In September 2013 I left the States on a one-way flight to Peru with two friends. Over two months we traveled down Peru’s dusty southern coast and into the Andes. We dug a big hole, got our asses kicked in chess in a Lima park, hiked the Inca Trail and felt a bit guilty about it, watched way too many movies about wolves, made a lot of great new friends and debated the meaning of life. We split up in November, and I did some potato communications in Cuzco, translated for some American doctors in the Andes, worked on a farm in Cochabamba, taught chess and English in the Amazon, and spent a month as a journalist in Honduras.
I pictured the trip as part Motorcycle Diaries, part On The Road, part You Shall Know Our Velocity! and part something uniquely my own. The idea was to find the answers to all of life’s burning questions; I was able to at least come home with an insight or two about myself and where I fit into a really big world.
The view from our apartment roof (click to enlarge)
Francisco Pizarro’s “City of Kings,” founded in 1535, Lima was built specifically to conquer. The city was established as a coastal base of operations for the conquest and subjugation of the mysterious empire—the Incas—rumored to be based in the continent’s mountainous interior. I’ve got reservations about the power dynamics involved in this trip, so Lima as jumpoff point makes for a bit of uncomfortable symbolism.
But politics aside, we have been less on edge in the city than we expected to be. Pre-trip advice we got basically amounted to being ready for war: don’t drink the water, carry your passport everywhere, keep an eye on your pockets, lie to customs about your travel plans, don’t eat lettuce, watch out for counterfeit money, and don’t walk around practically anywhere alone.
We are breaking some of these rules and following others but as a whole we are comfortable, not at odds with the city around us. We walk the streets carefully but calmly and we are moderately adventurous with our food choices. It helps also to have a beautiful rented apartment and a very welcoming set of new friends with plenty of tips to share.
Another highlight of these first few days is the unity of purpose I feel here. I struggle to articulate exactly why I quit my job and bought a one-way plane ticket to South America, but my life hasn’t felt this coherent for quite awhile. Pushups, morning jogs, reading books, walking the streets, taking photos, practicing Spanish, meeting locals, writing blog posts: each act is another brick for the “South America Trip” house that I’m building.
Hopefully the soft landing and the mental clarity will be enough to prepare us for life outside the capital where—in many of the places we’re going—the culture is likely to be less international and the amenities much more basic.
I’ve always been a big picture kinda guy, I guess. Some vexing questions that I will be thinking about on my upcoming trip to South America:
Why are some countries rich and others poor? What is the most effective way to change this?
Is there any hope of a world that is both free from poverty and environmentally sustainable?
What lessons can Americans learn from Andean cultures? In what areas might we have insights to share? Read More
Big change in lifestyle coming up for me. On September 14th I’m getting on a plane to Peru, and I don’t know when I’m coming back.
A crew of four of us will be spending two weeks in an apartment in Lima, seeing the city and practicing Spanish. From there, I’ll head south with two friends for a two-week stay on a farm in Arequipa on Peru’s mountainous southern coast, and then onwards to Cuzco, where we will depart for a four-day hike through mountains and cloud forests on roads Incas built before the Spanish Conquest.
After that the itinerary becomes vague, but it will probably involve pushing south toward Lake Titicaca, La Paz, the Bolivian salt flats, and perhaps as far as Chile or Argentina. We’ll likely do more farming, and we’ll be on the lookout for other chances to make ourselves useful—ideally in exchange for food and housing. Read More
I finished reading Jack Kerouac’s On The Road, which—depending on your perspective—is either about two friends who travel in search of the world’s meaning and authenticity, or about a group of white men who romp around late-1940s America as if it is their personal playground. Read More