It’s Not the Mountains We Conquer but Ourselves

 

Huacachina, Peru

I met Doron at the beginning of his journey and in my last days of traveling. Although we were at the opposite ends of travel, we still shared one striking commonality: home. Where he had been walking around just hours earlier, was a place I hadn’t stood on in months and while he was ready to jump out into the big wide world, I was ready to cozy up in a familiar bed.

Doron is a social and geographical mountain climber. He sets large goals and aspires to reach a physical or metaphorical apex, but knows how to pace himself and enjoy the ride- something that travel has taught him. His travels have grounded him from the insanity and often superficial aspects of his home city and have helped him focus on self-care and how to not waste the rare opportunity of being alive.

Our conversation happens when we are back in New York and we discuss the relationship between home and the world and how leaving home can help you discover who you are when it isn’t coddling you. In this episode, we reflect on the benefits of long-term backpacking, why he feels connected when he is alone in nature, and why home tastes sweeter when you have been gone for a while.

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Enjoy Life: You Just Have One

E24- I Find Home In Weird Places 

Blanca, from Spain, and I met at the top of a mountain overlooking Machu Picchu. I know how that sounds. As we walked around the town of Machu Picchu, I was immediately captivated not only by her reenactments about the ancient man-made feat we were experiencing together but with all of the stories of her adventures around the world. At the time, her and her partner, Heiko, from Germany were traveling for a year, dividing their time between Latin America and Asia and challenging themselves to go to places most people don’t travel to. She tells us all the areas that surprised her, how travel influenced her relationship with her partner, and how the world still has lessons to teach her.

 

Hiking Machu Picchu

E23.5 The Lost City & The Last Soul 

Machu Picchu is a mountainous citadel hidden deep in the Andes. A citadel is a “little city” with a fortified area situated as it’s core. Anthropologists believe that it was originally a place where the ruler of the Incas would take vacations but was repurposed once the Conquistadors arrived. It is rumored that Machu Picchu became a hideout for the Incas from the bearded men on horses who arrived from the sea because the Spanish left no written record of Machu Picchu. There has always been the omnipresent myth of the lost city of the Incas, but the Spanish never got there. It is still not considered the lost city of the Incas- that is another place, Choquequirao, which is even deeper in the jungle that is STILL difficult to get to. The Inca’s ability to live in such hidden places is evidence of human endurance and adaptability.

Machu Picchu slowly deflated in population after being exposed to western diseases and the Conquistadors plundering their land and people; however, the jungle continued to protect this sacred space from outsiders as it remained isolated from the rest of the world for hundreds of years, tended only by a few remaining families and llamas.

It was discovered by the Western World almost 100 years ago and since then it has become a place of spiritual refuge and inspiration. In 1911 American historian and explorer Hiram Bingham traveled the region looking for the old Inca capital and was shown to Machu Picchu by a local farmer. Bingham brought Machu Picchu to international attention and organized another expedition in 1912 to undertake major clearing and excavation. He returned in 1914 and 1915 to continue with excavation. It has since then been overtaken by tourists, trekkers, and explorers from every corner of the planet.

It was 6:30 am by the time I arrive at the base of MP.  I sat for a minute to collect my breath and watched the rested passengers get off the buses. I walked around some of the city, made eye contact with an alpaca, and decided to keep hiking before the other mountain closed off for the day- another hour and a half hike directly up.

Once I arrived at the top, I ignored the loud Canadians and Americans taking shots of pisco at 9am, found myself a ledge to sit on and just stared out into the sky, the mountains, and the world below me. I turned away from them and blocked out the sounds of the world, I sat in awe of what was before me. I was at eye level with the apexes of the Andes-some of the most paramount accomplishments that our earth has to offer- and became hypnotized watching a distant bird playfully swoop in and around the azure mountains magnifying their magnitude-like a plastic bag caught in the wind. This was the closest I had ever been to the sun without flying.

