I knew something was wrong when walking up 10 stairs winded me and left me sweating and needing a break. The young Peruvian woman carrying a a full load of goods to sell up high, who passed me, asked if I was ok, assuming it was the altitude. No, no, I responded. Only a week or two ago, I was at 6,000m. She looked at me dubiously, but passed on.
I pushed thoughts of sickness out of my head – not now, please not now. I am visiting the sacred valley for just two days and then a trek, I thought to myself. I racked my brain for what I could have eaten in the past few days that would make me sick. I tried to think of others around me who were sick. Nothing came to my, no reason why I should be feeling this way. I hadn’t even been eating street food (well, not that much!).
As I reached the top of the hill, I collapsed onto a rock (yeah, it was probably sacred, but I really needed a place to sit at that moment), coated in sweat and shaking slightly. What was wrong? What was wrong?! not now, please….
After taking a few pictures (to remind myself I had been there), I made my way down and caught a bus to Ollanta, the town where I planned to spend the night.
After two bus rides and a conversation with a man on the bus (who told me that my spanish was good — whoa, he must not be used to gringas speaking spanish!) — I clumsily made my way to a hostal. At that point, I was ready to collapse….
Fortunately, the first hostal had a room at a good price (though I might have paid anything!). Shivering, I crawled into bed with all my clothes on and prayed for sleep. It was 3:30 in the afternoon.
17 hours later, following shivers, sick dreams and worries that I was really sick, I decided I had to get out of bed — at least to make it back to Cusco. I tried a light breakfast, I did see the ruins in Ollanta and I did make it back to Cusco (though I skipped the ruins in Chincero in favor of more rest).
But during those 17 hours, in between worries that I had the flu or worse, giardia, I realized that no one knew where I was at that moment. There I was, sweating it out in Ollanta, feeling like hell, and no one who loved and cared about me knew where I was at that moment. No one was going to come in with chicken noodle soup (which I desperately wanted).
I have lived on my own for a number of years. I have traveled, I have been independent (fiercely so at times), I have taken care of myself. But, for the most part, people have known where I am. People can get in touch with me. I can get in touch with people. I might live alone, but I am not alone.
Traveling solo, I have had a few moments like this — when I am acutely aware of how alone I am. I love traveling solo. I love the freedom of choosing where I want to go, when I want to go, how I want to go. Traveling solo has given me the freedom to talk to strangers, to meet people and share dinner. And also the time to spend with myself, to get a sense of what I want and where I am going (more on that in a week or so….).
But, there have also been these other moments, when I am sick or tired or scared…. when I feel utterly and totally alone. When I cannot (due to lack of connectivity or sickness or distance) reach out to others around me. Those are the tough moments. Fortunately, there have only been a few of those. But after I recover (which I seem to have now — fever and pain free!), I am always so happy to connect with friends and family — I have new appreciation for those connections.
I have not always made people my thing, opting for skiing or climbing, hiking or travel — by myself if need be, in order to get out and go! But, one of the big lessons on this journey for me, has been to start making people my thing. To start opening my world to those around me and, maybe not less to the things I want to do, but more sharing in the things I want to do. Being in that room, 17 hours of utterly-alone-time, I know that I do not want that.
So, here’s to Inca ruins and traveling solo and making people my thing!
and special thanks to C.P. for reminding me of that!