I’m sitting on the rooftop balcony of the Mercadero Backpacker’s Hostel, drinking a Cerveza Arequipeña, watching the sun set behind the pumice-white cathedral in the center of Arequipa, Peru, and wishing time would stand still. It’s the eve of Peruvian Independence day, and red and white flags are waving from every roof. Celebrations are starting, and sounds are rising from the city like smoke. Somewhere in the distance, a steel drum is playing “Under the Sea” from The Little Mermaid. As I begin to reflect on an amazing month back in California, life has rarely felt better.
I have to remind myself that things haven’t always been this good.
I felt compelled to take this trip. Drawn by the luster of the unknown, and ushered out by a life that was feeling stifled. The last few years have been tough. I cringe at the thought that I had started feeling sorry for myself. Six months later, self-pity seems like a foreign and impossible idea. In this sense, this trip has already been an unqualified success. I’m grateful for everything that has led me to this point. I don’t believe that everything happens for a reason, but we’re adaptable creatures, and good things are sometimes born of bad. A lot of good fortune allowed me to even consider the possibility of traveling for a year.
On the road, life is unpredictable, irregular, unrestricted. For five months, my calendar had been almost empty. A wedding on June 20th was the only impingement on my freedom, and it haunted me. I wanted to keep traveling, so I settled on the inefficient plan of briefly traveling to California and returning to South America a month later. As my itinerary congealed, resentment turned into excitement. Suddenly my calendar was full of dates I was looking forward to: a 10 year college reunion, two weddings, July 4th, my birthday, and a few days at work.
I came to look at the month at home as just another destination along the way, and it was a highlight. I felt replenished by so much time with family and friends. Inspired by my moms’ wedding. Grounded by a few days at work. What the trip home had cost me in freedom, it repaid tenfold. On my birthday, for the first time I can remember, I didn’t know what to wish for.