When you’re packing for over three months in a 70 liter hiking backpack, you don’t have a lot of room for extras or sentimentalities. We carried those backpacks in the various dorms of Medford, running around the Lima airport, up cobblestones in Huarán, and finally through the streets of Urubamba as we prepared to unpack after over a month on the move. Mine was stuffed full of clothes, toiletries, and snacks–all the essentials for three months in a foreign country–and it weighed almost fifty pounds! It was a relief to finally unload all of the things I’d been carrying in that backpack onto the table in my new bedroom.
As I settled in at the beginning of our time in Urubamba, I carried mostly emotions with me. I was tired of feeling alone in my head, missing those who understood me without me saying a word. I carried homesickness, sorrow, and plenty of tears. I carried fear and trepidation about the experiences ahead of me. I carried excitement as well, naive excitement for how I expected things to be.
Those first weeks were frustrating and transformative. I reread texts from my parents before I went to bed, and missed the feeling of my rug under my toes when my feet hit the cold wooden floors every morning. I carried my longing everywhere I went, comparing new things to the way I was used to seeing them. In this way, I carried bias and judgment with me as well, unintentionally disregarding what was new because it was not my “norm.” I held all of these things in a canvas drawstring bag on my back with my notebooks and pens and water bottle and phones, but the strings dug into my shoulders and the bag bounced off my hips in an uncomfortable way, so I had to switch to my larger 35 liter day pack after a week or so.
In that day pack, I have more room for the things I need to bring with me every day. I’ve started carrying my computer to the program house before Spanish classes to get work done in the wifi, and I keep chocolate covered peanuts in one of the small pockets in case I get hungry in between meals. I’ve learned to carry the people I love and miss with me without letting the feelings overwhelm me. I carry my dad’s belly laugh, my mom’s bear hugs, the almost imperceptible smell of my home, the taste of my grandma’s hermits, the sass of my youngest cousin and the calm but mature energy of her older sister, my brother’s teasing, and the irreplaceable feeling of being at home in a place. These are all things that I can carry in my backpack without a second thought. There will always be space for them there because they remain forever in my heart, grounded in my memories.