In the past 2 weeks I've had the sheer joy of leaving Cusco for adventures to the second deepest canyon in the world, the largest lake in South America, and one of the worlds seven wonders (again). I went to Machu Picchu for the second time with Mei, a dear friend from home, Lake Titicaca [for a brief entertaining geography lesson please click here: animaniacs ] and the Colca Canyon where we traversed to the bottom, with big ol' condors circling above, clearly monitoring our vital signs and hoping for our demise. But what beautiful, awe inspiring places! Even with a wide angle lens, I couldn't capture it. Breathtaking. [Side note: I realized however that word breathtaking is a literal translation of your pulmonary capacity when working so hard to get somewhere so beautiful]
Staying in hostels along the way, joining up with fellow adventurers, leads to one of my favorite parts of traveling- meeting people from all over the world. (Then of course friending them on facebook so i have somewhere to stay when i finally go to Spain, or Australia, or Dubai) One night, sitting at a hole in the wall 'Chifa' restaurant, the same questions were asked. "Where are you from" "How long have you been traveling" "Where have you been" "What has been your favorite so far". In comparison to the more romantic answers of people literally traveling the world, 11 months strong, from exotic places, their favorite has been riding elephants in Nepal, or climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro, my answer always felt a little sheepish.
"I'm in Cusco, volunteering at a special education school and an orphanage. I'll be there for 4 months"
Much less romantic. In moments like those, I wish I had planned these few months differently, spending the money not on rent for a volunteer apartment, but rather for those nights going from cheap hostel to hostel, swapping stories of survival in the bush, swimming with dolphins, yoga retreats in India.
"Oh, that's good of you, Cusco is a nice city"
Well, not exactly, but that was more or less how I interpret those conversations. Coming back after an exhausting trek, getting off an overnight bus at 4 am, getting back to my rented apartment I've been struck with this contrast. Traveling is to life as a slide is to a swingset. Living in Cusco is fun. There are different things to do, lots to see, lots to explore, but you end up in the same place. Travelers slide through, catch the highlights and move on to the next playground.
Living somewhere like this, so different from all I've known in my life, I've had no choice but to face the challenges that arise, the frustrations with work relationships or cultural issues. The questions asked by fellow volunteers aren't the romantic one either. Its more like "Hey, how are you feeling?" "Have you had diarrhea lately?" I haven't handled these past few months perfectly either. Hardly. I've taken time away, needing to heal, to process, to deal with so many mixed emotions, (the ups and downs of that swingset). Granted, I'm only here for 4 months! This is hardly the long term! But it has been enough to recognize the value of bunkering down, commitment, the long haul. Currently that's where my prayers are. Lord, where do you want me? I need a job as soon as I get home, I have bills that have piled up while being here, but I have that constant wanderlust that stops me from just picking a place and settling. If you are reading this, its probably because you're one of my favorite people. That being said I'm open for bribes...