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Four months ago, I booked tickets for a guided trek to Machu Picchu. I figured this is what you do when you become newly single: you chop off your hair and get out of the country. I wish I could say that I chose Peru for a special reason, but truth is, I chose Peru because: 1) my best friend went two years ago 2) I speak some Spanish 3) it was more affordable than Europe. In hindsight, I couldn’t have picked a better place to go for my first trip abroad by myself.

There were many reasons why I made this trip alone. Partly, because I was tired of waiting for friends to find time. But mostly, because I wanted to do something that surprised myself–and my mother, who is a great believer of not doing anything “unsafe,” including but not limited to things, such as, getting home after midnight, biking in San Francisco (this concern might be justified), and traveling to foreign countries alone. I didn’t make this trip because I needed to escape from my insecurities, although that may have been the original intention. I did it because I no longer wanted to hear what I can or can’t do. So this one is for my mom; because sometimes, you need to break out of the bubble you’ve built in order to know that you’re alive.

Cusco

1. I’ve been told to only hail cabs carrying a visible license, but the two best rides I’ve had during my trip were both in unmarked vehicles. The first was with Felipe who drove me from the airport to my hostel. Why was it memorable? A) I wasn’t robbed/killed. B) I was charged a relatively reasonable price of 20 soles (compared to the 60 soles that one of my trekking friends had to pay) and C) I carried a whole freakin’ conversation in Spanish for 15 minutes. Thank you, Spanish AP. In my excitement, I enthusiastically informed Felipe of how I was traveling alone for the very first time and that I plan on visiting the Sacred Valley and that I’ve booked a guided trek to Machu Picchu and, by the way Mr. Stranger, did I mention I was traveling alone? If only my high school Spanish teachers can see me now!

La Catedral, Cusco

View of La Catedral from the balcony of Iglesia de la Compania de Jesus.

La Catedral, Cusco

La Catedral

La Catedral, Statue of Pachacutec

Iglesia de la Compania de Jesus and the Statue of Pachacutec (the name of which I only found out on wikipedia after I got back. You can tell I was totally up to speed on Incan history).

2. If you’ve visited one church, you’ve pretty much seen them all. Domed arches, elaborate altars, golden facades, paintings of the Crucifixion, figurines of Virgin Mary, statues of saints. I wasn’t too keen on lingering, because, frankly, all the frills and ruffles of the Roman Catholic church made me sad. It has to do with the fact that everything about the dazzling decadence of these religious and historical relics has to do with great suffering–the death of Jesus and the conquest of the Incan people.

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Statue of Pachacutec in the Plaza

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cusco

3. Walking through the narrow streets in Cusco is an exercise in caution. Drivers are ruthless, there are no traffic lights, and sidewalks are only a foot wide in some places. Too many times I had to duck into a doorway to avoid being smacked in the face by a rearview mirror. The city is so packed with tourists anyway, who cares if they run over one of them, right?

4. For a better experience of Cusco, walk towards the streets south of San Pedro Market where you can find fewer tourists and more stores selling local wares. I vividly remember standing in the doorway of a pet store, watching a cage full of colorful parakeets(?) squabbling at each other. I remember a woman passing by with a tray of plastic cups, each filled with a sky-high pile of whipped cream. I remember walking past food carts carrying mounds of fried dough. The streets are colorful and loud, a welcome contrast from the stuffy and somber air of the churches.

Qorikancha

View from the back of Qorikancha

Qorikancha

One of the rooms in Qorikancha

Qorikancha

Qorikancha

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5. Peruvians must love their dogs, because they are everywhere. In Cusco and in the villages I’ve passed through on my Machu Picchu trek. This one’s lethargic pose caught my attention. Much less cute are the Peruvian Hairless Dogs. Nobody should breed those things.

