I was twenty-two when I went on my first big adventure. Fresh out of college, I set out on a six-month solo journey across the South American continent. It was the journey after which I understood that the truest way to learn about life and my place in it was to experience it. To strip myself of all that felt safe, and just go for it. But this adventure of paramount importance that created such a rich and permanent change in me almost didn’t happen.
I had just completed a semester abroad in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and was one assignment short of my Bachelor’s Degree. After spending the last few months studying Latin American history, literature, and Spanish I hadn’t experienced anything profoundly enriching. I still went to Starbucks for my morning coffee. I made small talk with my neighbors and the guys at California Burrito down the street. School was school and living in such a big city made me feel alone. I was looking forward to my flight home.
My semester was officially finished that November, and a friend from college happened to be in the city. In one short week I’d be on a plane back to Seattle, so Erika and I booked a bus to Las Cataratas de Iguazu in the Amazon Jungle, where Argentina borders Brazil and Paraguay.
We spent two nights and every bit of the days exploring the jungle in its glory. We were in the midst of a magical land of waterfalls, butterflies, and rainbows. Literally. Everywhere. There were toucans and coatis (think jungle raccoon). We took some drugs, and the colors exploded. The iguanas grew in size, while the monkeys seemed to be laughing at us. I never wanted to leave. Erika had begun her journey in Venezuela eight months before, and this was the end of it. But for me, she urged, it could be the beginning. I didn’t have much money, but I had enough for a few months, she said. So instead of booking a bus back to Buenos Aires we said our goodbyes and, spontaneously, I headed the opposite direction.
I had been in transit one night and part of a day when I reached Tupiza, Bolivia. I stopped off overnight in Salta, Argentina, where the evening was spent finalizing my undergrad thesis, while convincing myself I wasn’t crazy. But after two buses and a border crossing that had me scared shittless, I was regretting this incredibly ill-conceived notion that I could backpack across South America. Nerves kept me awake on the bus all night. And after crossing into Bolivia an odd baby was placed on my lap. So, I didn’t sleep then either. At the end I handed the baby to the woman I guessed was its mother, got off the bus, and watched as the metal heap sputtered, shot smoke, and rattled away. Once the exhaust cleared I felt the anxiety (and fatigue) that had been building turn to something else.
I heaved my too-heavy pack onto my back, and shuffled through my pocket to find an address I’d scribbled back in Salta. There was a woman selling pastries, “¿Cononces el calle Suipacha, uhh.. este, Hotel Mitru?” I asked. She knew and she pointed down a paved road toward the old colonial center. “Dos cuadras…derecho” I was able to pick up. I bought a pastry, thanked her, and set off walking. That marked the beginning of my solo travels. I’d made it to Bolivia, and at that moment against the staccato structures and dust-stirred street I was, for the first time, enlivened by the thrill of the unknown.
Have you ever made a spontaneous decision that completely changed your life?