It’s crazy how you can look back on life and imagine you wouldn’t be where you are now or making the decisions you have decided to make. When planning our trip to South America, I never imagined straying from the continent. Friends would ask me if Dan and I thought we might change continents at some point, or visit another country during our journey. I always said, “No, not unless something else comes up. I really want to focus on seeing this part of the world”. Crazily and unbeknownst to me, something did come up. Something I couldn’t ignore.
One night in Pisco Elqui, Chile Dan and I got to talking over drinks. We started talking about other parts of the world that we are itching to visit. I brought up South East Asia, Morocco, and Italy and Dan couldn’t get his mind off of Spain. At first we were talking about these places generally, not seriously thinking about going anytime soon. When suddenly, we were. After that initial conversation, the next day we both couldn’t stop thinking about the possibility of opening up our options and switching gears. Although the thought of adding some other locations to our itinerary was exciting, I still couldn’t help but feel scared and sad about leaving South America. We still hadn’t seen Buenos Aires, Iguazu Falls, or Brazil – spots that are high on my to-see list. We put a pin in the conversation and decided to sit on it as we still had another two weeks in Chile and tickets to Ecuador.
The location that changed the entire course of our trip.
Approximately two months later in Ecuador, I told Dan I didn’t think I could survive (dramatic I know) the long bus ride to Peru. We were originally planning on heading there after our Galapagos cruise to visit Huarez to do some more hiking. I was looking into how we’d get there and felt dread. Multiple long bus rides through the mountains to arrive to a location where I’d feel sick for another 3 days because of the altitude. The flights were expensive so that was out of the question. I didn’t like the idea of not going back to Peru, but I also could not stomach the thought of dealing with more long, uncomfortable transits. I threw out the idea to fly directly to Buenos Aires or somewhere in Brazil instead but all of the flights seemed to be over $500 a piece from Guayaquil.
Then, I saw a flight to Frankfurt, Germany for about the same price as flights to Brazil or Argentina and an idea was born to travel around Europe instead for our last 2 months. Dan and I both started to get really excited at the thought of completely switching things up. We absolutely love South America, but after 6 months of moving around, I didn’t want the things I wrote about in my Tough Stuff the Guidebooks Don’t Tell You post to make me become jaded. I wanted to leave with the best memories possible. It felt right. I realized I felt more giddy about going to Italy than heading back to Peru or going to Bolivia. In the end, I knew it was the right decision.
Our itinerary for Europe right now includes Spain, Italy, Hungary, Slovakia, and the Czech Republic. I am looking forward to going back to Spain for a few days and exploring some other parts of Europe that I’ve been dying to see. With all of this enthusiasm however, comes a great sadness and a weird feeling of loss. I was not necessarily happy or ready to leave Latin America. I have loved it and it has loved me back. These past 6 months have been some of the best of my entire life and Colombia and Ecuador especially began to feel like home. I know that when we leave, I will miss the people, the chaos, the landscapes, and so much more.
In light of us leaving this incredible continent, I would like to recap my top 4 favorite things about the 4 countries we have visited. There is so much more to each country but I want to talk about the 4 of them as a whole and more generally as one big great adventure. These are the aspects of South America that I can’t imagine anywhere else in the world topping and I will dearly miss.
Gorging myself on fruit:
Anyone who knows me knows that me loving fruit is an understatement. It is my favorite food and I would probably choose a huge fruit salad as my last meal on earth. And South America has fruit, everywhere. Delicious, fresh, organic fruit. I’m also not just talking your general oranges, apples, and bananas. I’m talking exotic fruit that I don’t think I’ve ever seen in the USA such as grenadines, dragon fruit, passion fruit, uchuvas, tree tomatoes, papayas, coconuts and the best mangoes and pineapples I’ve ever eaten. I actually do think the bananas even taste better down here as they are much sweeter with more flavor.
Market in Bogotá.