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San Blas, one of the neighborhoods in Cusco.

san blas, cusco

san blas, cusco

So many doors in Cusco, and even the ones out in the villages, were painted blue.

pisac

I bet baby alpacas make for good pets

6. On my second day, I hopped into a combi (local vans) bound for Pisac, one of the villages in the Sacred Valley. The trip took a little over an hour and cost me only 4-5 soles, or slightly over a dollar. Compare that to the$14 Uber ride from my apartment in San Francisco to the UCSF campus on the other side of the city, a 3 mile trip that takes about 20 minutes.

After browsing through the Pisac Market where every stall is basically sold the same merchandise (alpaca sweaters, Andean flutes, and other souvenirs), I took a taxi to to the Incan ruins where I made the mistake of hiring a guide at my driver’s insistence (saying “no” is not a strong suit of mine). I spent the next hour and half being rushed through the sites by an overly enthusiastic guide, who kept remarking at my breathlessness as we climbed up the stone paths, “This is just a warm-up for Machu Picchu!”

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pisac

pisac

Nothing is ever drab in Peru.

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Women often wore pleated knee-length skirts, braids underneath rimmed hats, and a large shawl tied around their shoulders which often doubled as a sack to hold a child or merchandise.

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Looking over the valley from Pisac

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Incan ruins at Pisac

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Terraces in Pisac

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Pisac ruins

7. I wandered into a food stall at the local produce market in Pisac and ordered Ceviche for lunch. I’ve had ceviche before, so I knew generally what to expect. So I was thrown when the lady served me a bowl of weird looking nuts with a side of creamy sauce. Did I not just order ceviche? The mother and son sitting at the other end of the table threw me some odd glances as I inspected these alien nuts, which were beige and patterned with black zigzag lines. I pointed to the bowl, made a dipping gesture with the sauce and asked if that was how I was supposed to eat this. They frowned and shook their heads. As I was trying to decide what to do, the lady finally came back with the rest of my order and mercifully ended my very visible confusion. Ah, I thought, as I looked at my plate of trout and sweet potato slices tossed with onions, the nuts are a topping for the ceviche! It was delicious. Before I left, I motioned to the bowl of nuts and asked the lady who served me the ceviche, “Qué es esto? (what is this?)” She gave me an amused smile and said “Maiz.”

8. For my last night in Cusco, I had roasted cuy (guinea pig) for dinner. Served whole, head and limbs intact. In my case, since I made a half order, my cuy was sliced down the middle. It came with a side of stuffed peppers and corn on the cob with the plumpest and largest kernels I’ve ever seen. Since I was given no utensils (“hands only” is the proper way to eat cuy), I grabbed the paws and chomped right in. Not too tender. Definitely a one time experience. Pisco Sours, on the other hand, I could use more of.

 9. Two months ago I sprained my ankle while walking up Haight. At least I still have a good two months to let my ankle heal, I said. Because wouldn’t it suck to sprain your ankle right before your trek to Machu Picchu?

It did.

I gave myself good sprain on my second night in Cusco. The irony was not lost on me even as I laid writhing on the ground in pain being ignored by all the English-speaking tourists. I was finally helped by a Chilean woman and the Tourist Police, who I managed to convince–once I could speak again–that I did not need to go to the hospital. Back at the hostel, I watched with panic as my ankle swelled and darkened. Some folks who had just returned from the Salkantay Trek, the same one I had booked, urged me to forget about going. Maybe I could take the train to Machu Picchu and fill the rest of my time with a non-intensive trip to the rainforest or Nazca. Conflicted, I texted Vicky, who is my source of wisdom for everything in life (except for the time she convinced me that it would be okay to strap a queen sized mattress to her Prius and drive it across the bay bridge. It was not okay). Her response:

“As a doctor, I’d say don’t do it.

As a friend, I’d say do it.”

That pretty much settles it. I wasn’t going to cancel a trip I had waited for four months. If Fred, my 60 year old roommate at the hostel, could hike Kilimanjaro with a busted knee, then I can certainly hike five days to Machu Picchu, right?

