Peru Adventure or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Journey

I’m currently sitting in a comfy reclining chair overlooking Long Beach after traveling Peru for the past two weeks. Staying with a friendly elderly couple I hosted a few months ago in Austin. You never know where life will take you. Fortune favors the bold. When my friend Jenna announced plans to go on a Peru Adventure earlier this year, I was immediately sold. This was a unique opportunity to finally leave the country and escape my safe cocoon. I’ve traveled to various destinations with Jenna on separate occasions and thoroughly enjoyed the experience every time. The Peru Adventure Team would include 14 wandering souls with a thirst for exploration and discovery. After securing my deposit, waiting for months and buying essential supplies, the fateful day finally arrives. I bought a one-way ticket to Lima over a month in advance for only $240 and made travel arrangements to stay with an attractive female host named Courtney in Miraflores. Coincidentally, she was also the Chief Marketing Officer at Cabify, essentially the Uber of Latin America. On November 18th, a JetBlue airliner carried me to Lima with a short layover in Ft Lauderdale. Upon my arrival late in the evening this friendly German girl I befriended on the plane directed me through the airport, waiting for me at every stop along the way until she found her boyfriend and disappeared forever. I will remember her fondly. The taxi ride through the dark city streets is an experience that will forever remain engrained in my memory. People drive like maniacs, pedestrians are stepping haphazardly in front of whizzing cars, honking constantly and following too close. The buildings are full of graffiti and almost appear abandoned. Vehicles are pumping out plumes of smoke. Apparently carbon emission standards are irrelevant in this foreign land. The cab driver flows through frantic traffic effortlessly like a real-life game of Frogger. I keep thinking to myself that it’s a miracle this affable man has not been seriously injured in a crash. After dropping off a quiet senorita in the backseat, we eventually reach the destination. It’s a loft with elevator access located in a ritzy area of Lima near the Pacific Coast. I awake the next morning to the sound of construction outside my bedroom window. I decide to make practical use of my limited time by exploring Miraflores. Wandering the streets taking in the sights and sounds, I finally reach a restaurant recommended by my host by the name of San Antonio. This is my first experience ordering a meal without speaking the language. Camera by my side, I walk along the coast taking photos of whatever catches my eye and acclimating to this new foreign environment.

The next day a Cabify picks me up at the reserved time and makes a beeline to the airport for my flight to Cusco where Jenna and Daniel are waiting. The flight is a mere hour long. Landing is turbulent and precarious. Once stepping into the terminal, the elevation change is immediately apparent. The taxi ride is only 10 Soules, which translates to about 3 US dollars. A Peruvian bus in front expels dirty exhaust like a coal burning factory. After a short ride with little conversation, we reach Hotel Boz Art. I immediately reserve a room for two nights and begin exploring this cultural mecca that is Cusco. It’s relatively easy to not get lost and the hotel is close to Plaza del Armas, otherwise known as the main square. The cocoa tea is already easing my elevation sensitivity. My attempts to get in touch with the others are unfulfilled. We eventually lock eyes on the street outside Kokopelli Hostel. It turns out we’re not staying at the hotel until the 22nd when everyone else arrives. The hostel is cheaper with a more compelling environment but the privacy is appreciated at the hotel. I spend the next few days continuing to explore the city alone with trusty camera at my hip. Hiking into the hills is laborious but the urge to push forward, onward and upward, is irresistible. Every step is a photographic moment. The quality of life is deplorable yet the people are still seemingly happy with current conditions. It is deeply humbling, forcing me to step back and appreciate the daily luxuries in America. Stray dogs run the streets.

