When I was 21 years old, I embarked on what would be my greatest adventure yet: a semester of studying Spanish in Cusco, Peru.
At this point in my life, I’d never lived outside of my small hometown, and had only flown once or twice by myself. Here I was, jumping on a plane all alone, heading off for six months in a country where I didn’t know anyone, didn’t know the language (although at the time I thought I was more proficient than I was!), and really, didn’t know much about the country itself. I mean, I thought that since it was winter in the northern hemisphere, it would be a warm summer in the southern hemisphere. Turns out, it’s not that simple.
My mom will tell you the story of how I was confident until I landed at Lima at 3 a.m. and called her (collect!) slightly panicking about what I had done.
Sometimes, I think, if we know now what we knew then…nothing would ever happen!
I went on to have a wonderful, difficult, exhausting, exhilarating, confusing, lovely experience in Peru. My itchy feet were hardly sated by this trip, as I’ve moved abroad twice since then, and traveled on several-month-long journeys as well.
The main reason I chose Cusco was a life-long obsession with seeing Machu Picchu. Of course, as is my norm, I waited until my next-to-last weekend to book my trip to see the famous site. At this point, the tickets on the train were sold out. Seeing my near-tears face, the ticket agent kindly told me that I could take a van. I should have taken note of her dubious face when telling me this, but instead, I happily hunted down the best deal I could find.
(Can you see where this is going?)
Not only did it include the trip there and back, it included several meals, a room in a hostel, and a round-trip up the hill to Machu Pichu itself. All for less than the train ticket! Genius, I thought!
It went on to be the most terrifying eight hours of my life, trapped in a rickety van. I spent most of the time refusing to look out my window at the sheer cliff face inches away, taking deep breaths, and avoiding the sight of the many, many waterfalls the driver boldly drove through. A lot of that eight hours was also spent on the side of the road, since tires kept going out due to the condition of the road (and the van).
That night, in my hostel room with its fifteen beds and mysteriously sticky floor, I remember being grateful to be alive–and thinking that this Machu Picchu place better be worth all this.
Well, spoiler alert:
Even to someone who loves travel as much as I do, there are still destinations that are just somehow special. Sunrise at Machu Picchu, while it comes out of the mist, and before the tour groups have arrived, surrounded by such a spectacular setting–with alpacas!–is certainly one of those places.
If I knew then what I know now, would I do it all again?
In a second.