If COVID-19 killed both of your parents while you were stuck on the other side of the world, what would you do to cope? For Italian travel writer Marco Ferrarese, the answer was simple: head for the rainforest.

“Without a letter from your embassy, a government-issued permit and an approved taxi you can’t go anywhere,” the local Peruvian police chief told me, as I almost broke into tears on his station’s doorstep.

My parents had been hospitalized with COVID-19 in Italy after being misdiagnosed and sick for days, and for the first time in more than a decade, all I wanted was to go home to be with them.

The news came the next day over a shaky mobile hotspot connection, broken in jolted words by my brother Diego. Even though he was only 70 kilometers away from mom and dad in our native Voghera, near Milano, and not in Latin America like myself, we were both equally powerless. My parents had already entered the COVID-19 ward, and back in March 2020, in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, that journey was pretty much a one-way trip.

Now, as I’m finally preparing to return home after 18 months of border shenanigans and mind-numbing red tape, I look back on the last two years and I am convinced that I pulled through because of one thing: hiking. In hindsight, it sounds strange that, after losing both of my parents to COVID-19 while stuck in Peru on a hiking trip, I should choose to go hiking. But the tropical jungles of my second home of Penang, Malaysia, helped me get over most of my venomous grief.