168 Days, 3 Countries, and a whole lot of Mother Earth

I remember when I first arrived to Lima, Peru back in mid October thinking, “What in the world am I going to do here for 6 months?” I wondered if I had made a mistake by taking this time off to come here but kept telling myself it will all be worth it.

Now I can say it was absolutely worth it.

See the thing is, when you finally decide to make that move… to do what you truly want to do and aren’t sure where it will lead to, beautiful things happen. And these beautiful things that happen aren’t necessarily all frolics in a field – they’re a mixture of both “good” and “bad” occurrences, but nonetheless push us out of our comfort zone… to grow.

So when I booked that flight to Peru last summer, I knew I did it for a reason. I wanted to leave the U.S. for quite some time after graduating college, but wasn’t sure how, where to go, or even why exactly. I ended up staying and working in Maryland up until last October, which was then the right time to leave.

When I came to Peru, so many things were up in the air. I was waiting to hear back about graduate school and fellowships, and wasn’t sure what the coming year had in store for me. However, regardless of all of the uncertainty during this transition period, I knew what I needed to do.

I wanted to explore new places and get inspired by breathtaking landscapes… to connect to my roots and family… to meet new people and adapt to a different culture. I also wanted to focus on my development… to focus on and gain newfound confidence in my art… to improve my Spanish and Portuguese … to learn about current social and environmental issues… and to learn more about myself.  

Some things did not go according to my original plan in South America, but looking back, the change of course was for the best and I know that I still accomplished many of my goals. Those unaccomplished goals will be met sometime in the future when the timing is right.

I’ve explored a variety of geographic regions in Peru, Bolivia, and Brazil – from the coastal deserts to the Andean highlands. I had the opportunity to visit the sea lions and Humboldt penguins on the Ballestas Islands (a group of uninhabited islands off the southern coast of Peru) and tour the Paracas National Reserve (protected land that preserves Peru’s coastal marine ecosystem). I explored the sand dunes that surround the tiny village of Huacachina (a desert oasis nestled in one of the driest places on Earth) and sailed close to the clouds at Lake Titicaca (the world’s highest navigable lake).

I did multi-day treks through the Andes Mountains to the Colca Canyon, which is the world’s second deepest canyon, and to Machu Picchu, which is the lost city of the ancient Incan empire. I remember thinking how incredible it was that I could reach a high point of 4,640 meters and be surrounded by snow-capped mountains one moment, and then descend into the Amazon cloud forest the next. 

I also hiked up to the Rainbow Mountain in Peru, a mountain at 5,100 meters above sea level where mineral deposits form 7 layers of colors on the mountain itself. You’re up there and you wonder, how in the world does this happen? How do these deposits form these profound layers of color? Strange things sure do happen when you’re at 5,000+ meters above sea level…

Then there was my excursion through the Bolivian altiplano where I got to visit Salar de Uyuni (the world’s largest salt flat and mirror), the Laguna Colorada (a red colored lagoon formed by red sediments and algae in the water), the Sol de Mañana Geysers (an active volcanic zone and geothermal field), the Salvador Dali Desert (the desert that contains landscapes resembling many of the artist’s surrealist paintings), along with many other beautiful landscapes that resulted from erupted volcanoes and natural formations.

I also got to see some unique flora and fauna here, such as the Yareta plant (Azorella compacta), which grows at altitudes between 3,200 and 4,500 meters above sea level and appears to be bulby and moss-like. The plant is approximately 3,000 years old and is known to contain medicinal properties, such as pain relief and blood pressure regulation. There was also an abundance of flamingos throughout the altiplano and we even spotted a beautiful Andean desert fox!

These are all places you feel like you would see on another planet. It was as if fantasy took over reality in those awe-inspiring moments. It all definitely felt like a dream…

One of the best parts about these excursions was the inaccessibility to technology. You’re out in the middle of nowhere, so obviously Wi-Fi is nonexistent. No communication to the outside world… even better because you might as well be enjoying every single moment of this beautiful world we live in.

No running water, no toilets in many cases, no technology… only yourself, the people around you who are there for similar reasons, and nature.

After my excursion through Bolivia, I went to Sao Paulo, Brazil to visit my uncle, aunt, and two new adorable cousins. Sao Paulo, a gigantic metropolis full of high rises, culture, and beautiful urban art… it was impossible to explore the whole city in two weeks. However, my favorite aspects of it were exploring Ibirapuera Park (a large urban park designed by Brazilian Landscape Architect Roberto Burle Marx), visiting the Municipal Market (where you find the most authentic flavors of Brazil… hello nuts and juices!), and seeing the dynamic street art located around the city.

