Today’s guest post is by Jessica Yubas, a digital nomad who has so far traveled to 45 countries.
At the beginning of May of this year I found myself in the middle of nowhere somewhere in the highlands of Peru.
I was traveling throughout South America. Peru was one of the countries I most wanted to explore, with Cusco – the seat of the Incan empire and jumping off point for Machu Picchu – set to be one of the major highlights of my trip.
Little did I know that Machu Picchu would not be the only experience in the region that would leave a lasting impression.
I didn’t unintentionally wind up in the middle of nowhere.
I had signed up to go on a trek to the Rainbow Mountain, a piece of landscape that looks as if the sky rained paint instead of water.
The tour operator in the city center of Cusco hooked me with just the image of the colorful mountain range. It looked like a place you only ever see on Pinterest; of course I was going to go.
By this point in my travels, I had already done a fair share of trekking. The scenery along these hikes was always stunning. Since interacting with nature had been the main experience (and point) of my other treks, I assumed it would be no different on this one.
And yet, as soon as our little group arrived at an area three hours outside of Cusco where the trek would begin, it was.
The uniqueness of the Rainbow Mountain trek is that, because it is in an isolated location, is not yet a full-fledged tourist destination, and there are no trails or trail markers, you progress together as one group with an informal crew of local guides and their llamas, horses and dogs alongside.
These are Peruvians who naturally live in the area and lead travelers through their ‘neighborhood.’
These guides – men and women alike – became our family for the daylong adventure. Without them, we would not have reached our destination or returned home. Without them, I would not have come to know what the lives of these natives are like.
The people of the small community that has settled in this part of the Andes are soft-spoken and kind.
Their lifestyle is very much in contrast with that of us city-dwellers: they shelter in simple, mostly one-room, single-story, handmade mud-brick homes with dirt floors and thatched or corrugated metal roofs, shepherd llamas, and use dug-out holes in the ground outside to relieve themselves.
The rawness of the Andes is reflected on their wind burnt cheeks. The altitude insists that the pace of life is slow.
At the outset of the trek, our group of 30 squeezed into one of few buildings and huddled shoulder-to-shoulder on low stools at two tables for breakfast.
I worked in the building industry before becoming a nomad, and so I automatically scanned over every aspect of the edifice we were in, noting especially the lack of electricity, the exterior walls that are not entirely impermeable to the elements, and the unimportance of aesthetics. These are buildings of necessity, not of comfort.
As we journeyed hours away from the cluster of buildings and toward our goal of the Rainbow Mountain, I observed.
My surroundings were indeed magnificent, but I was equally fascinated by my indigenous companions. How they interacted with one another (quietly, respectfully), their complete ease at roaming an unmarked countryside, the normalcy of it all to them. I felt somewhat envious of this culture of seeming simplicity.
The principle language in the Andes is Quechua, but Spanish is spoken as well, and so I was able to converse with the shy teenaged guide of the horse that I ultimately rode for part of the trek. He was a sweet kid who patiently answered my questions about the way of life in this remote place, surprised that I cared to know.
The whole day was a very intimate experience that has remained at the forefront of my memories of my entire trip in South America.
I’m aware that the reason for this impact is because of the unexpected extended contact with the inviting locals and their contribution to my non-stop education-through-travel about the diversity of lifestyle.
The day was a reminder that there is no ‘one way’ to live. No manner of living is superior or inferior to another – they are just different, even if they are drastically so. It’s important that we remember that, and keep an open mind, observe, participate, and not judge.
On that day in May I set out solely to revel in nature, but I was met by so much more. Sometimes when you go the distance (literally), you encounter a local experience.
Jessica is a Digital Nomad who has so far traveled to 45 countries. She currently blogs about working remotely for Capa Consulting Group and plans to develop her own blog based on her travels. Jessica loves to inspire and encourage others to travel – and to travel deeper – and is always looking to connect with like-minded people. Follow her on Instagram to see more about her explorations and life as a nomad.