Zero miles to go

As I write this, it is currently four in the morning and I am looking outside the plane window and I can see the lights of Cuba below me. I am less than three hours from touching down in the United States of America.

Exactly five months ago, the scene was similar to this. I was sitting on a plane, looking at the flight tracker on the small screen in front of me, and I was looking down on the world as the sun began to rise. The first blog post I wrote was about how I had only 432 miles to go until I touched down on the country of Argentina. I was freezing, terrified, excited, nervous, and everything else in between as I went into the unknown. Today, I am nostalgic, excited, and, I will admit, a little nervous. Overall, though, I am totally calm and content.

Five months ago, I got off the plane and was completely overwhelmed by everything, but it was the language that was the hardest. I asked the sleepy guy at customs “como?” (what?) at least five times as he instructed me on what do to before I finally gave up and followed visual clues while wide-eyed and confused in order to get by. Tonight in the Lima airport, I was struck each time with awe when I answered si” when asked “hablas español?” rather than my original “um…un poco.” When asked which language I speak tonight (ingles o español?), I responded “los dos” (both) and had no worries or fears about the fact that I would then be spoken to in Spanish. Even if I missed a word or two here and there, I still knew what was being said to me and I was able to answer with confidence and ease. I no longer get the feeling of complete fear and shock when spoken to. That used to paralyze me and stress me out, and I would stumble out incoherent words and be left feeling like a fool. Now, I still make plenty of mistakes, but rather than feeling incompetent, I make a mental note of my error and fix it the next time. Spanish also comes so naturally to me know. I will definitely miss hearing and speaking Spanish so much. Let’s be real, though, I will probably keep spitting out Spanish instead of English forever. (Bets on how many times I will forget English in the airport in a few hours and try to speak Spanish?)  I have come such a long way, but I know that I have so much farther to go. This entire semester, I would constantly go through waves of both loving the language and wanting so badly to learn it to hating it with a deep burning passion of frustration and wondering why I even try and wanting so badly to just give up and not care. The truth is, though, is that I do care, and I look forward to doing all that I can to continue learning.

In addition to Spanish, so much has changed in these past five months. I get overwhelmed just thinking about it. How do I conceptualize and summarize my experience here in South America? I could put it into numbers. Five months. Four countries. Three cameras. 180 pages filled front-to-back in my journal. Hundreds of hours and thousands of miles.

There is so much more to my experience here than numbers, however. I don’t know how to put everything into words or photos or even thoughts, but I will try. I just looked outside the window again in time to see the floating lights of the Bahamas down below. On our right, we are well into Florida and inching closer every second to our destination. Whew, the thoughts are flying now! (Literally and figuratively.)

I will miss so much about Mendoza, Argentina, and South America in general. I already do! I will miss doing, seeing, and learning new things every single day. I will miss the food. The people. The besos (right-cheek greeting kisses) and the loving nature of the people. I will miss kioskos, the cheap food and wine, and the people selling all sorts of miscellaneous goods on the streets. I will miss the insane public transportation systems, the fancy busses, and walking and exploring new streets and places. It will be strange, yet comforting, to no longer be the foreigner or odd-one-out. I will miss the satisfaction of having a conversation and laughing with a local. I will even miss the siestas (nap time), lack of most organization, and the “productive laziness.” I will miss seeing things that amaze and energize me and others that sadden and humble me. I will miss the beautiful landscape and rich culture. Maté. Dulce de leche. The fact that you can usually only buy things in bulk to share. The fun and easy access to bars and boliches (clubs). The never-ending battle to understand why on Earth things function (or don’t) the way they do. I will miss the familiar faces and places and the life and routine that I created for myself. The list goes on and on.

There are also a handful of things that I won’t miss. I won’t miss the piropos, the disgusting culture of machismo and the feeling of being objectified as a woman. I won’t miss the lack of respect of the ridiculous lack of sense and efficiency. At the end of the day, though, even these things can’t tarnish my experience as a whole.

