Decisions

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This blog entry about the events of Tuesday, December 30, 2003 was originally posted on January 02, 2004.

DAY 73:  MY LAST DAY OF 2003 started at one o’clock in the morning.  My alarm woke me up twenty minutes before my 1:20 pick up from my guide who would take me and Heidi down Colca Canyon, the deepest canyon in the world, with the lowest point at a depth of 10,433 ft.  A knock on my room door at 1:15 signaled me that my guide was running five minutes early, and so I grabbed my smaller bag — my bigger was locked in storage — and hopped in the taxi with him.  The taxi driver drove us to Heidi’s hostel, where we picked her up before continuing onto the bus terminal.

Heidi and I were anticipating hopping a private tour bus with other possible tourists ringing in the New Year in the canyon, but there was none.  Our guide left us in the waiting area to get us tickets for a 2 a.m. public bus to the canyon, five hours away.  He was a skinny Peruvian lad named Roy who, contrary to what our travel agents told us, didn’t speak any English.  He led us to our seats on the bus and left us to go look for another trekking group.  “[There is another group.  The guide with them is your guide, but if they don’t come, I will be your guide,]” he said in Spanish.  Fortunately I knew enough Spanish to understand him, as did Heidi who had been traveling in South America for four out of six months thus far.

Roy got off the bus to wait for the supposed other group, and shortly thereafter the bus engine started.  Heidi and I thought we might have been screwed, but Roy got back on the bus in time and sat in his seat about eight rows up the aisle from us.

“This seems a bit dodgy,” Heidi said. 

The bus driver drove out of town and continued on a bumpy dirt road through the darkness of the countryside.


MY LAST DAY OF 2002 started just as mostly every weekday in 2002.  I woke up around 8 a.m. without an alarm clock — my internal body clock was already accustomed to waking up at the same time everyday — to go to work to do the same routine.  I flipped around the hundreds of channels on my digital cable TV and as always, there was nothing good on.  I took a shower, brushed my teeth and put some clothes on, and head out the door on a chilly morning in metro New York City.

I boarded the PATH train for my 10-minute train ride under the Hudson River into Manhattan with a depressed feeling; another year is about to end and here I am at 28-years-old doing the same thing.  Despite the fact that I had accomplished my 2001-into-2002 New Year’s goal of getting a travel article published in an established publication — an article about snowboarding in the New York Post travel section — I still felt unfulfilled.  Certainly there was more to life than this.

The train brought me to my regular stop at 14th Street and 6th Avenue.  It was cold enough that I could see my breath in the New York air as I walked down the block and through Union Square park, passed the sidewalk vendors selling “2003” plastic sunglasses without any lenses in them.


THE PUBLIC BUS STOPPED OFF in the first major canyon town of Chivay, the hub of the majority of tourists to the Colca Canyon, for a quick bathroom break.  Heidi and I got off the bus to pay the 30 centimos each to use the facilities and re-boarded the bus for the additional two hours along the bumpy road that hugged the morning cloud-covered canyon, passed tremendous agricultural terraces.  By 9 a.m. we arrived in Cabanaconde, a small town mentioned but not covered in my Lonely Planet Shoestring guide, where everyone still spoke the ancient Incan language of Quechua.

Roy brought us to a small rustic restaurant where he bought us a simple breakfast before leading us through the town, passed the mud brick buildings, passed a cornfield and little children tending sheep, to the beginning of the trail that would gradually take us down the canyon.  The sun warming up and was beginning to burn off the cloud layer, so Heidi and I stopped to remove a layer of clothes.

Heidi looked up at the mountains and down the canyon (picture above), excited for the trek ahead.  “Isn’t it great when you realize that you made the right decision?” she said.  Before the journey, she was debating on whether or not to spend New Year’s in the city or the beach, but was now content that she’d spend it with a fellow traveler at the bottom of Colca Canyon.  I had the same dilemma and shared her sentiment.

“[Okay, let’s go to the beach, kids,”]” Roy said before leading us down the long canyon path to the oasis at the bottom.


MY JOB IN NEW YORK CITY continued the way it always did.  I had survived the big dot com layoffs of 2001, only to be moved to a division in my company where I edited educational videos to be put on CD-ROM.  I’d sit in front of video footage taped from classrooms, sometimes about kids who can’t read well.  Sometimes the scenarios were staged, and let me tell you, the only thing worse than sitting through hours of footage of kids who can’t read well is sitting through hours of kids pretending they can’t read well. 