Over the next few days we spend time at the hostel and explore Cusco together, hiking up to an iconic Jesus monument above the city limits. On the way down ominous storm clouds are rolling in. It starts pouring down hail just as we reach the Plaza. On Sunday, the entire group arrives in Cusco. We transition to the hotel and organize a group meeting. Afterwards, we all take to the streets and explore some of the key areas. At this point I’m already quite familiar with the city layout. We climb the steep hill that overlooks the city, encouraging each other along the way. I walk right through the gate that leads to the ancient Incan ruins Soksaywaman but my friends are held back for an entrance fee. They eventually decide to take a horse convoy to the ruins. I can’t afford the 70 Soules and continue onward alone only to be stopped by a gatekeeper. Rather than pay the entrance fee I devise a scheme to scale a stone wall to reach the ruins through a secretive back trail. The panoramic views of Cusco are incredible from this vantage point.

Exploring the ruins and taking photos, I’m eventually caught by security and asked to leave multiple times. My friends arrive back at the hostel hours later due to unforeseen circumstances. Sleeping through the night is incredibly difficult with all the commotion outside our window by the street. We only get about 3 hours of sleep before rising early in the morning to begin the journey via private bus to Puno, on the coast of Lake Titicaca. Everyone piles into the Mercedes mini-bus and we make our way through traffic out of Cusco onward to our first stop in a small village named Andahaylillas. There’s a bakery where we receive a large loaf of bread for the road. Delicioso! The next town is Raqchi. We exchange words with the shopkeepers and I buy a colorful Machu Picchu hat, which adorns my head for the remainder of our travels. After another hour on the road, we reach Pucara, the site of a magnificent famous church. Unfortunately photos are strictly prohibited. It’s difficult to control the irresistible urge to take a quick HDR for the portfolio. Traveling through all the small villages along the road of dreams is endlessly fascinating. I frequently find myself wondering how the inhabitants survive in such poor conditions without luxuries of any kind. It makes me feel so fortunate and privileged. After a few more hours we reach Sichani and eat a buffet meal at a quaint restaurant La Pascana with a beautiful view of a waterfall surrounded by llamas. We have our fun posing next to the llamas while people eat them inside. Talk about irony! Our last stop before Puno is another small town where Marita, our stupendously knowledgeable tour guide, explains the history of ancient Incan art inside a museum. Eventually we make our way to a shop and browse the selection for a half hour. A few miles down the road Daniel exclaims, “We have to turn back, I forgot my camera!” Everyone is worried. As we near the town a woman on a bike approaches the bus clutching a bag, which contains the precious Sony A7. Eureka! Daniel is absolutely ecstatic, hugs the sweet woman, takes a quick snapshot and we continue on our merry way. This is a memory from the trip that will forever remain. We continue driving into the evening. Upon reaching the fancy hostel, we get ready for a night on the town and head out to dinner. This is by far the best night of the trip thus far. My sickness is relieved and Marita throws a surprise dinner party as we gather around a long table as one big happy family. Dinner is prepared as we dance into the night and drink Pisco Sour. The food is included in the travel accommodations. Delicioso! At one point the sweet desert flower Jenna hops on the stage and sings a soulful song with the Latino band. I’m inspired by this beautiful muse and decide to join in on box drum. After a night of joyous celebration we head back to our rooms and pass out. I finally get a solid 8 hours of sleep for the first time in days and head downstairs to grab a light breakfast in the morning.

