Pride and Prejudice

I’m so embarrassed that at the ripe age of 28 I read my first Jane Austen. Where have I been? When Erin found out, she told me to get a refund on my all-girls school education. I managed to escape Jane Austen on my summer reading lists (you know I actually did the required reading because that’s who I am). Once school was over, the classics seemed like something I should do– later.

For bigger trips, I’m trying to get in the mood with my literature choices. I read Under the Tuscan Sun on the way to Italy, The Old Man and the Sea for Cuba and Turn Right at Machu Picchu before Peru. Erin recommended I start with Pride and Prejudice. I wanted to read something British on my trip to London and it was perfect.

It’s hard to say exactly why, but I really loved P&P. There’s not a lot of action. Ladies in those days did a lot of gossiping and hanging out with their neighbors. Somehow I was still rooting for Elizabeth and Darcy even though they interacted maybe ten times. I don’t know how Jane Austen built up that kind of tension, but she had me. I read a 200-year old book for a few hours in a row on each flight.

After I finished it, I googled around for the symbolism and reading discussion questions. There’s a lot of good stuff on the internet, thank you high school lit teachers. The movie adaptations are now calling to me! I’m experiencing what everyone else was enjoying at 15, why did I wait so long?

hellooooo out there?

I don’t know what I’m doing, as usual. It’s been three months. I didn’t find myself writing here weekly for the first time in years. I’m still writing in my notebook and in my googledocs.  Still reading posts and books and articles from other writers I like.

I read that privacy is the ultimate luxury. Beyonce, right? Wealthy people with high walls around a fortress of a house. Having a blog is not very private, therefore not luxurious, but some of those lifestyle bloggers seem to have it figured out. Then again, luxury has never been my style (plus I love Instagram right now).

It was beginning to feel a bit performative. This page became a cheap way for people to feel like they could keep up with me without actually calling or texting or showing up. That’s my biggest beef with Facebook too. We are not friends because I’ve crept through your photos. We’re friends if I come to your happy hours and text you on your birthday and chat on the phone just because. Even if we don’t see each other often, we ask and listen to each other when we talk about jobs or family or politics or books and TV we love.

This became a place where I posted about all the fun I have on weekends. I love having those memories, but in real time it reminds me of the discontent I sometimes struggle with during the week. It was driving a wedge between fun Shannon and work Shannon when in the perfect world, the two would be getting closer.

Plus politics. That’s all I want to write about, but I’m not sure it belongs here. First, I love the news. Second, I recognize that it’s a privilege that most of the decisions the government makes do not directly affect my lifestyle. It would be easier to tune it out, but that’s not ok with me. I have strong opinions (surprise) that sometimes make people uncomfortable. It makes other people say, “You’ll never get a job if you post about politics.” I don’t know how that makes me feel.

Perhaps I needed a break. I’m not contractually obligated to show up here, so I made some space.

There are a lot of reasons I can point to, but I’m not sure which, if any, are true.

Same goes for this return. I can’t say why, but here goes.

10 year high school reunion

I’m officially old. I’ve been out of high school for ten years. Most of the time it still feels like I’m in college, so high school wasn’t THAT far away, right? Wrong.

If you didn’t go to a tight-knit all-girls school that you actually liked, you probably went to your reunion begrudgingly or skipped it. Our was an all-girls party where you could drink and wander around the school. My close friends were planning to go back, so of course, I signed up.

It was surreal to be back in the building I pretty much lived in for four years. Granted I was back five years ago for my five-year reunion to play flip cup and dance to Celine Dion in the cafeteria. Today it looks mostly the same. They painted over the mermaid mural in the bathroom. The state championship banners, which were made by the teams who won using a bed sheet and iron on letters, have been replaced by official ones printed on tarps. They have paper towels instead of hand dryers. The curtain on the stage is new. There’s a fresh coat of paint on the lockers (finally red) and a bunch of much cooler stuff for sale in the bookstore. There’s a big, beautiful new gym!

Lots of things are exactly how I left them, forever sealed in the vault of high school.

Everyone commented on how the bathrooms smell the exact same. I can’t name it, but it’s a distinct scent of old building and cleaner. We saw most of our names were painted over in the cave, but it looks the same. Some of our teachers were back, they are just as I remembered them. Most of the classrooms looked pretty similar. The little theater was just as little as it was during STUCO meetings.

