Fighting off Malaise, and Soup

June 16-19th

The constant cloud cover over Trujillo feeds the Malaise. The mountains around the city are beautiful though.

Hurling at 3 am alone in a bumpy night bus bathroom somewhere on the northern coast of Peru is not the best way to be sick. Waking up at 5 am only to find the bus stewardess yelling at me (because the toilet does not accept my choice of currency) in Spanish so fast that all I pick up are “Peruanas” and “touristas” is worse. I figure she is mad because she, a Peruvian, is cleaning up after me, a tourist. I say “Lo siento”, mostly because I am sorry, but also because I need to hurl again and want to end the conversation as soon as possible.

Let me rewind back to the beginning.

I felt a little like this guy. Doubled over, covered in pigions, and anguishy looking.

I hate soup. There are very few things I genuinely hate, but anyone who knows me well knows that soup and I are rarely known to share the same table. First, it is incongruous. Water and food are meant to be separate, which is why they are the rest of the time. Second, I have no idea what the heck is floating around in there. Lukewarm water with bobbing bits of god-knows-what peering from beneath a cloudy, glossed over surface bent on keeping its secrets. I can’t fathom how soup is popular, or why anyone would want to eat it. Full disclosure, I have only had it twice. Once when my ex’s mom cooked it, and the second time last Friday because there was nothing else on the menu.

I was so sure this soup, which cost all of a third or a US dollar (perhaps 6/10’s), would make me sick, that I photographed it so that the police would know who to charge with my grizzly murder.

It may look innocent, but look closer.

Join me again on the Peruvian night bus, desirable over the day bus because the night companies pay the local gangs not to steal all the tourist’s money and bags while they sleep. Sick to my stomach, I have offended the stewardess, who in turn has cursed me and all stupid American tourists who seem only to know enough Spanish to say “Lo siento.” Yet my mind had left the night bus hours before. The moment I felt sick, a sort of vulnerability set in and stayed with me all weekend, making me feel like a six year old.

This is my first time without friends or family alone in a foreign country. The first time without anyone who really cares for me deeply at all. Not to say that my group has not been totally supportive and helpful when I was sick (which they were), just that it is different. I’ve been lucky enough to be surrounded by such people my whole life, and so without them in a physical sense, my mind sought them out in its memories.

The adobe remains of the once powerful Moche city of Chan Chan, and the tailgate awnings archaologists use to preserve them.

I spent most of the ride thinking not about getting better, but about how far away the people I love are. Even if I had wanted to call home, an answering machine would have greeted me. My mother and brother are in Vietnam. My father left today for Cuba. My best friend is somewhere in the woods of Montana. I have friends, and people I can lean on here in Peru, but being sick at 3 am alone on a dark bus in a foreign country far from anyone I love or anything I know is possibly one of the loneliest experiences I can recall having.

Don’t get me wrong, to be lonely sometimes is not so bad. The sickness itself I did not think much of, accepting it as reality of world travel, disappointed only because I could not be an exception. What was difficult was that in my moment of weakness I missed the people I love more so than at any other time during my trip, which reaches its second complete month in a few days.

A piece of street art in Trujillo's central plaza. Or, a miracle. What do I know, I've only been here 10 days!

So after a couple days of gagging, conversations that begin with “How ya feeling?” and end with “Excuse me one minute” I finally feel basically better. Lingering though, are those pangs of homesickness accompanied by no way of release. Good, I think. Good that I will be forced to rely on my own mental stamina rather than resort to communication with friends and family. It is certainly a different way to live, and I have been quieted these past few days both by fevered emotions and a flat out fever. All that said, I think it is something worth experiencing.

Quiet also these past days, my keyboard has been producing little of consequence. I have ideas, I’ve taken plenty of pictures, and on most evenings I do have the time to write a post, but each time I sit down to begin I grow tired, lose my sense of urgency, and seek pleasures more earthly, like food! There is a tasty little bakery right nearby that serves the best deserts!

The famous Incan Hairless dog. They have a most unusual texture.

I’ll keep trying to produce this weekend as I take on the challenge of building a reed boat by hand, but for now I think I’ll get some rest. I’ve got some interesting writing projects coming up in the next few months, and who knows what else.

My mind has been pretty busy, since in the next few weeks I need to decide whether or not to return to school right away or take a semester or two off. I’ve swayed back and forth, and am this point pretty ambivalent, preferring a powerful factor to take hold and direct my flight. More on all that later though.

“I expected to find a deep malaise.” A professor of mine stroked his beard and said after studying me when I mentioned I was thinking of a gap year.

“Nope,’ I said. ‘Just restlessness.”


Welding on our first day in the workshop, plenty more to come here.

# # #


3 responses to “Fighting off Malaise, and Soup

  1. Hi John! From Viet Nam where I am with you mom and brother and Van and working away. What great experience you are gaining. The loneliness comes with the choice of the life style of wanderer……but it also goes away when the highs come…… It is always there, forever, vis a vis distance from family and old friends but one learns to accommodate the new reality and learn it as a part of the whole. After more than 40 years of this wandering I can say that loneliness is just part of it. This first experience, though, is striking and sometimes searing, depending on the person. Sometimes it wins and sometimes it doesn’t.

    Good luck as you explore, focus as you learn to go beyond all you had thought you could, and a level head in that important decision making. Remember as you decide about school that just because you might go back to studying, it does not mean that you will not resume your wandering another time……… very much sounds like you will. When I went to Hawaii for the summer the first time I was 20, wrote my father and told him I wasn’t coming back to Oregon, he wrote me and told me to come back to school and if I still wanted to go back to Hawaii I could the next year. He was right, I needed to return to focus on studies…..and I did go back the next summer to Hawaii on an internship as a Methodist youth counselor….and then went back to Oregon to another year of school…then a summer counseling at University Settlement Camp in Beacon, NY….back to Oregon to finish student teaching……gained my teaching certificate and by the next autumn was back in Hawaii teaching……….and I have been coming and going from there ever since, sometimes with huges spaces of years inbetween when I wandered away again.

    I remember I was always afraid when I returned to the US that I would get stuck there….and zoomed away as soon as I could….until after many years of this I realized that I really did want to be there for a while and could finally go back….and I chose Hawaii in which to spend ten years before coming back to Viet Nam. In the years in between I used my teaching experience and skills to financially support me while doing the wandering…..and I have never regretted actually having that qualification…………..but mid life retrained in public health and find that I have much more to offer in this area because I can also teach………………….and wander…………………..great combination for exploration.

    Well…..did not mean to go on so long….but I guess the message is that any decision you make needs to be feel right…….and that you will never really get “stuck” as I feared in an ordinary existence if you do not want to………while still valuing the nearness of friends and family….


  2. the malaise will pass, johnnyboy. it always does. enjoy peru, know that we miss you, and keep writing about all the great things you’re up to. you know we’ll keep reading about ’em.

    trusty dusty editor (who has fallen behind, but soon will catch up and point out to you all yo grammatical flaws)

  3. Hello world conquerer!
    It’s Huong. Long time no see and now I am reading posts from a seasoned traveler!
    May I say you’re very brave and self-reliant. Very strong will.
    Good luck & pleasant surprises on your trip.

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