Tag Archives: Peru

Staring At The Ceiling: Navigating Depression On The Road

My first couple weeks in India, I spent an inordinate amount of time in bed, door locked. Sometimes I had power, sometimes the fan would slowly revolve to a stop and the heat of the day would wrap itself around me like a thick, stifling blanket. I slept a lot. Went out only long enough to get food. Ignored well-meaning people knocking on my door.
When I got to Peru, a similar thing happened.
The same thing happened when I lived in Washington.
It wasn’t the travel that assaulted me, though being in a new place, with strange customs and a painful distance from friends and family, did contribute to my feelings. What is unchanged in all of these scenarios is me. Sometimes, the only viable option is to stay in bed, shades drawn, quietly pretending like I don’t exist. Not even to myself. Because the reality of existence weighs too much, and I’m not always strong.

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It reminds me of physical exercise, in a way. Some days I work out hard, really pushing myself, for a few days stretch. By day four or five my arms are shaking, my legs feel like bruised rubber, and the thought of a push-up is enough to start the waterworks. Emotions are like that, too. Carry around that heavy stuff for too long, and fatigue sets in.
Except, it’s harder to put down emotions than a free weight, and, when travelling, taking that day (or three) to sit in the dark and recharge doesn’t seem like an option. There are places to go! Food to eat! Adventures to be had!
All of which can be loosely translated as: If I’m not out there DOING, I’m wasting my time, wasting my opportunities.
It’s a hard balance to strike. I knew I didn’t want to go home and say, yeah, I spent all my time looking at the ceiling. However, I knew that pushing myself too hard would just whip around and smack me in the face. So I figured out some things that helped, even a little, and started from there. Maybe they can help you, too. Whether you’re darting around SE Asia, or studying at university, or moving through daily life in your hometown, taking care of yourself is always a priority.

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Music
The single most important factor in feeling okay with the world has been music. When I was in Rishikesh, I could not stand walking through the bustling streets with all the people and the noise and the vendors shouting at me. I told myself I had to do it that way, or else I wasn’t really experiencing the city. Which, I had a point, but it was making it so I didn’t go out at all. Then, I plugged in my headphones. Instantly, the world became a whole lot easier to tackle. Find something that feeds your positive emotions. As tempting as a good Bright Eyes marathon might be, see if you can resonate with an artist who sings about beauty, truth, and love. Not just heartache.

Movement
Yoga has served as a major sustaining practice in my life. Through a divorce, being fired for the first time, losing one of my cats, and on and on, yoga has been a place I can turn to when the noise of the world gets too loud. It is a home that I can take everywhere with me. Developing some kind of mindful movement practice can help you settle more deeply into your body, and in this present moment. I’ve found that when I am truly focused on right now, the fact that I am alive and breathing and in no imminent danger, helps to make those clamouring sirens of oh-my-god-I-can’t-do-this fade away a bit.collagefriends (1).png

 

Asking For Help
I’ve never been great at making friends, and keeping them has been challenging, too. At least, that’s what I’ve told myself. My first night in Delhi, I had a meltdown. When I took to Facebook and posted a plea for help, I was surprised at the response I got. Not my boyfriend, not my family, not the friends I thought I’d grown close to before I left. Almost immediately I received a message from a guy I’d met at a festival, weeks earlier. He became my lifeline that night, and many more times in the following months. Reach out. Keep reaching out, especially when it hurts. Love comes from directions you may never expect.

Take excellent care of yourselves. Be kind. Be soft. Be love.

 

Written by Sarah Hirsch

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In Search of Orion

I’m leaning out of the window of a bus which is hurtling much too fast down a very narrow, very bumpy mountain road. Directly below me, the land drops abruptly away, the bottom of the mountain swallowed by a darkness so heavy I can feel it. The wind whips at my hair, and the silhouetted mountains loom down at me. I feel that I have never seen anything so big in all my life as this landscape which stretches into the night in every direction. I tilt my head upwards. The stars have exploded across the sky. Have there always been this many? I cannot even see the moon. Nothing but stars and shadows and my hair leaping in the wind. I was not consciously searching for it, but my eyes latch onto a familiar constellation. Orion, upside down, blinks back at me.

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I would become accustomed to his presence. To combing the sky until I spotted him, touching base. Orion watched me zig zag my way through northern Chile, ricocheting from mountain-valley landscapes to the coast and back again. When I think of Chile, I think of beach days, mountain hikes, and impossibly vast starscapes.

I never planned to go to Chile, but the decision to take a quick detour on the way from Bolivia to Peru somehow turned into a month. A month soaked in red wine and pink sunsets; a month of cold beaches and scorching deserts; a month which drained my bank account and stole my heart. I cannot find the words to write about Chile. How can an entire country and four weeks of my life be adequately pinned into words on a page? So I’m not going to tell you about Chile. I’m going to tell you about Orion.