10. This brings me to the best cab ride ever. The morning after my sprain, Fred suggested I go to my travel agency and ask whether they would still let me do the trek with an injury. We flagged down a sketchy looking cab. After we dropped Fred of at San Pedro, I gave the names of the cross streets for the office of the agency to my driver who didn’t seem to recognize them. I was right, because we proceeded to spend the next hour and half circling the city on a quest to find the elusive travel agency. At some point in this whole ordeal, it no longer mattered whether we reached the destination or not (we did not); because I had surprisingly a lot of fun chatting with Noe, my driver. Few things are more conductive to friendship than puzzling over google maps together on an iphone screen. In between my trying to give directions in broken Spanish and him asking several locals for help, we talked about Cusco and San Francisco. It’s funny how the threshold for making connections with people is so much lower in foreign countries than it is with people back home.

I am so grateful for and touched by Noe’s kindness and patience. Thank you for not abandoning me in the middle of nowhere even though I tried to convince you that it was okay. Thank you for insisting that we keep trying even though I was ready to give up half an hour in. And thank you for showing me that you enjoyed our little adventure as well when you flat out refused the 40 soles ($13) I sheepishly offered you at the end (rides only cost 4 soles in the city). “Lo siento por la inconveniencia (I’m sorry for the inconvenience)!”

Salkantay Trek

Day 1: Mollepata to Soraypampa

Woke up at 4 AM on the day of my trek, and with Fred’s help, wrapped my heel and ankle with surgical tape for compression and stability. The tape probably saved my life on Day 2. But the hike on the first day was gentle. We passed through a valley where we can see Salkantay, the snow capped mountain, in the distance. The clouds cast beautiful shadows on the pale yellow slopes and the afternoon sun accentuated every groove and rocky crevice.

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Salkantay, the snow capped mountain in the distance

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Day 2: Salkantay Pass to Colcapampa

On the second day, we left the sunny Andean mountains behind and made our way towards Salkantay. I was pretty optimistic about the hike until we reached the seven switchbacks, and suddenly, I found myself wheezing and gasping for air. I spent the next three hours trailing behind the group, moving at a glacial pace up the steep, rocky path. Occasionally, lines of mules would pass by carrying trekkers from other groups who couldn’t handle the altitude. Hah! At least I’m not on a mule, I thought. 10 minutes later: Oh God, I wish I were on a mule.

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salkantay trek

salkantay trek

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My smiling face hides the actual agony I’m in.

Vicky had urged me not to pack too warmly, because the days are warm and the sleeping bag that the trekking company provides is more than enough to keep you toasty at night. I’m so glad I didn’t listen to her. On the first night, I wore my triclimate jacket, fleece sweater, thermal undershirt, sweat pants, and beanie in my sleeping bag and was still cold. I really should’ve read the trek description a little more closely.

When we reached the top of the pass, Carlos made us take swigs of “glacier water” from his water bottle, which turned out to be filled with vodka. After what I had just went through, I really could have used more.

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It didn’t seem like it would be possible, but actually hiking down from the mountain was infinitely worse than the uphill battle. I’m so glad I had spent 10 soles to buy a walking stick, because there was absolutely no way I wouldn’t have slipped and sprained my ankle again on those wet and loose stones. Best $3 purchase I’ve ever made in my life.

Incredibly, just an hour or two after passing through heavy snow fall, I found myself descending into a warm, moist cloud forest. Suddenly, the rocky and barren landscape turned into valleys of lush green with hummingbirds flitting among the trees. We made it to our campsite just as a light drizzle began to set in. I wish I had taken more photos of the rest of the trek, but like I mentioned, I was too busy trying not to die.

Day 3: Colcapampa to La Playa

1) We continued to hike through the forest, passing several villages and farmhouses on the way. At one point, Carlos and I were making our way through a landslide on a very narrow path that someone had cut through the damp earth. Two girls in front of us decided that this was the perfect time to stop and take a selfie. Obviously, they were not aware of the thousand foot drop to their right. To my friends, Becky and Dan, who made me promise to take selfies on my trip, this is another reason why I hate them.

2) I learned to peel and eat passion fruit.

3) Every time I lost my footing, Carlos would say, “Please don’t die here!” Guess who would have had to give me a piggy back ride down the mountain if I sprained my ankle again? I’m sure he was pleased that we didn’t have to go there.

