To Bus or Not to Bus

Someone once told me that Colombia is the most biodiverse country in the world. While I can’t yet attest to that, for I’ve just arrived and done little but head to the nearest coffee shop, I can say that I’m enjoying myself here. 

Earlier today I arrived in Colombia’s capital, Bogotá. As usual, I did my research before leaving my departure city to determine the transit options from the airport to my hostel. And as usual, I contemplated taking the more expensive yet more efficient and comfortable mode of transportation, a taxi, versus the much cheaper but significantly less efficient, less comfortable, and more dangerous bus ride. I contemplated it long and hard. I thought to myself, I’m at the end of my trip, and as Tom Haverford in Parks and Rec likes to say, Treat Yo’self. 

Did I treat myself? Of course not. Instead, I found myself leaning up against my backpack as I waited (and waited entirely too long to merit the money I saved by not taking a taxi) for the bus to show up. As it finally skidded around the corner, my exasperation was quickly suppressed by an entirely new emotion as I realized I best start requesting from the Holy Spirit some protection. 

Brave, full of faith, or dumb? I’m not sure. Whatever the case, I lumbered onto the bus with all my crap and hoped for the best. 

I’m sure my fellow passengers appreciated my backpack smacking them around as I jerked back and forth to the lull?–no, wrong word–to the jarring thrashes of the bus from side to side and front to back as we wove in and out of traffic missing–I don’t know how–cars, pedestrians,and buildings by mere centimeters. All too soon, I understood why the interior of the bus was padded even on the ceiling. 

I recount this journey not to sound dramatic but in an effort to express the adventure that these South American bus rides almost inevitably turn out providing. Such rides are a great way to determine who the catholics are (they’re crossing themselves), who the jaded are (they’re reading), and who the foreigners are (they’re doing some type of dance in an effort to stabilize themselves against the thrashing). They’re also a great way to gain some gratitud for your life. 

You too can have this experience for only thirty-three cents. 

Though I’m in no way a fan of this mode of transportation, these rides remind me of my trip as a whole. The last three months have been incredibly uncomfortable, long, and (somewhat) dangerous. When I wanted to get to a certain destination on my own timing and schedule, just like on a bus ride, there were always stops and unforeseen detours along the way. Sometimes, when I thought things were going in one direction, again just like on a bus, there came an abrupt turn, throwing everything off. But in the end, in the sixth country of the trip, after twelve weeks of traveling alone, after so much learning and exposure to new things, I’m thankful to have arrived, as has been the case with every last bus ride. 

I’m so thankful for the frights, discomforts, detours, and unknowns because they’ve pushed me to be more and more the person I desire to be. They’ve made me tougher, grown my faith, brought some clarity, and pointed out my weaknesses. This adventure invoked a lot of emotion. It required a ton of prayer, a lot of grit and determination, and meeting some really good people who are now good friends. There remain loads of experiences, thoughts, and emotions to process, but in the middle of all of that, I have a spirit of deep appreciation for all that I’ve been through. 

For the next eight days, I’m here in Bogotá doing what tourists do. I wish I could explore the natural side of Colombia, and thus verify the fact about its biodiversity, but I’ll be sticking to the city for motives of both time and money. Still, as I enjoy the capital, it’s nice to know I’ve reached the end of my trip. And for that, I DO plan to treat myself with a butt-load of coffee and chocolate before I leave. And also a taxi ride to the airport upon departure.


Note that all of the following fotos are from Quito, Ecuador. Those from Bogotá, Colombia to follow. Also please ignore the unfortunate formatting. 


Cusco to Quito

July 12th and just two weeks remain of my time here in South America. Currently, I’m in Quito, Ecuador, where I have a total of fifteen days. Fifteen days of relief. It’s a relief to be in a slightly warmer climate after Cusco, Peru, where my foot hurt a bit more intensely due to the cold. My injury combined with the lower temperatures limited my ability to do much in Cusco. In my latest city, I’m finding it a little easier to get out and about. 

Regarding Cusco, I’m not a huge fan. It was fun for maybe a day, but after that I found myself pretty irritated. Sure, there are more authentic parts of Cusco. But as a tourist, I stayed in the touristy part and felt like I was in a theme park the entire time. After a while (as in a few minutes), the marketing and borderline harassment get really old. During my stay, I just kept thinking that if I had wanted a massage or a taxi or a sweater made out of alpalca’s wool, I would have asked for it… no need to shove it in my face and incessantly pester me to buy it.

