9 Days

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9. Climbing down and up colca canyon in Peru and meeting wonderful people.

It was a challenge, walking down, along, and back up the canyon walls.  Thankfully we had good company and great views.  It was a hot 3 days of hiking with lots of very dry trails but as always it was completely worth it!

10 Days

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10. Descending on the smoky mountain of Machu Picchu.

It was dawn.  We woke at 3 and started hiking at 5.  As the sun shone through, we curled around the trail leading up to the sun gate.  It was cloudy and we couldn’t see the famed ruin.  So we climbed down the final stretch of trail with the dissipating fog slowly lifting as we closed in.  The puffs surrounded the city with sun shining through and we arrived.

25 Days

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125 days down, 25 days to go. Oh what a magical time!  My first 4 months have been something of whirlwind of adrenaline and running from one amazing place to the next. Don’t get me wrong, I stopped to smell the roses PLENTY of times. Just ask many of the tours I went on where I’d return to the bus late because I was gazing at a glacier or transfer buses I’d be scrambling onto, savoring my scrambled eggs a few moments too long. Yes, I have had a wonderful time thus far. But in the last week, I’ve been reflecting on this trip much more. I’m really just smelling the roses more emphatically. The world is moving slowly around me but the clocks are doubling their rate. It’s an inquisitive feeling, and I feel fortunate to feel more alive than I ever did when I had work perks and an easy life at home. 

I know that I’ll be both ecstatic and saddened by returning home, but it may not be for the reason I thought before the trip started. I am not fearful of working again, quite the contrary actually. I am excited to return in the same way that I was excited when I started my first full time job about 4 1/2 years ago (yes, I know I am a strange creature). Things feel fresher, and I do too. Those same roses smell stronger and look brighter. Applying for jobs may not seem like an attractive thing to do during a trip like this, but I’ve been excited about looking for something new and what new adventures lie ahead. 

To celebrate the end of this trip, I’ll be sharing 25 memories and lessons I’ve learned that I think are worth sharing. So without delay, here is the first!

25. Question everything. 

From a “waterproof” jacket to a “fast” wifi connection, there are no guarantees. Miscommunications happen, with even greater frequency when different languages meet. One such example of questioning things is a short story of my first flight during this trip.  

Flying from Newark, NJ to Lima, Peru, I was to take a flight onward to Cusco in just a few hours. Me and my friend asked if we needed to reclaim our bags before catching the connecting flight and were specifically told, NO. Well, after walking halfway out of the baggage claim area, something didn’t feel right. We decided to check anyway just to be sure. Sitting in a lonely corner next to a baggage belt were there bags. Mine, my friend’s, and some other poor soul’s bag. 

The start to this trip easily could have been ruinous. Thankfully, because we questioned the advice of an airline agent, we kept our bags from being eaten by the airline industry. Of course, as you may know if you’ve already read my Wild Galapagos part two, my bag had some misfortunes in any case. But the lesson remains. Question everything.

 

Peru

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It’s been an incredibly fast 2 weeks here in Peru. Starting things off, I spent a few days to acclimatize to the elevation in Cusco (roughly 11,700 feet). Me and a good buddy explored many of the great things that this fascinating city has to offer. 
It is the oldest continually inhabited city in the americas and certainly has its charms. From the cobblestone streets to the beautiful churches to the insistent street vendors, there’s something beautiful about this place. Just don’t climb any stairs too quickly or you’ll find yourself gasping for air.
But of course the biggest reason for this city being so popular today is because of the tourist attractions including Machu Picchu. We decided to take the more difficult route of the Inca Trail for 4 days to see this world wonder, and I’d strongly suggest this route as opposed to the cheaper but less rewarding train option. Being able to learn about Incan methods and ways of life as we best know them was an amazing experience as much as climbing massive Andean mountain passes and trekking through heavy rain in the cloud forest. 
The best part about the hiking was the challenge. There is no feeling quite like pushing yourself and both figuratively as well as literally climbing the mountain. If you’ve ever seen the move the shawshank redemption (and if you haven’t I’d strongly recommend it), the moment when Tim Robbins reaches his arms up in exclamation in the rain, summiting a mountain is much like that, with perhaps a less favorable camera angle and lighting. We can’t all be Hollywood famous actors/actresses. 
Of course, when you do these sorts of things, bonding with the people you go through these experiences with is quite inevitable. But that is my favorite part! Being able to share experiences, even with people you’ve never known who live half a world away (quite literally!) is something you can’t really buy and it’s why I love traveling. Whether it’s a simple experience like sharing some beers or climbing a mountain, nothing can replace the feeling of sharing it with others. 
The next stop in Peru included only more of this as I took a bus to Arequipa. The backdrop of this amazing city is a set of 3 volcanos surrounding the city to the north. I took a walking tour to get to know this fascinating city a bit better and then booked a 3 day tour through the colca canyon. This canyon is apparently the 2nd deepest in the world and is twice the depth of the Grand Canyon! I would need to be convinced that the view was as gorgeous as the Grand Canyon was, but the view was awe inspiring nonetheless. 
In descending the canyon, we learned that local people would hike up to the top for over 3000 feet of climbing and then trek the many miles to Cuzco through mountains and passes. And this was all for the sake of trading and selling goods. This was some time ago in history but showed me just how hard people had to work in a day and age that is not too far from our own today. 
When we finally reached the bottom several hours later, it was a great feeling. Although climbing down doesn’t have the same metaphorical meaning as climbing up, it is still challenging and rewarding. Particularly when there is a beautiful oasis waiting for you. I must say, swinging in a hammock as the sun sets over canyon walls bending back and forth with a pool ebbing back and forth just beside you is a wonderful sight to see. I’m quite thankful for this because the next day was an even greater challenge to climb over 3,500 feet with a 20+ pound backpack to carry.
We woke up at 5:00am to be able to make this hike up with no sun beating down on us. Starting out I was feeling great and taking each step vigorously. But towards the last third of the hike, my legs became tired and I was moving very slowly. Thankfully, I bumped into a new friend who was having a tough time as well and our conversation carried us the last stretch up to the top of the canyon where our groups were waiting for us. It was once again a great feeling to make it to the top and we took some nice pictures to celebrate. The rest of the trip would be much more relaxed as we took a bus from breakfast to some lookout points of the canyon and then to a hot spring where we recovered from the heavy morning hike. After that, it was one last viewpoint at over 15,000 feet above sea level looking at volcanos in every direction before our final descent back to the city of Arequipa. 

It was an amazing time in Peru having seen the beautiful cities of Cusco and Arequipa as well as countless Incan ruins and other picturesque views. There were challenging days and easier days all making for a well rounded experience of seeing a small sliver of what Peru has to offer. I’m glad that I was able to see these things but wish I could have seen even more. I’ve made a list of tips for traveling to Peru which can be found here. It’s a beautiful country and one that I’d urge any of you to choose to visit someday!