4) After three days of vigorous sweating and no showers, it feels amazing to jump into the hot springs at Santa Teresa. It doesn’t even matter that hundreds of other sweaty, unwashed tourists like myself had been soaking in the very same water.

Day 4: Ziplining, Hidroelectrica and Aguas Calientes

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Zip-lining with Cola de Mano over the Andean Valley

This might be my favorite part of the trek. For $30, I went zip-lining across the beautiful Andean mountains and cloud forest. It was so beautiful that I couldn’t afford to be scared. For the last cable run, I strapped the harness on backwards so that I could hang face down as I flew over the tree tops.

When I got back with my trekking group, Carlos pulled me aside and told me that he was glad to see me; because, apparently, the other zip-lining company in the area was known for some grisly accidents. Thanks, Carlos, for telling me after the fact.

We spent the rest of the day hiking along train tracks towards Aguas Calientes. Along the way, the tracks crossed several tens of feet above river rapids. But with no railing or side path, you had to walk very carefully on the wooden planks of the tracks to avoid slipping through the gaps. Because I was so focused on not falling to my death, I failed to notice the train coming from the opposite direction until I heard my group frantically shouting my name. That’s when I bounded the rest of the way and made it to the other side just in time to avoid a horrible death by train. I’m really glad I didn’t become “the-stupid-tourist-that-got-run-over-by-a-train-and-that’s-why-they’ve-installed-hand-rails-on-these-tracks-now.”

Day 5: Machu Picchu

My ankles and knees are done at this point even though I’ve been popping ibuprofen religiously. I walked into Machu Picchu determined not to hike anymore, ever again. Since we were one of the first groups to walk into the ruins, I was able to catch a glimpse of the place before it was swarming with tourists. Mist drifted up the side of the mountain and everything was cast in cold grey blue under the early morning light. It seemed surreal that we had finally reached this point.

As we stood on the terraces, listening to Carlos give his spiel about the discovery of Machu Picchu, warm light began to inundate the rocks as the sun finally rose from behind the surrounding mountain peaks.

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Can you see the giant mountain face in the background?

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View of Machu Picchu from the Sun Gate

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Llamas

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Other thoughts from the trek:

1) The food I was served during my trek was the best food I had in Peru. I was so impressed every night by the quantity and quality of food our chef was able to whip up with his tiny stove. My favorites were the lomo saltado and avocado salad.

2) Couldn’t have asked for a better guide than Carlos, who not only made sure I didn’t die, but went out of his way to take care of my swollen ankle. Thank you for bringing me coca tea every morning at 5 AM even when it was pouring rain.

3) All I’ll ever ask for from a rest room is that the ground is not wet. That’s all I’ll ever want ever again.

4) Having no internet access was incredibly freeing. I did not have earphones blasting music into my ears. I did not have gmail constantly open in the background. For the first time in months, I felt fully present in the present.

5) A diet of 80% carbs and 20% meat = constipation.

6) I enjoyed the trek much more than I enjoyed actually being at Machu Picchu. If I had just taken the train in, I would have been so overwhelmingly annoyed by the crowds of tourists. I still was, but I was also incredibly grateful to have experienced the humbling beauty of the Andean mountains that has made the setting of Machu Picchu especially mesmerizing.

Lake Titicaca

After my trek to Machu Picchu, a seven hour bus ride on a comfy tour coach sounded like the best thing in the world. Although, if I had more time, I would definitely have ridden the local bus or some other direct service without the tour portion; it’s really not worth it. The best thing about the bus ride was simply looking out the window and watching the scenery roll by. Every farm house, village, and river was framed by the mountains and clouds in the background. I watched women, in their telltale rimmed hats and pleated skirts, traipse across fields. My eyes were always drawn to their colorful dresses that often stood out against the dry, yellow soil of the land.

