Life over the past few months has been like a platform game. By ‘platform game’ I mean the kind of game which involves completing increasingly difficult levels, each with new challenges and often different themes. Sometimes you might get ‘Boss Levels’ that are short but especially difficult or, ‘Bonus Levels’ which are just for collecting points or coins, (Super Mario Bros, is a good example). This may seem like a crazy analogy, but this is how I have chosen to explain our experience of the vastly different places and challenges we have faced over the past few months. So, time to use your imagination a little and try to see our Gap (almost) Year from a very different angle.
Tutorial Level (September Training)
In this part of the journey we got to find out how the game works, what we’re meant to be doing and some hints and tips to help us along the way. It was also a time to find friends and build relationships with the wonderful people we were about to embark on this experience with and alongside. Okay, it doesn’t fit perfectly but you can see where I’m going with this.
Our time at training was so helpful, not only in learning the vital information that kept us sane (mostly), but also becoming part of a community that could support each other from all over the world. We had people praying for us and encouraging us in a time zone almost 12 hours off of ours, and it was all down to the time we spent bonding during our time training.
The other aspect of the tutorial level was our training church, the idea was to learn a little that would help us in the much later levels (Tour), but as you all know that has been cancelled. But we still learnt a great deal and the church was added to the already huge number of supporters, that backed us the whole way.
So, not the best start to the analogy, and I purposely missed out Min-Y-Don as it doesn’t really make sense to do a ‘Boss Level’ so early, but it gets better. I hope.
Level 1 (Lima)
By far the shortest and therefore probably the easiest level, Lima kicked us off nicely. We entered the country with a bit of trouble as you may remember, but it was an easy transition and one we all enjoyed. This level was mostly just showing us a new country and letting us settle into the game before we hit the difficult bits. It was here that we also got to meet our first guide (supervisor), who walked us round this first level. Laura showed us the best bits of a city, but when it really came down to it, we spent more time in Lima airport than in the city itself.
Level 2 (Arequipa)
Our guide, Laura, then introduced us to our next level, before leaving us to get to grips with it ourselves. This was an important stage as it allowed us to gain props, gadgets and knowledge that was vital in the later levels, we didn’t even realise that some of the stuff would be handy. Level 2 also came with lots of benefits, it certainly wasn’t like being back in the UK but did have lots of home comforts. McDonalds, Starbucks, cinemas and English speakers, were all things we took advantage of, as we knew Level 3 would not have these luxuries.
Level 2 had one main goal, school. Yes, we spent most of it learning Spanish, and no we’re not fluent now but Erin is pretty close. So, we got to spend our downtime doing touristy things, a coin (points) collecting time if you will. We were stocking up on the goodies in the knowledge that quite soon we would have a shortage of coin grabbing opportunities.
Level 2 was also the first time the game became difficult, but its difficulties were limited. The language barrier would always be a difficulty, but this level was helping with that already. The main challenge was facing the now very real fact, that we had started, and that home was now 6 months away. In some ways it was the longest level, but we hadn’t even got to the worst of it yet.
Level 3 (Iquitos)
Level 3 was now in a totally new part of the country and to help, we had a new set of guides. We were now in the Mahon’s hands. They helped and guided us through the next few levels and the transitions between, and until our last day in Peru they supported us more than we ever knew we needed. As our guides they gave us our challenges and the hints and tips needed to complete them. These challenges were difficult but with the Mahons there, we flew through them all.
This was also the first level to introduce challenges in the environment, all of our home comforts were now far away. No franchises and big shopping centres to enjoy. We had internet sometimes and a very small variety of shops. This was now part of the game, we not only had to handle the challenges, but we had to do it with limited resources and few chances to grab those coins.
Boss Level (Nueva Santa Rosa)
The Boss Level is always the most difficult, you’re on the back foot and outmatched but with a little help and perseverance it can be done. This level was also a short one, almost as short as Level 1. At this point Level 3 had become almost comfortable, the things that were tough at first had now become ordinary. But all that was about to be taken away.
The level began with a trip upriver, but 8 hours on a boat was going to be the least of our worries. We couldn’t even find the entrance to the village, but after asking at some other villages and getting off and on the boat a few times, we found it. We had now left everything we knew and understood behind. No such things as shops here, not even a toilet. We camped in tents, inside a large wooden building on stilts. We even had to guide ourselves back to the boat by moonlight alone, whenever we needed to use the on board loo. It was by far the most remote place any of us had been.
Fortunately, the tasks themselves were not difficult. Taking photos, joining dances and buttering panettones, was not particularly taxing, but we grew a new appreciation for Level 3’s luxuries.
Bonus Level (Cusco)
The Bonus Level was a great opportunity to gain some more coins, points or whatever it is, which can then be spent on items to help with future levels. For us this meant time to relax, marvel and explore some of the most majestic, fantastic and beautiful places in the world. Rainbow mountain, Machu Picchu and McDonalds were key to replenishing our energy for the challenges ahead. We spent a week at this level and enjoyed it greatly, but like any other Bonus Level, it couldn’t last forever. After what felt like a very short time, we were leaving all the “Western” stuff behind and heading back to the jungle for Level 4.
Level 4 (Nauta)
Levels 3 and 4 had quite a lot of crossover, within both we visited the other, but Level 4 really began when we returned from our Bonus Level (Cusco) in the new year. We had reached a level with even less resources and even harder challenges, but our guides were equally as amazing as the last. Laura, Chris and the McGees were now guiding us, with the Mahons continuing to support us from afar. All of these wonderful people not only made Level 4 easy but also incredibly enjoyable.
The challenges were now at a new hight, as we negotiated multiple tasks with varying degrees of difficulty, on a daily basis. From lesson planning to building steps, we did it all, and with a few extra curve balls to keep us on our toes. Running out of water was probably the biggest one, something we never expected to encounter in the rainforest. It may have been hard, but it was all part of the level. A few dramatic storms, riots and power cuts later, we had handled everything Level 4 had in store.
Level 4 had so many great moments too. Not only was the setting great but some of the characters we met along the way were brilliant too. Obviously, our guides were magnificent, but the locals and a couple of YWAM teams made it even better. The times spent enjoying the very limited restaurants and surprisingly nice swimming places, were our well-earned coins.
Suddenly, we received the news that Peru were closing the border, which meant a quick exit was needed. BMS got us out, and within a couple of weeks the rest of the game was over. We may never get a chance to tackle the next levels, but we sure had fun with the ones we did play.
The idea here is that each part of our journey was different, and sometimes more difficult. However, as things seemed to get harder through the levels, we did in fact find things easier as we became more adapted to the rapid changes. Some parts of this analogy work well and other parts, less so, and you might have been completely lost by my nonsense; but this is how I saw our experience of the past seven months. I may have got a bit carried away, but I hope you enjoyed.
As I conclude this, the final blog, I’d just like to say; Thank you all, for continuing to read the crazy things I’ve thrown at you and for supporting us in the many ways you have. It’s been an amazing journey and one I will never forget; I just hope that I can come and see you all soon to tell you about it.