Last week, I told y’all about my travel journals. I like to write on the road. This started back in college when I traveled to South America. So, now that it’s fresh on my brain, I thought I’d share a little from my very first Detour Diary.
Across the pond, my girlfriends were drinking in the culture with a few chummy Brits in A Friend At Hand—a celebrated local pub. Downstream, I was unearthing the roots of Perú, sniffing bits of tree bark with a shaman and the inhospitable mosquitoes of the Amazon.
An Interim month between semesters at Wofford College gave us a chance to study abroad for four weeks. My closest friends chose a tour of Europe. Me? I picked Perú.
I was ready to ink my passport. Ready for newness. Ready to go. So I emptied my savings, packed my suitcase and went far away to get close to something I couldn’t name.
Before that trip, my inner outdoor girl had romantic musings about being face-to-face with nature.
That was before I flew down a zip line. That month in Perú was a month of firsts, all documented in handwritten notes. I wrote about my first fishing excursion, a hunt for piranha in the Amazon. In a homemade canoe, we baited a tree limb with fatty, raw chicken. When I felt a definite tug, I jerked the pole out of the water and the flesh-eating fish flew over the boat in an arc, nearly knocking a fellow student over. So, I flung it over again and almost knocked our guide, Victor, out. While the fish was flying above us, Victor (and our boat) shook with giggles. To validate my spasticness, I said in Spanish (what I thought was) that the fish back home don’t have teeth. What I really said was that the fishermen back in the States don’t have teeth. Victor laughed like heck.
I wrote about my first camping expedition—an overnight stay in the rainforest in a leaky tent where our guide gave me something like a Tarot card reading. “Love,” she said. “I see a lot of love.”
I wrote about my first mountain climb. When we reached the Sun Gate, breathless from the thin air and exhaustion and wonder, a rainbow met us at the top. It reached over Machu Picchu, sleeping below, and in a still second I felt the presence of every soul who had walked the path before me. None of our pictures captured the pure hues of the moment, but that rainbow felt hand placed to congratulate us.
It was a three-hour cruise across Lake Titicaca from Puno to Amantani Island where our group split up and stayed with native families. Two of us were assigned to Norma, a girl our age or younger. She didn’t speak to us at first as she led us to her home unless she was motioning for us to come. We navigated the treacherous stone path slowly, passed pigpens and a woman tending sheep. Flimsy Spanish was our only form of communication. But more was gained than lost in translation when Norma introduced us to her fatherless newborn daughter. She wrapped the baby in multiple blankets and slung her onto her back, freeing her hands to make us dinner. I remembered Norma years later the first time I tried to swaddle the fierce-flailing limbs of my infant son.
I’ve re-lived my Interim to Perú so many times through those journals—a time I wrote for me, wrote my life, wrote to discover.
When I have an assignment, I sit at my computer surveying the possibilities in the letters under my fingers, selecting words like you choose an apple at the grocery store. I pick them up, rotate them in my hand, scanning for bruises, imperfections. I’m writing for someone else—for clients, for creative directors, for praise—delivering a bundle of pretty words. Sometimes, I hear a stranger’s voice offering me slick apples. But in my travel journals, I detail the most basic human things. It’s me talking. My voice is in the discolored, banged up apple. And there I am, honest and vulnerable, in that brown spot.
I emailed bits from my journals to my roommate, communicating across continents through Internet cafes. She was bringing home an Italian leather purse, photos of the Louvre, chocolate. I was bringing home an alpaca sweater, a few new freckles and a handmade doll.
The doll has lost its smell now, but if you press your nose into the black yarn hair, you can almost smell Perú —new mornings in the Andes, warm incense in the one-room adobe brick homes, centuries-old springs plashing over mossy stones, mist you can taste.
I bought her in a valley of the velvet-green mountains where the villagers peddled their crafts. One small one caught my eye and she scrunched her nose at me as if we shared a fun secret. I motioned to the doll she cradled like a baby and found the Spanish to ask her how much.
“Quince solace,” she whispered, tracing a circle in the earth with a bare toe. “O dulces.” Money or candy. After she gave me the doll, she reached above her head, pink palms open for payment. I recognized the empty, upturned palms—starving for something smooth, sweet. Something.
I didn’t find a something in Perú. Fumbling through so-called Spanish, I became a teeny more fluent in humanity. I found, in a world away, a familiar seeking, searching—a shared need for something more.
Towards the end of our trip, after a week in the Amazon, I remember us running like children through the streets of Iquitos to the store. There, we held our hands open, palms up, for the cups of native ice cream, cool on our tongues after the sting of rainforest juices.