As time goes on, things will begin to slip away from my memory. It is the little things in particular which will go first: the uneven sidewalks, the simple beauty of the roses blossoming in Parque San Martin, and the Aguila chocolate I love so much. My tan from the beautiful South American sunshine. I am afraid and saddened by that fact, but I will know that I will retain so much.

I am also scared and unsure about the thought of the challenge I will face in trying to describe my experiences to others. How do I even begin to relay all that I did, saw, and learned? Sure, I have words and photos, but those can only go so far. How do I condense five months of experiences? How do I describe all the ups and downs? How do I answer “How was Argentina?” When I get back to Bowdoin and I see all my other friends who were abroad, do I just answer with “Good, how was ____?” until the excitement of being back wears off and we get back into our regular routines? How do I hold on to my South American life and all that I gained when I am back in my old, familiar environment of home and Bowdoin? How do I combine the two? How do I not get sucked back into the craziness of life and lose the relaxed and low-stress self I have finally found? How do I hold on to everything so that it doesn’t become a far-away dream land now that I am away from it all? How will people see that I have changed (if at all)? How will I express that? How will I be the same? How will this experience make itself evident in future situations? What will I take away as the most important parts?

The answer to all of these questions is quite simple: I have no idea.

Nope, not a clue. If anything, my challenges and experiences are far from over.

I have learned and experienced more this semester than I could ever conceptualize to myself– more or less to another person. I learned a new language, culture, and history. I learned which micro (bus) got me to my university the fastest from the corner of Belgrano and Juan B. Justo. (Group 8, number 103). I learned which alfajor is the tastiest (Guaymallen). I learned how to “ojo” (watch out) when crossing the crazy streets or walking in an unfamiliar area. I learned how to properly drink and share mate and the deeper, cultural meaning of it. I learned that “fresas” and “frutillas,” “tú” is “vos,” and “aquí” is “aca” in Argentine Spanish.

But there is also so much more than the factual knowledge. I learned that things will not always (or usually) go as planned, but that’s okay. I learned to let go of the little things and to not stress over petty things that can’t be controlled. To focus on the larger and more important things. I learned to have confidence, to just go for things sometimes, and to trust my gut. I learned that I have the capability to do things I didn’t think I can. I learned the importance of patience, of family and friends, and of enjoying all of life’s moments—especially the present. I feel more confident, grown, and centered than I have in my entire life. I learned to love my free time and I enjoyed not having such a crazy, jam-packed schedule all the time. I also realized that I enjoy a busy lifestyle as well, and I look forward to finding a balance between the two in the future. I learned to be flexible and that it is okay (and recommended) to ask for help when needed. I was constantly reminded of the kindness and goodness of strangers. And so much more.

This semester was absolutely chalked-full of ups and downs. There were high highs and low lows. I have cried my eyes out and given myself a stomachache from laughing so hard. I have been amazed and excited and disgusted and scared. I have wanted to do nothing but curl up in bed at home and not have to deal with things, and I have wanted to never leave and to soak up every single thing that I possibly can. I have felt confident and I have felt scared and hopeless. I have felt angry, sad, overwhelmed, enthralled, ecstatic, happy, content, indifferent, and everything in between. It has been a semester of extremes.

And in more ways than one it has been that way. I have skied in the fresh powder of the Andes, sweated my brains out in the desert sun, dipped my fingers in two oceans from four different countries, and trekked through the rainforest. I am eternally grateful for all the opportunities I have had to travel. I covered a TON of ground in Argentina, but I was also so lucky as to have been able to visit Uruguay, Chile and Peru. I saw and did so many amazing things, and I gained a little something different from each and every experience. On another level, I was also able to get to know a single place, Mendoza, closely and well. Besides Bowdoin, I had never lived in a different place for so long. I didn’t just travel this time. I lived. I did what I could to assimilate to the “local” lifestyle and to develop my own routine within that.

As we get closer and closer to our destination of Newark-Liberty International Airport, I find myself unable to sit still in my seat as I am filled with anxiety about what comes next. Despite all of the emotions, I am overall excited for all that lies ahead. I have so many things to look forward to. I am excited to bring back all that I have gained and to assimilate it into my “other” life. I can’t wait to share my experiences and stories with others as well as hear theirs. I am excited to see where the experiences I have gained will take me. I am also excited to stay put and just enjoy my time in the U.S. for a while.

