We wait to board our 8th and final American Airlines flight in a week’s duration. We’ve been under constant stimulation; an adventure trek through a treasure trove little country on the west coast of South America. As our thoughts are meddling back to the grinding gears of reality a classy looking gentleman approaches us in dire need of help. I look bleakly at the man with the slicked back hair and debonair suit, unable to understand. But I sympathize with the language barrier mainly because I’ve been receiving the same blank look from strangers in a foreign country for the past 8 days. After acknowledging that arabic is not exactly my mother-tongue we start exchanging in some primitive form of english and arrive at an understanding; he is visiting from Jordan to see his daughter in Kansas of which he has not seen in 4 years and can’t find the correct gate for his flight. Ok that took 20 minutes. The gentleman joins us and we start curiously asking him questions about his native country and beautiful language. As he shows us how to write in arabic I begin to look around. Surrounding us is a Chinese woman reading a book, a monk, a black man, a frat boy, a suspicious looking man pacing back and forth, a family returning from a visit to their Irish roots, a couple of girls dressed in berkas from Saudi Arabia, and us, the tired and worn Midwesterners. The man from Jordan pulls out his rosary and sends a sour slur in arabic towards the two Saudi girls, apparently angry about their muslim heritage. The girls translate to us, “Does this bother you?”, signaling to their headdress. We calmly reply, “No” and one of the girls turns to the man from Jordan and joyfully asserts “See, this is America. This is freedom!”.
Traveling gives me inspiration. It’s getting out and seeing that the world is incredibly different than the 50 mile radius that you get used to in your daily life. My girlfriend and I went to Peru, to adventure along the coast, to get lost in Lima’s city streets, and to awe over the Andes Mountains. We didn’t have much of an itinerary. We are both just spur of the moment type people. In preparation for the trip the only thing I could wrap my mind around was that we were supposed to visit Machu Picchu. Little did I know how exuberant the road to get there would be. I found that Peru is an extraordinary country and that you need far more than one week for the expedition. More like 3 months.
Our excursion was taken by air, by land and by sea. Planes, trains, and automobiles. A few boats, taxis and buses, and lots of hiking by foot. The purchase of my explorer hat sealed the deal. In my alpaca fur-gringo get-up I felt like a modern Indiana Jones as we set out for our destination; an ancient city built high on a mountain peak where the Andes meet the Amazon. As I searched around for a walking stick/club to fend off attackers, both wild and civilized, we loaded onto a bus that took us through the countryside between Cuzco and Aguas Calientes, a small town at the base of the mountain upon which Machu Picchu rests. There must have been 60 people packed into our bus that only contained some 25 seats. I watched as the land rolled by and saw mule driven wagons carrying heaping loads of cane, and shepards herding flocks of sheep through the mountain valleys. A few buses later we found a train that would take us to our destination. Here we pressed our faces to the window and watched the roaring Urubamba river as we weaved in and out of the jungle. It felt like these train tracks led straight to salvation. After all, we were taking it to “The Lost City in the Sky”.
We finally arrived to Machu Picchu the following morning as the sun was crawling up over the mountains. Clouds lingered at eye level as we made our way to the front of the entrance line. Masses of travelers were gathering and organizing tour guides as we slipped around to see the ruins. And there we saw for the first time what we had come so far for. The Lost City of the Incas. We dove right in, walking straight up to its sun offering alter, the Intihuatana. We gazed at this uncanny rock that had been designated as a place where human sacrifices were made as offerings to the sun. We looked around the city and saw not another person. I’d say not another soul, but the substance of the air made me think otherwise. Everyone else had stalled at the entrance trying to sort out their tour guides as we slipped past, allowing us to enjoy Machu Picchu for ourselves the first 20 minutes of the morning. This I thought was incredible. We turned in a giant circle to get a 360 degree panoramic view. The spotted clouds gripped the cities corners here and there painting the most picturesque of landscapes. They say this is where the sun ties. We were in the center of nature. The Incan’s must have chosen this place because this was the very heart of beauty itself. The serenity of the city sang with a quiet and majestic tone. You could hear the constant hum of the Urubama river deep in the ravine of which was separated from us by the clouds. Travelers finally started pouring in as we began to make our ascent to Huayna Picchu, Machu Picchu’s lookout. I noticed that this placed was filled with visitors from all across the globe. Each person you passed by wore the same smile on their face, but spoke in a different language. This was a place of peace. A place of contemplation and natural beauty. The masterful architect of the granite city percolates an essence of spirituality. There is an energy to the place so magical that time seems to pass in a different dimension. I must say, if you can manage, this is a must see destination. Put it our your checklist of things to do in your life. You will not be disappointed.
The rest of our trip consisted of us hanging out in Lima and a little beach town named Paracas. Lima is a unique city in its own right. If you look past the overpopulation and swarming traffic you will see a city rich in history and enchanting ethnicity. We visited The Plaza Mayor and toured The Monastery of San Francisco. We saw an ancient library and something else that was rather bone-chilling. Under the church, in what I will describe as a dungeon were the catacombs; an underground cemetery consisting of a subterranean gallery with recesses for tombs. We looked into a 30 foot deep pit of bones that was the final resting place for what archaeologists have calculated to be over 25,000 people in a few hundred years span. The top layer was organized in concentric circles of skulls and femurs. (By the way, this pit is surrounded with signs that say “DO NOT TAKE PICTURES”. Here is the picture I took.)
Paracas is famous because it is a port for tours to the Islas de Bellestas, also known as “The Little Galapagos Islands”. We donned some ancient life jackets and arrived to the islands on a speed boat. Flocks of birds escorted us to the island, elegantly gliding just above the surface of the ocean in an affectionate display of hospitality. We arrived to find the islands teeming with wildlife. Millions of birds covered the islands to create one of Peru’s most important of natural resources, guano. Andean peoples exported it as a soil enricher and this helped to create a period of stability and prosperity in Peru during the mid 19th century. The island is covered with birds, penguins, crabs, and seals. Literally millions of them. I have never seen nature so alive and bustling with life. This is what I imagine the world was like before domestication. Our guide had leather sun dried skin that championed the sun and it’s bronzing application. He’s just living the life- on an island of paradise.
This week of adventure was a deep dive into the culture of a foreign society. Finding myself communicating in haphazard Spanish with only the ammunition of a few years of high school vocabulary and conjugation left me feeling quite accomplished. And I must admit, my personal translator (aka my girlfriend Ann) has a sharp shooting Spanish tongue that served as the training wheels in my correspondence. We met people that had quit their stable lives to travel the world. We met people from every corner of the globe. We communicated with people when neither party understood the other language. We learned that there is some sort of universal way to communicate without words. We return stateside with the dark tint of an equatorial tan, empty bank accounts, and an experience that will last a lifetime.
“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” ~ Mark Twain