We pack the essentials for a few nights on the water islands and hop on another bus, which takes us to a private boat. The engine starts and we’re off to visit a handmade floating island. The natives greet us dressed in traditional colorful clothing. This island is constructed from a lightweight straw plant atop the highest altitude lake in the entire world. We all gather around Marita as she demonstrates how the island was made. Once the photos are taken and shopping is finished, we board another boat hand-built by the island natives and two strong men row to another island over a mile away. The process of island hopping is exhilarating! While everyone sits inside the boat, I’m meditating and doing yoga on the roof as the cool wind rushes past my body. The feeling is intoxicating and in this moment I’m completely free, liberated from the imaginary shackles of society! I can barely contain the upwell of euphoria and release a giant scream of wild joy. After a few hours we finally reach the island of Amantani. Immediately greeted by the warm open arms of the native islanders, they direct us to our respective homes to stay with local families. They don’t speak Spanish or English yet communication isn’t difficult. Words are often unnecessary, gestures and warm smiles are appreciated. Shortly after arrival, a nice traditional vegetarian meal is waiting in the dimly lit kitchen complete with wood-burning stove. Electricity on this island is generated from solar panels. The itinerary after lunch is to visit a nearby primary school to donate supplies, then climb to the highest point. The children are so grateful for our donations. The act of giving fills my heart with happiness and love. We then begin the long arduous climb to the top of Amantani. Beautiful vistas of Lake Titicaca surround us at every turn. The sun continues to sink into the horizon, leaving just enough light for panoramic photos of beautiful cascading clouds reflecting over the clear blue waters. We form a meditation circle, finishing with a collective “Om!” as the sun slips below the horizon and we begin our descent guided by the light of a full moon.

We gather around the table as the local family serves dinner and Marita tells a harrowing story of love loss from her distant past. I’m utterly speechless. After a long day of activities, sleeping does not come easily due to illness, fever, headaches and snoring. Also my bed caves in shortly after hitting the sheets. I decide to channel my energies into a late night stroll in my pajamas along the beach with camera/tripod by my side, capturing some magnificent long exposure shots before my battery dies. I mistakenly lock myself out of the house. Rather than disturbing anyone’s sleep, I jump a stone wall and sneak through the back. Luckily the gate is still unlocked. Shivering through the night and barely getting a wink of sleep on the floor while my roommates continually snore, I eventually move outside during sunrise to relieve abdominal pressure and meditate on the present. The warm sunlight feels amazing on my chilled body. We chow down in the kitchen against my better judgment and join the others in a sound-healing meditation on a patch of land overlooking the wide open blue waters of Lake Titicaca. It’s a perfect way to start the day after another sleepless night. We board the majestic boat to island Taquile and after a few hours reach the shores. This island is a more popular tourist destination. The natives dress in decorative rainbow hats. “Why do they always put the cool stuff at the top?” It requires so much effort but the payoff is always worth it. Halfway up the mountain Marita introduces us to the island authorities. They stand honorably in an ascending line and we each take turns shaking their hands. This is a rare occasion and Marita makes it all possible while fluently speaking the native Quechan language. Once we finally reach the top I’m feeling pretty miserable and unable to speak. I utter a few short words during lunch and that’s it. An entire trout is served on a fish-shaped platter. In this moment the food is my singular focus. Thousands of stone steps lead the way downward as our eyes scan a gorgeous panoramic view of Lake Titicaca. On the other side is Bolivia. I would love to visit the salt flats one of these days! The lake beckons me to jump into its crystal clear waters. The urge is so irresistible I simply can’t resist. As my body hits the chilly surface I let out an exultant scream of pleasure. My negative attitude immediately washes away into the purifying waters of Lake Titicaca. The others quickly follow suit as they trickle down from the mountain. After sunbathing in an attempt to get warm, I eventually pass out in shivering ecstasy until we reach Puno.

My friend Daniel loses his cherished hat while walking atop the boat. As we dock along the shore, another boat captain returns the hat from whence it came. The wet fish smell is something fierce but he continues wearing that hat the entire trip. Our motley crew continues onward to the bus station. Jenna has a sudden craving for electrolytes (not toilet water) as she’s not feeling quite up to par, so we venture around Puno looking for a farmacia. Marita informs us of an ongoing strike concerning a price increase of water. There’s shattered glass along the city streets. This place doesn’t seem particularly safe but we’re stronger in numbers. Once back at the bus station, someone observes that our fellow traveler Nick is MIA. Daniel quickly takes action and runs into the streets. Within a few minutes he returns clutching a ragdoll version of Nick in his arms. The master practical joker strikes again. Everything is fine; the whole adventure crew is reunited! Marita comes through with flying colors as always. The strike was a foreboding sign for public transportation but she arranges a large Mercedes bus to drive us in comfortable style all the way back to Cusco. The bus plows through traffic like an armored tank, while protecting us from the crazy outside world in a safe cocoon. It’s difficult for me to sleep inside a moving vehicle, instead opting for music on my MP3 player. After many relaxing hours and a food pit stop, we reach the promised land of Cusco once more. Marita quickly wrangles up half a dozen taxis like a cattle-herder. Her street smarts never fail to impress me. She is a spiritual warrior renaissance woman despite her relatively small stature and friendly demeanor. Tomorrow is the big day we’ve been anticipating this whole time, the culmination of all our efforts: the road to Machu Picchu!

