Tags Posts tagged with "Peru"

Peru

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“Nothing is more damaging to the adventurous spirit than a secure future.”

The powerful words of Jon Krakauer, author of Into the Wild, have wound their way into my thoughts with every crossroad I reach in recent years. Krakauer tells the compelling true story of Chris McCandless, a disaffected young graduate seeking to break with the conventions of modern life and escape the strained expectations of his parents. Tired with this existence, he cuts up his credit cards, donates all his money to charity, and sets out for a life on the road. He is never seen by his family again.

The nomadic lifestyle has always been the one I’ve wanted. I meandered towards it as a restless teenager, saving every penny for adventures near and far; now, as a university graduate, I’m hacking my way through thorns and bushes in search of the road less travelled. I’ve financed my own education, juggling three jobs while making sure I had time to explore: short bursts of adventure closer to home, as well as sublime extended trips to Eastern Europe and the Americas. Independence is my greatest asset. But it doesn’t always come easy.

 

***

Three months ago I was on the Peruvian side of Lake Titicaca, the highest navigable lake in the world at 3,812 metres. I watched as the sunrise leaked over the majestic Andes and into the enormous basin of water below, igniting its reflective surface. I thought about how long I’d dreamed of this; how many times I’d envisaged the tranquillity of this experience.

Many people hadn’t wanted me to be here. Parents had worried about the dangers of travelling in formerly unstable countries; concerned friends tried to persuade me that going alone as a young woman was a terrible idea. Some were entirely disinterested in the idea of travelling at all. Thankfully where much else in my life is chaotic, the compulsion to break my routine and discover new places remains steady. It’s not something everybody understands.

Tiny communities of people had already been awake for hours when we arrived on Lake Titicaca’s floating reed islands. We slid over the shiny surface of the deep water in a reed boat while women in bright traditional clothes chopped at the abundant, corn-coloured stalks, babies in slings hugged tightly to their backs.

“Life is tough here, but they fight to keep their autonomy,” the tour guide told us. “They build everything from these reeds – the islands themselves, their huts, their beds. And if they have a disagreement with a neighbour, they cut them adrift – literally.”

That night, a pendulous moon swung across the velvet night. In spite of the regularity of the process, the patterns of shadow and light reflecting off it seemed unfamiliar. As I shivered on my hilltop, I thought about the little islands of people on Lake Titicaca below, floating away from each other under an unforgiving sky. Things look different in the southern hemisphere.

***

In the end, Chris McCandless learned his most important lesson in the cruellest way possible. He had travelled extensively throughout California, weaving the fabric of his life into a rich tapestry of encounters – but mostly shunning close friendships with other travellers. Dying of starvation, alone after eating a poisonous plant in remote Alaska, a realisation dawned. He used the last of his strength to pen his final message into his journal: “happiness is only real when shared.”

Travel is to seek the answer to a question you didn’t even know you were asking, and often we have to lose ourselves to find it again. McCandless ultimately understood that his rejection of human relationships was only meaningful while he still had time to rectify it: his bold choices meant that all his happiness, as well as his suffering, had to be experienced alone.

Independence is defined just as much by the time you spend with people as without, or it can slide into isolation. A person who doesn’t know how to be alone is not exercising independence, because they still depend on external forces for fulfillment. Independence is knowing how to enjoy the soundtrack of your own thoughts alone on a night bus, but also basking in the warmth of strangers in a Peruvian desert town, feeling like you’ve known them years. It isn’t burning every bridge till you’re stranded on an island – it’s knowing when you need to get away, but also knowing when it’s time to come back.

 I came back, but I’ll be gone again in time. And that is what true freedom feels like.

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We all know them.  Those people that say, “I’ll do it when…..” fill in the blank.  When I have more money.  When my kids are grown.  When I have more time.  When I am older.  And that phenomenal thing called time occurs and suddenly it is too late and all we have is “I wish I hads….” left.  I was one of those people until I stepped up and decided not to wait any longer.  An unexpected death of a friend spurred me to act before I was one of those wondering where the time had gone.

I had been divorced for three years.  I was a single mom of active teenagers.  I was a teacher.  And I was only identified my those characteristics.  Through the years I lost who I was.  I started finding myself again.  I did ten triathlons.  I started a masters at University of Central Florida.  As I got closer to graduation, I wanted to challenge myself to step out and be a brave individual somewhere where no one knew how I was identified.  I had always wanted to see Machu Picchu so I began the thought of my adventure of hiking the Inka Trial.

