South America – June to December, 2014
A brief recap of the amazing people I’ve met, the places I’ve explored, and the jobs I’ve held over the last 12 months of exploring.
I quickly found a cheap storage locker. I got a sizeable discount as the locker had not been rented in years. I was willing to take my chances on having a haunted book collection & bicycle. I also had to give away my lizards, which was incredibly tough for all of us. Rango got the best of me by hiding near a bookshelf while I destroyed the entire couch in a panic looking for him. Well played sir, well played.
A month later I was on a plane to Brasil. I stayed & travelled with the American Outlaws to each of the US games. The time between games was filled with hanging out with the Seattle, Boston, and Phoenix groups, as I didn’t know anyone was there from Tucson at the time.
In addition to the US games, I was also able to catch the Uruguay vs. Italy match when Louis Suarez bit Chellieni, though the oddest memory was having 12 hours of plane delays and sleeping in the impossibly hot and humid Manaus airport with 400 of my closest friends.
My time in Brasil during the World Cup cost more than the next six months of travelling combined.
“Fish and visitors stink after two weeks.”
Next, I crashed with a friend in Joao Pessoa for the two weeks after the World Cup group stage. She was elegant, generous, and taught me countless important lessons about Brasilian/South American culture, and I probably would have killed one or both of us had I spent another day there.
After staying with my friend, I snipped the umbelical cord and set out for Arambepe, Brasil alone. I worked there at a holistic retreat for a month. Work involved everything from basic construction, to assisting with hallucinogenic religious ceremonies, to helping build furniture from palm trees that grew on site.
Despite it being winter, it was so hot and humid that I decided to shave my head after almost a year of not touching my hair.
I slept in a hammock in a hut that I shared with a rat who had a sweet taste for my soap. We worked in the mornings, walked to the beach in the afternoons, and cooked & watched movies as a family in the nights. It was perfect.
After a month, I moved an hour down the coast and started a new job at a hostel in Salvador. It was the most chaotic and fun job I’ve ever had. Half of the job was managing reservations, handling checkins, etc., and the other half was “setting the mood,” which meant hosting barbecues, going Samba dancing, and leading beach outings for the guests. It was hell.
After my Brasilian visa expired, I found myself in rural Ecuador doing renovation at a motel whose main patrons were prostitutes. The job consisted of reinforcing rotted walls by adding layers of rotted wood taken from other walls. Rusty or bent nails were often used to do this. I suddenly realized that speaking Spanish may be a valuable skill for exploring South America. This was a definite reality check after three months of bliss in Brasil’s Nordeste.
After a couple of weeks in Ecuador, I crossed the border into Mocoa, Colombia and spent several days hitchhiking around the area and exploring Fin del Mundo national reserve and all of its majesty. The border and rural areas of Colombia had the military presence of Baghdad. Hitchhiking was the main mode of transportation, which was perfect as there were miles of waterfalls,rivers, and forests before reaching any buses. I then crossed back into Ecuador and spent a couple days in Guayaquil before catching a flight to Chile for another job.
After spending a couple days in Concepciòn being guided by a friend, I made my way to Pucon to work at a hostel.
Surprise! The hostel work was actually renovation for a hostel that had only two reservations during my time there. It was bitter cold in the room at night, the rain was persistent, and the locals were unfriendly, but it was also stunningly beautiful and my coworker/roommate turned into a lifelong friend.
After the job ended, we caught a bus over the border into San Martin de los Andes, Argentina and couchsurfed for three days before going our separate ways. It was such an incredible experience that I wrote two different posts about it.
Next came a job teaching English at a handful of gradeschools in Trujillo, Peru. I lived in a hotel room with the family that ran it. The girl who I was teaching with also had a side job of dressing up like a teddy bear to deliver flowers to women on their birthdays. I talked her into letting me dress up and do it once, but the birthday girl’s grandmother died so the order was greedily cancelled.
Bolivia was the last stop in this chapter of my journey. The start date of my job was delayed one day, giving me an extra night in a Sucre hostel where I met a Chilean girl who immediately caught my eye. But that is another story and shall be told another time. I spent the next three weeks living in rural Morada Qasa while running a library for children. The library was there to encourage them to read, give them structure for the hours between when school let out and their parents returned home from work, and also to teach hygiene habits. Many of the children did not have toothbrushes at home and some had to told how to wash their hands. I stayed with a grumpy old couple and the coolest granddaughter in Bolivia, and ate mostly boiled potatoes and white rice.
I was fortunate enough to be there for a large Catholic holiday (a celebration for Santa Barbara) and the local high school graduation, two of the village’s biggest annual events.
My time in Bolvia was cut short when I got news that a family member was in a coma that she wasn’t expected to recover from. I caught two long bus rides to La Paz and was on a plane to the US within 48 hours of receiving the news. It wasn’t fast enough.
I spent the next three weeks in the US with family for the funeral, Christmas, and New Year, but was on a plane for Turkey to start another chapter of my journey soonafter.
But that is another story and shall be told next week, in chapter two.