Alice, Mr. MacDowell, Love Penny and other co-workers-turned-Blog Readers who don’t post comments (nudge nudge) were in the office with me, continuing the mundane corporate life we had become accustomed to.  If you’ve seen the movie Office Space, you know what I’m talking about.  The only exciting thing that seemed to happen in the office was when new snacks arrived in the pantry.

“Are you doing anything for New Year’s?”

“No, I just want to stay in,” I told them.  My big New Year’s Eve plan was to — instead of getting drunk off my ass at yet another New Year’s party — try and figure out what I wanted out of life.

Out of the blue, a thought popped in my head.  I suddenly recalled Craig, a Canadian from Toronto (home of Td0t) that I had met on an expedition cruise in Antarctica earlier that year, mentioning that he always traveled with a “little book” called The Alchemist by Paul Coelho, which inspired him to travel.  I hadn’t heard of or mentioned the book for the ten whole months since he mentioned it to me, and I thought that perhaps the sudden resurgence of it in my brain was an omen of sorts.


ROY LED THE WAY ALONG THE MAIN TRAIL down gradual inclines that hugged the canyonside to the sharp, zig-zags that cut down the canyon like a bolt of lightning.  Some stretches of trail were full of loose rocks that made you lose balance and slide down, and it was taxing on the legs and knees to keep from falling down — or worse, off the edge.  The sun beat down on us from above, prompting us to stop so Roy and I could zip off the legs of our conversion pants.

“[After the bridge, it’s fifteen minutes to the village,]” Roy said.  “[Are you hungry?  Because there is no lunch today.]”

His immediate smirk alerted us that he was just kidding.

We descended down to the Colca River and crossed over it with a rickety wooden bridge with cracks in the planks, held together with rusty steel cable.  From there, the trail ascended up the other side of the canyon, making our already sore legs really earn their lunch.

“I think my bag just got heavier,” Heidi said.


LUNCHTIMES FROM MY NEW YORK JOB had also fallen into a sort of routine.  I’d either get sushi, Wendy’s, Thai, Subway or pizza and often eat it in the park with robin or in a nearby apartment courtyard with Shea that we dubbed “The Concrete Jungle.”  Every Tuesday — American DVD release day — I’d go with Love Penny (and sometimes dunlavey or Dan) to what we called the “Unholy Trinity,” a journey to three stores in the Union Square area with no religious affiliation — Circuit City, Virgin Megastore and comic book store Forbidden Planet — to look at new movies, gadgets and comic books.

This lunchtime, I went to another lunchtime staple, the four-story Barnes & Noble bookstore in Union Square, but with a purpose other than browse through magazines and drink coffee with Dtella.  I ventured up onto the fourth floor, the fiction floor, and found the book I had heard about from the Torontonian.  Although the description of the book on the back cover was a bit cheesy and the fable-like writing style a bit simple, I bought the book and head back to the office.


ROY CONTINUED TO LEAD THE WAY on the canyon trail.  There were several forks in the trail that led to other villages, so his guidance was necessary.  We ascended a little way up from the river to a flat section, passed cactus fields, wild aloe plants and farm houses.  We eventually made it to a stopping house where Roy used the facilities to prepare Heidi and me a lunch of vegetable soup, rice, salad and some sort of pressed chicken patty thing that was pretty good.  We would have eaten anything at that point.

There was a Puerto Rican couple about forty minutes behind us, and they caught up with us during the later part of our lunch hour.  Jorge and Anna were on vacation from just around my neighborhood on the other side of the Hudson River from Manhattan (Union City and Hoboken, respectfully) and were doing the trail to the oasis to ring in the New Year before heading back to Lima for a wedding they had to attend.  For me it was great to joke with fellow people who could mimic the New York subway automated voice recordings — what a small world it is — but for Heidi it was far more interesting.  She confided in me how excited she was to spend New Year’s with Puerto Ricans. 

American pop culture is exported all over the world — particularly in Australia — and what’s American pop culture without Puerto Ricans J.Lo and Ricky Martin?  Coming from New York, encountering a Puerto Rican is about as common as encountering an Irishman in a pub, but coming from Perth, Australia, meeting a Puerto Rican is somewhat of a rare and exciting occurrence. 

“I can’t wait to tell my sister that I spent New Year’s with Puerto Ricans!” she said.


BACK IN MY OFFICE CUBICLE, I felt a little different — I had a book in my hands that had popped into my conscience out of apparently nowhere, and the only thing I wanted to do was go home and read it.  Luckily, the powers-that-be let us go home early for New Year’s Eve.  I took the train under the Hudson with Love Penny, wished him a Happy New Year and rushed back to my apartment.  I had a quick bite to eat and then sat in my living room with the lights low, the television off.

