“I return from my travels, I navigated by building happiness”

Well, I’m officially home.

I can’t believe how quickly my 92 days on the road came and went. How fast three whole months, a quarter of a year, simply flew by me.

I learned so much about myself and what I’m capable of over the last 13 weeks. I took on another language, I jumped out of an airplane, I dined solo more times than I can count, I got lost and misread maps in countless cities, and managed to maneuver myself through a 12 hour bus ride, border crossing, and to an emergency clinic with an un-usable right foot. There were tears and grins, nearly 4,000 photos, and countless belongings left at hostels all across the continent. I drained my bank account, and it was worth every penny.

I’m a writer and an abstract thinker, so numbers really aren’t my thing (ask my high school math teachers about that one) but I figured quantifying my trip with a few numbers might be fun, and it’s certainly a crazy way to look at my travels.

Days traveled: 92
Countries visited: 5
Number of new passport stamps: 10
Cities visited: 34
Distance traveled (mostly by bus): Approximately 13,197 km, or just over 8200 miles.
Modes of transportation taken: Taxis, cars, jeeps, buses, vans, tourist minibuses, boats, horses, a donkey, commercial airplanes, 4 seat airplanes, no-seat sky diving airplanes, and parachutes.
Number of bus rides: 33
Hours spent on buses: Approximately 220 hours
Number of flights:  2
Organized tours: 8
Items lost and left behind: My Reef flip flops, my very nice compact travel towel, a plastic tupperware full of leftovers, and many bags of food meant to feed myself on bus rides.

View SA travels as a larger map

As I adjust to being back in the US — the real world — I realize how many things there are that I already miss about South America.

Practicando mi espanol. I loved challenging myself to communicate fully in another language. I was thinking in Spanish, constantly asking questions in Spanish, even translating random song lyrics into Spanish in my head. I am hoping to find cheap language classes or a Spanish exchange program in LA, but I know it won’t be the same as full immersion.

Meeting people, constantly, from all over the world. I have new friends in Switzerland, Holland and the Netherlands, Germany, Belgium, France, South Africa, England, Denmark, Australia, Mexico, Buenos Aires, Montreal, Texas, Alaska, and San Francisco. I met countless others from more countries and cities than I can name. I was constantly learning new things, exchanging information and gaining small glimpses into peoples lives. Sometimes it was sad, or weird, only knowing people for a few minutes, a few hours, or a few days. But for the most part, it was refreshing to have meaningful conversations with people I knew I might never see again, but could still share wonderful moments with nonetheless.

Constant change. Know the city layout? Starting to feel comfortable? Showered more than a handful of times in the same place? Time to move on! The longest I spent in any city after Ecuador was 4 or 5 days, and the constant difference in surroundings, pace, climate, activities, and hostels meant I was truly never bored.

Real Coca Cola. In the rest of the world, Coca Cola manufactures their products in glass bottles, and they use real sugar, not corn syrup. Coke tastes 100% better, and I will truly miss drinking it from those 500ml skinny glass bottles.

Mercados. I miss the local markets with indigenous women selling every fruit and vegetable you can imagine. For less than it would cost to buy a single box of raspberries at Ralphs in Los Angeles, I could buy enough fruits and vegetables to cook for a week.

The excuse to be disconnected. Don’t get me wrong, I love my family and friends, and I’m thrilled to have my iPhone back because it means I can once again be in good communication with the people I love. But being unplugged was a huge blessing – to remove myself from a culture where peoples faces are constantly buried in their smartphones was so healthy. I’ll miss that disconnect, because I know it’s a habit very easily picked up in the States. We all sit with our phones in our hands and don’t communicate with, or even look at, each other. When nobody has a phone to be texting anybody with, you sit at tables or on couches in hostels or cafes and you talk. You get to know people, you swap stories, ideas, learn about new cultures and places in the world. It’s not a novel concept, but it’s one that doesn’t happen quite as often as it should back home.

The lack of pressure to be put together at all moments. I missed my closet so much. My heels, my blazers, my sundresses, my beautiful, and delicate, tank tops I would never take on the road. But it was refreshing to put on a tshirt and jeans every day, not carry a single bit of makeup with me for 3 months, and very rarely feel the pressure to be dressed up or dolled up. Of course there were moments where I wanted my mascara and my jewelry and my skin-hugging denim, but I felt so much less pressure to put all of that on. And when you don’t have all that to hide behind, you present a more raw version of yourself. No one on the road has comfort in a daily beauty routine, makeup, a fancy car, or expensive belongings. All you have is you, and your worn (and reworn, and reworn) travel clothes.

Of course there are many things I absolutely do not miss about South America — cities being totally shut down for almuerzo mid-day and all day Sunday, always having to buy water, not being able to flush paper down the toilets, constantly forgetting things in hostels across the continent, the freezing rain of southern Argentina and Chile, and, of course, 12+ hour bus rides.

And now, it’s back to reality.

In the next two weeks, I’m searching for nanny jobs, nailing out my car and living situations, and then flying east to spend time with Boston and NYC friends, and then delve into the nasty projects of emptying my storage unit, selling everything I can, and shipping what I need back to the west coast.

Even though my trip is over, I plan to keep up my blogging, and have every intention of doing lots of freelance writing from here on out. If nothing else, I’ll be posting ideas I came up with on the road, possibly some of my travel budget spreadsheets, and some updates on how plans for future trips are going!

Facing the Chilean rain

Unfortunately, the south of Chile — specifically Puerto Varas and Valdivia where I was — are places where you really need the sunshine to appreciate the natural surroundings. Puerto Varas´s backdrop is the famous Osorno Volcano, but because it was pouring rain and absurdly misty the whole time I was there, I couldn´t even tell there was a volcano in front of me when standing at the lake´s edge.

At my hostel in Puerto Varas, I met four Americans, all studying together at the Columbia Business School in NYC, and the five of us ventured out of the city for a hike, which turned out to be a long, relatively boring walk along a dirt road dotted with many, many potholes. Now, fill those potholes with the endless rain the city had seen, plus the dirt from the road, and add cars driving over those potholes at many miles per hour, and the combination is 5 Americans, soaked from both the rain AND splashes from not-so-courteous Chilean drivers. As we walked, it continued to pour, and though I was wearing my extra sturdy Husky Ambassador windbreaker, it eventually soaked completely through, into my fleece and my t-shirt beneath that. My four new (genius) Columbia friends were smart enough to buy ponchos at the grocery store and lent me their extra one, but regardless, we were all soaked to the bone and freezing by the end of our adventure. There are some pretty silly photos of us in our ponchos, I´ll be sure to steal and post those when I´m home.

