Chapter 6: Beauty and Being

Where do I even begin?! It has been one hell of a month, a whirlwind, a rollercoaster, the strangest and most beautiful month of my life. Four weeks ago I found myself in Lima, Peru in an apartment with three strangers. We poured glasses of whiskey and said a toast to our new life together not knowing that just four short weeks later we’d feel like family.

I’ve packed so much into this month that it’s hard for me todecide what I’d like to focus on here. I won’t give you a play-by-play of everything I did, but instead will go into detail on several transformative trips I took and the wave of emotions I’ve had to navigate throughout.

Our first day in Lima was New Year’s Eve. Our tribe of 45, identified as Bourdain, came together to bring in the new year and get to know each other. Have you ever witnessed a group of 45 strangers who will spend a year together meeting for the first time? It’s quite the scene. The exhilaration of getting to know people you know you’ll call lifelong friends is a rush unlike any other. At this point I can honestly say I’m amazed by this group. Everyone here is extremely special and despite our differences, we all share the common desire for adventure and growth. We are people who value experiences over material possessions and we’re well on our way to cultivating a community that is open and supportive with no exceptions. Within this community there is an appreciation for each individual. We share a common respect and compassion for each person here, which is unlike anything I’ve ever experienced before.

Janice and me on New Year’s Eve

While the month was full of adventures, there are several that really left a lasting impact on me. I’ve detailed them here:

Rupac

While trying to decide how to spend my first weekend of Remote Year I reached out to Nick, another hiker, to see if he’d be interested in getting out of the city. He had a hike in mind and asked one of our local guides, Corey, how best to get there. Corey is an archeologist and the spot Nick chose, an archeological site called Rupac, had long been on his list of places to visit. He agreed to take us there. We invited Andy, our new friend from London, along on the adventure and the four of us piled into Corey’s car and took off. A few hours outside of Lima we almost turned back. The car was making a strange noise and we were nervous about getting stuck on the side of a cliff in the Andes with nowhere to go for help. In our quest for a mechanic we had an authentic, unique experience, driving through small towns, interacting with locals and even ending up on an unpaved back road. We stopped for a drink and when we returned to the car the noise had mysteriously disappeared. We decided to take our chances and continue on, driving up a one lane road on the edge of a cliff after midnight. We arrived at Corey’s in-laws’ cabin around 2am in a very small town not too far from our final destination. We drank some tea and went to bed.

Our view upon waking up in the cabin

Waking up a few short hours later we opened the door to a breathtaking view of the mountains. Andy made us breakfast and the four of us piled back in the car, driving through small one-road towns to get to Rupac. As we drove, we encountered villagers celebrating Three Kings’ Day. They clogged the roads, singing and dancing and drinking. As we drove up they looked at us, but would not move. We had to get out of the car and join in the festivities to earn our right to pass. This happened three times. These unplanned stops meant we arrived at Rupac much later than expected. At 2pm we drove up to the ghost town that marked the starting point of our hike. We set out passing a waterfall and several other hikers, all coming the other way. The hike was challenging as we climbed up to 14,000 feet, but the views were stunning. As we reached our destination about an hour before sunset, I could not believe my eyes. Rupac is actually two archeological sites. There’s a fortress and watch tower out on a ledge and at the top of the peak there’s a temple and residential complex. We were above the clouds in the Andes at the most beautiful time of day exploring the ruins of an ancient civilization with an archeologist as our guide. We were the only ones there and had full reign of the site. We stayed and explored as the sun set and I marveled again and again at the vast beauty of the peaks surrounding me. Right before we left, I climbed up to the top of the watch tower and sat on the wall taking it all in. I had brought Kris with me, or at least a small jar of his ashes. I poured some of them out on the wall asking that his spirit be free to witness sunrises and sunsets from that point for the rest of eternity.

The fortress on the ledge
The watchtower wall where I left Kris’ ashes

We climbed down in the dark and made the long drive back to Lima, reflecting on the amazing adventure we’d just had. I could not have asked for better travel companions or a more perfect series of events. Even throughout a year of incredible experiences, I don’t think anything will ever compare to this first excursion.

