Travel is a pilgrimage

 Today, my niece Shauna called me from Peru…  Do you know that I once lived  there? In the early ‘70s, I taught English at an elementary school in the southern part of the country… my very first job! Shauna has just completed a 3 month research period in the Peruvian Amazon.  I traveled there as well, and from her accounts, the character of the region has changed little in the elapsed 40 years.

I remember that the schedule said it would take 12 hours to make the distance from Lima to Pucalpa. All of my pictures of Peru have been lost, but these ones, lifted from Google Images look very much like the memories I have… vehicles lined up for miles because of washouts! We spent a total of 72 hours getting stuck, pushing the bus, and sliding off the road an uncountable number of times… the mud caked so thickly in the wheel wells that the tires could barely turn.

After a couple of days recuperating in the steamy river town, we got on board a barge that delivered us, five days later, to Iquitos. What a voyage! On that cramped deck there were travelers from about 20 different countries. We communicated with one another in what I called, a linguistic relay… For example, Martin, an English guy wanted to speak to the Czech girl; so he first talked to me in English… In Spanish, I asked the Argentinean guy to pass on the message to a German fellow who could speak Czech…

A memory that will stay with me till my grave is of my young self, eyes closed, toes dangling off the edge of the boat, muddy water from the Ucayali River spraying my body… Someone had a tape recorder and Cat Steven’s “Moon Shadow” was playing over and over again… That marked the first of many times that I felt immersed in something magical.

Shauna wrote letters during her 3 month odyssey. This is the last paragraph of her farewell from Peru:                  

“In the end, I got all the information I needed, and much more valuable than data – an experience that has left an imprint on my soul forever.  Like one of the PhD students here said – there’s just something about this place, that when you’re in the thick of it, you can’t wait to get out, but once you leave – you long to get back…”

 Peru did that to me too… it imprinted Latin America indelibly on my soul.  I read once that, “Travel is a pilgrimage – an inward as much as an outward journey.” That’s so very true, isn’t it Shauna?



Filed under Family and Friends, Writing

4 responses to “Travel is a pilgrimage

  1. Yes, and its the outward journey that you can capture in photographs, but its the inward journey and accumulation of the little things that make the lasting imprint – and surprisingly become your strongest memories. Like Cat Stevens on repeat, or for me, maybe its my daily bath in the quebrada. Give me a few years, and I’ll let you know.

  2. How very true. Early experiences can imprint themselves in a way that lasts a lifetime. My key experience was working in rural Colombia in 1973.The long, muddy rides on ancient, rickety, brightly-painted ex-school buses, interminable waits at chaotic ferry crossings, and boat trips on the muddy Magdalena river remind me greatly of the Peru experiences you relate. I was not always comfortable or well there, but after I returned home I longed to go back. I never have returned to Colombia, but undoubtedly ended up living in Mexico because of that experience in my youth.

    • Wow! The same thing is true for me. I remember arriving back in Canada and being asked, “How was Peru?” My first experience at not being able to explain with words what my mind and my soul felt so clearly. Peru set me firmly on another life path… No doubt about that. By the way, I have not returned to southern Peru either… I need to look into that.

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