We did see a beautiful river and set of waterfalls (though I think once you´ve been to Iguazu you´re sort of jaded towards waterfalls, sadly). After the 6 km walk down the pothole filled road, we finally arrived at the lake, which we could barely see. The misty fog almost acted as a mirage. We couldn´t see the other side of the lake, let alone any mountains or volcano in the background. We wandered a bit in an attempt to find the trail we´d been told about, but the not-so-helpful receptionist at our hostel had told us we could identify it by the dry riverbeds. Not exactly ideal markers when it´s pouring rain, and has been for several days. Needless to say, we couldn´t find a well marked path that seemed to go in the right direction, and finally, freezing, soaking wet and on the verge of cranky, we opted to catch the bus back to town.

That day would have been disastrous (and — lets face it — all around miserable) had I been by myself, and though I am truly a solo traveler at heart, I was more than happy to have funny, and distracting, company. We were all soaked and cold, but we laughed and joked and made the most of it, and were happy to at least stretch our legs and get some exercise instead of sitting in the hostel doing mostly nothing, as we had the day before.

Four hours further north in Valdivia, the weather wasn´t a whole lot better. I opted to spend my Christmas day and eve there, since most everything is shut down during the day anyways, and I´d heard it was a lovely little town. I wasn´t blown away by the town´s beauty, but on the day after Christmas I took a day trip down the river where I could see the outlet of the river to the Pacific Ocean, got to visit a cool old fort, and took a boat across the mouth of the river to an adorable little town with great seafood restaurants. On my way back, I stopped at the Kunstmann Cervezeria, a brewery where they´ve been making German beer since the 1800´s. Very random, but surprisingly good beer, and because I was the only one there at the time, I got my very own, private English tour!

Sick of the cold and rain, and having absolutely no luck whatsoever trying to find reasonable places to stay in wine country between Valdivia and Santiago, I abandoned that plan and got on my last, long-haul overnight bus up to Vina del Mar. Vina is a quaint little town on the ocean, adjacent to Valparaiso, and just an hour and a half from Santiago. I´ve had perfect blue skies and sun so far, so I´m just happy to be warm (and dry!) again, and will be here until I catch my flight on Sunday.

And yet another small world coincidence: Turns out that Belinda, who I met in the south of Peru and have been keeping in touch with via Facebook, is in Valparaiso at the same time as I am! We´re meeting for a beach day today, and then I have to figure out how to spend my last, solo day of vacation tomorrow.

Most of me is dreading heading back to the real world — figuring out getting myself out to the east coast to ship and sell my stuff in storage (anyone in the market for a flat screen TV or a queen size mattress?!), buying a used car in LA, finding a good nannying job, and negotiating the terms of living back at my parents house for the first time in nearly 7 years.

But of course, there are things I´m excited for as well. Seeing my friends and family again, keeping my toothbrush and shampoo in one place, a refrigerator to call my own, the manicure/pedicure I´m getting on Monday, celebrating New Years Eve with my best friend, and of course puppy time! I´m just glad to know that when I set my backpack down in LA again, it will only be temporary, and that another trip is in the works and on the horizon!

Ode to my zapatos

It’s hard to believe, considering how massive my shoe and clothing collection are, but I’ve had the same pair of running shoes since 2008.

All trip, I´ve been saying how I can´t wait to throw out my zapatos — or as all my new British friends have taught me to say, trainers — before I leave South America. Partially because without them, I’ll have more space in my pack for souvenirs, but mostly because they’re stained, filthy, and falling apart. But as the last day of my trip nears, the thought of chucking my dear old Asics actually makes me a little sad, and even more nostalgic.

My turquoise and white babies, now a mixed shade of grey and brown, were broken in on the Great Wall of China. They took me to Squashbusters and Marino, my two college gyms, on freezing cold afternoons and sleepless, anxious nights alike. They accompanied me on walks to American Eagle on Newbury Street, where I would stand folding clothing for hours and hours on end. They climbed the Eiffel Tower, traipsed around Israel, wandered Costa Rican rainforests, and were there on my first hike up Los Angeles´s Runyon Canyon. Whenever I was plagued with depression and heartbreak, they faithfully let me shove them on and pound out my emotions on the treadmill, searching for answers to my unhappiness.

And in 2009, when Alex and I did a ridiculous 8,000 mile road trip across the United States, my Asics were there every step of the way. We saw the Grand Canyon, attempted a visit to the four corners monument, explored Denver, saw Badlands National Park and Mt. Rushmore in South Dakota, and visited Arches National Park in Utah… all in my running shoes. Of course there was the eastern and southern parts of the US as well, but I’m pretty sure my poor running shoes sat in the trunk when I switched into flip flops for the warmer cities.

My shoes took me twenty-odd miles up to Machu Picchu, traversed Lago Titicaca´s Isla del Sol, and didn´t complain one bit when they turned a slight reddish tinge from the bright brown dirt of northern Argentina and Iguazu Falls. They´ve stayed tightly on my feet through countless horseback rides in Ecuador, Uruguay, Bolivia, Peru, and Argentina. We climbed Cotopaxi together, ziplined together, and witnessed the incredibly gorgeous southwest circut of Bolivia together. We traversed down the entirety of Colca Canyon in southern Peru, flew over the Nazca Lines, and attempted to sandboard in the sand dunes of Huacachina. They fell with me (on purpose, of course) 10,000 feet from an airplane over San Juan, Argentina and, most recently, they´ve been absolutely soaked as I walked, biked and drove my way through Patagonia and Argentina´s Bariloche.

As I travel and meet people and stare at a map of the world, I feel like there’s so much that I haven’t seen. But I have to remind myself how fortunate I am to have explored the parts of the world that I have made it to. From the cities in the U.S. I´ve called home to the countries I’ve traveled to thousands of miles across the globe, thinking about all the places my feet, encased in my trusty Asics, have taken me, I feel both humbled and fortunate.

There´s something about traveling and meeting people from all over the world that makes me even more excited and anxious to see the rest of the world, to set foot in the countries whose borders I haven´t yet crossed. My plans of moving to NYC to settle down after this trip have shifted. I´m now revising my goals towards thoughts of more travel and world exploration, toward achieving my goal of becoming a travel writer, and with the hopes of planning another major trip for the second half of 2013.

By then, I´ll have a new pair of tennis shoes. I can´t wait to find out where we´ll go together.

A flashback of photos of me wearing my running shoes all over the world…

Bariloche, Patagonia: Biking 27 km and driving 370!

