After leaving Aquas Calientes, I returned to Cusco, where I would spend the next four days, including my birthday. During my stay in the Amazon, I met a girl named Shirley, who said she would be in Cusco during my birthday and would show me around. I was excited, and so after checking into my motel (which I decided to spoil myself for my birthday and stay at the Marriott), I called Shirley and asked if she would like to meet at the restaurant across the street from my hotel. Some of the group members I hiked with also met there, including my friend Robert Da Bruce from Scotland. Shirley arrived, and we had a few drinks and talked for the remainder of the night. She knew some members of the group because they had previously been in the Amazon Jungle also.
That was a bitter-sweet night because I hiked with the group members who were leaving the next day to continue onto Bolivia and some going home. It was great to have met Shirley, and we made plans to goto Moray and Oracles the following day, so I was excited for the new adventure with someone I felt a connection to and was looking forward to getting to know.
After laughing and talking late into the night, everyone decided to head back to their hotels. Shirley and I made plans to meet the next day and explore Cusco. The morning arrived, and I said goodbye to my fellow hikers as they continued, and then I met Shirley. We had a fantastic day together even though I spoke only a little Spanish, and she spoke only intermediate English, but we had no problems communicating.
That evening we met back at my hotel and had our first dinner together. I felt so fortunate to have had all these fantastic experiences and met such genuine people. At dinner, we made plans to go to Oracles to visit some of her family and see the Moray site for my birthday.
After spending the day in Oracles with Shirley and some of her family, we celebrated my birthday with a traditional Peruvian dinner of Cuy (guinea pig) potatoes, pasta, and Chicha, a corn fermented beer. The meal was perfect, but guinea pig “Cuy” must be an acquired taste.
We then played a game of Sopa, and they surprised me with a birthday cake. I much appreciated them celebrating my birthday and being so kind. I felt a real sense of communion and connection even though we did not fluently speak each other’s languages. We enjoyed visiting for a while longer before Shirley and got in a taxi and headed back to Cusco for our last night together because she would be returning home to Puerto Maldonado.
The ride back to Cusco was enjoyable with fantastic scenery. Shirley and I stopped at a Basilica of the Virgin of the Assumption, a Catholic church outside of Cusco, where a local Quechua woman was selling clothing and other goods made from Alpaca. We bought a few things, and Shirley talked to the lady for a while before we returned to our taxi and our friend Victor to continue our drive to Cusco.
When we finally arrived in Cusco, it was late, and we were both tired, so we spent an hour together and made plans to meet in the morning. I would go with her to the airport for her flight home. We both knew our time together was limited and were so happy to have met but sad to say goodbye. When I returned to my hotel room, I thought to myself how amazing the world is and how fortunate I was to have so many wonderful experiences and have met such amazing people. I fell asleep, I said a few prayers.
When morning came, I woke up early, around 6:00 because Shirley’s flight was departing at 8:30 I grabbed my clothes, got dressed, ran downstairs, drank some orange juice, and had a bite to eat before going outside to meet Shirley. I jumped in a taxi, and we headed to the airport. When we got to the airport, it was bustling with activity. I walked her to the security, and we embraced for what could be the last time and said goodbye. My heart was overwhelmed with emotions; would we ever see each other again. In my mind, I prayed we would, but how? I was a man from Appalachia and she was a women from the Amazon Jungle.
I returned to the taxi, and Victor drove me to the hotel; it felt strange, being completely alone again. I would have one last night in Cusco before heading to Lima and then back to America. That night I wandered around Cusco streets and had a fantastic dinner at Cicciolina, which I would highly recommend but make reservations. I found myself emotional that evening and overwhelmed by everything that I had experienced. I felt very close to mom and could feel her presence as I felt sure she was happy to see me experiencing so many amazing things.
I went back to the hotel and packed my things for my flight to Lima in the morning. I woke up early, grabbed my bags, and went downstairs and into a taxi. I got to the airport and through security, but my plane to Lima was delayed, and I missed my connecting flight to America. Word of advice does not fly international with Spirit air!!! I ended up having to spend an extra two days in Lima and wait for the next flight to America.
I made the best of it and spent more time exploring Lima and met a few local business owners and international travelers. I flew out on 9-11, which was an exciting experience flying from Peru with Miami’s layover. I felt the brunt of TSA security but eventually made it to Pittsburgh International airport and home. It felt strange to drive and to be back in the United States, and I had a gut feeling I would not be here for long.