We awake early in the morning and perform the daily ritual of packing the bare essentials for another daring trip into the mountains. The drive is indescribably beautiful, as the mini-bus gets further away from Cusco. Wide-open fields of farmland and rivers surround us. Our first pit stop is another school in a small town near the Sacred Valley. The kids are so happy to see our bright smiling faces. Daniel and I quickly begin snapping photos as Jenna leads a short celebration circle followed by donations of school supplies and clothes contributed to Nena by supportive teachers. She’s been feeling intensely ill up to this point but the burning passion to provide relief to these precious kids lights her inner soul on fire – proof that following your true passion will bring you out of the darkness within. It’s sometimes difficult to remain in the moment while simultaneously capturing it. However, I interact with the children to the best of my ability, even if the inspiration comes in the form of a warm smile and click of the shutter. The act of giving is one of the most rewarding experiences in life and comes in many different forms. The humanitarian arm of this great adventure is rather unexpected yet greatly appreciated. I reach the conclusion that waiting until you’re wealthy to do good in the world is shortsighted and selfish. If not for the ambitious efforts of Jenna to organize this Peru retreat, it would have taken me much longer to leave my comfort zone in this country. As I sit on a bench under a lighthouse overlooking Rainbow Harbor in Long Beach writing this memoir wearing rose-colored glasses, I remember fondly of all the memories shared with kindhearted friends in Peru. But the story isn’t over yet. We haven’t yet reached the fabled ancient city in the clouds: Machu Picchu.

We pile into the bus and continue onward to our final destination tonight: Santa Teresa. The bus climbs higher into the mountains. Beautiful vistas of the surrounding Andes range are visible from this vantage point. I’m sitting in the back with the luggage and eventually move forward in order to more easily capture photos and diffuse various situations. Nena is still frightfully ill, most likely due to food poisoning. The bus pulls over at a breathtaking overlook of the Andes. I take photos in barefeet and relieve myself. It’s overcast and foggy in one breath only to be rainy the next. The weather patterns and vegetation changes abruptly. Banana trees are prominent in this region. There’s an impasse up the road. A truck swerved into a ditch. Luckily the passage is just wide enough for our expert driver to squeeze through. He picks up a hitchhiker; the woman who caused the accident. She’s in a state of shock after nearly careening over the edge to her ultimate fate. A few miles up the road she departs never to be seen again. The slow and steady descent continues through the night after a lunch break in a random town in a mountain valley. The roads are very treacherous, only a few feet separate our vehicle from a steep fall into oblivion. It would take all the courage in my body to navigate these precarious roads; luckily our driver is a professional. At one point another bus attempts to pass in the left lane, barely staying on the cliff edge. What an adrenaline rush, phew! After another hour we finally reach Santa Teresa signified by a shining white cross. This place is freaking surreal, a land removed from society. We check into our hostel, a random seven-story building in the middle of virtually nothing. A few of us dine at a pizza restaurant before taking the bus to hot springs below Santa Teresa. This proves to be the most relaxing experience during the entire trip. The water is not burning lava hot as anticipated. There are four separate pools of varying sizes and temperatures. I soak so completely into the body-permeating warmth that I’m unable to speak and form coherent thoughts, like putty in my own hands. Swimming laps in the larger pool drains my energy until sleep is eminent.