But sitting in solitude upon that mountaintop- with the world below my feet- the feeling of loneliness evaporated and I had never felt more connected to the larger universe. It was a moment of pure acceptance of my position in the collective consciousness- a word in a larger story- a neuron in a mind- a spec of dust on a clover shouting out “We are here, we are here, we are here.” An energy that ebbs and flows, with no particular direction, and there is nothing to do but go along for the ride. I was overcome with everything I had done in these past five months-traveling alone, being humbled by the world over and over again, and chiseling away at the slab of stone of who I was and wanted to be. I was fully present- knowing the only thing I have is this moment.

I cried, more accurately, I wept. I am frequently overwhelmed with my own existence and when the daily dynamics of the mind have subsided and I am present, everything becomes illuminated. Is when for a flashing moment my brain tries to fathom how expansive this universe is and zooms out to observe the world, then zooms out to our solar system, then zooms out to our galaxy, and zooms out to our universe. I feel tiny, and insignificant, but peaceful, knowing that I am part of a larger, complicated system that is so unfathomable to my species. These moments are what I call “emotional orgasms” being in the presences of something so beyond me and being humbled by it, expressing itself through tears of acceptance and peace with the universe. The universe is in no position to explain itself to you. The silence of the mountains was deafening.

Escaping Hollywood

E22- Be Like Water

Matt and I met under extreme circumstances one evening when we were trapped inside of the chocolate shop due to aggressive protests in the streets of Arequipa, Peru. We were stuck in the cafe for a few hours, and being the only Americans, it was an opportunity for Matt and me to reflect upon our culture and country. We continued the conversation once it was safe to leave the cafe, and Matt and I found a restaurant still open and our conversation floated between our country, traveling to less developed countries, and why he was in Peru in the first place. He was doing a motorcycle trip around the “Gringo trail”, which is a path in Peru in the shape of a triangle from Arequipa, Cusco, and Lima, which hits all the big tourist attractions of the country but allows him to ride along the often unseen corners of the country. Matt uses motorcycling, not as a way to see all of the landscape quickly but to explore the topography of himself.

He casually mentioned that he works in Hollywood and has worked on several blockbuster films and TV shows. We discussed how traveling has helped him find a balance and maintain a humbling perspective about the world when he is working with the upper crust of Hollywood.

In this episode, we discuss

  • What it is like to work in Hollywood
  • Why he chooses to motorcycle around instead of drive
  • What some of the best motorcycling rides have been for him
  • How motorcycling is a form of meditation
  • Why he chooses to visit remote areas of the world
  • Why and how he tries to submerge himself into a different culture
  • Why he avoids tourist traps and what kind of traveling he prefers doing
  • Why he finds it important to balance the craziness of Hollywood with traveling to developing nations
  • How he tries to stay humble in a superficial career field
  • What he has learned in his time in Peru
  • Why he believes travel is important for self-growth

Educating Peruvian Youth

E22-Teach the Heart to Inspire the Mind

Cindy was my Spanish tutor whom I met through Thomas ( from the previous episode) who worked with him through HOOP- the non-for-profit that provides lower-income students with opportunities for higher learning. Cindy’s primary job was to teach English to children living in lower socioeconomic areas and provide them with the tools to learn English and other languages. 

I needed a teacher who wouldn’t judge me for the eclectic Spanish I had learned over my months of traveling throughout different Spanish speaking countries and inconsistent studying.

Cindy embraced my enthusiasm and created a soft landing pad for me to fall and make mistakes on without embarrassment. Like the one time I was trying to describe how beautiful the volcanos were and instead of saying “ Los volcans de Ariquipa son moi hermosa” I said “Lost volcans de Arquipa son moi hermano”- which means brother. She could never stop herself from laughing but never made me feel like she was laughing at me- it would become an inside joke between the two of us. Together, we were able to be reflective of our our languages and criticize them together- the difference between scary and horrifying or avoiding the mistake of mejor, major, and mujer. She was someone I was able to play and nerd out within the land of languages.  