Well, I didn’t exactly bike the entire 27 km because, as a pathetically, out of shape weakling, I walked my bike up the steeper hills. But for all intents and purposes, I biked the 27 km Circuito Chico this afternoon and I feel two things: accomplished, and absolutely exhausted. 

Map of the Circuito Chico, which I biked today!

The circuit itself is a gorgeous, paved road that circles the eastern area of Bariloche, along the lakes and rivers of the area. The road slopes uphill, then downhill, then uphill again, revealing tree-lined views of the lakes and snow-capped peaks. I opted to do the bike journey solo, and took my sweet time stopping whenever I wanted to take photos, needed a breather or opted to walk my bike up the steeper, hillier sections. Luckily it only rained for a half hour or so in the beginning of my journey, and when the rain got so heavy I could barely see, I stopped under a clump of trees to wait it out, and was able to hop back on my bike (granted with a very wet butt and an awkward wet stripe down my back) a few minutes later as the rain lightened, then stopped for good.


Stella, very clearly in ducky heaven (probably because she didn´t have to pedal the bike!)


Bariloche is a polar opposite change from the 95 degree, sweat-inducing, desert heat of Mendoza and northern Argentina. I´ve traded my light cotton dress for a hood instead of sunglasses, leggings underneath my jeans, four layers beneath my windbreaker, plus my alpaca-knit gloves. Regardless of the frigid, and very indecisive weather (it´s sort of like being in Boston where you can wait 5 minutes and the weather will change) this lake region, at the very northern tip of Patagonia, is stunning.

View of one of the lake´s many beaches from right near my hostel

Yesterday I had a lazy, mostly indoors day, since it was colder, windier, and rainier outside than I wanted to brave, but during a break in the rain I took the ski lift up to Cerro Campanario and enjoyed an absolutely incredible 360 degree view of the lakes, rivers and mountains surrounding Bariloche. Worth every penny of the 60 pesos I paid to let the ski lift haul my lazy self up and down the mountain!


Nothing better than hot chocolate and raspberry tart to keep me company at the top of the ski lift, waiting for the rain to pass.

View from the ski lift!

And on my first full day in town, I met three boys in my hostel, and the four of us rented a car to drive 370 kilometers up north and around the seven lakes to San Martin. Michiel and Frank, Dutch brothers, Mario, a German guy, and I had some serious bonding time during our 13 hours in our Volkswagon Gol together, but we had an absolute blast. The weather didn´t exactly cooperate, and we had on and off rain and some serious cloud coverage for many hours, but we also got to see a gorgeous rainbow over one of the lakes, and a tiny bit of sunshine here and there.


Map of the northern roads we drove along


Boys being, well… boys, and climbing a giant rock that jutted out over the road

I also had my first attempt at driving stick shift — on an empty, and wide, dirt road in the middle of our journey. The photo of my skid marks from the first time I attempted to release the clutch and press the gas simultaneously is absolutely priceless, but Michiel was very patient and, eventually, I was able to drive for more than a minute or two without stalling out the car. Luckily for the boys, I only drove on that tiny stretch of road.


Poor, terrified Michiel



Tomorrow morning, I´m leaving Argentina and headed to Puerto Varas in Chile, my fifth and final country for my last 8 days of vacation. Fingers crossed the weather improves and I can snag some awesome views of the volcanos!

I would love nothing more than to post all of my millions of photos from the last 3 days, but my computer is truly dead, and aside from the photos I took on my cell phone and posted to Instagram, I have no way of uploading my DSLR´s photos to this shared computer, so these ones will have to do. I promise when I get back to the States and face funemployment once again, I´ll upload the pictures I wasn´t able to post!

That time I jumped out of an airplane

Once you´ve flown,

you know why

the birds are always singing.

I´ve been biting my tounge (holding back my fingers?) trying to keep this secret — partially because I didn´t want to jinx it (which I almost did!) and partially because I knew certain people (mainly my incredibly loving, but risk-take-hating parents) would have a heart attack if I told them I was planning to pay good money to jump out of a perfectly good airplane. In fact, when I get home in two weeks (yikes!) I´m more than sure I´ll never hear the end of it.

As soon as I met Vincent back in Potosi and we started talking about the 50+ skydiving jumps he´d been on back in France, I was insanely jealous. I dídn´t come to South America expecting to, or even thinking about, going skydiving, but it´s something I´ve always wanted to do, and going with someone who knows the ropes sounded like the perfect chance.

Two weeks ago, at the end of our Salar trip, Vincent and I had read in my guidebook that Cordoba is one of the better known places in Argentina to go skydiving. So we made a plan to meet there in December, after he´d been to Buenos Aires and Iguazu (where I´ve already been) and I had explored Salta with Sergio. Two weeks later, we were hugging hello again on Cordoba´s Alevar street.

On our first day back together, we ventured out to Alta Gracia, a suburb 30 kilometers south of Cordoba where an aerodome is located. We found someone working at the office we´d researched, but they told us because of the weather, jumping that day was impossible. But they would gladly have us back tomorrow instead.

vincentwaitingThe company picked us up at our hostel at 9:45 AM the next morning and drove us back out to Alta Gracia, where we sat in the hanger and waited.

And waited.

And waited.

And waited.

In fact, we waited all day, until 6 PM, to be given our final no, you cannot jump today. We´d been told throughout the day that the wind was too strong, and it was unsafe to jump, but they kept saying it might die down, or the conditions might change. I was relieved to know the company wouldn´t put us in danger just to take our cash, but mostly just bummed that we sat in an airport hanger all day for absolutely nothing.

Fed up of waiting and less than impressed with Cordoba, we decided to just head to Mendoza, where there were other companies that offered skydiving and where we could at least drown our sorrows in a good Malbec if we couldn´t actually jump out of an airplane.

After an exhausting overnight bus, we got to Mendoza and called the three Mendoza skydiving companies we could find. Two said we couldn´t jump with them until Tuesday, and the other said he´d pick us up the next morning at 9 AM. We were stoaked, but hesitant to get too excited.

On Monday morning, our guide arrived even earlier than anticipated, and after an hour of waiting and another hour of running around the city trying to get a cash advance on my credit card (the joys of what happens when you leave your debit card in the ATM and it gets stolen before you realize what happened) then eventually being able to pay by credit card, we were finally on our way.

Two hours later we arrived in the nothern city of San Juan. We were out of the jeeping and suiting up, Vincent and our guide chatting away about canopy sizes and equipment, before it began to hit me that I was actually getting ready to jump out of an airplane, not just sit around talking about it.

