On September 9, 2017, I took my first international trip without my parents to Cusco, Peru. I’m sure some people will consider that a pretty late milestone at the age of 25, but there I was.
I used to be so awestruck by picture-perfect moments captured on social media. I would see classmates sharing photos of beautiful landscapes in foreign lands, older cousins making their mark in impoverished nations, and friends taking luxury cruises. I wasn’t envious when I saw these posts, but I certainly felt awestruck. There is so much to see out in the world and I yearned to earn my way to have my own adventure.
I was then offered the opportunity to join a few friends of mine on a birthday vacation to Cusco, Peru. My friends were planning on staying for two weeks and using the PeruHop service to travel across Peru and Bolivia. I only had a one week window available, but I was not the only one they invited with that timeline restriction. I decided to jump in on their plans and prepare for my first international adventure.
To anyone interested in visiting Peru, I highly recommend doing a lot of research in advance. This is a typical piece of advice to anyone traveling internationally, but for Peru in particular, the main attraction of the country is the Incan ruins of Machu Picchu. Ironically, the only infrastructure setup in the country to get you there is on the high-end of the pay scale. If you (like I was) are interested in taking a more budget-friendly approach, you’re going to need to do a lot of reading.
It’s in part because we decided to take the budget-friendly (and frequented) route to Machu Picchu that we encountered a few complications, complications which you will never see on camera.
So in the name of pulling back the illusion of perfection that shadows all travel posts on social media, here are a few unpleasant things that happened prior to the above photo.
- Out of the 6 members of our travel party, all but 1 didn’t experience any diarrhea, nausea, or food poisoning at some point during the trip. Half of us took Dukoral (vaccine for travelers diarrhea) prior to the trip. A vaccinated traveler still got diarrhea.
- We took the combination car-walking route to Machu Picchu from Cusco. This mean6-hour car-ride through winding mountainous roads, only half of which were paved. We then hiked for 3 hours from the closest town to Machu Picchu that was accessible by road. The only other way in was to take the train. Aint nobody got money for that… until we had to make the return trip. We were exhausted.
- See that tall mountain in the background? I had tickets to climb up it but I backed out at the last moment. I could barely make it up the stairs to get to Machu Picchu without getting out of breath. The altitude pills I took helped alleviate symptoms of altitude sickness, but I just couldn’t do any physical activity that went beyond moderate-intensity. It is a very strange and uncomfortable feeling to be winded before your muscles are sore.
- Peruvian potatoes are absolutely amazing. Even McDonald french fries taste great. They still tasted like potatoes after they had cooled down for about an hour. It was really impressive. This point actually isn’t a negative one, but I just had to publicly fawn over the magic that is Peru and its 251 variety of potatoes.
Never take a photo for granted. Social media travel photography is mostly about saving face. Experiencing the adventure is all about acknowledging the not-so-picturesque moments, too.