Saying goodbye to South America

Three months in South America turned into five months, and I was still sad when it came time to come home. Somewhere in the JFK airport, exhausted from my eleven-hour flight and an hour and a half of standing in line, waiting for US customs to harass me for flying through a country I had no time to step outside in, I started to get horribly depressed. It was cold and grey. Everyone around me was speaking English again. Everything looked so familiar, too perfect and sterile.

Luckily, by the time I got to Halifax (and another long wait at customs while they inspected every single item in my giant suitcases), I returned to the most enthusiastic homecoming, otherwise I might well have turned around and gone back home.

When both the destination and the origin are “home”

The concept of home has always been strange for me. When I moved to Canada as a little kid, I felt always felt weird singing the national anthem, which my teachers insisted I do loudly and proudly. This cold foreign country wasn’t my “home and native land”, it was just the place I happened to be at the time. Years later, I do consider parts of Canada home, but it still feels like an adopted home—somewhere I’ve spent most of my life, but I never entirely feel like I fit. For this reason, I think, it’s easy for me to adopt new places that feel like home. After the time I spent there, Buenos Aires also feels like home.

Buenos Aires
Photos like this make me homesick.

Traveling long-term is so different from traveling short-term. When I spent five weeks circling through central Europe, I changed and grew so quickly, but no place ever felt like home, as I was constantly in transit. In Argentina, where I eventually settled into something resembling a routine, change was so subtle that I’ve only now started to notice it.

Be stronger. Less scared.

Given how much of last year I spent hanging out in the hospital with broken wrists, it’s not surprising that I ended up a little on the paranoid side. I felt weak and breakable. When I first got to Argentina, I’d been out of my second cast for nine days. I couldn’t do a single pushup or open a bottle of wine. Worse still, I was so aware of my own vincibility that certain things scared me that never used to—riding downhill on a bicycle, slipping down a stair.

I picked up an exercise habit in Argentina (probably the first time I’ve picked up a good habit!) and it changed me so fundamentally that I’m insistent on carrying the change over. Yoga, especially, turned out to be pretty miraculous for my poor wrists. I’m slowly getting stronger, and I can do all sorts of things I couldn’t before—pushups, yes, but I can also balance on my hands for short periods of time, hold myself up in a bridge, and open a bottle of wine with nothing but the most primitive of corkscrews.

I had a few moments in South America that utterly terrified me. There was that incident in the Amazon rainforest where I cut off my fingertip with a machete. Driving in cabs, and oftentimes just crossing the streets in Buenos Aires, where the bus drivers stop for nothing, held some surprisingly frightful moments. I drove around some pretty insane roads winding around the cliffs of Chile’s coast, in some cases nearly running into other vehicles when there was only room for one. The final, and most innocuous moment was the smallest—running down the stairs in my building, my foot slipped. I caught myself, but for a brief moment, my mind was paralyzed with fear (the second time I broke my wrist was due to a slip on a single stair). I just kept thinking how much people would laugh if I came home in yet another cast.

But I survived everything. When a friend took me out for a scooter ride upon my return, I realized something—I wasn’t scared anymore. We’d gone for a ride the night before I left as well, and I remember closing my eyes on some of the turns, holding on for dear life, my logical brain certain I’d be fine, but my heart still in my mouth. After five months of traveling through South America, I’m finally feeling stronger.

Work less. Worry less.

North Americans are workaholics. We have less holiday time than pretty much everyone else on the planet. Oftentimes, being a workaholic is considered a badge of honour. Small business people, especially, are prone to a form of boasting/complaining about working sixteen hour days as though it’s proof of their fortitude and commitment.

I used to be one of these people, but I’ve been slowly coming out of it. It’s surprising how much of life you can miss out on when all you do is work, and how easily you get burned out. I’m not entirely sure how I managed the first few years of my business.

The nice thing about traveling is that I simply couldn’t allow myself to be that much of a crazy workaholic, or I’d never have an opportunity to see anything at all. (Admittedly, I did spend way too much time working in Chile, but that was mostly because I was on a roll with a project.) I actually took days off. Some days I wouldn’t work a full eight hours.

Argentina was a great influence in this respect, because… well, I’m not sure how to put it delicately. They aren’t workaholics, let’s say. There were public holidays every other day, and some days when it wasn’t a holiday, everyone would just take to the streets for a good political protest. I got the impression that while a great many of the participants were truly involved in the affair—lighting off gunpowder and cheering and such—a large percentage would be hanging about, lazily chatting with one another. This attitude pervades throughout much of the city—service in bars and restaurants tends to be notoriously slow, and there’s a general sort of unhurried pace. This gets infuriating when you’re waiting in line for hours, but it did help me learn a bit of patience.

Me, leaning out over one of the balconies in my apartment in Buenos Aires. I spent a lot of time in this spot, watching the street below.

…what next?

This whole slow-traveling of the world thing is something I’ve wanted to do for at least a couple of years now, and my time in Argentina was a litmus test. It didn’t turn out perfectly—I didn’t travel nearly as much as I’d wanted to, and I ran into all kinds of electronics-related issues that made things quite difficult. But I had such an amazing time there. I camped on the beach by the cliffs along Chile’s northern coast. I drove all the way around the coast of Uruguay and nearly ran over an armadillo. I crossed the Andes in a giant double-decker bus. I kayaked for three hours through the rivers of a sprawling delta. I learned how to set up a minimalistic camp in the middle of the Amazon jungle. I learned how to make jokes in Spanish that people would laugh at. I wandered through beautiful cities old and new, I explored, and I saw so many things I thought my head might explode. I fell in love with a chaotic city that I hated at first, and I even made new friends. At times, it was frustrating, infuriating, and I just wanted to go home. But I wouldn’t have traded the experience for anything.

I’m already plotting my next adventure.