During my three weeks in Indonesia in January, thoughts of South America consumed me. Maybe it was the humid air. Maybe it was the lush greenery. Or perhaps the friendly and welcoming people.
But whether I was inspired by all of these things or countless others, everyday I recalled vividly and in new ways the time I spent in another mysterious and magical region thousands of miles away; a region that holds the roads I walked over an incomparably rich period in my life.
They say we never forget our first time, and in my experience that maxim applies to more than just its colloquial uses for drugs and sex. For me at least, it applies to travel, as well.
Though my flight from San Francisco to Buenos Aires was not my first time out of the USA, it was my first step in the achievement of a dream that was older than I even realized until very recently: a dream to backpack around the world alone.
As my first step into that grand dream, its initial sensations will be etched into me forever.
SOME W’S OF TRAVEL, AND AN H
In this blog I try to reveal for readers some of my inner experience of traveling. Because let’s be honest, if you want to know the “where and when” of traveling, there are plenty of books, blogs, and websites for that.
If you want to know the “why” of traveling, there are more and less good places to read about that, too. I’ll be getting into my “Why” at some point.
“How” is a word that can move in many ways. Obviously everyone knows how to purchase a plane ticket, get on a plane, buckle a seatbelt, etc. So the mechanics of travel are largely sorted. (If you’re still not sure how to do some of those things, though, please click here.)
Alternatively, I could interpret “How” to mean “How much travel costs” (which I’ll get to), “How to travel with a carry-on only” (shameless plug), or “How to liquidate your life and really leave it all behind” (which I could write about if you’re curious).
But instead, as a writer, I think it’s more interesting to interpret “how” as “How it feels to travel.”
This is because when it comes our desires, I think in many cases what we really want is not the thing but the “how it feels” of having or doing the thing.
As an example, what percentage of people actually like jumping out of perfectly good airplanes just for the sake of jumping out of airplanes? Probably not too many.
What I think most people really want is the rush of adrenaline that comes with plummeting into Earth’s gravity well with only a backpack full of thin fabric and, occasionally, one more-or-less sane person between them and oblivion. (Sounds romantic, doesn’t it? Well, one guy even finds THAT boring.)
In the same way, I’ve met a lot of people who harbor a desire to travel like this, but who for many reasons can’t. Physical, familial, financial, emotional, or even dispositional. All valid.
But by writing about it, by sharing my inner experience openly, I hope to give those who want to travel some of the feeling of traveling, without the actual doing of it. To follow my (surprisingly appropriate) skydiving metaphor through, if I can describe the feelings of falling vividly enough, maybe you can vicariously jump out of the airplane with me.
Or, maybe someday you’ll be inspired to find out for yourself.
Of course, I also come to understand myself better in the process. As the joke goes, “How do I know what I think until I hear myself say it?” In that, I can give us both some of what I have. It just takes work to dig it out.
Fortunately, the work alone is worth it, which is one of the reasons why I love this blog so much. And why I am always so grateful to you for reading it.
THE FINAL W OF TRAVEL
A good part of “how” travel feels is contained in the final, unanswered question, “Who.” As in, the “Who” of travel.
After I departed from my beloved Medellin, Colombia in September, bound for Tokyo, Japan, and the beginning of my journey through Asia, I periodically meditated on every stage of my 6 month trip through 5 countries in South America – Argentina, Chilé, Peru, Colombia, and Ecuador – and the individuals I encountered there who affected me in ways big and small.
Then I compiled those names into a big list.
In reflection, I discovered a tapestry of souls whose presence, attention, affection, wisdom, compassion, kindness, and love touched my life, even if only for a second, a minute, or an evening. Though often it was far more. This is an aspect of travel that is impossible to photograph.
OK, well, actually it is possible to photograph because I’ll share some photos later. But no one picture tells the whole story, and if I were to share all the pictures, it would tell too much for the viewer.
But in reading the list, I hope it will become possible for you to get some sense of what travel feels like, not just in terms of the places seen and the events experienced and the memories created and the disasters averted and the flavors savored, but the humans encountered, the friends discovered, the bonds built, and the feelings deeply shared.
These people I name came from from all over the world, or sometimes only in the locations I visited. We had something to offer each other. For my part, I know I was immeasurably enriched.
And as someone who does not believe in coincidences and who does believe in reincarnation and past-lives, my heart sings gratefully at the notion of each of these meetings being in some way sequels to those that have come before, and prequels to what may someday be.
So I title this post “America Del Sur, Mi Corazon! Gracias Siempre” / “South America, My Heart! Thankyou Always!” because in addition to where I went and what I did, my time in South America stands apart because of who I did these things with. My memories are inseparable from the people I shared them with.
A QUICK NOTE
At the end of this post, I’ll share photos of some of these people I mention. Because I cannot show everyone and I don’t want anyone to feel slighted, I’ve chosen only to post pictures with 3 or more people, with just a couple exceptions. That seems as arbitrary a metric as I can make it so that no one feels rejected because I didn’t post a one-on-one photo of us, but I did someone else.
So if you’re reading this and we had a meaningful connection, and you don’t see a photo of us together, that doesn’t mean it wasn’t a meaningful connection to me. I hope the time we spent together speaks for itself.
