Today, I’m not going to tell you about how great it is in Cusco or of the great adventures I’m having. No, because it’s not like that all the time. Before I left on this journey, many people told me how envious they were because I had the courage to sell my house and my furniture, give a bunch of my stuff away and quit my job to come here. Some may think that I’m having the time of my life gallivanting around Peru on a seven month extended vacation, embarking on daily adventures and living it up, but in all reality it’s hard sometimes and that’s what I want to write about today.
Actually, today I’m just going to let myself type and try not to critique whether the words I use are captivating enough or if the grammar is correct. My reason is partly because I’m tired of the writer’s block I have been experiencing and partly because my original plan for this blog was to journal about what I’m thinking and how I’m feeling along this journey without the shadow of my self-judgment hanging over me.
Sometimes, or a lot of the time, I can be my own worst critic. It affects the way I’m living here, how I eat, what I experience and, to be honest, what I don’t experience. Much of the time I coop myself up in my cold little room with my tablet trying to find the right combination of words to describe my latest adventure, but the words haven’t been flowing. I try lighting candles, playing comforting music, cuddling with my hot water bottle under the layers of blankets on my bed, but none of it works. Well, I’m done with that.
Part of the reason I am here is supposed to be to work on myself, but I’m not really. I’m living in this great healing community with loads of yoga and meditation classes, healing circles, sacred dance classes and I’m not taking part in them. I hear the drums beating and people singing in the sala while I rack my brain staring at the tablet sitting on my lap. It shouldn’t be this hard. It wasn’t this hard journaling on the Camino every night, but then again this ain’t no Camino.
Speaking of the Camino, this night last year I was walking the streets of Logroño in Spain with a bottle of vino and my good Camino buddy, Andrew from Germany. To be honest I have grieved a little over the Camino lately. It was a special journey, a once-in-a-lifetime journey that can never be repeated. It’s something I considered doing again before I made my final decision to come here to South America. As a matter of fact about two weeks ago I contacted my travel agent and consulted with him about the possibility of changing my return flight home from Buenas Aires, Argentina on March 15th to a flight from Lima to Paris ASAP so I could walk the pilgrimage again and recapture that Camino experience. However, when I received his response I couldn’t do it. It wouldn’t have been the same. There’s a reason why I’m here. I don’t know what it is right now, but one day I will. When that day comes, I’ll look back and say, “Yep, if it wasn’t for that South American journey, I wouldn’t be here now.” and then I’ll smile.
In the meantime, I’ll stay the course and try to be open to what will be whether it’s shitty or fabulous. Right now, I feel like I need to be more real with my blog and acknowledge my thoughts and feelings no matter how challenged they are. So, my plan is to begin journaling more about my daily reality, the struggles and the triumphs, because, really, those are the experiences that make up the most of this journey. They are the experiences that push me, eat away at me or make me beam inside. They are the experiences that will ultimately change how I think and how I live. Dining on ceviche in Lima or walking the ancient ruins of Machu Picchu are amazing experiences, but it’s the daily stuff, some of it kind of crappy and some of it meaningful, that will affect the decisions I make today for my tomorrow. This is what I need to write more about and without that self critic that weighs me down.
Yesterday and today for example, I had a pretty rough time. Cusco isn’t always this beautiful city you hear about with cobbled streets, red roofs and happy, smiling people with funky hats.
Yes, that exists, but like anywhere, there are things about this place that aren’t so nice, including some of the interactions with people. Judgments are made and envy is expressed. I have become humbled walking these streets and grateful for my life back home, but at the same time I wonder why I’m so lucky to have what I do. I feel almost guilty for it.
Beginning from yesterday, I was experiencing writer’s block. My inner-critic was working overtime judging what I typed onto my tablet so much that I stopped typing to re-read a paragraph only to delete it and start over. Ugh. It was draining. My butt was sore from sitting, so I decided to walk up to the Temple of the Moon and sit there with my tablet in an effort to find clarity. On my way up the hill I encountered a drunken man who wouldn’t leave me alone. A young man, walking up the hill ahead of me, must have sensed my discomfort and the drunken man’s weird behaviour, because he stopped, leaned himself against a white, crumbling wall and watched the exchange. The drunken man’s breath smelled putrid. He stood in front of me, staring with his glossy, red, darting eyes and began talking to me with a strangely uncomfortable enthusiasm. When he said, “You’re very beautiful” and began laughing like Frankenstein’s Egor, I turned around and booked it back down the hill fast. Thanks, but no, not good. The story of the raping at the Temple of the Moon in broad daylight quickly flashed into my mind, like a blaring red emergency beacon, and I cursed myself for even thinking I could go up there alone.
It’s unfortunate that I can’t just walk into the hills or the eucalyptus forest around here when I feel the need for peace and rejuvenation. That’s what I miss about home, the freedom to pick one of my favourite forest sanctuaries and walk along the dirt trail, through the trees listening to the leaves rustling in the wind and the birds chirping. I miss sitting at my favourite viewpoints letting all the stresses of the day melt away. Familiarity is lost here. Where do I go? I’m in the city of Cusco, with its chaos of crazy traffic, honking horns, whistling transit police and exhaust fumes. People are everywhere bumping into each other, darting into the streets, at a stand-off on narrow sidewalks wide enough for one while waiting for cars to barrel past down the narrow cobbled streets.
