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 Price Tag on Happiness

Ever heard of eCommerce? I just came back from an informational meeting on an eCommerce opportunity. An old friend from USC invited me to come with him, thinking that it would be a good opportunity for me to earn a little extra income on top of my current part-time teaching job, working for kids with Autism. I didn’t really have anything to lose by attending, so I went.

Needless to say, the guest speaker was a very motivational and inspiring man who worked for the business selling products, and managed to make quite a bit of money off it because of the amount of time he put into it. Basically, the more time one puts into the company, the more money he/she makes. It’s very similar to selling Mary Kay or Avon products, from what I’ve found.

I don’t really know exactly how important money was to that man, but the way he talked about it, you’d think that money was all there is in life. Without it, you wouldn’t get your dream car; you couldn’t buy a house; you’d never get to go on vacation; you can’t really get access to nice things like iPads or state-of-the-art telephones. I quite agreed with him when it came to this; it really does take a bit of money to buy a house in Malibu, or to drive a Lamborghini. Perhaps what I didn’t like, though, was how he equated this to happiness. But maybe this is after all the American Dream. 

If I had all the money I could spend in the world, in a heartbeat I would fly to the south of France, buy a house there, live there until my visa expired, and then travel the rest of the world and spend time getting to know the sights and foods. Ideally I couldn’t really do this forever, but the point is to think of what I would do if I had all the money in the world. I would live quite adventurously, thinking about it.

But is this what is truly important to me in life? Hearing the speaker talk about what we would do with all the money in the world, really made me think about how much money matters to me and my happiness. 

I once was able to travel to several countries in Europe in two weeks, living in hostels and buying the cheapest food I could find. It was not the least expensive venture I’ve had, but I managed to enjoy myself the best I could and I learned quite a lot about a beautiful area of the world. Remembering my trip, however, I also recalled how utterly miserable I felt during the final week of my stay. You’re probably wondering: I was spending a week in Italy, going to wine tastings in Tuscany and visiting the Vatican in Rome, and yet I was unhappy???

Money can certainly get me to foreign countries and help me experience what each has to offer, but it cannot buy me my family, and it most certainly could NOT buy me my boyfriend who I missed terribly as I walked the streets of Verona, completely alone underneath a bright moon and jealously eyeing the couples walking hand-in-hand. I actually felt happier once I returned to my studies in Scotland, because at least I got to be with someone who mattered so much to me, instead of traversing for two weeks completely on my own.

I would disagree with the business speaker on this statement, at least: I do not want a shiny new car. I do not imagine myself in a large house. And I certainly do NOT wish to retire before the age of 40. I would be quite content driving my old car, living in a small apartment, and working until I’m in my late 80s, if it meant that I could have my love by my side and a good relationship with my family and friends.

Trust me; the latter are so much harder to maintain, but in the end they are worth much, much more than any amount of money could buy.