I had traveled internationally before, but always had someone to meet and travel with.  This time, I was on my own.  Learning not only about a culture, but about myself.  My children were not keen on the idea of me traveling to a foreign country alone, but we had a year to prepare. My daughter took me shopping.  My son worried.  Despite all of our fears, they dropped me at the airport and with hugs, wet cheeks and well wishes, I was standing there alone.  Almost as soon as I entered the airport, my heart soared thinking about the grand adventure I was about to undertake.  Fear was gone.

After 18 hours of travel from Orlando to Cucso, via Lima, I arrived exhausted and exhilarated!  Pushing my limits, I dropped my bags at the hotel and instantly went to find the trekking company I had booked for the hike.  Brave is one thing, careless is another.  I should have taken into account the altitude and lack of decent food, but excitement took over. One misstep and now I had a knee scraped to the bone and gouges in my palms from a tumble on the uneven cobblestone streets.  What terrible timing.  I had a day and a half to nurse myself, but I started to trek bandaged up.  Push on.

It was an amazing few hours into the hike, then the rain started. I am not sure what else I expected for March in the rain forest, but it was tough.  Basically four days of steady rain.  Day and night.  I was hiking with fourteen strangers that quickly became friends and between us, we found ways to stay dry, enjoy the great food cooked by our porters and laugh.  I took 1500 pictures of things that I never would forget.

The last day as we were coming down into Machu Picchu, I began to slow down.  Smell every flower.  Hear every rain drop.  See every distant peak.  I wondered how I got to be so small in such a big world.  I wondered how to make the best impact.  I knew when I returned, I would be a changed person.  Less fearful.  My children would be proud of their mom.  I hope as they age, they look back at their 45 year old mom, a Don Quixote, and not be afraid to take chances.  Life is too short not to be brave.  Try new things.  Test those limbs.

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I’ve always loved liminal places – hotel rooms, airport terminals… The generic in-betweenness of them is non-threatening, like a closed door that excuses you from worrying, because you can’t see what’s on the other side. Those in-between places liberate you from commitment to before and after. They are a kind of purgatory, a space to work things out while reality waits in suspended animation. It’s in these places, and only these places, that I feel free. I carved out some breathing room for myself in the spring after I completed my undergrad degree.

I’d planned and saved for The Gap Trip since my first minimum-wage salary, sometimes working three part-time jobs while going to university full-time. The route had been plotted and fantasized about two years prior to departure: a straight shot east around the world. Travel time: three months. Budget: Everything I had. Participants: Me, myself and I. In the days leading up to my solo stint around the globe, a long and brutal winter finally began to loosen its hold. Forgotten hues of blue and green softened the interminable shades of grey, mild temperatures massaged the tension out of hunched shoulders, and the world heaved a sigh of relief. That’s my cue, I thought. Of all the advice I got – both solicited and not (don’t carry all your cash in one place, take broad spectrum antibiotics, make photocopies of your passport and travel documents), the best by far was this: Don’t look back. This trip promised to be one of the most valuable experiences of my life, if only I got out of the way.

Too often we miss what’s in front of us focusing on what’s not. Rolling my suitcase through the airport entrance alone, I felt the weight of what I’d done settle in my gut. Close on the heels of the sinking fear and loneliness, however, was a bolstering lift of freedom. As my plane galloped down the runway, I felt its wings catch the wind and I experienced a sense of weightlessness. We hit turbulence climbing through the cloud cover, and I gripped the armrests. When the ride levelled out, I realized the man in the seat next to mine was speaking to me. “It’s okay,” he nodded to my white knuckles. “You can let go now.” I glanced out the window. No matter how many times I fly, I’m always amazed by how clear the skies are above the clouds. A month later, I was spending my birthday in a four-star hotel room on a nosebleed-expensive wine tour in Croatia when it occurred to me that I never expected to get this far. Analyzing every expense, logistic and risk before leaving, I was certain I would crash and burn in the first week.

