If you look up the word adventure in the dictionary – the synonyms include risky and hazardous.

As someone with perfectionist tendencies, I can be fearful about visiting third world countries. I’ve had my share of horrible travel illnesses in Cambodia and Indonesia. I blame all of this on my husband—he’s the adventurous one who went to college in Colorado and fondly remembers his solo backpacking trips. In contrast, I never vacationed much until I was 30 years old—I rarely took a day off from playing tennis. Beginning at age 13, I missed family vacations to play in tournaments.

However, my recent trip to Peru changed my outlook on adventure travel, thanks to some surprising lessons. Let me set the context – I am not talking about scaling Mount Everest or camping out in a tent. My version of adventure is visiting a foreign country, learning about the culture and the people, and taking day hikes to explore Inca ruins.

Our December 2017 trip to Peru began in Lima, where we enjoyed the warmth of early summer weather while strolling along the dramatic cliffs that line the Pacific Ocean. We joined our Gate1 small group tour to venture around the countryside. We met our guide, Mauricio – in the adjacent picture, from Cusco, Peru, who let us know that we were not tourists, but adventurers. As our tour manager he was welcoming us to his homeland–and into his family with his wife and three children. With a big smile, he told us that a positive attitude was key— this trip was not going to be a walk on the beach. He wasn’t kidding.

The next day we got up at 5 am to fly to Arequipa, to begin to get acclimated to the high attitude, working towards a minor hike of Machu Picchu. The 18 of us boarded a large bus and began the 12-day journey on narrow, winding roads through mountainous terrain. I braced myself and took a Dramamine, but spent the day feeling like I had a terrible hangover, dozing in and out of reality.

A few days later when approaching Culca Canyon, I had my first “Mama Mia” moment. One side of our wide bus was literally touching the wall of rocks while on the other side, one tire barely touched the road! I started hyperventilating. Mauricio told us to breathe, trust our experienced driver, and remember that we are adventurers!  

I closed my eyes and started praying as Mauricio continued to talk us through this scary moment with a smile, saying, “Adventure is spiritual nutrition for your heart.” This phrase caught me off guard. I kept repeating it to myself as we slowly moved to safety. I thought, “Wow. Could this adventure heal a broken heart?” I had never considered this possibility before.

I am still grieving the lose of both my parents and my favorite 53-year-old cousin over the last 18 months. Mauricio’s positive and compassionate nature relaxed me and made me more comfortable being myself – however I was feeling.

The next day at the gorgeous Culca Canyon, I woke up with terrible stomach cramps. My first reaction was ugh, here we go again. But our guide, Mauricio must have seen me grimace and asked if I was felling all right. I pulled him aside and said that my stomach was not so happy. He said, no worries and that he would help me. I came to learn that the chicken soup in Peru is quite delicious—that was all I ate for the next 24 hours. Miraculously, I felt much better.

But, that night I was confronted with three nightmares. Dreams and unresolved issues always seem to arise when I take time away from my day-to-day life. I couldn’t seem to stop crying. I wanted to curl up in my room and stay under the covers all day. But, my husband urged me to get it together and join the group. As I was sadly eating my breakfast, Mauricio came around and asked how I was doing and I shared that I didn’t sleep that well. He just smiled and said to take it easy. I continued to cry on the bus for another hour or so and just shared with others around me that I was still grieving. A young woman on the tour thanked me for just being myself. I felt incredibly humbled by my own vulnerability and the generosity of spirit within the group. By late morning I felt better.

It started to occur to me that the key to enjoying being an adventurer is to be vulnerable. The sooner I asked for help the better. What a new concept for someone who doesn’t like to admit weakness.

Several days went by with no issues, which led me to drink beer, eat pizza, and play charades the night before visiting Machu Picchu. What a bad idea! The next morning I woke up at 5 am with a headache and terrible diarrhea which continued throughout the five-hour traverse of riding on trains and buses to the iconic Inca site. This time, I immediately shared my predicament with Mauricio, drank electrolytes, and made sure I didn’t miss a bathroom break! I took it easy while walking around Machu Picchu, reflecting on the incredulous of this architectural masterpiece in the sky. I watched the clouds float around the majestic mountains while a brightly colored rainbow emerged following a brief rain shower. Moving slowly has its benefits.

I began this trip as the person who is always well-prepared. I pack medicine for almost every type of malady including upset stomach, diarrhea, dehydration, the flu, headache, muscle aches… I could go on. Yet, I return from Peru realizing that the most important things I need to pack for future trips are an adventurous attitude, acceptance that stuff happens, and a willingness to be vulnerable and humble. And, check out whether chicken soup is served…


2 Responses to My Surprising Adventure in Peru

  1. Iris Newalu says:

    Thank you Kathryn for your story today. From what I’ve heard, everyone who goes to Machu Picchu has a different story to tell. Yours was warm and human and yes, vulnerable. And I really appreciate that. xo

  2. You have a gift for story-telling all the while revealing a valuable lesson (s). Thanks for sharing!