Guest Post: Mac-Daddy

Have Hope, Will Travel
I had the privilege to be the first visitor from home for Alli and Elizabeth, and they so graciously asked me to write a guest post highlighting the week and my thoughts on it. Being one to extract every ounce of meaning from my experiences, I have happily obliged, and the product is before you:
To start my Bolivian adventure, we must first go back to the weekend before the girls left. I have been assigned to a work project about 60 miles west of NYC, and I made the trip into NYC to see Elizabeth on my first weekend to wish her well on her trip. During the visit, she, almost off-handed, suggested that I come out and see them during their trip. Due to the long term work assignment away from home, I get a few extra days off every 6 weeks. Realizing that this time off would come right on the heels of Thanksgiving, I excitedly called Alli and dropped the bombshell that was my intention to come visit them. I had originally planned on visiting them and then going to see Maccu Picchu, but they (thankfully so), convinced me to just spend as much time with them as I could. I gave them the dates I would be available, and I waited as they were forced to plan a month in advance. The longer I stayed down there, the more I realized how difficult a task it is to plan a trip when your schedule is already full, and you have limited access to the internet. Much appreciated ladies.

I landed on a Friday night, after a long trip down. The girls had prepped me for my customs experience in Bolivia, and it went relatively smooth, even though I didn’t feel like admitting it at the time. I grabbed a cab and met them at their hostel in Santa Cruz, and, after a few excited hugs, joined them in the pool. This still is one of the highlights of the trip because I had been carrying so much stress over the past several months at work, but it all dissolved as soon as I hit the water.

It was an amazing week, but to keep this blog post shorter than a novel, I will touch on the highlights:

– We spent about a day and a half in Sucre, the old capital of the country. It was a beautiful city in the mountains with old, beautiful architecture. It was here that I was first introduced to the Bolivian culture as we walked around the town and the girls explained everything I was seeing. We made dinner at our hippie hostel, watched the sunset from a hotel terrace we snuck into, talked about life, grabbed beers at a local bar, and tore up the club. It was on the forbidden hotel terrace where we started the list of “things Mac breaks” when I tried to impress the girls by opening a beer bottle on a ledge. The entire bottle ended up getting shattered into 1,000 pieces… They weren’t impressed.

– We crouched, climbed, ducked, and walked carefully through a silver and zinc mine in Potosi. Our guide was a former miner, and you could see his appreciation for those who work in the mines. He teared up when he talked of the struggles the miners endure to provide for their families, including putting themselves in potentially dangerous situations daily. Personally, I have worked in tunnels before, so I found it really interesting to see the difference in working conditions between Bolivia and the US. After that tour, we all walked away a little more grateful for the life we’ve been given.

– Uyuni was the next stop, and the highlight of my trip. We spent 3 days touring the salt flats in southern Bolivia. We were joined by Guatemalan Susie, her son Lionel, and Seb, a 29-year old Frenchman. Our driver and leader through the salt flats was our less-than-joyful guide Samuel. It became our goal to “kill him with kindness”, as he just didn’t seem thrilled to spend time with us and did not offer explanation for any of the beauty we were seeing. We softened him up a bit by the end of our three days, however. The landscape changed from expansive salt flats, to highland plateaus, to towering volcanos, to mountain lagoons filled with flamingos, to other-worldly boiling mud and steaming geysers.

– Traveling to new cities became either the low points or the high points of the trip. Traveling in big open buses in the afternoon, watching the sunset over the mountains and just relaxing was awesome. The night buses not so much.

– The last evening on the salt flats was easily the highlight of my trip, which was appropriate as it was the last night I had with the girls. We spent the evening in a building surrounded by absolutely nothing for miles and miles, powered (for a meager 2 hours) by generators. We had met kindred-spirit Aussie friends at our hostel the night before, and were SO disappointed they ended up in a different hostel than us. However, we ended up making the most of our last night together. After a few drinks and laughs at dinner, two guys, one from Russia and one from Israel, pulled out their guitars and we started requesting songs. Despite having a 3:30AM wake-up call to get on the road early, we sang and played until 11:00 in the night. At one point, the power went out and we only had the light from a headlamp to continue singing. Before going to bed, Elizabeth and I went out to check out the stars and just about fell over upon leaving the doorway, partly because of the cold, but mostly because of the sheer brightness of the stars above us. I’m not exaggerating when I say that the intensity of the stars almost knocked us over. It was incredible.

The next morning came quickly, but it led us to a set of geysers early enough and cold enough to see the steam in full effect. This was yet another hidden gem in such a remote area. Save for a few quick pit stops, our last big stop was the hot springs where we were able to bathe for the first time in 3 days. A fitting way to end our time together! (Hundreds of dirty bodies bathing for the first time in the same small hot pool meant we got SUPER clean…)

On our ride to drop the girls off at the border to Chile, I allowed myself to reflect on the week. My mind was racing with thoughts, but I kept coming back to hope. I had been struggling to find peace before coming on this trip and had fallen into despair as things have not been working out as I had imagined. I had let the difficulties I was encountering darken my spirit.

It’s nothing new to state that everyone encounters difficulties in life. As a young adult, I’m faced with the vast unknown that is supposed to be the rest of my life. Alli, Elizabeth and I, along with probably many others that we encountered during my week down there, are trying to figure life out. Sometimes, when my dad asks me how I’m doing, I respond with “good, just trying to figure out what I want to do with my life,” to which he responds, “me too.” I think that’s part of the human condition, to be traveling along the road of life, not fully knowing where it leads or when you’ll get there. If you want to hear God laugh, tell Him your plans, right?