These ancient places with their unrivalled scenery, extraordinary food and rich culture had been glimpses from the Travel Channel and Lonely Planet, static and flat. The actual sounds, textures and tastes were a reality I’d been afraid to imagine. I’d come to the Istrian Peninsula from the town of Rijeka, with whom I shared a birthday. They were celebrating their annual Freedom Festival when I left, in memory of the day they gained independence from Yugoslavia in 1991, which also happens to be the year I was born. Prior to arriving in Croatia via a harrowing series of trains, buses and border crossings, I’d visited Vatican City in Rome, as well as the Coliseum, Pantheon, Trevi Fountain and Spanish Steps. In Florence, I’d looked out over the Arno River from the Ponte Vecchio, listened to the bells of Giotto’s Campanile and stood before Botticelli’s original “Birth of Venus” in the Uffizi Gallery.

After Croatia, I toured the Acropolis of Athens, explored Knossos Palace on Crete and saw the white-capped Aegean mirrored in the colours of Santorini. My journey culminated in a multi-day pack trip on horseback through the Andes to Machu Picchu. I met a lot of beautiful people, and spent a lot of time alone, exploring both the external and internal. When it was over, I knew the limits (or lack thereof) of my own capabilities. This was a tool that would make every step, every new venture, and every commitment a thousand times easier. I would not be returning to the fear and confusion of life as I left it. I’d been freed. Travel doesn’t change your life. It changes your ability to navigate it. I looked out the window on my flight home. Beyond the reflection of a girl I knew very well, the wing of the plane gleamed with the first morning light. I smiled, glad to be headed into the sunrise.

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Surf’s up!

I’ve been in utter lust with all things surfing as far back as I can remember. However, it was my choice to make ours a long-distance relationship; I worshipped board-carrying athletes from afar. How I wanted to learn! However, the barriers against me were too formidable.

First off, you have to do this sport in the arch enemy of females: a bathing suit. That precluded me from attempting it for all of my teen years and throughout my twenties.

Body issues aside, my thirties made me wiser. This meant that instead of admitting the truth (fear was making me too terrified to even try it), my reasons to avoid learning became more clever. I’d offer up seemingly rational excuses like not having health insurance, the time and costs involved or, something that anyone can understand: not wanting to humiliate myself. Under my “reasonable” exterior was a scared-y cat. These justifications allowed me to put aside any thoughts of me surfing. Still, I loved the sport. Often I went to the beach and watched, I took in surf movies, but my relationship remained a long-distance one. And so it seemed destined to always be. Until “fate” intervened.

They say that one can often find courage when he leaves his “normal” environment. I am proof of that. Vacationing in Indonesia, board rentals and lessons were only a few bucks. Finally I had summoned up the courage: the waves were perfect and no one knew me here. The day had arrived! I was so excited (and scared). While walking on a plank in the road, it gave way and I hurt my shin. It wasn’t going to happen this trip after all. Worse yet, I had myself believing that it was a “sign” from above to never try this hazardous sport. My love got shelved.

Two years later, I was again on holiday, but this time in Mancora, a lovely beach town in Peru. I was doing what I do well. Sitting on the sand and observing the amazing athletes. Something caught my eye. A teensy bikini-clad girl, lugging a board that was bigger than she was, ran past me. Fearless, she dove into the ocean, paddled out and waited for the wave. She looked so confident and regal atop her surfboard. I couldn’t believe it. That little girl was keeping up with the much older and more experienced guys! She inspired me so much that I decided to get a lesson, even as my sage self reiterated old obstacles, pointing out that she was young and limber.

Melo, my gorgeous instructor was charming, but his promise that “If you don’t stand up, you don’t have to pay” clinched the deal.

He made the whole thing like a fun adventure. The moment that I stood up remains one of my happiest memories.

“Yessssss!” I screamed. Ah, shoot. Now I’d have to pay the owner.

Melo looked at me and beamed. He high-fived me, “Mi Reina!”

Could it be that I was a natural? The next time, when I almost kicked Melo in the face, I realized he was behind me, holding the board, stabilizing it for me. We both had a good laugh.

Without his assistance, it was much harder. After a few tumbles, I did eventually get the hang of it and was able to stand up on my own. The peacefulness, the sense of accomplishment, the feeling of being one with the ocean. The moments that I am surfing are the most liberating I have ever known.

When surfing, you are forced to be in the moment. If you start to let all that monkey chatter take over, you lose your concentration and go down. You could crash against rocks or bam into another surfer. Surfers die every year; I don’t want to be one of them.

Admittedly, as much as I had enjoyed our long-distance relationship, this new development takes my love with surfing to a whole new dimension. To have overcome the self-made obstacles at middle age makes the entire affair even sweeter. I recommend surfing to anyone. It’s a road to a freedom that so many never get to experience.