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People get sad without knowing it. Sometimes there isn’t a good reason, and sometimes it’s a multitude of reasons that’s hard to define. I think I had been sad for awhile before I left for Peru, but it was hard for me to see that until I left and saw something new. These mountains, they made me feel acutely alive. They reminded me, not only how big the world is, but how much there is to feel. What a shame it would be to waste so much time getting lost in one feeling.

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Raqchi, Temple of Wiracocha

I spent two days and one night on Lake Titicaca, visiting Uros, Amantani, and Taquile. The lake and the islands were beautiful, but it’s hard to get a good sense of how the locals lived. Mostly because all three communities were so heavily dependent on tourism for their livelihood. Next time I travel to South America, I definitely want to live in a small town somewhere and just get to know people more.

Uros

The first thing I noticed was the colorful clothing of the Uros people against the dried, pale yellow reeds used to construct their island home.

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Reed boats

uros reed boat

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View from Amantani at the Temple of Pachapapa

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My host on Amantani

I’m so grateful for all the places I’ve seen and the people I’ve met. One of the best parts of the trip was just chatting with other backpackers and being inspired by their experiences. In writing this post, I realized that there’s already so much I’ve forgotten, but hopefully the important memories and feelings will stay with me.

My friend, Evelyn, wrote a hilarious blog post on her Salkantay trek experience. Definitely a worthy read!

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Juan received a call from his father on his 30th birthday. He asked him whether he could come over with a DVD he was bringing from CVS. When he arrived, he handed Juan the disc and said, “Happy Birthday.” Juan figured it was a movie that was probably on sale at the pharmacy. He didn’t expect, when he pressed play, to see images of himself as a child flash across the screen. His dad began to narrate. Here was Juan and his mother walking through the Boston Commons when he was three. Here was Juan walking down Thornley Street in Savin Hill when he was seven. And here were pictures of Juan as an infant being held by his smiling father. For twenty minutes, Juan relived moments from his childhood captured by his dad’s old 8 mm film camera, moments that he never realized his dad had recorded and kept. And for the first time in more than twenty years–twenty very hard years marred by fear, brokenness, anger, resentment, chaos, violence, and poverty–he could finally feel the love of God through his father. And he wept.

Have you ever imagined what it would be like to meet God at the end of your life? I used to think that I would ask him to reveal the answers to all the scientific mysteries of the universe. Demand an account for all the horrible things that have happened in the history of humanity. Maybe even ask him to clarify all the contentious and confusing parts of the Bible. But I think, the question that matters the most to me, that I care most to hear the answer for, is simply, “Were you there?”

tiramisu cheesecake

tiramisu cheesecake

When Jesus saw Nathanael approaching, he said of him, “Here truly is an Israelite in whom there is no deceit.”

“How do you know me?” Nathanael asked.

Jesus answered, “I saw you while you were still under the fig tree before Philip called you.”

Then Nathanael declared, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the king of Israel.”

John 1: 47-49

tiramisu cheesecake

I always wanted to know, what happened under that fig tree? Why was it so important to Nathanael? I used to wish this story had more details, but now I realize that it wouldn’t make a difference. It doesn’t matter if Jesus had said, “I saw you under the fig tree when you were at the lowest point in your life and couldn’t find another reason to live.” Or whether he had said, “I saw you under the fig tree as you rejoiced the birth of your first child.” It doesn’t matter whether we know the details and circumstances, because we could never understand the significance of any moment in somebody else’s life unless you were walking in their shoes.

What if, when you meet God, instead of a series of questions and answers, you were shown a movie of your life? And in this movie, you saw every instance that you’ve experienced sadness, fear, despair, anger, and embarrassment. What if you relived your life through the eyes of God and realized that he was there to see everything, including the moments that you hoped nobody would see or prayed that somebody would? And what if you knew, that even if nobody else could ever understand what you’ve seen and how you’ve felt, God does, because he had been walking beside you from the beginning?

I can see myself that night, standing under a light drizzle, gazing across the deserted field in front of Doe Memorial library, and felt sadness. I can see myself, braving the wintry streets of Cambridge, gingerly picking my way over the icy brick sidewalks, and felt loneliness. I can see myself, standing behind the bedroom door, listening to the uneasy stillness of the household, and felt helplessness. I can see myself, huddled up in my chair in the solitude of my room, and felt despair.

