Packing for The Hemispheres — from Peru to the Midwest to India

As you all might have gathered from my last post, I’m about to head out of Peru and toward the Far East for a period of time. A college friend shall marry — HURRAH! — and both Kelli and I will be jetting to India to witness the Hindu nuptials. As an added bonus, we’re getting to India right on Kelli’s birthday, which will be awesome but also probably super jet-laggy for her. Don’t worry, Kelli, we’re going to celebrate with strange alcohols and/or curries as soon as possible. Even if you’re asleep as I spoon feed birthday things into your mouth.

The fact that I live in Peru provided some travel planning friction. I researched flights in all manner of ways: from Columbia to India, from Panama to India, even from various points in the Midwest. All were expensive enough to make me think maybe I should defer my student loans again, or get another job, or just toss the whole trip altogether.

But then there was Chicago. Our flights rang in at about $800 round trip, Chicago to New Delhi. HIGH FIVE!

There still remained the small task of moving my physical being from PERU to CHICAGO in order to catch that flight, of course, but I took care of that with some accumulated airline points, so that leg of the trip ended up being only a couple hundred bucks extra.

So, all told? Less than $1,100 to get from the mountains of Peru to Chicago, where I’ll spend five lovely days with friends, then on to India for five weeks, and back again to Cusco.

Not. Bad.

The travel logistics weren’t the biggest part of the travel puzzle. In fact, the biggest piece of this international pie, so to speak, is something that I only realized recently.

It’s summer in Cusco right now. While that doesn’t mean much (like, hello, I wear alpaca booties everyday and drape heavy blankets over my lap while I work), it DOES mean that I can mostly survive without a proper winter jacket.

But, wait. It’s January right now. And in a few days, I”ll be arriving to *gulp* the Midwest. In WINTER. TO CHICAGO, NO LESS. WHERE THE LAKES FREEZE AND HIGHWAYS EXPLODE FROM ICE AND TEMPERATURES ARE NEGATIVE 50!

Some of that might be exaggerated, but the point remains: IT’S GONNA BE COLD.

And…yeah, that’s right…I don’t have a winter jacket.

Oversight City! OOPS! I left my jacket in Ohio, thinking I would be able to get by without it in Peru (which I am), forgetting entirely about my brief visit to Chicago in HIGH WINTER.

Even if I had thought ahead, which I clearly didn’t, I’m not sure I would have brought it anyway. Winter jackets are BULKY and take up PRECIOUS space in a backpack. When you live on such limited space, you gotta pare things down to the UTMOST necessities. I’m afraid I would have left the jacket behind anyway.

At any rate, I will be moving myself from the equivalent of early spring weather in Cusco to DASTARDLY COLD temps in Chicago to moderate-to-HOT climes in India.



I’ll tell you how.

My experience in traveling Ryan Air through Europe taught me an important lesson about overweight luggage fees, and layering clothing to avoid this. When your overstuffed backpack rings in mere kilo or two overweight, you begin putting on your clothes. This can sometimes lead to a very sweaty, uncomfortable experience depending on what part of Europe you’re traveling.

But for me, right now? This will be the only way to survive.

Leg 1: Cusco to Lima = Normal, but carry-on will be bursting with various sweaters and leggings, waiting for their moment to shine.

Leg 2: Lima to Miami = Normal, maybe even a little warm once we get to Florida. Carry-on still straining. Extra leggings waiting to be put on, as well as the leg warmers, and the two pairs of gloves, and two extra sweaters.

Leg 3: Miami to Chicago = bundled up like a stiff yeti with dreadlocks! Carry-on luggage suddenly, magically, light as a feather.

Luckily, the area of India where I’ll be spending most of my time won’t be blazing hot, so I will have a use for all the Peruvian sweaters I’m carrying around like a street vendor.

On my way back through Chicago in March, I’ll have to do the quintuple-layer dance once more, but hey. If it means I don’t have to clog up my backpack with a full-time winter jacket, I’ll sacrifice joint movement for a lighter load.

Just be aware that if you see me somewhere in Chicago in the next few months and wave at me, dont expect me to wave back. I probably won’t be able to lift my arm higher than my shoulder. It’s just the dense layers of alpaca clothes prohibiting my movements — I’m not blowing you off, I swear. 


