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Category Archives: Personal Travel


“Live, travel, adventure, bless, and don’t be sorry.”
― Jack Kerouac

I was oddly comforted by arriving into Guatemala, listening to Spanish and watching locals gather their belongings from the carousel having stocked up on goods from the U.S. Maybe I was comforted due to the champagne the flight attendant was pouring nonstop, the fact that I just spent a month in Peru, or that I had been here before. *side note: I find it fascinating which flights always have the first class open and which do not, Guatemala City first class was desolate. I grabbed my bags and walked outside to find my transportation waiting for me with my name on a board among a slew of other people. He tells me to wait while he gets the van, in Spanish. I wait there, comfortable, maybe too comfortable considering I was alone in one of the most dangerous cities in the world with around $20,000 worth of photography gear. None the less, these are not things I think about, I believe in the potential safety of every country, if you do it right. I could smell exhaust and what I could only describe as empanadas and looked around to see advertisements for Samsung and Hooters. When you’re from America there are always signs of home wherever you go.

It has been 8 weeks since I have been on the road and I cannot say that I am tired of it yet. I still work plenty when I am gone, always blogging, emailing, paying taxes, etc. Soon I will begin wedding season again and I will be reading less and editing more. I have occasional bouts of missing my friends & family but the small trips back home fill the void, luckily my friends travel often making them easy to track down and meet up with.

I travel with my gut feeling. Being alone means that I am putting myself at risk at times but I am always aware. The more you travel the stronger your gut gets (unfortunately not true in the literal sense). I accept that I get sick more often, I take cold showers, and sometimes I am forced to wear socks one time past their wash due date. I make friends everywhere I go. As an outgoing introvert this can be exhausting as I find myself having to perk myself up when I feel like turning inward. I know when I have had too much though and need a day alone to read and walk the streets trying new desserts. Today is one of those days.

I genuinely wonder if the wanderlust ever subsides, maybe one day I’ll feel like going home and staying. Occassionaly I dream of a life that doesn’t constantly need to be filled with activities and excitement, a life that is content staying in one place. The thought makes me itch mentally as this is not something I could ever imagine for myself. The world keeps moving and I want to move with it. I didn’t start to think I was wired differently until later in life. My mother never understood why I always wanted to keep on the move; I would get restless quickly and since moving out of my parent’s home I have now moved 12 times. I never thought I was different until I moved out of my place in Austin and left for the road and found it to be far more comfortable than it would be for most.

When people ask me where I am from I generally say ‘Houston’ or ‘Austin’ depending on who I am talking to but my roots lie nowhere. I have stayed in Texas mainly to stay with my family, they have kept me grounded more than anyone and without them I know I would be more adrift and potentially lost.

It seems I couldn’t possibly get this restlessness from my mother’s side since she has been in the same home for 26 years now and my brother has not left the country more than 3 or 4 times. My lineage from my father’s side however dates back to the days of Jamestown, the Robert family (originally from France) was of the first to settle on the once foreign land. They were willing to take the risk to find something new and potentially better. The years in between the original Roberts and I, I can only assume, were  spent wandering the rest of the States as my father happens to be from the opposite coast. I often find myself during long layovers wandering the endless hallways of airports knowing I am not headed towards my destined departure gate. Even in between travels I am exploring looking for new things and experiences. My mother seems to think that I am looking for something in particular but I do not have any particular goal or destination in mind. I am just looking for a journey & a good story to tell when I’m ready to stop moving.

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Photo of me by Tatton, taken in Panama City.

 

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#1 travel rule : Remain flexible. 

I booked this trip to Peru only 2 weeks in advance but even then as soon as I booked the flights I knew I would plan on doing the 5 day Salkantay Trek to Machu Picchu. I knew it would be hard in many ways but I was determined to prove that I could do it and of course there is amazing scenery along the way. I was planning on leaving the day after I got back from the jungle, however, getting back to Cusco proved to be so exhausting I decided I needed one more day to prepare and changed the trip to be a 4 day trek to accommodate my flight back home. (One of the days in the 5 day trek is more of a relax day that I felt I could do without.)