We tapped into our collective memory wandering around saying things like, “Remember this was our homeroom sophomore year?” “Were you in Ms. Weil’s calc with me in here?” “Remember when this closet was used as the Latin classroom for a year?” “Did you ever have the elevator key?” “Were these windows always stained glass?”

Some of my friends have remained the same. We grew in the same direction. We kept laughing at the same jokes. We made time to see each other whenever we were in town. We share reading recommendations and wedding planning tricks. We dance to Celine Dion, but not in the cafeteria anymore.

But more than that, I’ve changed.

I’m older and hopefully smarter. I’ve seen more and done more. I’ve read more books and asked more questions. I’ve worked, for real, and lived in apartments and houses, not with my parents. I’ve rented cars and written papers.

Still, it’s nice to go back and see what hasn’t changed to remind me that I have. And that’s a good thing. Every ten years or so, we should see some personal progress.

Cusco, Peru

We spent the evening before the hike (part 1 and part 2) and the day after the hike exploring Cusco. I would have loved more time to see some of the museums there and the surrounding ruins. It’s such a funky mountain city built on Spanish ruins that were built on Incan ruins. The whole valley is covered with red roof tiles, but it still manages to feel intimate, at least the main touristy part.

Our first night there we tried the famous cuy at Chicha. All the food was delicious; I had alpaca curry and we shared the guinea pig as an appetizer. The hostel turned out to be a bit too close to the square and some bumping bars. We tried to sleep, but the crowds, music and our…umm… roommates kept us up.

The day after returning from Machu Picchu we started at the ruins at Saksaywaman. A guy outside the gate talked us into taking a horseback ride with his friend where we could see some other ruins and then look into the Saksaywaman ones too. We couldn’t say no to horses. We rode around for about two hours to some ruins on a farm, met some grazing sheep and then on to the back side of the site. Josh and Will got their horses to trot, but Julie and I had gassy mounts who were on their own timetable. Poor George was sick most of the day in bed.

We found more cuy for lunch and spent the afternoon wondering around Cusco’s little markets and winding streets. We found some great sweaters and other trinkets. We did a free walking tour that was ok, but after Bruno other tour guides had big shoes to fill. We ducked into the Cathedral of Cusco City, but we meant to see the more famous Cusco Cathedral across the street. Next time, next time. 

Will eating guinea pig

I think I could have used two more days in Cusco. There are other ruins and day trails nearby that we would have loved to check out.

At night we met up with our British friends for goodbye pizza and toasted to our trip. The next morning we left for Lima.

Zip lines, more hiking and Machu Picchu: Day 3 & 4

Day three of the hike with Lorenzo Expeditions started with zip lines. I had so many favorite parts of this trip, but this might have made the top five moments. There were five HUGE lines between mountains, plus a terrifying hanging bridge. We passed over mountainside jungle with river running though the bottom.

I’m not comfortable with heights, but I feel reasonably safe on zip lines and roller coasters. These were long enough for one to have a good think a couple hundred feet off the ground too. I proudly and nervously did one hanging upside down too. We got some sweet GoPro footage, so there’s a video to come (someday!).

The bridge looked like every bridge in every chase scene of every movie. We were tethered to a zip line rope the whole time, but if you fell off the bridge you’d dangle until one of the workers came to tow you to a place you could jump back on. I knew I was safe, but my heart was pounding and I spent most of the time hurrying Julie because I didn’t want Will swinging the bridge it behind me.

Late morning and early afternoon we hiked around Mount Machu Picchu along the train tracks. Bruno pointed out different mountains and fruit for us along the way. He explained the ticketing at Machu Picchu and the details of the hike up the following day. We lunched at a little place along the trail and snoozed in their hammocks too.

It was about seven miles total of hiking before we reached Aguas Calientes, the tourist town at the bottom of MP. It was a slanty, crowded place full of hikers getting ready to go up the mountain. We bought some fruit and snacks for the following day and repacked our bags. We shared our last meal together,  finishing with Rosas y Espinas before heading to bed. On the way home, we saw a parade for the festival of the cross. Since we had a 3am wake-up call, we were not exactly thrilled, but managed to sleep through it.

The morning of Machu Picchu we woke up at 3am to line up outside the gate. Our group was meeting at the top at 6am to be the first inside. Bruno assured us we’d get the best photos and be able to make the most of our day. Some of our group took the bus up for $12, but we wanted to hike it. At 5am, they opened the gate to the stairs. I was the first passport they checked, then Josh, Will, myself and a pack of stray dogs took off up the mountain with our flashlights. Julie and George followed close behind us.