Then there was Inhotim, the most fascinating art museum and botanical garden I’ve ever been to in my life, located in the Brazilian state of Minas Gerais. Just imagine… a 5,000-acre park filled with contemporary artworks located in numerous pavilions and galleries, as well as on display in open-air… works of art by nationally and internationally acclaimed artists, such as Yayoi Kusama, Doug Aitken, and Hélio Oiticica. Talk about the perfect junction between art and nature!

Although these countries contain a unique variety of natural lands, I have observed how many people, especially in urban communities, lack access to potable water, clean air, adequate infrastructure, and public green space. Harsh climatic conditions, such as the recent mudslides and constant floods due to abnormal amounts of rainfall in the sierras, are sweeping several Peruvian communities away. Significant damage has been caused, resulting in 100+ deaths, 150,000+ homes and businesses destroyed, and communities completely devastated.

As a result, I’ve witnessed how these disasters are bringing communities together to support one another, through the opening of donation banks and refugee centers. These events are starting to fuel an increasing public awareness on climate change and many are starting to realize that new and well-planned measures need to be taken to prevent this kind of destruction in the future.

To learn more about the floods and mudslides in Peru and to support the victims, please visit and donate to: https://www.globalgiving.org/projects/flooding-in-peru-disaster-relief-70k-homeless/

While I had the opportunity to learn more about the existing social and environmental issues that exist within Peru, I have also learned about some of the initiatives taking place to mitigate these challenges.

I met with community leader and founder of the Peruvians Without Water movement, Abel Cruz, who is working to solve the water crisis in Peru with his Fog Catcher project. The project consists of placing fog catcher systems, which are designed to capture water from fog in the sierras, in several marginalized communities that lack access to water. When windblown fog passes through these systems, fog droplets are trapped onto sheets of mesh and water then drips into a pipe set below the mesh, which then transfers that water into storage tanks. Each fog catcher is capable of collecting 200-400L of water per day and the water collected can be used for agricultural irrigation and domestic use. This project has been gaining attention around the world for its ingenious solution to providing water for impoverished communities.

Globally, 1 in 10 people lack access to clean water. Roughly four million people in Peru lack access to safe drinking water, while eight million people lack access to improved sanitation. Widespread political strife and socio-environmental disparities are rapidly exacerbating the quality of life in our increasingly globalized world, therefore threatening the present and future health of the global population. Water is indeed life and an awareness of this vital resource is crucial to sustaining life across generations.

Abel, a visionary and compassionate human being, has plans to expand this effort into many more communities and even treat the water so that it can be consumed. During my free time, I will help out with this project by seeking and raising funds for research and implementation purposes.

To learn more about the Fog Catcher project, feel free to visit: http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-38175202

Throughout my trip, I had the wonderful opportunity to meet amazing people from around the world and gain a better understanding on different cultures. I remember sitting at the dinner table one night in Bolivia with people from England, India, Germany, Switzerland, and France as we discussed the global political climate: the Syrian refugee crisis, Trump, Brexit, etc. It was quite interesting and eye opening to hear others’ personal insights and first hand experiences regarding these current events. Discussing these topics allowed each of us to better understand what it’s like to experience the global challenges of our time in different environments. 

Although the miraculous places I’ve visited, the perspectives I’ve gained, and the skills I’ve learned and refined will serve me a lot from here on out, one of the most valuable lessons I’ve gotten to truly understand is the importance of family… that relationships with each and every single one of my family members is so distinct… that you learn from both the older and younger relatives… that distance has no limits.

I’ll never forget the in depth conversations I had with my grandmother over coffee (we called it “la hora del café”, or coffee hour), when we would discuss philosophical and psychological matters. I have to admit that the best conversations I’ve ever had were probably with her. I will also never forget my grandfather’s daily history lessons and news updates… always thrilled to relay information, whether it’s on colonial Latin America or the latest absurdity in politics.

These past 6 months have taught me a lot about life, the world, and about myself that I couldn’t have truly understood back home. This experience was vital for my growth into a better individual, both personally and professionally, and has allowed me to see the world in a new light.

Time… how we perceive it typically determines how we choose to live. It may determine the essence of our existence. Or perhaps not; it's all relative… but this thing we call life is what we all have in common. It is precious, however we all constantly worry about our futures, viewing time in linear fashion… constantly worried that we may make a wrong decision that will throw us off our trajectory… that our lives, reputations, and images will be deemed a failure...

We constantly worry about meeting deadlines, rushing from one place to another, working nonstop until our batteries run out… it’s all a race to the finish line, but what for? What’s the point of dragging your life to the end of it if there’s no purpose to living?

The reality is, no one makes it out of life alive and that’s what makes it is so precious. No one likes to talk about it, but it’s the truth. So why not live in moments, and stop living in seconds? Why not make the move if you know you want to make it? And why not make opportunities out of uncertainty?