Well, the year of travel is over. And it was absolutely awesome! So much so, that I’m avoiding “real life” for another year and heading off again! So more to come…
Here is where I ended up going over the past year:
Many people have asked me what has been my highlight from the year, which is always a tough one to answer.
As far as places go, most would expect me to say Antarctica. And, while Antarctica was truly incredible, what has stayed most keenly in heart is the 10-day Huayhuash Trek I did in Peru back in September (yes, I know the blog post only just came out – too many pictures to process!). I traveled with incredible people on both of these journeys, but I think the reason Huayhuash pips Antarctica is that I had to work for it. 10 days hiking above 4,200m, with a pass over 4,800m every day – that takes some doing, and delivers a significant sense of achievement at the end.
The other thing that Huayhuash had going for it, is that the only time my brain completely turns off is while I’m hiking. And trust me – that that point in my trip, I really needed to switch my brain off for a while! 10 days of not thinking about anything except my immediate surroundings was absolute bliss! And the scenery was amazing!
As far as the biggest positive surprise goes – El Salvador takes that one out hands down. I loved it there, as did all the people I traveled with. The El Salvadorean people know that their country has a reputation for being unsafe, and go out of their way to help you and ensure you have a great time. And oh the pupusas…..
As far as the biggest negative surprise – unfortunately, Cuba. The way everyone raves about it I probably went in with too high expectations – but most of the time I just felt like I was a walking money-bag. A couple of caveats with this – I suspect most people go on an organised trip and only stay in the “tourist triangle” – La Havana, Viñales, Trinidad, Varadero. This would give you a very different experience to the one I had during my first couple of weeks in particular – travelling independently in the eastern part of the island.
I can only speculate, but I have met several other people who where there either at the same time as me (and who I traveled with) or around the same time, who also ended up with the same opinion.
Apart from where you go and what you see/do, the other key aspect of traveling are the people that you meet. I strongly suspect that this is even more keenly felt by long-term travelers and, although I shared my journey with many, many wonderful people, the following have left a particularly strong mark:
Nicaragua: Pedro Torres, Keith Manyin, Caite Handschuh, Tom Rendulich, Sven and Caroline Hansen, Sekar Bala
El Salvador: Andre (did I ever know your last name Andre?), Susan Jung
Guatemala: Susan Jung, Julia Koch
Cuba: Wendy Moors, Rebekka Wessels
Ecuador: Jenny Waack
Peru: Max Abé, Niccoló Quattropani, Jenny Waack, Rebekka Wessels
Bolivia: Jenny Waack, Kimberley Carter
Chile: My old ESO buddies, Jenny Waack
Antarctica: Tyson Brooks, Carl Enfohrs, Remco Verstappen
And a very special thank you has to go to Eliza Hernandez – the most awesome spanish teacher ever! I am infinitely grateful to have had Eliza as my grammar teacher over the total of 3 months I spent at La Mariposa Spanish School both this trip and on my previous visit. It is largely thanks to her that my Spanish is almost fluent!
What did I discover?
The other thing that people often ask about when they find out I’ve been travelling for a year is “what did you learn by doing it” and/or “how has it changed you”? Well, it’s not like I specifically set out to learn anything (apart from improving my Spanish), though I did have a few periods of pretty intense reflection of what I wanted out of life.
So here’s some non-exhaustive dot point musings about travel from the last year:
- it makes you live more in the moment. I was not really worried about the future and what I needed to do/should do next. Well, right up until the point where I had to decide whether I would return to my job or not…
- it allows you to relax and encourages you to take time to do nothing. Though somehow the days are incredibly full and I have no idea how I managed to fit a full-time job in previously!
- it gives you the opportunity to meet lots of new and (sometimes) interesting people, and have different conversations to what you would normally have
- it highlights how little you actually know about the world, and that you should ask more questions, always!
- it really cuts through the rubbish and highlights how similar we all are, no matter where we come from
- it teaches you patience and resilience. Fortunatley I already had a good amount of both, having lived in Latin America previously
- it forces you to live simply. You cannot fit very much in a 60L bag, and I’m here to tell you that you really don’t need many material possessions to have an incredible life
- it doesn’t change the fact that Australia is home and always will be (no matter how much I love Latin America). If anything, I become more patriotic (but hopefully not in an obnoxious way) when I travel. It also showed me just how little I knew about certain aspects of my own country (e.g. politics)
- it makes you really appreciate the luxuries we enjoy in our everyday, first-world lives. Clean drinking water, hot showers with plenty of water pressure, the huge variety of fresh and cooked food in Australia, being able to buy a truly cold coke on a hot day from the service station or supermarket…
And what do I want out of life? Well, I’m still not quite sure I know. But I’ve always wanted to go back and live in Latin America again for a while, and that now factors into my plan for this coming year 🙂 Living in Ecuador (Chile is too expensive 🙁 ), doing freelance work for organisations back in Australia – it’s kind of one of the ideas Tim Ferriss puts forth in “The 4-hour Work Week”, though I’d had the idea before I read the book. If it all works out like I hope – it could make for a great life for a while!