little sarah Big World

Tag: travel

Nanny Sarah

~OR~

My Nephew is Now My Latch-Key Child

“Being exempted from motherhood has allowed me to become exactly the person I believe I was meant to be: not merely a writer, a traveler, but also–in a quite marvelous fashion–an aunt.”

-Elizabeth Gilbert, “Committed: A Love Story”

(more quotes to follow)

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A Writer, in South America

This blog used to be an outlet for my writing, with maybe a few occasional photos thrown in. As examples, or proof, or to illustrate my words. Photos were the compliment to the writing.

Now photos dominate, and sometimes it feels like this space is a relentless, oppressive, compulsive documentation of my every waking hour.

Don’t get me wrong, Friends–I love capturing the small, gentle, simple moments of every day life. I like being able to communicate visually.

But maybe this isn’t the outlet for that?

We’ll see. In the meantime, some long-overdue words. A feast of words, Friends.

(from my travel journal in South America, mostly unedited, but with parts left out)

Friday, May 4th, 2012 – Day 1
(airplane: SLC – Houston)

I have to say, I’m excited to be traveling again. I think I must be one of those rare birds, because I actually ENJOY traveling–cramped quarters, strange people, random and bad snacks and meals…I love the little routines I’ve developed, after years of traveling solo. Never getting to the airport too early, always bringing socks, buying trashy magazines that I read cover to cover…I always board with my left foot first and disembark with my right, saying “Left for Lenore” and “Start off on the right foot.” (Lenore is my father’s mother who died when I was about 5). I like to think that grandma will watch over me and protect me.

I guess flying by myself to visit Cousin Em when I was 12, 13, 14 years old I always felt so grown-up, so mature and independent, and I’ve never lost that feeling.

There is no time I feel more littlesarahBigWorld than when I travel alone. I like that feeling.

*       *       *

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Street Art in Lima, part II

~OR~

Dopeness, Personified

Out for a walk in Lima, Peru, and I come across a mural, which–as a lover of street art–peaks my interest. So I get closer…

…and closer…

…and it is just the coolest thing ever, Friends. The mural went on for about a mile, I’d say, running along the east side of Campo de Marte, the park where I went for my runs.

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Lima, Peru

~OR~

The Good, The Bad, and The Hungry

So I got my alone time. A day and a half to explore Lima on my own, and parts of it were so satisfying–running in the park…

…buying trinkets and drinking fresh sugar cane juice in the artisan market…

…going for long, long walks on a dreary but not unpleasant day, just to check out the city, its people and plazas…

…admiring the architecture…

…and enjoying the city’s beauty, stopping to eat a churro or snap a photo, because I could. Because I was alone, at last.

On the other hand, Lima is also where I was snubbed by my couch surfing host, walked around for hours (literally) trying to find something to eat, and was openly sexually harassed (the ol’ ass-grab) just outside my hostel.

That was while I was on my way in just to grab my pack and catch a taxi to the airport.

I have never, in my entire life, been more ready to leave a city, more anxious to get back home. I was just done.

36 hours in Lima was more than enough. For me.

What I’ve Learned in My Travels

~OR~

Special is as Special Does

So we hiked Macchu Pichu. Yes, we did that. The stuff dreams are made of.

But not my dreams. I mean, sure, it’s a bucket-list-worthy, life-changing event that many people spend years saving up and planning for. I’m just not one of those people. I’ve got a bucket list, of course, but this was never on it. Running a marathon? On the list. Writing a book? Also on the list. Climbing one of the New 7 Wonders of the World? Not so much.

Don’t get me wrong–it was cool. It was pretty cool to see this place that so few (or so many?) people will see in their lifetimes. And I much appreciated and enjoyed some time away from B & J on a long, solo hike. It reminded me of riding my bike last summer in France–lots of time to think and just be alone.

But was it worth it? That’s the question, Friends, and I don’t know that I can honestly answer yes. Eric Friend asays our generation has this fascination with travel, valuing it above most other experiences. When we think of vacation, we picture working really hard for a long time to save up. Then you go away somewhere, spend it all, and start over.

And I’ve done that, Friends. Many times, always precipitated by the worry that I’m making the right choice (adventure over stability) and followed the stress of being back at square one, financially and emotionally.

Sometimes it is worth it. France last summer was absolutely worth it–I gained insight, patience, self-love, and of course language skills. And when I did a similar program (a month-long study abroad) in Spain, that was undeniably life changing–I gained confidence, perspective, a life-long friend, and I was finally able to leave a 5 1/2 year, passionless relationship.

