Where are you perfectly content?
Beads, quickly merging into currents, of sweat pop up on my hairline and my dampened hair starts to intrude onto my sunburnt face. If I shield my face from the sun, I will miss the the exhilarating beauty of the hills, covered in lush vegetation. One minute I’m wet with sweat, the next I’m shivering and dry from nature’s sigh.
It took a while for me to get to my state of mental homeostasis. French, German, Austrian, and American — four young girls wandering around the Peruvian countryside, on our way back from the archaeological site in Moray to our home in Cuzco. We were warned that once we passed a certain point it would be a long way until we found a bus home; nevertheless, we wandered past donkeys, sheep, and bushes among the rising and falling land for about two hours before we started to question our progress. Without a map, trusting completely what our local friends had told us, we kept roaming on for another hour. We saw nothing but the most pure display of nature I had ever seen in my life, and two other people: an elderly couple who only spoke the native Quechua language, and still dressed in the culture’s traditional clothing.
Increasingly fatigued, and with no signs of civilization in sight, scenarios of us still trapped between the mountains after nightfall crept their way past the mental barriers that kept me from panicking. My chest felt tight, as if my heart was being inflated with helium like a balloon, compressing on the sides of my chest cavity. The mountains had transformed from a playground to a cage. But then I thought: why was I having a claustrophobic reaction to nature? I was in a completely new surrounding, free of any expectations or rules. Looking out over the uncorrupted land, my breath caught in my throat and I almost suffocated; not from the physical exhaustion, but from the overwhelming current of happiness that flooded my entire body. I let myself drown in it, joining the buzzing mosquitoes and the fluttering birds, all intoxicated with the pureness and unity of nature.
Humans are creatures of worry. We fret about whether the napkins match the tablecloth, and conjure up unlikely disasters like a worldwide shortage of cookies. We burden ourselves with anxiety and boredom. But, I realized, in being lost, I was in a situation I hadn’t planned. It was impelling; I had to adapt, improvise, and set out for a true adventure. I had found my mental homeostasis.
Plagued by indecision and a cacophony of four different, albeit all frustrated, tongues, I suggested we stop to take a picture with the landscape. The group shot me a collective look of surprise and annoyance, but complied. We paused to admire the verdant land and animals. Some time after, the sight of white roofs in the distance energized us. Upon arrival, we discovered that it was no town, but instead, a tourist attraction: las salineras — salt evaporation ponds! Although mildly disappointed, we went in to explore. Inside, we learned that we were still far from our destination. We met an Italian couple who was heading the same way, but spoke only Italian. Marginally able to understand each others’ language, we communicated through them speaking Italian and me speaking Spanish. With their map, we trekked along for another hour and a half until we reached Urubamba and could take a combi home.
My favorite place in the world? One where I have never been, where I don’t know where I am; an environment where I am not entirely comfortable yet. I love being lost: security is only a superstition, and I like the feeling of knowing that I, myself, have to think to figure out a way to either adapt, or get out.
Now, my gaze wanders between the map on my wall and my black leather book of ideas and thoughts: where do I want to get lost next?