I have completed everything I set out to do. I have zero miles to go on my South American adventure. I went to South America, I lived and learned, and now I am done. There are a million ways I could end this post, but I am not sure if anything will really suffice. First, though, I would like to thank you all for reading and following along on my adventures as I took on the Andes. It means a lot to me to be able to share my experiences and for you to read (and hopefully enjoy!) them.

I think the best I can say is that this has been an etapa (stage/phase) in my life, and now it is over and a new one will begin. I left South America in the setting sun last night, and I am now flying into the incredible pink, orange, and blue sunrise sky of the United States of America. The sun hasn’t set on South America, though. Rather, I will continue to carry its light with me until it hopefully leads me back again someday. In the meantime, the sun has risen here and now, and it is time to begin my next etapa.

And I can’t wait. :)

 

 

Happy First Day of Summer!

Well, for me anyway. For all of you up there in the Northern Hemisphere, Happy First Day of Winter!

As I write this, I am exactly 12 hours away from sitting on the plane as it prepares for take-off. Destination: The United States of America. I would be lying if I told you that I am not a complete roller coaster of emotions right now. My stomach is in complete knots with pre-departure travel jitters, but it is also so much more than that. I have known since I booked my tickets to South America last spring that today, December 21, 2013, would be the day that I leave South America. Even as I sit here with my bags packed, my passport ready, and all my South American goals checked off my list, I cannot comprehend that I am actually about to leave. These past five months have been absolutely incredible. I cannot believe that my countdown has gone from months to weeks to days to now just hours.

I am also having trouble conceptualizing the fact that I will be back in the U.S. tomorrow morning. I feel (and am) so very far away right now, but the reality is that I will be back in a short, 8-hour overnight flight. That will certainly be a shock to the system. Along with the fact that it will be winter. Hopefully the tan that I perfected on the Pacific beaches of Lima and in the Andean jungle near Cusco these past few weeks will hold me over for a while!

Even though an 8-hour flight seems short to me (especially after all the 20-30+ hour busses I have been taking across this continent these past few months), it will certainly give me a sufficient amount of time to think about my time here and to reflect on it all. Don’t worry, then, as this won’t be my final blog post. Andi isn’t done taking on the Andes just yet. I have just a few hours left in Latin America, so I am off to walk around and enjoy all that I can on this beautiful summer day!

(P.S. Sorry not sorry for the barrage of blog posts all of a sudden. I just have to even out my two-week hiatus!)

Oda a las llamas

Oda a las Llamas

Por Megan “Megatron” Walsh

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To start off, I’m Megan, one of Andi’s new friends from Argentina. I go to Colby College in Maine, the rival of Bowdoin. Our friendship first bloomed when we formed a truce and decided to no longer be enemies. We have just spent 2 weeks together in the magical country of Peru. All of my life I have had a deep profound love for llamas. When we first laid our eyes on a llama in Cusco, I actually cried out of joy, I am not kidding. Here is a poem I have written to express my love for these majestic creatures.

 

Que lindas son las llamas

Nunca quieren causar drama

Solo les gusta ser magníficas.

 

Machu Picchu es su tierra

El cielo azul y las grandes cierras

Tanta belleza que me hace llorar.

 

Llamas con pelo blanco y suave

Muestran la cultura Inca como una llave

Siempre tendré amor para estos animales.

 

Si pudiera ser una llama

Nunca volvería a mi cama

Solo viviría en este país mágico de Perú.

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The Bucket List

When I was 12 years old, I made a bucket list of all the things I would like to do in my lifetime. The very first item on the old piece of notepad paper is “Go to Machu Picchu.” I can hardly believe it still, but I can now officially cross that item off the list.

Machu Picchu was basically a three-day excursion for Megan and I. There are only a few ways to get to Machu Picchu. The most common are to either take the train or pay to do a several day guided trek on the Incan trail. Due to costs and a desire for adventure, Megan and I opted to do neither of those. Instead, we took a slightly alternative route.