Because I was just in one spot for these “vacations,” getting to know a place and its people deeply, rather than just skimming the surface, skipping from town to town every other day, like in South America.

The year I lived in Spain, my happiest months were November, April and May–the three months where I didn’t leave Madrid. Even last year, the year of many travels, I felt scattered, untethered. After I came home from visiting Kevin in Spain in January, I stayed put for (what seemed like) a record 4 months. And I was happier than I’ve been in a long, long time.

So I can’t say that it’s worth it. The stress, anxiety, financial burden and absence do not, for me, justify being able to say “I climbed Macchu Pichu. Yes, I did that.”

*       *       *

You can’t tell me that’s any more special than backyard parties with my family, or playing music with Eric, or going to Mad Men with the Stephanies. You can’t convince me that this whirlwind lifestyle is providing me with growth and experience that I would never get in a small city. You can’t tell me that the hustle and bustle beat sleeping in on Sunday mornings, or reading in my own bed, in my own apartment, on a rainy afternoon. You can’t make me believe that the people I’ve met in my travels are any more special or unique or amazing than the people I leave back home.

Because if I have learned one thing, it is that people are special, and unique, and amazing everywhere. People are also boring, and selfish, and horrible everywhere. And when you’re traveling you have to listen to tales of them drunkenly squandering their parents’ money on their 3- or 6- or 12-month adventures.

Not to give travel, or travelers, a bad name. It’s just that it’s so much easier to make connections and get at a deeper meaning when you allow yourself to stand still in one place, to put down roots.

So, yes, I stood on top of Macchu Pichu. Then I lost my friends, wandered around, waited in the sun surrounded by a teeming mass of tourists, walked back to town shaking with exhaustion and hunger, paid too much for shitty Chinese food, disputed with the waiter over whether or not my money was counterfeit, found my “friends,” went to some hot springs, made small talk with strangers, changed, dicked around in an internet cafe, paid too much for shitty burritos, had to run through town to catch my train, chatted with a naive, impressionable young Brit, then stumbled through Cuzco in the dark to find a hostel, where I slept poorly due to the constant flow of young travelers.

Today, on the other hand, I slept in til 9, ate cereal while checking my favorite blogs, went for a run, made a smoothie, tidied up the house, worked from 2-6 at the library, saw Contagion for free with friends, walked through the warm and windy evening, talked in a parked car, came home, enjoyed a delicious home-made burrito, blogged, and now I’m going to read my book.

This isn’t perfect, it isn’t forever, but it’s a pretty good fit. For me, for now.

I know that there is something more than this, that I have not yet found my place, but I no longer believe I can find it by wandering. My Special can not be found in hostels, or on 8-hour bus rides, or even on top of mountains.

Maybe, just maybe…my Special must be made.

Cuzco

~OR~

McDonald’s and Starbucks: A Love Story

We arrived in Cuzco in the grey, pre-dawn hours–hungry, tired, and not knowing where to go. Just like so many of our arrivals this trip.  The bus station was filled with tourists and sketchy “tour-guides,” with people at bus line kiosks screaming out destinations (“Arequipa! Arequipa! Arequiiipaaa!”). After arguing with several locals and guides about whether or not there was a train to Macchu Pichu directly from Cuzco (turns out they were right on that one…), we headed into town to figure things out for ourselves and watch the sun come up.

Then we spent an inordinate amount of time (on-and-off throughout the day) in McDonald’s and Starbucks. Because there was wifi, and familiar food (soy milk!!!), and clean bathrooms. Which I may or may not have sullied with my bird-bathing, teeth brushing, underwear changing ways. Yep. Life on the road.

They were particularly well-curated fast food chains, however, so as to match with the central plaza in Cuzco. You can really see the Spanish influence in this city’s architecture–the tiled roofs, balconies wrapping around the plaza’s main buildings…

European style has not completely conquered, however–there remain segments of the city’s original walls, made of massive blocks of stone and miraculously held in place by great design and no mortar. They were warm to the touch in the mid-fall sunlight. I got in trouble for touching them.

 

We wound up planning our trip to Macchu Pichu through a tourist agency by happy accident–we stopped a man headed into the train station to ask a question, and he turned out to own a tourism agency (likely, in a destination city like Cuzco…). He gave us a great deal, which meant that we’d be leaving Cuzco that very night, on a train bound for Aguas Calientes. In the meantime, we visited museums, ate falafel and burgers, hiked up and around the steep hills surrounding the center, and enjoyed the free internet and immaculate bathrooms at Starbucks.

