Machu Picchu and the Sun Gate

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There was some light in the sky by the time my bus was halfway up the winding dirt road to Machu Picchu. The jagged mountains formed the most intense horizon I had seen in my life.

A few restaurants and a bathroom have been built next to the entrance gate to Machu Picchu. The line of early risers waited while travel guides offered their services, but I had spent too much money to get there. My ticket to the world wonder cost 200 Soles, and that did not include the accommodation or the train tickets.

I bought my ticket from the official government site, Ministerio De Cultura. It was a pain in the arse for a foreigner. My Peruvian girlfriend printed a voucher and paid for the ticket at the bank (of Spanish speakers obviously), and then from there put the voucher number into the website. There are easier ways to buy tickets more directly in Cusco. The problem with buying these tickets in Cusco is that there is a limit of tickets to travel every day.

 

I was able to buy my ticket the week before I went, in high season, but thousands visit daily and tickets were selling fast in the days ahead. There are three types of tickets to Machu Picchu. There is the visit to the ruin, a bit extra to climb the mountain, and a third more expensive ticket to climb the mountain you always see in the photos (Huayna Picchu). For the third option you need to book months in advance. I didn’t have a chance to climb it.

I was worried I hadn’t beaten the crowd when I saw the line for the bus and the gate that morning (at 5am). I need not have worried. I did beat the crowd that came much later, at about 10am. The ruins are a huge place and when I turned around the first corner and saw the stone ruins for the first time, I was able to get plenty of photos in the grey dawn with nobody in the background. Yet, there was plenty of friendly tourists happy to take photos of me on my phone camera all through the day.

 

There were amazing things I saw that day. I was worried it would all be overhyped. I wondered how on earth I could possibly spend six hours walking around ruins. I thought I would be bored within the hour after I had taken my selfies. Definitely not.

I heard the gasp of Asian tourists ahead of me in the dark and I wondered what was happening. And then I saw it. A line of silver spread a ring around the peak of a nearby mountain. The silver became stronger, and the sky changed from gray to blue, and the silver became a sharp glare of white, and that ended up becoming the sun. The ball had formed before my eyes in 30 seconds, and it had announced the start of a new day, all justified and collected in those moments. I spared the sun no more thought as I continued through the ruins, and walked the path up the hill for more than 40 minutes to find the Sun Gate, where the travelers of the Inca Trail can first see the ruins from a far distant for the first time.

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And it was all amazing.

The crazy town of Machu Picchu

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That line on the right side of the bridge? That’s for the bus to Machu Picchu.

There’s a bombardment of market stalls, souvenirs, and statues of the Incas, and all in your face the moment you leave the train. The mountains loom above and the first thing you instinctively do in Aguas Calientes is look above to see if you might be able to see the ruins of Machu Picchu.

The river stream descending from the jungle splits the small town in two, and from the train station you almost straight away cross a bridge to the bus station and the main square. If you arrive at any time in the day you will notice a long line rising up the hill. This is for the bus to get to Machu Picchu.

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The trains bellow.

Restaurant waiters persuade.

The children are crazy. And there is a frantic manic energy to them, as if they are the hijos of carnies. Two infants are playing blocks with each other when I pass by, and one of them grabs a block and starts chasing me and hitting me.

There is fascinating artwork weaved into the stone of the town, with its own stories. My favourite is of the ancient Peruvian god Viracocha, because it had an insight of him emerging from nature, but some of the other artworks are spread across the town and almost hidden from plain sight unless you stare from the right angle.

There were hot springs in Aguas Calientes but I couldn’t go in without thongs (flip flops), swimmers, and a towel. These could be hired but I didn’t want to be ripped off.

This is a town of transience. Even the locals in the poor end of town, in the dodgy lanes of stairs cut into the hills in the corner of the end suburb, don’t feel local. There is a desperation, a hunger, an aggression, among the waiters that I haven’t seen anywhere else in Peru. The most reasonable meal I could find was a Peruvian menu for 15 soles (which was to include a salad platter for an entree, lomo saltado for the main course, and a crepe for desert).

They forgot to give me the desert and charged me 13 Soles for each beer. At another place the alpaca steak was 40 soles and when I said this was far too much, the waiter brought it down to 25 soles. The other waiter who brought me the check didn’t realise I was given a discount, and also charged me a service tax not mentioned on the menu! My understanding is this is illegal, but no gringo questions it.