It began at 6 am on Sunday morning when we left our hostel/juice bar in Cusco. Along with 2 girls we met from Switzerland, we located a combi (the bus/mini-van thing I mentioned in the previous post) to the town of Ollataytambo, which is about an hour and a half away. It was quite the excitement that early in the morning to approach a van with about 6 people standing outside of it yelling where it was going and yelling at us to get in. It was much less sketchy than it sounds, I promise. Once in Ollataytambo, we located another combi to take us 40 minutes on a dirt road to Piscocucho. The combis are funny in that they don’t have a schedule or anything. They are privately-owned vans and they leave once it is full. Once we arrived in Piscocucho, we took a short break to eat some food and wake up from our morning of alternative traveling, and then we walked.

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And we walked. And we walked. For 8 hours and 28 kilometers  (a little over 17 miles). The best part? We walked along the train tracks. Yep, we beat the system of taking either the train or the Inca trail by making our own trail and following the train tracks to the town of Aguas Calientes/ Machu Picchu Pueblo. It was definitely a long and treacherous day walking on uneven ground, over sharp stones, and through tunnels and over train trestles, but it was totally worth it. The views were spectacular, and we stopped and explored ruins all along the way.

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Once we finally arrived in Aguas Calientes that evening as the sun began to set, we located the friend of our the owner of our hostel in Cusco who set us up in an underground hostel of sorts for the night. It wasn’t the best since we didn’t have pillows and our sheets were eternally wet from the lack of window pane to protect us from the raging river just outside, but it sufficed.

The next day, we planned to wake up at 4:30 am in order to be among the first to arrive at the top of Machu Picchu when the gates opened at 6 am in order to see the sunrise. Unfortunately, my alarm was on silent so we slept until 5. Undeterred, we set off into the morning fog. In my rush and excitement, I didn’t pay well enough attention to where the trail was, so we ended up climbing a different mountain and wasting an hour and lots of precious energy before we were finally back on track. Oops.

At this point, we realized we had obviously missed the sunrise and wouldn’t be up there before 7 am, but we knew we would get there no matter what and that we had all day. We couldn’t see the sun anyway through the incredibly thick fog. The hike up to Machu Picchu was a strenuous one. We essentially climbed uneven stone stairs for an hour straight. I was dying, but poor Megan was a little sick. A stuffy nose mixed with low oxygen made breathing pretty darn tough. Eventually, though, we made it to the top! We spent a few minutes resting, eating some much-needed bananas and peanut butter that Megan’s parents sent her from the States (if you haven’t noticed, peanut butter seems to be a very important aspect of my survival here), and we jumped in the crowd of people entering the park.

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My first glimpse at Machu Picchu was an eerie one. The fog was thick as it slowly blew across the mountains that you could hardly see the towering mountains that I knew surrounded us. You could also barely see many of the ruins, and there was a strange silence as people moved like ghosts through it all. I felt like we were suspended over an abyss as I looked over the edge and could see only fog. Megan and I spent about an hour slowly and quietly exploring the ancient ruins of one of the New Seven Wonders of the World. We were both silently worried that the fog wouldn’t clear all day and that we would never get to see all of Machu Picchu. We started to see some blue sky, however, so we staked out a spot on a hill and waited. Patience prevailed and we watched the most spectacular scene of the fog clearing to finally reveal the incredible sight/site (ha, play on words) before us. I was awe-struck. Words cannot do justice to the feeling I felt as I looked down on what I have dreamed about for years. It was truly amazing.

 

....hello?

….hello?

 

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...And then we got in trouble for jumping. Oops.

…And then we got in trouble for jumping. Oops.

 

 

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Andi and E take on the Andes one more time Andi and E take on the Andes one more time

 

(Insert opening song from The Lion King here)

(Insert opening song from The Lion King here)

We spent some time taking photos and taking it all in before we spent several more hours exploring the area. After getting sufficiently sunburned while lying out in the sun and talking to some people we met, we began our long descent down. We finally came back to the city completely exhausted but very satisfied and accomplished.

We made some new friends. This sweet girl followed us almost all the way down.

