13.04.2007 - 13.04.2007
I'm wandering the roads of Lima on my last day in South America. My mind is cycling through images of the last 5+ months and I'm coming to grips with the reality of heading home. With the Burger Kings, KFCs, and McDonalds surrounding me, it feels like I'm already half way there.
I head over to the cliffs overlooking the beaches and ocean. There is a group of teenagers horsing around and suddenly I'm thinking back to Pichilemu and the midnight BBQ with the Black Sheep. And then I think more about Chile - Pete's birthday, putting the car in the river, the historical Torres del Paine hike, the volcano bar debacle, even the turd in Valdivia - and it feels like years ago that this adventure started.
I look around for things that might trigger memories of Argentina. They are everywhere. The buses remind me of the epic ride up Ruta 40. The kids playing soccer remind me of Boca Stadium and the country's passion for the sport. The beer ads remind me of lazy sunny afternoons in Mendoza eating fried egg steaks, drinking cervezas, and talking about nothing. The grafitti on the bench reminds me of Damien, the Doctor, and the wildest Xmas Eve ever. And the ocean in its grandeur reminds me of passing out and then waking up on an isolated beach on New Year's Day. 2007 has been entrancing since Day 1.
A motoscooter zooms by and the sun is starting to set behind the smog that engulfs the city. All that's missing is Hugo's family and a chovito and I'd swear I was living it up in Uruguay again. Although we were only in that country for a few days, I now know a few days is more than you need to make it happen.
Enter Bolivia. Can anything really mimic Bolivia? I scan the area but there are no llama fetuses or sex potions for sale. And if I were to escape the city, I doubt I'd find beautiful plains of salt to roam around or Death Roads to fly down. At the same time, I'm relieved that no horses gallop by and that my mouth currently has a full set of teeth. I quickly check to make sure it hasn't fallen out again. You never know. You never know what might happen next in South America.
My series of flashbacks finally arrives at Peru. Part 1 of this country brings me back to chasing shamans through the Sacred Valley, discovering secrets about Macchu Picchu, rock climbing in the canyons of Arequipa, and parading with the characters of Carnaval. I remember the colours and the music but also the sadness of parting with friends and learning to continue alone. I take a glance at the date on my watch. It's Friday the 13th and I laugh reminiscing about the legendary bus ride that ended the traveller portion of this journey.
I leave the oceanside and head back towards the centre of Miraflores where cafes and bars are beginning to set up for the night. During my couple of days here, I am overwhelmed by how much I'm already missing Huancayo. The posh outdoor malls, hordes of gringos, and tourist oriented establishments make me long for the noisy, smelly, carcass-infected market authenticity of the place I had called home for the last month. Where am I now? This can't be Peru. Not the one I know. An old lady walks by wearing a long skirt, a tattered sweater, a UFO style hat, and is carrying a baby in a colourful blanket wrapped around her back. She stands out even more than me in this sea of modernity and it is in this moment that I truly feel lucky to have spent a good chunk of my trip living and volunteering in Huancayo.
Evening has come and I know it's soon time to head off for good. I therefore make my way towards the hostel to pick up my bags that are packed to the brim with so much crap. All I need are my photos and writings. Why did I purchase all these irrelevant souvenirs? I ask such questions but there is no one around to answer... even though at each corner, I hold out hope that one of the many friends I've met or re-met during this trip will suddenly pop out. One of the saddest aspects of travelling, I find, is how quickly you get attached to people...only to have to say goodbye instead of see you later.
As the taxi zooms off towards the airport, the acceptance of leaving suddenly hits me hard. I panic that I didn't spend enough quality time with certain people and regret not having done certain things or gone to certain places. I should have gone deeper into the jungle, taken my flight to Colombia, bought a motorcycle, watched a football match, tried Ayahuasca, and lived amongst a tribe of headshrinkers in the Amazon. Man, I always do this to myself, wanting to do everything. Even with all the unique zany quirks of my trip that defy most tourists'/travellers' itineraries, I have the audacity to be unsatisfied. I literally slap myself to snap out of it. After all, one of my original goals was "to come home in a few months and be able to say "damn, if just for that one time when _____, the entire trip was worth it."" I think I can safely think of a couple such moments.
The taxi has broken down and I'm helping the driver push the car to the side of the road. He apologizes for the inconvenience but I'm thinking this is such a fitting end to this trip. Eventually I just strap on the backpack and walk the last mile to the airport under the faded glow of the moon. Down the line, I wonder what I'll miss and remember most about South America. At age 26 now, I also worry how many trips like this I have left. I'll be on the road again for sure, but maybe not as the photohappy, reckless, accident prone, peril seeking vagabond that I had endeared myself to this time around. That would be a shame. Those qualities have made this journey unlike any other before.
I think many people expect too much from their travels. They believe, or at least hope, it will change them in profound ways or provide a magical escape that will solve all upon return. That's a lot of pressure to put on what is essentially just a prolonged vacation and I feel a lot of travellers are jaded in this respect. Character change takes a lot more than 5+ months in South America. Escapes are only temporary. Years ago, I too had these lofty expectations but now I realize that these journeys are more about the adventure itself and less about you. We chase wealth, fame, and power, but I think all we really need is to chase adventure. Maybe we all just need to get out a little bit more.