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The line for the bus at 4am.

Travelers were in the mood to talk here. I met visitors from across the world who had time for friendliness and to share their adventures, including a trio from Argentina who taught me how to say the name of their country properly, and a Canadian.

The main thing to do in town while waiting for your trip to Machu Picchu is spending money, or trying to avoid spending it. You can also walk the steep climb to Machu Picchu, or you could take the bus. From memory it was 50 soles for the return journey, but it could be more.

The trip is worth it but you are at the mercy of the long lines at the start and the return journeys. I woke at 4am for my trip to Machu Picchu and was surprised to see that I had not beaten the line.

 

Surrounded by Incan ruins

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The taxi driver dropped me off in the main plaza of Ollantaytambo. I paid him the 15 soles and stepped out a little disorientated.

I sat with a broken backpack in the square surrounded by double story Mexican and Peruvian restaurants. All catered to the tourist. These would be expensive. As it turns out, they were.

I was dismayed to check my Google map to see that my hostel seemed to be distant from the town, and the complete opposite direction to the train station which I would need to arrive at the following day. I paid a Tuk Tuk driver 2 soles and he drove me along a country dirt road, across a winding stream.

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The hostel was a work in progress by a strange and abrupt Peruvian by the name of Carl. He was proud of his work and especially of the double story building where at the top we could have breakfast while gazing across the valley. The mountains loomed around us, and he pointed to some of the old brick buildings alone each of the slopes. These were Incan ruins.

The more I stared at the mountains the more Incan ruins I could see. They were everywhere. It was incredible the amount of influence the Inca emperors had over their people to bring the bricks up to those levels to construct their storehouses or fortresses.

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I loved Ollantaytambo. It might be my favourite place in Peru. It was safe and I wandered to the town at night. It was a country town built into a grid system, with small canals winding along the cobbled roads. The bases of the houses were the ruins of the Incas. The local children played in the street laughing and at peace. At night after dinner I walked back to the hostel watching a local family or two practice their dancing in the middle of the street.

I wanted to see one of the ruins which I had paid a ticket to see, but I ran out of time. Instead I could see people climbing a steep track to the ruins. This was a free track and called the Pinkuylluna. It took at least 40 minutes of hard climbing and by the time I reached the top point of the path the sun was about to sink. The view of the hills and the town below was glorious. See it.

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After dinner I arrived back at the hostel just as Carl was impatiently setting up his camera gear to take photos of the night sky. Mars was coming out over the mountains. He was enthusiastic about astronomy. Maybe too much so. He excitedly woke up one of his guests, a British school teacher, so she could see Mars for herself. I’m not trying to be funny when I say she was not amused. It was freezing up on the roof. I stayed as long as I could because it made a good story, but I was tired.

I shared a room with a Frenchman, who was nice enough, but understood more Spanish than English. It was a common language barrier I was having. He had bought a permit to Machu Picchu for the same day I had, but he was going to take a bus. He couldn’t afford the expensive train ticket.

I wondered if he made it in time.

After check-out I walked to the train station. The sky was clear, the creek was beautiful, and I felt free. I had a broken backpack with all my clothes in it, a depleted wallet, and my Converse sneakers.

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I passed a beautiful statue of a beautiful Indigenous woman, and I stopped to look at her. It was the wife of Manco Inca. She was brutalised and murdered by the greedy and lustful Pizarros, who were the brother-conquerors of Peru. This was the only grim moment in my beautiful time in a place of peace, because it reminded me that this place of peace wasn’t always so, and that horrible prices had been paid because of evil people.

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I bought a sombrero at the train station, and got on the train for the next step in the journey to Machu Picchu.

Lonely Planet Tour of Cusco

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Cusco’s Plaza de Armas (1)

There have been two reliable resources for me to navigate Peru. The first I use is Hostel World, a website and app which helps me decide the hostels I want to stay in.

It doesn’t often fail me.

The second resource is Lonely Planet’s Peru tourist guide which cost me $35 Australian. In the Lima airport it’s about 120 Soles. While visiting Cusco I decided to take the tourist guide’s City Walk. It begins at Plaza De Armas and has 16 stops. It says it is a four kilometre walk and a three hour journey, but in reality it took me much longer and about four attempts to complete. But here we go….

