How Traveling to Peru Helped Me Not Give a ****

Peru December 2015 184I just flew back from a two-week tour of Peru. This was my fifteenth flight this year alone. Peru was also the eighth country and third continent I visited since January 2015.

How was my trip? In a nutshell, I’ve had everything happen to me.

I can say I’ve gone piranha fishing in the Amazon and nearly gotten my hands bitten off.

I’ve had monkeys crawling all over my body and clawing into my skin.

I was on a colliding train in the Sacred Valley and delayed for hours because they were trying to connect our train to another one. Like literally connect with old-fashioned rope.

I was on a plane ride from Cusco to Lima that was probably the scariest hour of my life and had everyone on the plane screaming in fear.

I lost my credit card and was stranded for hours at the airport because of it.

I got terrible food poisoning and dehydration because of it.

I was on a bus for 22 hours in which people were vomiting non-stop and I worried about falling off the side of the Andes.

On my last night there some drink idiot decided it would be fun to pee all over the beds in our room. While we were still in them.

Although this likely sounds like a list of rants (to all the haters out there, I’d bet you’d be complaining even more if all this stuff happened to you), I’ve done many fun things as well.

I visited ruins like Sacsaywaman and Huaca Pucllana that left me impressed at the intelligence of pre-Columbian civilisation, and ignited a new anger for what colonialism did.

I got to climb Machu Picchu on a sunny day, and imagined what life must have been like before the Inca were forced to leave this sacred city.

I spent three days in the Amazon Rainforest and lived beneath tarantulas that looked at me, bats that flew over my head at night, and macaws that tried eating my breakfast but at least cawed hi every morning.

I saw women dressing baby sheep and llamas in hats. This alone brought on many a fainting spell owing to cuteness.

I experienced the health care system in Peru and marvelled at how cheap it was for me to get good medicine, doctor visits, and vaccines without insurance. Granted it’s not the best health system but I like it better than my current health plan in Olympia.

Above all else, I experienced the kindness that other people had for one another as people tried to be as helpful as they could, and were genuinely interested in my life and what I had to say. I made awesome friends on the trip and talked to so many people.

Sometimes I wonder, with all the cool stuff I’ve done prior to these two weeks–and even during this trip–why my confidence levels are still low. Why do I care so damn much about what others think of me?

This trip, while it didn’t necessarily eradicate my low confidence levels, at least helped me evaluate them and gave me the courage to challenge them. I’d often have people ask me, “Are you really traveling alone? You must be very brave, I could never do that.” And although I didn’t always feel brave while flying, or while wondering when the operators would make the trains stop crashing into one another, or when catching piranhas and having them accidentally drop into our boat and trying to bite our feet, it did help me realize that I experienced those things anyway.

And I’ve survived.

What’s more, the clothes I wore for two weeks were anything but flattering. I was always in long sleeves and loose pants to avoid mosquito bites and help relieve some of the sweat of summer near the equator. My face burned a bright tomato red despite how much sunscreen I applied. My Spanish, although fluent, was imperfect and slow. My hair was always wild and sticking up everywhere. I never wore make-up except on the last two days of my trip. I knew I was un-sexy. But guess what? All of that cool and uncool stuff on that trip would’ve happened to me anyway, regardless of how I was dressed or what I looked like. I would’ve still had an adventure.

And overcoming these obstacles, with or without looking attractive, would’ve still allowed me to realize that I am capable of almost anything I set my mind to. I mean, if I can get lost in the rainforest with my tour group while avoiding stepping on a serpent or getting eaten by anacondas or bullet ants, then why the heck should I ever place doubt in my own abilities to do an amazing job in life? And why should I ever fear things like asking out cute guys or publishing a novel, when I can just go for it after all I’ve been through?