About the author: JC Sullivan has been to over 110 countries and every continent and loves the freedom found in backpacking. Since Peru, she’s surfed in Panama and the Galapagos Islands (Isabella). An award-winning author, JC constantly challenges herself creatively believing that comfort zone is a euphemism for “rut”.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Independence Travel Writing competition and tell your story.

Discovering Freedom in the USA

6:05 a.m. – groan and wake up
6:10 a.m. – have coffee, one cup
7:00 a.m. – sigh and start work
12:00 p.m. – go completely berserk
5:30 p.m. – stuck in rush hour
7:00 p.m. – frozen dinner, devoured
7:30 p.m. – have travel day-dreams
9:30 p.m. – concoct money schemes
10:00 p.m – come to realization
10:05 p.m – dismiss aspirations
10:30 p.m. – fall asleep
Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. REPEAT.

Caught in this trap
Of my life map
With no diversions,
Only one path.

Days pass, seasons change
Though my life doesn’t rearrange

It’s as if I’m surrounded by water,
and all I want to do is swim,
Though I’m trapped in a boat,
too afraid to go out on a whim.

Until one day, when enough was enough,
Quit my job, and packed my things up.
Said my goodbyes, and left the same night,
Got to the airport, and took the next flight.

Twelve hours later, I awake as we’re landing,
And with so much excitement, I find myself standing.
“Sit down, please!” Cries the stewardess madly,
And with nervousness and exhilaration, I sit down and chirp, “gladly!”

I turn to look out the window instead,
And I am in shock of what lays ahead.
Mountains and ocean, as far as I can see,
And immediately I know this is where I’m meant to be.

I walk out of the plane, and down a long ramp,
And then I receive my first passport stamp.

As I approach a cab I slowly inhale,
“Sir, take me anywhere,” I say without fail.
We drive through the streets and chat as we go,
He tells me about the ocean, I tell him of snow.

Eventually he pulls over and I get out to pay,
But he stops me and says, “come, let’s get ceviche.”

We walk towards a café and the music is bright,
And colorfully clothed dancers come into sight.

Mesmerizing aromas waft towards the door,
And before I have even tried the food, I know that I will want more.

As we wait for our food, a man asks me to dance,
And I think, if I’d been asked yesterday, I would have said, “not a chance!”
However, it is today, and today I am daring,
So, I grin happily, and get up without caring.

We take to the stage, and the man starts to lead me,
And, in this moment, I am undoubtedly
F. R. E. E.

As we dance, though, I come to a new revelation,
What it took, though, was a new destination.
Independence isn’t determined by your longitude or latitude,
But, instead, is completely dependent on your attitude.

And at this, the song ends, and the crowd begins to cheer,
My cab driver, now friend, winks at me, and holds up a beer.
I return to our seats to enjoy our beers and ceviche,
While thinking about my adventurous and exciting day.

The cab driver asks, “where to next, do you dare?”
I smile and reply, “doesn’t matter, because I now know I can be free anywhere.”

About the Author:  Barbara Anne Scheibel is a student at SUNY Oswego studying childhood education. During school holidays she travels anywhere and everywhere. She loves helping others, especially children, and plans on teaching abroad upon graduation.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Independence Travel Writing competition and tell your story.

Elevation GainWe needed two days to get to the peak. Three, if you counted travel. We spent the night in Huaraz, Peru, a small mountain town in the Andes, and before the sun rose the next day we were in a van built for eight but filled with twenty Peruvians. Our bags were strapped to the roof. Everyone’s bags were strapped to the roof. The van wound through the mountains, curving up switchbacks in the middle of the road until the driver heard a horn up ahead. He moved to the right and let the car coming towards us pass. The drive was sunny and as we climbed higher into the mountains, we shaded our eyes from the brilliant light reflecting off of snow covered passes. We passed Mount Paramount and the highest peak in Peru. We passed lagoons and rivers. We passed women on the side of the road selling food out of colorful scarves. The driver let myself and four other hikers off on the side of the road with a few houses and a restaurant to our right, and the trail to our left.