I read the tale of The Alchemist — with all of its simple and almost obvious metaphors to modern life — about a shepard from Andalucia, Spain who follows his dream to visit the pyramids of Egypt.  Along his journey, he encounters many people and places that make his life stronger and more fulfilling, from a crystal merchant in Tangiers to an alchemist in a desert oasis.  I read the book cover to cover in a single sitting, feeling that it had been writing specifically for me and my doldrums.

What particularly struck me was a quote in the book from a mystical king, in which he tells the young shepherd that he is at a point in his life where he’s about to give up on his dreams and fall into routine.  Reading this, my subconscious reminded me what my dream was.  Instilled in my brain from travelers I had met on my little two-week corporate American vacations, I wanted to travel around the world for at least a year if not more, to see the things I had only seen on The Discovery Channel.  I made the decision that I would take a grand trip — a global trip — and that I would plan and begin by the year’s end.


TWO LOCAL WOMEN were transporting goods from village to village with two mules ahead of us.  The two women were mildly startling the two donkeys with sticks to go faster, but one veered off to the wrong path and stood there like he didn’t want to continue farther.

“[Let’s go to the beach,]” Roy joked as he led the rest of the way through villages, passed mud brick churches, and back down the canyon passed a waterfall and over another rickety bridge.  Before sundown we arrived at our final destination:  one of the encampments at the oasis at the bottom of Colca Canyon, with swimming pools filled by underground mountain water streams and, more importantly, beer.

Heidi and I checked into our bungalow, got some beers and jumped into the warm waters of the pool as a condor flew high above us.  “This is the perfect New Year’s,” I said.  A donkey tied near the men’s outhouse heehawed.

Joining us on New Year’s Eve was a couple on their three-week holiday from the UK and Rudy, on his five-week holiday from Belgium.  We ate a decent meal of carbohydrate-filled pasta over a bottle of wine as the sky above the canyon got darker and darker, forming high silohuettes that towered above us.  It was dark by 7 p.m. and the guides built us a campfire for us to sit around.  Everyone in our camp was dead tired, and with the wake-up time of 3 a.m. to catch the early bus, everyone just turned in.  Apparently, New Year’s in the world’s deepest canyon wasn’t a big deal, but Heidi and I were still determined to be up for the turnover.  We wanted to jump into the pool at the stroke of midnight, but it had already been drained for a fresh new supply of mountain water the following day.


IT WAS ONLY ABOUT 11 P.M. when I finished The Alchemist.  A feeling of rebirth had come over me — suddenly my life had purpose and it was clear to me:  in 2003 I would make preparations to go on The Global Trip in 2004.  I was bursting with enthusiasm and I need to share it with someone.  Luckily I had an open invitation to a small family gathering at Francis’ house where my friend wheat would also ring in the New Year. 

I hopped in my little old Honda Civic and drove up the New Jersey Turnpike to the house in the suburbs as the clock on the dashboard ticked closer and closer to midnight like a time bomb.  I arrived at the house in Bergenfield, New Jersey where Francis, family and friends were eating and drinking around multiple televisions showing Dick Clark hosting the chaotic festivities in New York’s Times Square.

So as not to jinx the promise I didn’t know if I could yet keep, I simply confided in wheat that in 2003 there would be “a major change.”  Little did I know at the time that this “major change” would involve giving up my comfortable apartment and selling the car I had just driven in.


HEIDI AND I SAT ALONE by the fire, wondering if we would make it to midnight.  We thought everyone had turned in until Roy and another guide saw us and asked if we wanted to get champagne at a nearby encampment.  Roy led us up through the vegetation to the neighboring store where there was no champagne, but two more bottles of beer.  Heidi and I snatched them for the last remaining two hours of 2003.

The guides went to sleep so we decided to walk over to the encampment on the other side of ours to see if Jorge and Anna, The Puerto Ricans, were still awake.  They were, sitting at a table with their guide, looking quite tired and bored.

“We have a fire going if you want to join us,” I suggested.

They walked with us back over to the fire.

Heidi and I killed another hour talking with The Puerto Ricans about travels in Peru and Cuba and the pronunciation of certain words in Spanish.  The flames of the fire kept on dying down so I kept on going out for more pieces of wood — only straw or bamboo was available though.

