It’s raining, and I contemplate pulling on my rain jacket to stand out on the balcony and pretend I’m anywhere but here. To feel the hood over my eyes again. 

Instead, I let the moment pass and fell asleep with the lights on. 

Manos del diablo

I come home and eat the foods of Peru–palta, mango, quinoa, mate de coca. I am not caked in sunscreen. Remember the walk back from Laguna de Huacarpay and you passed through the families doing their washing and the smell of laundry soap was so potent you wanted to sit and stare, but instead you kept walking to town because you were hungry and Cusco was further away than you liked.

At the restaurant last night, I read the menu in vague recognition. Too much meat, too much bread…I forgot how to order a beer. “I’ll have the cider?” The waiter looked at me with confusion and dissatisfaction.

I will be okay.

I tell myself this is false:  you are okay.

Isn’t this the point? To travel to break to gain new footing, new perspective. I stand in the crowd, small and cold. I don’t know what I’m doing here. I shouldn’t be here. I have nowhere else to go. I finally washed my water bottle of the Peruvian bathrooms, buses, trains, MaPi dirt, Inca rocks. I remember the sweetness of the boiled water. I throw away the receipts of soles spent. I can do this. I am doing this. I am grateful. You want to recognize gratitude. The flavor is not what I expect.


I dream of walking in the Andes. I wake up out of sorts, out of place, confused by the size of my bed and the clothes in my closet and the noise of the radio alarm.

I took my shirt off in the mirror and was amazed at the size of myself. The used to be. Walking 50 miles in 5 days has pulled at me, has honed me. I brushed my teeth in the sink. Hesitantly. I reach for the water bottle out of habit, not necessity.

I answer your emails with fewer words. What are these words? The keyboard is strange and stiff beneath my fingers. The air is clear and thick here. The ground soft and flat here. I am here. Was I ever there?

Mi corazón 

I’ve run out of words. I’ve run out of ways to describe how I feel and what I want and what I think. I didn’t…I don’t use the words when I have them so imagine how I feel when I don’t. When I can’t. When the words are out of reach. Unknown to my tongue.
I’m sitting in bed listening to the rain and thinking of how different it is in the city. On trail, rain meant wet, meant cover, meant speed up, watch your step. Here rain means…? 

On the way to Salkantay I thought of little except to keep going. I would check in with my body: my feet, toes, knees, back, shoulders. I would focus on my breathing. Fighting the altitude change with every heartbeat. Cognizant always of the pressure in my head. Weighing the liters of water; counting the layers of papel. I drank before I was thirsty and ate before I was hungry, careful to find the salt, the sugar, and the potassium in my snacks. On trail, I spent a day saying your name on empty mountaintops until I realized your name meant nothing there. Until I realized I meant nothing there. But we meant something together there. 

Cusco is built to mirror Orion. Did you know that? Cusco is built to be the navel of the world. The center. Cusco is everything I want to be. 

Rompes mi corazón. I am fractured. I am split. I am finding new pieces in the light. What else can I say. 

I stood out under the stars in camp on the second night and picked out Orion. Those three bright promises. On the last night, I woke up after the rain in the middle of the night to pee and stood in the grass in the early dawn and listened to the river. I thought of tapping on the tent. Wake wake up. 

On the first morning, I drank my coca tea at the base of the glacier and just let myself be cold. Salkantaypampa
I don’t know how I feel now. I don’t want to feel the things I felt before. I want new feelings. As my broken heart re-mends, I will stitch it into a different shape. Give it a new rhythm. The same machine with the parts rearranged. I want to make it more effective, more efficient, re-purpose some of the bits. I want my heart to recharge and refresh and do something it’s never done before. I want it to endure. 

Where did you find yourself

“To think that one thing could occur and you’re not who you were.”

I don’t have to make noise of the world to experience it. I just am and it just is and we just are. 

What is it? 

I woke up dying of thirst. 

I love travel? I love wandering and eating and finding something familiar I’ve never seen before. But. 

Thoughts in Peru: But I feel like an invader. I feel like I don’t belong here. I feel like this isn’t mine. I feel like just by being here I am ruining it. I am taking something I don’t have a right to. I don’t claim. I can’t claim. My presence and my camera are tainting…even if it has been tainted by thousands before. Do I want to be one of them? I don’t want to be a consumer. I don’t want the kind of travel that requires me to consume first. Buy this to do that. I don’t want to go around consuming places. 
Giving my money to consume a sight. 
Who can I talk to about this? Who will understand? I’m privileged to be here and see this. I’m privileged to have this feeling. I spend all this money and energy to come this far and then …

I’m not traveling internationally any more after this. 

Or maybe the problem is that I don’t feel like a stranger here. I feel very much at home here. I’ve traveled enough to know what I need in order to feel at home. Even if I can’t drink the water. So maybe it’s that I can feel like a stranger at home anywhere…so why go so far away to do it? Why go so far and force myself on others when I could be less of an invading force …less of a problem in the US? Does that make any sense? The things I’m seeking out here, I can get within the state of Wisconsin. So why come all the way here? Why not, alternatively? If I had never left I would have never known that you don’t have to leave at all. And that is the lesson I want to teach, I think.  That you can create your own strange world wherever you may find yourself. 

