The author flies in a parachute over the landscape near Banos, Ecuador. (Angela A. Arcos)

Three years ago, I went on a girls-only expedition to South America. The plan was, of course, to make it to Peru, where I would drink ayahuasca and have my dreams interpreted by a shaman in the moon temple.

I planned to befriend a llama and ride bareback one golden morning into Machu Picchu, and with my fringed boots and dazzling bohemian bracelet collection, I would suddenly understand the meaning of my life.

Why not, right?

My wildest and most single girl friend and I landed in Quito, Ecuador, and began our travel down the continent, by bus or plane or llama, to Peru. Instead, we just took a cab three hours south to a mountain town, Banos, Ecuador.

A double rainbow appears over the town of Banos, Ecuador. (Angela Arcos)
A double rainbow appears over the town of Banos, Ecuador. (Angela A. Arcos)

I never made it to Peru. I was afforded the opportunity to drink of the hallucinogenic tea in the Ecuadorian Amazon, but I didn’t trust our guide to refrain from any funny business, and I was really barfy that day, so … pass. Thanks.

Shamans were plentiful, but not at all like I expected. They will interpret anything for $20, and they will take you on a canoe for $5, and you can borrow their mud boots for $3, and do you wanna buy an authentic Andean art piece, painted by their only son who is deaf and partially blind, for $15? No, gracias, I saw that same “llama on a hill with a sun” painting in the tourist-trinket plaza this morning.

I saw one real llama, one time. Once. It would not let me pet it.

My expedition failed to fully live up to my expectations, but how could it have? Life laughs when we build expectations. Looking back, I was having a particularly hilarious moment. I felt, in my quarter-life crisis, that to learn about the secrets of the universe I had to go all Laura Croft and uncover some ancient runes.

But in the here and now, this evening, I will be propped up in bed with the screen light dimmed so I don’t wake my husband. He’s from Ecuador and has a hard time understanding why anyone would want to scratch at a keyboard all night long, but he abides it and sometimes whispers “write baby, write” between sleep cycles. This month will mark one year of living together in the U.S.

And it. Has been. A challenge.

A local family mills about their home near the town of Banos, Ecuador. (Angela A. Arcos)
A local family mills about their home near the town of Banos, Ecuador. (Angela A. Arcos)

It is often said that men and women not only speak a different language but are also considered to be from different planets. I feel that is an astute assessment. Factor in actual different languages, cultures, living conditions and life experiences that have very little in common and you’ve got a recipe for … an adventure. (She said, laughing wearily.)

Did I mention we have a 16-month-old son? Basically, we are playing Jenga with life’s stresses.

Now, in a very different kind of expedition, the mundane type that consists of knowing and adjusting for another human, I can see that the ancient runes aren’t buried so deep, and, for me, they were not in the moon temple.

Just one of the 51,374 golden life nuggets I have somewhat excavated is that you must give. Give without the expectation of getting. You must give and then let go of the gift and the act of giving. You must give and ask for nothing in return. Not just in a marriage. This is world-wide, folks.

A man sleeps in the road near Banos, Ecuador. (Angela A. Arcos)
A man sleeps in the road near Banos, Ecuador. (Angela A. Arcos)

The act of giving is a mandala. You make it, you do it, you say it, bake it, clean it, and then you let it go. Giving with a stipulation or expectation is a ticket to wait in line at the counter of disappointment and resentment.

When your person is lost and lonely and confused, you hold them and give them all the light and love you can, without demanding they give it back. Without demanding they pull it together and toughen up. Without, even, the expectation that your gift of love and compassion will work and they will stop crying.

If you can’t loan the money to your sister without watching her every spending move like an angry eagle, don’t loan the money. Help her set up a account instead.

If you would feel forced to unfriend your buddy if he re-gifted the inspiration poster you had framed for his retirement party, then forget the gesture. Hang it in your own man-cave.

If you cannot listen to your bestie sob about her “issues” without judgment or an insistence that because you listened you are entitled to give her free and unsolicited advice that she had better heed, then just don’t. Feign a headache.

If you cannot launder his work shirts at 6 a.m. without grumbling to yourself about how he would probably never do this for you, then go back to bed and leave the stinky shirts where they lie.

Once the giving has occurred, you must release it. Allow yourself to feel the blessing it is to be able to give and then move on to the next moment.

A conoe floats down a river as people sit on the bank near Banos, Ecuador. (Angela A. Arcos)
A canoe floats down a river as people sit on the bank near Banos, Ecuador. (Angela A. Arcos)

Not to get all preachy, just saying. And sharing. This reality that keeps cracking me in the face with a two-by-four like a Laurel and Hardy routine seems worth sharing. Just one of the 74,934 things I have learned and relearned on this voyage (that now includes a husband and a baby) is that giving is a beautiful, lovely, soul-releasing thing, if done correctly. Otherwise, you are doing it wrong.

So, I have yet to make it to a moon temple. But I have, in fringed boots and a few choice pieces of Andean jewelry, painfully, joyously and one day at a time, learned a little bit more about the meaning of my life: to give.