Up until a few moments before my feet dangled over the edge of the airplane floor I barely felt any nerves. Just a bit of anxiousness, since I´d been planning and talking about and anticipating this moment for nearly two weeks. The four of us (Vincent, myself, our guide who was my tandem partner, and another gentleman who is a student of our guide) were all sitting backwards, crammed into the seatless back section of our very tiny airplane, chatting about nothing in particular as we circled the air, slowly climbing to 10,000 feet. Those easily felt like the longest 10 minutes of my life, but not because of nerves, just from the simple anticipation. The moment I saw Vincent´s body plunge toward the earth as he exited the plane, I felt my stomach drop. But I still didn´t quite know what to expect, I was just as excited as I was nervous, and there was no way I was backing out then.

Attached by all our harnesses and gear, I sat on my guide´s lap and we pulled our feet out of the cabin and dangled them out into the windy sky.

“You ready?” he asked me? I don´t think I said yes, I think I just squealed.

One, two, three, jump!

And just like that, we were falling. Gracelessly, effortlessly, and so quickly that I didn´t even feel a pit form in my stomach. I expected that rollercoaster nerves feeling, but it never came. Just amazement, as we tumbled toward earth. At some point I physically I lost my breath, reminding myself to pull my head up and back so I could take in oxygen through my nose. After 30 seconds of face-flapping, mind-blowing free fall, my guide pulled out the chute, and we were suddenly vertical again, still floating easily and effortlessly through the sky, but this time guiding our own way.

It´s hard to describe the high, but Vincent taught me my opening quote about skydiving, and why he´s so addicted, and it made complete sense once I´d landed from our jump. There´s something exhilarating, freeing, and even relaxing about falling 10,000 feet. About trusting your body to guide you down, and trusting your mind to allow your body to do such an incredibly crazy thing. And in my case, trusting your tandem partner and your chute to function properly.

Luckily, my guide had just come back from competing in the world championships of skydiving in Dubai, and was on his 981st jump, so I didn´t have to worry that he didn´t know what he was doing. He spoke great English, explained everything to me calmly and logically, and I felt so safe knowing he was in total control.

I would jump again in a heartbeat, and despite its high price tag, I completely understand why skydiving can become an addiction. I loved every moment of my jump, and I´m so glad I had the guts, and opportunity, to try something so crazy, but so incredible.

I have a wonderful DVD of my jump, but I can´t rip it from the DVD without tech support and/or a working laptop, but I promise to post it when I get home!


rplane1This morning I´m also getting in an airplane, but this time, it´s a comercial Aerolinas Argentina flight down to Argentine Patagonia´s Bariloche. I´m trading the vineyards and 95 degree heat for hiking amongst mountain lakes and glaciers, but I´ve heard nothing but fantastic things about Bariloche, so I think it will be worth the trade!

Bienvenidos a Argentina!

I’ve only been in Argentina for three days — four if you count our 14 hour travel day on Saturday — but I can feel the difference from Bolivia immediately.  Granted Tupiza is a tiny town with no license for wifi and no more than 3 stoplights, so the difference between town and city is apparent as well, but the cultural and physical differences are more than obvious the second  you cross the border.

  • I’m back in the proximity of the first world. Signs are informative, posted hours are accurate, credit cards are widely accepted, and common courtesy exchanges are expected everywhere. Salta is very clearly a South American city, but it seems more similar to an American city than a Bolivian one.
  • With that proximity comes shockingly high prices. In Tupiza, it was 80 cents for two of the best mangos I’ve ever eaten, but yesterday I paid $3 for an average Dole-stickered mango and two unripe kiwis. The teleferico (cable car ride) we took cost $7 a person, whereas I paid 50 cents each way in Cochabamba. A 1.5 liter bottle of water is 11 pesos here, more than $2, and more than twice what I paid for a 2 liter bottle in La Paz. I nearly let my jaw drop at the bus station when the man told me tickets to Cordoba are 450 pesos — $90 for a 12 hour bus ride, which would have cost me $35 in Peru. Hostels and taxis seem exorbitant, even though the prices are normal, or even cheap, compared to the US. I definitely need to adjust my budget!
  • The sidewalks are horrible. I remember this one from Buenos Aires, but I didn’t realize it would be a problem in other cities as well. My foot is 90% better, but I’ve almost reinjured it a dozen times because of ridiculous holes, cracks, and up-rooted tiles in the sidewalks.
  • Italiano Espanol. Sentences here are sing-songy and higher pitched. Worse, the vocabulary is different, and my brain is struggling to process familiar words.
  • Small change is non-existant. In Peru and Bolivia, people hated breaking big bills, but in Argentina, whether you’re at a street cart or a museum store with a cash register, everyone refuses to give you one peso. When I bought water today, the old lady in front of me had to buy two candies for 50 cents because her coca cola was $3.50 and the shop owner refused to give her a 50 cent piece.
  • The conditioner comes out of my hair all on it’s own. Hot water? Normal water pressure? Wait, the bathroom has a shower curtain?! I’m in heaven!
  • No more hoarding toilet paper. No more squished rolls of TP and antibacterial lotion in my purse everywhere I go. Much fewer one-star, hold-your-nose-and-close-your-eyes bathrooms, and, believe it or not, some establishments even have paper towels.
  • Quilmes tastes worse than Bud Light. Another fact I’d remembered to forget from my time in Buenos Aires several months ago, but the national beer is, actually, terrible. Thankfully, I can stick to delicious local Malbecs instead.
  • The whole world doesn’t shut down for almuerzo. Walk outside in Bolivia between the hours of 12 and 2 and you’d easily be convinced nobody lives in the city. In Salts, the streets bustle at all times of the day, and though businesses close and kids go home for lunch, the city is far from a ghost town.
  • I blend in incredibly well. Argentines look Caucasian. They don’t think I look strange nor do they automatically attempt to speak to me in English. The European immigration is obvious simply in the color of people’s skin.
  • But I get cat-called every five seconds. Sergio left for Chile early this morning, so today was the first day I walked around Salta on my own. In six hours of wandering, I got stared at, whistled at, called out to, honked at, and even begged to stop walking by at least 3 dozen men. Considering I was wearing a high neck t-shirt and knee-length leggings, I certainly don’t think I was asking for it. By hour six, I was ready to pull out some of the nasty Spanish words I’ve learned on the road. Smartly, I refrained and retreated back to my hostel for a siesta instead.


