Hello, from Cusco, Peru! This is just the first of many blog posts recounting the various experiences I encountered in Peru, and a way to get all the thoughts that are swimming in my mind into some organized form. This is the last stop in my Peru itinerary which looks like this:
- Day trip to Ica, Paracas, Huacachina (added this in last minute)
- Day trip to Uros Islands and Taquille
- Take bus to Cusco stopping in Raq’chi, La Raya, Pukara to look at archaeological sites
- Day trip to Aguas Calientes then to Machu Picchu to look at the Ruins and climb Machu Picchu Montana
- Explore Cusco
- Spend two hours in Mexico City during my layover
I am happy to say, I’ve gotten a taste of everything under the sun.
From adventure and extreme sports like sand boarding, dune buggying, to hanging out on a beach with pelicans, to immersing myself into upscale pockets of Spanish-inspired culture in Lima and Cusco, to sitting down with the locals in the middle of the ghettos of Puno and eating questionable but delicious street delicacies, seeing archaeological sites and hiking up Machu Picchu mountain (I am still in awe that I’ve seen it in person) one of the seven wonders of the world. And of course, I was able to cross one more thing off my list, which was to kiss a llama… fine, I kissed a baby alpaca, but close enough right?
This trip means more to me than accomplishing all of these exciting escapades before my 27th birthday. It’s more than just fun Instagram photos, or because I like to flaunt how much more interesting my life is in comparison to many others. That’s not, I repeat, NOT, why I went on this trip to Peru.
Anyway, I am sitting here with wet hair, and slightly frustrated with the keyboard because of course is suited for Spanish typists and I cannot for the life of me figure out how to find the apostrophe or the at sign. That is just an example of a tidbit of culture shock I experienced while traveling the country of Peru as a solo female traveler.
Culture shock (which I will speak to in a different blog post), is the perfect word to describe how unprepared I was, not because it was entirely different from the developed world we live in, but because I had underestimated all the things that would come my way. I was, perhaps a little bit smug even, taking only a day to plan all my accommodations and flights, and then a few more to book my day tours in advance, and filled my prescription for altitude sickness and traveler’s diarrhea and shots for Hepatitis A and B, and Typhoid. ‘Well, Lesley is as prepared as always,’ was the first thought that came to mind as I confidently took the first step on the plane headed for Mexico City, the connecting point for my flight.
As a backstory, I randomly booked a trip to Peru. It was between Montreal or Peru, and of course, Lesley loves the road least traveled, the exotic places, the unique experiences, and she wants to kiss a llama. So on a whim, I booked that flight…when something in my heart just almost jumped out at me. It felt right.
Now I am in Peru, a week and a half into my trip, and feeling… well more sure of myself than before. A few months ago, I knew I was well on my way to finding myself, but still relatively lost as I took up blogging more seriously. I experienced bouts of anxiety, and that bled into my relationships, life, family, and job.
I don’t mean I am now more sure about who I am completely, or what I stand for, or who I want to be 10 years from now. This kind of sure, is the kind of sure that is telling me, ‘Hey Lesley, you’re on the right path.’
It’s almost like coming to Peru is necessary for me to realize how right I was, and reassuring even, to know everyone goes through this Rite of Passage that is filled with confusion before they become their full being and more wholesome version of themselves. I encountered many people from all walks of life who confided in me their stories involving self-discovery and well, life, that didn’t feel quite right and how they’ve taken steps towards finding what speaks to them.
So, why is this the Rite of Passage for me?
For one, I am able to learn very quickly, how much I’ve grown and matured since my trip to Europe. That this transition that is made up of small changes, questions that swim repeatedly in my head, and trying new experiences is leading me somewhere more concrete than before. I felt more independent, confident, more knowledgeable, more grounded, and more comfortable with myself.
For instance, while I was afraid of being alone before, I never once, felt alone, although there were many moments when I was perfectly alone. In fact, I preferred being alone sometimes, like eating at Central Restaurant (listed as the top 5 restaurants of the world with Virgilio Martínez Véliz as the chef) in Lima, Peru. I was able to react to uncertain situations better in a new country in a new culture and learned what it means to take care of myself when I got sick, but also push on when faced with challenging situations. I was able to plan my trip from start to finish, and get myself from point A to point B, even though many times, I did not know Spanish nor know how to navigate the city or town I was in. (All this I will elaborate on in much more depth in other blog posts, so stay tuned.)
