I remember a time way back in January in my parents´ kitchen when I was preparing for my upcoming trip to South America and I received my new hiking shoes from the mailman. I put them on and they fit perfectly of course. If there´s anything I have a knack for, it´s ordering any type of clothing or accessory online and having it me perfectly. Even though they fit me comfortably and there was no need to send them back and re-order, I still felt the need to complain just a tiny bit. My impressive new hiking shoes that would be an integral component of my transportation plan and act as a second appendage over the next year were unexpectedly bulky and made my already elongated feet look like giant blue clubs. But now as I´ve noticed they faded a bit in color, the treads have been worn in, and how they molded themselves quite nicely to my now battered, many-a-time blistered, and flip-flop tanned flippers, I think back fondly of all the places they´ve taken me over the past eight months and am grateful for both how well they´ve held up and all the memories they also carry along with me. As I near the end of my South America trip and prepare to head back to the United States for a ¨vacation¨ before the next adventure, I´d like to give a salute to my little reliable and trustworthy soldiers, and if you´re new here, a quick recap of all of the adventure that transpired over the past eight months.
- Pro Mujer Days in Puno – I first set my little hikers (should really think of an endearing nickname huh?) to use as a staple to my casual work attire while volunteering with Pro Mujer in Puno, the city I just love so much. I had actually brought with me a pair of practical brown dress shoes as I was under the impression I would be dressing in business casual attire while working with the microfinance organization. However, after the first day, I quickly realized that I was odd woman out in such attire and reverted back to concerns of comfort and as a result, my khaki pants and hikers. They served me well throughout my two months in this town set on Lake Titicaca where I did everything from explore ancient cemeteries to eating guinea pigs to frolicking in a garden of large stone penises.
- Machu Pichu – My first test of endurance with these blue bodied bad boys was on the trek to Machu Pichu in April. I started out on the first day soaked to the bone and freezing as we biked downhill from Abra Malaga in the pouring rain. We later had to trudge through knee deep mud to get past a landslide blocking the road. I think this was actually the first time the little guys felt dirtiness. After a much eventful 4 days filled with all of the drama and weirdness a tour of young single adventurers can handle, I made it up to Machu Pichu as a very broken, sore and cranky woman. I think I even thought at one point, ¨Oh what´s the big deal?¨, in jest of course.
- Ecuador – For the majority of my time in Ecuador, the hikers got a not at all deserved rest as I traded them in for my yellow rubber boots to spend my days feeding and harvesting shrimp amongst an amicable group of traditional family-loving shrimpmen. After leaving the shrimp farm, I was surprised to see that I actually got into decent shape out there. It seems lifting nets out of the water and moving large baskets of shrimp really melted the pounds away and I was moving about much more fluidly. I noticed this especially when I went for a hike in Otavalo and completed the trail with very little effort and about an hour and a half less than recommended time. I was pleased, but this momentary pride died a little as my little hikers pointed aimlessly around Tulcan trying to find their way to the Ecuador-Colombia border known as Rumichaca with almost 27 kg of my life strapped to my person. No amount of hiking could have made this effort easy.
- Colombia – Due to the much welcomed warm climate and ample amounts of beach time, the hikers again were on reserves and only brought out on travel days. I spent most of my time in Cali swiveling around dance floors in my brown dress shoes and while in Cartagena and Taganga, working on an impressive flip-flop tan. They made a comeback in the cooler climates of Bogota carrying me several kilometers out of the way to get my camera serviced as I flat-out refused to go on the overly claustrophobic metrocars again. After arriving by plane in Leticia, they then carried me a few kilometers from the airport to my hostel, a really obnoxious and unnecessary move as I reflect back even though at the time I thought it would be cool to walk out of an airport to my accommodations.
- The Jungle Boat – This is the point in my blog where there is a big gap in continuity as a flurry of travel activity, diminished access to wifi, and a distraction in the form of my future Mongol Rally teammate (yes I´ll admit it), hindered my efforts to update the blog regularly. I left off on the cliffhanger of making my way up to the river boat that would serve as my home for three very long and sweaty days. I still promise to update on all of the details, but suffice it to say, it was a very trying three days of sleeping on a bench and in a hammock. My hikers only took a break from the sweaty mess that was my feet only once I procured a hammock from a vivacious little Brazilian girl who had a propensity to innocently touch me in odd places at odd moments. I reasoned that her offering me an extra hammock justified the occasional boob graze and it was certainly better than the alternative of my face being stuffed in the armpit of my hammock neighbor on the other side.
- San Pedro de Atacama – After a whirlwind boat, plane, bus and Crown Victoria cab ride tour through Peru over the course of six days, I arrived in northern Chile to explore San Pedro de Atacama, billed as the world´s driest desert. I can attest to this fact after drink several liters of water, applying lotion to my hands and still noticing dry skin after a few hours. Here I happily partook in many a tourist activity such as horseback riding and guided tours through the Valle de la Luna y Muerte. The little hikers picked up quite a bit of dust in these parts and lost a little bit more of their color.
- Valparaiso – Even though it´s becoming a more detached memory day by day, I still have to blame and thank my hikers for the day of the robbery. At the beginning of the day, I was blissfully exploring street art throughout the hills and the Concepción district without incident. I later climbed up a massive set of colorful stairs next to a defunct funicular to the park and basketball where one wrong turn would leave me in a massive world of fear and confusion and short one laptop, one camera and several years worth of work and memories. My little hikers held up though and quickly hustled me out of danger´s way to a safe place back down the stairs and a block away where a bar with wifi would provide the lifeline of a human connection with the ever patient and understanding D.
- Santiago – As I composed myself and tried to get back into the traveler´s mood of exploring a new city, I gave my hikers another break in this bustling capital city, trading them in for my brown dress shoes, a khaki skirt and my polka dot trench coat. I was in some odd state of ¨my boyfriend just dumped me¨ mentality and reasoned that if I dressed up and looked presentable (read: not like a backpacker), I would have better luck in this city and I would feel better. It seemed to work, though I ended up with some painfully blistered feet as I stubbornly walked through all parts of the city in my dancing shoes.
- Mendoza – I compromised with the ¨looking nice¨ and added an element of practicality, albeit terribly uncoordinated, by keeping the skirt but swapping in my hikers. This looks silly and it definitely drew a few stares, but I didn´t care as me and my hikers went out for dinners and wine tastings together as one happy couple.
Now my hikers are fitted to my feet once again preparing for my last bus ride in South America for this trip. We head off to Buenos Aires this evening where hopefully I´ll have plenty more memories to carry with me. Then we head home where I´ll give them a brief break before the next adventure across several regions of the U.S. and Asia begin!