by Andrea Guzman
In early 2011, I found myself in need of a challenge – I wanted to travel, see something gritty and real and also give back in a meaningful way. One day, flipping through Oprah magazine in a doctor’s office, I saw an article on Paul von Zielbauer, the Roadmonkey founder, and his transition from New York Times journalist to world-exploring social entrepreneur.
The article described the kind of challenge I’d been seeking – one notch up from my typical adventure, which is running marathons. It made me think, “I really need to try something more.”
I sent an email to Roadmonkey asking for an invitation to the Peru expedition. A couple days later, I was talking by phone with Paul himself about the Peru trek. A few months later, in July, I was flying to Cusco to start my Roadmonkey adventure.
I spent 4 nights camping along the deep canyons of Peru, rafting by day down some pretty cutting rapids. It was physically invigorating to disconnect from work, email and my rigorous schedule and reconnect with Andrea – me.
I liked learning new skills, like setting up camp on the sandy beaches in the canyon of the Apurimac River; learning to paddle our raft through Class III and IV rapids as a team, with people I had just met; and shaking out scorpions – small, green, non-poisonous – from my wet suit each morning.
But I’d signed up for the Peru expedition because of the volunteer project: we took 3 days to build a first-time playground for indigenous Quechua school kids in Ollantaytambo, two hours from Machu Picchu. That was an incredibly meaningful way to spend part of my vacation.
I’d do it all again. This expedition really challenged me, personally, professionally, philosophically, emotionally. And I’m no frail office worker. I’ve run 27 marathons, and adventure is a lifelong passion.
The Peru trip also gave me a perspective – on myself, my career and the world I live in – that I couldn’t have gotten taking a conventional adventure trip. It made me realize, for example, that I’m in the right career.
It also showed that no matter how much time or money we have, or don’t have, we can make a difference. It just takes going the extra step to transform the urge into action.
I flew home from Cusco, the charming capital of the Inca empire, recharged. I’d met a fantastic group of people. Our efforts absolutely have made a positive impact (see the video below). And it confirmed my desire to create a personal tradition of taking real adventures that I can share with my friends.
So, here’s to more Roadmonkey travel!
Andrea Guzman works for The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, in Geneva, Switzerland. Previously, she spent 8 years in several positions at the United Nations. When not helping developing countries exterminate disease, Andrea runs. She’s completed more than 25 marathons, on her way to completing a marathon in all 50 U.S. States.