The three month benchmark is in two days.
These days I catch myself thinking of familiar things often: home, the smiles of my family, back-roads that would be currently surrounded by fall colors, and decent cheese.
It is comforting to know that these things (and more) will be waiting for me when I return to the North, but until then, I have been, and will continue to, indulge in the small things here in the South. The small things bring a shy smile to my face. They unlock memories, which have been tucked away in my brain, reinforcing a type of appreciation and respect that I have for life back home. Providing me with small doses of sanity, security, and reminders of home, the following small things balance my travelers mentality of “keep going” and give me encouragement to keep putting on my backpack, to keep looking at the map, and to keep exploring. Beds I feel as though this one is not surprising but having a comfortable place to crash for the night is something that I have learned to truly appreciate. At home I don’t have to worry about the comfort and cleanliness of my bed or if it is is bedbug free. That is not the case here. I don’t usually spend more than two nights in one area and this has resulted in a constant pick-up-and-go lifestyle. I can never get too comfortable in one place. I rarely unpack my backpack fully and I often wear the same clothes for a few days straight. Hence, the sense of “home” is missing as I am a visitor in every place where I spend the night. Some nights are spent (quite uncomfortably) on a bus, and I often find myself dreading this. I make sure I have everything I could need (toothbrush, toilet paper, headphones, etc.) in my smaller backpack because my big pack goes in the luggage containers under the bus and once it's under there, I won’t see it for hours. I spend a good portion of the night trying to get comfortable on the bus seat (usually to no avail) and the best I can achieve is a few intermittent hours of light sleep. So, when I come across the little things in hostels - soap in the bathroom, towels for the shower, thick wool blankets, a mattress that isn’t as hard as a rock - I smile and know that even though I’m exhausted and that the next day will be a new town, a new hostel, a new bed, that I can rest easy and pretend that, just for a night, I am somewhere more familiar instead of the unknown. Small towns Filandia. Salento. Ipiales. Baños. Máncora. Pisco. Ollantaytambo. Chivay. Castor. Cucao. El Chaltén.
These are a few of the many small towns that I have passed through. Máncora is a dusty
collection of tin-roofed houses in northern Peru, surrounded by palm trees, with a gorgeous view of the Pacific Ocean. Salento is nestled in the heart of the Colombian coffee region. It was here that my friends and I rented bikes for $5 and went on a wild adventure which included banana farms, peaceful views of the sunset, and a Jeep ride back to town. El Chaltén is at the base of Mount Fitz Roy, who's sharp peaks cast long shadows over the unpaved roads and tiny houses. Cucao is situated on the Pacific coast of Chiloé Island which hugs the Chilean coast. Bordered by vast pine forests on one end, the wild Pacific on the other, and with only one as a means of ingress and egress, Cucao was one of the most remote places I’ve ever been to. I felt isolated from the rest of the world as I walked along an empty rocky beach inhabited by wild horses and cows grazing on the sea grass. The wind bit me through my jacket and the only noises were from my footsteps crunching on the rocks below me and the layers of waves crashing before me. At these places, I have found myself to be more at ease. To listen to the noise and absorb the anxiety-inducing atmosphere of larger cities - like Santiago, Lima, and Quito - was a great experience, but I much prefer these small towns. They remind me of my hometown, nestled in northern New York, and it brings a sort of comfort to my heart to find parallels between the towns down here and my town up there. On more than one occasion I find myself wandering the streets finding the hidden gems of the town. Whether it’s a cozy cafe, a library from the 1800s, an antique shop, or a viewpoint, each discovery is an experience I treasure and I believe that it is these moments that contribute to making this trip so worthwhile.
Coffee I love coffee. You may think that maybe I’d be having a great time with coffee down here because coffee is a major crop in countries like Colombia and Brazil but you’d be surprised. I learned in Colombia that most of the “good” coffee is exported out of the country to other countries (like the United States) and as a result, local consumers are left with the second-best. More often than not, I drink tea in the morning and sometimes in the afternoon. Instant coffee I have found to be very popular amongst hostel breakfasts, but let’s be honest here, instant coffee is just not good. To combat my lack of daily caffeine intake, my travel companion (who loves coffee very much too) and I now try and find a cafe in almost every place we go to. It's become a sort of adventure game with us, a type of hide-and-seek perhaps, and we both feel very satisfied when we find that occasional cafe that does, indeed, know how to make a decent cup of coffee. It's become such a norm for us that we started to take pictures of every coffee we’ve had. Below are a few of the shots. This may seem like a trivial or insignificant action, finding a coffee, but to us it’s become a reminder of what to be thankful for, and it provides more happiness than you might expect when we are successful with our seeking.
Rain For almost over two months we didn't experience one day of rain. I’m not talking of passing showers but rather of a steady full day of rain. Some people may rejoice at this but not me. I love the rain. Of course, on days that I was hiking or doing some sort of outdoor activity, sunshine was very much welcome. But, I would find myself often checking the weather, anxiously awaiting the next day in which I’d wake up to the sound of rain hitting the roof. I remember distinctly when my wish finally came true. Around 10 o’clock at night in Rurrenabaque, Bolivia. I was laying in a hammock outside in the hostel courtyard when suddenly, BOOM, a flash of lighting following crack of thunder and the sky opened up. I was under a pavilion, so I didn’t get soaked, but I sat watching the rain splatter the courtyard, drenching everything which wasn’t covered. The lightning flashed and the thunder got louder and I thought back to a time when I was much younger. When I would watch thunderstorms with my younger brother. We’d steal pillows and blankets from the living room and then, nestled in our spoils, we would stare out of the backyard screen door and watch as the backyard would light up with every lighting flash.
A few weeks later I was in the south of Chile, exploring Chiloé Island, and two out of the three days I was greeted with rain in the morning. I would lay in my bed listening and feel comforted as I knew the day ahead of me would consist of puddles, the reflections of light on the pavement, and the sound of raindrops. Rainy days have been something I truly appreciate as they are few and far between and it makes me look forward to the wet Fall days that exist in the future back home.
Cats I also love cats. To some, they are not the first choice of pet but I am not one of those people. I have two cats at home and I have to say I miss them dearly. To my delight, there have been numerous instances where I have been able to interact with felines. Peruvian cats. Bolivian cats. Chilean cats. Doesn’t matter the country or where I am, I am always very happy to see a cat. In Lima, Peru, I was ecstatic to learn about and visit Kennedy Park, which is the local cat park. No one knows exactly where they all came from, but some sixty cats live there. Locals bring food and water so they are taken care of. For a half hour I pranced around the park paths (with my travel companions in tow) stopping at every curled up kitty I could find to give them them a scratch behind the ears. Finding these four-legged friends always puts a smile on my face and they make the weight of my backpack seem a little less heavy. Below are some of the many feline friends I have made during my travels.
So there are some of the small things.They may seem trivial or irrelevant to you, but they are something quite different to me. With each little thing - the memories they invoke, the sense of home or happiness they bring - I am able to keep putting one foot in front of the other and explore what is yet to be explored in this beautiful place that is South America.