The highlight of my time in Cusco was, of course, the trip to Machu Picchu (read more here if you’re not already familiar with this UNESCO World Heritage Site). As previously mentioned, I had intended to do a four-day hike on the Inca Trail to reach the ruins. Instead, I ended up taking a different route involving some bus and train rides, which allowed for me to tour the Sacred Valley (more Incan ruins) before viewing Machu Picchu the following day. Just like Cusco, Machu Picchu has been taken over by tourism, which, in a way, soured the experience for me as a whole. At the same time, not even the commercial environment surrounding the site could take away from the wonder and awe I felt when I first took in the ancient city. Too, the view from the train through the valley after touring the ruins was unlike anything I had ever seen before and was by far one of my favorite parts of the excursion. 

Quickly after touring the ruins, I was on a plane from Cusco to Quito. What a blessing it was to find a hostel with a comfortable bed after three really early mornings and what felt like one-hundred hours of travel. Though not in the safest part of the city, the hostel has given me a fairly authentic experience, being located next to the central market and a short walk from the main plaza, which fronts the presidential palace.

The best part about Quito has been the fellow travelers I’ve met. I’ve really enjoyed all of our conversations and have learned a lot through them. As usual, I spend a lot of time at coffee shops, but I’ve also done several tours, one of the historical center and another of the presidential palace. While I’d like to do more hiking, I’ll have to save that for my next trip, when my foot feels better. 

My next and last stop will be Colombia. I’ve heard only good things about Ecuador’s northern neighbor and hope to dedicate more than just a week to it in the future. As far as this trip goes, in two weeks I’ll be ready to return home and take a break. I won’t lie, I’m very much looking forward to sleeping in my own bed. 

Please Excuse Me while I Cry

I had hoped to upload another post before now, but last week I cried too many tears to put down anything that made much sense. As I was passing through the halfway point of the trip, my emotions were high and my motivation to keep moving forward was very low. I was sick of living out of a backpack, tired of missing my boyfriend, family, and friends, miserable from the cold weather, and very much ready to just head home. 

Heavy and plentiful were my emotions, and heavy and plentiful they’ll continue to be. What made last week especially difficult, however, was my realization that I would have to cancel my trek to Machu Picchu. For too long I had been ignoring the stubborn pain in my foot that became increasingly aggravated after all of my walking to, from, around, and within all of the places I’ve visited this last month and a half.

Typically, I’m good to push through the pain, but in Santiago, after returning from Valparaíso, I finally admitted to myself that this time it wasn’t going to be worth it. Maybe I could have survived day one, but I knew that twenty-six miles through the mountains with three nights of camping would have been absolutely miserable and, in fact, a dumb decision for both my health and sanity.

Through tear-filled phone calls to my boyfriend and mother, I decided that I needed to change my plans. While I still get to see Machu Picchu by train, I’ll no longer be four days out on the Inca Trail. Rather, I’ll have a few extra days in Cusco to hang out and explore. Not all is lost, for sure. But, as you could imagine, it was hard to come to terms with the cancellation of what I had considered to be the pinnacle of this trip. I needed several good crying sessions and lots of consolation from loved ones to get over the upset (and potential loss of a heckaton of money). 

In Lima now, I’m doing much much better. It’s warmer. I’ve enjoyed my hostel and the people I’ve met here. Tomorrow I leave for Cusco and am very excited for what the city has to offer. In the meantime, I’m doing my best to take it easy on my foot (which, admittedly, is quite hard when walking around makes up a good portion of any tourist’s day) and enjoy the last month of the adventure. 

Good or bad, there is a part of me counting down the days until I return home. At the same time, there’s another part working really hard to soak in the joys of traveling and living in different countries. I am very thankful for all of the ups and downs and, as always, am continuing to push foward.

Santiago Gets Me

On June 9th, I finished my month in Buenos Aires and took a plane to Chile’s capital, Santiago. As sad as I was to leave both my friends and system of comfort in Argentina, I welcomed the calmer environment that awaited me in the new city. 

Before leaving Santiago for a nearby coastal town, from where I currently write, I was able to spend five days sightseeing, visiting cafes, and soaking in the beautiful views. In that short time, I noticed a couple things (besides the huge mountains). First of all, both commerce and transport seem very efficient and developed. As an orderly person myself, I particularly enjoyed this feature. Too, I perceived a certain determination or ambition in the faces and comportments of the locals. Whereas in Argentina I felt that the environment was more social, Santiago seemed to have a greater drive to achieve and get things done (can you really tell that through facial expressions? Maybe not, but it certainly seemed like I could). 

Probably going hand in hand with the efficiency, development, and work-minded atmosphere, Santiago did strike me as more boring than Buenos Aires. It definitely lacks the vibrancy of the Argentinian capital. Though, since I’m more of the coffee shop type traveler versus the late-night party-er, I didn’t entirely mind it.

