Month Two Check-in: Jess

How are you feeling physically?

Great!  We've been pretty physical lately between surf camp and white water rafting in Cusco.  Even hoofing it up the steps here is a good work out.  We went on a short one-hour hike yesterday and were pretty much winded the entire time.  I'm really looking forward to hiking the Inca trail and testing some of my endurance!

Hiking in Cusco, Peru.

Hiking in Cusco, Peru.

How are you feeling mentally/emotionally?

I'm feeling pretty solid, although there are ups and downs.  The other night I woke up at 3:30 a.m. and stayed awake for over an hour stressing about what I'll do when we get back to the U.S.  

It seems silly in the light of day, but my anxiety hits me most at night, and it's hard to stop it once it sets in.  We're only two months into this yearlong adventure, and here I am stressing about how I'll renew my car's plates.  Luckily I finally fell asleep and felt better in the morning.

Some days, I feel just okay.  Other days I feel happier than I've felt in a long time.  We get lots of sunshine and exercise and time to explore our interests.  It ebbs and flows like it does for everyone else, we just happen to be on a trip while it's happening.

In the Plaza de Armas, Cusco.

In the Plaza de Armas, Cusco.

What's your favorite part of the last month?

I really enjoyed learning to surf, despite being pretty bad at it.  I just liked being in a really social atmosphere, getting exercise everyday and being challenged.  That has probably been my favorite activity so far.

Learning to surf in Lima.

Learning to surf in Lima.

Aside from that, my favorite part of the trip is how comfortable I've come to feel in South America.  It's so much dirtier, less efficient, more chaotic than the U.S., but I'm finding my time here to be really satisfying.  

Can you spot me in this local market in Cusco?

Can you spot me in this local market in Cusco?

Children regularly come to work with their parents, there are animals everywhere (in a way that would make our health department freak), but daily life just seems more congruent with happiness.  

People spend time together, they spend time outdoors, they see their families.  Their homes aren't huge or particularly nice, but it strikes me as a better recipe for fulfilling lives than what we're doing culturally in the U.S.  At first I felt out of place, stumbling through with my broken Spanish.  After two full months, I feel settled.  I don't feel awkward walking around, communicating with locals, living my life.  I could see myself living here one day in the future.  

What's your least favorite part from the last month?

I'm feeling pretty cut off from friends and family.  We've done a better job of making friends on the road and taking chances (like staying with a sweet couple in Lima who we met for like 10 minutes in Colombia).  

With new friends having ice cream in Lima

With new friends having ice cream in Lima

Otherwise though, I'm missing those everyday connections you have with coworkers, acquaintances, friends.  I miss my girlfriends and our conversations.  Nate's been great, but it's not realistic to rely completely on one person for that.  Facetime is nice, but it's just not the same.  

What have you learned about yourself?

I am realizing how tightly wound I was back in Chicago.  

I didn't realize how relaxed I was on the trip until we spent some time with a group of Americans our own age at surf camp.  They asked lots of questions- totally NORMAL questions- like, "How long is the ride to get to the beach?  Where are we going today?  What time should we expect to get back?  What's for lunch?"  

At the time I was taken aback by these questions and my own reaction, which was, "Why does it matter?  It will all work out."  

Enjoying a beer and a soccer game in a cozy pizza place in Cusco.

Enjoying a beer and a soccer game in a cozy pizza place in Cusco.

Back home I wanted to crawl out of my skin after a 30-minute commute home from work.  I would do ANYTHING to distract myself from the mind-numbing time of sitting on a bus in traffic heading home from my office.  And I had so much help to distract myself- email, Facebook, podcasts, my phone, I even watched Netflix to pass the time.  I used to get so tense commuting in Chicago traffic that I had to force myself to meditate so I didn't explode when I got home. 

Now I find myself boarding buses/vans/trains/planes/motor taxis for three, four, five-hour long rides with nothing to do but sit quietly and look out the window.  And I'm completely fine.  It doesn't even occur to me to ask the length of journeys most times.  We'll get there, wherever we're going.  

Watching the sunset in Punta Hermosa, Peru.

Watching the sunset in Punta Hermosa, Peru.

People who know me know that I'm not the free-flowing hippie type.  I like structure and information.  But after two months in a place where more information doesn't always help (that direct bus ended up picking up 20 different families that all crowded into the bus's aisles), I've learned to just relax.  

What have you learned about Nate?

Nothing earth-shattering, but I've learned recently how good Nate is at orienting himself in a new city.  We spent less than 2 days in Cusco before he was navigating us through tight little alleys back to our apartment.  

Navigating Cusco!

Navigating Cusco!

The other night we went out in search of hot chocolate and ended up following this huge crowd to the plaza where Semana Santa had commenced, and more than 5,000 people were watching a religious procession.  As we left, we twisted and turned through back streets, but Nate still knew exactly where we were and how to get home.  It's a nice quality to have in a travel partner!