Alicia of Lima

Arwen, the 9-year-old family pup.
Finally, after 17 hours of travel, I made it from the door of my apartment to the door of what will be home for the next 4 days! Hello, San Isidro, Lima, Peru!

My host mother is lovely. She greeted me at the airport with a sign with my name on it. I waved at her, and she enthusiastically waved back and hustled over to meet me. She greeted me with a huge hug and a kiss on the cheek. 

In our 30 minute ride to her house, I learned all about her family and entire family history. Her ex-husband is a 3rd generation Peruvian of full Japanese descent. Her sisters and brothers are scattered across the globe, in Switzerland, Canada, Japan, and Ecuador. She was excited to learn that I was born in and lived in Japan because of her obsession with Japanese culture growing up... hence, she admitted, the Japanese ex-husband.

Alicia worked for the British consulate for 22 years. She's a Peruvian national, but she's lived in Britain for 2 years, Ecuador for 2 years, and probably a number of other places she's yet to share with me. She's traveled the globe.

Alicia is probably in her 50s and now sustains herself with a job that she finds very rewarding as a secretary from her elementary school alma mater. She also runs a consulting service with her extensive experience at the Britsh consulate. Finally, she's kept busy with her parade of guests like me with AirBNB. She's unlike any host I've stayed with before with her hospitality. Every morning, she sets out breakfast for me--scrambled eggs, French pressed coffee, an assortment of tea and fresh cut tropical fruits, jam, butter, and toast. Last night, she prepared a small supper for me and we chatted for over an hour about politics in Peru, the changes she's seen in Lima over the past few decades, and off-the-beaten path sights in the jungle to the west and in the mountains to the north. I regret pre-booking my tours and accommodations before meeting Alicia! Sounds like I would have had a unique,more local experience had I met her before making my plans for the summer. 

Alicia is born and raised in Peru (other than her ex-pat stints as a 20something), who's hosted many tourists and worked with many ex-pats within Peru. She's fluent in multiple languages, is knowledgeable on world history and other cultures, is well-connected with others in the tourist industry, and loves food and bars. All that to say that she is the absolute perfect resource for tips for going about Peru. She understands (and empathizes with) my desire to eat good and see the real Lima despite my shoestring budget. She's taught me so much about the developing parts of Lima (the part that tourists rarely bother to see, or perhaps is hidden away for tourists) and has recommended dozens of ceviche, pisco, and 'sanguche' bars and restaurants. Tonight, she'll take my sister and I out on a night in the down to see the town center as it's transformed when the sun goes down and the lights illuminate a new atmosphere. Afterwards, she'll take us out to dinner and pisco bar that's "lovely, just absolutely lovely," she says.

I arrived Tuesday at midnight. It's now Friday noon and so much has happened already. I can't wait to see what the next 6 weeks in Peru has in store for me!


Life after Death

After one's own death, life is a non-worry.

For those left living, death persists. Death is profound. Whereas life is a quest for inspiration, death is a search for meaning. When a friend of a friend passes away, you reach out to your friend and care for them as best you can. The outer edges of your heart breaks, but you stay strong for your friend every time they crumble. When an older relative passes away, you close your favorite book. You yearn for the excitement of turning each page for the first time, but settle for rereading your intertwining stories.

When a friend passes away, the second half of your favorite book--one that you never got to finish--is ripped to shreds. You carry with you a sadness that morphs and moves within you each day. You turn that sadness over, attempting to understand it, attempting to name it--emptiness? fear? regret? awe? defeat? acceptance?

Sadness is fatiguing, but acceptance feels disloyal. You try to protect yourself from sadness--you dive into your work, you surround yourself with non-mutual friends to hide, you attempt to rationalize the situation: 'hey, at least we weren't that close--it's not like I was his family member or best friend--so I should just stop being sad', you browse pictures and videos to saturate yourself in memories or maybe to make sense of what happened. After thinking, and re-thinking, and over-thinking, you marvel at the tears that silently fall despite the lack of concrete thoughts. There's nothing to reason, nothing to work out; and all that's left is pure, deep sadness.

Your perspective on life is uncomfortably transformed and you're drawn closer than ever to the people around you, but still, you want all of this to be over. Big, ceremonious events are supposed to come to a close, lasting only in your memories. The permanence of death overwhelms you. Graduations, weddings, music festivals, epic adventures--they all end. Why can't this end?

Andrew, when I walked up to you in your coffin, I still expected you to jump out at me and scare me like we kept doing to each other after that witch museum we visited. You popping out of that white wooden coffin, laughing uncontrollably, and telling me that it was all a ruse--including gathering 350+ people at your funeral and viewing-- actually felt more likely and more reasonable than you dying and being put in the ground.


Besides your family and friends who shared silly stories and celebrated your life, artists, dancers, photographers, poets, and singers came to your funeral to share their talents and their testimonies of how you had inspired them to lean into their art when you were alive. Even after your death, many continue to draw from your energy and live up to your motto: "Create to inspire. Inspire to create."