Jorge and Anne left for their bungalow around 11:30, leaving Heidi and myself to ring in the New Year alone.  The fire died out, so we went back to our bungalow to watch my travel digital clock count down the minutes to 2004.  Exhausted and a little buzzed, I dozed off for a little bit, but woke up before the turn of the New Year.


ON THE TELEVISION IN THE KITCHEN, the ball dropped in New York’s Times Square at the stroke of midnight.  Dick Clark wished America a “Happy New Year.”

USING MY FLASHLIGHT, I saw the display on my digital travel clock change from 11:59 to 12:00.  We heard distant firecrackers echo through the canyon, coming from either a small village or another encampment in the oasis. 

When 2003 rang in, I knew that I was determined to take the trip of a lifetime by year’s end, and when 2004 rang in, I knew that the trip had already begun.

Heidi was right — it is great when you realize you’ve made the right decision.






Next entry: New Year, New Adventure

Previous entry: New Friend For New Year’s




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Comments for “Decisions”

  • AWESOME!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  01/02  at  04:25 PM


  • i know i know i say all your stories are great and you’re probably frustrated cuz i ‘m never objective..but this is by far your masterpiece.  i dunno wut else to say.  im all tranquilo, tranquilo.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  01/02  at  04:28 PM


  • dope ass post man…. this was the first year i didn’t watch dick clark and that ball drop….2004: the year of the blog and many more adventures!!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  01/02  at  04:30 PM


  • Oh man… I could’ve been first but I read before I commented LOL This place looks fabulous!!!  Excellent way to bring in the New Year.  I wanna go there now!! Beautiful pics!

    Posted by Liz  on  01/02  at  04:31 PM


  • Wow! I actually made first entry and after reading the whole blog!

    That trail looks awesome! I can imagine Paul from Amazonas racing down that one with his friends as he once did on the Inca Trail. Those bungalows looked like a serene oasis in the middle of such a rocky canyon! Such rich, green grass.

    As inspiring as almost all of your entries are (poop pics notwithstanding smile ), this was one of the most inspiring. The stark contrast of your 2 new years is especially poignant as it has led you to where you are now! Bravo!!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  01/02  at  04:33 PM


  • Happy Belated New Year!  That was an awesome entry!!!  It’s amazing how your life has changed in a matter of a couple of months!!  Udz and I are off to India - we’ll be back in about 2 weeks to catch up on your blog!!  Be safe!!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  01/02  at  04:34 PM


  • hey lovepenny,

      could u get copies of those tapes with the kids pretending they can’t read.  that is def. something worth watching..crunked!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  01/02  at  05:02 PM


  • Glad you all like the departure of writing style in this one… it’s sorta like The Godfather Part II.

    Don’t forget, in Life, “Leave the gun, take the cannoli.”

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  01/02  at  05:32 PM


  • Im stoked i met you erik! I can send this site to all my friends rather than having to try to explain it all!
    So impressed by the whole thing-love how i got the story of The Alchemist new year too…reminds me of the feelings i got when i read that book.

    Posted by Heidi  on  01/02  at  06:49 PM


  • Inspiration can be the greatest motivator! Well done Erik. Nice touch on the Godfather metaphor… leave the gun, take the cannoli… I think you hit the nail on the head.

    I’ve just spent the last hour catching up. Belated happy new year—health, happiness, and a safe journey in 2004.

    PS… it’s time for a haircut, lest you lose your nickname Fuzz-E!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  01/02  at  07:21 PM


  • see man…i’m not the only one that said you need a haircut!!

    the hobbit look only works for hobbits….

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  01/02  at  07:30 PM


  • oh my god, the pictures of the canyon and the surroundings are amazing. i am so jealous. that was such a beautiful way to spend the new year eve. just to let you know, if you thought it was bad before, it sucks even more now at work. there’s no windows, and we lost the minor thrill of new snacks. everything is in vending machines, and we are too far from the unholy trinity for any lunchtime excitement. lovepenny and i are surviving on bulk canisters of slim jims. you definitely made the right choice. i am still jealous. =P

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  01/02  at  09:02 PM


  • Best Post yet… poop notwithstanding.  So good I had to tell you before I finished reading.  You are in a place I’d like to be… tranquillo, tranquillo.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  01/02  at  10:46 PM


  • best post and best pics!  no necessito decirte nada mas!!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  01/02  at  11:43 PM


  • I agree, you definitely need a haircut, it’s not you anymore.

