You know that feeling you get when you do something that feels wild? You get a rush of adrenaline; a bursting feeling where you feel like you need to tell someone immediately: “Guess what I did.”
Wild is different for everyone. For me, it was when I bought a ticket to Peru for a vacation alone last summer. I hit “confirm” to buy the $650 ticket to Cusco and I looked around at my coworkers. “I just did something crazy.”
I had never been to South America. I don’t speak Spanish. I had never booked a week-long vacation by myself. But I wanted to camp, meet new people and stretch beyond — way beyond — my comfort zone.
The August morning before I flew out, I felt nervous and lonely. I sent texts to several girlfriends from the airport: “I can’t believe I’m doing this.” I landed in the Lima airport at 11 p.m., and spent the night on a bench in an airport cafe, my head resting on my backpack.
I was shaken awake by a kindly Ecuadorian girl who had been sleeping on a bench across from me: “Are you on the 7 a.m. flight to Cusco? It’s time to go.” We stood in line together in the dark to board the plane. It was raining and my hands were cold. When we arrived in Cusco, a small dry city nestled in the mountains, the sun had risen and we wished each other well and hugged goodbye.
I walked out to the parking lot and dozens of aggressive cab drivers were in my face. “Lady, taxi?” In a slight panic, and short of Peruvian sols, I couldn’t find the guy from my tour company Andean Life who was supposed to pick me up. I circled twice before I found a man holding a small white sign with my name handwritten on it. I exhaled. He shuttled me and two guys from Fresno, Calif. — who later became my friends because they were on my trek to Machu Picchu — to our respective hostels.
The first night I was afraid to be out in the city alone in the dark. And anyway, I had a ripping headache from altitude sickness. So I curled up in my queen-sized bed with my wool cap on and lime green fleece zipped to my chin. I fell asleep at 6:30 p.m. and slept 14 hours. The next afternoon I asked a blond American girl who was sitting on a curb near Plaza de Armas flipping through a Lonely Planet for the time. She invited me to meet her and two of her friends for dinner that night (they were all 20, I kept my age to myself). The day after that I tagged along with three Canadians from my hostel on a day-long excursion white water rafting on the Urubamba river.
That night, a group of us danced with abandon till 3 a.m. I heard the song “Put Your Hands Up for Detroit” by Fedde Le Grand and yelled with glee.
My last four days I took my prearranged trek to Machu Picchu. I hiked and camped in the Andes with seven people and my guide Domingo who called me “Mi vida” or “My life.”
I learned a bit of Spanish, gave candy and coca leaves to the indigenous Quetchua families and gazed at the Milky Way.
Those simple eight days changed me in ways I didn’t think possible. I came back and all I could talk about was leaving again. Alone. It gave me a new sense of confidence and perspective. I tackled something scary and I was not only fine, I was exhilarated. I didn’t wear any makeup for days. I had little sense of time. I made friends. My inhibitions fizzled away.
And now I have that bubbling up feeling again. I hit click again, and this time I used 35,000 miles. I paid $57 for a 9-day trip at the end of April. I’m going to Guatemala.