We made some new friends. This sweet girl followed us almost all the way down.

Our exhaustion, body pain and lack of sufficient nutrition mixed with Megan’s impending sickness made the thought of walking such a long way back tomorrow daunting and terrifying. We ended up caving and buying train tickets to take us back to Ollataytambo, which I am glad we did. We were both zombies and still had to get all the way back to Cusco that night. We spent some time exploring Ollataytambo and its surrounding ruins. The ruins there were cut into perfect blocks. It completely blows my mind how the Incans were able to not only cut those pieces, but also haul them up giant hills and build amazing constructions. My theory is that it was actually aliens, but that’s just me.

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We also discovered GIANT AVOCADOS which were incredible

We also discovered GIANT AVOCADOS which were incredible

To get back, we took a short combi to the town of Urubama and then another one to Cusco. We had an early dinner and willed ourselves to stay up until at least 8:30 pm so that we could sleep the entire night. In addition to being exhausted, we were both starry-eyed with complete wonder and awe at what had transpired the past few days. We had used busses, trains and our bodies as transportation and saw something that most people can only dream about seeing. It was an once-in-a-lifetime experience that I am eternally grateful to have had and that I know I won’t forget any time soon.

 

Megan found a friend too.

Megan found a friend too.

In addition to being a large life goal achieved, Machu Picchu also represented something more for us. We had been talking about Peru and Machu Picchu the entire semester, and we knew it was the kind of ending, capstone event to our time in South America. As we literally and figuratively came down from Machu Picchu, we were plagued with all sorts of thoughts about our time here and how it is now over. We have done everything we set out to do, and now it is time to move on. There are certainly worse ways to end a trip, and I am so glad to have been granted this amazing opportunity. I am also so grateful to have had one of the best traveling companions I could have ever asked for. Thanks for being the absolute BEST, Megan! :)

Pink and black

Pink and black and the best of traveling partners

Andi’s Bucket List

  1. 1.       Go to Machu Picchu.   

Check.

Peru!

When I was deciding to study abroad, I was torn for months over whether I wanted to go to Argentina or Peru. In the end, Argentina obviously prevailed. I figured, however, that maybe I could have both. So I planned a two-week excursion to Peru on my way home. In early September, my friend, Megan, jumped on board with me. Peru has been the culminating even for our study abroad experience for so long that I can hardly believe that it is now over. I can honestly say that these past two weeks in Peru have been some of the most amazing of my entire time in South America. I have fallen in love with this country and its beautiful landscape, rich culture, delicious (and cheap!) food, and amazing people. I am already getting overwhelmed thinking about all that we did and saw during our time here as I try to relay it all to you. I will do my best to capture everything I can!

After bidding goodbye to our dear Argentina, Megan and I arrived in Peru late on the night of the 8th. We ditched our large bags and suitcases at our hostel near the airport and headed off into the city of Lima, geared with only small (especially small in my case) backpacks for the next two weeks of traveling. We spent a few days exploring the city of Lima. We walked through the busy city streets, spent hours laying on the rocky beach listening to the waves crash against the shore, and ate as much delicious food as we could on a strict budget. (On a side note to this story, Megan and I both came into this trip on the very tail end of our bank accounts after 4 and a half months of being abroad. That made for some interesting adventures as we mastered the budgeting and cheap-living lifestyle, as you will see.) A true highlight of Lima, though, was getting the chance to see my dear Bowdoin friend, Michelle, who spent her semester abroad in Lima.

Our entire lives for 2 weeks, neatly condensed into small backpacks!

Our entire lives for 2 weeks, neatly condensed into small backpacks!

 

Happy December!

Happy December!

 

DSCN0819DSCN0835DSCN0837DSCN0849DSCN0850DSCN0825DSCN0826On Wednesday afternoon, we boarded a bus for our final long, South American bus ride. Destination: Cusco. Our theme song for our time in Peru was “22” by Taylor Swift. At just about any given moment, you could find Megan singing it, only she had replaced some of the lyrics to things such as, “I don’t know about you, but I think we’re in Peru,” which definitely kept things entertaining. For those of you who aren’t familiar with this lovely piece of musical art by the one and only T-Swift, there is a lyric that goes: “it’s miserable and magical at the same time.” That lyric became our theme of the 21-hour bus ride through Peru.