  1. The guide book advises beginning at the Plaza De Armas (1), which is always a natural starting point. I arrived here directly in a taxi from the airport at 6am. I paid 25 soles to get here but if you walk outside then 25 soles is reasonable. It’s beautiful for the old church and the fountain.
  2. I was supposed to walk through the Plaza Regocijo (2) to see some nice boutiques and shops (3) along the way, but I walked on the wrong street! And because there were so many cafes and shops and parks it took a long time before I realised my mistake! I ended up skipping a few stops to have a juice at the market. But anyway…20180724_095054.jpg
  3. The Museo Historico Regional used to be the house of a historian Garcilaso de la Vega, who has recorded many of the stories his family told him about the Incas. He was born several years after the Spanish conquest, and eventually moved to Spain. I haven’t read his work but have read some history books that have relied on his work (although they acknowledge his writing as creative). The museum is interesting and supplies exhibits of the Incas and other Peruvian civilizations such as the Moche and the Chimu. There is also information on de la Vega, and of revolter Tupac Amaru II. 20180724_105345.jpg

To see many of these museums and the ruins you will need a entry pass called the Boletico Turistico, which only lasts 10 days. It costs about 130 Soles if you’re a tourist and 70 Soles if you can prove you are a resident.

4) The Plaza San Francisco is nice, sure, but I am uncertain whether it was worth paying 15 Soles to enter the museum and church of San Francisco. Well, maybe. Some of the painting were extraordinary and the library is filled with about 10,000 books. There is a small catacomb with bones and skeletons. The church itself is grande, but all I can think when I examined the handcrafted figures within is how much exploitation was necessary to create such beauty. There is a tower but it cost an additional 5 soles and I didn’t have the money.

I suppose it is worth it but there are many churches and buildings that will distract you.

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5)If I had done this in order I would already be exhausted. But keep going! Walk along Marquez street through the huge colonial archway (which you can’t miss) past the Santa Clara church. The guide recommends trying to peek through the doors to the mirrors inside, but unfortunately the door was closed. I continued on…

6) The Mercado San Pedro is almost like any typical market to be found in tourist sections of Peru. There’s the tourist products, the clothes and the bags, there’s the fruits, the juice bars, the butchers, and the construction happening in between the stalls. To the back left and outside is a bathroom which costs 50 centimos to squat over a hole, but it may come in use if you need a public toilet and can’t afford a restaurant.

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The guide book recommended drinking a juice. This was convenient because the lady at the juice bar saw me coming and called out ‘amigo!’ I paid seven soles for a orange, strawberry, and pineapple juice. It was delicious! She gave me seconds but I’m not sure if that’s part of the regular deal.

Regardless, I had this after 18 hours recovering from altitude sickness and it was the best pick-up. 20180725_095628.jpg

7) The guide book recommends turning around at the back of the market, roughly turning in the direction of the Plaza De Armas. There’s nothing much more to see except the Palacio de Justicia. The building is grand and it’s the one where police holding riot shields stand at the front. You continue walking past Av Sol and walk into an old lane called Loreto which leads directly to the plaza.

The walls along Loreto lane is layered with old Inca built bricks. The guide book doesn’t mention that in the lane there is a gate into a courtyard filled with old market shops and alpacas.

It’s a nice surprise. I believe that out of all the stores I saw in Cusco the prices here are more reasonable. And there is variety when it comes to the ponchos and scarves and sweaters. The ladies working at the stores here are friendly too.

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8) Due to a series of errors involving train tickets, altitude sickness, and a journey to Machu Picchu, I had long failed to reach this point of the guide until my third attempt. If you continued walking along Loreto you would reach the plaza again. From there you would turn right past the Starbucks, the Irish Pub, and the persistent ladies encouraging massages for 20 Soles. The guide says you continue walking past the old palace of the sixth Inca Roca (one I never heard of) which is now a museum. From there I walked to what is described as “the bohemian suburb” which includes a fountain, a market, and nice cafes.

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9) The laneways become steep and quirky. The laneways are cobbled and windy and it’s worth exploring these at some point. There are also nice views of the central part of the city from within the alleyways. There are hidden gems among the shops too.