The first day was a short four hour hike. We were in a valley mostly full of cows and full of grass saturated with rainwater and moss, bordered by tall passes and rolling passes. We camped in a field spotted with cows and went to sleep wet from the rain, and woke up wet from the rain. We ate pre-cooked rice, onions, abused bread, and cream cheese before shouldering our trekking backpacks and getting back on the trail. They were heavier today, pulling our shoulders back and slowing us down, because they were filled with wet clothes and a wet tent. The second hike was eight hours. Our goal was to climb the highest peak on the trail, 4,750 meters, and make it to the valley by nightfall where we’d be warmer and drier.

It was cloudy and it rained and for a few collective minutes, we had sunshine. We stopped and ate lunch in the sun, and took most of what we had out of our bags to dry. Once we reached the base of the mountain, the weather changed and we climbed over rocks and up steep switchbacks in thick fog and rain. The higher we climbed, the colder and foggier it became. I fell behind while carefully stepping across the smooth and sharply inclined face of the mountain, spreading my arms like wings to my side for balance and shuffling my feet forward. There weren’t any trees to hold onto and if I had slipped, I would have fallen back onto the wet stone and slid until I hit a big enough rock.

I followed my companion’s voice up the mountain. Everywhere I looked was white. I could only see a foot in front of myself to the sporadic stone steps. I walked with my hands out to my side, holding the rock walls that rose on either side of me, climbing higher into the cloud line. I had my jacket and my thermal pants on, and a bandana over my ears, but I was cold. April in Peru but I was cold.

I climbed higher and the fog turned to rain, and the rain turned to snow. I followed my companion’s voice up until the stone steps ended and I found myself level. I could step forward or I could step back but I wouldn’t be climbing any higher. I could see six inches in front of myself and it was all white. I found my fellow hiker crouched under a ledge, shielding himself from the blowing snow. We sat for maybe two minutes, proud of ourselves for the long, steep climb up. We didn’t see much of the mountain from where we sat, just some rocks and the whiteness of elevation. We sat in the snow and enjoyed the height, enjoyed the feeling of being as high as we could go. We didn’t need the view; we could feel where we were and we could feel where we had been. We could guess where we were going next. We sat in the snow until we were cold enough and we turned back onto the trail and rushed down the mountain, quickly passing the lagoons and rivers that were promised to us as the rain collected and chased us down the trail, flooding where we had been and trying to flood where we were going. We were faster, though. We camped on dry land with a sunset and damp but not wet clothes.

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mancoraAs the driver overtakes a truck on a blind corner the old man beside me dabs his forehead with a handkerchief. There is a bunch of squawking flowers between his feet- two chickens tied together at the legs. We pass a derelict water park. Abandoned slides plunge into the thick green of a swimming pool.

The border is preceded by a series of villages where houses perch angularly on wooden stilts. Mothers linger at windows with babies wrapped in brightly coloured cloths. After a jumble of market stalls and immigration police we cross into Peru. The lush greens of southern Ecuador are replaced by pale desert.

When we finally reach a town the sun is setting. The coach stops and two women climb board. They are clutching orange nets filled with mandarins. Polystyrene coolers rest on their hips.

‘Esta Mancora?’ I ask them.

‘Si, si,’ the first woman tells me.

I rush past before the coach can pull away.

It’s easy to find my hostel in such a small place, and I’m soon heading to the beachfront for dinner. I see a woman that I recognise from the coach. ‘A hellish ride,’ she sighs, and introduces herself. Jane from Australia. I smile, happy to have found a dinner companion.

We chat about our experiences in Ecuador as we stroll along the beach. Plastic tables and chalkboards slant into the sand. We choose a crowded bar. An old man sits in the corner with his ear pressed to the battered body of a guitar. He plucks the worn strings gently with his eyes tightly closed.

We order two bowls of ceviche. Jane tells me about volunteering in the Cloud Forest while we eat the fresh, raw fish. Three other musicians have gather around the guitarist. He leads them in a gentle rhythm with his ear pressed to the wood. Eyes closed, he begins to sing. It is a gravelly song of experience. Suddenly I am nostalgic, although I’m unsure what for.

Barefoot couples dance in the sand between the tables. The rhythm is slow and lazy like the sea. Peruvian Cumbia, the waitress tells us.

The band pause for an interval and the old man walks over to our table with his guitar. His feet are bare. The skin around his ankles is gnarled like driftwood. He props the guitar against our table and gestures towards it.

‘Don’t ask her anything, she knows all my secrets.’

