Stop and Smell the Flowers: Lessons Learned in Ecuador and Peru

I just spent a wonderful 11 days visiting Ecuador and Peru. Like many of life's lessons, I feel that although my journey is over, in some ways, it has only begun. The constant rushing around of the on-the-go trip left me little time to process all I was learning about myself and about the two countries I visited. Yet, I feel that these lessons will reveal themselves over time. 

When I reflect on my trip, what immediately comes to mind is this:

1) We take so much for granted – our tour guide reminded us when we first arrived that these 2 countries were not “first world” countries and that things might be different from home. From differing levels of poverty to different cuisine options to the lack of simple things like toilet paper (or even running water sometimes), I was reminded of everything I have to be grateful for. While I've had a daily gratitude practice for over a decade, I feel it may be time to deepen this.

2) We are all different, yet we all want the same things – there was one woman in our tour group who consistently challenged “social norms,” especially when it came to men (kissing them on the lips, swatting them on the butt, giving out neck massages and back – all unwanted and unsolicited by these men). It made for a few awkward encounters, to say the least, with both the male recipients and their wives. Yet, we all realized that this woman had good intentions. These affectionate behaviors were her way of finding comradery and friendship within our group and with those she met along the way. And who doesn't want to feel loved and accepted? 

3) Take time to stop and smell the roses (or whatever flower it may be) and taste the chocolate (literally, as roses and chocolate are two of the major crops exported by Ecuador!) – time seemed to move more slowly in Peru and Ecuador. While the bigger cities like Quito and Lima were similar to the United States in terms of traffic and people rushing around, in the outlying areas and smaller towns like Cusco and Aguas Calientes, life seemed to move at a much slower and calmer pace. I saw families making time to play together in the park on a Sunday afternoon, friends sitting around drinking chicha (corn beer) and sharing their lives with each other, and children laughing and playing with llamas and alpacas while their parents worked the fields or sold goods in small local shops. I remembered that life can move at a slower pace. While it sometimes seems that we have no choice but to give into the busyness of life, we can actually choose to slow down, choose to put unimportant things off until tomorrow, choose not to respond to that email or return that phone call or text right this instant, or choose to take things off our plates (for now or for good).

4) All we have is this moment – usually when I travel, I find myself thinking of what I need to do when I get back home. Yet, there was something about these magical places that encouraged me to simply be, take it all in, and enjoy each moment, each experience, as I lived it. This is a lesson that I am struggling with now that I am back in the States. But, when I find myself thinking about my to-do list, all I have to do is close my eyes and be present in this moment and I find myself more calm instantaneously.

5) Keep moving forward – I had a dream a few nights after we returned. In it, I saw myself at a crossroads. One sign pointed to Peru, back from where I came. The other pointed in the opposite direction and said, “Next.” In my dream, I found myself torn. Do I want to go back to Peru and spend more time exploring the Incan ruins? Absolutely. Do I want to go back to Ecuador and spend more time in the Amazon? Yes. However, I know that I must keep taking one step forward to achieve my dreams and that going back would put those dreams to a halt. So, I consciously chose the path of the “Next” arrow. Do I know what’s next? Not always, but I choose to trust and keep moving forward. In today’s video, I talk more about moving forward in times of uncertainty and how to maintain a balance of forward movement and reflection/presence.



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