That one hour of nothing but steps was the toughest part of our trip. There were a million switchbacks and as Will pointed out, the Incans weren’t worried about the standard step height of seven inches. Some were over a foot and other a couple inches, so you really had to pay attention (and have a flashlight).  Some of the local dogs borrowed our flashlight beams and seemed to have no trouble at all, while I was wheezing at one point. Bruno told us to pay attention to the mountain across the way because it was about the same size and you could use it to gauge your progress to the top. That would have been more helpful had it not been dark and foggy in the dense jungle. We finished 1968 stairs in 47 minutes. Sweat dripped through my rain jacket and my legs were a little shaky. Luckily, we packed fresh shirts at the top, because we looked rugged.

Feeling and looking like a troll at the top.

The green shows our path and the big black zigzag is the road the bus takes. 

Once inside the gate, we were ready for beautiful views, but the fog left us looking at the inside of a cloud. Bruno started in on some history lessons. We waited for the weather to clear, but no luck. He asked if any of us had June or July birthdays, I volunteered. He asked me to blow away the mist, since my birthday was closest to the summer solstice holiday.  I blew and I’m not joking, the clouds went away and we saw the full ruins.

We spent the rest of the day exploring, meeting the resident llamas and sneaking Pringles when the security guards weren’t looking. As corny as it sounds, the ruins were majestic and HUGE. They look smaller in photos. It’s incredible how the masonry lasted five hundred years and how different angles perfectly line up with constellations and other mountains.

In the afternoon we hiked to the Sun Gate, which was worth the view. That’s where the Inkan Trail Pilgrimage officially ends.

 

Sharing what was left our our bug spray.

Will and I modeling some of the Inkan steps on the way back down.

By afternoon the mountaintop was pretty crowded and the rain passed through a couple more times (even though I kept blowing). We walked back down the steps to Aguas Calientes exhausted and soggy.  We collected our packs and found a restaurant serving Alpaca tacos. The train ride back to Cusco that night provided an unexpected meal and a weird fashion show. The workers danced, one pulled Will up. Then they modeled local knit clothes and then tried to pedal them to us while we tried to nap in our cold, wet socks. It was uncomfortable in every way.

When we arrived in Cusco at midnight, we found our hostel and took showers one at a time in order to make the most of the hot water.

More from Lima and the first two days here.

Biking, rafting, hiking and hot springs (Days 1 and 2)

We spent four days of our trip with Lorenzo Expeditions on a hike that ended at Machu Picchu. It was by far the highlight of the trip and the main reason we ended up in Peru. Ariel suggested the company to me after he used them in September. We loved the team, the food and the itinerary they planned for us. The accommodations were basic, but not too shabby (also we were staying in hostels, so we’re not exactly four-star people). Plus, they were pretty cheap compared to similar companies.

The first day they fed us breakfast and drove us to the top of a mountain. There we strapped on a bunch of protective gear and got on mountain bikes. We rode 34 miles (55k) down the mountain. Everyone else thought this was fun. I do not like bikes, so I will refrain from commenting. I would like to mention it was raining on and off as cars and buses zoomed past us. Not my jam.

If I look miserable and terrified, it’s because I was.

After that, we rode a short distance to our lodging for the night. We had the option to white water raft, which really turned the day around for me. They were class three rapids in the muddy Urubamba river. Even though the water was chilly, we loved the ride and our guides brought us to the beach for some paddle games. That sounds weird, but Will almost won.

We ate dinner back at the guest house with our group in Santa Maria. La Familia as they called us was comprised of the five of us, a couple from Canada, a couple from Argentina, two Brits and a guy from Kentucky. Everyone was young (20-30ish) and well-traveled, so we had a lot in common. We ended up buying bottles of beer and staying up a little later than planned talking about Trump, Brexit, Fast and the Furious and Dolly Parton. Our group made the trip really special, it was nice to chat with different people as we hiked and ate together.

Day two started bright and early since it was our longest hike and the jungle is pretty hot. We were on an Inka Trail, however, it’s not The Inca Trail.  The most famous, commercial one is passport-protected and usually a 4-5 day hike ending at the Sun Gate. The Quechua people built thousands of miles of trail all over South America, and we were on some of that. We stopped along the way for Bruno our guide to explain the local fruits or farming.

