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CLIMBING ADAM’S PEAK IN SRI LANKA

CHICAGO, ONE WEEK PRIOR TO DEPARTURE

I pull-on my egregiously masculine hiking shoes, tighten them around my ankles for support. Secure my earbuds and start my How Was Your Week? podcast. Look at my watch. 7:07. Let’s do this.

13 steps up. 13 steps down. 13 steps up. 13 steps down.

My cats look at me suspiciously. That Lady has finally lost it.

Practicing Climing Adam's Peak on My Stairs

I am conducting a test run, here in my condo, of climbing Adam’s Peak in Sri Lanka. Adam’s Peak (Sri Pada) is a mountain in Central Sri Lanka that is a holy site to Buddhists, Christians, Hindus and Muslims: the large footprint at the top was left by either Adam, Lord Shiva or Buddha, depending upon who you ask. Climbing Adam’s Peak is an important pilgrimage for many Sri Lankans, especially Buddhists.

The trek to the the summit of Adam’s Peak is greater than 7,000 feet — over 5,200 steps. I’ve calculated that climbing my loft stairs (13 steps) 100 times is the equivalent of climbing one-quarter of Adam’s Peak. Minus the altitude change, not factoring in the freezing temperature at the top and overlooking the fact that it’s a consecutive 5,200 steps up.

Adam's Peak Sri Lanka

I finish my trial hike in around 30 minutes, a little winded but not entirely exhausted. I guess that’s that. I guess I’m climbing Adam’s Peak.

CHICAGO, DAY OF DEPARTURE

I have only one hour until my taxi arrives.

“What do you mean you don’t have knee braces?” I ask. REI, a massive, two-story shrine to trekking, sells every imaginable item a hiker would ever need. Except knee braces (my knees were a little tender the day after my stairs experiment). Instead, I buy special socks to protect my toes, a shirt that “breathes” and official hiking pants.

Crap! Parking ticket. I stop for one minute…

Run to Kaehler Luggage. No knee braces here. Dammit. Down to 20 minutes.

CVS! CVS has knee braces. I throw them in my basket, tossing in Pop-Tarts, Pringles and vodka as I jog to the counter. I’m going to need all of this stuff if I’m really climbing Adam’s Peak.

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IS PERU SAFE FOR A SOLO FEMALE TRAVELER?

Peru Map

SAFETY & SOLO FEMALE TRAVEL

JANUARY

The discovery of the body of Sarai Sierra, an American woman traveling solo to Istanbul, is reported. She was murdered.

I’m not going anywhere near Istanbul this spring (that’s my July trip) —  I’m heading for Peru in two months — and although I’ve traveled by myself all around the world and know that random murders happen everywhere (My hometown of Chicago being no exception), the news reminds me of the vulnerability of being a woman traveling solo in a foreign country.

IS PERU SAFE?

FEBRUARY

I receive an email from a friend containing a link to a post about Peru on the United States Department of State Bureau of Diplomatic Security site, which reads:

The U.S. Embassy warns U.S. citizens of a potential kidnapping threat in the Cusco area.  The Embassy has received information that members of a criminal organization may be planning to kidnap U.S. citizen tourists in the Cusco and Machu Picchu area.  Possible targets and methods are not known and the threat is credible at least through the end of February 2013. For the moment, personal travel by U.S. Embassy personnel to the Cusco region, including Machu Picchu, has been prohibited and official travel is severely restricted as a result of this threat.

Well, that’s just great. I’m traveling to Peru — including the “Cusco and Machu Picchu area” — in six weeks. The criminal organization in question is The Shining Path, which (according to Wikipedia) is a Maoist guerilla insurgency. Really? There are Maoist guerillas in our midst? I haven’t heard of The Shining Path since, like, fifth grade and now the bastards are threatening my vacation.

Is Peru safe? Should I reschedule my trip? I don’t know.

