Reflections – two months in

Posted by on Mar 30, 2013

Reflections – two months in

It’s been two months now, of traveling, and I’m now in Buenos Aires where I will commence what I envisage to be a trip north to visit Iguazu and then make my way up to Bolivia, Peru …. and here my sketch runs out.

I had hoped to go to the Torres del Paine national park way to the south of Patagonia and la Tierra del Fuego but will not be going this summer – late march is too late and for the expense of getting and staying there, it becomes increasingly less likely that the weather will be clement. I don’t have cold weather gear either. I will leave that for next summer, after uni has finished for the semester I may have the opportunity to head south.

I arrived here with a head full of ideas of what to do, what I expected etc. I haven’t really reflected on what has passed.

Being dumped in a dusty and hot Santiago airport with everything I owned on my back was the lull after the excitement of planning the trip. I’d arrived, everyone had wished me well and they are all sure I will have a great time. I had been psychologically invested in this moment a long time and now I was here – the same morning I left on minus one nights sleep. From there I had to start living that which I had been planning, and I’ll be honest, I was feeling all the misgivings and little insecurities of landing in a foreign place alone, with limited command of the language. Freedom like this can be interpreted two ways: lack of security and certainty, or presence of opportunity – because both are true.

Language. What was once an interest and a hobby was now an everyday necessity and reality. From day one, my hosts, very hospitable and accommodating, didn’t speak English. I know I had a reasonable grasp of Spanish before I arrived but nothing really prepares you for immersion. Most of what you learn at university, while informative and foundational, hardly resembles spoken Spanish, helping you only indirectly. As social beings, so much of who we are we express through the language. This becomes keenly apparent when you cannot express yourself to the extent you want. Speaking and interacting becomes a conscious task – everything that was before unconscious and effortless now becomes a new little challenge. This is on top of the barrage of new stimulus and information that comes with knowing a new place. The result is exhausting – if not consciously to begin with, it takes its toll. I have at times noticed an abiding tiredness. It does not fit the image of the happy traveler, but it is an undeniable reality. I don’t have to do much and I am still tired at the end of the day. Some days the language flows more easily than others – which can be maddening, and it all gets down to confidence. While I’m sure my speaking abilities have progressed, they are less noticeable to me than the fact of comprehension. I am aware that over the last two months my comprehension has grown in leaps and bounds and you first have to understand it before you can say it.

Outside of regular eating habits, the diet also becomes an issue – if I find myself snacking constantly, then it’s time to  buy, cook and eat something substantial to maintain this high intensity state of learning. Meeting new people is great and happens constantly, but also requires energy and presence. It is worth mentioning these aspects of my travels because they are undeniably present. They are there in the background as mild stress which accompanies this lifestyle. I am certain that after a period of time, one adjusts and learns to accommodate it more easily – the trick is to relax. It flies in the face of your natural instinct when you need to remain so conscious of everything but if you don’t relax, you don’t learn because you’re not open and you’re in the ‘insecurity’ camp instead of the ‘opportunity’ one.

Couchsurfing is a very different dynamic to hostels. I have spent all but one night in the last two months couchsurfing and it’s been amazing. The variety of people you meet is huge – and it isn’t just who you meet through couchsurfing. They also know people who you will meet, and, as happened to me in Bariloche, may also be my next host. I stayed a full week with distant friends of a host who I met through a traveling companion. Through couchsurfing, I learn a lot about the way of life of people, and most of the time I’m speaking Spanish. Any traveling companions I have are those I meet on the road and we may share one or more adventures together before going our separate ways. That said, I did stay one very awesome night in a hostel in El Bolsón – the place more closely resembled a B&B surrounded by tranquil grounds, a river, hammocks and every morning a breakfast of organic bread and jams with butter and coffee or tea etc. It was large and clean and awesome. Everyone who goes there raves about it. By comparison, everyone’s a traveler, sometimes there are these small groups, sometimes the atmosphere is more open, the predominant language is English and there are few local people.

From trekking in the mountains, refugio to refugio with a companion you met the day before and another you meet on the route, to a midnight game of ‘guess the title of the film by mime’ on the edges of a lake surround by mountains and large group ‘friends’ you don’t know, I find myself in a rapidly changing social whirlwind. The next day I find myself alone in a cafe, with my pack beside me, enjoying free wifi and something sweet, soon headed to some new destination with no one who misses me, and no one who expects me. I am once again my own agent. I was that foreign face in the daily lives of others, that young traveller that appeared and disappeared, reminding them of travels they had done, or of the travels they want to do.

Ya que estoy siempre mudándome, me da la oportunidad de espontaneidad – algo que me faltaba en la vida cotidiana. Un ejemplo – después de un ratito en Buenos Aires me di cuenta de que el dinero iba a ser un problema así que me fui – según el consejo de alguien – a Montevideo Uruguay para arreglar esto. No tenía couch en Montevideo y estaba preparado a quedarme una noche en un hostel cuando conocí a una chica en el autobús que nos llevó desde el puerto de Colonia de Sacramento a Montevideo. Ella me ofreció couch y aunque no pasó por falta de espacio en la casa, me mostró la ciudad de Montevideo –  como guía personal. Y me consiguió couch la próxima noche. Con ella, yo tenía otra vista de la ciudad que lo de turista porque, bueno, ella vive allá, tenía un auto, el conocimiento del lugar  y, sobre todo, el tiempo para darme una mano a conocer la ciudad, arreglar lo del dinero y encontrar los pasajes más baratos de vuelta a Buenos Aires. No se puede planear cosas así – no se puede. Tengo un buen recuerdo de Montevideo por eso.