I am calling this my ongoing education. Instead of pursing a masters degree I thought, hey, why not spend the money and time traveling around South America and getting some good-old-fashioned real-world experience. I have been doing that for 7 months, and it's time for a little bit of a re-cap.
What really, have I learned?
First of all, Spanish is hard. I thought I would get the hang of it a lot faster than I have. Masculine/feminine? There are so many tenses, conjugations and irregulars. Sure, I get by alright and my accent isn't half bad, but the mistakes are relentless and I really don't think I'm improving. Nobody ever wants to correct me, like they are afraid I might get offended. I won't get offended, I really just don't want to sound like a 6 year old anymore. Everytime I start to get a little sure of myself, I get thrown in some situation where I'm surrounded by locals speaking in their native tongue and the sounds just wash over me as I sit there looking as lost and confused as the first time I heard Chilean spanish.
Oh yeah...there isn't just one Spanish either. In my ignorance I thought there was. There is not. There is Chilean spanish, if you really want to call it spanish....which I learned a decent amount of having spent 4 months there. I didn´t realize that is what I was learning until a left. Then there is Argentinian Spanish. I would classify what they speak in Uruguay the same as Argentinian, che. But then I made it to Peru, and people there keep telling me that I say things like I come from Venezuela or Colombia or Panama? And then there are the accents...help.
And don't even get me started on all the times I said things that were dirty and I didn't even know it was dirty. I finally learned...you have to tomar el bus.
Each country here is extremely proud. The people really think that they are the best and live in the best place. They think their food is the best, the drinks are the best, their spanish is the best, their music is the best, and that they are totally and completely unique. I don't have the heart to tell them that really, they are all a lot more similar than than they think. AND no, their food is not the best. We do in food in America...and really, we do it the best. ;)
Always carry toilet paper.
I'm not afraid of a little down time, actually, I welcome it. A day or two writing, reading, researching, and loading pictures is NOT a day or two wasted.
Distance may make the heart grow fonder, but I prefer the ones I love to be close. Skype is great, but it can't take the place of a real hug and a face to face conversation in real time.
In honor of Julie's wise words: don't stand when you can sit, and don't sit when you can lay down.
Home is where the heart is...and family just might be that stranger if you let them.
Just because I can do it myself, doesn't mean I should. Accepting help is OK.
Time is a fickle, funny thing. It moves slow when you want it to move fast, and fast when you want it to move slow. Tomorrow is never here, and yesterday can never be re-lived, re-played or re-planned. Try to stop worrying about it, right now, is really all you get.
Plans change. Shit happens. Life moves on.
Liquid poop: it's inevitable, unpleasant, and well, just part of the process.
Night buses are a guaranteed way to not get a full night sleep.
It really is hard to breathe at elevation. That is not just an old wives tale. Go slow and drink lot's of water, and it will all be ok. Oh...and drink the Coca tea.
Couchsurfing really is the way to go. Or if you are lucky to have a mom like me who knows people in places that works too. Staying with locals is hands down the BEST way to see the town as it should be seen. They know all the best spots and always, always have advise on the best food.
Where tourists go there will be scams and lot's of street jewelry...but the tourists go there for a reason. Sometimes getting off the beaten track is really just creating more work. Sometimes, the nice paved road, takes you right where you want to go.
I love the mountains. I also love the beach...and really could care less about cities.
Pancakes. I really miss pancakes, and salad and water from the tap.
I suck at surfing, but I am going to keep on doing it just to spite the sport.
Cold showers aren't really all THAT bad.
They are all cliches and I know why, because they are true;
*Whether you think you can or your can't, you're probably right.
*This too shall pass.
*It's not a question of can or can't. It's a question of will or won't.
I think these are really the ones that I keep re-learning every time I slide my feet back into those hiking boots. Be it the challenge of climbing up and over a pass breathless and dizzy from the elevation, the slam of toes into the front of shoes cushioned by blisters, the shock of cold river water, the pull of mud over the top of the boot, the fight to drag my tired, wet, cold, sore body out of tent in into a dark morning, the hobble of stiff legs the first few steps after a rest, the aggressive mental chatter of, "I just can't go on!"...and then, just like that, it's over. It's like it never happened. The climb reached it's peak and now I'm going down sucking in long deep breaths, the shoes are off, I'm snuggled in a bed with clean hair, clean clothes, clean sheets and sweet memories of that perfect view that made it all worthwhile. Because in the end, it always is worthwhile.
Volunteer. I have found that so far it has been a great way to learn about things by actually doing something, not just reading about it. You meet great people, support causes you believe in, grow roots in incredible places and feel like there is a reason and purpose to all this wandering around. Maybe I get to help something or someone other than just me...and that always feels right.
People keep telling me that I'm brave, that this is really a crazy idea and something they could never do. But really, I'm not that brave, maybe a little crazy, but mostly just a firm believer in the overwhelming power of good. I keep finding myself in the fold of good people, good places, good experiences that turn into good memories, good connections and the opportunity for more good. So maybe that is the most important lesson that I have learned; good is everywhere, expect it, look for it, and I promise you, you will find it.