As my Spanish improved, Cindy’s story became clearer and I she taught me more than just her language- the history and problems of her country, the gender inequality, and the day to day musings of living in Peru, which is what we discuss here in this episode. Forgive the screeching of cars and the shouts of Spanish in the background- you are getting the live action soundtrack to Arequipa Peru. Here is her story.

In this episode, we discuss

  • How she decided to learn and teach English
  • What it is like to be a teacher
  • What makes her happiest when teaching
  • What it is like to teach English
  • What it is like to teach Spanish
  • Why she believes learning other languages is important
  • Why she believes learning English is important
  • What teaching English and Spanish provides her
  • What affect her social work has had on her community
  • Why she enjoys social work
  • What it is like being a woman in Peru
  • How gender roles are changing in Peru

 

Note: Quechua /ˈkɛwə/, known as Runasimi (“people’s language”) in the Quechuan language, is an indigenous language family, with variations spoken by the Quechua peoples, primarily living in the Andes and highlands of South America  (Wikipedia).

Quit Corperate for Global Social Justice

E21- Your Mountain is Waiting

Thomas, from England, and I met at my first “hangover ceviche” which was always the Sunday morning after a late night of dancing and drinking around Arequipa. He mentioned to the table that a wonderful coworker was teaching him Spanish, and it was refreshing to hear another English speaker find it important to learn the countries language, while so many refuse to put in the effort.  Shouting over clinking plates, in between bites of octopus in chimichurri and lime-soaked fish, I asked what he was doing in Arequipa and he mentioned that he was working for a non-for profit called HOOP that focused on afterschool programs for underprivileged children in the outskirts of the city. I loved his straight-forward sensibility about social justice as if it should be a logical default for everyone to practice. Together, we discuss why he chose to leave his corporate job to work for an NGO Abroad, how living in Peru had changed him, and how he had translated his privilege in the world and chooses to use it for the benefit of others.

In this episode, we discuss

  • Why he left his corporate job to travel and decided to work in social justice
  • Why he decided to travel the world and what that provided him with
  • Why he decided to unite work and travel
  • Why he decided to work in Peru
  • His thoughts on the “white savior” complex
  • His thoughts on working in an NGO vs a corporation
  • The costs and benefits of NGOs in developing countries
  • What is HOOP and their social justice focus
  • What it is like to work and teach children
  • What it is like to work with people from other cultures
  • How living in Peru has changed him

Here is more information about HOOP if you would like to work or volunteer with them! It attracts the gems of the world 😀

Oh The Places You’ll Go

 
Rodrigo was a local Peruvian teen who worked at Chaq Chau. While working together, we would do our own twist on language exchange: he helped me with my Spanish slang and I helped him create clever DJ names in English. He was always wonderful to talk to about Peruvian culture, identity, and history. But as much as he loves his home country, working in a community of travelers has fed a growing desire to go out and travel around the world. In this episode, we discuss what it is like to grow up in Peru, how working in an expat community has influenced his identity, perception of his own culture, and future goals to explore the world. We get the chance to talk to someone who is still untouched from the changes of travel, but I admire Rodrigo’s ambitions to see what lies beyond his homeland and hope his desire to learn never leaves him.
 

In this episode, we discuss

  • What growing up in Peru is like
  • What growing up in a machismo culture is like
  • Why he wanted to learn English
  • The insecurities around speaking a new language
  • What had learning English provided him
  • Why he wants to go to school in an English speaking country
  • If he finds it respectful to talk in Spanish when visiting Spanish speaking countries
  • What it is like to work with travelers and has provided him
  • Why he enjoys talking to foreigners
  • Why he enjoys sharing his culture with foreigners
  • What it is like to share your culture with foreigners
  • How gender roles are changing in Peru
  • What it is like being a teenager in Peru
  • Feminism in Peru
  • Homosexuality in Peru
  • What is on his destination bucket list
  • Why he wants to travel alone vs. with his family

