Contiki enabled me to trace my Gran’s footsteps back to Peru and the Galapagos Islands

This article was created for The Travel Project by Emma Calley, a young writer, traveller, food lover and ambassador for The Travel Project, from Australia’s beautiful Mornington Peninsula.

I see my travel bug as part of my DNA, it descends from my Gran Judy, a woman who travelled solo for many years, visiting over 40 countries and endeavouring to travel to an island beginning with every letter of the alphabet. Out of all the incredible places she saw and experiences she lived, her favourite islands were the Galápagos and her favourite country, Peru. So when I won a trip with Contiki, following my submission to Six-Two, I instantly knew I wanted to travel in her footsteps - Peru and the Galápagos Islands it was.

My grandma Judy was and still is an enormous inspiration to me. As a child, she nurtured me to be fearless and learn from experience. After her husband, my Grandpa, passed away in the year 2000, it would have been easy to withdraw and mourn his loss. Instead, she took her pain and love and channelled it in a way only Judy could, into adventure. The travel bug had infected her decades prior and it was time for her to begin the next phase of her life. In a few short years, she traversed the Peruvian Amazon, Ecuador, Russia, Egypt and countless other places as a solo, female traveler. I grew up hearing stories of her courageous trips and intrepid spirit. One adventure resulted in my favourite childhood present: a wooden whistle necklace with a hand-painted picture on it.
It’s no surprise I’m now a grown up with a knack for world geography.

All through primary school I begged my parents for an overseas holiday and the moment I graduated in 2014, I took off for a three-month jaunt to Europe. I was chasing something unnamable, unknowable. I was lusting after the passion my grandma shared with me years before. On my travels, I found the most fulfilling way to document my experience was through the written word. Writing was my childhood obsession and travelling helped me to grow as a creator, because it allowed me to combine my passions and share tales with friends and family. I began a travel blog and started submitting my work to as many sites and magazines as I could find including, you guessed it, Contiki!

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I’ve visited a lot of countries for my age. Thirty, to be exact. And six of seven continents. I’ve been lucky enough to safari in Africa and skydive in Hawaii. But I’ve never visited anywhere as undeniably enchanting as Peru’s Sacred Valley. Everything from the crisp, mountain air to the local people and their respect for nature clutched at my heart and even now, a month after returning home, refuses to let go. Contiki wanted me to explore my familial connection to Peru, but I didn’t have to explore anything. I simply stepped off the plane in Cusco, only to be knocked over the head with ardour and a deep love for the place. As for hiking the Inca Trail and arriving at Machu Picchu, well, that was ineffable. I literally cannot explain the emotions that surged through my aching limbs when I laid eyes on the ancient city of the Quechua people. Every step on the trail I took, I felt her beside me. And I found myself imagining her trek. Did she struggle physically? Emotionally? Was she immersed in nature and culture as I was? I liked to think she would have been and that my desire to learn about foreign traditions came from her own passion.

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The trip was jam-packed full of other riveting experiences, too. Our stay at a jungle lodge tucked into the Amazon rainforest was an adventure like no other. Aside from the ten million mosquitos that tried (and failed) to dampen our spirits, we learned about traditional medicines, kayaked and spotted dozens of unique animals from caimans to several species of monkeys, macaws, tarantulas, giant river otters, piranhas and capybaras. And the Galápagos islands…well they’re probably the most beautiful, animal-rich paradise I’ve ever stepped foot onto. The locals say you ‘YOGO’ or ‘You Only Galápagos Once’, but I know with certainty that I’ll be back, no matter how challenging it may be to get there. When we visited the Charles Darwin Conservation Centre on Santa Cruz Island, my mind was blown to discover the magnificent giant tortoises I was gawking at, were the same ones Gran would have seen on her trip. Those beasts can live well upwards of 100 years! Everywhere I turned in Peru and Ecuador, I found traces of her.
My gran taught me to love travel writing before I even knew how to spell my own name. And now, I take her passion and channel it into every piece I create.

The wooden whistle necklace still lies in my jewellery box, unmarked despite years of battering and wear. And next to it, sits my new Peruvian whistle necklace, this one made from clay. A reminder of how far I’ve come and where it all began.

 

Emma travelled on Contiki’s Latin Icons trip as an official Travel Project ambassador as a result of submitting this article to six-two’s community contributor program. Do you fancy winning yourself a Contiki trip, anywhere in the world, through just sharing a story? Head here to find out how.

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