Ten years ago, I spent a blissful two weeks in Peru.
It was my first "kidult" (term coined by Jenn) adventure without my parents. I climbed Machu Picchu, I hugged alpaca, I boated out to the floating reed islands, I ate so much quinoa soup.
Ever since, Peru has occupied a special place in my heart. I talk about the country with starry-eyed adoration and have nothing but fond memories of my time there.
That's about to change.
I have mixed feelings about living in Cusco for five weeks. I loved Cusco, really and truly loved it. I can't wait to see it as an adult, not a silly 16-year-old. I'm so excited to climb Machu Picchu again, this time with Jeff (and Martin and his husband - best double date ever). I can't wait to stroll the cobblestone streets and eat all of the quinoa soup and show my guy the places that lit my teenage soul on fire.
But I've hit that 3-month South America slump, where everything is hard and my resilience is waning.
To be fair, because Ben told me it would happen: I may have hit a 3-month slump regardless of location, even in a place like Europe (with good internet, oh please just give me good internet). That slump might be inevitable in a life of travel. But honestly... I think South America made the slump come more quickly and feel more insurmountable.
Every time my sinuses burn from the polluted air, it feels like a massive strain, far worse than it actually is. Every time I get vertigo from the altitude, I desperately long for a day on my family's boat, happily situated at sea level. Every time the internet drops, I feel like a failure at work, like I'm letting down my team. Every time I try to fall asleep amidst the din of La Paz, I wonder if I'll wake up with food poisoning, darkly wonder who in our group has already succumbed (there's always someone).
I'm working past it, I'm powering through, but I've definitely felt better.
Bolivia is chewing us up and spitting us out. Spitting us out into Peru, where the internet (also) sucks, you (also) have to be careful about what you eat because food poisoning, and the altitude is (also) at dizzying heights.
The things that wear me down right now aren't going to change when we land in Cusco. I am trying, I promise I'm trying, to roll with it and find joy and make the best of my circumstances. My stubborn optimism is crawling desperately up through the anger and weariness and exhaustion. It's just a lethargic form of optimism, slow to react and elusive when frustration builds.
I can't tell if my negative mental space is really a result of all those little hardships, piled on and persistent through the months, or something deeper. I don't know if traveling in the developed world would alleviate it. I think it would, I really think it will, but I feel so frustrated and exhausted that I'm not sure. That's why I can't wait to get to Europe. I'll find out in London and in Prague, where the living is easier and where the internet is good enough for me to do my job.
Whatever the root, I'm scared that my negative mental space will take away the starry-eyed joy that I associate with Peru. Actually, fear isn't quite right - it's more dread. I dread the inevitability of getting on a plane to London and thinking thank god I'm out of that damn country.
I'm dreading the fact that trying to live and work in Peru, where it's not easy to live and work, will crush my adoration for the country in which I fell in love with travel.