Since returning from the Big Journey trip to Peru I’ve been asked by several people, if I was changed by the Peru experience and even if I “found myself”. After flippantly responding that I didn’t realize I was lost, I began to ponder on the perceived wisdom that travel broadens the mind.
Although only short in length and not comparable to the fashionable gap year, I defy anyone to watch the sunrise over Mach Picchu and remain unmoved, or stand in the Amazon Rainforest at night and not develop deeper respect for nature. However, upon further reflection, I think it’s the people not the locations that have left the biggest impact on me. And by people, I refer not only to the local Peruvians but also my fellow travellers and our highly skilled escort.
As a lone traveler on the Peru excursion and someone who is naturally self-contained, I expected to be comfortably on the edges of the travelling group – I couldn’t have been more wrong. From the outset the group seemed to relax together and make no distinction between couples, families and single travelers despite the significant differences in ages and backgrounds. I suppose its possible that the fact that we all chose Peru meant that we were like minded, but I don’t think that’s the case, I’m inclined to give the credit for the immediate sense or camaraderie to the BJC escort.
To act as a true host to so many people in a foreign country is a rare skill, it requires a combination of experience, local knowledge and a real gift for reading people. Our BJC escort possessed all of this in spades. The result was that after only a few hours we were all laughing, joking and sharing more than polite exchanges. Of course once you feel relaxed in company, you are more inclined to let your guard down and share the experience of travelling.
When setting off, I had certainly not anticipated how much enjoyment and increased understanding I would gain from fellow travellers as well as local guides. The group was predominantly American (and based on UK media coverage of the current election race in the US, it’s good to be reminded that most of the US population are in fact lovely people with rational beliefs, not gun toting extremists) with several areas of the UK also represented. The daily chat naturally flowed from previous travel experience (often extensive) through to more topical issues. I’ll hold my hand up and say I enjoyed and learned as much from the lively after dinner debates about transatlantic current affairs as I did during our daily excursions.
We also shared some personal milestones on the trip. One special moment which still makes me smile, was a birthday surprise cleverly orchestrated by our escort. Rather than a cake, the birthday boy was presented with a sparkler laden Guinea Pig, the national dish of Peru eaten at family gatherings and on special occasions. The sampling of Guinea Pig was something we had all looked forward to with equal measures of excitement and apprehension, the fact that we all shared the tasting together in such a lively and fun way was very special indeed. My verdict - probably not a dish I’ll order again, but certainly a moment I’ll never forget.
Along with out BJC escort, we were also blessed with excellent local guides in each region whose knowledge was impressive. However, it was their obvious pride for the country and their passion for the future of Peru which was most affecting. They gave not only the scripted history of the regions and sites, but shared opinions and updates on current Peruvian events. In a country where only 10% of the population is reported to be over 65, the youthful energy is palpable.
So did I re-discover myself in Peru? No.
Did I broaden my mind or just build up a list of amusing anecdotes? On balance, I think I did broaden my mind: partly by experiencing the shear humbling, majesty of the Peruvian landscape; but mainly by sharing the experience with people I would never otherwise have met, listened to and laughed with - and I think this is perhaps this is the biggest contribution a skilled travel escort can make. By removing all the ‘stressy’ aspects of travelling and acting as a skilled host, Big Journey Company enabled me to make friendships and create memories that will last a lifetime.