When walking through the underground catacombs at La Iglesia de San Francisco, seeing the astounding piles of bones that were the result of the devastation of the earthquake in the mid-1700s in Lima shocked me, but not because of the number. It was because each bone was indistinguishable from one another. It didn’t matter if these people each made mistakes or looked and felt pretty enough; those things never lasted. Life is just too short to be worried about petty things. Some day my bones will be decomposing as well, but will I have lived and loved enough and appreciated the person I was while alive?

When looking at the remains of ancient Peruvian civilisations at the National Museum of Archaeology, I realized the stories inherent in the struggles that the journey of life brings us. It made me realize how tough ancient Peruvians had to be, in order to endure their survival in spite of the onslaught of colonialism, and in order to preserve their native Quechua. I doubt it mattered how much make-up they had on or if they wore designer labels (although after this trip I’d be proud to wear the label “100% baby alpaca” cause that stuff is HELLA SOFT).

After a while, I found myself not carrying about what other people thought about my hair, clothes, or accent. I just went on an amazing trip and have awesome photos to prove it. I am fully adequate in my abilities as a human being; my job is not to be sexy for your viewing pleasure, I’m capable of way better than that.

To everyone who thinks it doesn’t matter what others care about you, you are mostly right–but still, don’t be a dick about it, because you shouldn’t pee on other people’s beds and then make public, inappropriate jokes about their virginity. Or take away their credit cards. Don’t forget to be kind in your quest to be your best self.

A Nice Thing a Day Keeps the Meanies Away (I hope)

I know I haven’t posted anything in over a month, but so much has happened during the month of September and I simply felt overwhelmed, when I considered precisely how much there was to write. In the end, I had to acknowledge that not everything that can be done, can be done. If you know what I mean. 

Anyway, lately I have been reading a lot of literature regarding how to be happy in life. I am currently reading Gretchen Rubin’s book, “The Happiness Project,” which chronicles the author’s own quest to be the happiest person she can be, and the secret to attaining that happiness. While I find much of the book to make sense for me, I realize that each person’s “happiness project” differs; we are all different people, therefore different things would work for each of us.

As for me, I heard from many places that giving to others brings a great source of happiness. I had decided to buy a journal from the Huntington Library’s gift shop, entitled, “One Good Deed a Day.” This journal lists one good deed per day that a person can do throughout the course of a typical year. There are 365 entries, and each entry has a few small lines in which to write my 1-2 sentence reflection on the good deed. 

Today’s good deed: Smile at a stranger. Sounds simple enough, right? But it turns out that living in L.A. has, in a way, turned me into a frowning, what’s-your-problem type of person when it came to dealing with people I didn’t know. I am sure not everyone in Los Angeles is this way, but the city in general is just a “tad” aloof. 

Nevertheless, keeping this quest in mind I pulled into the gas station to fill up my tank. “Ok, lots of strangers here!” I noticed…until I also noticed most of them were men in orange vests who looked like they were doing construction nearby. And they were looking at me in kind of a hungry way. “Uhhhh…maybe I shouldn’t begin that quest just yet,” I decided. 

I then decided that I would smile at the cashier–that is, until he kept asking me to repeat, over and over again, exactly what station I was at, and how much. At that point I had no idea whether I could trust he would charge my credit card to the right station, or if a random stranger would run away with $30 worth of gasoline. I definitely did not feel like smiling then.

It took me an hour later but finally at a doctor’s appointment I managed to smile at the receptionist when I first came into the office. I was actually quite surprised by how much of an effort I placed in getting myself to smile at her. I suppose I am not used to smiling to strangers. She, in turn, smiled back at me, which reassured me that I must’ve done a good thing. 

After that, it wasn’t difficult to smile at other strangers. I smiled at store cashiers, mall food court workers, a random person in the car next to me–the list goes on. The point is, once I got past that initial smile, other smiles just kept coming of their own accord. I found that it was a lot easier to keep performing this “quest” because the general response I got to it was a positive one. 

Maybe it doesn’t seem easy for people to realize how difficult it can be to smile at a random stranger. Try it yourself one day, and decide whether you find it easy or difficult to flash your teeth and say “hello” to someone you’ve never met.