I got to ease into backpacking, as for the first 10 days I was traveling with my family. My mom had done the vast majority of the planning, and I just got to relax and enjoy it before the real journey began. We did the classic short Peru trip, spending the vast majority of our time in the Sacred Vally and visiting Machu Picchu.
But, way faster than I ever expected, they were walking out the door of our hotel in Cusco and I was on my own. My parents cried a lot, but the whole process of them leaving happened so quickly (they had a flight to catch) that I didn’t know what to feel. Here’s the picture I managed to snag of them walking out the door:
I remember feeling lost for about an hour, wondering if I was really prepared to go solo-backpacking, wondering if I was really prepared for what the next seven months had to offer.
But… I got over it pretty quickly. I started exploring Cusco, and my trepidation morphed into a giddy enthusiasm for my newfound freedom. I started criss-crossing the city, leaving the traditional tourist quarter behind. I relished in my ability to walk wherever and whenever I wanted. And, perhaps most importantly, I delighted in my ability to walk as fast as I wanted. I really wish I had had a fitbit to keep track of just how many miles I walked throughout my travels.
Now I’ll be the first person to admit I’m not particularly easy to travel with (as most people who have traveled with me will attest to). As a result, I gravitate towards solo-travel, as it gives me the freedom to do the crazy things I want to do without having to compromise. Plus, you really have to be in a particular, focused mindset that I really enjoy to travel alone effectively. I may make an entire post about this, because it’s a little difficult to explain if you haven’t done it.
That evening, I made my way to the first of what would be dozens of packed, hectic South-American bus stations. This particular one was especially memorable, as the members of the family I was sitting next to while waiting to board each had a chicken they were bringing on their bus. At 7pm, I boarded my first ‘full-cama’ bus – essentially a bus where the chair goes completely flat. It is impossible to put into words the difference it makes on a 13 hour ride through the mountains on often unpaved road. If any of you are thinking of backpacking around Peru, Cruz del Sur will be your favorite bus agency in the world.
I woke up the next morning around 5am, and looked outside the window to realize I had left the luscious, fertile Sacred Valley and entered the desert. Arequipa, one of the larger cities in the south-western part of Peru, is known in the tourist world for being the gateway to Colca Canyon, where you can see the endangered Condor. I didn’t have the time to do that, but the days I spent in Arequipa are still some of my favorite of the entire trip. ‘La ciudad blanca’ (‘The white city’- aptly named due to the historic center being constructed out of the white volcanic rock Sillar), charmed me. It has, in my humble opinion, the most impressive main plaza, or Plaza de Armas, in all of South America.
I had an incredible time exploring the myriad of churches,
walking to the various viewpoints around the city,
reading in a hammock on the roof of my awesome hostel,
and watching the sunset while talking to a Peruvian guy in the Plaza who turned out to be part of a local Mormon community and wanted to visit the U.S. exclusively to go to Utah (what?).
It was an idyllic start to my adventures. Unfortunately, the tranquility wasn’t going to last. Next time, crossing the Bolivian border and the worst day of my travels.