Garbage bins overflow onto the streets and stray dogs stand in the garbage and eat it.
Waterways are a filthy garbage dump. It’s disgusting to imagine it may be part of Cusco’s water source. I hope not.
Twice a day the water is shut off in this neighbourhood and there is no such thing as heat on demand, at least not where I’m staying. If you’re cold, get your hot water bottle or put on a jacket. Some of these discomforts I am used to now, but some of it really sucks, especially the judgment that goes along with being considered a “rich” gringa.
Last night, after returning from my walk, and the uncomfortable encounter with Egor, I decided to go out for dinner by myself. I brought my tablet along thinking I would be able to relax in the restaurant with their WIFI and concentrate on some writing. On my way down the street from my residence, I tried to pet a stray yellow lab that always lies in the threshold of the same doorway each day.
He snapped at my hand with bared teeth when I reached for the top of his yellow head. Then he lunged and snapped several times at my thighs as I stumbled back quickly to get out of the way. Embarrassed, I looked around and two men coming down the long flight of steps behind me stared at me blankly. I turned and continued down the stairs and around the corner and another man spat at my feet as I walked by. Great…I was really feeling the love. Was it how I looked in my pricey, bright yellow rain jacket or is my energy just attracting this right now? I’m sure in the case of the dog he’s probably had a rough life and doesn’t know who to trust, but the other? What is it that makes someone want to spit at another’s feet?
To top off my string of bad encounters, today while I attempted to buy some tomatoes at the market to make a fresh tomato sauce with basil, garlic and onions, I got a look of disgust coupled with a slow head shake from the woman at the veggie stand while I studied my Spanish book looking for the right words to ask for what I needed. She reluctantly bagged some tomatoes for me and a purple onion, but when I asked her, “Tu tienes cambio por cincuenta soles?” she repeated the same body language again. Maybe I said it badly? I was so discouraged, but at the same time I get it. For one, she likely didn’t have change for a 50 and two, in her eyes I’m a rich gringa. Even though I am not considered rich back home, I am compared to her. Regardless, her body language bothered me and, in my frustration, I tossed the bag of tomatoes back on her stand and walked away.
At the bank I got the same treatment when I tried to make change for two 100 sole bills, so I gave up and walked back to my residence with no tomatoes and no small bills.
So, yeah, it feels like envy exists here. Judgment exists here. It felt ugly. I felt ugly. When I arrived back at my little room, I just wanted to throw my phone away and anything else of value. I tore my black down sweater-jacket off and threw it on my bedroom floor, I tossed my phone on my bed and I left the house again. I walked up the street in the rain and sat down along the very narrow street on a very narrow sidewalk. Tears streamed down my face. The taxi drivers who passed by turned their heads to look, probably wondering what was wrong with the blonde gringa sitting in the rain without a jacket.
Then I moved and sat on a dirty, piss-smelling step against an old, crumbling white stone wall.
My thoughts turned to how it might feel to be one of the many women who set up shop in the streets weaving and knitting, calling out to tourists as they pass by to come look at sweaters, toques and the woven fabrics they lay out on the ground.
Then I wondered what it would be like to be among the poor begging for money.
Some look homeless and kneel on the street with their hands cupped out in front of them, their feet blackened from lack of proper footwear.
As I sat there, imagining what it would feel like to be one of these people, I observed others walking past. What did it feel like to have people walk past without a second glance?
One woman was nice enough to stop and ask if I needed a tissue. I said no and then she wished me well and continued on. I looked down at my red sandals, my designer trekking pants and the nice purple t-shirt I was wearing. A homeless person wouldn’t own these. I couldn’t even pretend to be a homeless person in what I was wearing. The raindrops were cold on my skin and the cool breeze gave me goose bumps. I thought about getting up and walking back home for a blanket and a hot water bottle. A homeless person wouldn’t have that option. I held my face in my hands and cried before I gave in and walked back.
Taryna was in the kitchen when I returned. We had a good conversation about both of our struggles here in Peru. She was completely and constructively honest with me and she’s right, I eat like crap to save money, I don’t cook because of the time it takes away from my writing and I deprive myself of personal healing, growth and wonderful experiences I could be having.
So, it’s time to make a few changes and some of it will involve the structure of my blog. I need to be real. Sure, I’ll write about adventures, but most importantly I need to journal about my thoughts and feelings without my self critic hanging over me, judging me. And, I need to take more time out for me, to nurture myself in this chaotic environment and experience more of the amazing classes they have here, where I’m living, at Healing House.
The changes to my blog will begin with the ‘journal’ page. It will now include my casual thoughts and feelings about my daily life on the road and the new ‘writing’ page will include more focused writing about my adventures. Journal entries may be short or they may be long and they may be more often some weeks than others, but in the end I think the changes will help me combat writer’s block and allow my thoughts and feelings to flow more easily into words. I’m feeling better already!