FEBRUARY

This just in: an America couple bicycling through Peru have gone missing. The common, obvious speculation is that they were kidnapped or killed.

MARCH

I need to decide if I should take this trip to Peru at the end of the month or if the risk of danger is great enough that I should cancel it. I turn to the U.S. Department of State website to determine if Peru is safe:

The Shining Path (Sendero Luminoso) terrorist group remains active in Peru and has previously expressed an intention to target U.S. interests.

Violent crime, including carjacking, assault, sexual assault, and armed robbery is common in Lima and other large cities.

In the recent past, there have been a number of cases of armed robbery, rape, other sexual assault, and attempted rape of  U.S. citizens and other foreign tourists in Arequipa and in Cusco city, as well as in the outlying areas in the vicinity of various Incan ruins. These assaults have occurred both during daylight hours and at night.

Thieves often smash car windows at traffic lights to grab jewelry, purses, backpacks, or other visible items from a car.

Is Peru safe for travel? Is Peru safe for a solo, female traveler? Clearly not. Crap.  I should cancel my trip.

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TRAVEL TO BURMA: SWEET SPOT or NOT?

MYANMAR/BURMA SERIES PROLOGUE

Why travel to BURMA?” is the obvious question people ask me (I call it Myanmar in my head, but people seem to recognize Burma more). I’m happy to notice that my friends, family and co-workers no longer regard me with suspicion when I tell them I’m traveling to far-flung Southeast Asia destinations and seem to have finally accepted the fact. In the past they would narrow their eyes (is she trafficking children? Smuggling opium?) and now they just shrug it off (oh, that’s just what Esme does).

WHY TRAVEL TO BURMA

“Why travel to Burma?” is a valid question. I’m going to Burma for one because, I’ve already visited most other Southeast Asia countries on my bucket list. And because I adore the warm weather, friendly people, oddly-spiced (differently-spiced, rather) food, temples and foreign-ness I find there.

My favorite comment when I told someone I was traveling to Burma: “Beware of The Triangle!” And no, the person wasn’t referring to The Golden Triangle.

Lastly … I’m pretty sure the germ of the idea to travel to Burma was planted back when I was in my teens and read Gerald A. Browne’s sexy 18 Mm Blues, a thriller/romance about the international jewel trade, a part of which took place in Rangoon. Weird how I can trace many of my choices of destinations to an obscure and seemingly-insignificant moment from my youth: a song, a book, a tv episode.

WHY TRAVEL TO BURMA NOW

But why travel to Burma NOW? I’m traveling to Burma now because I’m under the impression that Burma has hit my Travel Sweet Spot®. The Travel Sweet Spot being the point in time that a developing country’s infrastructure has evolved to where it can support my spoiled Western style to which I’ve become accustomed, but the entire rest of the world has not yet caught on, overtaking the place and thereby ruining the very specialness that drew all of us to it originally.

I envision my thought process like this:

travel sweet spot

FODORITES AND FLYERTALKERS

When planning a trip, I rely a lot upon my fellow travelers who post travel advice and reports on the Fodors and Flyertalk forums. They can sometimes be a feisty bunch (a few just seem to itch for a fight) but the contributors know their stuff, tend towards more upscale travel and have high standards.

Reading through the Burma message boards, some Fodorites assert that travel to Burma has passed the Travel Sweet Spot: the influx of tourist terrorists in recent years has already destroyed the essence of the country for us “real” travelers in search of authentic experiences.

I’ve found that my trips abroad are enhanced when I’ve established a goal for my journey and that having a focus keeps me more sane (less insane?) when traveling solo. So, I’ve identified a purpose for my upcoming travel to Burma: to assess whether those Fodorites are correct – the country HAS jumped the shark – or whether their protestations are a case of “been there, done that, before it was cool” bragging rights by the world-weary.

Is travel to Burma still in the sweet spot? Or is it past the point of no return? Inquiring minds want to know.

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