In Peru I’ve experienced a lot, all compressed in one month of insatiable adventure and ever-changing landscapes. When I left the South American country, crossing the border to Bolivia, I thought I just left one of the most critical situations of my trip. In my last stop in the country, I helped rescuing a lost and injured French tourist in Colca Canyon. At that point I didn’t know that I was wrong. By then I was just a month away from my crash test with reality, so I trusted I would leave my adventure unscratched.

When I reached Llahuar, a minuscule town encapsulated deep in the bottom of the highest canyon on Earth, I found myself involved in a critical ongoing situation. Djamila, a French woman, was crying on the corner of the only lodge in town. I learned her husband had gone missing the day before on the afternoon. It was midday and still nobody had news of him. At that point, the police had been called, but they wouldn’t reach the area until it was dark.

My role, from that moment on, was to translate from French/English to Spanish, to help that nerve-wrecked woman to communicate with the hostel owners, the police and anyone who tried to help. Stuck in the middle of nowhere, and not really having an exact clue where her husband might have gone, it was useless to go out and try to find him. There were five different paths he might have taken, some theories and a lot of confusion. They were all discussed by the few guests staying there. When you find yourself in this situation, no one is thinking clearly, no one except professionals.

All the hostel guests, a Brit and a Belgian guy, two French girls and a US couple, collaborated with the task at hand. Throwing questions, ideas, even considering going out to the mountain –the potential risks faced would be the same that made Xavier, Djamila’s husband and a licensed mountain guide, disappear. The end result of day two since he went missing was to wait for the professional rescuers to come. We were fatigued ourselves after walking almost 20km to reach the hostel, a paradise spot close to the river. We went to the hotsprings there to try to relax, still discussing why the French national, an experienced mountaineer, had decided to hike up almost at dusk. It made no sense that a professional like him took that risk. He did, nonetheless, and our heads were trying to get all the pieces together. We were no Sherlock’s, so doubt is all that invaded us at the steaming pool.

The police arrived at night, approximately 36 hours after the French tourist went missing. We proceeded to give key information to the rescue party, me translating both ways with the help of the Belgian guest, who spoke better French than me but not a drop of Spanish. French-English-Spanish, Spanish-English-French. Experiencing this degree of teamwork between complete strangers sticked with me, another lesson of my big trip. We came together to help as best as we could, trying to give hope to the French woman and taking turns to always keep an eye on her.

Finally, a ray of hope came at midnight, when some policemen who already went up the mountain to talk to villagers found a track of Xavier in a river path. They knew were he’d gone.

Being pitch-dark outside, we had to wait overnight until dawn arrived. The police left early in the morning, and being of no use, we bid farewell and wished good luck to Djamila, relatively relaxed and grateful given the critical circumstances. Because we were in a hole in the ground, mobile data went missing for the next day and a half, so everyone who collaborated with the rescuers was left with the nerve-wrecking doubt: did they find him alive?

The answer was waiting a thousand meters up, back in civilization and a day later. When I arrived to Cabanaconde, the base-camp to any Colca adventure, everyone knew what had been going on for the last days. I met the US couple in the bus back to Arequipa and they broke the news to me: they found him, he’s injured but alive and well. Fuck, that was reassuring. My anxiety faded. Without really noticing it, the last few days I had been living with a big knot in my gut. The death of a stranger would’ve hit me very hard.

So, relieved and happy to now calmly reflect on the beauty of the three day landscapes of the Colca Canyon, in a greater sense the beauty of life, I left for Bolivia and bid farewell to Peru, such an amazing country.

Reality punches back home

But life has its way, a hard way. I had already returned home safe and sound, the very lucky traveller me. No big issues on a year and a half adventure. All seemed good, except reality in Barcelona was starting to hit me a bit: back to work (the hunt for it), stress, pollution, noise. My girlfriend was waiting for me in Germany, and I was getting medical check-ups to confirm that my luck was intact with my trip. I was on the train from my town to Barcelona, and saw a tweet about three mountaineers from Spain and their Peruvian mountain guide who had died the day before. I thought it couldn’t be possible… Nah.

I clicked the link. Scrolled down. I saw the initials on the news, and then I was frozen in my seat. A.S, G.B, S.P. had died in an avalanche in Nevado Mateo, a 5.000 peak near Huaraz, Peru. I wasn’t there, I was back home, but Peru was coming back to me. I felt the region’s cool mountain breeze like a daydream. The Ancash region, a stunning place that features the second highest mountain-range in the world –just beaten by the mighty Himalayas. Mighty snowy mountain peaks, a sight to behold.

By then I already knew it, but still had to look for the complete names in another newspaper article to get it through my collapsing brain. These guys went to my school, I shared beers and laughs with them. We were tracking our adventures together through social media, we all knew about each other. We were not best friends, but we shared some good times in the past. I was planning to meet them somewhere in South America if our paths met by chance. I’m sad they didn’t.

These guys were great, I had so much respect for what they were doing. I understood them, they took the same path I did. They were doing what they wanted the most, explored our world and built their own new selves by expanding their knowledge of cultures and people. They took a difficult step in life, which is to leave all you have known so far: the place you grew, studied and worked for a quarter of a century. They discovered there’s so much more outside, all their friends probably following their adventures with a slice of envy but a prevailing feeling of pure admiration. Adrià, Sergi and Gerard were discovering these unknown realities to everyone who cared to pay attention, and that’s no minor thing.

It’s unfortunate they died, but knowing what they were experiencing first hand, I’m certain they were following their hearts, doing what they enjoyed best. That’s the little relief I have left, although this will never fix the tear in the lives of the people they’ve left behind. I hope time will heal that wound and give way to a deeper understanding of life, a perennial smile when the three of them come into their minds.

This tragedy has reaffirmed the true value of where I am now and what I have done in the past. I did what was right for me. And how important this is. There’s this little hole in me, specially when I think about their closest friends and their pain. Life is never fair, it can’t be. We can’t be so sure we’ll be here tomorrow, so we have to value every bit we’re getting from life today. I’m confident Xavier, the French tourist who spent three nights in the wild before being rescued in Colca Canyon, is valuing life in a way he never did before. This makes me smile.

From Adrià, Sergi and Gerard I’ll keep their ultimate resolution: do what your dreams ask you to no matter what. It’s shit they’re not here anymore, like my basketball teammate Miki who died from cancer when he was 22, but their experience is a (recurrent) lesson for us. To remember them and what they’ve done here with us makes me smile too.

Sorry for today’s personal disclosure, but you only live once.