Sunrise over the Salar

Apologies for the delay on this post, the internet in the town where I started and ended my tour had no wi-fi, and the connection at the internet cafés was so slow my Gmail would barely load. My plan was to wait until I crossed the border to Argentina to get this post, mostly of photos and a few descriptions, live. My laptop, however, has since died, so I have no way of uploading my own photos. These words will have to do instead, with hopes that I can maybe get my computer up and running soon. 

Edited: My computer is back from the dead! At least long enough to let me get these photos up, so you’re in luck!

My tour of southwestern Bolivia consisted of days so long and so jam-packed that at the end of it all, it was hard to believe I´d only been gone for 4 days, and not 4 weeks. Despite the exhaustion from not sleeping properly at high altitudes and spending hours on end in a not-so-comfortable jeep, I had a fabulous trip, met some wonderful people who actually changed the course of my trip (more on that later), and saw some of the most incredible scenery I´ve ever laid eyes on.

There were hours where I looked out of the jeep window and the landscape looked so foreign that I swore I´d been transported to Mars, and other moments where it looked as though I was back at Arches National Park in Utah. The Salar de Uyuni, the highlight of the tour, was our last stop on the fourth day, but we spent the third night at it´s edge. Walking out onto the endless expanse of salt was more humbling than I can describe. And even though our 4 AM wakeup call on day four was just as painful as my 4 AM Machu Picchu wakeup call nearly six months ago, the sunrise I witnessed was so different, it literally took my breath away.

Most people head west from Potosi (where I did the mine tour) to Uyuni, where the majority of the 3 day/2 night tours of the Salar de Uyuni Salt Flats start. I´d been given advice, however, that starting from Tupiza, an equally small town that is directly south of Potosi, is a lesser known, but much better option. From Tupiza, the tour is four days and three nights, the landscape surrounding the town is beautiful, you drive through a completely different national park, end with the salt flats instead of begin with them, and the tour quality is supposed to be higher. All of this advice proved true, and I am incredibly thankful I started from Tupiza instead.

I could easily write 3,000 words with every detail of my trip, but I´m going to spare you and just write out the highlights, then (fingers crossed) let my ridiculous number of photos speak for themselves as soon as I can get them up.
  • On the night bus from Potosi to Tupiza, I ran into Vincent, one of the guys on the same mine tour I´d done earlier in the day. When we got off the bus at 4 AM in Tupiza, we decided to check in at the same hostel and research Salar tours together the next morning. A few hours later as we wandered through town, we ran into Anthony and David — two Australian guys also on our tour in Potosi — and it turned out all four of us were staying at the same hostel/tour agency and had booked the same 4 day tour leaving the next day. Yet another small-world South America run in! As happy as I am to be traveling on my own, I was glad to know I´d have some familiar faces on my tour.
  • The day before we left Tupiza, Vincent and I took a 3 hour horseback ride in the red-rock valley near Tupiza. Although our horses random, un-announced galloping was a little bit overwhelming, the scenery was beautiful, and I immediately fell in love with southwestern Bolivia. The naturally carved red rocks, low-growing green brush, and mountain studded horizon reminded me of a more spectacular version of the southwestern US, and I couldn´t get enough.
  • Our immediate tour group consisted of two jeeps. I spent countless hours bouncing along dirt roads with Eduardo the driver, Irena the cook, Vincent, Stephanie and Isabelle, French-speaking sisters from Switzerland. The other jeep shared our cook, and was headed by Edson the driver and Sergio, our English volunteer tour guide. Laura from Australia, Brian from Ireland, and Sophie and Daniel, a couple from Switzerland, filled the four back seats. There were three other jeeps from the same tour agency that we saw along the route and stayed at the same hostels with, including Anthony and David, my Australian buddies.
  • Toward the end of our first day on the road, we had just climbed back into the jeeps after a stop at an eerily abandoned ghost town. As we cruised away, our jeep began shaking and rattling, but not from the rocky, dirt road we were driving on. We were being pelted with huge chunks of hail. Thunder rumbled so loudly we were all slightly startled, and the lightning streaked so brightly it lit up the entire sky — at one point we even saw smoke rise as the currents hit the mountains ahead of us. Amazingly, we drove straight through the storm and into the pueblo where we´d be spending our first night, and by then all was calm. In fact, the sky was clear enough that we were able to climb up on a ridge behind the town to watch the sun set behind the grey clouds in the distance.
  • Throughout the tour, we stopped at a half-dozen alien-looking lagoons filled with bright, strangely colored water and hundreds of gorgeous pink flamingos. My favorites were Laguna Colorado, a bright red lake that gets its stunning coloring from red plankton, and Laguna Hedionda, a stunning bright turquoise lake rimmed in white minerals and surrounded by picture-perfect mountains that were reflected in the clear, still water.
  • At some point on day two, the landscape changed drastically and it was like we´d suddenly landed on Mars. Flat red, rocky expanses of nothingness stretched out before us and black volcanoes with bright yellow, white, and red tops captivated the four of us as our jeep zoomed past them. I wasn´t surprised to find out later that that specific area of the Bolivian desert is actually used by NASA to test space rovers because the wind conditions and rocky landscape mimic those of Mars.
  • On our second night, I braved the miserably cold air to stand outside and stare at the stars. I can´t remember seeing such a bright sky since my Camp Tawonga days, and watching a shooting star streak through the darkness reminded me of how much I absolutely love the night sky. I had one of those cheesy travel moments, where I couldn´t have been more thankful that I quit my job and made myself crazy for a few months so I could be standing in that spot, seeing the beauty of the world. It just solidified how worth it this has all been, despite the ups and downs of the last few weeks.
  • On day three, the landscape turned flat and the mirage on the horizon appeared. The sun reflecting off the salt, stretching out for hundreds of miles in front of us, made the salt flats look like a perfectly mirrored lake, and we were all convinced it was actually covered in water until our guide corrected us. Once we put our things down at the hostel, we walked a half hour out onto the edge of the salar. Its expansiveness was humbling, but in a completely different way than anything I´ve seen on this trip thus far. Incan ruins, mountain ranges, cloud rainforests, pelican-dotted beaches… they all seemed so far away, and so drastically different.
  • Our last stop after the salt flats and before the town of Uyuni, where our tour officially ended, was a massive train cemetery, where old, rusted British trains had been abandoned. Unfortunately, my camera battery died shortly after our arrival, but I could have easily stayed there all day with my DSLR — the rusting iron, graffiti-covered cars contrasted with the hilly background was a photographers paradise.

Overall, I had a fabulous trip. I wish there was a bit more walking and a bit less sitting in the jeep, but as everyone had told me to expect, the Salar truly was spectacular.