It was wise of me to take it easy in Santiago and enjoy the relative tranquility, because now, in Valparaiso, I feel that I’ve been thrown once again into chaos. While here, I’ve heard the seaport city referred to as the “poor San Francisco,” a name I have to agree with. To me, it seems the hills are both more numerous and steeper than those in SF, but that could simply be because I’m staying at the top of one of said hills and have to trek up it and roll down it every day. Whatever the case, it offers some pretty sights, intense walking, and a decent cup of coffee.

In another post I’ll follow up with my thoughts and experiences (which have been interesting, to say the least…) in this city.


Professor B. Aires

Buenos Aires, you get five stars, a thumbs up, and a hug.

Five stars because you’ve got a great atmosphere. A thumbs up because you challenged the heck out of me. And a hug because I’m going to miss you. 

You’re not perfect. You’re inefficient, expensive, and lack a lot of the amenities that bring me comfort. But I didn’t expect perfection, and I didn’t expect you to be just like home.

You were a challenge for me and you taught me so much. You reminded me of that professor who is loved for her ability to grow students and make them learn, but who can also cause a bit of resentment from time to time for how hard she pushes her students. In the end, it all works out and everyone is very thankful, but it can be rough-going in the middle. 

The only difference with you, Buenos Aires, is that you never gave me a syllabus at the beginning of the course laying out the content we’d cover, the pace at which we’d cover it, or how I’d be graded. Rather, all those things came without any warning as I went along. Some days I wanted to quit, but you always picked me up and kept pushing me forward. 

Thank you for not taking it easy on me. Thank you for recognizing my weaknesses and forcing me to work on them. Two days ago, I started a course with your neighbor, Santiago, and expect to learn quite a bit there too.

Hurry Up and Slow Down

Thirty-one days I have been traveling. Fifty-four days I have left. I’m not sure what to think about this quickly approaching halfway point. I expect forty-three days in to feel a bit of “Wow, I’m only halfway done…?” and also “Wow, I’m already halfway done?” 

Buenos Aires has treated me very well. By really no doing of my own, I’ve managed to meet some genuinely wonderful people. These complete strangers have extended themselves in a way that has truly enriched my adventure. They’ve shown me their city, invited me into their homes, shared their time, resources, and food, all making me feel very welcome. 

And when the day is over and my time with these once strangers, now friends has ended, Buenos Aires is still good to me. There’s nothing like getting to lay your head down at night in a clean, comfortable, and safe place. I’ve been very fortunate with my apartment, though it’s quite different from what I’m accustomed to back home. My flat mates are clean and respectful. The location is convenient. And the neighborhood is safe. 

So, in seven days, when I gather up my things and fly to Santiago, Chile, I’ll be left with a very bitter-sweet feeling. Once again, I’m going to have to leave the known and start figuring out the unknown. It’s terrifying and exhilarating at the same time. Believe me when I say that I don’t have this adventure figured out any better than anyone else would. It’s all just a bunch of trial and error–lots of error. It’s scary and it’s hard. And I’d do it all over again.

Asada or Nada

Today makes nineteen days that I’ve been in Buenos Aires. As insufficient as my time here may be to really get to know a city, I have managed to put to the test a lot of the perceptions and thoughts that I had about the capital before I came.

Perhaps I haven’t had the most authentic argentinian experience, but I’m pretty okay with that because, really, I’m just here to have experiences, be they innately argentinian or not. In fact, it’s come to my attention that even when I make an effort to get a true taste of Argentina, there always seems to be a sprinkling of some other culture in the mix. Sometimes there’s a hint of Italy, other times of Colombia, Germany, and more often than not, the USA. 

This fusion of cultures was very aparent to me at the asada (an Argentinian cook out) that I went to recently. As we’re eating our very Argentinian steaks cooked by a light-haired local of German descent, he talks to us in flawless English (over the American rock music blasting in the background) about the history of his country. 

While so far away from home, there is a certain comfort in the sometimes subtle, other times overt, tastes of my own country that I experience here. Especially as I look forward to two more months of traveling, hearing a little Foo Fighters and eating a good hamburger are never a bad thing. 

In the midst of such a cultural melting pot, I find myself wondering just which parts are authentically argentinian. What is it that set this city apart from other cities? Quickly I can come up with a handful of aspects: 1) the eccentric hair styles 2) the abundance of street art, 3) the extreme night life, 4) the disregard for all traffic signals, no matter how big the intersection, 5) the cash-based economy (which is odd to me given the size and development of the city), 6) the asada, among a few other things. 

For sure, more time here would reveal more of the city’s uniqueness. Impossible to miss immediately upon arival, however, is a certain vibrancy, exuberance. It attracts people from all over the world and has them coming and coming back and often times staying. I, for one, know I’ll be coming back sometime soon.