These are my fig trees.

Tiramisu Cheesecake

Lady Fingers from The Cilantropist and Tiramisu No-Bake Cheesecake from Guilty Kitchen

I baked this cake because I finally passed my qualifying exam. Now that I’m officially a candidate for the PhD (my mom was surprised to find out that I wasn’t a “real” graduate student before the test), I can finally do things for fun again. This called for something really indulgent, like a cheesecake or tiramisu.

Instead of the cookie crust in the cheesecake recipe, I made a lady finger base from The Cilantropist. I also halved the recipe to fit my six inch pan (mostly because I forgot to buy enough mascarpone for a full sized cake). I also used Philz Coffee instead of espresso, since it was pouring rain outside and didn’t feel like leaving the house to get espresso. I’d get the espresso if I wanted a stronger kick.

My friend invited Juan and I to go rock climbing at Planet Granite in July. I agreed, reluctantly, buoyed more by Juan’s enthusiasm than my own affinity for thrill-seeking, physically exerting activities. As I strapped myself into the harness and surveyed the beginner’s wall, I told myself that it was okay if I don’t reach the top. Halfway would be respectable. Except that I’ve seen six year olds dauntlessly and effortlessly scale these routes.

Juan belayed me as I hoisted myself up the wall. The first few feet were easy. The rocks were easy to grip, and there were plenty of them. But my nerves failed at the halfway mark. I peeked down, nauseated by the seemingly enormous distance between the ground and myself. I desperately clung to the rocks, elbows contracted as I fought to keep my body as close to the wall as possible. I was really glad that Juan and Vicky were out of earshot, because something like a whimpering whine escaped from my throat. They were chatting down there with each other, oblivious to my physical and mental anguish. I could give up. I could shout for them to lower me down. I could tell them that I’ve tried it, and it just wasn’t my thing. But I looked up at the endpoint, so tauntingly close, and I knew that I didn’t want to take the easy way out.

meyer lemon chiffon cake

It’s been four months and I’m still climbing. There’s so much I’ve learned. How I should hang from my arms, instead of bending my elbows. How to step up with my legs, instead of pulling up with my arms. How to balance with feet apart, instead of standing with feet together. I have come to love the smell of chalk on my hands. The way the rocks feel under my fingers. The scraped hands and bruised knees. I love the triumph that comes with every conquered ledge, the exhilaration with every successful climb. But more than anything, I love that when I’m up high, there is nothing left except for me and my fear.

meyer lemon chiffon cake

A few weeks ago, I found myself stuck in one spot on a particularly difficult climb. I needed to step right with my foot, so that I can grab the hand-hold that was out of my reach. I needed to trust that this rock would catch my weight as I made this lunge. I knew what I had to do, but I didn’t want to do it. Or rather, I didn’t think I could do it. So I clung tight to that spot for a good 20 minutes, straining to keep from slipping. I felt my grip loosen from the rock as it became slick with the sweat pouring from my palms. I called down three times for Vicky to let me down. But she wouldn’t let up. She told me, do it even if you fall. Try something even if you slip. Just don’t do nothing.

What if every instance we had accomplished something that surpassed our own expectations and self-estimation was not a fluke nor a stroke of luck. What if every time we break out of the box we put ourselves in, we were meant to see a much greater truth. What if those are the moments when God breaks down the deprecation and the doubt, so that our real selves can shine through. What if this is His way of showing us that there is a presence in our hearts that cannot be contained, deeper and more powerful than we can ever fathom. What if this presence is what determines how we fall on the precipice between victory and defeat.

meyer lemon chiffon cake

For the past month, I have struggled with writing my qualifying exam proposal. For a long time, I had no idea what I wanted to study for my thesis. Didn’t know if anything I did was going to amount to anything. Every day, I found new ways to tell myself that I didn’t belong. I wasn’t smart enough, or as thoughtful and driven as my classmates. I feared that somebody would see through my guise and discover my mediocrity. I spent countless hours re-reading the same phrases and sentences in my proposal. Second-guessing every point that I put down on paper. Suspended and frozen in my fear of failure.

