On this particular New Year's Eve, my day started earlier than most. My alarm woke me at one in the morning in an unfamiliar place. This was not my apartment in New York City, but the Peruvian city of Arequipa, about 300 miles south of Cuzco. And rather than arising to go to the corporate job I'd toiled at for years, I was embarking on the latest adventure in my 16-month-long trip around the world: a trek down Colca Canyon, one of the world's deepest canyons with a depth of 10,433 feet. One year prior, my life was completely different, as was my interpretation of what living it meant. Back then, I'd wake up every day at 8 am, without an alarm, just out of habit, and start the grind. Each day, I'd wonder if this was the way life was supposed to be. Was this rat race really the end game? Certainly there was more to life. Were the adventure books and films I loved so much completely devoid of reality? Or could I find a way to make it more than just fantasy? I reflected on how far I'd come from those other-world thoughts on the early morning bus ride to the trailhead. Instead of planning for my morning commute, I was now planning excursions like running with the bulls in Spain, hiking to the top of Kilimanjaro and the base camp of Everest, going on safaris—actually living through all those dreams I'd had in my cubicle. Joining me on the bus was Heidi, a young Australian backpacker on her gap year whom I'd met only the day before. Both traveling independently in the world, we crossed paths on a tour of the Monasterio de Santa Catalina in Arequipa, a town many people go to once they've done the Inca Trail and Machu Picchu. Strangers-turned-friends, neither of us had made solid plans to ring in the New Year. However, on a whim, we decided that holing up in a secluded canyon to await the stroke of midnight seemed like a great idea. And we weren't alone; joining us was our guide Roy, a skinny Peruvian who'd show us the way. “Vamos a la playa!" he announced, referring to a popular song where the beach (playa) is a metaphor for good times. Roy led us from the town of Cabanaconde down the canyon trail. We hiked through villages of dried mud-brick buildings and out beyond their fields of corn. Nearby, children tended sheep, speaking in the ancient but extant Incan language of Quechua, but greeting us with Spanish holas. Above our heads, condors soared with the thermals. “Isn't it great when you realize you've made the right decision?" Heidi said, admiring the view. I thought about New Year's Eve the year prior. It was an altogether different story. I'd had no solid plans then, either, and had decided to stay in. It may have been all the talk of resolutions in the year, but I became obsessed with the idea of escaping the rat race, and trying to bring my lofty ideas of a global trip to fruition. That night, I read Paulo Coelho's The Alchemist, which inspired me to set an agenda in motion: save as much money as possible, quit my corporate job, sell my possessions and my car and give up my apartment in order to travel long-term.
That night, I read Paulo Coelho's The Alchemist, which inspired me to set an agenda in motion: save as much money as possible, quit my corporate job, sell my possessions and my car and give up my apartment in order to travel long-term."
A year later, my plan had been realized and I already finding adventure in Peru. Roy continued to lead the way down Colca Canyon along the sharp, zig-zagging trail. We descended down to the river, crossed a rickety wooden footbridge and continued through the chasm. For hours we hiked, passing cactus fields, wild aloe plants and farm houses. We stopped in a little village house for lunch, where we met a couple of other trekkers who had the same idea for where to be at the stroke of midnight. We continued through the canyon, over more footbridges and beyond a waterfall. Once we were greeted by two local women, who were using sticks to guide two mules hauling goods. Carrying our own heavy packs made the day-long hike feel like an eternity, but by sundown we were awarded with the amenities of our final destination: an oasis camp at the bottom of Colca Canyon. There were a few bungalows, a pool, even a little bar. Perfect. As we waited for midnight to arrive, Heidi, Roy and I joined the other trekkers around a campfire, enjoying the dark serenity. Staring into the flames, I reflected on my journey — not just my trip around the world, but the mental and emotional leap I'd made to leave full-time corporate America behind. And ultimately, I'd go back home to New York a changed man, one with a different, more open perspective of the world and an unquenchable curiosity for foreign cultures. I knew I'd never be truly happy returning to my former life, and so I managed to find a way, through freelancing, to continue to travel without the limits of vacation days. On this particular night, in my former city, the famed ball dropped in New York's Times Square, but where I was, a firecracker sizzled and burst in a distant village, and echoed through Colca Canyon. “Happy New Year!" we cheered.