We spent about an hour at his friend’s house where he showed us some of the items grown on the mountainside and painted our faces using this mashed up berry. We each got to toast our apu, or the mountain that was watching over the hike, with “Inka tequila.” We called it snake juice because the corn-based drink had a dead snake floating in the bottle. We tried on traditional Peruvian clothes too, and Julie did a full photoshoot.

 

We climbed along a beautiful ridge for a while in the morning, taking photos every seven steps. It was incredible. I look at the pics now, and think, meh. You really have to see it to feel the expansiveness of the mountains are and the thickness of the jungle.  By lunchtime, we made it down the mountain to stop at a house/restaurant for chow.

We ate, stocked up on water bottles and napped in the hammocks as we waited out the hottest part of the day. Did I mention we were eaten by mosquitos? We were.

The afternoon hike was what Bruno lovingly called “Peruvian Flat.” Little up and downs along the Urubamba River between the massive mountains. We crossed the river on a rickety bridge and then crossed back over on a carriage later in the hike.

The gondola that took us across the river.

By the end of the day, we covered 14 miles (23k). When we reached the hot spring near Santa Teresa at the end, we were ready to relax. We started in the most tepid third pool, or third bath as Will called it, and worked our way to the warmest one that was fed directly by the spring. The water felt great and we ate some guacamole before heading to our hotel for the evening to eat.

That night I introduced Roses and Thorns to the group (we called it Rosas y Espinas) and played in English and Spanish. We drank Cusqueno and Pisco Sours with La Familia late again. I worked on my Spanish with our other guide, Gato. Julie discovered that her bladder and hose used for hiking hydration was also perfect for late night drinks if she hung it on her bedpost.

bully book club

You guys know my constant struggle to find a book club. I love to talk about what I’m reading, but I also want to read the books I want at my pace. Is that asking too much?

I know, I know.

Last week I finished Dark Matter by Blake Couch. It was fast and enthralling. Think Michael Crichton-like sciency thriller. Explaining too much of the story gives it away, so just trust me and start it.

I read it in two days and then pestered Josh to read it since my library loan lasts until the beginning of June. He’s in in the middle of a fat book in a 14 book series (woof), so he said he’d check it out after he finished his book. I tried to explain that he’d have to get back on the library wait list, and he wouldn’t get it until July.  And I needed to talk about it nowish.

I calmly explained that he would love the book and read it very quickly. Josh told me that I was being bossy, and he was invested in his current read. I reminded him that when he married me, he married into my book club. He rolled his eyes. I gently reminded him that he’s loved almost all the books I’ve ever recommend. This went in circles for four days. Being married to me is a real treat.

I finally wore him down.

He finished it in three days. At night I’m usually up reading while he’s ready to sleep. We swapped places this past week.

Turns out, Josh loved it too. We unloaded for 15 minutes straight. Next, I gave the book to Carolyn, who is not married to me, but sometimes participates in my bully book club. She read it in a day, also gave rave reviews. She is leaning on her husband to read it too. Erin is reading it in Chicago. Blake Crouch should really be sending me $$ or maybe an early edition of his next book.

I’m becoming a monster, but you should really check out Dark Matter.

Lima, Peru

It’s time for some trip blogs!

This trip both started and ended in Lima. We stayed for a day on both ends of the trip to get some of the city flavor. I liked Lima just fine, but one day would have been enough. It’s a huge place that’s crawling with people and traffic is straight crazy. No matter where we went, it always took us at least an hour to get back to the airport.

The taxis and Ubers we took to and from the airport were… an experience. The traffic was crowded and pretty lawless. After six near-miss accidents in the first ten minutes, I was able to relax a tiny bit. Our group of five is a tight squeeze, even for a “sedan grande,” so we tried to sing along to the radio as best we could and not look at the remaining minutes on the GPS.

The first day we spent time in the historic city center. Even early, there were people out walking around. We stumbled upon the filming of a movie (soap opera?) in the Plaza de Armas while we waited for stuff to open. Our first stop was a tour of the Casa de Aliaga. Sofia our guide filled us in on Peruvian history and politics as we wondered around a historic home that was kept in the same family for 17 generations with a lot of the original woodwork and furniture. She explained how Lima gets sticky with humidity, but it hasn’t rained there in almost 100 years (most of the precipitation there is mist) eventhough it’s pretty overcast year-round. 