Rock climbing wall

Sometimes the hardest part about climbing is trusting that the harness will catch you when you fall. I know that the rope will hold. I know that my knots are good. Yet I can still imagine myself plummeting to my death. I am terrified that if I don’t fight with every muscle to keep from letting go, then there would be nothing there to hold me up. So I waste so much energy, put myself through so much pain, until I realize that the easiest way to move forward is to let go. And every time I do, every time I get back up on that wall, I believe a little more. I don’t want to be afraid to try, I don’t want to be afraid to fall. I know, and I believe, You will catch me.

Triple Lemon Chiffon Cake with Meyer Lemon Curd from Notes from my Food Diary

My first backpacking trip

It took less than five minutes for the sweat to soak through the back of my shirt. Less than a hundred yards before I ran out of breath. More than an hour to finish the first mile. And yet, somehow, I lugged thirty pounds of backpacking gear up and down a mountain. Those were probably the most excruciating twelve miles of my life.

Two weekends ago, my friends and I drove to Yosemite for some much needed time away from the city. We arrived late Friday evening and “stealthily” set up our tent on somebody else’s campgrounds. That’s when we realized that we were woefully ill prepared for the frigid night.

I woke up the next morning to numb toes. We drove to our trailhead, stopping by Tenaya lake to admire the beautiful backdrop of mountains rising above the water. By the time we started hiking, it was close to noon and the morning chill had dissipated, replaced by a steady heat that radiated from the surrounding soil and rock.

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We made our way north from Tioga Road towards Ten Lakes. During the first two miles, we couldn’t go more than a hundred yards without calling breaks. When we finally hit the switchbacks, it took everything I had just to put one foot in front of the other.

But there would be moments–and they would be so sweet, and oh so rewarding–when the beauty of the mountains would be too loud to ignore. When you become keenly aware of the smallness of your being, and your heart wants to be swallowed by the vastness of it all. And it is those moments when you forget about the thoughts in your head, the ache in your legs, and the path ahead or behind of you; because what you have beheld is too overwhelming for words, and too overpowering in its glory.

It could be the sight of mountains beyond mountains.
The way the sunlight illuminates the bark of the trees.
Or the towering cliffs of granite that speak of eons long gone.
The way the butterflies dance in the meadows.
And even that one lone tree, stripped bare, standing defiantly against the rocky slopes.

Surely, there was no other place that I’d rather be. Than here, in the midst of Your peace and beauty.

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As we were descending the other side of the mountain that we had just painfully climbed, we could see four of the lakes that make up Ten Lakes. I really wish that we had the time to explore all ten, but we stayed at the first one. I could not have been more glad to finally kick off my shoes and dip my feet into the water.

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I wasn’t really planning on swimming in the lake, but I guess I had to do it after all the sweat and tears I shed to get there. I definitely didn’t regret it.

 

First time in Yosemite, June 2012

These are photos from a trip last year that I had been meaning to post up. I forget where I took these pictures, but words and names don’t really matter. They speak for themselves.

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Today I walked into a cacti and succulents show and walked out a proud owner of two fine looking specimens.

I’m in love with the patterns on the leaves.

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Juan and I devoured sandwiches from Ike’s place at Dolores Park and immediately regretted that we didn’t just split one sandwich between the two of us. But it was too late to be thinking about curbing excesses while our mouths were full of halal chicken, avocado, and beer battered onion rings. We comforted ourselves that, at the very least, we were able to prevent further caloric imbalance by not splurging on Bi-Rite Ice Cream. The rest of the afternoon we spent wandering through the Mission watching hula hoopers, drummers, spray painters, and capoeira dancers.

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If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.

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I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die. 

And whoever lives by believing in me will never die.

Do you believe this?

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A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.

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Where, O Death, is your victory?

Where, O Death, is your sting?

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You have seated us above the fall.