Me and 13 other people started our journey 2 hours from Cusco at 5:30am. We stopped in a little town called Mollepata for breakfast (this town proves to be important at a later point). Another 45 minute drive then we would start our hike to the first camp site of sayllapata. It was about a 3 hour hike, mostly on flat ground with some uphill. The campsite was obviously popular and full of many tented dining areas and tents for tourists. Our group had lunch, relaxed for a bit, then made our way to the crater lake called Canal Inca which was about a 2~ hour round trip hike. Midway up the hill to the lake I began to feel the shortness of breath from the 12,000ft altitude then I became very ill. Stomach ill. I made it to the top after telling the guide how miserable I was feeling but started the trek downhill before everyone else, knowing I needed to rest. I had a modest dinner of about 5 pieces of pasta and some coca tea and forced myself to enjoy the stars that were more beautiful than I had ever seen before. I took some Australian meds, thanks to my tent mate Albert, & went to bed in every layer of clothing I could squeeze on since it was about 20-25 degrees outside. I was in tent by 8:30pm.

By 3am I was waking up with a stomach ache that would not go away. By 5:30am someone was knocking on the tent with hot coca tea. The 2nd day is notoriously the hardest on the Salkantay trek. Luckily, my guide offered the option to do the first 3.5 hours up hill, the hardest part, via horse. I gladly took him up on this and decided the journey would continue even if I had to hike 6 hours down hill afterward. I felt like a wimp for taking the horse but I was happy to not be walking and happy to know I was also not the only one who needed assistance. 3 hours in there was one last stop before approaching the last incline up to 15,200ft with the best view of Salkantay when I could no longer sit up on the horse. I warned the the horse guide before I started to fall off & pass out when he pulled me down. I laid on the ground for a moment unable to move. The other people in my group noticed and tried to help but to no avail. I was stuck, motionless, & without energy. The other horse trekkers continued on while I stayed put knowing this was the end for me, I would have to go back. During this break I forced myself to stand up for a photo, I know that I look & feel horrible but I just had to do it (it’s the out of focus one below). The horse guide came back and just like that I was on my way back to the first camp site. 30 minutes in, once again, I was unable to hold myself on a horse and found myself laying on the ground, dirt in hair, white jacket covered in dust. The horse guide did not speak English and no longer knew what to do with, I begged for him to call my tour guide, Miguel, which he did. Miguel tried to encourage me by saying we just had a few hours to go… He would also put herbal liquids in my hand & say prayers in Quechua. I wish I could have believed any of the things to help. He ended up having to help me walk the entire way back to the camp site which was about 2 hours away by that point. I stopped many times to lay on the ground and claimed that I no longer had energy to continue but managed to find a way knowing that I had absolutely no choice. At times I would dream of a helicopter coming to pick me up so I didn’t have to walk anymore, so I didn’t have to be in so much pain. By the last 5 minutes back to the site I remember yelling of stomach pain and 4 other tour guides came out to see what was going on.

They put me in the guide quarters on a bed and I felt like a science project with everyone coming in to check me out. Miguel called for a ride back to Mollepata, back to the place that I am now convinced caused me all these issues. As much as I love eggs, I think it will be a while before I want one again. I made my way back to Cusco and the company insisted I go to a hospital to get checked out. I slept the entire way back. The hospital asked me to stay overnight where I was then pumped full of liquids, nausea medicine, & eventually, antibiotics. They tested me in many ways and determined that I had a parasite, likely acquired from food they said. In combination with dehydration & altitude, it was the most miserable I think I have ever felt. After 12 hours of sleep that night and nothing but crackers and bread I was determined to see Machu Picchu before I left just 2 days later. I took a private car then train to Aquas Calientes to meet up with the rest of the group that would be seeing Machu the following day. I arrived by 9pm and shared a room with the 2 Quabecans from our group.

At 3:30am 6 of us woke up to start the hike up to Machu. I did not know it would be as hard as it was. 30 minutes walking then 45 minutes straight up over 1,000 steps. I was at the top looking down on the ancient city by 6:20am and felt so happy I could have cried. It all worked out in the end. I was grumpy at times over the situation, knowing I had missed out on a great experience doing the trek but… oh well… There is certainly no sense in beating myself up over something that I cannot change and in the end at least I have an interesting story to tell, right?