Afternoon in Puno, Peru

(from my journal)

Wednesday, May 23rd, 2012

Stray dogs in the market (the meat section). Pasta, beans, grains in bulk, the air tinged with spices. Boys playing fútbol with an empty water bottle in front of a grade school. No stoplights or stop signs; taxis, bike taxis, pizzerias and internet cafés everywhere you turn. Constant, though non-aggressive (and sometimes friendly) horn honking. Just to say “hello” or “coming through.”

Taquile Island

A Photo Essay

After Amantaní, we spent the morning on Taquile island, walking, hiking, sheep watching, and enjoying the sunshine.

Home Stay

~OR~

I Could Not Have Danced All Night

As I mentioned, I was sick and bummed out on Amantani, during our home-stay. But it wasn’t all a bust, Friends! It was also very peaceful and relaxing at times.

Moreover, it was really cool to get to meet this family that I wouldn’t otherwise have met–Catalina and her 4-year-old son, Anderson (her older daughter and husband were away on errands for the weekend)–stay in their home and eat meals with them.

That was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and for that I’m grateful to have braved extreme exhaustion, lung tremors, and cultural commodification.

Oh, and did I mention…the food?!

This was honestly the best I ate the entire time in South America. Lunch was a brothy quinoa soup (with quinoa they’d grown in their own yard–I’d never seen that!) followed by roasted corn and root vegetables (including a variety of potato that was sweet yet hard, like a carrot) with fried goat cheese. We washed it all down with fresh lemon-balm tea made with whole, recently harvested herbs.

It was just what the doctor ordered. Dinner was a similar soup, followed by starch-on-starch crime–pasta and potatoes with a side of white rice. Still, though, it was home-cooked meal, and very satisfying.

I spent most of the time trying to get to know our hosts, though Anderson was shy and Catalina was having none of it. She seemed very used to having guests in her home (she’s been doing it nearly 10 years) but kept interaction to a minimum. I wanted to know, more than anything, how she felt about this experience, as to me it was such a unique clash of cultures.

But to Catalina (as I finally managed to ascertain), it’s just an easy second job, which means that she doesn’t have to work outside of the home. They host two guests, once a week, and the ends meet. Simple as that.

Then the rest of the time she can knit, talk with friends or family, and farm.

And I suppose she likes it like that? I don’t know. I spent less than 24 hours with her, and I’m reluctant to generalize (though I’m sure I already have). I guess what I mean to say is that I hope she’s happy with the arrangement. And I think it will be interesting to see the impact the constant influx of foreigners has on Anderson. For now, he seems pleased. And shy.

Amantaní Island

After visiting Uros, we arrived on Amantaní, where we would be spending the night with host families. It was a peaceful farming land, divided into different communities, each of about 1,000 families. Ours was Occosuyo.

Everyone on Amantaní grows their own food, for the most part, so there are fields and sheep and cattle everywhere, and everything is drenched in sun and long, quiet hours as people go about their business, stopping to say hello. Occasionally a man will ride by with a little radio tied to his donkey, but even that had its charm.

Though peaceful, this stay was not restful. We were allowed a few hours to decompress and eat lunch, but then it was time to hike to the top.

…which I wouldn’t have minded except (have we forgotten?)…I was sick! So sick! With some sort of respiratory infection, and we were at a higher altitude  (12,507 ft/3,812 m) than even Salt Lake (4,226 ft/1,288 m), and climbing! I honestly thought my lungs might collapse; they kept doing this strange shivering tremble, and my heart rate would suddenly spike. I suppose it was all worth it for the view. And the delicious, warm, Peruvian beer I enjoyed at the top.

There were men, women and children trying to sell us hats they’d knit, chocolate bars and beer all along the hike. Just in case you thought we’d escaped the tourist trap aspect of the trip, we hadn’t.

Later, after dinner, we had to hike up again (though not as far, yet my lungs still spasmed) to go to a “customary” dance night, dressed in the traditional clothing of our host families. I suppose it was supposed to be fun, but again, I was just kind of bummed out. They put on these cultural experience nights nearly every night–not the same families every night, but it’s the same community and center–basically “on demand” for the tourists to have an authentic experience, yet it didn’t feel authentic to me. It felt more like a hollow shadow of what once was, reanimated in order to make ends meet. They can’t be happy doing this, right? Right?

I never quite found the answer to that question.

And then it was time to go.