Being human means living with the tension of the unknown, but that doesn’t require us to be consumed by it. The light will always push out the darkness, we just have to let it. Engage the tension and embrace it, but embrace it with hope. Become familiar and comfortable with the unknown. Hope gives us the ability to wade through the difficult moments, knowing that on the other side is something greater that can only be reached by embracing and rejoicing in the difficulties.

On my day layover in Panama City en route to the US, I met a nice couple from California that owned a place nearby. When I left, I said something to the effect of “take care,” under the assumption that I would never see them again. They responded with something to the effect of “looking forward to seeing you soon.” I found this statement childish, because there was almost no chance I would see them again. But I see why they said it – they held onto hope.

In the matter of a month, I planned and went on this amazing trip with two wonderful girls. Looking forward to what this month will bring me.

Hope you enjoyed the guest post!

UP NEXT: Crossing into Chile from Bolivia… (Nowhere near as dramatic as the crossing from Peru into Bolivia)

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One week later… And we’re still alive. 

Disclaimer: this post is about a week late due to our insane travel schedule…

Alli and I know only one speed- and that’s full speed ahead. 

We landed in Lima on Tuesday night 10/27, crashed in the hostel- where we were welcomed and treated like queens. We hadn’t heard great things about Lima, so we decided to skip town the next day and took off into the mountains. We took an 8-hour bus ride to Huaraz, (a mountain town north of Lima in the heart of the Peruvian Andes) on Wednesday 10/28. On Thursday we went on a day trip from Huaraz to see Pastoruri Glacier at 16,465ft above sea level (the highest Alli and I have ever been… Quite literally)! 

After hashing things out with our mysterious/sketch helper Marcos, we agreed to embark on the 3-day Santa Cruz trek thru el Parque Nacional Huascaran. 

We embarked early Friday morning along with 13 soon-to-be amazing friends from numerous countries. This is when things got interesting (and painful). The first day we hiked from Vaqueria to Paria campsite (12,628ft). This was the single most difficult physical activity I have ever done in my entire life. Despite taking acetazolamide, stuffing coca leaves in my cheeks (the Peruvian cure for altitude sickness), and drowning myself in coca tea… I nearly died. 

Ok, classic exaggeration, but it sucked… I’ll spare you the details, but my body was in full revolt. Thanks to Alli and our Swiss friend Jeannine, our guide was able to make me a magical Peruvian potion to cure my altitude sickness. Lemme tell ya- it worked like a charm. Still don’t know the exact ingredients… but something worked. 

On the second day of the trek we hiked to the highest point of Santa Cruz, Punta Union at 15,580ft. I finished dead last of all 15 hikers (and a very far last place), but it was well worth it with its stunning views of snow capped mountains and bright blue lagunas. The rest of the day was downhill to our camp. Some in our group took advantage of the ice cold glacier stream to bathe in, and we played a fun card game of “President and Asshole” with the Frenchies. 

The 3rd and final day was mostly downhill… But a long and steep 10 miles downhill (rough on the feetsies). The group we were with (including Alli) was a bit… INTENSE. They didn’t stop for as many photos, so I was put even further behind. (Worth it to capture such breathtaking scenery!)  Despite still feeling half human at such high altitude… we arrived at our final destination, and of course I was dead last. I was used to it at this point. I think it was good for me in a way… I don’t think I’ve ever worked THAT hard and still lost so sorely. I’m only human. 

Once we exited the park, we took a combi (cheap taxi in which they pile as many humans as can possibly fit into a car) back to Huaraz. We crammed 8 people into what should have been a 5 person car, swerving around dirt roads with cliffs a mile high, with no guard rails. Don’t worry mom and dad- it was suuuuper safe.

We arrived safely in Lima, despite a terrifying night bus ride in which our driver also loved swerving around cliff edges. Despite being exhausted after walking a total of 44 miles up and down mountains in high altitude, Alli and I had a rough time sleeping on that bus!
So… Things we’ve learned this past week: 
– We’ll make friends from all over the world (Even the French can be cool!!) 
– Although I believe I am/should be the exception to most rules… I am not an exception to getting severe altitude sickness. 
– “Ass is ace” in French.
– “Suiza” is the name of Switzerland in Spanish… Not another Spanish word for shit. 
– Offering cookies can have a deeper meaning than the cookie itself.
– As long term and frugal travelers, we’ve learned a few things about each other. Alli will pay the equivalent of $1.50 to shower after an intense 4 day hike thru the Peruvian Andes, whereas Elizabeth refuses. Elizabeth happily will pay $1.50 for a hot breakfast, while Alli refuses. Instead, she’ll eat the stale water crackers for breakfast.
– America MUST switch to the metric system. We’re sick of being the only ones who don’t really get how high a mountain is, or how much things measure out to. (How many cm tall are you? Who the heck knows that?)
– When you feel like you’re dying, the mysterious Peruvian potion can and should be trusted immediately.
– It’s probably not the best idea to hand 640 soles ($215) to a random man you’ve met on the street, even if this man promises you a 4-day trek in the Peruvian Andes. (Thank Jesus this man was -mostly- honest and came through!) 
– After one week of navigating Peruvian cities, we’ve realized that collectivos are 100% the way to go. (Collectivos are the size of a mini van that will pack humans to 3X it’s actual capacity)

Until the next post!! Please keep praying for us- it’s working!!!