It rains all through the night and I’m dead to the world until annoying car alarms wake me in the early morning. The power is off. Luckily I took a rejuvenating warm shower the night before. I can’t wait to escape this strange dead-end town. The mini-bus takes us to a hydroelectric train that follows the path to Aguas Calientes at the base of Machu Picchu. This vibrant city in Sacred Valley is truly magnificent and alive with tourists. A river runs through it. Today is Thanksgiving! I can’t think of anywhere else I’d rather be.

The bus to Machu Picchu awaits our arrival. I’m sitting next to Edna in the front. We make polite conversation and exchange emails. I’m reminded of earlier in Cusco when I told her, “I’m not a rich man but I’m happy!” Part of the group starts the tour proper while the rest of us begin the long climb up Machu Picchu Mountain. It takes roughly two hours with plenty of photo ops and conversation along the way. Beautiful sights surround us at every footstep. We finally reach the top! Machu Picchu looks so small and insignificant below. I set up the tripod and take some remarkable HDR photos with the telephoto lens. Daniel decides to start taking photos of Jenna as she performs yoga poses on a mountain above the clouds. Perfection in motion! Then I ask Daniel for the Sony A7. A mysterious box materializes that he subsequently hands to Jenna. She’s holding it now and I’m continuing to snap photos. Eventually Daniel gets down on one knee, opens the wooden box and proposes to Jenna! On top of Machu Picchu Mountain! Jenna is overwhelmed with tears of joy. Daniel asks, “Will you?” Jenna asks, “Will you what? You haven’t asked me anything yet.” They agree to become life partners and embrace one another. Meanwhile, I’m taking photos the whole time and thoroughly enjoying every moment. This was the highlight of an extraordinary adventure!

We take a few group photos and begin the descent to meet up with Marita who gives a full tour of Machu Picchu. Surprisingly, the historical insights about this ancient structure are rather tedious. I find myself with a strong desire to leave. My stomach is growling and my mind is elsewhere. As the saying goes, journey is more important than the destination. I’m relieved when it’s over. Jenna decides to stay behind in the rain and soak it all in until Daniel materializes from the ether to rescue her. We take the bus down to Aguas Calientes and eat dinner at a restaurant called Hot Springs near the train tracks. We’re all pretty tipsy from Pisco and margaritas. Nick and I explore the city, eventually crossing paths with everyone else. They already checked into the hotel. Daniel and Jenna hiked all the way down from the mountain! We go back to the same restaurant. Why do I feel like this is going in circles? There’s lots of talk about the recent engagement. Drink and be merry! It’s Thanksgiving and we’re living the dream! Love is in the air. Life is good. I stop in for a hot stone massage after a strong recommendation from Nick. All my muscles relax to the point that it’s difficult to walk back home. My temporary roommates go out to the bar. I take a hot shower and pass out like a rock. We wake up early the next morning and take the train directly to a small town and bus it back to Cusco with a short stop in Ollantaytambo to admire the ancient mountain ruins shaped like a llama.

We’re back in Cusco as a group for the last time. This adventure has been a whirlwind of emotions and truly was the experience of a lifetime! My first time out of the country greatly surpassed by expectations! After browsing the Saturday flea market searching for treasure in sea of crappy trinkets, I wander back to the hotel and pick up a large bottle of wine in preparation for the celebratory meeting this evening. When the fateful time comes we gather in a circle and share our unique impressions of the fantastic voyage while drinking wine from cheap plastic cups and eating chocolate bars. Everyone is content. Marita provides each of us with a small gift and we all take turns hugging her in appreciation for everything. Afterwards, I go to dinner with Talisa and Vanessa. The food is delicious and the portions are so large one of the ladies can’t finish her chocolate cake so we give it to a man on the street outside the bar Mama Africa next door. The others walk up in perfect timing and we proceed to dance the night away! I behave like a drunken goofball on the way back. Good times! The next morning we say our final goodbyes and gradually the others leave for a long flight back to Austin. Then it’s just the three of us. We check into the hostel for a night before my final destination to Pisac, only about an hour away from Cusco.