Lares Trek

For over six years I’ve dreamed of hiking the Inca Trail and visiting Machu Picchu. Imagine my excitement when I saw Peru was the first destination on our itinerary. Months before our departure, Janice and I booked a four-day trek through remote towns ending with a guided tour of Machu Picchu. After meeting the group we ended up with two more companions. Andy and Jonathan decided to join us. Three weeks after arriving in Peru we set out from Cusco in a van. Our tour guide, Antonio, took us to the Sacred Valley of the Incas and we stopped at a market in a small town to buy bread and fruit for the children we would meet in the villages as we hiked. Our next stop was to a remote hot springs where we soaked for 30 minutes in preparation for four days of hiking. From there we drove on to the starting point for our hike. There was a tent set-up and our chefs were busy preparing our lunch. We ate a gourmet meal and then set out. Our first day of hiking was mostly sunny. We took in the gorgeous views of the mountains and sweat through our clothes as we struggled to breathe at high altitude. We came to a small town by a waterfall and were greeted by dozens of children who came out knowing and expecting to receive a treat from our party. As we passed through the village it started to rain and I welcomed the change in temperature. After four hours of hiking we arrived on a plateau where our crew had set-up camp. As the sun set that night I walked up to the top of a hill and took in the beauty of our surroundings. I found myself overlooking the mules and the horses, singing an old folk song, completely at peace.

Our first campsite
Waking up to snow on Day 2

We woke up the next morning to snow. Our guide had told us it didn’t often snow below 20,000 feet. We were at 14,000. I’d commented the day before that I hoped we’d get sun the next day and he’d said “Pachamama will decide.” I can imagine her sly look when she said to herself “They think they want sun, but they haven’t seen snow in the Andes.” We hiked all morning in the snow and I hardly stopped gasping and smiling at the breathtaking views we encountered. We reached the top of the pass and stopped for some hot coca tea. I can’t quite describe the sense of accomplishment and awe I felt there. As we headed down the other side of the pass, the weather cleared and we left the snow behind. We passed through vast panoramas and all we could see in any direction were peaks upon peaks and green, green grass. We ended the day by a serene lake, which was home to many birds. It felt good to have our hardest day behind us and to have most of the afternoon to relax and take in our surroundings.

Enjoying a hot cup of tea at the top of the pass
The view from our second campsite

Our third day we hiked down, down, down to a small town for lunch. We thanked our crew and tipped them before getting into a van to Ollantetambo, a town I’d like to revisit at some point. Ollantetambo was the last stronghold of the Inca people when the Spanish invaders took over. On the side of a mountain facing the town is a giant terraced ruins that features a sun temple that was never completed. Antonio and I hiked up another mountain on the other side of the small town and visited an ancient storehouse where the Incas would have stockpiled years’ worth of food. From Ollantetambo we boarded a train to Aguas Calientes, or “Machu Picchu Town” where we stayed the night.

The view of the temple from the storehouse at Ollantetambo

On the morning of our visit to Machu Picchu we boarded the bus in the rain. When we arrived at the overlook, we could hardly see the archeological site below through the fog and the clouds. Antonio led us up the trail to visit the sun gate and then on to the Inca bridge along the path the Incas used to escape the city. I was worried we wouldn’t get the views we’d come for, but as we made our way back to the overlook, the fog burned off and the sun came out in full force. We walked through the ancient city and learned what Antonio could share about the people who’d lived there.

Taking in the beauty of Machu Picchu

After three days of trekking we were tired and overwhelmed by all we’d experienced. As we made our way back to Cusco, the toll of three days together began to set in. People had been pushed outside of their comfort zones, my lack of discomfort as we hiked and camped had manifested into an annoying “know it all” habit of answering questions that were meant for our guide. This irked member of our group and I was called out for it on the train ride home. By the time we reached Cusco I was feeling emotionally defeated and ready for some time away from my companions. I had dinner with a different subset of our group and unfortunately left dinner feeling even more emotionally exhausted and worn down. My new friend, Sahoua and I stayed up talking about our emotional struggles, our personality types and our goals for our ayahuasca ceremony the next day until we finally went to bed at 2am.

