The earliest memory I have isn't of a traumatic incident or some kind of tragedy but of an all-encompassing emotion and experience of a different kind. I remember seeing my first National Geographic magazine on the coffee table at my cottage. The fireplace burning beside the window with a beautiful ray of light shining directly on this magazine as if to say, “pick me up, I will change your life little girl.” I recall digging through the colourful pages, thinking "wow, there is so much out there to explore, this world is so much greater than I am." I could barely contain my desire to immediately go out and see it. Obviously, at four years old this wasn't a possibility, yet.
You see neither of my parents had ever stepped foot on an airplane or even left our province, bless their hearts. I’ve mentioned in previous posts that my parents devoted their lives to caring for children as foster parents. All my fellow mamas out there know how challenging travel is with just a few babes, imagine 5 or 6 small humans that are in government custody? No thanks!
When I was a tween, my parents moved me to a small town, they thought it was the best place to raise a family and recognized a pattern within my city friends they weren’t comfortable watching me travel down. In this small town (perhaps all small towns), it seemed like the norm was to finish high school, find a husband and pop out a few babies. I knew I was different, I always had been. While other children were obsessing with dolls and dresses, I was hoarding globes, maps and travel magazines. Something inside of me felt as though I had lived before. My friends, family and peers often referred to me (and still do) as an "old soul" which I never fully understood. I think this is a way to describe the emotion I'm referring to, a way to put that feeling into words. I did quite a bit of research on this term "old soul", most refer to it as some kind of multiple reincarnations, gaining wisdom and knowledge with every shot but my favourite explanation was this:
"The old soul doesn't see the purpose of pursuing things that can be easily taken away from them. Additionally, old souls have little time and interest for the short-lived things in life, as they bring little meaning or long lasting fulfillment for them."
This explains why I never felt the need to accumulate "stuff," material things bored and exhausted me however my desire to collect experiences, travel and explore has always been undeniable, forcefully pushing me in one direction—"out there!"
I have lived in 10+ countries (multiple cities) and travelled to over 20 but this is not my travel memoir just yet. This part is to share my life-changing trip to Peru, AKA my perspective gaining, crush the pity party trip. This one is to aggressively push, with both hands any of you ladies that don't think you have the balls or wherewithal to do something for yourself, by yourself, to ultimately improve yourself. This one is to inspire, in 'Eat, Pray, Love' fashion all of you that deem yourselves broken, damaged or forever lonely to snap the f*ck out of it, in the most loving way of course!
It was exactly 4 years ago January, I was still recovering from a heart-crushing and ego destroying breakup. I was at a crossroads in my career and basically my life. I had lost my condo in the "divorce" and was rendered homeless, so... sad, freeloading, couch-surfer was my status. I had a non-refundable, bank-breaking ticket to anywhere Peruvian Airlines flew (guess where that is) that expired within a year. I had booked an adventure trip with my ex and some friends to hike Machu Picchu and sleep in small tents under the stars. You can imagine after learning of his 9-month affair and completely parallel other family life, I decided against that idea. A lot of single ladies, under the power of a narcissist, with a broken heart, no home and $12 in their bank accounts would likely cut their losses and let the trip go, but not me! Some force larger than myself was telling me to not only go—go soon and go alone. What are you suggesting voice in my head Go to South America, alone, during 'off-season' with no connections, no cash and no clue? Who wants to spend their only 3 weeks vacation somewhere warm anyway, somewhere that fruity cocktails and pool boys would be on the agenda? Not me! (haha feel that sarcasm). Back in my modelling days I always travelled alone all of the time and it was no big deal, but this was different. No organized model accommodation and guaranteed like-minded friends, no pre-booked jobs or actual purpose. So, I did it anyway, I booked my solo adventure trip to Cusco Peru in January (the least desirable season to go to Peru) with my last available credit card funds and my massive $12 riches.
With nothing but a backpack, borrowed hiking boots, an old rain jacket, a change of clothes, a water bladder and some altitude pills, I arrived in Lima Peru where I had arranged an overnight layover, at a downtown hotel, so I could see the beach before my 3.5-week adventure in the cold, rainy, high altitude city of Cusco.
After checking into my "hotel" which resembled something from a documentary movie about third world slums (remember I only had $12), I found my way to the beach. The beach was shockingly empty, like rolling tumbleweeds, dangerous serial killer on the loose, empty. It was raining lightly but I didn't care, the rain was warm (as Canadian standards go) and there was a single ray of sunshine poking through the dark clouds, like an arrow pointing to where I was meant to stand, like the same ray that pointed to the magazine when I was 4. The ocean was sparkling and sounded so magical and felt as though this scene was being presented 100% just for me. I left my camera and important things back at the ghetto hotel, thinking they may be safer there hidden under the bed than on a touristy Catira (slang for a blonde white girl) such as myself. I have this photo forever in my mind but never again travelled or will travel with the absence of my oversized, 10 lbs, bright red, Nikon DSLR. This moment set the pace for the rest of my trip. Fear need not follow me, I needed to be open to the growth presented and allow the Universe to guide me through the pages of this 'choose your own adventure' novel I was in. I needed to be open to any possibilities coming my way. I laid alone in the damp sand for several hours just meditating, breathing and cleansing my soul before heading back to the hotel to shower (sort of—will explain later) and sleep, then back to the airport.