We hop aboard a Collectivo, which is the cheapest form of transportation to nearby towns. Within no time we’re exploring Pisac. It’s a small quiet community in the valley of a mountain lined by ancient terraces. The hostel is not too shabby; plenty of room for three wandering souls with its own kitchen, bathroom and even a rooftop. The view isn’t much but who’s complaining. This isn’t the Austin skyline; beggars can’t be choosers. Daniel isn’t feeling up to speed so Jenna and I walk over to the market to pick up a few ingredients for dinner. It’s such a radical departure from any market I’ve ever seen but the merchants are friendly and small children are rolling around on the pavement. The food appears to be clean. Jenna cooks up a tasty vegetable soup and we chow down in the living room. It’s nothing more than a couch and dirty rug but it feels like home with good friends to share the experience. That’s what matters most in life. He with friends can never be lonely. A few other new inhabitants join in the conversation. We take to our separate beds, for tomorrow is another day. I have every intention of imbibing San Pedro before my last day in Peru. The next morning we grab lunch at a quaint restaurant with a beautiful garden outside behind glass windows. Once back at the hostel I begin preparation of San Pedro. It comes from a cactus that grows naturally in the Andes Mountains. I decide it’s wise to start with a micro dose of two tablespoons mixed in a cup of warm water. There’s no ceremony and it doesn’t seem particularly necessary anyway. However, my loving friends make me feel very comfortable as I drink the psychedelic Kool-Aid. It’s a pleasant experience. I begin to feel more connected with my body and natural surroundings. The entire space appears more expansive. Less stress about the future and more concern over what’s happening in this present moment. I’m just glad to be alive on a rooftop in Pisac. Whatever transpired to place me in this exact moment in time is wholly irrelevant. I am you, you are me, let it be. Que sera, sera. The future’s not ours to see. Daniel is fearful about taking the mescaline but I’m able to convince him that it’s going to be alright. We get by with a little help from our friends. I eventually consume about ¾ of the bag and we make our way downstairs in slight confusion. There’s some tension between life partners concerning the Ayahuasca ceremony. In this altered state I’m extra sensitive and would rather be alone in nature away from any negative energy. Daniel decides to stay behind and diffuse the drama. This is precisely one of the reasons I make the conscious decision to avoid romantic relationships of any kind. Being a lone wolf has many advantages, one of which is personal freedom to live in accordance with your own code of ethics. No rules, just right; as in your right hand. So I continue my wayward journey into the mountains. Camera is my co-pilot. Luckily no one stops me at the gate to pay an entrance fee. I wouldn’t cooperate even if they did. Man does not own nature, it shouldn’t be restricted in any way, shape or form.