    This is my kind of place especially the mud brick church. i can feel the presence of the Holy spirit just viewing it.  Wish I could see it someday..
    May the Holy Spirit be with you throughout your journey.. Stay well…

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  01/03  at  12:36 AM


  • MOM:  That mud church is only open three days a year for a festival, otherwise it just sits there.

    Perhaps I will get a haircut in Bolivia…

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  01/03  at  01:00 AM


  • truly, best post yet. You had me at “Day 73”...you had me at “Day 73”.

    Wheat: Not worth it. Trust me…I have no idea how Erik was able to edit that “masterpiece” everyday.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  01/03  at  01:05 AM


  • ah…the Unholy Trinity. Those were the good ole days.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  01/03  at  01:20 AM


  • Erik, that was the best peice of writing I’ve read all year! You are truly an inspriation…

    BTW: Thanks for the shoutout!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  01/03  at  03:47 PM


  • Great Post ! .. a fitting begining to 2004!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  01/04  at  02:47 PM


  • This story was perfect…Happy New Year!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  01/04  at  04:03 PM


  • A ha - so THAT’S how you decided to go on this adventure! I remember when you went to go look for that book during lunch. For some reason I confused it with “The Alienist” by Caleb Carr, and I was like, “what do serial killers have to do with travel writing?!”

    Great entry!

    Posted by dunlavey  on  01/05  at  05:05 AM


  • WOW!!  What a great entry!! 

    I feel like reading the Alchemist again!  smile

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  01/05  at  10:46 PM


  • HEY HEY.

    i’v been MIA from the blog again…sorry. busy, busy. friends from london were here, then bdays..etc..and in 128 hours & 40 mins i’m off to colorado. yippeee! not as exciting as colca canyon, but it will have to do (for now).

    so you’re in bolivia?! yikes. i have mucho catching up to do!! it’s on this weekends “to do” list.

    this entry was a SUPER!!! wow-wee! great writing smile

    the alchemist ...  sarah is reading it now…and soon i will be too…

    (i’m jealous)

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  01/16  at  01:11 AM


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This blog post is one of over 500 travel dispatches from the trip blog, "The Global Trip 2004: Sixteen Months Around The World (Or Until Money Runs Out, Whichever Comes First)," originally hosted by BootsnAll.com. It chronicled a trip around the world from October 2003 to March 2005, which encompassed travel through thirty-seven countries in North America, South America, Africa, Europe, and Asia. It was this blog that "started it all," where Erik evolved and honed his style of travel blogging — it starts to come into focus around the time he arrives in Africa.

Praised and recommended by USA Today, RickSteves.com, and readers of BootsnAll and Lonely Planet's Thorn Tree, The Global Trip blog was selected by the editors of PC Magazine for the "Top 100 Sites You Didn't Know You Couldn't Live Without" (in the travel category) in 2005.


Next entry:
New Year, New Adventure

Previous entry:
New Friend For New Year’s




THE GLOBAL TRIP GLOSSARY

Confused at some of the jargon that's developed with this blog and its readers over the years? Here's what they mean:

BFFN: acronym for "Best Friend For Now"; a friend made on the road, who will share travel experiences for the time being, only to part ways and lose touch with

The Big Trip: the original sixteen month around-the-world trip that started it all, spanning 37 countries in 5 continents over 503 days (October 2003–March 2005)

NIZ: acronym for "No Internet Zone"; a place where there is little to no Internet access, thus preventing dispatches from being posted.

SBR: acronym for "Silent Blog Reader"; a person who has regularly followed The Global Trip blog for years without ever commenting or making his/her presence known to the rest of the reading community. (Breaking this silence by commenting is encouraged.)

Stupid o'clock: any time of the early morning that you have to wake up to catch a train, bus, plane, or tour. Usually any time before 6 a.m. is automatically “stupid o’clock.”

The Trinidad Show: a nickname of The Global Trip blog, used particularly by travelers that have been written about, who are self-aware that they have become "characters" in a long-running story — like characters in the Jim Carrey movie, The Truman Show.

WHMMR: acronym for "Western Hemisphere Monday Morning Rush"; an unofficial deadline to get new content up by a Monday morning, in time for readers in the western hemisphere (i.e. the majority North American audience) heading back to their computers.

1981ers: people born after 1981. Originally, this was to designate groups of young backpackers fresh out of school, many of which were loud, boorish and/or annoying. However, time has passed and 1981ers have matured and have been quite pleasant to travel with. The term still refers to young annoying backpackers, regardless of year — I guess you could call them "1991ers" in 2013 — young, entitled millennials on the road these days, essentially.




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