Travel Is Greater Than College

 

E19- The Heart is a Lonely Wanderer

Michelle and I run off of the same fuel. We are both are brimming with too many ideas, creations, and passions to fill one body. We both want to know everything, which is our blessing and curse. Our thoughts and intensity hid our lack of direction. We are both trying to balance a very delicate emotional ecosystem inside of us, excited and overwhelmed by the infinite possibilities the world holds yet simultaneously  humbled and saddened by our purposelessness, like we are both running out of time because there is too much to do, to many conversations to have, to many books to read, to many places to explore, to many people to love-Michelle and I get lost too quickly.

 

Which is why we both thrive off of travel. It gives us a direction and each turn holds unlimited possibilities, and every choice is ours to make that knocks down the domino paved path of new people, foods, and ideas around the corner. We are our truest selves when we are traveling because it satisfies the goats that we are. I once met an old woman, who I believe was me 50 years into the future, more than just because we shared the same name and horoscope, and she told me that I was a goat. Goats run around mountain tops, whereas cows stay in one spot and eat their grass.  I need to stop and eat my grass. Since our brief clairvoyant interaction, I have tried somewhat to take her advice, but have often failed. And I saw that in Michelle, me 4 years earlier which is why I was thrown off initially. Maybe I wanted to warn her about life as a goat, how the endless list of what you need to learn, do, love, and explore never ends.

I sometimes think that there is a calling for some people, for those of us who choose to leave home and explore. I get this strange pull every once in awhile which is often mistaken/ the only way I can describe is that it is for nostalgia for something that I haven’t experience yet, and I think that Michelle hears that same song. Maybe we listen closely to our somatic marker- the part in your brain where the sensations in your body that tell you if a choice feels wrong or not, your gut feelings or inner rudder. There is a saying that the reason one travels is to run away from something or one is running towards something. I believe that Michelle was caught between the two, foregoing the unquestioned college applications and attendance and an urge to chase something larger, some dream or vision that needed to be born.

Her heart is sometimes too big for this earth.

In this episode, we discuss

  • The costs and benefits of long-term travel
  • What it is like to live abroad
  • Why she chose to live abroad
  • The self-growth she experienced while traveling abroad
  • The challenges she faced while traveling abroad
  • Why she chose to travel instead of go to school
  • What she has learned by traveling
  • What surprised her about traveling
  • How she is a better person now that she has traveled
  • Why women should travel abroad
  • What it is like to be a solo female traveler
  • What it is like to live in Latin America/ South America
  • How she learned Spanish
  • Where her next destination is

 

Will Travel For Chocolate

Episode 18

Ariqupa, Peru

I met Rachel, the head chocolatier of Chaqchoa, two days after I arrived in Arequipa. I was living with my boss, Javier and sometimes he would have employees come over for lunch. Over a Peruvian meal of purple potatoes, and adobo de chancho I became acquainted with Rachel’s strong Italian character.

We ate together, I didn’t say much because I still need to earn my acceptance into the community. So I just listened and observed the dynamic between Rachel and Javier. Although Javie runs the place, Rachel puts him in his place. She skips small talk and gets right to the chase, overflowing with ideas for the chocolate shop. “Javie, what if we made matcha chocolate bars with dried raspberries, or if we made tarts with white chocolate ganache and figs, or we take tiramisu and put it in a chocolate bar! Ohhhh I love tiramisu.” I was a little intimidated by her force and wasn’t sure if we would become friends.  

