How to Meet a Congressman

Many people I meet while traveling are intrigued (and possibly a bit worried) when I tell them that I've been traveling on my own for a few months now. They'll ask me questions like
"Aren't you scared to travel on your own?"
"Don't you get lonely without friends?"
and are surprised when I actually tell them that, yes, there are moments when I'm a bit scared and other moments when I feel lonely but overall this has been the best experience of my life and I wouldn't want to have it any other way. You see, when you travel with a friend or two, other people will always see you as group or couple despite any effort you'll make to get to know people outside your traveling group. Thus, it's less likely that other travelers or locals will approach you to get to know you or invite you somewhere. As a solo traveler you are much more exposed to your surroundings, even a bit vulnerable in a way but definitely also more interesting (at least that's what I like to think) and definitely easier to approach. At least that has been my experience over the last few months.

An excellent example of the benefits of solo traveling is what happened to me last week in Cusco:
After a short flight from Lima I spent a first uneventful day in Cusco exploring the city center. First days in new places can be a bit overwhelming so I like to take in my surroundings and try to get my bearings before I get on with serious exploring. The plan for the second day was to hike up to Cristo Blanco (a white Jesus statue overlooking the city from a hill) and then visit a museum or two in the city center.

So I took my camera, a water bottle and started the walk up the hill which was short but still got me breathing hard because of Cusco's location at 3'600m. The view from the statue was great and I sat down with a snack to take it all in.

view of Cusco from Cristo Blanco
I knew the quiet wasn't going to last long and I was right. Locals trying to sell me horseback riding trips, pictures with lambs, handmade bracelets and many other things quickly entered the scene. Any single traveler just wanting to enjoy the sights won't be left alone for long in Cusco so I was happy when a group of tourists arrived to take some pictures of the city. It was a larger, friendly looking group of older Spanish speaking men. One of them invited me to join him in a photo and it seemed innocent enough so I agreed. Afterwards, everyone else also wanted a picture with me and we started talking. Turns out they are a group from Chile and when I told them I was planning on visiting Chile in January one of them gave me his card (which I put in my wallet without looking at it). They were just leaving when two Peruvians with a huge film camera appeared and insisted on having me in their picture as well. I remember thinking "who brings such a huge camera on a sightseeing trip?!" but didn't really care too much and started to make my way back down to the city.

As I'm walking down the street I notice two police motorcycles to my left and then a police car and then a bus. Suddenly, the door of the bus opens and a head sticks out and calls towards me: "Irene, quieres bajar con nosotros?". It was the Chilean group asking me if I wanted a ride into town with them. Alright. I hop on the bus and grab a seat next to the two Peruvians with the camera. We start our drive down into town and it dawns on me: the police is escorting the bus I'm sitting in! A few questions cleared the situation: I was riding a bus with a group of Chilean congressman (and congresswomen) on an official visit to Peru for some sort of workshop about the education systems in both Peru and Chile! Definitely an interesting group of people to meet and we were soon talking about my journey and about Cusco and about Chile and pretty much everything (all in Spanish).

In a way, it felt like they all adopted me on that bus ride down into town and I ended up spending the whole day with them. And that day was probably one of the most unique in all my travels:

  • I joined a meeting with the topic "How to measure the quality of education" (all in Spanish as well) in the Cusco municipality
  • I got to meet the mayor of Cusco and he gave me a coffee table book about the colonial heritage in Cusco (the same book he gave to all the Chileans, they insisted I get one as well!)
  • the group took me along to Qoriqancha/Santo Domingo museum in the city center (including guided tour)
  • I chatted with the bodyguards who accompanied the group
  • I was happy to be invited to a great restaurant for dinner (including traditional Peruvian dance performance) with the whole group
  • I rode a bus around Cusco being escorted by police - definitely a first for me!
enjoying some cake at the meeting

the group at Qoriqancha

One thing that sticks to my mind when I think about that day is that the whole thing probably wouldn't have happened if I'd been sitting up at Cristo Blanco with a friend... :) Solo traveling definitely is the best!


  1. oh man thats like the most amazing thing ever (:

    1. yes, it was definitely a very unique experience!


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