The best part about this fruit is that it is easy to find and comes in many tasty forms. You can easily go to the traditional, local markets and get pounds of this stuff for cheap or simply find a street vendor. One of my favorite fruit salads is called Salpicon (watermelon juice with papaya, pineapple, etc.) and is basically a refreshing fruit salad. Fresh squeezed juice is also sold everywhere: restaurants, street vendors, markets and if you’re lucky, you can find someone who will sell it with some rum.
If anyone knows somewhere in the USA where I can find these exotic fruits, I will repay you generously.
Fruity rum slushies on Calle de los Cockteles in Montañita, Ecuador.
Everything about the Andes:
Besides the fact that they make me very ill on bus rides, the Andes are indescribable. Stretching from Venezuela all the way down to Chile, we got a great chance to become acquainted with the Andes in every country we visited. One of the most interesting things about this mountain range to me is that they are completely different and boast various landscapes in each place we’ve been.
In Colombia during our trek, we were able to see the Paramo which is gorgeously dry and arid. In Argentina we were able to experience the magic of the Patagonian Andes that I don’t believe really needs an explanation. In Santiago, Chile and various other Latin America cities are in a valley surrounded by the Andes which makes for beautiful sunsets and all around picture perfect cities. Hiking the Quilotoa Loop in Ecuador gave us a chance to see another side to this mountain range which was much greener and more lush than some of the other landscapes we experienced.
The Andes helped me to further my love of hiking and the great outdoors. They also solidified the fact that I want to live somewhere with easier access to getting outside more often and being more active. The beautiful peaks, ridges, and views from this mountain range will be burned in my memory forever!
Latinos not giving a damn:
In every country we visited, we experienced, observed, and met people who really just do not care. Latinos seem to go about their day to day with a much more laid back attitude than at least I ever did in the USA. In a public setting, they seem to worry much more about themselves than what other people are doing and don’t let the actions of others bother or effect them so much.
I have many for instances of this characteristic but I will pick a few of my favorites.
Breast feeding. Women do it everywhere with no problem. In the markets, on the street corner, waiting for the bus. People passing by don’t judge them or make them feel uncomfortable. The women breastfeeding do not effect anyone else. So why do we care so much about this in the USA to the point that we shame women who need to feed their babies in public?
Vendors. People are allowed to basically sell whatever they want, wherever they want. They jump on moving buses to sell their home baked goods or newspapers. They sell single cigarettes on the streets. They concoct their own homemade alcoholic drinks and walk around selling it on the beach. These people don’t need permission and they don’t have licenses to sell this stuff. Personally, I love it because whatever I want always seems to be available and usually cheaper.
If you want to sell ceviche in Ecuador, all you need is a bike cart.
Or a truck to sell fruit.
Other than this, I’ve walked around with an open container of alcohol, jumped on a bus without a ticket and paid later, been blatantly cut in line for the bathroom by an old Ecuadorian woman, and much more. Although some of it is hard to get used to, it has taught me to go with the flow more and let what other people are doing around me effect me so much. Tranquilo!
Even though I’m not a big fan of napping in a hammock, I like when they are around. I love watching other people enjoy their afternoon naps slowly swaying in a hammock. They evoke a feeling of relaxation and tranquility. To me, they signify a slower pace of life. Stop yourself for a mere 15 minutes and simply unwind in a hammock.
I have been known to break hammocks in the past and feel uncomfortable inside of them. However, Latin America influenced me so much that I couldn’t stop talking about the fact that we needed to buy one before we left or make sure that we sport one in our next home.
For sale at the Otavalo market.
Even the people in the Galapagos need a place to relax.
The people in this cover photo from the day we left Chicago are completely different than they are today, in a good way, all thanks to our 6 months traveling through Colombia, Argentina, Chile and Ecuador. As hard as it has been to leave an experience and places behind, this has taught me to always look at all of my options and opportunities in front of me. I don’t need to restrict myself to one thing (even if it’s a great thing). I should constantly be thinking and reflecting on how I can make my life better and happier and take off my blinders once in a while. Even if it means leaving a place or something I love behind, it’s always good to know when to move forwards, sideways or across the Atlantic.