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Oh, to be like you

Give what I have just to know you

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My dad and I, we have never been close. We moved to California when I was four, but he chose to stay in Hong Kong for work. I say “chose,” because despite what he may say about the lack of job opportunities here, he made a choice to live away from us so that he could pursue a career that never went anywhere. I never knew if he intended for this arrangement to be permanent. But for as long as I can remember, we have always been a family of four minus one.

I used to picture my dad, selflessly driven to support his family financially while sacrificing the comforts of home. But I’ve seen the look of relief on his face as he leaves for Hong Kong after each short visit. I’ve seen it enough times to know that, maybe, he actually prefers living without us.

I remember the few weeks that my dad had spent here once. It was possibly his longest stay yet, I don’t know. I was in middle school. He had just lost his business. With creditors breathing down his neck in Hong Kong, he had flown here to ride out his bankruptcy woes. My mom didn’t take it very well, of course. And between the fights and screaming matches, I’d sit with him at the table offering my quiet comfort. I helped him scour the newspaper for jobs, secretly glad that his unemployment meant the possibility of him finding work here permanently. During a particular somber moment, he turned to me and asked, in a way that I knew he really needed to hear what I’d say, “Am I good father?”

I looked him right in the eyes, and I said yes. Because who’s going to kick a man when he’s down? But even as I assured him, I knew that I would look back years later and wish I could have said something different.

A few weeks later, he left for his new job in Hong Kong.

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I remember the day when I found my mom in bed, crying. I climbed into the covers with her, and listened to her cry. For the years lost. For the years spent alone. For the trust that my father had broken. And in that moment, I had no more excuses I could make for him, no more words I could use to defend him. That was the day I lost my faith in my dad.

I write this post not because I want sympathy. This isn’t intended to be some self-pitying sob story of my “daddy issues.” But I share this because I believe that, at some level, my relationship with my dad affects how I relate to God. I used to think that sounds like bullshit. I’d tell myself that it may be true for some people, but it certainly wasn’t true for me. Because I turned out just fine without him. Because I don’t need a relationship with my dad to be who I am. Because his absence doesn’t matter anymore and hasn’t mattered for a long time.

But when you walk with God, He reveals all the things in your heart. Even the ones that you thought you had laid to rest.

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Recently, I shared a phone conversation with my dad. One of the few ones that we make when we remember to call each other. I asked him, after all these years, if he still thinks he could achieve his dream of being CEO of his own company. After the countless attempts and failures, if he had learned anything about his purpose in life.

He told me that there was no doubt in his mind that he can and will be CEO. That despite everything, he still firmly believes that he is meant to to be rich and successful. But I know, even though he wouldn’t say so himself, that he’s not pursuing fame and fortune for his family. It was never about making the money to take care of us. But it was all about making something of himself to prove to the world that he can.

I hung up because I didn’t want him to hear me cry. Because, despite how much I say that it doesn’t matter, I still wanted to hear him say he’s sorry. I wanted to shake him by the shoulders and scream, Don’t you feel regret? Don’t you feel bad? Look at what you’ve done. Look at where it’s got you. Say you’re sorry. Say you want to make amends. Say that our relationships matter more than your dead-end career. Say you wish you had the courage to share the daily struggles of being part of a family instead of cowering behind the 6,910 miles between here and Hong Kong. Say anything but this load of crap.

And even though I sat there, intensely hoping that he would never fulfill his stupid dream, a tiny part of me still cares that he would lose himself if he didn’t. And that tiny part of me sincerely hopes that when he loses himself, he would find his way again with God.

I will not deny that loving and forgiving my father is probably one of the most difficult things I have ever done, and is still trying to do. There are times that I don’t think I can, nor want to, embrace the person who fell so disappointingly short of my hopes. But the only way that I have found to do so is through my faith.

God is not a distant father. He will never be so blinded by his own pride that he cannot see me. He will never be so deafened by his own voice that he cannot hear me. He does not fall short. He does not break promises.
And he will not leave me.

We have received the spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, ‘”Abba, Father.”

Red Wine Chocolate Cake from Smitten Kitchen