Arriving in Cusco was a strange and different experience. There was no car waiting with an eager modelling agency intern hoping to grab my bags and show me around the city before dropping me at my pre-organized accommodations! There was however a bus labelled IVHQ (International Volunteer Headquarters). Here goes nothing, I thought. I spoke to the director (who spoke perfect English) and in a matter of moments had arranged to stay with a local family, take Spanish lessons in the mornings at a local school and work the afternoons at Hogar De Niñas San Judas Orphanage for 2.5 weeks before embarking on my 6 days, 5-night hike to Machu Picchu! The orphanage was incredible and such a rewarding experience. I made lifelong friendships with other volunteers, took weekend excursions to Lake Titicaca and coffee plantations, ate local fare including Alpaca and Guinea Pig (don't judge me, when in Rome) and lived with a family of which zero of members spoke a word of English. I showered in freezing cold water, daily (there are no water heaters in Peru), was literally damp, cold and dizzy for 3 weeks from intense altitude sickness, and had to change my clothes every hour because of the daily temperature swing (which was a 20-degree variance). I studied Español every morning for 3 hours over delicious coffee and simple cheese pastries and spent my afternoons doing arts and crafts with the most amazing little niñas (girls) I’ve ever met. Evenings could have been extremely isolating and boring but I pushed myself to explore and mingle, I even visited the highest (altitude wise) bar in the world. All of these experiences, each and every one of them, bucket-list moments and life-changing adventures. However, the hike itself was the real perspective shift for this señora!
I said goodbye to my Peruvian family after 22 days of feeding, rooming and boarding me, they wished me well as I jumped on the sketchy looking bus off to the next chapter. There were 5 other people on said bus. A couple from Denmark who seemed highly intoxicated (yes this was at 6 am), an acquaintance (now friend) from IVHQ who would be my roommate (if you can say that about a 2 person nylon tent) for the trip and 2 guys from Brazil. I wish I could say the bus ride was tranquil and calm but it was the furthest thing from. We had to double back for the lady of the Danish couple’s passport and listen to them passionately argue (intoxicated for sure) about who's fault it was that it had been left behind. Then we drove down the bumpiest and narrow roads with no side rails and 30 foot dips on either side of the narrow road all the way to the mouth of the Andes. I later found out, on day 3, after days of watching the Danish woman in pure awe, as she hiked the Inca Trail in flip flops and Armani sunglasses with no gear but a small mystery jar and a water bottle, that she was there to scatter the ashes of her brother who had passed tragically just a week before. That had been his dying wish.
This got me thinking about perspective, mindset, reality, death but most of all life and that life is far too precious and short to ever have a pity party or let any sort of negativity or darkness in. That night, night 3, we stayed atop a beautiful part of the mountain. I was exhausted, filthy, aching from head to toe, damp, thirsty and dizzy from the altitude. We set up camp and had our dinner followed by tea and bed at 6 pm as the days began at 4 am. I still to this day can't tell you if it was the combination of the list above, the coca leaf tea our porters consistently plied us with or if the food was spiked with ayahuasca but I had an out-of-body experience that eve. I saw my entire life flash before my eyes, I saw death, I saw darkness and came out in the light. I'm still not sure if I was dreaming or if what occurred was a vision, a premonition, another realm perhaps? The reincarnation my fellow old souls were talking about? When I "woke up" though I felt more alive than ever before, more clear than I thought possible. Any anxiety I had around money, relationships, family, career, life, in general, had faded and I could only see sunshine even though it was raining. I could likely write an entire novel about this experience as there were many other moments of change, growth, realization and entertaining mishaps but knowing the digital generation has an average attention span of 3 seconds and that many of us suffer from ADHD I will end this post by making my point. If you feel stuck, go get unstuck. You are capable of ANYTHING, not in the cheesy, magical Disney way but honestly, YOU have the power and choice to do as you wish and need. Sure I didn't have a trio of dependants when I made the choice to go to Peru by myself but the odds were still against me. I was broke, heartbroken and terrified AF, I was a single, almost 30-year-old, corporate events planner with no kids and a “ticking clock” who was feeling mighty sorry for herself but I did it anyway, I made the choice to scare the shit out of myself and push past comfort zones and personal limitations. I promise you can too, go surprise yourself!