My recent backpacking adventure through South America opened my eyes to a new way of life and has truly changed my focus moving forward. Aside from changing the way I plan to travel in the future (slower, with purpose), the experience has inspired me to write about my travels in hopes of making a positive impact on less fortunate places.
I guess you could say the trip really started two years prior to landing in Lima. I had just graduated with a finance degree, and the thought of cubicle life made me want to buy a one way ticket to Peru (literally). But the realities of student loans and social expectations set in. It wasn’t until two years later that I managed to quit my job and buy the ticket.
The plan was to follow the “Gringo trail” down the coast, inland to Arequipa, and finish in Cusco with a trek to Machu Picchu. From there I would slow down and find a place to volunteer, maybe teaching English near the beaches of Huanchaco. Surely one city would establish itself as the obvious spot to settle, right?
Instead, I just kept going. There’s this phenomenon I discovered, when the “living in the moment” attitude is compounded by accounts of the next must-see place. It’s always right around the corner, and described in vivid detail over a few drinks at the hostel. And so my trip to Peru continued – through Bolivia, into Chile, across Argentina to Uruguay, and finally back across to fly out of Santiago.
Peru was truly an amazing country to visit, and probably the one I feel the most nostalgia for. For those who can put certain discomforts aside, Peru offers a mix of indigenous culture, impressive ruins, and breathtaking landscapes. Not to mention it’s dirt cheap. I surfed the waves of Lima, went sandboarding near the desert oasis of Huacachina, and stumbled upon a 10-day festival in Nasca (no, I didn’t make it to see the lines). Later on outside of Cusco I viewed the Incan ruins of the Sacred Valley, and completed a 5-day trek to Machu Picchu.
In Arequipa I was introduced on stage as the guest of Peruvian guitarrista Percy Murguia Huillca. Later that week Percy took me to the hospital for a night’s stay with food poisoning. After spending a week recovering on the hostel roof terrace, drinking electrolytes and staring out at El Misti volcano, I was ready to get moving again. I booked a Colca Canyon trek with hopes that round two of the ailment wouldn’t occur at the bottom of the canyon, and was on my way again.
The trek into the second deepest canyon in the world is stunning. The size and depth of the canyon is on a scale that the human brain simply can’t comprehend. On the hike down your destination is in plain sight the entire way, and you think “It’s right there, we must be close!”Two hours later, you think, “It’s right there, we definitely must be close!”
The 3-day trek included a stay in a tropical oasis paradise at the bottom of the canyon, complete with a pool and tiki bar (and all the warm beer and cuba libres you dare to drink the night before the hike back up!). From the bottom of the canyon you can see every star in the night sky.
Upon leaving the canyon we sampled chicha, a fermented corn drink, and colca sour, a local spinoff of the Peruvian national drink pisco sour. We took touristy photos with a llama, got a last glimpse at the famous Colca Canyon condors, and were on our way. The ride back to Arequipa includes an epic 4,900m pass from which you can see a 360-degree panorama of volcanoes. It’s a nice view once you catch your breath.
The Colca Canyon trek provided me with my first real look at rural and indigenous culture. Recognized mostly for the colorful clothing they wear, I found that the simpler lifestyle in this region is full of hard work and lack of opportunity. Our dirt floor accommodation that we shrugged off as being part of an adventure is a daily reality for many in the region. As the guide pointed out, much of the canyon’s economy in recent years has evolved into walking long hours to carry down warm beer for gringos like me.
It is the perspective from this experience among others that has become a focus for me through my blog and anticipated travels.
Thanks to Felicity and Marco for the opportunity to share my experiences from South America with you.
You can find more on my blog Giving Vicariously, along with spotlights on some of my favorite grassroots volunteering organizations.