(No, Josh and Will didn’t match the whole trip.)

We also toured the Cathedral and the Archbishop’s Palace. Both offered tours in English to explain the Spanish introduction of Catholicism to the Quechua people. I loved learning about how the Jesuits used the local symbols to explain Catholic teachings. I had no idea how much it influenced the Church today. The Archbishop’s Palace hosted a big art display with lots of old carved figurines with hair from real people. It was as creepy as it sounds. We ducked into the Basilica de San Francisco since we were in the neighborhood. 

The last day of the trip we were back in Lima to explore Mira Flores. The ruins of Huaca Pucllana are right in the middle of the city. There was an ancient temple there that they rebuilt in the exact place every thirty years, leaving behind layers and layers of ruins.  We also shopped around in the local craft market and caught a glimpse of the Pacific Ocean. 

baaaaack in the USA

We landed on Saturday morning and spent the rest of the day trying to be functioning humans after an overnight flight. It’s not as easy as it sounds. I waded through piles of dirty laundry and emptied all our bags. Josh went to the grocery store for pizza and bananas.

Coming home is both wonderful and miserable.

I treasure being back in a place where I can drink as much as I want of the (FREEE FREE FREE) tap water.  I missed the land of hovering waiters refilling my water cup all the time. My insides are readjusting to my normal diet. No alpaca, no guinea pig, no white bread, less avocados, etc.

Easing back into work today was alright. But I’d rather be planning the day’s activities and routing it out on google maps.

It’s nice, I guess, to pick clothes out of my closet instead of my suitcase, but that doesn’t really bother me. I do enjoy tossing dirties into a laundry basket instead of rearranging them in my backpack.

I miss waking up in a bunk bed in a room full of my siblings at 5am to hike.  Maybe Josh and I should look into some bunk beds for visitors and the overall hostel aesthetic?

Back here there’s an ease of pretty much every little thing from paying for purchases to asking for directions to not smothering my self in bug spray and sunscreen. It’s missing the thrill of waking up in a weird place to do and see new things. While unexpected things happen no matter where you are, it’s unlikely I’ll end up riding a horse today like we did last Thursday.

It’s good to be back. Now begins the process of wading through the hours of video footage and all the photos. I need another week off to get it done.

 

do whatever you want day

Someone asked me what I would do all day if I could get paid to do anything. I said read and internet creep, but I like to think my perfect day would be a little wilder.

I’d wake up naturally at 5am because my bladder would be hurting from having to go to the bathroom so bad. After relieving myself, I’d get back in bed and fall back asleep knowing that I still had beautiful pillow hours ahead of me.  Love that feeling.

At 8am I’d wake up for real. I’d lay in bed and read for a few minutes while Josh made me an omelet.  Thanks, Josh.

At 9, I’d do some light internet creeping and maybe work on one of the many projects on my plate that I do for funsies.

At 11, Oprah would text me asking if I wanted to go for a brisk walk. Well yes, I would! We’d meet up in matching velour track suits and hit the trail. During the walk, we’d swing our arms a lot and talk about our favorite books and podcasts, catch up on friendly gossip and swap stories on what it’s like being media moguls. She’d insist I join her for the Influential Women’s something-something dinner that night. Oh fine, O!

Light lunch, I’m not picky.

I’d kick off the afternoon with some reading on the patio, preferably in a hammock. Then a one-hour nap. Josh would wake me up singing Good Morning from Singing in the Rain and suggest we walk to Wendy’s for frostys. Naturally, I’m game.

We are somewhere near a lake, so Josh and I would jump off the dock and bob in the water sipping lake beer. Maybe some friends or family would join us. Look, I don’t know if we’re part of their best day plans?

At five I’d take a shower and get ready for the event that night. Julie would help me with hair and makeup. I can’t look like a complete oger, there might be cameras. Oprah would send a car to pick me up.

Oprah and Gayle are seated at my table, of course. Gayle and I are very friendly and not competitive for Oprah’s attention at all. Beyonce slides in right before salads begin. Gloria Steinem is telling stories, and Michelle Obama is checking her instagram. Lena Dunham invites me to a concert after the dinner with her, I say yes. She seems down to earth and the tickets are on her.

Turns out it’s a Bleachers concert, which makes sense. All my favorite dance floor friends happen to be there and we pretend like it’s Alley Bar during our prime. At 1am, the show is over and we all go home. I put on my softest nightgown and fall asleep.