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10) The last step in the guide book recommends walking up the steep hill to the ruins of Sacsaywaman on the hill overlooking Cusco. The entry fee is covered by the Boleto Turistico. The view of the city is extraordinary and shows a clear view of the plaza. You can also visit the Christi Blanco, which is a much smaller scale of the Christ Redeemer.

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The ruins and the cobblestones is easily worth more than an hour’s exploration, but it’s a wide, clear and green place to play and stretch your legs away from city streets. There’s a good atmosphere here.

Cusco!

When you make a life for yourself in a foreign country, the things you truly came to experience are forgotten, for life often is predictable. Predictability means complacency for someone such as me.

I had one week off for holiday and I knew I had to do something with it. I had to borrow money and use my damage deposit to scrounge up enough money.

I bought a return flight from Trujillo to Cusco for 680 Soles for an overnight flight, packed one bag to last six days, and scoured tickets for Machu Picchu.

While in Cusco I stayed at a hostel called Puriwasi (18 bed mixed room for 29 Soles). That is a decent price compared to other places during this journey.

Here is some quick advice before I focus later posts on experience:

-Altitude sickness! Cusco is more than 3000 metres above sea level. If you fly here you will not acclimatise as well. I was in hell for 18 hours in my hostel bed. Avoid alcohol.

Maybe drink a lot of water, and wear a hat! Avoid too much walking on the first day.

Drink a coca tea from time to time. It is better to drink it before you feel the effects of the sickness.

-To visit many ruins or museums here you will need a ‘Boleto Turisto’ pass which covers about 17 places. Get it from the La Muncipalidad office in Av Sol (near the plaza de armas). The pass lasts 10 days and costs 130 Soles (if you a resident it costs 70).

-Travelling to Machu Picchu is its own story! There are many ways to get to the world wonder. I will mention more in detail in another post.

-Knowing Spanish helps with the experience but most people in customer service have an excellent ability in English (better than many visitors travelling from across the world).

It is a great place to practice with confidence. Try it, and you will meet many interesting people from across the world. For me it included Peruvians, Americans, Canadians, French-ians, amd Argentinians (who taught me how to pronounce their country properly!).

When there was no house to go to…

I wrote this while rather scared in Starbucks last Saturday:

The six month lease on the apartment ended today, and I don’t exactly have a long term plan to stay anywhere. 

I woke with a hangover at 5am, and helped clear the last of the house.  Housemate Adriaan left first (to a hostel nearby), and then Amy left clutching a pot and looking tearful. Nicola and I shared a cab to her new place in Trujillo because the mall was nearby. And that’s where I am now, trying to write with dodgy internet.

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Our cheesy and almost awkward snapshot together. We have lived and worked and even studied together for eight months.

In the taxi I found 200 soles I forgot that I had, which I had put with my passport. What a win! When I left the taxi on an unusually sunny day, I walked with a backpack, my wallet, phone (with no credit), and passport. That is all. My suitcase is in my girlfriend’s room, so the sense of freedom or insecurity right now is only an illusion. I still have to go to work on Monday, and I still have relationships here. But it occurred to me that I could go anywhere I want right now. There’s a big part of me that thinks, ‘why not?’

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Party drinks at a hostel in Huanchaco that we call ‘the cheap hostel’. We used to go here a lot when we first moved here. It is now run by a French and Irish couple.

The apartment and the job has kept me grounded for six months. It’s the apartment mostly. When we first moved in I breathed a sigh of relief and in the seclusion of my room next to the garage at the back I had a place to call my own – the first moments of privacy I’d had for two months in a foreign country. We had a lounge room to watch Netflix and our kitchen. I had my own bathroom. And regular commitments to paying rent.

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My ‘Peruvian sisters have a drink.

I need the job to make money so I can live. But at some point the job took over. It became everything. I have obsessed over it teaching about world wars, the Incan Empire, and Peruvian presidents. I have tried to be the best at this job and find myself in meetings with parents, and disciplining teenagers.

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When we did our TEFL course eight months ago in Zorritos we played a game called Bullshit. Another name for it is ‘cheat’. It is about lies and deception and trying to catch others in doing it. The Joker card is the ‘wildcard’. It can really mess with a good lie detector.

What am I doing? Why am I doing it?

For  friendship. Supongo.

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“This photo sums up our friendship. You annoying the hell out of me.”