5 Things I Didn’t Know About High-Altitude Living

A little over two months into Cusco, I can say with certainty that life at 11,200 feet comes with its own set of peculiarities. This isn’t the highest up we’ve ever been – Jorge and I had the pleasure of visiting Potosi, Bolivia once, the highest inhabited city in the world at 13,400 feet. But that was just for a couple days, and we were happy to get out of there and to lower climes. Here are some of the biggest lessons I’ve learned at 11,000 feet:

1.) Cooking is a different experience. Have you guys ever noticed the separate cooking instructions for high-altitude locations on every box of pasta in history? I used to, and never thought much of it. I remember inquiring about this – why would the instructions differ at a higher elevation? – and was provided with the accurate scientific response that I have long since forgotten. (Doesn’t it all just boil down to ATOMS?) I conveniently forgot about this as Jorge and I settled into Cusco. The first several occasions we cooked pasta or rice, we spent an inordinate amount of time checking and re-checking the food. Why was it still so HARD? Hasn’t it been 7-9 minutes? Really it’s been almost 15 minutes…How can it not be ready yet? Oh yeah. HIGH-ALTITUDE.

See that arrow? It means something. 

2.) Hangovers reach a new level of raunchy. There must be some scientific explanation for this – dehydration occurs faster where there’s less oxygen because red blood cells need 1.5% of something and up here there’s only 0.1% and then oh yeah, MAGIC. Whatever the reason, I’m ashamed to admit that I once had a hangover once until 4PM after 3 (THREE) glasses of wine throughout the course of a very laid back—and LENGTHY–evening with friends. And it’s not because I’m almost thirty (even if it was strictly due to my age, it would still be an EMBARASSMENT). Be careful folks. Alcohol up here takes a different toll on the body. And you know why? It’s because of HIGH ALTITUDE.

3.) Moving around is more difficult. If your body is one of those randomly selected organisms that will be sensitive to high-altitude issues, surprise! Most things will suck. Unfortunately this has nothing to do with physical fitness, it’s just pure luck (or unluckiness). Visiting Potosi was by far the WORST – I got out of breath just brushing my teeth. In Cusco it’s not nearly as bad, especially since we’ve had ample time to acclimate, but a few aspects still stick out. If you’ll all remember, I used to live in Valparaiso which had comically steep streets that seemed, oftentimes, like a joke. Who would actually build a city so vertical, a city where most neighborhoods relied on ascensores just to get their groceries home? Well, Cusco has its fair share of inclines and hills, but it’s got nothing on Valpo. Which makes me feel particularly bad when I find myself out of breath here in Cusco after traversing a very minimal incline. And yes, that incline would be the equivalent of walking downhill in Valpo, but here? Steals your breath a little. Makes you feel pretty ridiculous until you remember OH YEAH…HIGH ALTITUDE.

4.) Thunderstorms aren’t just thunderstorms anymore. They are a full-body experience that gets you right into the middle of the storm cell, WITH NO FORGIVENESS. Plus, being this high up, you get the added benefit of strange snow-hail storms. In the middle of summer. Because it’s HIGH ALTITUDE!

5.) It’s pretty much always cold. I’ll go more into my geographic/weather pattern duncery in another post, but this high up, the extremes are more extreme. If the sun does come out in the middle of the day (which doesn’t always happen, not even in ‘summer’), it will be very hot, and you WILL get burnt. But then at night, you will need five blankets and a pair of alpaca booties and MAYBE THEN the only frozen item on your body will be your nose. For god’s sake, the alpacas here wear goggles and sometimes actual CLOTHING. That’s gotta tell you something…something like HIGH ALTITUDE!

Hey, Mr. Alpaca…can we borrow some of that fluff? Maybe for some traditional hats and sweaters?

There have been some other strange things going on around here too, though I can’t be sure if they’re related to the elevation or not. Either way, it seems safe to blame it on the altitude.

Is your boyfriend shedding chest hair at an unprecedented rate? Probably the altitude.  Does your tap water come out feeling like the literal refuse of a glacier? Might be the high altitude. Are people eating oven-roasted hamsters as a delicacy? Could also be the altitude. Are you suffering from painfully glorious mountain views nearly every moment of the day? The altitude may very well be the culprit. Have you recently scaled a mountain to reach a city that ancient people thought was a great idea to stick all the way up there? Now that one is DEFINITELY the altitude!

(Editor’s Note: I began writing this post when the sun was out in full force and I thought I might be able to take a trip to the market in my tank top, to get a little tanning in. It is now snow-hailing, and some of it is coming through our skylights, where it sits melting on our floor. A little message from the gods. High Altitude!)