Luciano’s Goose Egg

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Photo: Killian, Luciano and I debriefing the morning after the “bang”

“AAAAGGHHHHHH FUCK!!!”

I quickly turn in horror to see our quirky tour guide, Luciano, grab at his head with both hands and drop to the ground just under the overhanging rock formations.

“Shit, he is being attacked by a bat” is the first thought to cross my mind.

It is past 11pm, pitch black, and Luciano and I are exploring the grounds of the hot springs park near Lares town in search of a store to purchase some water and snacks.

After reaching the top grass terrace of the park, overlooking the hot spring pools below, we had just realized we would not be finding any store tonight, thus deciding to turn back to our makeshift campsite in defeat.

This is when Luciano, with his plentiful wavy hair, was attacked by a ferocious Peruvian bat.

Or so I thought.

“No, not a bat… it… just like someone with a bat… BOOM… on my head… the sound… the fucking rock… this is not good…” Luciano rambles incomprehensibly.

After some mental effort on my part, I finally decipher Luciano’s rambling: he wasn’t attacked by a bat, but rather walked into the overhanging rocks.

Apparently this is not the first time he has sustained a similar head injury.

“I can’t believe this happened again; I’m so angry! These fucking rocks!”

I check his head, and find a patch of his skull bleeding ever so slightly. His excessive rambling, wide open eyes, and colour drained face imply more damage than suggested by the mild superficial bleeding.

“I’ll be right back” I tell Luciano as I run down to our campsite and collect Marina, Killian, and our trek guide, Gladice along with a medical kit.

After some consultation between the 4 of us, Luciano takes a 400mg dose of Ibuprofen from Gladice’s medical kit.

A few minutes later, Killian and I carry Luciano down to the campsite and lay him down in his tent.

There are no nearby medical facilities, we have no vehicle, nor cell phone reception. The nearest village is approximately 40 minutes away on foot – in total darkness, traversing a winding dirt road with a hair-raising cliff side.

It is decided that Killian will sleep in the tent with Luciano, waking up at regular intervals throughout the night to check on his progress.

But none of this was supposed to happen.

Although we were all embarking on our 3 day trek through the Peruvian Andes the following day, tonight we were scheduled to sleep in a nice hotel in Ollantaytambo.

Unfortunately, a suspected workers strike and civilian road blocks in the area threatened our ability to get to our trek on the scheduled day – a situation which required an alternate plan: getting to our trek start point the night before and camping.

The most frightening three hour ride in a van with a mad driver through winding, cliff side “roads” was a part of this alternate plan.

As was setting up tents of unclear design and poor function in complete darkness.

Despite our complaining during the night in question, it appears it was all worth the hassle: a number of groups never made it to their trek after being blocked (if not stoned) by the protesters.

The following morning, after an oft-interrupted sleep in our poorly constructed tents, Luciano, despite feeling better, decided to hitch a ride back to Cusco and get checked out by a proper physician (given the strikes, this turned out to be a full day adventure for our clumsy Argentinean friend).

After bidding Luciano adieu with a round of hugs, Marina, Killian and I, along with our trek guide and a few others in our group, departed on our 3 day hike and camp through the difficult and yet stunning terrain of the Lares trail leading towards Machu Picchu.

“We’re actually doing this”, acknowledges Killian as we begin our ascent into the rocky landscape.

Peter

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On Life and Work Balance

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“It is all about the decisions you make,” says Simon, while we walk on a dirt road heading back to our hostels after having snorkeled with various fish in a nearby lagoon.

Simon was a lawyer and his partner Jayne was a teacher. As Marina and I soon learned, Simon and Jayne were at the end of their 7 month trip through South America. They both quit their jobs, rented out their home in England, and decided to travel for over half a year – according to them, 7 months is just the right amount of time for a decent trip.

Apparently, we had met people who were crazier than us.

Naturally, we became fast friends. It was incredibly refreshing to meet like-minded individuals, who despite being our parents’ age, seemed to have a thirst for adventure and exploration that rivaled our own. It was also reassuring to learn that it is possible to live such that one’s career and life were in balance.

Simon, for example, worked so that he would have the ability to take many trips with his wife and two sons. In other words, he worked to live, not the reverse. Unfortunately, the latter idiom reflects the mentality of most Westerners, and is one of the reasons why both Marina and I became disillusioned with the academic life – it was simply too all-consuming.

Simon, too, confessed that the partners at his law firm were equally obsessed with their work. They could only stomach a maximum of 2 week’s vacation per year, whereas Simon wasn’t satisfied with anything less than 2 months!

His colleagues would often comment how they don’t understand how he can afford to take so much time off, not to mention traveling all over the world to boot. This is a comment we have also heard. Over the past 6 years we have been living off of modest government scholarships, and yet have managed to travel for at least 3 weeks every year. As the energetic Englishman suggested, it all comes down to the decisions one makes. You can choose an expensive lifestyle, purchasing every material possession which catches your eye regardless of need, and despite a high paying job, you could always be struggling to make ends meet. In this situation, one has simply chosen to accrue things in place of experiences. Different people place different values on these two things. Over the past number of years, I have come to understand that experiences carry a much higher personal value than do possessions. I don’t mind not having cable tv, or buying a new car if it means I will be able to afford a trip down the road – it’s a sacrifice I make easily.

I have not always felt this way. In fact, I remember a conversation with my good friend Travis, during which he confessed that he’d be more than happy working at a small university, making just enough to afford a modest home, to feed the family, and to have the time and the resources to pursue things he loved much more than work – in his case: running, biking, and even joggling. At the time (some 3 years ago), I was fully convinced that the only way to be happy in life was by driving an Audi (a V6, at the very least), living in a home which was larger than necessary, wearing Armani suits (pardon my naïveté, I assumed then, and still do today, that these are expensive suits), and always being busy attending important functions.

Over the past two years, as I grew into the role of an up-and-coming scholar, I began to notice the personal cost this rise to ‘academic stardom’ required. Sure, I had accumulated a robust curriculum vita, filled with many publications in good medical journals, along with highly-coveted oral presentations at large conferences. Unfortunately, in the process, my guitars began accumulating dust; my relationship with Marina became stagnant, if not strained; I had almost completely stopped reading for pleasure; I stopped learning about things outside of my field of research; I had lost contact with many good friends; and I became even more irritable, critical and jaded than normal.

In essence, all the things that used to define who I was, became overshadowed by one thing: work.

I began to dislike who I was becoming. What began worrying me the most was the potential influence I would have on my future children; that is, the father I would become, if I stayed on my current trajectory.

After this realization sank in, Marina and I made a collective vow to not let work rule our existence.

Sometime in January of 2010, while we were both in the depths of thesis writing, we decided to guide our decisions in life by the following question:

“You are sitting with your grandchildren on your lap. What stories of your personal exploits through life are you sharing with them?”

Simply put, we wanted to live a story worth telling.

If not a full novel, then at the very least, accumulate a few personal novellas worth reading. We wrote the above on a sheet of paper and taped it to our front door, so that every time we left the house – we were reminded of our new found purpose. It was this silly note that reassured us we were making the right decision to travel South America without a clear itinerary before making any decisions about career, and life in general going forwards.

This single notion continues to guide the decisions we make about our careers, and more importantly, our lives.

Peter



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