Inspiration in South America

Adventure Travel, Featured, Peru — By on October 11, 2011 at 1:40 pm
By Maggie Parker
Special to Lost Girls
I received Amanda Pressner’s email regarding the Contiki Vacations media trip to South America at 5:10 pm. By 5:13 pm, I was going. Her response was “Annnnnnd….that was fast!” Well, who could blame me?

After living with a Brazilian and an Argentinian in Italy, I knew that South America had to be my next destination. Specifically Machu Picchu. I wasn’t really sure what visiting Machu Picchu entailed but I had a feeling visiting it would change my life, and who doesn’t love life-changing experiences? Hearing the name “Contiki” didn’t help subdue my excitement either. Knowing the caliber of their tours, I couldn’t wait. When I hear Contiki, I think: fun, informative, and balanced….Also, Real World Sydney (if we are being honest). Who better to tour this country with than Contiki Vacations?

Contiki Vacations has been operating for 50 years specializing in tours for 18-35 year olds. They have over 200 itineraries in about 40 different countries. This November marks the launch of their six new South America itineraries which will be based in Peru, Argentina and Brazil. Hence, the need for a media trip.

One has to wonder though, what were they waiting for this whole time and why now to start their South America trips? PR Specialist Vy Truong was prepared for these questions; “Contiki’s brand has always been evolving…South America has always been on the minds’ of passengers, it’s a hot destination right now and a lot of our clients were telling us that we need to be in South America. South America just seemed like the natural progression for where our brand was going and we wanted to make our clients happy.”

Contiki Vacations, which now operates primarily in Europe with tours in Asia and the US as well, hopes that their new trips to South America will continue to inspire and engage the ever adventurous and “new things”-seeking demographic they cater to. From my personal experience, I can tell you they do just that. If I could sum up this trip with one word, that word would indeed be “inspirational”. This trip inspired me in so many ways; it begins with an old woman at Machu Picchu.

I moaned and groaned all the way to the sun-gate at Machu Picchu, and let me tell you, those Contiki staffers were patient! At least one staff member hung back with me the whole time without complaints (my complaints were granted though, considering that was my day to suffer the group stomach bug). Whatever my choice was, the staff supported me, especially as I pushed myself to get to the top. I finally reached the sun-gate and spread out my poncho so I could rest and take in the breathtaking (literally) views.

As we turned to start the descent, we passed a woman with a cane, not a walking stick, an actual cane. The woman had to be about 75 years old, and she was hiking up Machu Picchu with a smile on her face and a cane in her hand. If that doesn’t inspire you, then I don’t know what will. If only I had seen her on my way up, she probably would have put an end to my whining about the uphill climb and I may have even Rocky-ed up the rest of those steps.

I shut up quickly and looked around to appreciate the opportunity I was given and thought of all the people who would have been proud of me for going that far. I was at Machu Picchu, I was so lucky. Who cares if I felt like I might vomit or collapse? That woman had a cane, I could suppress my sickness a little while longer and enjoy this blessing. Which is exactly what I did.

The Contiki Vacations staff inspired me as well. As we all got sick one by one, the staffers who were suffering from the “bug” remained extremely positive. While it is difficult for me personally to remain cheerful at a time like that, I was moved by their perseverance, it made me want to be more optimistic and appreciative. There was no reason for me to constantly complain about stomach pains, the weather, and whiny travel Vloggers, or freak out about having to fly all night and then hike in the morning. This was my job, traveling and writing in Peru and Argentina. Seriously, what is there to complain about?

Quite the opposite in fact, Contiki Vacations encourages you not to worry. Through canceled flights, lost luggage, and sick travelers, they tell you again and again, enjoy every activity, do not think about any of the logistics because that is their job. Just enjoy. It is not often that I allow myself to do just that. Granted, it isn’t very often I go on group tours where everything is planned for me, this was a privilege, yet I was still complaining about something. Why can’t I just put the stressful thoughts aside for a moment?

I continue to tell myself it is the New Yorker in me, and as proud as I am of my unique upbringing, worrying is self-destructive while traveling, especially when everyone else is enjoying something as incredible as Incan Ruins. This trip with Contiki Vacations helped me take a step in the right direction, towards letting go while I travel. Whether with a tour or by yourself, if you can’t relax for a just a second, it will not only hinder your experience, but it will make your fellow travelers hate you for your bad attitude.

Contiki Vacations may not use this idea as their selling point, but it is a huge one. They don’t want you to worry, they genuinely want you to have to most amazing experience possible. If they can see your faces glowing in awe, that is enough for them. One of the staffers who also hiked up to the sun-gate through sickness, told me she had already seen Machu Picchu before but couldn’t give up the opportunity to see us experience it for the first time. This is what they thrive on.

As the trip went on, I started to get into the Contiki-way. I let go enough to enjoy some Salsa lessons in Cusco, and Tango in Argentina. I danced at a night-club in Buenos Aires and bought items in markets that I didn’t actually need.

While I am comfortable with who I am and believe it or not, I really am passionate about travel, this trip helped show me that there can be a healthy balance. I can be my somewhat anxious self but I need to open up, let go, and smile; once I leave New York, it is okay to also leave behind that New Yorker face. I honestly don’t know how I could continue my travels without being loosened up a bit, and I thank Contiki and this trip for helping me continue.

Even just going back and re-reading that first email from Amanda still excites me. Now that it is over, I would not have changed my response time by a second.

Videos of my Contiki South America Experience: 

Contiki South America

Contiki Guinea Pig in Peru

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  • Marilyn says:

    What a fantastic experience! Machu Pichu is high on my travel wish list. Loved the video with the alpacas!! Great article–looking forward to more.