“I had arrived. I’d done it. It seemed like such a small thing and such a tremendous thing at once, like a secret I’d always tell myself, though I didn’t know the meaning of it just yet.”
– Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail, Cheryl Strayed
As hard as it is to acknowledge, it’s my last few days in South America. That’s a really sad statement that took me some effort to type, not melodramatizing (or maybe a bit). It’s just that there’s a part of me that screams, FML, ITS YOUR LAST DAYS IN SOUTH AMERICA. I know it’s going to be difficult to come back, not within the next 5 years (I think) but hm, with my yellow fever vaccination, likely the next decade… There’s still so much to explore. I’m going to miss being surrounded by the Spanish language and being called a señorita and attempting conversations with my half-baked Spanish and feeling myself improving. Listening to Latin American music, learning new words, immersing in new cultures. Of course there’s things I miss back home, I don’t quite take care of my body well in the months. But I think opportunities like this don’t come. In all, I’m glad I stretched this for as long as I could (though, I wish I left earlier now, and f school and extend a few days longer so I could have perhaps gone to Ecuador / Colombia)
1.30pm – 1130am – 70 soles Civa economica
In this long and weaving bus ride I know it’s my last one in a long while
I am just not homesick. 2 months is too short.
Listening to the crooning of Latin American singers at the background of the bus
Figuring out the Spanish words
Thinking about how mine has improved
Going to miss this, all these – silly South America, the silly things that happen (random taxes), the silly traffic (van in salkantay zip lining), silly cab drivers (giggly Bolivian la paz), blasting music in our truck
Is it the last day already? Too fast. Not ready to leave. Feels really sad. When I go home I have to continue to listen to music, read Spanish, and so forth.
It’s also quite amazing how much my Spanish has improved. I can now listen to the tv shows and understand glimpses of it, as with songs. Conversations. I can carry conversations with locals, basic but also to some extent useful enough. Such a leap from when I first began. It occurred to me that learning a language isn’t really that hard, how silly I was to have thought otherwise. 2 years ago the self that said ‘I can never do that!’ She was wrong. Paco had said, ‘you know why you can’t? Because of what you just said.’ He was right. She was wrong, and the stubborn adamant self that I am can’t be happier than she’s wrong. Stupid girl.
I think about all the events that led me to this trip – exchange, couchsurfing, Barcelona at that time, making the decision to couchsurf with male hosts, Laura and friends, the conversations we had that planted this idea, and now this idea coming into fruition. The learning, and then the running – I remember one night after my 10km run I thought to myself, I wonder if I’ll ever have a version of myself this dedicated again. I was working for something, and I actually saw myself working for it – I was practicing and expanding my Spanish vocabulary on an active basis, I was running to get ready for my trek, I was working to earn some extra money to fund emergencies and extra gifts. I was working towards something, this trip I conceptualised two years ago. I love that version of myself – I saw someone persistent and someone working, someone chasing for something she wanted and I like it. I hope I always retain a version of that self.
I can just picture myself the next day lying at home, in singapore, on my ‘comfy’ bed, eyes closed and feeling depressed because I was back home. Withdrawal symptoms seeping in. Missing my Spanish and travelling and travelling from one city to another, one landscape to another, one revelation to another. And then I smile, because……… It’s time to plan my next trip, I think to myself as I grin, amused, my grin spreading itself wide across my cheeks.
In Lima only for a couple of hours and I hear warnings of ‘peligro‘ around me; I can’t help but feel a little nervous, though I do feel absolutely tranquilo walking around in the day. I asked for directions to the centro and a man advised me to walk in the other direction; I chatted with another guy and he said I probably shouldn’t carry so many things walking around.
In Lima I ate and walked a little, but not a lot, lugging my heavy backpack I now know is 16kg around miraflores. I had encountered miraflores in other cities as well; I now know it’s some sort of city centre, some touristy square. More than that I now think about miraflores as a Spanish word – Mira, look, Flores, flowers. Look, flowers. My brain, interestingly, has started translating words and sentences. Even as I think about things I often find myself trying to translate them. How interesting, immersing myself in this environment and the things it does to me. I like it, I like it a lot.
I walked into a book shop for awhile. I love walking into the book shops here because often I spot a paperback I recognize and I try to translate the words and titles. It’s like a game. Casually asked the lady about getting to the airport, if I need to call a taxi or if I could wave one along the road, since I’ve heard about the express kidnappings and all. She said it was alright, but it was probably better I called one. Another lady agreed, and started calling one for me. It was 45 soles, was I alright? Of course, it was less than 50 and it was my last day, last spending. Then the taxi guy hung up or something, and she couldn’t get others because it was Sunday and all was unavailable / busy, and they advised me to catch one down the road. The lady shopkeeper walked me opposite the street and flagged one down for me, near where a policeman was standing. This driver heard ‘aeropuerto‘ and shook his head. Sunday, I suppose it’s because it’s Sunday. Another cab stopped shortly after. She talked to the cab driver for me – 35 soles. Great! That’s 10 soles difference; that’s 3usd. It’s times like this I wonder about such differences – quite great differences, and almost inevitable differences.