I woke up the next morning still unable to shake my funk. I began to worry that I wouldn’t be able to participate in the ceremony, because I didn’t want to enter into an experience like that while in such a negative,vulnerable headspace. Sahoua and I got massages and somewhere within my hour session I fell asleep. The physical release of toxins from my muscles somehow washed away the emotional weight I was carrying as well. I woke up feeling refreshed, optimistic and excited for the ceremony.

Ayahuasca Ceremony at Sacred Valley Tribe

Years ago, Kris told me about ayahuasca. He knew people who had taken the medicine and said it had changed their lives. Since then I learned friends of mine had done it and they shared with me their own stories of transformation. When I signed up for Remote Year someone suggested I should participate in an ayahuasca ceremony while in Peru and I couldn’t think of a more perfect way to start my journey of self-discovry, so I started doing my research. Through friends of friends I found Sacred Valley Tribe and I’m so very happy that I did.

I won’t share all the details of my journey here, because it is a deeply personal thing, but I will share my intentions for the ceremony and some of the most profound things I experienced through the night. As the ceremony started, I drank the tea and then headed back to my mat in the temple to wait for the medicine to take effect. I sat there and focused on my intentions: 1. To find a greater acceptance and appreciation for myself. To free myself of my insecurities. 2. To come to terms with or learn to accept Kris’ death and the circumstances that led to his departure.

Throughout the night I had moments of deep sorrow, overwhelming feelings of appreciation and awe at what I was feeling, seeing and experiencing. I could feel my entire body vibrating with the beauty of the music in the temple. Live musicians sang and played instruments, inviting all of us to join in and sing. I spent a good amount of the evening outside by a fire looking up at the peaks of the Andes, the bright stars and the full moon shrouded in clouds. At one point I saw lines connecting the stars, as you would see on a constellation chart. I felt a deep sense of empathy and connectivity between myself and the 80 other people with whom I shared the experience. We were all in our own heads experiencing our own journeys, but we could feel each other’s pain, love and humanity. Every time I looked at the stars I thought of Kris. He loved a night by the fire gazing up at the stars. Every time I looked at the moon I felt my own, internal feminine power and strength. I’ve always felt a connection with the moon and as I left the fire to go back inside I experienced an overwhelming urge to lift my chin up and howl.

Over the course of five hours I worked through every single intention I’d set and so much more. I left the ceremony a stronger, more confident, more awakened version of myself. In the days since I have felt the highs from this spiritual transformation wash over me. Sometimes for an entire day. I have sat and reflected on the intentions I set and the revelations I had, welcoming them into my daily life and promising to keep them alive as I go forward in this physical journey as I travel the world.

I’m now in Medellin, Colombia for the next five weeks of this journey. I’ll write again soon with new revelations and adventures to share. Sending love to all of you out there, and wishing you all the best in this chapter of your life’s journey.

3 thoughts on “Chapter 6: Beauty and Being

  1. Thanks for this Kel! I love living the cultural experiences with you…like celebrating Three Kings Day with the villagers, multiple times no less, on the way to Rupac! What fun…and I love that you all embraced it despite the delay in your plans!😊 So glad you finally made it to Machu Pichu…I remember your goal/desire to experience it! Would also love to hear how the work experience is going…and how/if it differs from each location. I didn’t realize you didn’t control your itinerary either! So much to learn!😉
    As far as your emotional and spiritual journey, I’m so impressed with your raw honesty and openness. I’m cheering for you and feeling maybe even a little afraid for you. Does that make sense??? I love you friend, ❤ and really look forward to hearing all about this amazing journey you’re on as it unfolds! Maybe feeling just a bit jealous that I didn’t do something like this when I was your age!😉

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    1. Thanks for the comment Martha! We’ll have to catch up on a call sometime soon. Work has been great as we have access to amazing coworking spaces in each location. It is a balance though. As for the emotional journey, this type of experience definitely exposes emotions and puts you in a vulnerable place, but we have an incredible community to help with that. I think I’ll grow more in this year than any other so far. Love you! Thanks for taking the time to read.

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  2. Kelly, so great to read your adventures. Your shared experiences will undoubtedly be transformative for you, but sharing them with us also changes us. Thanks for sharing your highs and lows. I hope your blog inspires others to take remote years as well. I long for the days of taking another one!
    Thanks for the photos too. Stunning! Take it all in my friend! Love, Karen #livingvicariously

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