He winks, and his closed eye is an eclipsed moon in the dark contours of his face. Jane is soon chatting to him in fluent Castillano. Victor, he tells us.

‘A drink?’ he asks, and we accept.

He soon returns with three glasses and a pack of playing cards.

‘ Sangre del tigre.’ He gestures towards the drinks. ‘For courage’.

Tiger’s blood? We eye the pink liquid suspiciously. Victor laughs and urges us to try it. A mixture of fish and lemon juice sharpens my senses. He pulls up a chair and begins to shuffle the playing cards whilst explaining a game called Cuarenta.

Although I can’t follow I somehow win sporadically. Victor tells us about Peru as we play. His eyes are animated as he describes his childhood. The hours go by, and soon we are strangers who know each other quite well. When Victor was a boy he nearly drowned in the sea. I tell them about a panic attack when swimming in deep water. Echoes of a past life, Victor says.

When we leave he signs his name across two playing cards. The King of Hearts is pressed it into my hand. ‘To remember me by,’ he says.

Some months later, back in Yorkshire, I am searching for change at a bus stop. My fingers find the dog-eared card in my wallet. I press it into my hand and think of that night when I had shared secrets with strangers and drank tiger’s blood. Oh to be back there, I think.

But then a realisation. That same life is here. Now. There is a rush of excitement as I contemplate what might happen next.

About the Author:  Sophie McGovern is a travel writer, yarn spinner and full time nomad currently living on a canal boat near Bath. Her first novel, House of Mirrors, is almost finished.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter our next Travel Writing competition and tell your story.

 

Sunset Boat - 2Tambopata: Waltzing with Butterflies

Bleary-eyed and lethargic, we chug downstream through muddy brown waters as the cool morning air gradually lifts our heavy, squinting eyelids. The breeze is a refreshing change from the cloying heat we are used to and as our spirits are lifted by its tonic touch the boat becomes a chattier place, several languages mixing in a confused but enthusiastic hubbub over the thudding of the outboard motor.

After just over a month of trying to integrate with the people of Puerto Maldonado, a border town in the Peruvian Amazon; after mistakes and miner’s strikes, after panicked cats coming through collapsing roofs, after exotic pet shows and unkempt, city-wide parades; my girlfriend and I had decided to venture into the region’s Tambopata Reserve, and let nature clear our heads.

As it turned out, integrating with the natural world in our limited, excitable manner would not necessarily prove much easier, but it would be infinitely more inspiring. Armouring ourselves with enough nuclear bug-spray to irradiate our children’s children couldn’t save us from mosquito bites in the triple digits. Terrified baby opossums would endeavour to share our bed space with that fluid that babies always seem so ready to share. But whenever our sorry, tired bodies glided gently out onto the tranquil waters of Lake Sandoval, our minds forgot about their complaints.

Off-white butterflies dance gently around the faces of basking turtles. Stiff, formal wading birds stalk the banks, decked out in their tuxedos of blue. Giant otters dive synchronously under the water, and break the surface again, making barely a ripple. In sunshine the lake and its surrounding jungle is peaceful, meditative, still. Reclining in your canoe, dappling a hand in the water, seems like the natural thing to do. As the sun sets a gentle wash of mauve, orange and inky blue crawls across the water and we are sucked into darkness.

Night-time is close and eerie. Unprepared, we become completely reliant on a solitary beam of soft light that our guide, Jackson, flits around the suddenly flimsy seeming canoe. Our eyes strain into the darkness searching for gleaming, alien lights looking back at us. The shining eyes of ten metre caymans are all you see until they are almost upon you. “Coco!”, calls Jackson into the darkness, beckoning them closer. We decide Barney sounds friendlier. At least jaguars don’t swim. Do they?

Stumbling down the pitch-dark trails is equal parts forbidding and exhilarating. Jackson’s spot of light lingers on spiders the size of my hand. “Don’t disturb them!”, he calls out cheerily, before the light darts off in a different direction and we loose sight of them completely in the encompassing dark. By the time we return to camp our eyes are drooping but our grins are fixed as we swap stories of the day’s events over candle-light.

Our day begins and ends, essentially, with the light. Each morning’s 5am wake-up call gets us out on the lake just as the sun breaks slowly over the tree-line. Or finds us enveloped in a thick, smuggler’s fog. Torrential rain doesn’t dampen our spirits, nor does the sunburn that reddens our skin. We jump at any opportunity to explore this magical, interactive landscape. To scope the colourful macaws as they flocked to their clay-licks, to play with blundering beetles in the undergrowth.