You see, I unfortunately woke up at about midnight on the bus feeling a little woozy. The first few hours of the bus were pretty simple as we drove along the coast for a while and then into the desert. After a while, though, we began to enter the jungle-like Andes. It was incredibly beautiful and magical. It was also full of twists and turns and hills. Imagine driving through Hoback Canyon between Pinedale and Jackson Hole for 16 hours or so. The miserable part, unfortunately, was that I found myself feeling sick basically the entire ride until I finally emptied my stomach contents at about 11 am the next day. The windy, mountainous road and questionable bus food didn’t mix too well. Is an image of my puking too much information? Perhaps.

A little bit scary at times, but beautiful nonetheless

A little bit scary at times, but beautiful nonetheless

Anyway, we finally got into Cusco in the early afternoon on Thursday. We found ourselves a hostel and spent the next few days exploring the city that was once the seat of the mighty Incan empire. We ended up staying in a “hostel” located in the basement of a juice bar. It was more like a handful of bunk beds in the basement with shared outdoor space and bathrooms with other, local families, but it was great. It was recommended to me by a friend I met while CouchSurfing in Patagonia. The best part is that it only cost 10 soles (about $3.50), so we had no complaints! The city and the surrounding area are full of really neat sights, sounds and smells. There are all sorts of Incan ruins alongside Spanish-conquest cathedrals and cobblestone streets. There is a very obvious indigenous culture still alive and thriving in Peru, which is quite different from Europeanized-Argentina. It was so neat to see things such as women in traditional dress carrying babies on their backs with colorful, shawl-like cloths or children walking alongside the road with their chickens or goats in the midst of people walking on their cell phones or driving by in their cars.

1 sole street empanadas mmm

1 sole street empanadas mmm

 

I don't even care that I got suckered into paying to take a photo of this little girl and her goat. It doesn't get much cuter than this!

I don’t even care that I got suckered into paying to take a photo of this little girl and her goat. It doesn’t get much cuter than this!

Plaza de Armas, Cusco

Plaza de Armas, Cusco

 

Exploring nearby ruins, Sacsayhuaman (pronounced like "sexy woman")

Exploring nearby ruins, Sacsayhuaman (pronounced like “sexy woman”)

We took a brief hiatus in our time in Cusco to finally go to the famous Machu Picchu. (It is getting its own post.) We spent a few more days exploring Cusco when we got back before flying back to Lima on Thursday. (Amen for no more busses!) Since Megan and I were now both literally broke by this point (on a side note, I think my spare cash was stolen from my suitcase during one of my past two flights which SUCKS), we planned to spend our final time just hanging out in our remote hostel near the airport. Luck was on our side, though, as yesterday we met a friendly fellow American, Derek, who offered to buy us lunch in the city if we could show him places and translate for him since he doesn’t speak Spanish. We jumped on the opportunity and ended up having a lovely final adventure in the city. (And lunch for the three of us only cost 6 soles!) My favorite part was taking the combis to get to and from the city. These combis are essentially a cross between a bus and mini-van. One person will hang out the door and call out the direction or location the bus is going, and if that is the one you need you holler and jump right in. And it only cost us about 3 soles round-trip, whereas a taxi would have been about 100! I loved getting to see some more of Peru through the window and to navigate a large, South American city like a local. The really neat thing for me, though, was reflecting on the fact that there was no way I could have done that when I arrived in South America 5 months ago. My Spanish skills and confidence continue to amaze me every day as I accomplish tasks that would have previously been terrifying and nearly-impossible to me.

It is now Saturday afternoon, and it is pretty quiet in the hostel. Megan left last night due to some scheduling differences, so I am flying solo once again. I have less than a day now before I literally fly solo back to the U.S. I am spending my day doing some re-situating of my suitcases and catching up on minor things. I will probably eat the banana I stole from breakfast in a little while and then my leftover pasta for dinner. Megan and I have spent the past 2 weeks operating on a 15-sole per day food budget (about $5). The water isn’t safe to drink here, so we have been using some of my camping water filtration tablets the past few days since bottled water was beginning to exceed our budget. As much as I love eating bread and drinking iodine, I am definitely ready to be back to real ranch food and real, drinkable mountain water.  