The Temple of the Moon

 

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The Temple of the Moon is something that the Moche civilization built, and it’s among the ruins that are near Trujillo in northern Peru. The Moche lived from about 1200 BC to 1400 AD.

There were two temples (the sun, and the moon) and the sun temple is closed off to the public while archaeologists still search. We are only allowed access to the nearby moon temple (the Huaca de la Luna).

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Now, according to the tourist guide there is no evidence in the ruins of a proper name for the temple of the moon, or of the sun. The Moche relied on paintings and didn’t have a written language. Apparently the temples resemble others found in Mexico and so the name was copied.

The Moche used this temple for their rituals. It’s built next to the Cerro Blanco (the white hill). The hill was also known as Alec Pong (sacred stone).

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This hill was a protecting god for the Moche. There was an area on the hill which had a platform where sacrifices were made.

The sacrifices might have been timed with strong weather events.

“The natural events were because of the anger of the principal deity, who in his fury demanded blood,” said the information in the nearby museum.

The sacrifices were the warriors who had to fight each other. The loser was chosen as the sacrifice, which was then abandoned to the elements.

So according to the nearby museum, the Moche believed in an underground world. The description reminds me of the ancient Egyptians. The dead lords or important people were treated in preparation for their journey.

Also, the priests used coca leaves to connect with the celestial world. I am uncertain if the underground world and the celestial world was the same place, or two different places. But snakes….(why is it always snakes?) could easily travel to the celestial world.

A day and a half in Guayaquil

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In the last blog post I wrote that I was dizzy and feeling like I was dying on a 20 hour bus ride to Guayaquil, Ecuador. The reason that my housemates and I were travelling to Ecuador was to get our visas renewed.

It’s been six months since I first arrived in Peru. Given that this is the maximum amount of time a foreigner is allowed in the country as a tourist I was uncertain I would be able to return for a while. This filled me with dread. I had almost no money remaining in my bank account and I would have to beg my mother to help me get home. Also…I still need to take my yellow fever shot.

I was sick when arriving in Guayaquil but I found my hostel and slept almost 12 hours. When I woke I was rested and relaxed. The hot and humid heat helped me feel better. The sound of a loud fan blowing across the room also reminded me of my childhood. I found a restaurant that served a delicious fruit yoghurt and then I took a taxi into the CBD to find Adriaan and Nicola (who booked at another guesthouse).

 

 

 

We ate at KFC, checked the markets by a river, took photographs, climbed 444 steps through alleyways (passing rather persistent girls trying to tempt us into what must have been a brothel) to see a lighthouse and a church, and went on a ferris wheel at night to look over the lights of the city.

The next morning I went to park in the shadows of a fantastic statue of Simon Bolivar and a massive church. But the park attracted the tourists for the iguanas wandering around being petted by children and tempted with lettuce leaves.

 

 

These iguanas (pronounced iHuanas because G sounds like H) were the biggest posers. They loved the attention. I had one iguana that took a pose as if to climb from the footpath to the lawn. It paused there, waiting as if to say “okay, shoot now!” But then, almost as if it realised the photo could be better, it stepped back onto the footpath, walked closer to me and THEN resumed its same position! It waited until I took the photographs, and left me to it.

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I had to leave quickly to find the others and catch our bus back to Peru, nervously waiting to reach the border.

The visa officer gave me another four months on my passport. But I know I will not be given any more extension.

Heavy thoughts in sunny Ecuador

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On the 20 hour bus ride.

We are not immortal. Often we are anxious and alone. We are trapped and no mind game or change is going to alleviate the situation.

I wrote that in sunny Guayquil of Ecuador.

And while I feel better now, I did not think I could ever be, at the start of a 20 hour bus trip from Trujillo to Guayquil.

It was two weeks into the flu, with stress over a lot of things t, with the fear that I had a reoccurring stomach bug from eating hamster on New Years Eve.

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At the border to Ecuador. 

So I decided to flush it out. I took heavy antibiotics and since then was in a haze. It wasn’t until two days later on the bus, when I took a tablet, that I knew straight away something was wrong. I was nauseous and dizzy. I passed out over the bus toilet. I could not sit up, the only thing that helped was laying down. But understandably the bus porter wasn’t going to let me do that. He made me sit on the bus stairs (double story) and made me drink cacao tea. It was nasty stuff but he assured me it would help.