And that you may never understand simply because you lack the frame of mind. It’s not that you can’t figure it out; it’s not that you aren’t intelligent; your brain just isn’t built that way. And that’s okay. There are other puzzles for you to solve. 

“I want to break the things you’re worried about breaking. Because I want you to see that broken things are nothing to worry about.”


Peru seemed so far away. Any time I wanted to think about it or was asked about it–it seemed I had a million other things pressing. And then suddenly, it was the day of, and I was waking up at 6am on a Saturday to rearrange my pack and begin the segmented drive to Chicago. 22 hours later I was stumbling off the plane to a calm, rain-cleared, mountainous space. I felt the furthest away I had ever been in that moment.

When I thought of Peru, I thought mostly of llamas and mountains. It is cobblestone and limestone and heights, so high your breath wears thin as you mount the steps of the city. It is sprawling, pocketed, ancient. You see the dreams of people past built over by the dreams of people who came after and the people who are here now. There is quinoa and jugo and vendors all over. There are plazas and cool breezes and then moments of sun beating sweat. We have sunburns in our rain jackets. We speak Spanish even with those who are paid to speak muddy English to us. It is in these moments when I think of all the people I know who fancy themselves as something more and I think, why can’t you just be happy with who you are.

We stepped carefully up and down this city after te de coca and pan and quinoa sopa. We tucked into a balcony bar and grill at 7am and watched Cusco come alive on a cool Sunday morning. The sun came out and the clouds cooked off and the traffic wound up. We fed llamas and ate fuzzy bananas with seeds and drooled over every tiny dog we saw wandering the streets. I’m reminded of Guatemala and Costa Rica. I watch the Chinese boys walk by. I do what I have to do to acclimatize.

After breakfast, we wandered the plazas for open tourism offices to ask for advice. We left with a handful of maps and too many choices to make a choice. We sat in the park and read aloud from Modern Romance. We tried jugos at the street fair we found. We wandered into Sunday mass at an open cathedral dripping in opulence: crystal chandeliers and gold framed paintings of a medieval Jesus in a corner. We made our 1230 appointment at one of the plazas with the Free Walking Tour company (en ingles). We stared at gardens and took inventory at a market and ordered more jugo and Morgan stopped at every enticing street vendor we passed: empanadas, prickly pear fruit, said fuzzy banana, frozen yogurt, agua.

We did what we do in Wisconsin but in the company of the Peruvians and her friend Ricky. Who asks me nice questions like, do you have any siblings; what is your ethnicity; do you like outdoor adventures? I try not to let my answers fall flat and to make space to ask questions of him.

We ended our sleep-deprived ramblings at 330 from the vista of San Blas. We skipped the pisco sours to crawl back to our twin beds. We slept heavy for an hour before our growling stomachs and full bladders pulled us up. We found solace at Morena Peruvian Kitchen. We ordered plates and bowls and mugs: quinoa salad with avocado and beets and limon; pork belly with roasted potatoes and green leaf salad with black beans; pots of coca tea; pumpkin soup with hard bread; skewers of sweet potato with cubed queso fresco and asparagus in a curry sauce. We tried to balance the face stuffing with intelligent conversation until policia kicked us out before we had finished our meal or swiped a card. No one seemed too concerned. The fire next door at the hostel was too great a risk to let me finish my potatoes and soup and contemplate dessert. We commiserated with an Oz and a Uruguayan, set to climb Machu Picchu on Thursday. We tried to catch a glimpse of this building fire from outside. We strolled the streets in circles trying to find a suitable substitute for the dinner we had just lost. Morgan picked at a gyro (“I just want a pita stuffed with meat”) before our heavy eyes led us home again. To our hostel that faces the catedral. Morgan and Ricky went out to rumba. And My thumbs get slower and slower with each passing minute. I had never imagined myself here, but now I won’t be able to imagine myself without here.

On lighting and angles

Sometimes I forget the things I know. You ever do that? Look at this incredible shit that I know.

Sometimes I feel like I have a life out there waiting for me. It’s something I know, with certainty, and something this trip has reinforced. There is a life out there that I’m going to live. Choices I’ve yet to make; a person I’ve yet to become. But then I also have to remind myself that it’s not way out there…I don’t need to run and catch up. It’s right here, within me, beside me, taking up all this space. I have so much to do, but I don’t really need to do anything to get there because I’m already here. I’m already going. I’ve been on my way this entire time. I dunno, it seems like we forget that. I do at least.

And always have a back-up plan. It doesn’t hurt, anyway. Shit happens. Have two or five.

And don’t forget to look behind you. Always glance back behind your shoulder; have a look around; you never know what you may be missing. What’s just out of sight. You may be missing an incredible view. You’ve passed it and you think you’ve seen it, but then the angle has changed. And it’s completely different. -Me, August 2013