I’m beginning to see bright vivid colors on the ascent towards heaven. The trees and sky come to life through my camera lens. Each step is a work of art and I’m the creator! Beauty truly is in the eye of the beholder. The sights surrounding me are so gorgeous I can’t put them into words on my voice recorder. I sound similar to the Double Rainbow hippie guy in the popular viral video, crying tears of joy and pondering what it all means. I’ll send you the recording if you ask nicely. It contains personal information I’d rather not share with the world. The panoramic views are mind-blowing as I continue my slow ascent to the top. The entire town of Pisac is visible, surrounded by luscious green farmland. There’s no point to describe the sights in words. It’s too blunt a tool to communicate such beauty. Only a photograph or video can achieve such a massive undertaking. At times I’m walking along cascading terraces along the mountainside. Only a few feet separate my body from its ultimate demise. But I love life too much to consciously jump. There’s a greater purpose that hasn’t yet been realized. Love is the answer! I cross paths with a native woman along my path to the peak. She almost falls after a misstep. I pretend not to notice and immediately ask for a picture. It is my sole purpose in this moment. She is carrying a large bag full of bracelets. There’s so many to choose from so I pick one at random. My only wish is I had more to offer this lone merchant. The photo has more intrinsic value than the bracelet but I will continue wearing it as a daily reminder of that woman on the mountain in Pisac. I finally reach the castle structure at dusk, foolishly proclaiming, "I Am The Mountain King!!!" That’s my inflated sense of ego speaking. Then it begins to set in that the sun is sinking fast and I’m stranded in a castle at the top of a mountain. Society is down there. Paranoia begins to set in and I’m shouting obscenities into the atmosphere. “Why am I up here!?” I hear Daniel’s voice in the distance. He rescues me from the darkness. Using the city lights as illumination, he directs me down the steps leading to society. After getting caught by the security guard we play it cool and walk into the light. I’ve undergone a radical transformation! It’s a relief to be back in civilization. A group of young kids approach me and I extend my hand for a collective high five. Children are the future! We have the power to inspire them to reach their full potential. I’m exhausted yet unable to will myself to sleep. Jenna is feeling depressed and I do my best to console her but she wants to be left alone. It’s not my place anyway. Mark, one of the hostel inhabitants, takes a special hallucinogenic eyedrop in the living room. It’s called Sanaga. I reluctantly agree to try the medicine. It’s one of the most painful experiences of my life. My eyes burn from the inside and tremors run through my body. Tears run down my cheeks. Luckily it only last a few minutes. Daniel records the whole thing and I do the same for him, barely able to see five inches in front of me. He feels like a brother of mine, especially after saving me from the darkness earlier. One of the most memorable moments from Pisac is talking with Mark and Daniel on the rooftop at night stargazing in the quietude. We share personal stories and aspirations. In this moment I am complete. The memory will forever remain. It is the perfect ending to my Peru adventure.

Tomorrow, I awake feeling out-of-body yet fulfilled. Mark and I grab breakfast at the hostel restaurant as the lovebirds resolve their arguments. It all blows over by the time we’re finished. They’re headed up the mountain together. I wait patiently as they imbibe San Pedro and we go our separate ways. I have to catch a flight to Lima, but first a Collectivo to Cusco. It drops me off in some random part of the city and I wander the streets for an hour until the hostel is in sight. It starts hailing up a storm yet doesn’t deter me from reaching the airport. The big jet airliner takes me from Cusco to Lima for a six hour layover, then New Jersey where I have to wait for an extra two hours due to missing my connecting flight and finally LAX. An elderly couple named James and Neli whom I originally hosted on Airbnb at my place in Austin are waiting for me outside the terminal. Their swanky condo overlooking Long Beach is the location where the majority of this memoir was written. I can’t be more thankful for their generous hospitality. Surround yourself by people who believe in your talents and you will reach the stars. True to form, I almost reached Ashton Kutcher’s private residence. A gatekeeper was standing in the path but with the help of my friends, we were able to convince him to deliver a handwritten letter in envelope to the celebrity I’ve been attempting to contact for years. This is the closest I’ve ever gotten up to this point. Before leaving I dramatically roll down the Mercedes rear window and shake the man’s hand in appreciation. I’m on cloud nine! Persistence is the ultimate key to success in life. Even if nothing comes of this communication, I refuse to give up on my dreams. I also wish to continue exploring other foreign lands as a photographer. It would be a dream come true to someday shoot for National Geographic. Anything is achievable if you set your intentions to it. Jenna is planning another retreat to Nepal next year and I will do everything in my power to attend! Looking forward to arriving back in Austin tomorrow. Have confidence to trust that you’re treading the right path and everything else falls into place. Not all those who wander are lost.

**You may also be interested in my blog post: How To Travel Costa Rica For Cheap