"Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did do.....Explore. Dream. Discover."
(click on any of the red pins to see a photo and a link to a blog entry)
What started off as an idea that this might be the perfect time to finally make the often talked about dream trip down to Chile, ended up as a 10 month journey through three continents, 16 countries and over 20,000 miles...
With no itinerary - not even a flight home - and no real plan other than to do some camping in Patagonia, I flew from Hartford to the bottom of South America back in February. Tired and eager to see everyone, I flew home from Mexico just before Christmas. Here's a glimpse of how I passed that time in between...
Other than the flight out to the Galapagos Islands and a couple of boat rides (round trip to Antarctica, sail from Colombia to Panama and a ferry crossing here and there) every mile was covered with rubber touching the pavement or, in many cases, the dirt or gravel. Most borders were crossed independently, most adventures were unguided and most nights were spent in one of three places - my tent, a hostel or in the home of a kind couchsurfing host (costs ranged anywhere from free to around 14 bucks a night). Quetzals, Cordobas, Pesos and the like were most often withdrawn from local ATMs and always were kept in my money belt, my sock, a pillow, under the mattress, in a secret compartment behind my toiletries or, on the rare occasion, in my pocket.
Though I travelled solo, I rarely found myself alone, as meeting locals or fellow travellers was really quite simple - and wonderful. The plans that eventually did get made, were often, if not always, changed. And while I was scared for my life several times and missed friends and family a lot - especially towards the end - I would not have traded a second of the experience.
Other than some of the above, the biggest question I have been asked by friends and family is "What was your favorite place?" With so many amazing places and wonderful experiences to choose from, this is an impossible question to answer. Sure, off the top of my head, a couple places stand out - Antarctica and the Galapagos - for the sheer fact that they offer that certain something that can't be had anywhere else in the world - and my time with the kids in Bolivia for so many reasons. There were also those inspiring interactions like with my friend Pedro in Colombia, the guy who gifted his running shoes in Argentina, or the many people I met on my bike ride through Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador. But really, my favorite part of this trip and the reason I travel is all of those little things that you experience along the way.
For me, the experience of eating a warm crepe oozing with chocolate was more memorable than actually seeing the Eiffel Tower. And seeing small Bedouin children beg for pieces of paper was infinitely more impressive than a visit to the Pyramids.
What follows is a list of some of those "experiences" I was fortunate enough to have on this journey as well as a few of the different thoughts that struck me for some reason or another.
*Seeing a local's face - especially the beaming smile of a proud parent - when you show them a photo you've just taken. My favorite thing about the new digital age.
*Sunsets and, even more special for the fact that you are not sharing them with as many people, sunrises. Most people are awake to see the sun set, but there's something magical about being up for a sunrise - especially when climbing a mountain or camping.
*Falling asleep in a hammock is good. Especially since hammocks generally hang in warm, peaceful, inviting places.
*Funerals - on several occasions I found myself as an unintentional participant. Whether it was bumping into a walking procession in Colombia or passing through a wake in Nicaragua that had spilled out into the streets, these moments gave me an insight into a culture that a museum never could.
*Conversing in a foreign language for the first time in all my travels. And what a thrill to finally be able to make someone smile for what I said rather than for the awkward pronunciation with which I said it.
*Chicken buses and jam packed mini-buses. Adios personal space. It's hard to say, but I think the most crowded it got was in Guatemala when I was facing a woman that was breast feeding. Not at all out of the ordinary down there, except for the fact that in this instance, the back of the kid's head was resting on my chest.
*Never in my life have I appreciated COLD BEER like I have in Central America. After a long hard day of sweating in buses, nothing could be more satisfying.
*The kindness of strangers. I can't begin to tell all of the stories of the times I was shown the way, looked after or given a phone number to call "if you get stuck or needed anything". What a choice we all have when we meet someone, especially a visitor, for the first time. I am so thankful for all those that chose to help rather than to hide.
*Meeting a Ukranian guy in Argentina and an Italian guy in Colombia that carried less with them on their travels than I would take to the gym. Less is definitely better when traveling.
*The miles and miles and miles of jaw dropping views from the dusty windows of countless buses. And trying mightily to not take a single one of them for granted.
*Gaping holes in sidewalks, throwing TP in a basket next to the toilet, death defying cab rides, stomach rot, litter, pollution & poverty. And trying to appreciate the fact that these things are not the norm in my life at home.
*The feeling of accomplishment when achieving a goal. Whether that is reaching the peak of a 20,000 foot mountain, finishing a grueling three day bike ride or even something that would, on the surface, appear to be so simple - catching the right bus.
*Lucky to meet so many different people from so many different backgrounds. And even luckier to have some of my closest friends come join me for some of these experiences. Thank you all!!!
*The sad reality that I'll never get back to most, if not all, of the places about which I said "I'm definitely coming back here someday."
Thanks for coming along for the ride.
“Live with intention. Walk to the edge. Listen hard. Practice wellness. Play with abandon. Laugh. Choose with no regret. Appreciate your friends. Continue to learn. Do what you love. Live as if this is all there is.”