For a moment, I don’t know where I am.
Then I remember; I am alone on Isla Del Sol, in Lake Titicaca, the second highest lake in the world, and all I have with me is a pair of hiking boots and a day pack. I have ventured into this land of Inca descendents, in a part of Bolivia bordering on Peru.
Just the previous morning, I had taken a boat in a blinding rainstorm, with water dripping all over me so that I had to sit on the floor of the craft, clutching my belongings.
I had no umbrella, only a semi-waterproof jacket, and I was worried that the bag I had left behind at the hotel in Copacabana would not be there upon my return.
Miraculously, the storm ended when we landed ashore, but fresh worries surfaced. There was no clue as to where to go, so I wandered around with an Argentine family, searching for Inca ruins.
Eventually, I huffed it up a steep staircase, which ran beside an Inca spring, a mystical water fountain. Occasionally, I saw young backpackers, but no one even close to my age, apart from native women in pleated skirts and top hats.
The sight of my hostal, with its breathtaking views, finally lifted my spirits, and after a sumptuous lunch of trucha (trout), I visited the Inca ruins, marveling at the potato and wheat plants that the natives had grown on terraces here for hundreds of years.
Remembering it all this morning, I suddenly feel happy.
I have made it through the night!
The water in the bathroom is barely lukewarm, running from a typical Latin American system consisting only of a hot element, so I abandon the idea of washing my hair and turn to other concerns like finding tea and breakfast.
There are only two options, it turns out, Desayuno Americano and Desayuno Continental. I opt for the former, and while eating, once again verify that yes, there is a boat the next morning to get me from the Northern part of the island to Copacabana, and yes, it is possible to walk to the far edge of the island from the Southern end where I currently am.
A storm pounds outside.
I wonder if I need to alter my plans.
Suddenly, the sun shines, a rainbow appears, and the die is cast; I decide to make the trek.
The sky is blue, as a man at a small tienda tells me to turn left for the trail. My spirits lift further when I bump into a Brasilian couple who is thrilled to discover that I am from India. This is the normal response I get here; my Indian background never fails to incite reactions like “I want to go there,” or “How big is the Ganges?” I walk along the ridge, surrounded by water on both sides, gazing at inlets and thickets, to the rhythm of birdsong.
Not a soul is in sight.
Suddenly euphoria takes hold of me.
I listen to the inner silence within me.
In this moment, I am one with the cosmos.
In this moment, I am glad I am alone.
Traveling, for me, is not about “doing Machu Pichu” or visiting the pyramids. It is about journeying within myself, to discover the strength, the angst, the loneliness, and the fulfillment, that are all a part of my soul.
I walk on and on, for hours. I talk for a while to a woman from Buenos Aires; the Argentines, I have discovered, are the friendliest and the most interesting and intelligent travelers.
I find my rhythm.
All of a sudden, I am at the Inca Palace, walking through a labyrinth of rooms. On the beach at the Northern end of the island that afternoon, I find a hostal so dismal, it has no water and missing window panes.
If I don’t like it, I can leave, the Quechua woman tells me.
I feel so low I cry.
It is perhaps when we are at our lowest that miracles await us.
So it is that a group of young Argentine students talk to me of Obama, of the economic crisis, over lunch that afternoon. Unlike American students, they are not ageist but rather enjoy my company.
That evening, at dinner, I sit at a table with some Brasilians who point to a Japanese woman, saying, “She knows only English.”
Suddenly, I realize, I am not the only one with courage. At least I look like a Latina. Minecko does not know any Spanish and cannot easily blend in.
We talk of our travels, of finding our inner selves. She is a major label musician in Japan, traveling to holy places, like Varanasi and Sedona.
I no longer feel sad or lonely.
The next morning, unable to find tea with milk, my elixir of life, I end up begging mate from a group of Argentine professors over a conversation about film.
Then I am off with Minecko to Copacabana.
I feel complete.
I feel contented. She picks up a package I forget in a bathroom. I translate Spanish into English for her.
At the end of that day, back in La Paz, I feel invincible.
I would not trade this journey for one with the most perfect romantic partner, I think.
Sarita Sarvate writes commentaries for Pacific News Service and KQED. Visitwww.saritasarvate.com