Traveling is a brutality. It forces you to trust strangers and to lose sight of all that familiar comfort of home and friends. You are constantly off balance. Nothing is yours except the essential things – air, sleep, dreams, the sea, the sky – all things tending towards the eternal or what we imagine of it.” – Cesare Pavese
This statement certainly sums up much of my experience in Peru. It has been a fantastic month and a half, but “easy” or “comfortable” are certainly not words I would use to describe my experience. I have entrusted all my valuables (camera, computer, etc.) to a family I had never interacted with prior to my arrival. I came here without companions, so everyone I now spend time with was unknown to me when I arrived. Everything here is different; even if I find something disguised as American like a McDonald’s or a mall, I am always surprised by Peruvian cultural differences. The perpetual struggle to understand what is going on around me makes every day more tiring.
While every day is filled with examples of the “brutality” of being in another country, there are a few examples from my trip to Puno that specifically attest to the need to trust strangers while traveling. I followed my family’s suggestion to set up the trip to Puno through a travel agent who is a friend of my host family. In Peru, it is absolutely essential to know people for the best deals. However, I was not entirely confident during the scheduling process. I gave her the money, but even though I asked many times, I never received a receipt. We were told that everything would be taken care of for us; someone would pick us up at the bus station and take us everywhere we needed to go for the trips we had already paid for. After a 7 hour bus ride, we arrived at the bus station at 4:45 AM and looked for someone with a sign that had our name on it. We gave up after 30 minutes and took a taxi to the hotel, that I was told we would be staying in. However, the hotel had no reservation with our name on it. Even though it was 5:30 AM, I called the woman who planned our trip, to no avail. Through a complex series of events we finally got in touch with the travel agent and the people who came to pick us up and we learned that they had transferred us to another hotel because of last-minute pricing changes at the original hotel. Everything worked out perfectly well in the end, but it was a terrifying morning. My only option was to believe that the agent’s word was true even though all aspects of my experience pointed to the contrary. The first lesson I learned through this experience was to trust relationships when I have a deeper connection with them. Without that, I will always be certain to not hand over any money until I have an official confirmation in my hands. Second, I learned a valuable lesson about how to handle stressful and ambiguous situations. The essentials are keeping a level head and reasoning through options until one finally works.
All-in-all, my time in Peru has largely been spent off balance and confused. This high level of discomfort has also contributed to my learning; I am more alert and observant when I experience hardship. Looking back at everything I have experienced, my primary emotion is gratefulness for it all. I have not enjoyed every moment, but I can see the applicable, deep lessons I have learned through each episode.