The jungle has a magical ability to make the world much smaller. Your field of view draws in much closer, and you become intensely aware of smaller details – sounds, sights and smells. Cut off, even for a limited time, from the all-pervasive web, and with our trickle of electricity dedicated to essentials, we sought out the simpler magic I remember from childhood. Chasing each other recklessly down tangled pathways, ninja-fighting the ever-present mosquitoes, waltzing with clouds of butterflies. By day three even our cerveza pounding, chain smoking Italian compatriots were swinging from vines like giddy children.

I was inspired by Tambopata to let go of my misgivings about a place in the world I thought I had grown tired of. To wake with the morning, and sleep with the night. To take my eyes away from screens and turn them instead to the world around me. And to spend my time immersed in an environment entirely and unreservedly, taking advantage of all around me.

About the Author:  Andrew Fowler is a wandering English teacher and gastronomical adventurer who has lived in South-East Asia and South America for the past four years. He was born and raised in London, UK, and is currently lugging an oversized backpack full of his worldly belongings through Bolivia.

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peru 2Ibn Battuta once said, “Travel- it leaves you speechless and then turns you into a story teller.” When my feet first touched the ground in Peru, I instantly felt changed. Every single step was culturally enriching, from hiking Machu Picchu, to trekking through the Amazon Forest, to running through the markets of Cusco in the early morning. The food had amazing flavors to it, the people instantly inspired me, and the views had me taking photographs every two seconds- in short, I fell in love with a country, and that country became a part of my heart.

It’s true that traveling leaves you speechless- at times, I could find no words to express the emotions surging through my veins; however, one boy, Jorge, changed everything I ever thought I knew about life, and turned me into the story teller I am today. During my time in Peru, I encountered children every single day. From volunteering at an orphanage in Cusco, to walking down the streets in Lima, there were always children around- playing, laughing, or begging. Jorge, though, was different. I met him while I visited an alpaca farm in Cusco. I expected to learn about how alpaca’s wool was used to create clothing; I never could’ve predicted what actually happened though that day. While on the tour a small boy came up to me. I will never forget the way he looked when I met him. He was dressed in bright attire, the brightest being his smile. He followed the tour group around for a bit, and I couldn’t help but talk to him; he was the cutest child I’d ever seen.

“Hola, como estas?” I said to him, in my best Spanish.

“Hola. Muy bien, gracias,” he replied, in a quiet voice. I didn’t know how to respond next, though, because I wasn’t fluent in Spanish. Because I didn’t know what else to say, I was about to say goodbye, until he held up a book to me.

“Lea, por favor,” he said. This boy wanted me to read to him. So, that’s how two strangers, age four and eighteen, who spoke different languages, found a way to communicate. I read to him for twenty minutes, having completely forgotten about the tour. I could’ve stayed there all day reading to Jorge; his enthusiasm was like nothing I’d ever witnessed before, and it was incredibly contagious.

However, after the story had ended, he took me by hand to his house, which was on the alpaca farm. Again, I couldn’t have predicted what I saw next. Jorge’s house was a small hole inside an old, abandoned, shack. He had a blanket, his book, and a ball. My heart instantly throbbed, thinking of all the unnecessary possessions I owned, compared to what this boy had. It was absolutely shocking. We played catch with his ball for a bit, and then I took my notebook, scissors, and markers out of my bag. Jorge’s face instantly lit up, and my heart warmed this time. We drew pictures together, and enjoyed the afternoon.

In Peru, nobody wears watches, and no one is a slave to a schedule. It’s the most serene feeling I’ve ever experienced. However, as the sky started to take on shades of pink and orange, I realized that I had to leave in order to catch the train back to town. Though I’d only known this boy for one day, it was one of the hardest goodbyes I ever had to say. I gave him my notebook and markers, and through his hug I could understand words that were not spoken. He tried to give me his ball and his book in return, but I couldn’t accept them. For the second time that day, my heart throbbed. A boy who owned next to nothing was the most generous person I’d ever met. I wanted to give him the world, but all I had was a notebook and some markers. As he walked me to the train, again by hand, he spoke three words, of which I understood perfectly.