Watching the sunrise in the Atacama Desert, Chile
Watching the sunrise in the Atacama Desert, Chile

Orion was there the night we wrapped ourselves in blankets stolen from our hostel and felt our way up a mountain path in the dark to stargaze. The tiny town was called Pisco Elqui and it was nestled at the very bottom of the Elqui valley. The mountains which towered over it from every direction beckoned hikers and horse lovers. The main tourist attraction was a tour of a Pisco distillery. The nearest city a three hour drive away. The four of us had decided to forgo the expensive observatory tours in favour of star gazing the old fashioned way – by going outside and looking up. By midnight we had found our way to a plateau on a mountain high above the city. The only light which reached us came from our own headlamps and the stars. As we lay there, the cold seeping into our bones – “I’m not leaving until I’ve seen at least ten shooting stars!” – we could see the rotation of the earth by the visible shifting of the stars position in the sky. We talked about how even the night sky looked different here than at home. The only constellation we could identify, despite our stargazing apps (yes, really), was Orion. We watched as he slowly slipped into view from behind a distant mountain, surrounded by stars which swooped and dived on our peripheral vision.

Valle de la Luna, Atacama Desert, Chile
Valle de la Luna, Atacama Desert, Chile

Days or weeks later, I found myself cycling through the Atacama desert at five in the morning. I was with the same girls, having decided we would stick together until the border. Orion watched us, nestled in yet another unbelievably vibrant night sky hanging above a pitch black earth. Navigating our way through said blackness resulted in several wrong turns and we were soon racing against the clock to make it to the heart of Valle de la Luna before the sunrise.
This morning, which ended with the three of us cycling the entire length of the valley in the ever more oppressive heat, remains one of my favourite memories of my entire trip. I felt like I was flying as we sped down the winding roads, like we were the only humans in the world and Orion our only witness.

 

The night before I was due to leave Chile, I found myself on a balcony, overlooking the ocean. I had never felt more torn in two the entire trip. One part of me was yearning to keep moving, as ever, while the other part was desperate to stay and learn to paraglide with the friends I’d made there (after months of travelling, this did not strike me as the outlandish dilemma which it now seems, writing of it from a kitchen table in southern England). I stood there while the hostel continued to party below me, staring at the stars. And I realised that, while it was easy to be seduced by the idea of staying with new friends and learning an insane new skill, my own personal form of flight was different. I would not stay. I would cross the border into Peru and lean forward into the next adventure.

Paragliding for the first time - Iquique, Chile
Paragliding for the first time – Iquique, Chile

In the middle of such moments, soon to be relegated to the vaults of memory, I would find myself glancing up at the sky, touching base with my sole constant. And, no matter how many miles I launched myself away from my own peculiar normalcy, the consistency of the night sky reminded me that the world would keep turning, Orion would keep appearing, and my own untrodden path would continue to beckon me onwards.

 

Written by Isabella Millington

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Christmas solo, Christmas coupled

 

When you travel alone, you travel light. The only expectations you have to worry about are your own. The only plans and desires you must navigate are your own. The only arms wrapped around you when you lie down to sleep at night are your own. (For the most part, hey?)

When you travel as a couple, things get both more and less complicated. You have someone to split cab fare and hotel rooms with. You have someone to engage with in conversations about everything and nothing. If you’re lucky (like I am), you’re travelling with someone who has all the earmarks of a best friend.

Last year I undertook my first big, solo, overseas trip to India. I spent five months there, more or less on my own. I made friends during my travels, of course, and spent time on the road with them. But at the end of the day where I spent the night, where I went next, were my choices—and mine alone—to make.

I ended up in Arambol Beach, Goa, for Christmas. It was the perfect place to be, I think, for so many reasons. Being a Portuguese settlement, the catholic influence there is relatively strong. That fact didn’t quite sink in until I turned down an alley one day and found myself stumbling upon a huge, glittering nativity scene built by children out of found objects (what some people might call trash).

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On Christmas Eve I was invited to a live show with a few bands I’d never heard of, at a sweet venue called Twice in Nature. If you’re ever in Arambol, search it out. Great food, perfect ambience. I wasn’t into the first act that night, so I took off for a while in search of food, letting the streets of Arambol guide me, as I had so many times before. I finally landed sat my favorite egg sandwich place and found myself having some of the most delicious (and spiciest!) fish, cooked up by the owner for a couple of his friends for the occasion.

After dinner, I went back to Twice just in time to see Anna RF start their set. When I decided to go to the show, I had no idea I would leave that night with a new favourite set of musicians. I went right up to the stage while they played, dancing my heart out. Several power outages and turns of events later, I found myself onstage, in the dark, surrounded by the band, going absolutely mad with my body. When the power finally came back on, I was breathless and elated and drunk on magic.

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This Christmas was a radically different experience. First, I am in Peru, which is NOT India. Second, I am traveling with my partner, which shifts dynamics dramatically.

