7 months. 7 countries. 31 cities. countless towns and dozens of mountains. How has this day arrived already? From arriving in Bogota, Colombia to finishing in Sao Paulo, Brasil. It’s been nothing but amazing experiences and huge learning curves. The question keeps niggling at me, have I changed after all this travel? Was South America what I thought it would be? Was everyone right about what they told me to expect? I don’t think anyone knows what this brilliant continent is like, until you have been here and seen it.
I began scared and unsure of what I was doing and why I was doing it. I thought I knew what I wanted until I was flying out of New York and heading into a region I really knew nothing about. All of that wasn’t necessary. South America has been one of the best experiences of my life. I’m still unsure as to how I’ve managed to complete this journey, relatively unscathed. One major lesson I’ve learnt, is that I am way more resourceful than I give myself credit for. Taking difficult situations in my stride and just learning to work my way around a problem without panicking. Other travelers stress, scream, cry and generally work themselves into a state of panic. Previous vacations have been planned to the letter, but this time, I’ve never known what is around the corner and I’ve faced all of it on my own.
The number of people that were scared about my impending travels to South America. It’s too dangerous! You’ll get mugged! People will drug you! You don’t know what you’re getting yourself into! I don’t believe it. South America is not a place that has been left out of the world to fend for itself, it is more connected and modern than we expect. Of course parts of each country suffer from poverty or just isolation in their own communities. However these were some of the best places I traveled to.
Colombia was a great place to begin. The people are great, helpful and welcoming. There are beaches, cities, mountains, you see such variety. Travelling here is the easiest out of all South American countries, with a cheap airline Viva Colombia to help you out. I was so vigilant with my travel safety in Colombia. Locking my bag, checking and double checking all my cards, passports, camera, etc. Oh how I’ve changed when I look at myself now. Colombia taught me to just take each day in my stride, stop stressing over losing or having things stolen. You’re here to travel and the fear will just keep holding you back.
After skipping Ecuador and heading to Peru, I understood that South America is going to throw different cultures, food, travel habits, and general life my way. The best 10 days of my life were spent in the north of Peru, Huaraz. Trekking in the mountains, away from tourists and taking on the biggest physical challenge of my life was thrilling and awakening. I learnt a lot from that trek and I realized that I needed this more than I thought. A person stuck in a life they don’t want, joking that you’re off to “find yourself” is probably trying to avoid the realization that they need it as well. They say you travel to find yourself, which you do in all honestly, but it’s more important than that. You broaden your view, outside of the bubble you work yourself into. Starting to see how easy it is to just do what you want to do, instead of what you thought was important or what society deemed was acceptable. Life is short, you will be forgotten and what you do now is the most important thing because it’s for you.
Lima, Hucachina, Cusco, were fine. I wasn’t overly impressed and although fun, they reeked of tourism. After spending almost a month in Huaraz with good local people, I really didn’t see the attraction of listening to tourists panic over the most stupid situations. Hiking and trekking with experienced people at altitudes higher than the mountains in Cusco, my estimation is that 75% of tourists complained of altitude sickness in Cusco. While they were drinking themselves stupid. I couldn’t cope, it was like being around 15 year olds. I had to get there to see it and move on quickly. Thankfully I met some brilliant people on the way and we created a great group that just relaxed, appreciated what we were there for and had loads of laughs. Most of the time, the people you meet determines how good the place is going to be. The human side of travelling is half of the experience.
Bolivia is where I started to find my rhythm with travelling. I started to believe that I could do this and it wasn’t as hard or dangerous as I thought. I had some great days just fitting in with the South American way of life. I had picked up more Spanish by then and life on the road was running smoothly. The Salt Flats were an incredible experience and before I knew it, I was crossing the border into Chile. Time was going way too fast.
With only a small stint in Chile, Argentina was calling and my dream of visiting this country was on my doorstep. My feeling of freedom on the road got even stronger here, when I decided to hitchhike with a couple friends down to Mendoza. None of us had done it before and although not exciting when you consider some of the things I had seen, it was so exhilarating. I truly felt like a traveler. The tourist was put on hold for a couple weeks. Sometimes it’s easy, sometimes it feels exhausting and impossible. How we ended up getting to Mendoza is a mystery but we did.
At some point along this part of my travels, I was becoming a guide to others. After giving the hundredth piece of advice, that I actually knew what I was talking about for a change. It felt good. Helping people and knowing that I was giving them some of the most useful tips that I had learnt and made mistakes from. This also didn’t stop for the rest of my travels and perhaps this blog was getting some use in the end.
The last part of South America was so different from the beginning. As soon as I reached Patagonia things felt different. I had booked my flight home to England, it was the cheapest route out of Brasil. Having a deadline for when my travels finished was distracting. Ideas on what I wanted to do after traveling crept into my mind, plans began to form and I got excited about what I was going to do. Amongst this, I was still on the road. Finally putting it all aside I carried on. Remembering that what I was doing at that moment was a once in a lifetime opportunity and I was going to make the most of it.
Argentina, Uruguay and Brasil were significantly different to the countries before. The influence of looks, judgement of wealth, expectations on what to look like and act like, were so important. I wasn’t used to it anymore, and it’s not something that is attractive. Thankfully the people came to the rescue again. I have met some of the most amazing people in Buenos Aires, Uruguay and travelling around Brasil. The places are brilliant, albeit ridiculously expensive even for London prices. My budget is blown on Brasil and part of me thinks it’s because I’ve become lazy at the end of my travels but when I put the effort in to save money it’s near impossible. Either way I don’t regret it, I have seen some unbelievable places and discovered more about a country that I knew nothing about.
I have now finished this epic leg of my travels, feeling proud of myself. I managed to get through so much, I took the leap to travel South America alone as a female and I wouldn’t change a thing. Coming out of it all a bit stronger, a bit more sure of who I am, and feeling like a better person overall for doing it.
I just hope that I can continue what I’ve learnt with my travels in New Zealand and further into the next challenge.
Thanks for reading!