Sitting in the bar at the Loki Hostel in Cusco, Peru, I can’t help but feel a little old. I’ll be 40 this year, almost twice the average age in this room. It was the same story on my trek to Machupicchu and in most of the bars and clubs where I’ve been partying in Peru and Bolivia.
I can definitely hang with the younger set just fine and most youngsters are shocked to hear by age, but the fact is that my oldest daughter is the exact same age, 18, as many of the women in this hostel.
Did I miss it? Ever since I had kids earlier than planned, I told myself that we get our freedoms on one end or the other. This trip was partly about trying on for size the freedom that I’m finally beginning to attain. I do believe it fits, although it’s a suit that I still need to grow into and make my own. Perhaps I am too old for Loki Hostel, but not for trekking to Machupicchu or dancing until dawn, both activities I performed with a vigor that put many of my younger compatriots to shame.
Being a journalist for almost 20 years has saddled me with a credit card debt that prevents the kind of luxury travel enjoyed by many people my age. But it has also given me opportunities, knowledge, and a perspective that enriches the travel experience.
Most travelers are remarkably ignorant about the sociopolitical conditions of the countries the visit, as I’ve learned from my conversations with travelers young and old and rich and poor. Most know nothing of the recent revolutionary cycle cycle that sent one Bolivian president into exile in Miami and brought Evo Morales into power, or of Peru’s long struggle with Shining Path rebels or the corrupt and controversial rule of Alberto Fujimori, except perhaps what they learned from the tour guides about why it wasn’t until recent years that tourism to Machupicchu has exploded. Most travelers to Peru and Bolivia know more about the customs of ancient Incas than about today’s inhabitants of this beautiful but largely impoverished land.
I’m not judging. It’s the same almost everywhere. I run into the same resistance to discussing politics with my fellow trekkers that I do with my family and many friends in California (although far less so in San Francisco). Engagement with the issues of the day — such as the legacy of my country’s long and disgraceful foreign policy toward South America — is avoided by people of all ages and backgrounds.
But at least they’re here, exposed to other cultures and broadening their worldview (although the ‘they’ I refer to seems to be mostly Europeans, Australians, Israelis, and Canadians, which greatly outnumber the Americans I’ve encountered).
Would I have gleaned as much nuanced meaning from this trip when I was as young man? Probably not. Age brings a knowledge base and perspective that adds depth to the travel experience, or at least that’s a thesis that I intend to test as I enter a new phase of my life.