It wasn’t until a few days later when she trained me in the coffee shop that we quickly bonded. Rachel is so good at her job that she openly insults customers while serving them the best cappuccino of their lives- she can get away with it. In between helping customers, cutting cakes, and her teaching me how to froth foam like a boss, I found the topics that make her her hard chocolate shell of an exterior melt and reveal the complexity within her. Her internal world is constantly questioning and fighting what traditional Italian society expects from women. It was was fascinating to hear a first-hand experience of tenacious gender roles in the modern Roman world. Her hard exterior shell began to melt at room temperature once we started talking about how women are treated in Italy. “ Women work, we pull a lot of weight, we are emotional supporters, and still get paid less. We still get no credit and are still harassed on the streets.” I started picking her brain about sexual assault in Italy. “It happens everywhere no one has respect for women.” In a survey by United Nations, 14% of Italian women had experienced attempted rape and 2.3% had experienced rape in their lifetimes. The problem with rape is that the vast majority of it goes unreported. A part of me felt saddened and at peace- I too had been a victim of the Italian masculine force. I felt connected to this woman who had an entirely different language, culture, and was raised thousands of miles away from my home- but we shared the same fears about our gender and safely, which kept us up at night under the same moon.

But for the most part, we kept our conversations very food focused.  I have never seen someone who has such an intrinsic understanding of food, kind of like how children just pick up languages; they don’t question the mechanics of it, it just becomes part of their being.  Like most Italians, food goes beyond the gastronomic basics and is a deeper experience, she doesn’t just make food, it is the essence of her being. And like most Italians, family has also shaped who she is, being raised by a mother who didn’t like to cook and a father whose blood is wine, she told me how at a young age she gained independence in the kitchen, while able to question the traditional roles of women in Italian society.

This is another two-parter conversation. Half of it is via Skype a year later and the first part of this conversation in the chocolate factory, a large brick room which would cool us from the Peruvian sun. Excuse the crinkle of the candy wrappers and our boss shouting things in the background, we are in the midst of making chocolate. Here’s her story.

 

 

When I Travel, I Can Breath Again

 

The friends you meet on the road are a special breed- they see you at your most uncomfortable, your most scrappy and sometimes desperate because of the extremeness of living life abroad. While we were living together, Jen got her backpack stolen and I got painfully sick; we experienced each other at more overwhelming points that not even our own mothers would have known how to handle.

When you are abroad, you open yourself up to the curveballs of the world-testing your resourcefulness and perseverance. You don’t even know who you are in these situations or how you will respond. So, when you make friends who witness you at this simultaneously euphoric and tumultuous point in your life- and they still like you afterward- it is a bond like no other. These microwave moments weather your relationship because of experiencing each other in extremes. She understands a part of me that my oldest friends don’t.

Our life in Arequipa was simple and wild, and soft pink. The city is made of beautiful stones harvested from the surrounding volcanoes which are so monumental and close to the city that they remind you every day of their magnitude, and of your minuteness.  

The community that Jen and I became a part of was everything I was looking for. After breaking up with my boyfriend at the beginning of the trip and traveling alone for such a long time, I was looking for a family and I feel like my whole journey was leading me to this place and these people. Jen, in tandem with Rachel from Italy and Michelle from Canada, who are the following episodes, provided me with such a sense of security, at such a precarious time.  

Jen was one of the few I was able to become very close with, we woke each other up, baked together, inspired each other, brought food to the other when they were working late, exchanged small gifts, and helped each other get out of sticky situations.

Jen came to my rescue more than once, the most vivid is coming back home at 4am after having too much fun with some British boys (who happened to work for the mayor of London), and realizing that the house was locked. Not wanting to wake Tia or Javie, I decided maybe I would just stay outside until morning for the next three hours, then a car pulls up.

I thought the taxi driver was going to harass me or worse when Jen comes bounding out of it. “Holy shit,” she said, how long have you been here? “No more than 5 minutes.” As we rang the doorbell I thought about how there are some sisters who have a clairvoyance about accidentally wearing the same clothes, buying each other the same gift, or period cycling together, and I think Jen and I were tapping into that.

Since we last spoke, Jen has docked onto land and continued the chocolate path, currently killin’ it at one of the top chocolate shops in Toronto- but still has some plane tickets burning in her pocket.