“Por favor vuelve.” Please come back. With tears in my eyes and my throat tightening, I nodded, and gave him one more hug. As I boarded the train, I felt such an overwhelming amount of sadness for having to say goodbye to this little boy; however, I also felt happiness and pride in knowing such a selfless, and sweet child. Because I met Jorge, I don’t care about possessions so much as memories. Because of Jorge, I have a thirst to travel more that can’t be quenched. Though I had arrived at the alpaca farm for a tour, I immediately realized that my time would be better spent getting to know this boy. I don’t regret any of it.

About The Author: My name is Barbara Anne Scheibel, and I am a Childhood Education major at SUNY Oswego. It was my experiences with children in Peru that inspired me to become a teacher. I love writing, traveling, and helping others- especially children.

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RED AND GREEN (16)RThe “Heath River Centre Lodge” is on the river Heath which marks the frontier between Peru and Bolivia; nothing to see except some local miners looking for gold.

Soon after leaving, except the splendid crescent of the moon, the night was complete. The boat had no lights and followed the indications of someone lightening the river with a torch in one’s hand. The silence in the purple night was unforgettable, that was a great moment!

The hotel was far from any human life; we were the only guests having the privilege to enjoy the complete quietness of Amazonia. There was no light in the room, just two poor candles allowing us to move safely; the best thing to do was to go to bed listening to the soft talk of the vegetation.”

We left the following day at 5.30 am to see the macaws. We had around 30 minutes boat to reach a hide : a floating “house” in the middle of the Heath River, it was misty, quiet and we felt a strange serenity…The water was carrying some pack of foam like industrial rejection which surprised me so far away! In fact it was only dry leaves which after falling into the water, decomposed themselves with bacteria making a kind of soap, it was not pollution, but just a natural process!

The wake up of nature is always wonderful. First nothing happened, and then the birds came progressively and by groups. The “show” began at around 7am with the arrival of the green parrots and at 9 am it was the red & green macaws turn.

The green parrots are smaller and with a short tail, they wear feathers on the head and up to their eyes on the contrary to the “red & green macaws which are the largest parrots and with a face completely bald, their tails can be longer than their bodies… They have sharp hooked bills and strong enough to break nuts. Their 2 toes pointing forward and the 2 other pointing backward, allow them to grasp their food.

They come every morning to the “clay lick” obviously to lick the clay from which they find their vitamins, and also to get from it a protective effect against any poison they could eat with their food.

We noticed some of the red and green with a yellow “patch” on the back, it was another type called “scarlet macaws”. Most of the time they nest in the holes of the trees. They live in couple and lay 2 eggs each year but keep only one “baby” alive”. Their main predators are eagles.

It is a spectacular moment which can be interrupted at any time, the macaws are very shy and attentive, that was confirmed when a small and inoffensive squirrel strolled on the clay, suddenly all the macaws flied away and did not come back leaving us with some disappointment. But we were lucky as we had reckoned more that 50 macaws, knowing it was not the best period to see them.

The weather was changing also very quickly, and we waited in the shelter looking at a sudden tropical shower on the Heath River and observing some “dusky tiki monkeys” manifesting their presence after the wet. They were very near in the bush and their shouts very powerful, we felt integrated in their world, and were now listening to their talk with others in the deep bush.

The banks of the Heath River marks the frontier between Peru & Bolivia and the strong rains cause damages which normally bother nobody. In this case, it is different and it is a constant fight between nature and people of the eco tourism hotel.
The lodge is in Bolivia and under an American control. The flood with the time is changing the course of the river and if nobody from the lodge stops it by strengthening the bordure, the hotel will be soon in Peru which will not authorize the concession. The clay lick is on the Peru bank side. If the eco lodge on the Bolivia side became Peruvian, it would have to close because of Peru laws. Therefore, it would be impossible to have the great chance to observe the red and green macaws on the “clay lick” which is too far away inside the uninhabited jungle and that would be a great loss for everybody!

About the Author: Marie-France Grenouillet, I am French and was born in Normandy where I spent my childhood in a village with one dream: to discover the world.
I was supposed to learn languages to have a good job; in fact my motivation was more the idea that it could be just helpful when travelling far away…
Now, I have a passion and present photo galleries of wild animals, covering the five continents and their countries, each gallery featuring mammals, birds, insects and landscapes.
Pictures show what words cannot translate precisely and help us to keep an authentic memory of the past; they are a faithful witness when the souvenirs become with the time just a sepia tone memory!

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