We spent Christmas Eve in the beautiful, white stone city of Arequipa. A forty foot tall Christmas tree graced the Plaza de Armas, off to one side of the enormous cathedral that dominated the square. Nearly every store—including pharmacies and gas stations—sold panettone, a sort of fruitcake like baked good oddly popular in Peru. Advertisements saying one thing or another about Navidad dotted the city.

Feliz Navidad

After wandering through the city and indulging in a really good dinner at a Mexican restaurant, we headed back to the hotel in order to watch Nightmare Before Christmas. It has been my tradition, for well over a decade, to watch this movie every Christmas Eve. When we discovered our stolen copy was in German, we abandoned the idea. For a second, I wondered why I wasn’t struck with the loss of it. Then I remembered—2015 broke my tradition, and I hadn’t even noticed until a whole year later.

I can’t remember what movie we settled on, but I do remember falling asleep pretty fast. Then, at midnight, loud booms interrupted my sleep. I came awake with that feeling you get as a kid on Christmas morning: all of the sudden awake, and anticipatory. Steven moved next to me, and together we came up on our knees to peer out the window above our bed.

Fireworks. Everywhere. From the farthest edges of the city to the street behind our house, people were setting off fireworks. Not just bottle rockets and sparklers, though, These were full-on, probably illegal in the United States, light up the sky fireworks. While we could only see a small slice of thecity from our window, it was still magic.christmashatsperu

I guess that’s what it comes down to, for me. My Christmas in India was about as different from my Christmas in Peru as it could have been. Solo versus coupled. (Largely) Hindu versus Catholic. Beach town versus desert city. Raucous versus chill. The thing they have in common, though, is magic. In India, I was free to make whatever choices I wanted, whenever I wanted. I was not free, however, to take the hand of someone I love and enjoy those choices together.

I’m not saying one is better, or worse. I tend not to believe in distinctions like that, especially when it comes to personal experiences. They both had beauty, in their ways, and pain, in their ways.

They both had magic.

Written by Sarah Hirsch

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When it doesn’t feel right

I recently wrote a post about that sense of recognition and belonging that sometimes accompanies travel. In that post, I said that this sensation is one reason I love to travel so much. It’s one reason I love being alive, really. Discovering places and people and things that make me feel more wholly me, more wholly integrated into this world. It is one of the best gifts I feel the Universe can offer.

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So what happens when the opposite is true?

I suppose I’m lucky in this respect. There haven’t been many times in my life, especially in recent years, when I’ve found myself tangling with someone or something that lies on the other side of the resonance spectrum. It’s not a lack of feeling that I’m talking about here. Neutral territory is something I can move through without much problem. However, when I get somewhere and feel like that place is actively telling me to leave, well, that’s when things get complicated. And I’m currently neck-deep in complications.

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It started as soon as my plane landed in Lima. Now, I know Lima isn’t exactly an inviting city for most people. It’s big, noisy, and dirty. A major city in other words, and as such, not exactly a place that most of the chill, semi-hippy folks I enjoy spending time with like to hang out. The only time I even left the airport in Lima was for a quick smoke, and honestly, the parking lot wasn’t so bad. From an objective point of view. Yet this feeling of wrongness was busy taking root with every passing minute. Have you ever walked uphill, with the wind blowing in your face? Imagine that, on an energetic level.

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After an overpriced but delicious meal at one of the airport restaurants, I made my way to my gate and set up shop for a few hours waiting for the plane. I was exhausted of course, so at the time I chalked up my mounting unease to sleep deprivation and stress. Then finally, I was on our way to Cusco and to my destination outside of Pisac, a small intentional community in the foothills of the Sacred Valley.
Sleep came next. A lot of it. A lot more than I needed to fight the jet lag, in fact. When I was awake, I wandered around the community, my eyes wide open and my heart yearning to feel some kind of connection. ANY connection. I felt none. Not with the land, not with the people living at the community. I knew a few of the ‘family members’ from some time they spent in the United States the previous year, but by and large, I felt utterly adrift.
I’ve been here a month, having almost left at least half a dozen times, and I feel only slightly more connected and integrated than before, purely by virtue of getting to know some individuals more.

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Still, the land itself leaves me uncomfortable. It’s beautiful, don’t get me wrong. For me, however, it’s a purely objective beauty. The more I experience this area—the culture, the music, the food—the more this sense of GTFO settles in. Maybe this is a remnant of a past life experience as well. When I went to Hampi, my soul sang. When I arrived in Peru, it began to cry. Is there healing to be done here? Or am I truly just not suited to be here in the first place?
I realised, as I was searching through my photos for this post, that I’ve been reluctant to even take pictures while I’ve been here. I have very few photos of the landscape and almost none of the people. That, in itself, tells me a lot.

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By the time you read this, I will have left the community to explore other parts of Peru and South America. Away from the mountains, away from the rain, away from the expectations and obligations (real or imagined) of the family here, perhaps I will find something that speaks to me.

 

Written by Sarah Hirsch

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