I am starting to see a trend of who Lesley is slowly becoming, and I love this version of her that is uninfluenced by ties to the Lesley back home. Some people see it as a way to run away from responsibility, but to me, it is a way to see who I can become. A test. A challenge. An experience that allows me to have full control of my life for the duration of the trip.
I chose Peru.
I chose how I got to spend my time there, who I like to spend my time with, where to go next.
It was seeing myself in my purest form:
Lesley who is independent, confident, social, fun, open-minded, sometimes a princess, and complains too much, adventurous, stubborn. The Lesley who loves learning, and isn’t afraid to dive right in with the locals. She’s a foodie and will climb mountains literally and cross rivers to see what makes her heart sing. She loves new cultures, new experiences, and embraces everything with passion and love. She is still growing and still learning but okay with it. She’s a city girl but also is perfectly okay without showering for a couple of days and getting downright muddy and wet in the wild.
It’s refreshing to see who I’ve become, and find comfort that this is the rite of passage many others go through, and discover the people and things that resonate with me, like these few lessons from Peru that I will keep close to my heart:
LESSONS FROM SOLO TRAVELING IN PERU
I learned how far I can push myself to chase after my dreams. So, what if I am waking up at 2:30 am, 3:00 am, or 5:00 am consecutively on my trip? A girl has to do what she has to do to see things through so she can catch her flights and see the things she plans to see. Instead of waiting for things to materialize or saying ‘oh well’ to something I wanted, I ventured out to Central Restaurant (they are notorious for being fully booked months in advance, and I was unable to get a reservation) one evening, waited for an hour, pleaded unrelentingly, until as luck would have it, a reservation canceled, and I was able to get myself a spot to try their tasting expedition.
I learned who I can be when I am no longer influenced by people, situations, and an environment that is controlled. In Peru, I can really be myself. I loved seeing how I learned to handle and navigate new and unfamiliar situations and how much I’ve grown from them.
I recognized somethings cannot be taken lightly, on the other hand, especially when it comes to my health. I forgot to start taking my altitude sickness medication as instructed, and as a result, was mostly out of commission and in bed rest for two of the nights in Puno. Going from at sea level to 12,000 feet above sea level is no joke. It makes you nauseous, dizzy, and climbing just three stories can make your heart pound and short of breath.
Peru taught me to appreciate home. Seeing the ghettos of the region and the living conditions that some Peruvians live in gives me a new sense of appreciation for Vancouver, my home. I saw how privileged I truly am in comparison to the billions of people in the world. But, I also learned so much from the simple lives led by some locals and natives.
The locals taught me to be accepting. I came across a woman who sold street-grilled chicken and corn for 2.5 soles which is equivalent to $1.25 Canadian to locals. There were people who never traveled outside of the boundaries of their country because well, with their wages, it was hard to afford. People thrived on selling tours and rejection from tourists. They sat on the sidewalks at their rickety looking stands for hours under the sun while stray dogs wander around them and traffic precariously misses them by just inches. They live life day by day, but who are we to judge how others lead their lives, because all of the time, no one gets to choose the situations we are born into.
The locals taught me to be humble. The same people also believes in true love, the Inca values of hard work, duty, loyalty, and family. Their lives are centered around building a foundation for family and making enough to enjoy life. It lacks that capitalistic, materialistic, and sometimes self-centered lifestyle we North Americans seem to possess.
The locals taught me that you can dream and pursue them no matter where you live and who you are. I met Elliud, who is 24, and my tour guide of Quechua descent and now friend who dreams to come to Canada one day. For them, we are the ones with the accents, and their knowledge of where we come from is depicted by the media and things they hear. Elliud wants to work in Canada, because he heard the Canadian government is recruiting young workers. I also met Fredy in Puno. He makes a living with his own business as a taxi driver and tour guide at 28 years of age.
It was inspiring to see, that although they live in another world, like you and me they have their own journeys and some of their values are in fact, I believe, ones that we as North Americans are lacking.
You see, this Rite of Passage I speak of? The path of self-discovery and having the freedom and means to think of these questions of who we want to become is a privilege in itself.
For that, I am thankful, that I get to choose.
Choose who I want to be.
Who I am.
For now, that is all, as it is now 10:32 pm and I am off to bed.
I have a flight to catch tomorrow, and I should get some rest while the party continues on for the other backpackers in the next room.
You see, I learned one last lesson:
I learned to put myself first, and always, always love myself.