There is something about banana trees that makes me weirdly emotional. Riding in a van through the Peruvian rainforest, listening to shitty, dated pop music, I found myself laughing hysterically as we drove through grove after grove of banana trees. Something about how I’d never seen them before coming to South America, and how I don’t know when I’ll next see them. Something about how I used them to clean my house, and cook on instead of cookie sheets, and how funny they look when they fruit and how abuela used to bring me bunches every two weeks even if they had already started rotting, and something about how everyone else in that dilapidated bus thought this ride was so incredibly dangerous, but it felt so incredibly normal to me… I found myself sitting among a bunch of strangers laughing to myself to avoid crying, because in that moment it hit me that in just two short weeks, I’m leaving South America.
I needed Peru so badly. I needed this time to get back to the girl who finds frisson in banana trees and rickety vans and “despacito” on repeat, to rediscover parts of myself I’ve neglected for the past two years, parts that I really like. I start conversations by teasing you for drinking shitty beer. I love really, really hard and I’m not afraid of getting messy and I revel in mud puddles. I like mate in the morning and I have a problem with my backpack exploding on hostel floors. And I really like the person I’ve become over the past two years in South America.
Peru has given me the time and space to really think about what I’m going to miss about South America. I look at people riding in the back of a truck down the mountain with an empathetic envy — when will I next stand in a truck bed, wind whipping my baseball cap off my head, hitchhiking into site as the sun goes down? When will I next pull mint leaves from the side of the mountain and add them to my tea? Will I still dream in Spanish? The night before we left on our trek it rained. We looked up at the sky light, a hole cut in the zinc roof and fell asleep to the familiar sound that sooner rather than later will no longer be familiar. I miss these things as they happen, in the way you miss your best friend when you’re sitting next to them after a long time apart, through a lens of overwhelming gratitude — for how I’ve lived the past two years and the people who’ve shaped my life along the way and for everything, everything, absolutely everything.
The people we’ve met in Peru are the type of people I hope stay in my life for a long time. People who travel the way we do, slowly and deliberately, people who’ve made me nostalgic for home in a way I’ve never been, people who asked the right kind of questions, who have stories of their own, who get just as excited about silly things like banana trees as I do…I am refreshed and inspired and my heart is full.
In the middle of the mountains, during the Santa Cruz trek, a girl in our group asked everyone in the tent: When do you feel most free?
If someone asked me that again, I’d reply with a big goofy smile and maybe a tear and say “Right fucking now.” I’d scream it from the top of a mountain. I want the whole world to know how good it feels to exist in my body right now. I am the luckiest person on the planet.
A month ago, when I was in Buenos Aires, I was scared and edgy and hadn’t yet processed how I felt about my service. I was asked a lot of questions I didn’t know the answers to.
What are you going to miss?
What was the best part?
What was the hardest part?
Answers: all of it, none of it. I don’t know yet. I need time. It was an unfinished story. The shitty first draft that Ann Lammott talks about. And I wasn’t ready to share any of it yet. It was raw and messy and not in a good way. But right now, I get it. I know what stories I want to tell and how to tell them. I know what Paraguay means to me now.
Every day I am both more excited and more scared to go home. Excited, because the next adventure is going to be a good one. Because I can hear Avila Beach calling me and because I feel whole. I feel full. I feel ready. But scared, because I know how easily I’m influenced by my environment. Will I lose these contentment that is so clearly a product of South America when I get back to the land of consumption and excess? Or will I be able to maintain, and have a favorite vendor at the farmers’ market, and take time for morning mate, and drop everything to be a good neighbor or sister or whatever? Will my stories resonate in the way I want them to?
Slowly but surely I’m realizing that my reality is about to be incredibly different. In two weeks, Lance will pick me up at the airport (hopefully wearing exclusively American flag apparel), and I’ll get in the front seat of his truck, instead of the bed of it. We’ll drive down the road listening to Beyonce, not Reggaeton, and we’ll eat In-n-Out, not empanadas. Hot showers. Dishwashers. Whole Foods.
At the end of this week I head to Colombia with my best friend. After that, this adventure comes to a close. What a long strange trip it’s been. Thank you, Peru, for helping me return to that blissed-out baseline I have missed so deeply over the past two years. Thank you every single person I’ve met who has asked questions and let me word vomit. Thank you to the Pachamama. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.