I fell off the writing scene for a bit this past year, but I owe it to you to continue creating. I think about all the beautiful pictures that will go untaken with you gone and I want to help try and fill that void with what I can. You tucked away a piece of your spirit in hundreds upon hundreds of friends, family, and fans and in that way, your vibrance carries on. I'm a better person for knowing you, Mark Andrew.



Hi Andrew,

The world is a different place from when we last spoke just over a week ago. We were both in Denver, trying to connect. You had such a busy schedule though, as always, I'm sure. In case you're wondering, we did get that cinnamon roll biscuit from Denver Biscuit Company. With bacon, I might add. You're right, it was awesome. Thanks for that.

And 6 weeks ago, in Iceland, we were on top of the world. I mean that in two ways. Sure, we felt scared at times--we got stuck in the snow, we crept along winding, narrow, 0 visibility highways, and we sometimes wondered when we were going to have our next real, substantial meal. We even teased you for being especially scared even though, deep down, we were masking our own fears for safety.

Despite all that, we were miles high off of life. I mean that in many ways. "Man, I still can't get over that view last night," you said the morning after the Northern Lights. "I'm still laughing off of that mirror thing," you said days after that hilarious night. "I still can't believe we're really here. WE'RE HERE. Look at this place!" you'd narrate about the trip so far. "I still can't believe that we ran into those guys... of all the people to run in to!" You were incredulous throughout the trip. Your contagious enthusiasm and awe of the mysteries of life forced me to stop thinking about the stresses of work, thousands of miles away, to stop worrying about the details of our trip, to stop daydreaming ahead to my trip the following summer, and to really take stock of what lay before us in Iceland.

When we were scared, you actually rolled down your window and said "let's get rid of that negativity". We cracked up, but it reminded us to stay positive and stay hopeful. When I asked you about your about photography business, you told me stories of almost giving up, and then deciding to give it your all. I remarked on how difficult it must be to be self-employed because you don't have set hours--you're always working. You corrected me--you said that you love what you do so much that you feel like you're never working. You humbly shared with me how you've had to raise your prices to photograph because you were so in demand. You seemed to always literally be up in the air, traveling to all corners of the world, on assignment. One morning, you woke up and said "guys, we have to go back to that waterfall. I had a dream of an epic shot." And we did go back. And you did get that shot. You told me about how doubtful your parents were at first about your choice to become a photographer. "How do they feel now?" I asked. "Proud."

Our little Iceland family all kind of came up with the idea together to come back to Iceland summer 2016 for mine and Brian's wedding. You, Mr. Idea Machine, were overflowing with suggestions for Brian and I for the wedding invitations, the website, giveaways, thank you cards, and on and on. Brian and I were so excited to have you be our photographer for our wedding. I was a little bit hesitant about being able to afford you--after all, it's your business, you're in high demand, and we definitely know what you're worth. Regardless, we were determined to make it work. We had nothing else figured out about the wedding except that 1) our Iceland family would be reunited once more where it all began and 2) you would be our photographer.

Andrew, six weeks ago, we were invincible. We spent our first night in a creepy converted schoolhouse. We zigzagged and backtracked steep, muddy roads. We stopped in the middle of abandoned highways to take "middle of the road" pictures. We sang--a lot. We made friends with strangers. We made friends with cops. We hiked a glacier. We walked behind waterfalls. We got drunk purely off the view of the Northern Lights. We conquered what felt like another planet. You photographed indescribable landscapes and precious moments.

We all were supposed to go back, Andrew. I don't understand. You're so talented. You'd achieved so much. We'd gone through mountains. Why? Life is not supposed to end like this. We're supposed to be invincible. We felt so invincible.

You said that the way that you sell your work to potential customers is by reminding them that almost nothing in life lasts, but photographs are forever. Now, friends say that your legacy is in your photos, Andrew, and that you'll live on in that way. I believe them. But still. What the fuck. You're not supposed to live on in that way, at least not yet. You're supposed to live. I don't understand.

I'm so thankful that I got to know you so quickly and so deeply if even for only a brief moment. You gave me so much to think about in our conversations on those 12+ hour car rides. There's no reason that you had to leave us so soon and so suddenly. I still can't wrap my head around why God would do this, if there is a God. I never will. No reason will ever be good enough to justify your death. I miss you, Andrew, but not in the way that I've ever felt before. I've moved around a lot and have said my fair share of goodbyes, but this is different. This 'I miss you' means 'I can't believe I'm never, ever going to talk to you again'.

So, I guess that's it, Andrew. They say "rest in paradise", but I think that wherever you are now, if you are somewhere, you're not sitting around. You're doing something epic and enjoying it to the fullest. Speaking of paradise, man, I hope we see you somehow next year at ours.

See you out there, man.

Photo credit to the late Mark Andrew Gonzales.