My original plan was to get out of the jeep in Uyuni and immediately arrange a transport out to San Pedro de Atacama in Chile. But it turned out my plans for Argentina overlapped with Vincent´s and Sergio´s and I decided I wanted to have some travel company for a bit, so I ended up coming back to Tupiza to relax, wait for Sergio to finish his volunteer gig, and the two of us made our way down to Salta yesterday for a few days. After Salta, I have yet to make up my mind whether I´ll go out to San Pedro like I´d originally planned and then hightail it to Cordoba to meet Vincent, or keep heading south on my own to explore some smaller towns and then wait for Vincent.

My OCD tendancies are hating my indecision right now, but the other half of me is so thrilled that my vacation has warped and changed so beautifully just because I made instinctive decisions to do exactly what I wanted from moment to moment. Not having a solidified plan has been a wonderful thing!

And now, cross your fingers that my nearly seven-year old macbook wakes up from her deep sleep long enough to let me post pictures!

The devil’s work

Potosi is the highest city in the world, at nearly 13,500 feet above sea level, and you feel the altitude the second you step off the bus. It’s hard to breathe, and you huff and puff just walking down the block… even if it’s a level street. The city is based completely around the mining community, which has been extracting silver and a variety of other minerals from the Cerro Rico mountain for over 500 years.

I’ve hemmed and hawed over the last few weeks, trying to decide if I was going to stop in Potosi and do a tour of the mines, a popular, and really, the only, tourist attraction in the city. Despite it’s popularity, it seemed unethical to pay to take a glimpse at the miserably horrific working conditions that these poor Bolivians are forced to work in.

Despite my initial hesitations, a few people told me positive things about both Potosi and the mine tour, so I decided to breeze through the city, spending less than 24 hours there. I’m really glad I did.

Potosi is a tiny, but charming, city. It’s streets are narrow and lined with cobblestones, the buildings are painted in beautiful bright colors with wrought iron balconies and nice wood detailing. Several churches with gorgeous steeples dot the skyline, and the main plaza is quaint, but beautiful.

We met for our mine tour at 8:30 AM, starting with a pit stop at the office to change into full gear: plasticy pants that looked like a set of scrubs, minus the elastic at the ankle, a long sleeve jacket that velcroed down the front, thick plastic boots, a hard helmet, a waist belt that held the battery for our headlamp, which was attached to our hat by a thick black cord, and finally, a bandana, tied around our neck so that we could semi-protect our lungs  from the harsh chemicals we’d be exposed to.

All geared up and posing with Potosi

After we were all geared up, we stopped at the miners market — a series of small shops selling bottles of water and soda, face masks, hard helmets, bottles of 96% pure alcohol (yes, for consumption), coca leaves, and, most importantly: dynamite. Dynamite is widely available, and anyone can simply walk into a shop, lay down 20 Bolivianos ($3) and get their hands on a stick, complete with a detonating rope and a bag of aluminum nitrate, which magnifies the explosion. The miners work for themselves, usually in small groups, and are therefore responsible for purchasing and maintaing all their equipment. They are often in the mines for ten or twelve hours at a time, and appreciate any small gifts from tourists.

The other thing that compelled me to take a tour was that most of the tour agencies give back: 15% of the proceeds of our tour went directly to the miners. For this reason, they are happy to see you down in the mines, and answer your questions or exchange a quick “hola.”

Once we’d purchased our gifts and some essential coca leaves for chewing ourselves, we piled back in the van toward the mountain. We stopped at the refinery plant to see the machines that extracted the minerals from the chunks of stone, and our guide even stuck a clump of pure silver on my hand.

Our tour started off on a silly note: our tour guide came out of the office in nothing but his hard hat and boxers, pulled up high enough that we could see most of his butt cheeks, to explain how hot it is in the mines, and our tour guides named the 3 groups horrifically offensive things, like Llama Fuckers.  However, the mood quickly sombered once we’d climbed the first 400 meters down into the first level of the mine and crawled our way to the statue of Tios, the Bolivian miners representation of the Devil.

Tios has the body of a man and the horns of a devil, and his statue is covered in confetti, coca leaves, cans of beer, and cigars. The miners offer these things to him in prayer — leaving with them hopes of rich mineral findings, longer life, protection in the tunnels, and even more tourists.

The tunnels are dark, narrow, and very low. One of the poor 6’4 Australian guys in our group could barely walk — I’m an entire 13 inches shorter and I still struggled. Steel tracks for mining cars line the path, and loose stones and rock fragments line the walls, coated in green clumps of sulfur, red iodine and other harsh chemicals brought into the tunnels as the miners work. Clumps of thick black tube carrying compressed oxygen, not for the workers to breathe, but to help run any tools brought down into the mines, run along the tunnel, often times sagging into your vision. Random pieces of wood, possibly placed for reinforcement hundreds of years ago, jut out and threaten to attack your hard hat if you aren’t careful.

One of the many narrow caverns we had to crawl through

You walk through the tunnels hunched over as best you can, at times army crawling on all fours, other times scooting along on your ass. In order to access the different levels of the mines, you have to maneuver your body through thin crevasses, down shaky ladders, and up giant sections of rock with barely any footholds.

On top of the struggle just to maneuver through the dark, the air is dense with chemicals, which hit you like a ton of bricks. As you enter the different levels and areas of the mountain, the air can change instantly, suddenly becoming 5 or 10 degrees hotter than where it was just fifteen feet behind you. With your bandana pulled around your mouth, it was hard to breathe in the thick, limited oxygen. But without it, your lungs and throat stung with the unfamiliar air, laced with chemicals I couldn’t even name.

As we traversed through the mines, our boots six inches deep in a sludge-like concoction of mud, chemicals and minerals, our guide introduced us to a myriad of miners. One man we met was 65 and had been working in the mines for 41 years. Another was 17, and had already spent 4 years underground. Another was just 24 — exactly my age — and had been working in the mines for 7 years. Hearing his age, I let out a gasp. The entire time I’d been living on the east coast, gaining my independence, a college degree, and all of my work experience, this young man had been breathing in toxic chemicals for 10 hours a day, rarely seeing daylight.

After meeting 5 or 6 groups of miners and getting ourselves down all the way to the fourth level of the mine, we made our way back up. All I could think for the last 20 minutes was get me out of here. My legs shook from the physical stress I’d put on them climbing amongst the various levels, my arms (now exposed because it was too hot to wear our jackets) were caked in mud, and my face was slick with sweat.

When we finally saw the light at the end of the tunnel (sorry, I couldn’t help it) and climbed out into the light, our guide offered us each a high five.