I was sick, probably flushing out the bulk of the tablet, where I felt good enough to lay down another 12 hours until we crossed the border.

We crossed familiar territory including Mancoura, Zorritos, and the border, where my journey here all begun. Except now I felt a bit weary. Older.

It is an illusion of course. How much different could I be in six months?

My problem is I am much the same, facing the same problems I had when I left Australia six months ago.

Hostel stories from Barranco

There is an Australian from western Sydney, with short thick and tangled light brown or blonde hair, and she has travelled in Peru four months.

Next she goes to the dominican. I do not know much about her. She is a mystery, and I am happy to keep her as one of those mysterious characters.

She cracked up at the breakfast table when the Venezualan next to me held a knife in a scary pose and I drawled, “you call that a knife?” The Australian laughed harder after the Venezualan laughed before realising she did not get the reference. (Croc Dundee mate).

Tintin’s The Prisoners of the Sun was the first Tintin I ever read and was set in Peru. He was a huge inspiration in my life. This is the book set before Prisoners. A sign?

The Venezualan is a movie maker, and she writes her first movie. She wants it to be about World War 2 and to be filmed in France, but there is a unique twist or point of view to it that I find interesting. I won’t spoil it for her, for it is her story to tell, not mine.

With English words that challenge her we talk of life and teaching. She taught film to students and loved it. They miss her. She said we make a difference to our students’ lives.

“It is lonely sometimes, here,” I said. “I not speak Spanish well so it is great to talk to people with great English. It means a lot.

“So when I teach English to students I think that one day they will make a difference in the lives of the next strangers to visit Peru. They might save that person’s life. I am paying it forward.”

She frowned at the loneliness part and wanted me to clarify, and then acknowledged this…”you are here to find youself, she said.

“You are here to….oh, what is the word?” She turned to the man at the end of the table and asked him a question in Spanish.

“Recognise,” he said.

“Yes,” she faced me again and grinned. “You are here to recognise yourself.”

She asks how old I am and like everyone else seems so surprised I am 28. Everyone thinks i am younger. “How old do you think I am?” She asks.

A dangerous game to play with a woman who held a knife minutes before, but I guess 27. Then she asks the French Canadian next to us. He looks like he could be a professor, with his quiet mannerism and accent and round rim glasses, except for the tattoos on his arm.

“You paid the ticket, enjoy the ride,” his right arm tells me in grim cursive. His beard is surprisingly thick while being so short, and he guesses she is 24. But she is 30.

The French canadian is my age. We reflect on how everyone we travel with seems to be a lot younger than us. We met the night before when he came up excitedly to say, ‘I hear there is an Aussie here!”

He is planning to visit the country next year to do the harvest trails and picking cherries. He is going to Tasmania.

Boys don’t cry. But men do.

Then there is the couple who shared my room. He was born in South Africa and has brighter blue eyes than I do, but has spent his time in Holland, and was ranked as a captain in the military. She made her money from modelling but wanted to do something different, and to keep her money lasting ventured into pet sitting. She is beautiful and I can see someone that in the 20s might have owned a few catwalks or the cameras attention, but has over time gained softer features without losing her beauty.

There is an elegance to her in the hostel without it being over the top glamour. She wears a sun dress while the rest of us lounge about in jeans and v-necks.

They have travelled across South America for six months together on their motorbikes, but one of them was confiscated at the Bolivian border. They made a trailer for their second bike in Argentina to carry everything.

Life, they say, is a challenge together in the extreme conditions, having previously only seen each other on their weekends, but if they can make it together then they know they can last.

“We have seen everything,” she says, talking about their closeness. They leave for Los Angeles that night to hike more trails further in the north. “The trail we are walking was in a movie called Wild,” she explained.

Military helps him with the outdoors and sensing what does not feel right, but while life is at its most extreme for her right now, is efficient at organising and planning ahead.

“She is my Lietenant,” the captain said proudly, and they seem pleased when I call them the Guerillas.

“Goodbye,” I said to them, once dreaming to do what they could do but now knowing I just did not have the interest or the courage or the willingness to cut ties from certain comforts. “I am jealous of what you have been doing and what you are about to do.”

And there was a glow in their blue eyes, as if I had reminded them of something.