too, that this was written the day after the Crossroads Center Mall attack–which happened very close to many places that I affectionately call “home”–10 people were injured and 1 person was killed. This context, I think, is important to remember when reading the post below.
Let me get straight to the point. This is something I have been thinking about for a long while…without the right words to properly describe it. This is something that has been on my heart…
I love to travel. Sure, that’s obviously true. I travel as often as I possibly can! But, for me, traveling is more than just taking a “trip.” It’s more than seeing the sights and snapping a few photos (although, if you know me well, you know I love to snap lotssss of photos!). Travel is about learning. Travel is about growing. Travel is about becoming. For me personally, it is an undeniable reality that traveling has taught me more than most other things in my life. As I sit here reflecting on this most recent adventure of mine–a few weeks through many different parts of Peru, mostly traversed alone–I have to say that one of the amazing lessons for me has been in realizing the inherent good of the human spirit.
It feels so easy and natural recently to be bogged down, uninspired, and even skeptical of those who are different than us, those who don’t live close to us—those who don’t make up our “inner circle.” But traveling, especially alone as a woman (I hate that I have to even distinguish my gender in that sentiment, but sadly it is necessary in more parts of the world than not) has shown me the inherent good in humanity. There is far more good in this world than evil. There is far more hope than despair, far more grace, far more kindness and far more gentleness than I think we ever want to fully believe. I profess this truth with every ounce of my being. Let me tell you how I know this…
There was good, you see, in Nikola, an Australian woman I met while touring Colca Canyon in Arequipa, Peru. As a fellow solo woman traveler, we were able to find laughs and inspiration in our conversation about the joys, struggles, triumphs, heartaches, and feelings of being “superwomen” that come from traveling alone, and taking the world as it throws itself at you.
There was good in my taxi driver, Segundo, who in Lima, on my second day in Latin America, offered me the boost and confidence and hope I needed in my Spanish skills—hope that allowed me to continue on my journey ashamed.
There was good in the Coloradan couple I met as I hiked to the top of Machu Picchu Mountain (a mountain that sits behind the magnificent Machu Picchu ruins). The path up to the heights of this particular mountain resembles an Incan-version of a stair-climber more than it does a moderately difficult path to hike a mountain. These two happy souls offered me encouragement and conversation as I struggled for 2+ hours up narrow, jagged, unsteady rock stairs to the summit. They had climbed the mountain five times and said it never got any easier! As we descended, and I realized I had run out of water, they even took out their bottles and poured every last drop of water they had directly into my bone-dry bottle, as I was on the verge of dehydration and their journey was about to take them back to the city.
There was good in the Brazilian woman who struggled up this same mountain by my side—we never spoke one fluent sentence to each other (well, not for lack of trying… she only spoke Portuguese and I English and Spanish)…but what we realized was that the struggles of the human body and spirit do not need a language, they are simply universal. And even more is this true of the triumphs of the human body and spirit—we celebrated joyously at the end of our climb, at the peak of the mountain, in a manner that transcended the barriers of any linguistic pattern.
There was good in Janny and Mary, a Canadian and a Mexican pair of superwomen, charismatic and lovely travelers I met (and then continued to run into for days) who invited me to join them for dinner and different adventures over the many days that our travel plans overlapped. We spent our time laughing, trading traveling stories and reveling in all the growth that comes from these experiences.
And there was good in the couple from San Francisco I met on my train from Machu Picchu to Cusco. We chatted effortlessly for four hours—and they inspired me by 1) their love and passion for travel (they have traveled more extensively than anyone else I have ever met! And to some really dang cool places, too!); 2) their commitment to doing good in every single place that they visit by going to a local charity or hospital and spending time getting to know the community beyond just the classic “tourist destinations;” 3) their generosity—not only do they subsequently donate to ever single place they visit in every single city, but they also touched me by their generosity when we stepped off the train and they realized I didn’t have a taxi set up. They graciously welcomed me in their taxi and then paid my fair. They were true gems.
You see, before I left on this journey that I think is inevitably changing my life, I had fallen into that same negative mindset I mentioned before—what was I thinking traveling alone, as a young, US American woman? What things would I encounter–what bad would I encounter? How would I handle being “alone” for so many days?
And, of course, there have been tough moments. I would be sugar-coating if I said that it had all been rosy… there have been countless communication errors, moments of stress that come from traveling alone with a year’s worth of luggage, times when I’ve been overcharged for taxis because I am so obviously a “tourist,” and even one night where I was plagued by unrelenting anxiety for no apparent reason at all (but that’s usually how anxiety strikes, isn’t it?).
Each of these moments, though, has become a lesson for me. With the right hermeneutic, I can look at them and be content, because I learned something from each and every experience—they have all taught me so much.
They have taught me to trust my intelligence, my “street smarts”, my strength and myself. These moments have taught me more about the comfort I feel and the passion I know radiates from my core—comfort and passion that I think can only be possible because of the faith that I hold so dear to me. I have learned to look with loving eyes on the incredible ways that the Spirit is shaping this journey and shaping me, more and more, each and every day, into the woman I was always meant to become.
But mostly, to be totally honest, these moments have taught me that this world is big and it is beautiful—and yes, it is messy. But yet, drenched in goodness. Goodness and grace found in people and fellow travelers; goodness and grace found in landscapes and natural beauty; goodness and grace found in times of trial—and then the peace that comes in relying on this faith of mine through each treacherous moment.
I know, believe me, how easy it is to fall into the suspicion that the world is an ugly and bad place. But let me say from my experience (and I hope this resonates with yours, too)—this is not the case.
This world of ours is spectacular and humanity is magnificently resilient.
You just have to go and see it for yourself.
As I said before, my time pre-traveling through Peru has officially ended. There were so many highlights I cannot even begin to touch on them all here! But some of my major favorite moments were:
- Sea kayaking around the coast of Lima (my first time ever kayaking in anything other than a lake)!
- Spending two weekends with a dear college friend, Erin, who is working and living in a town outside of Cusco with the Jesuit Volunteer Corps. Such a joy to be reunited! During our second weekend together we spent our time exploring the Sacred Valley—visiting ruins, enjoying long-awaited face to face conversation, and visiting a local brewery. It was a joy!
- Visiting Colca Canyon and Arequipa, Peru. The Canyon was spectacular and offered views paralleled to the Grand Canyon in the U.S.
- Exploring the churches, markets and culture of Cusco—what a place!
- One of the all-time best days of my life: visiting my #1 bucket list item (for the last like 10 years)…MACHU PICCHU! I spent the entire day exploring the ruins.. and even hiked the mountain that sits behind the ruins and got some beyond-words impressive views of the place! The mountain was so tall the ruins look like a spec in the photos—but it was quite the adventure!
I have now transitioned (relatively smoothly) into my life in Cochabamba, Bolivia—where I will spend the next year with Maryknoll Bolivia Mission Immerison. Currently I am living with a lovely host family and studying Spanish at the Centro Misionero Maryknoll en America Latina (CMMAL). I am eager to say more…
But that may have to wait until my next (and most likely long overdue) blog post! 🙂
¡Que Dios les bendiga!
(May God bless you!)