Despite the small struggles of this trip, it has been beyond amazing. Our “struggles” (mostly financial) were still relative in the larger image of things, and Megan and I laughed and joked about it every day. It may have limited some of our options to do things during all of our time here, but I am almost glad that it did. As a result, we got to know places extremely well and became quite crafty in finding the most economical ways in which to do things. It definitely made this experience a unique and fun one. I would spend my life savings on experiences like the ones I have had here any day. Besides, it will certainly make all that upcoming Christmas food even better! :)

One last hoorah in Lima

One last hoorah in Lima

 

Don’t cry for me, Argentina

Don’t cry for me, Argentina

 

For those of you who have never seen the opera Evita (the one starring Madonna) or don’t get the reference (and actually for those who do get the reference), please listen to this song as you read this blog post: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4Spy3Nd2D6w&list=RDk2eMHqS7lTU

 

As I write this, I am literally in my final moments in the amazing country of Argentina. I am sitting in the Buenos Aires airport, looking out on the incoming rain clouds over the city. I am sitting with my friend Megan as we await our flight to Lima, Peru. Even though I am here at the airport, I still don’t feel like I am about to leave this country that I have called my home for the past four and a half months. I already feel so far away from the home I left in Mendoza two weeks ago, and I am afraid to feel that way when I return to Wyoming in two weeks from today. The drive to the airport with my friend, Jeanette, today was mostly silent as we stared out the window and thought about our time here. I wish so badly that I could try and describe how I feel right now to you all, but the truth is that I can’t even conceptualize it myself. I am also minutes away from boarding and only have a few minutes of battery remaining on my computer. Argentina will always hold a special place in my heart. It has been amazing. Don’t cry for me, Argentina. The truth is I have never left you. And you will never leave me. But for now, another adventure waits. See you in a few hours, Peru!

Alone but never lonely

Hola from Buenos Aires, Argentina! Since I last posted in Bariloche, I have had what I would easily call the best week of my entire experience here. Let me give you a synopsis.

On Friday morning, I headed out on a 29-hour bus excursion south to El Calafate, in Southern Patagonia. I spent just a short night there before jet-setting to El Chaltén for the remainder of the week. El Chalten is a small village of 1,000 permanent residents. It is home to the famous Fitz Roy mountain and is the trekking capital of Argentina. I could go on for days about the beauty of this place, but I will let the photos do the speaking for me. I spent each day hiking as much as was physically possible. One day, I even pounded out about 30 km over the course of 10 hours. My body didn’t like that one too much. Every day was more beautiful than the previous one, and it was truly amazing to say the very least.

They have these guys all over the town

They have these guys all over the town

 

That awesome moment when I am using Patagonia gear while in Patagonia

That awesome moment when I am using Patagonia gear while in Patagonia

 

The famous Fitz Roy!

The famous Fitz Roy!

 

Wyoming representin'

Wyoming representin’

 

DSCN0724DSCN0758DSCN0606On my last day before flying to Buenos Aires today, I visited El Calafate and the famous Perito Moreno Glacier. At 5km wide, 14km long, and 50-60 meters high, it is a pretty darn impressive hunk of ice I must say. It is one of only a few advancing glaciers in the world. It was incredible to just sit and listen to the ice groan and crack. It was especially neat to see giant hunks of ice calve off and fall into the water, causing large tidal waves to splash up.

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An added bonus was that I happened to run into the lovely Miss Kaylee! Bowdoin just has a way of popping up everywhere!

