I still remember the day I left home. It was just three months ago. I stepped out of the comfort with my mother on the verge of tears, my little dog barking and a big, green, worn-out Decathlon backpack on my shoulder. Now, it’s a long way back home.
Since I didn’t plan anything that was more than two weeks afar, I didn’t book any flight. I just came back from my two-days trip of the Sacred Valley, covering Ollantaytambo, Pisac, and the flabbergasting Moray’s Inca ruins, and I reserved a seat on the cheapest bus I could find with destination Arequipa – it will proceed with Tacna, Arica, and Santiago. Actually, it’s a very long way back home.
The last days have been tiring but liberating. I learnt first-hand that I couldn’t bear more than three months of traveling at this rhythm. My circadian clock has shifted to a natural 6.30 or earlier alarm. I couldn’t stop visiting, exploring, literally running from one place to another looking to tick off the list everything I have planned for the day. I left time, of course, for wandering aimlessly among the cities’ markets, the feebly lighted alleyways, the mysterious archaeological sites, the national parks.
But I have no more fuel. I feel I need a pause, at least a week of regeneration accompanied by tasty Italian food. Not that I didn’t like South American cuisine. I’m just a bit tired to eat rice at every meal – the backpacker’s main source of carbohydrates throughout the day.
My mistake (was it a mistake, actually?) was that I couldn’t stop traveling. Even though I said many times ‘today I’ll have a break’ or ‘I’ll stay at the hostel writing, reading, drinking a cold lemonade’ I have never respected my brain’s will. Every time something would come up: an interesting place mentioned by a hostel roommate, a concert manifest spotted just wandering around the neighborhood seeking a cheap place where to have lunch. Sometimes these things took a couple of days to check them out, so time has passed.
When I came back from the Salkantay Trek, my first worry was to rest two days and let my clothes dry. Few hours after I came back, I was renting the equipment for a much more demanding trek, Choquequirao. The long, overnight bus rides didn’t stop me from preparing my daypack to go out exploring just arrived in the hostel.
To say all the truth, I was also tired of people. I couldn’t stand anymore the unpleasant way they wanted to pitch you for a massage, a tattoo, or whatever they had to sell. The worst parts are, I think, the bad treatment you receive when you don’t buy anything and the feeling you have been screwed up when you find you paid a higher price just because ‘tourist’. It’s been like this in Perù as in Bolivia. Many just see you as a dollar/euro sign, and seldom you can set an interesting, sincere conversation. If I want something I come to you, otherwise just don’t chase me.
Likewise, I couldn’t stand anymore standard conversation between backpackers – ‘Where are you from?’ ‘Where have you been so far?’ ‘Where do you suggest to go next?’ ‘How’s your hostel?’ and so on. These chats might become very redundant that you don’t really want to meet new people.
I learned so much from these three months, which really I felt much longer, that I could write a book. The people I have met, the food I have eaten, the places I have visited, the feelings I felt…everything helped setting up a big, personal picture of South America.
I wanted to come back where everything started, where I painstakingly prepared my luggage that many times revealed itself to be too heavy or inappropriate. That’s another lesson which finally got deep into my mind: pack fucking light. We don’t regret the things we didn’t bring, just the goods we overloaded.
I missed my few friends home, my family and my girlfriend. Sometimes, after the rough nights spent in the rainy cloud forest, I missed my comfortable bed. I could definitely travel more if I had to; right now I just feel the need to come back and enjoy the things too often I complained of. And I want to read my notes, listen to the voice memos and watch the countless pictures I have taken.
I’m writing this when I’m about crossing the Perù-Chile border, coming back to my first oversea country. I’m in a minibus surrounded by Peruvian rough women. They are asking me to smuggle cigarrillos to the other side. That’s a big NO babes. A smell of shit is awkwardly diffusing in the bus. I can’t get whether it comes from the outside or the inside. I strongly hope for the first.
From Arica, a twenty-eight hours bus ride await. And then a 19-hours flight. A very, very long way back home.