A month ago I embarked on this trip to Peru with Under30Experiences. A trip like that inspires one to write (and not having done so for quite a while, I realize I’ve seriously missed it). A little delayed, but here’s my summarized personal travel journal (thanks to Dan, Lauren and Nicole for the inspiration and the peer pressure!)
July 1, 2014 – Two specific events in the first day uncannily foreshadowed what the trip was going to be about for me.
While walking at Larcomar with Matt, Cesar, Analee and Micah, a stranger on the street asked our group how long we’ve known each other, and we all answered almost simultaneously “we had just met this morning.” We had a good laugh about it because it was true. But it was the start of the impression that U30X really curated this group so well that it’s not entirely inconceivable for folks to be fast friends.
Fellow trivia buffs, word nerds, computer geeks, social media mavens,personal finance aficionados, jokesters, dancers, yoga instructors, seasoned athletes, hikers, world travelers, city dwellers, card sharks. Name a label, however eclectic, we probably have one or few in the group that would fit the bill. Which makes this group very interesting and very enjoyable company. I’ve come to the realization that folks in this group have aspects of their lives and personalities that I find either find mirrored in myself or would like to emulate, often a good combination of both.
Later that day, Matt just declared to the group that he was going surfing and that anyone is welcome to join him. And in my head I was trying to reconcile the fact that surfing was not part of the tour itinerary, and out of habit, I started over-thinking the logistics of how one would make it happen (likely coming up with excuses not to do it). And we all watched Matt as he decided to just go for it. He rented a board from a guy in a tent beside a van, and he suited up and rode the waves. Right then, I realized I’m with a group of folks led by this guy who’d more likely just ask – why not? At that point, I made a decision that I was going to eschew the excuses, and say yes to virtually everything on this trip that I can, harboring a new sense of a fear of missing out.
There were so many memorable aspects of this trip. Just a few highlights I will very fondly recall: The spectacle of Machu Picchu, which was really a highlight of the trip, as it was in most people’s bucket lists. The really cool city of Cusco with its unsettling elevation, and narrow cobblestoned alleys and its eclectic mix of original Quechua and Spanish architectural influences. The archaeological and historical sites of Koricancha, Saqsaywaman, Q’enko, Pukapukara and Tambomachay. The day at Parque de la Papa. The diverse districts of Lima (Miraflores (featuring Larcomar and Parque de la Amor) Chorillos, Barranco, downtown Lima, etc.). I will likely post a gallery in a separate entry.
But beyond the places we visited, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the group’s camaraderie in this adventure, as evident in the rapid-fire jokes and trivia questions in the bus and train rides. The friendly “Bullshit” card games deep into the night with pizza and beer. The deep discussions on personal finance and retirement planning. Shopping for alpaca sweaters and hats in Plaza de Armas. Walking through San Pedro Market with llama brains and snouts. Learning about potatoes, agricultural biodiversity and sustainable farming communities at Parque de la Papa with Cesar the Translator (Quechua>Spanish>English), and the authentic Peruvian buffet that came after. The famous and very handy Steripen (Thanks Lauren and Dan!). The three hour train ride from Poroy to Aguas Calientes through the ever-changing mountain landscapes. The hectic climb to the Sun Gate to get a taste of the Inca Trail. Mario, our erudite guide, animatedly walking us through the so-called Lost City. The Machu Picchu passport stamp. The fashion show and on-board live entertainment on the train from Aguas Calientes to Ollantaytambo. Singing along with the most random bizarre playlist in the darkness of the Mercedes minibus while driving from Ollantaytambo to Cusco (which featured the Backstreet Boys, The B-52’s Britney Spears and Blink-182, among others, in the span of about 1.5 hours). The guinea pig (Cuy!). The coca leaves. Watching the changing of the guard in Plaza de Armas in Cusco. The group of us joining a Spanish-speaking guided tour through the Museo y Catacumbas de Lima, and impatiently sneaking into and out of the Catacombs so we can meet up with Cesar for lunch. The warranted gluttony at Restaurant Sonia (that Ceviche! Elana, you outdid yourself discovering this place). Walking up Pedro De Osma to Barranco, dropping by the Mario Testino photo exhibit. Last-minute beers at Barranco Beer Company. Starbucks at the airport to access Wi-Fi while waiting for our flights. The instagram hashtags. The amazing pisco sours. And that night after that delectable dinner at Inka Grill when we all went to a bar/discoteca, which started with salsa lessons, until it progressed to the hour they started cranking out good ol’ American dance and rap music and we just had to let ourselves go. Then at some point during the night, these two random guys walked in wearing animal costumes, accompanied by a girl dressed as a vampire. Not enough beer could drown out the notion of how bizarre the night was becoming. As Cesar frequently said, “all part of the experience.”
I found it funny because I’ve so long defined myself by my work. Workaholic that I am, it does occupy most of my waking life. But during this trip, I didn’t think about it as much, most likely because of the shortage of a steady Wi-Fi signal. As I’ve slowly disconnected from my daily routine, I’ve actually connected to a part of myself that is willing to take a little bit more risks, willing to say “yes” more often, and willing to challenge myself to try more new things and truly awaken my curiosity about my surroundings.
Overall, this experience was nothing short of phenomenal. As I’ve told Matt and Cesar repeatedly during the trip, this is such a great thing that U30X is doing, encouraging young people to travel, organizing these experiences so impressively. The hotels they selected (Hotel Torre Dorada and PeruStar Boutique Apartments) were exemplars of hospitality and great service. The activities were well-balanced – not too hectic, and not too lazy, with enough flexibility. I’ve always felt Matt and Cesar both did everything to keep the group safe and engaged.
And this trip is unique, as well. Parque de la Papa is not a regular pit stop in a typical touristy visit to Peru. But it was such a revelation in that our group got to learn about the Quechua communities growing and preserving over 1,300 varieties of potatoes, cultivating and harvesting herbs, allowing for sustainable agriculture by not over-farming, maintaining a reverence for Mother Earth (Pachamama).
At the end of the day, it’s really the company of awesome people that elevated this experience for me. As I saw the pictures being uploaded during the week after the trip, I got weirdly nostalgic (must’ve been the change in elevation and climate). I realized these are MY people and I already miss them.
Matt, Cesar, Analee, Micah, Ali, Nicole, Dan, Lauren, Elana, Carrie, Caroline, Clayton, Jason and Victorija. At the risk of sappy sentimentality, I must say I am deeply grateful for the privilege of meeting and sharing this experience with you wonderful folks.
Until our paths cross again! Cheers!