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The true highlight of this past week of solo-traveling, however, was the people I met. As the title of this post states, I was alone but I was never once lonely. Every single day, I met someone new from all over the world. I met so many incredible and inspiring people. Throughout the week, I Couch Surfed with the most amazing family ever. Mario and Flor are both 40 years old and have three boys, Tadeo, Francisco and Fernando.  They also have a cat, Reisch (sp?), who last year somehow managed to cut her stomach with a piece of roofing. No worries, though, as Mario sewed her up on the kitchen table with some fishing line. She now is just slightly different shaped around the middle. I don’t think I have ever laughed harder than when Mario was recounting that story to me. They live in a very small and humble house. The walls are insulated with old milk cartons and you have to dump a bucket of water in the toilet for it to flush. The house was bursting with love and happiness, however. I was there along with six other Couch Surfers from France, Columbia, Texas, and Brazil. They all slept in tents in the yard while I shared a bunk bed with one of the boys, as I don’t have my tent down here. Staying with this family was so much better than any hostel. Each night, someone would cook for everyone else, and each day I felt like I was coming home to friends and family. The shared language among us all was Spanish, so that is of course what we spoke. It was so neat to have a shared language that wasn’t everyone’s first language.

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We roasted an entire goat one night! Que rico!

We roasted an entire goat one night! Que rico!

Playing cards our last night together before I left

Playing cards our last night together before I left

 

Even though we were all in the same place, everyone I met had a different story to tell. Let me share a few of those with you:

My two French friends (I can’t remember their names. Actually I didn’t ever really know them since I didn’t understand when they told me and didn’t want to ask again.): I met these two on the bus from Bariloche to El Calafate. They are traveling around South America for a year, working in exchange for food or a place to stay for the night.

Aaron: From Australia. Studied last semester in Canada and is now taking a semester off to travel South America for 9 months. Met on the trail one day.

My Israeli pal (also forgot his name, oops): Finished up his 3 years of obligatory military service so is now traveling for 6 months. Also met hiking one day. I actually met a TON of Israelis who were on their post-military service travels.

Demetrio: One of my fellow Couch Surfers. From Texas. 31 years old. Has been in South America for 15 months and now finally feels ready to go back to the U.S. and begin focusing on the study of meditation. Has also spent significant amounts of time in places such as Italy and Japan.

Thiago: 25, from Brazil. Currently working his way to Alaska via bicycle. He works odd jobs along the way and hopes to get there in about two or two and a half years. Also studied abroad in high school in Hawaii for a year.

Simon and Lucy: French couple. They “have time but no money,” but they would rather have that than the reverse of no time but lots of money, so they are traveling South America for as long as they can (7 months or so) by working here and there and hitch-hiking.

Lisa: 31, from California. Recently had a life revelation with the death of her father and realized she needed to see the world. So she quit her job and has been traveling the Southern Hemisphere for several months now. She was in Africa before, has spent a few months here in South America, and is heading to New Zealand in a few weeks.

Andrea, Alec, and Marchin: From Argentina, France, and Poland, respectively. I met these three goons hiking one day. I was walking by and they told me that it was safer to stay together since the trail wasn’t well marked, so they invited me to walk with them. The next sentence out of their mouths was instructions for me to get into the photos they were taking because “you are only in Patagonia once.” It was a total riot spending the afternoon with these three. (They had also all randomly met. Mostly because Alec forgot his camera that day so was finding people to mooch off to use theirs.)

Andrea y Andrea!

Andrea y Andrea!

 

"Take another picture of me" (in a French accent)- Alec

“Take another picture of me” (in a French accent)- Alec

And that is just a few of the many people I met this past week. I was so impressed and inspired by each and every one of them. I very rarely met travelers from the United States, and I have come to realize that very few people from the U.S. actually travel that extensively and definitely not for such long periods of time and in such ways (hitch-hiking, etc.). I feel like most people in the U.S. are afraid to step of the path we are expected to follow (college, job, etc) to just spend several months or a year traveling. It was incredibly interesting to hear so many stories of so many different people. I am here for five months, but I now feel like that isn’t so long after all!

Anyway, I could go on for days about that, but I need to jet. I am meeting up with some Bowdoin gals for dinner. Tonight is my last night in Argentina. I absolutely cannot believe it. This time tomorrow, I will be in Peru! Ah! And in just over two weeks, I will be home in Wyoming. Double ah! Stay tuned for more adventures. I’m not done taking on the Andes just yet!

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