A desert oasis in Peru named Huacachina, where sand boarding and dune buggies are an excellent thing.

Month Nine of Remote Year: Peru

The final leg on the final continent of my year abroad.

The month of February had our group based in Lima, Peru and gave us our continental transition from Asia. We’re all living in a district called Miraflores, which is big for the ex-pat, tourist, foreigner groups and has also gone through some serious growth in the last few decades.

Lima sits on the Peruvian coast and provides access to beaches and cliffs for the Pacific Ocean, but is also surrounded by desert and snowless mountains. It’s given us surfing each morning, workouts in parks, evenings in bars, clubs and raves, some of the best food in the world, the strongest and smoothest pisco sours, and a base with which at least one person flew to Cusco every week to hike Machu Picchu. We took weekend trips for hiking, glacial trekking, sand boarding, dune buggying, lagoon swimming, white water rafting, repelling and zip lining across rivers and between cliffs. Some of us hated our apartments in Lima, some of us loved them. Some of us hated the co-working spaces, others loved them. It was a normal month with a normal group of travelers entering their 9th month of living and working abroad.

Except for one fairly large thing: our bubbles have begun to burst.

Cliffs of Peru facing the Pacific; pisco vineyards in the desert; Ballestas Islands for sea lions, penguins and pelicans; colorful walls of homes in a tiny town.

This was our first of 4 months on the South American continent, and also the beginning of the end. It’s the final leg of our Remote Year and our final continent, which naturally is bringing up a lot of things we’re attempting to stuff right back down.

I had anticipated beginning to think through my life post-Remote Year in March. I’d give myself a month to calm down from the unbelievable days of December and January, catch up with my group, get back into the swing of stability in a home base, entertain a friend visiting from NYC and enjoy my first time in Peru. March would be when I’d have to start sobering up from these 9 months, focus on the impacts of my decisions and choices for June, and essentially begin the mental prep to adjust to the real world again.

But of course as it turns out, life has other plans. And it also tee’d up wonderful “what if” questions I haven’t been able to shake.

What if I hate where, and what, I used to call home?

Not long after arriving in Lima, I ended up buying my plane ticket back to NYC. It’ll bring me back to the States for the first time in more than 8 months, which is the record for the longest amount of time I’ve been out of the country. There was a lot of emotion and anxiety in the purchase of this thing.

I’ll be happy to go home and see friends, happy to eat the foods I’ve missed (and craved occasionally), happy to frequent the bars that were my usual spots, and excited to learn about everything I’ve missed out on in people’s lives this past year. But because my ticket is one way, I’m already feeling concern that I don’t have an exit plan. Yet. Or if I’ll have one.

Couple the above with the anxiety, concern, worry and fear of returning to a country that is so deeply damaged, with a passport full of stamps and visas from countries they’ll deem questionable, and I don’t know what to expect. At immigration, at customs, in the airport, or while even just getting off the plane. I could be detained, I could be interrogated, I could also be totally fine. I’m an American citizen by birth, with a Hispanic last name, and I don’t feel safe returning to my own country.

What if no one back home understands me anymore? What if I don’t understand them?

I’m not ignorant to the fact that my year will have been so different from the year many of my friends and colleagues back in the States will have had. And that honestly, a vast majority of you all probably don’t want to hear stories about what I’ve seen and done. I’ll just sound pretentious. Believe me, I get it and I don’t blame you. So I already anticipate keeping a lid on a great majority of what I could share with you all, unless explicitly asked.

But there is a thing I’m concerned about, and it’s a real thing. It’s reverse culture shock. I felt it in my study abroad return back in 2008, and I know I’ll feel it again in a few months. Coming home, regardless for how long, will be full of conflicting emotions and challenges. There will be a lot to process, and even if it sounds like an easy thing to do because oh hey, I’ve been doing this every day for a year, trust me. It’s very much not when you have to do it for your home country. I don’t know how long the adjustment period will be, or even if I will adjust, but I guess I’ll figure it all out when I get to it.

What if what I’ve said I’ve wanted for months, isn’t actually what I want now?

When it came to work, I knew from the start that I’d dislike freelance. Or honestly, as I’ve been saying to pretty much everyone in conversation, that I hated freelance. As much as I have control over so many things, it was, and is, quite exhausting. To be brutally honest, I wasn’t convinced from the start that I’d last through all of Remote Year. Obviously I wanted to, I hoped to, I did what I could to make sure I’d last as long as possible, but I just didn’t know for sure. Frankly, no one can say with absolute certainty that they’ll last a year or longer traveling the globe. There are far too many external factors that can change it all in a second, so you just have to plan for the day you’re living in.

I had been saying for months that having a full-time job, which allowed me to continue traveling, would be perfect. It’d be everything I wanted: freedom to keep traveling and experiencing the world, financial stability and a comfier savings account, and a less stressful day-to-day that’d allow me to easily enjoy this life.

Well, it turns out that if you work really hard, do your best, and put what you want out into the universe enough times, what you asked for manages to come your way. And then it freaks you out and makes you question if it’s something you actually wanted in the first place. At the time of this post, I’m currently deciding on whether or not to accept this job offer and launch a brand new life for myself. Again.

What if many of these goodbyes are actual goodbyes and not see-you-laters?

Our group has lost people along the course of our journey for a variety of reasons. Financial needs, community fit, program fit, life changes, etc. It was sad to see people dropping off, but we knew they’d continue on their journey however they felt best. Most of the time that meant continuing to travel while we were traveling.

But just this week, we had another person drop from our group and this time it was different. This time it felt as though it was the beginning of all our goodbyes from one another, and that the end of our Remote Year was much closer than we were willing to acknowledge. We’re now 3 months away from closing this epic journey out and being thrust back into the world all shiny and chrome (hat tip to Mad Max).

I’m a fairly nostalgic person who has the unfortunate ability of remembering events quite vividly, and accompanied with plenty of emotion I felt during these events. Be they good or bad. So I think it’s safe to say the next 3 months will be some pretty difficult ones.

Huacachina oasis and dune buggy; vineyard and grapes for pisco and wine; Lunahuana buildings and town square.

I have a tattoo that says “everything happens for a reason”, because I believe that it does. Situations might not be what I want or when I want them or even something I’m willing to accept at the time, but trusting that it all somehow works out is the only sort of faith I subscribe to. So the fact that February instead of March became life decision month, and also RY bubble bursting month, is unfortunate but probably for a reason. Odds are I won’t know why until much later, but until I do I’ll just go along for the ride.

The least I can do is enjoy my upcoming adventures in Brazil, Argentina and Chile for the final 3 months of the most epic year of my life. And continue to take photos of those around me that warrant a bit of camera love.

Anne; Jeanna; Ryan; Peruvian girl painting.