Big Girl Panties in Peru
On a grey winter morning in Lima, Peru, I saw a badass woman weaving her way through lanes of chaotic traffic. Ten minutes later I saw her laying dead.
“I don’t understand why Peru is being so ruff on me,” I lamented to Jeri, my dear friend and fellow travel lover.
It was my last day in this incredibly diverse and exciting country. But instead of wandering about the capital city like I’d planned, I opted to stay in and enjoy the warm shower and bed I’d been terribly craving. Too many mishaps had already unfolded, and after eight cold nights in Cusco and another in Ollantaytambo, cozy comfort was everything I needed. And I couldn’t complain. I wanted an action-packed experience and that’s exactly what I got.
I still think it’s crazy I laid in a hospital bed almost twelve hours before thinking maybe I should contact someone back home. My vicious parasitic infection had kicked in about 6pm the evening before. By midnight there was an appalled doctor sitting on my hotel bed. By morning, her tender guidance turned to a stern "Come now, and you're staying the day!" By evening I had no say; “We're keeping you tonight.”
In a brief moment of clarity I wondered how come I wasn’t drowning in sadness, how come no one ever asked if I was alone — maybe because it was that obvious — and why all the doctors expected me to be crumbling more than I actually was. It was the strangest place to be feeling the immense calm and confidence I was feeling.
I’m usually a huge cry-baby, you see. The kind that would break down (in private) if my brother takes too long to bring me food or if someone speaks to me too sternly. So all things considered, I should have been crying. But nothing. No tears in the hospital bed and none two nights later when I ended up in a freezing hostel instead of the verified Airbnb I’d booked the night before.
No tears over my missed tours.
No tears when cramps hijacked my plans to hike Montaña Picchu — #TheDevil
No tears when I couldn’t get my evening train ticket changed to an earlier one, despite being sick — I was ready at 10am. My train home was 6:15pm.
No tears when the cafe I went to gave me a bowl of salt for lunch — I slept 3 hours on their couch in exchange.
No tears over the drained energy and bank account too.
And no tears when on the way to my final hotel, for my very last day in Peru, I saw that woman laying between swerving traffic.
I took it as a sign of growth.
But the tears finally fell. In speech class in Trinidad back in 2013, our tutor taught us the trick of looking at the ceiling anytime you feel you’re about to cry. I wiped my face once, twice, and tried to keep looking up. I wiped it a third time, begging myself to stop. Part of me felt I had no right to be crying. I didn’t know that woman. I was being dramatic and making other people’s problems my own. But the hopelessly empathic part of me knew it was completely human. So there at the check in counter as the receptionist plugged away at his keyboard, the tears flowed with very little control. It felt like a cleanse.
“I’m just here like ‘What is Peru trying to tell me? … Slow the f**k down’?”
My friend Danielle chuckled at my frankness.
I like being honest with myself. Life is more exciting and fulfilling then. And with these solo experiences, I find it crucial too. When nobody’s there to remind me to pull my big girl panties up and not even consider crying, I have to do it myself. I have to be my own mother, big brother, and best friend, giving myself the different bits of advice needed for getting the best out of each experience. And I have to do that while still being my crazy, determined, and apparently courageous self. Cheesy as it sounds, you never know what you’re made of until these unfamiliar situations challenge you to dig really deep. You leave home convinced you’re a cry baby, and return with the realisation that actually, you’re all grown up now. That’s what’s so important about traveling, and about looking for the good in everything too. And that’s why if you’re considering booking a ticket today, I’m still the one encouraging you to GO FOR IT with all your heart and your prettiest big girl panties — or big boy pants.