I got in, and shot her a last worried grin before getting in. She nodded assuringly, knowing my fears, and waved goodbye. I sat at the backseat, wondering if I was going to be robbed at my last taxi ride, my last ride in South America. Especially since he had stopped for me with my backpack, rather than my flagging. I mentally wondered how I would feel; alright, my trip had ended, I had barely a hundred soles left, I just needed my notes in my phone, and if I had my sd card they could have the camera. But mostly I guess I’d be fine, because I had done everything I’d wanted. I suppose it’s under these circumstances that I realise I’m fine with losing the replaceables, except my words. They are pretty precious to me, testament to my state of being, my memories. The most invaluable (the irony).
These thoughts took place over a span of three seconds. I laughed nervously (though likely more cheery sounding) before chatting with him about living in Lima, how it was, about Peru, and all I’ve learnt – the Japanese president, cusco, the coca leaves, the altitude, how I was in Machu Picchu and South America and needed to improve my Spanish, how I wanted to go to Columbia and Ecuador and travel more. La playa in el ciudad. We laughed a little along the way and as I felt our camaraderie increased I felt a little more relieved – maybe he would like chatting with me, and maybe this decreases the chances of him driving to a secluded spot to rob me. Lol. I am paranoid, am I not? On hindsight I feel I am paranoid – or am I? Nah, frankly not really, in alternative universes I might have been less lucky. We drove into streets (where one flash of a moment I wondered if I should jump off if it was absolutely secluded) and then out into crowded lanes, and when we drove past the blue sign that said ‘aeropuerto‘ pointing ahead I felt a part of me sink with ease. Hurray! Hurray! I chatted more cheerily after. It’s nice to know I can actually converse a little now, though still not completely understanding at times but managing fine. Being able to ask some questions at least, and getting to know someone, about someone. Think about week 1 and week Now. We reach the airport and I thanked him and got off, stepping into the airport, my final destination in South America. This feeling washes over me.
But I love your feet
only because they walked
upon the earth and upon
the wind and upon the waters,
until they found me — Pablo Neruda
Bought Spanish poetry books because I’m certain I’ll be able to read them within a decade. Gonna miss being surrounded by Spanish all the time, gonna miss the Latin American music and feeling reminded of my smallness in the vastness of the world. 😢
I gazed at the person in the mirror. She was a little slimmer than I remembered. As I had expected, and was slightly pleased to say. After all, all that exercise! Looked the same in general, one can hardly tell how transformative the weeks have been.
And has it really been ‘transformative’? Is that the right word? I wasn’t ‘transformed’ – perhaps what I mean is… Tweaked. My life course tweaked a little further from my initial conception of my future prior to my trip. I had plans, future plans of what I wanted to do, where I wanted to go that did not exist prior to those weeks. I now knew I had (not only the ability to, but also) the – confidence? – to do so.
Glanced at the mirror again. Dark circles. I didn’t even care that I was washing my hair in the airport toilet. Or that I was sleeping here. It’s better than a rocking bus. My minimum level of comfort required has dropped, I think. The toilet has toilet paper, and hooks. I couldn’t help but notice how it looked new and shiny. I was happy to be in a developed country again; I suddenly recalled that I could drink from the tap water at ease and for free. Hurray!!
The girl in the mirror looked young, and I was pleased, and proud of her. I was pretty proud of her. When I’m 70 I’m sure I will remember her. ‘Remember how you were when you were 23…?’
There is a part of me that is almost delightfully surprised that I didn’t die – I’m alive, i’m alive! There is a part of me that mocks that ridiculous week 1 self that was so scared, and there’s the other part that knows I can think this only because in many ways I got lucky (or is it?) that I’m fine with only scratches from the tree branch. What is danger? This trip calls into question.
Mainly I’m thankful to be alive – and being alive more than ever feels like a great gift, a blessing that I cherish, I really really do. Prior to my trip and during my trip and now after, it is clear that I love life and I’m happy to be alive.
Yesterday when I arrived in London I could still hear Spanish everywhere – in Primark, along the streets, I could hear Spanish. And hearing Spanish brings me some sort of wistfulness. It was still nice to be back in a developed country though. I stepped into the toilets of the airport and couldn’t help noticing how bright and shiny it was, and how it had toilet paper. Been a while.
Flying home, my flight home. At the airport I overheard people conversing in Spanish (again). On the plane I felt my ears pop along with the altitude and it reminded me of Peru. I really do miss South America, particularly because it’s so far away and inconveniently inaccessible. I try to picture the next time I return, when I’m older. South America will always be a special continent to me, tremendously special because upon this continent locks the person that I was once upon a time, a version I don’t quite want to lose.
Tucking this chapter of memories into a box to peep into if ever I feel down and defeated
Pinning it onto my chest like a badge of honour I proudly sneak a peak at proudly