8-time traveler Roger Z. reflects on a lifetime of memories
Beginning with the trip that fulfilled Roger’s dream of seeing Machu Picchu, Roger Z. (pictured right) and John G. (pictured left) embarked on a lifetime of journeys together. After John passed away in 2014, Roger continued to travel—on his own, but never alone. For all those who have struggled with the decision to take that first trip after the death of a beloved traveling companion, we share Roger’s inspiring story. And if Roger’s insight inspires a story of your own, please send it in an email to [email protected].
In 2004, my partner John G. and I were looking to take a trip. We had both been to Venice but never together. We were approaching our 30th anniversary and it seemed a good reason to celebrate. However everything we looked at was very expensive and we started thinking of other possible trips. Somehow we stumbled onto OAT. I can't quite remember how.
At any rate we discovered Real Affordable Peru. For less than the cost of airfare and a 3-star hotel in Venice with no meals, the OAT trip offered everything for a longer length of time. From a financial perspective alone it was a far better deal. However the most important part was the opportunity to visit Machu Picchu.
When I was a young kid, our neighbors worked for one of the major airlines. I believe it was TWA. (I'm going back about 60 years.) The big airlines used to produce these wonderful calendars with poster size photos. Every year our neighbors would give us a new calendar, which my mother would hang in the kitchen. Each month had a photo of some important place or monument: the Taj Mahal, Big Ben, the Eiffel Tower, and one month Machu Picchu.
In those days I didn't know anyone who traveled or had even been on an airplane. No one we knew had money for exotic travel. The idea of going to Europe would have been like going to the moon. The pictures fascinated me and I would stare at them every night while we ate dinner. For some reason the photo of Machu Picchu really intrigued me. As always, at the end of the month, my mother would tear off the page and throw it away, but I asked her for the photo of Machu Picchu. I kept it rolled up under my bed until I went to college. Every now and then I'd pull it out and just stare at it. I don't remember when I discovered that it was a real place and existed in Peru, but I knew I wanted to go there some day.
So that day finally arrived in 2004 when we booked the trip to Peru. We had always traveled independently so we weren't quite sure how we would feel traveling in a group. To be honest, we weren't sure how we would be accepted as a couple. I'm happy to say that we instantly became friends with our small group and our Trip Experience Leader. Our group was not only well-traveled and smart but also very, very funny. We were often laughing so hard we were falling out of our seats on the bus.
Early on in the trip we were staying at a beautiful hotel that had once been a monastery in the Sacred Valley. In the restaurant that night during dinner, I was sitting next to our Trip Experience Leader. When it came time for dessert he asked me what I was having. I told him I was quite full from the very good dinner and didn't think I had room for dessert. He said I had to have dessert. The lights dimmed in the restaurant and the waiters came out carrying a birthday cake lit with candles and the whole restaurant, including many people who were not on the OAT trip, sang “Happy Birthday” to me. I was stunned! Now I realize that OAT asks if there are any special occasions you will be celebrating while on the trip. I must have told him that I was going to have my birthday in Peru. Since then I've had a few more birthdays while traveling and I always have room for dessert.
So the big day arrived when we would be traveling by train to Machu Picchu. I was a little worried. I had so built up my expectations that I was sure I was going to be disappointed. It would be too overrun with tourists, it would be a theme park, something was bound to ruin it. Eventually we got on the bus to take us up to the site. It was about 3:00pm and most of the tourists who were there for the day were leaving just as we arrived. We had almost the entire site to ourselves. For two hours we wandered transfixed. Some people leaned against the stones silently. Others, myself included, had tears in their eyes. It was more wonderful than I could have imagined.
That night at dinner our Trip Experience Leader asked if anyone wanted to return to the site the next morning? He said the first bus left at 6:00am and did anyone want to be on it? We all raised our hands. So back we went the next morning. We were the first to arrive. It was suggested that since the site was shrouded in early morning mist we do the hike up to the Sun Gate. When we got to the top we did a group shot just as the mist was starting to clear. As we walked down for our morning tour the sun broke out and all of Machu Picchu was drenched in golden light. I thought I'd levitate. Indescribably beautiful!
So that began our OAT travels. In 2005, we went to Thailand and Cambodia; in 2006, Costa Rica; in 2009, Tunisia; and in 2010 we did the Grand Circle cruise on the Dalmatian Coast. Sadly, that was our last trip together. John died in August of 2014. We had been together for 41 years. We had many wonderful travels together all around the world, some with OAT and quite a few on our own. Every trip was great in its own way and we met many wonderful people—some from other countries who have become friends that we kept in touch with for more than 35 years.
When John was dying in the hospital last year, I whispered in his ear that we would continue to travel together. I had his body cremated. Everywhere I go, whenever there is a place I know he would have loved, I scatter a small bit of his ashes.
This past February I went to Australia with OAT. His ashes were scattered at Uluru, the Great Barrier Reef, in the Botanical Garden in Sydney, and in the harbor near the opera house.
This July I went on the Rhine and Mosel river cruise with Grand Circle. His ashes were scattered in one of the canals of Bruges. It was a canal that I remembered from a previous trip we had taken years before. His ashes were scattered along the way.
On December 8 I will be taking the Grand Circle Foundation trip to Cuba and in April I will go to Japan with OAT. The following September I will be taking the Baltic Sea Voyage with Grand Circle Cruise Line. And so John's ashes will journey with me and a little part of him will be scattered in the most beautiful and spiritual places around the globe.
For travelers considering going solo, it helps to know that you’ll always have a friend in your resident Trip Experience Leader. Fredy Delgado is just one of the locals waiting to show you his culture during Real Affordable Peru.