“You made it!” he exclaimed with a grin.

Yes, I survived 2 hours in a mine shaft, and by the end I had to restrain myself from running to the exit. But these people work for dozens of years in these conditions. Granted they aren’t climbing and walking through all the paths, across all the levels, but they are sitting in that toxic air, not seeing light for days at a time. On top of that, the miners starve themselves because bringing food into the mines would be unproductive: it would get coated in dust or mud, and give the miners indigestion. Instead, they only chew coca leaves, which build up to look like a small egg inside their cheek, and help with the hunger, altitude and the rough air.

It certainly puts your life — and your commute — in perspective to go down there. I’m glad I took the time to stop and see it with my own eyes. And if anything, maybe it will teach me to think twice about my very painless subway commute.

‘You speak Spanish like Obi-wan-kanobe’

I think he probably meant Yoda, but I let the reference slide. In any event, I had a great opportunity to practice my Spanish when I went out with An (my friend from Montreal who I met in Cochabamba when we were stuck inside for Census Day) for happy hour in Sucre on Tuesday night.

An has been working for nearly six months in Sucre, and knows lots of co-workers and locals from her time there. She graciously invited me out to happy hour, where drinks are two for one. We ordered 4 mojitos, which I thought meant well, 4 mojitos, but apparently that means each person gets the two for one special. So the four of us ended up with 8 mojitos, which cost us a grand total of 72 Bolivianos — approximately $10. No, not each. Total. 

I laughed, thinking about what I would have been able to write in BostoNite for drinks that price. They weren’t weak either! We had a great time, and even though my new friend told me I speak like a Star Wars character (the flaw of thinking in English and speaking in Spanish) I was happy to have the opportunity to go out and socialize in a different language.

Other Sucre highlights?

I went to visit the Cal Orck’o, a ‘museum’ built around the longest sets of dinosaur tracks found on earth. Tourists have relatively visceral reactions to these prints when they find out the ‘wall’ with the sets of tracks (because of tectonic plate shifting millions of years ago, the prints appear on a wall which was once the floor of the earth) is quite far from the museum and they can’t actually go touch the prints, sit in them, or do other terrible tourist-like things. Regardless, I decided to fork over the very pricey $4 admission (hah) and check ’em out myself. Included in my $4 was a free guided tour, and I was the only person at that hour who needed an English tour. So, Juan Carlos met me and showed me around, explaining tons of interesting facts about dinosaurs and Bolivia and geology. I learned more in 20 minutes with him than I did in 2 days in ToroToroShocker. Anyways, Juan Carlos was clearly infatuated with me a little bit, and in between learning about dino prints, making me pose for many awkward photos, and practicing my Spanish, he managed to slip an awkward “want to go get a drink and talk about Bolivia?” question into our conversation. Earlier, we’d talked about where in the city I was staying, and since he was harmless enough, and when he offered to stop by the next night, I shrugged and said sure, I’d be happy to grab a beer.

Chillin’ with some (fake) tyrannosaurus rex bones.

Fast forward to 30 hours later, I’d finished making dinner and left the hostel to meet An and her friend at her apartment from some girl time with a bottle of wine. When I got back to my hostel around 10 PM, Mike, the owner, had a message for me. “Juan Carlos stopped by for you…” he said with a smirk on his face and a questioning sparkle in his eye. Shoot. I feel totally guilty and like a complete jerk. Even though I wasn’t interested in him romantically whatsoever, I would have loved to practice my Spanish with a local guy, and feel so badly for accidentally standing him up. Yikes! Even worse, I had no way of apologizing or being in touch.

Yesterday afternoon, I was sitting on a bench in the main plaza with my eReader when two little boys came trotting up to me, shoe-shining kits in hand. When I tried, in Spanish, to explain that my cloth mocassins cannot be shined, they showed me the magazine they were selling instead. Similar to the Spare Change newspaper made by and for the homeless population in Boston, the publication costs 3 Bolivianos, 1.50 of which goes directly to the child, and 1.50 of which goes to the non-profit helping the poverty-stricken children. I gladly bought a copy, especially when one of the boys proudly grinned and pointed to his picture in the magazine. After some more nagging, I let them use their brushes to ‘clean’ my moccasins, which, admittedly, were getting to be more brown than black. They each took a foot, working meticulously, and though most shoe shiners only charge about 3 Bolivianos, with wax, I handed each boy a 10 Boliviano note. Just seeing their little eyes light up and the grins spread across their faces was worth the $2.50 I’d just forked over. That money means so little to me and so much to them, and it was a very humbling reminder of what a poor country I’m traveling through.

Sure, Bolivian cities are hectic, disorganized and relatively dirty. But when you’re staying in a hostel with hot showers, full kitchen facilities and tons of other English-speaking tourists, it’s easy to forget the poverty around you. Bolivia is an incredibly poor country — as Westerners, we marvel at how cheap the produce and food are, but many families can barely afford those prices, as is. When you’re traveling from hostel to hostel, city to city, on the gringo trail it’s easy to forget the poor people in the countryside, the ones you aren’t interacting with, and the ones who have to shower once a week in the public shower facilities scattered through the city.

Mostly, I just spent the last 3 days doing lots of wandering, reading in the sun, drinking real-sugar Coca Cola’s, and cooking using a million fresh veggies I bought for just a few cents at the nearby mercado.

I was going to stay in Sucre through the end of the week and go on an all day hike to the siete cascadas today, but, to no surprise, the tour I was depending on to take me got cancelled. Surprisingly, not because of Bolivians — the couple I’d met who committed to go with me (and knew I couldn’t go without them because the agency needed 3 people for a tour) bailed on me last minute when we were supposed to go pay. So instead, I took an afternoon bus to Potosi, and tomorrow I’m seeing the two highlights of the town: the mines and the Casa de Moneda, before hopping on a night bus down to Tupiza.

Her Story: I quit my job to travel in South America

After reading the Lost Girls book in the first week of my travels, I vowed not to be like Amanda and make myself crazy freelancing from the road. That being said, a pitch I’d sent to HerCampus pre-travels was finally approved, so I decided to quickly bang out a “Her Story” contribution for one of my favorite websites. Here is the link to my original piece, published yesterday, but I’ve republished the story below. 

Her Story: I quit my job to travel in South America

Over the last four weeks, I have straddled the equator line, zip-lined through a rainforest on the edge of the Amazon, and climbed to 15,780 feet above sea level on Cotopaxi, one of the highest active volcanoes in the world. I took 80 hours of intensive Spanish, learned how to make Ecuadorian soup with shrimp and plantain “meatballs,” and had my first fluid and coherent conversation in another language.