And if by some strange happenstance you’re reading and you don’t see your name listed in print here, please don’t blame anything but distance, time, and my imperfect memory. Leave me a comment and I will add you with much apologies and humility. <3
MY UNDYING GRATITUDE GOES TO…
Julien my Buenos Aires Airbnb host – Faye y Jason, for beng friendly faces on arrival – Barnie, who I would meet again – DJ Nathan – Clare, my first travel friend, and Becc – the attendant on my bus to Bariloche who was so patient with me not knowing anything about, well, anything – Jesse, Ornella, Nico, Matthias Rules and everyone at Ruta 40 Bariloche, gracias! – los dos amigos, Gavo y Juanjo – Raquel M. – Nicolás y Andres – Eduardo (I still have your Joker card) – Noble Ben and all his Enviably Adequate Photons – Cassandre y Raphaël and the unforgettable cow – Afra my inspiring first travel partner… Chhholy shit! – Sebastian at Aylen Aike aka The Chalten Church of ROCK! – Rose y Jordi – Grant, Trent, Rainer, Emily, Caroline, Margeaux, La Naturaleza, and my Torres Del Paine “W” crew, may we all “find someone to laaaavaaaa” <3 – the good people at Erratic Rock Hostel – the girl at the hostel in Mendoza, Argentina whose name I forgot who first explained to me that I was the one I was looking for – mis hermanos Bernhard, Allen, Fred, and Caramel; Nicole, Ellen, Zack, Hannahboonadar, Caroline, and all the Time of Transition Retreat folk – Javier and the team at Chirapa Manta Ecolodge (aka Chapati Mantra!), and of course Caramel – Emily, for everything – Jane at Alpes Lima – Eric y Shane as they embarked on their adventure – “Disfruta” my cab driver in Medellin – Ben B for introducing me to the incredible Johnny and Maria, who changed my life with their love – my passionate Paisa guide on Real City Tours Medellín, for inviting me into Antioqueño culture with open arms – Yi a.k.a. Kim, my roommate who sat on my bed – Bambos for enduring my crazy spiritual talk 🙂 – Danielé Huachafuckinchina, Alessia, Loes y Jeroen, and DJ Eyal Mucho Caliente Fiesta!!! – the rockstar Maria Davíla \m/ – mi amiga maravillosa Tata <3 – nomads Stella and Alex – “Andrea” – Sebastian – Atish – Pablo, Miguel, and the crew at Baum Bogota – Ana (y Pepé!) and her career counseling – Dr. Tanya – Jamie. Always. – Andrew, Wendy, and the team at Atlantic – Uschiiiii! – Superbro Gary aka Hose, Lisa, Alec, Barry, Michael, Susan, Adelina, Ryu, Bona, Shomy, the Ayahuasca Monster, and my fellow pasajeros y pasajeras at the Temple of the Way of Light – Debs, Jason, Scott, Hosho y Luna, Maestros Sui y Romelo, Maestras Elena, Lila, y Lucinda and the entire TOWTOL staff – blessed Mama Ayahusca and all of Her friends – blessed Papa Mapacho – Vega – Chivi obviouslyyyyyyyy – my Red Overtone Skywalker brother Francisco, y Vanesa – Jacqueline – Paul & Sue at Hummingbird Retreat Peru– Charles K who brought me dinner when I was sick – Jason from Oz – Jess Si-Ika – blessed Papa Huachuma – Diego y Milagros and everyone at Sacred Valley Tribe – Rachel for encouraging a stranger on the street (me) to go – Gabe W and his bucket, brothers forever – Sarah for letting me crash her party – Kelian Linda graciaaaas! – Alicia and the Yepes family – Maria y Johnny y Tata tal vez – Claudia, mi niña y mi fox – Frederico y sus flores – Lina – Barbara y Marta – todos Los Carrillos locos! including my other girlfriend… and my enemy – Ladiega at Sailors N Mermaids Tattoo – Javier, the Cartagena Man of Mystery – Pablo and the crew at Ecuatraveling – the happy couple Jack & Jenny! – Loco John C and his tortuga – Sally, Trevor, and everyone aboard the good ship Monserrat – Alice P for a crazy bus ride to the hot springs! – Alejo, Daniella, Esteban, Julian, Andres, Genesis, Jeff and the incredible team at mi casa Maloka! – Yasid at Indelible Tattoo – David at Villa Modin – Club Colombia Negra, Guaro Guaro Guaro!, Fernet, Bomba Estéreo, Atleticó Nacional, Raoul, LA VIDA!!!!, and every unnamed traveler who shared a smile, a laugh, a drink, a meal, a bit of wisdom, a ride, a tour, Caramel, a quiet moment, or more.
As Claudia taught me, “Gratitude is the memory of the heart.” Because my heart carries so many memories, it is thus full of gratitude to each and every one of you.
Of course, there’s one person I have left to express my gratitude towards: myself. Will Spencer aka “The Lost Pilgrim” aka “Willie” aka “Lindo” aka “Sexy White Chocolate.” For making it. For letting the moment open me, even when I was tired, afraid, and alone. For staying true to who I am, at times when I thought I had nothing left to give. And for every exhausted, courageous, curious, confused, and wandering step that led me to all of the above, and more than I can ever name.
In closing, those who have read this blog may remember this photo:
To get a sense of what South America means to me, this was one of the last photos taken of me, on the island of San Andres, Colombia, days before I left for Asia.
I think it says much about the man who arrived, and the man who left this wonderful, beautiful, unforgettable continent.