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After taking orientation at Maximo Nevill I decided to spend my last week volunteering, of 3, in the Kosñipata region of the Amazon rainforest in Peru. They have two jungle programs of which you are randomly assigned to unless stated otherwise. This area is a small area of the rainforest that is still allowed to be used for agriculture by the Peruvians. This has left the area depleted and many areas need reforestation. I left my Cusco homestay at 4:15am and arrived after 12 hours via a bus that resembled a Uhaul truck, luckily it only took us 7 on the way back, however, in a far less comfortable van.

We took a zip-line over the river to get to the lodge where we slept dormitory style. Some people were a bit scared by this based on the fact that two people have lost fingers due to people using it incorrectly. I was not worried. There is no electricity, most people shower in waterfalls, & the nearest wifi is a 30 minute drive away. This was the most disconnected I have ever been. While I was there, there were a lot of volunteers, more than normal and more than manageable. The lodge also hosts some tourists which can make for crowded quarters, I believe there were 18 of us in one ‘room’. We ate vegetarian meals of breakfast (yogurt & granola), lunch (vegetable soup & pasta), & dinner (rice & vegetables) together. Our job there was to clean pathways to make sure snakes weren’t hidden, to plant seeds for new trees to grow, & to monitor plants and wildlife for any changes. We worked in the mornings and relaxed in the afternoon. Some mornings were more difficult than others, I left wishing I had learned more about my surroundings. We lived with a red howler monkey named Paula & a fluffy disabled dog named princess, who walked the trails better than most of us. Of course there were plenty of other animals near by as well, a porcupine, named Pedro, who would lick the walls of the bathrooms at night for salt and a puma was known hang around near by.

One day 6 of us also took the 45 minute car ride out to a wild life refuge center near Pilcopata with monkeys, parrots, & tiper. We had a blast playing with the monkeys although one happened to fall in love with one of our friends, even attempting to take his clothes off, and would not leave him alone until the minute we had to leave. I also spent my birthday here digging in a garden and hanging out with Paula the monkey. My new Amazon friends made it special by gathering whatever treats they could in the near by town, Chonto Chaka; my treats consisted of mint casino cookies, coke, & a potato with a rather large candle shoved in it. A birthday I will never forget. The last night we cooled some beers in the river (cleaning out the town of all of the alcohol) and made a fire pit telling stories and getting to know each other better than anyone else I’ve known for less than a week. I love the bonds that can be made while traveling. It was an experience like I could never explain, exhausting, but amazingly worth while.

What you need for the jungle :
Bug Spray, with deet, unless you want to apply every 30 minutes
Hydrocortisone, because scratching the bites is so good but so so bad
Biodegradable soap/shampoo
Rain boots, although they have pairs you can wear
Blanket, it can get chilly at night
Head light
Quick drying towel, nothing dries here
DRAMAMINE, the ride back left all of us miserable
A book or two, there is a lot of down town & with no access to the outside world reading is a good option

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I have been wanting to volunteer over the last few years. I have been wanting to teach English since I graduated from college (I was interviewed to teach in South Korea but became busy with weddings). And I always want to travel. On this trip I was able to combine 3 goals and passions. I went through IVHQ because a friend of mine had also used them – they connect local volunteer organizations with people like me looking to volunteer. Maximo Nivel is the local volunteer organization that I went through, they organize a variety of volunteer programs from teaching English, Andean immersion, jungle conservation, child care, & stray animal care in 4 different countries. Everyone goes through a short application process & background check and they place you based on your skills and what you are interested in helping with.

I was assigned to teach English to adults at an evening school called Qosqo Maki. After 2 orientations we were told to create lesson plans for 3 levels, beginner, intermediate, & advanced , for a 3 hour class because we were not sure which class we would be assigned to. Another new volunteer and I were daunted at the idea of this difficult task but it ended up being easier in upon arrival. I ended up co-teaching the advanced class with another new volunteer though, I left after the first 1.5 hour class due to altitude sickness. After the first day I taught the intermediate class for the duration of my time in Cusco, teaching things like modal verbs and conditional, having to relearn rules I learned almost 15 years ago. I am sad that I will not be able to see my students advance as I grew attached to them in a short period of time, I feel inspired by their passion to learn.

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