But six months ago, I was sitting in a cubicle at a desk job in relative misery, anxious, heartbroken and depressed. So let me start from the beginning.

I went to college at Northeastern University, a school I immediately fell in love with because of its co-operative education program: an opportunity to spend six months working full-time in your field in between academic semesters. As an avid writer with my heart set on a journalism career, I knew the key to success in my field was gaining all the clips and experience I could get.

So over five years, I participated in three co-ops – at a small neighborhood newspaper, an IT media company, and for The Boston Globe’s Boston.com. On the side, I co-founded and helped run the Northeastern chapter of Her Campus and was in charge of the extensive tour guide program at my university. I was career-driven and determined to write as much as I could. I even gave up a traditional semester abroad (which I was dying to do) because I wouldn’t have been able to interview for a senior year co-op position.

As the end of my college years loomed, I used my co-op connections to my advantage and started a job immediately after graduation at TechTarget, the IT media company where I’d done my second co-op. A few months later, a nightlife blogging position opened at Boston.com, and I took the blog on as my second job.

I worked meticulously at both jobs for a year. Don’t get me wrong — I was incredibly thankful for my jobs. I knew how lucky I was to be employed not just by one employer, but two. But in the span of that year, I’d faced two rough heartbreaks and was feeling antsy and anxious. I couldn’t believe this was “it” – the rest of my life. I wanted to travel and see the world, and I felt stuck and depressed.

Everyone told me to wait it out. “First jobs are never perfect; the adjustment to the real world is really hard,” they’d say. “Heartbreak just heals with time.” But I knew it was something more than that.

So I started brainstorming and saving every penny I could, adding it to the savings account I’d built up over the last several years. I dreamed of a trip to Europe, a re-location to NYC. I contemplated applying for other jobs, even moving back home to Los Angeles. But in May, the stars aligned.  One of my best friends from high school, who had been living in Chile for just over two years, was quitting her job in Santiago to relocate to NYC. Before she left, she was hoping to do some traveling through South America. Her sister was also quitting her job and starting graduate school in the fall, so the three of us made plans for a jaunt to Argentina and Uruguay.

With shaky hands and tears in my eyes, I took a huge risk – one that many people warned me against – and gave my boss my two weeks notice. It was one of the hardest and best things I have ever done.

My father’s proudest moment was when I, his only daughter, graduated from university. But not because I finally had a diploma in hand. It was because I graduated with a job offer, and he knew that I wasn’t one of the many recent grads who would be forced to move back home and desperately seek work. I was employed, and to him, that was success. So you can imagine his reaction when I told him I wanted to throw all of that away to go see the world. Thankfully, my Mom was a little more supportive. She understood the depression and frustration I was going through, and though she wanted me to remain on the same continent, she understood I was feeling restless.

That being said, I’ve always been independent. I moved across the country at the age of 18, and have been living on my own for six years. I knew my parents would love me no matter what, and so despite my father’s disappointment, I took the risk.

I don’t think I know a single person who doesn’t say one of their life goals is to travel and see the world. But how many people really do just that? How many people quit their jobs, leave their worldly possessions, pick up their lives, and just go? Too few.

That being said, most American teenagers and young adults who do take a gap year, or gap months, dream of backpacking through Europe. They talk of buying Eurorail passes and seeing Paris, Amsterdam and Rome, of taking a summer off to explore the Grecian isles. And while there’s nothing wrong with that, let me start by saying that South America is half the price. Europe is expensive and glamorous, with amazing meals to be had and expensive hotels to stay in. Everything in South America is, bottom line, cheap. It’s meant to be roughed through — living on $30 a day here is no problem, and taking buses across borders for $10 each is as easy as ordering the menu de dia – the daily lunch menu of fresh juice, soup, and a main course for as little as $2.50.

I immediately fell in love with South America. But after six weeks in the southern hemisphere — three with my friend and her sister and three on my own in Peru and Bolivia — I got on a plane bound for Los Angeles, not ready to leave. My plan when I returned to the US was to face the real world again: work my butt off to get a job in NYC, sign a lease, and make the next steps in my journalism career.

But as I reunited with my family and friends back home and contemplated beginning my life again across the country, I just couldn’t stand the thought. My career-driven self had a brand new thought: I have my whole life to work. Why wouldn’t I go see the world now, when my only physical obligation was $98 a month to the UHaul in Middletown, Connecticut where my mattress and boxes sat in storage?

So that’s exactly what I did. I planned three months of solo travel in South America. The first month would be spent on a traveling classroom program through Ecuador, taking 20 hours of Spanish classes a week and staying with local, Ecuadorian families to hone my speaking skills. The next two months would consist of making my way down the coast of Peru, into Bolivia, down through northwestern Argentina, and finally into Chile, where my return flight to Los Angeles is booked from Santiago on December 30.

For the most part, my family and friends reacted well. My Dad was still hesitant about my decision, but at that point I’d already given up my job, so he simply shrugged and said, “It’s your money, honey.” Mostly it was my parents’ friends, my older family friends, who reacted so positively, which really solidified my decision. “Good for you!” they’d say. “Now’s the time to go, when you’re young and have nothing tying you down.” My own friends reacted with just as much enthusiasm, sending emails, Facebook posts and g-chats about how jealous they were that I was “living the life” and seeing the world.

Making the decision to pause my life and see one of the most spectacular, and underrated, continents of the world has been the best decision I’ve ever made. Sure, I miss my parents and my friends. Sure, I wish I wasn’t scraping every penny out of my savings account. And trust me, living out of a backpack with eight outfit options doesn’t exactly appeal to my inner fashionista. But I know the comforts of home — a guaranteed hot shower, all my favorite outfits, and a refrigerator to call my own, not to mention my true friends and family — aren’t going anywhere. As I face challenges small and large: bug bites swollen to the size of my fists, misunderstood bus schedules, insanely challenging hikes, and horrifically bad maps, I’m learning more about myself than I could have even imagined.

Looking back to when I was just out of a three-year relationship and struggling desperately to come to terms with my new single status, one of my old bosses told me this: You’re the only guaranteed and stable partner you’ll have for the entirety of your life.” I didn’t want to listen to her then, but as the years have passed, those words ring truer than ever. Of course, having someone next to you is a wonderful way to travel, and a huge comfort. But the bottom line is I am secure and comfortable with myself, and I knowing that, if need be, I can face whatever challenge comes my way on my own. It’s one of the most incredible feelings in the world. What better way to achieve that goal than by seeing the beauty of the world?