South America: Traveling and Self-Realization

Words by Sonora MindWerl
Photos by Sonora MindWerl

I have been a long time lover of journeys. I love bus stations and airports, trains and planes and ferries, anywhere that’s always moving. The road feels like home. The immeasurable delight of watching a sunset in another place I’m passing through. The dull roar of a hundred half heard conversations is somewhat like the wind through pine trees. Great rushes of breath. The smell of good frying fish and lemons coming from somewhere nearby.

Even though I’ve never been to South America before, it feels familiar. The 10 years I spent growing up in Mexico make my heart crave the ramshackle stands selling goodies under the dirty late night street lamps. Horse drawn carts vie for road space among the jostling buses, cars, and motorcycles; all of them jumbling along the obstacle course of potholes, mud puddles, stray dogs and street vendors. People walk around in flip flops and tank tops in the balmy ocean breeze, and even the glorious chaos of the cities strike a pleasant strum from my heart strings – the taxi horns mingling with the melodic cadence of half heard Spanish conversations.

My tongue is not yet used to speaking my two languages at once, and I find myself tripping over my English words as well as my Spanish ones. My mind is still trying to shuffle the different folders of speech into place. It’s like re-learning old dance moves after too many years of walking. Similarly, it is a bit of a struggle to start writing again after not writing for quite some time. The words come haltingly, a bit nervous, a bit self conscious. You have to approach them with quiet courtesy. Introduce yourself politely. Remind them that they know you. Remind them why it is worthwhile to come at all.

I am now one week into the solo travel portion of my journey, and this week has been many things. The sudden freedom of having six weeks with which to do whatever I want is overwhelming to say the least, and the sudden absolute solitude after-what has truly been a whole year of being constantly near friends- brings up all kinds of shaky tumultuous feelings and forced introspection. There have already been hard moments and great moments, and my first resolve is to start writing as much as possible.

The town I am in at present is called Taganga. It is all dirt streets and cracked dirty cement, nestled in a bay amongst dry scrubby hills dotted with cactus and yellow flowering Guayakan trees. It is HOT. Music plays from stores along the beach. Many fishing boats fill the cove, and vendors walk up and down selling tinto (black coffee) and cafe con leche and jewelry. It is not busy except on the weekends- like today.

It is a town not overly concerned with its looks or outward appearance. It is beautiful in its packed bus, chipped wood kind of way, and it doesn’t aspire to be more than that.

It is friendly enough, and only dangerous in the broken glass, “hey baby” way of most little towns in this part of the world.

It is comfortable in its ways and not about to change for anyone.

If you have the chance, buy a 30 cent cafe con leche from the man pushing his cart up the beach- it is sweet and rich and surprisingly pleasant in its warmth.

As for me, I’ve been in the settling in phase that comes at the beginning of solo travel. First comes the melancholy loneliness, the fresh absence of whoever you were with tender and raw. You will miss your friends. You will miss your family. You will question why OH WHY you thought it was a good idea to travel alone through Colombia for six long weeks. Then, this will pass and you will feel elation. You are a strong empowered badass, nothing can stop you, you’re never ever going home! Then, you will alternate between these feelings with varying intervals and degrees of intensity for the rest of your time alone.

As I jostled in various bus seats along the coastlines and mountains of Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, and Costa Rica, I had time to think about just WHY it is that travel calls so fiercely to so many of us. What is it that makes the prospect of new countries, new roads, new trails seem so unquenchably appealing?

Traveling has the ability to put you in a semi constant state of magical realism- suspended animation. You cross a country in a day or spend a week under the same gently waving palm trees. You see where you are on a map and your whole perception of space and your place in the world is sent toppling- this is a corner of the world you never dreamed of inhabiting. You’re swimming in new oceans, of water, of languages, of tastes and sounds and smells- some of them achingly familiar and some of them completely new. There are different stars, seen from overnight bus rides with the promise of waking up somewhere new. Border crossings by the side of the highway in old cow pastures. Everything so raw, so different from the neat orderly monotony of daily life. An intoxicating elixir of sensation. For those of us who have somehow been hopelessly infected with the travel bug, each new place visited is like falling in love. Each new friend made expands a feeling of global family, and even the inevitable goodbye’s bring the sweetest form of sadness- just enough heartache to know it was something worthwhile.

The moments of complete chaos go hand in hand with the moments of unimaginable joy, and this is what hooks us. This is what keeps us buying plane tickets and why #vanlife is trending on instagram. The journey is one of the oldest and most noble of human pursuits, and one which keeps us endlessly coming back for more.

Travel shows you the lessons you didn’t know you needed. Travel brings you the teachers you didn’t know you were looking for. It’s the seeking of what has always been sought, the finding of what has always been founds. The leap out of your comfort zone with the knowledge that everything beyond it will be strange and challenging and wonderful and hard and completely, completely worth it.

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