I wrote the following piece over a great length of time, so it captures my changing perspective. Keep that in mind, as the first half was written in a darker period of my trip.
Seven Days Away
A week away from the end of my trip, but I feel like it ended weeks ago. I’ve been searching for the words to describe the last month without sounding negative. Best to just say exactly what was going on.
I contracted a stomach parasite just over 6 weeks ago in Sucre, Bolivia, which consisted of the symptoms you are likely imagining. I was bed-ridden for 3 days as I got over the worst of it. This heralded in the following month’s apathy. Specifically, I’d grown weary of socializing with other travelers only to separate almost immediately. Nearly every conversation would follow the same template. “Where are you from? Where have you been? Oh cool! Where are you going? Good chat. Goodbye forever.” Even the relationships that progressed beyond such inanity dissolved into nothing the moment one of us left. I have a few tenuous Facebook connections, but I expect only to see a few of these people for perhaps a few days out of the rest of my life. As I diarrhea’d all over town (read: stomach parasite), these monotonous & shallow scripted conversations exhausted me, and I stopped talking to people beyond what was essential. (҂⌣̀_⌣́)
I felt little desire to continue traveling, but I felt no desire to stay in the same hostel any longer, so I forced my way over to La Paz where both my parasites & my indifference followed. I bought some stomach meds, ran into an acquaintance from Sucre, met some good people, biked Death Road, and went souvenir shopping. Although the medicine did absolutely nothing, I hesitantly allowed myself to enjoy my time.
I set course for Cusco with a fellow I met in La Paz—Phil. Upon arrival, we grabbed some drinks with friends he ran into and had a fun night out dancing.
Phil and I booked the 4-day jungle trek to Machu Picchu. Just before leaving, I bit my tongue hard and couldn’t speak without pain, so if I was feeling somewhat anti-social before, now I really didn’t feel like talking. m(._.)m On top of that, my stomach parasite flared up on the first day of the trek. ⊙︿⊙ And on top of that, I fell off the bicycle on the first day of the trek, injuring my knees and my shoulder. ヘ（。□°）ヘ Initially, my knees merely felt bruised, but my shoulder didn’t fare so well under the constant weight of my backpack and was in pain the entire trek (which included somewhere around 18 hours of hiking over the next 3 days). The nice little cherry on top was a cold I managed to catch towards the end of the trek.
Ƒ ư ɕ ƙ (╬ﾟ◥益◤ﾟ) ╬ﾟ
Oh, and it rained all 4 days of the trek. ( ¬_¬)
On the final day of the trek after visiting Machu Picchu, my knees began to swell. By the next day, I couldn’t walk more than a block. For the most part, I spent the next 3.5 weeks in bed or in a chair, working my way up to walking 10 blocks at a time. On the bright side, I found the correct stomach meds and kicked that parasite’s ass. ᕙ(⇀‸↼‶)ᕗ
After Machu Picchu, I spent 8 days on my own again recovering in Cusco before I grew tired of the city’s bipolar weather and snagged a bus to Lima. Despite being the most comfortable bus of my trip, the 22-hour bus ride aggravated my injuries, and when I arrived, I could walk no more than a block again.
The doctor in Lima was useless t(-_-t) (probably a communication breakdown), but an x-ray showed that at least my bones are awesome—I drank a lot of milk as a child. I did an ayahuasca ceremony, which was uneventful. I finished reading a novel. I revised my résumé. I updated my LinkedIn profile. I got Google Analytics recertified. I studied Excel formulas. I studied to get AdWords certified. I stayed in four different hostels over 16 days.
I did not talk to anyone unless necessary, and at this point, I was okay with it. It felt good to just work & be productive.
A Quick Lie
I wrote the section above one week before leaving Lima, as if to post it when I arrived in Iquitos one week before the end of my trip. Despite not having left yet, I wrote the following:
I just left Lima, my injuries slightly better but certainly not close to healed.
And that brings me to now. How do I feel? Well, I’m ready to be home. I have been for nearly 2 months. I’m proud of myself for using my recovery time to prep for my job, although I’m growing antsy, as I haven’t had a whole lot else to do. I have one last week in Iquitos in the Amazon jungle, and though I plan to do a couple tours if they don’t require much walking, I’m really just looking forward to going home.
Resigned to sitting on my ass, I anticipated a few more boring days in Lima & Iquitos before my flight home.
But Actually—Ten Days Away
I spent my final three nights & four days in Lima at a new hostel. When Jim and I first spoke, I found my brain telling me to just leave and get on with my day. I had more significant tasks preparing for the seemingly-definite future than talking to someone who would not be part of that future. That voice was soon silenced as I found myself legitimately engaged in conversation.
Jim’s first day of his 8-month adventure was quite nearly the last day of mine. There’s not only something special about someone at the beginning of their trip, but there’s also something strangely appropriate about meeting them at the end of your own. Their eyes are open. Their spirits are up. Their excitement is contagious. Despite how poorly my trip had been going, it was all wiped away by the fresh, rejuvenating energy that Jim brought (although I think this is also just his personality—kind & disarming, but not a fuckin’ square with a shitty sense of humor). o(〃＾▽＾〃)o
Jimbo and I kicked it. I showed him what very little I knew of Lima from the last 13 days, which was mainly La Lucha’s divine sandwiches ‘n shakes. That evening, we ran into two lusty ladies, Christina & Kristin, who we welcomed into our fold, and long-story-short, Christina and I are now engaged, but “it’s complicated.”
The two days before my flight were light and carefree, surrounded by people who are dope as tits and around whom I could be my stupid self. It’s a rare thing. My injuries grew quieter. When I spoke to others, I wasn’t motivated by a need for anything but instead by empathy & joy. I’ve grown to love a handful of people from my trip including these three, but unlike before, I didn’t deflate and resign to misery when I had to leave them. When I boarded my plane to Iquitos, I did so with open eyes. (⊙ヮ⊙)
The Final Week
This piece grows long enough already. Suffice it to say that my final week in the Amazon jungle was a positive experience with amazing people and delicious ice cream. I won’t lie and say that I was so enchanted by the wonders of the Amazon that I lost sight of the end of my trip even for a moment—no, I’d been away far too long, my recent misery was still fresh in my mind, and I could not wait to board my plane home—but I did find some peace and joy in my final seven days in South America.
I won’t be planning any extended travels in the near future. For now, I look forward to spending a relaxing month or two at my parents’ house, enjoying the hot tub, home-cooked meals, and binge-watching Game of Thrones before skipping off to San Diego to continue my career. I'll be reflecting on my trip and figuring out what it meant to me in the coming weeks, and I'll update when I have my head wrapped around something worthwhile.