Day 165 – 13 Aug, 2015
Some of you may wonder what I’m doing out here, gallavanting around the world. No job. No commitments. No responsibilities. A woman that is closer in age to 40 than 30. Well, it’s not true that I don’t have responsibilities at home. I still own a condo in downtown Chicago, which means I’m a landlord from abroad. No, I don’t have a job but traveling full time can, at times, feel like a job – I spend at least a few hours every day planning future travel. Bus schedules, hostel reservations, logistics….knowing the safety concerns, the customs, the location for the supermarket, laundry and ATM in each new location. If you add in the art of budgeting and the grunt work of traveling on a local bus in Ecuador, it makes travel a lot less glamorous than it seems. But the biggest misconception is that I have no commitments. I have plenty of those, but they all happen to be to myself.
I made the decision to do this journey, not as a result of unhappiness at home or with my job, but because I knew for me, there are bigger things I need to accomplish. Enter….the Quest. I recently finished reading the book The Pursuit of Happiness: Finding the Quest That Will Bring Purpose to Your Life by Chris Guillebeau. I read this book AFTER I made the decision to start traveling full time and I didn’t consider anything that I’m doing to be part of a Quest. I mean…what is a Quest anyway?
As Guillebeau defines it, it must have a clear goal and a specific end point. It must present a clear challenge, require sacrifice, be driven by a calling or sense of mission, and it must require a series of small steps making incremental progress toward the goal. Guillebeau’s Quest was to visit every country in the world, all 193 of them. I don’t have such a grand plan. BUT, before I left, I had narrowed down a few things that I want to accomplish during this journey. I had not defined them as a Quest and I’d only conveyed them to close friends and family up until now.
This book has inspired me to publish my goals and perhaps find a way to turn them into Quests, as defined by Guillebeau.
1) Learn Spanish.
My background before this trip is that I took 2 years of Spanish in high school, more recently there was 6 months of spending 5 hours a week of self-study with Rosetta Stone (I completed 4 1/2 levels), and 12 hours of in-person classes in Chicago. Since I’ve been in South America, I have taken 24 hours of lessons with 2 different teachers.
I had a moment last month where I felt like a complete failure. I had just arrived in Latacunga, Ecuador. I did not encounter one person that spoke one word of English until I finally met the daughter of the innkeeper. Generally, I can speak well, but I struggle with understanding when someone responds to me. I couldn’t understand a thing in Latacunga and I was beyond frustrated. I’ve been in South America for 5 months and I still can’t understand basic conversation? I was ready to give up. However, in a moment of clarity, I remembered that I had a 4 hour conversation with a Spanish teacher not more than one week earlier. And then I traveled to Quito and Mindo and now I’m here in Colombia and I have had conversations with taxi drivers and a police officer and a little old lady that sat next to me on the bus. I’m not fluent yet but I get by. So what happened in Latacunga? The innkeeper’s daughter became my mouthpiece while I was there and I recalled that she told me she can’t understand various accents in other regions of Ecuador. AH HA! Perhaps it wasn’t me at all. Perhaps it was the accent and slang in Latacunga that I can’t understand! The point being that it renewed my drive and I know I need to keep going. I have 3 more weeks in Latin America and then I move on to Spain for 5 weeks. There is still time for improvement and to achieve that, I’m using a few different methods. I’m listening to my Rosetta Stone audio guide every day and focusing on the listening component. I’m reading a novel in Spanish – La Quinta Montaña by Paulo Coelho – and taking notes on the words I don’t know as I go. And I’m making a point to have at least one conversation every day with a native speaker.
My background is that I’m a marathon runner and an avid trekker. I’ve completed 10 marathons at an above-average pace. I’ve trekked to the summit of Mt Kilimanjaro in Tanzania over 7 days. I’ve trekked to the base camp of Mt Everest in Nepal over 11 days. I’ve trekked the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu and now also completed a self-sufficient W Trek in Patagonia, 3 days and 5 days, respectively. I’ve never walked 25km per day for 31 days in a row… and therein lies the challenge.
There wasn’t any particular draw I had to Santiago. Many people do this for religious reasons and many people don’t. I’m not especially religious, but I do really like the country of Spain and I’ve never been to the northern part. Mostly, I just really wanted to challenge myself with a trek longer than what I would be able to complete on a typical 2-week vacation from my job. After passing over treks in Papua New Guinea, Madagascar, and South Africa for logistical and budgetary reasons, I settled on Santiago. It seems like a clear challenge, but it seems doable. I still have no idea what I am in for, but I am officially declaring this as a Quest. Updates to follow.
My background is that I am weirdly obsessed with cheetahs. I have watched hours upon hours of wildlife programs featuring cheetahs. I once saw 2 wild cheetahs lounging in the shade in Tanzania. And I’ve seen them at Busch Gardens in their conservation program. Other than that, nada. I’ve never worked with animals, especially wild animals.
My calling for this was clear. Cheetahs are one of the most endangered of the big cats. When I visited Serengeti National Park in Tanzania in 2012, there were only 1000 cheetahs left in the park. This is a park of more than 5700 square miles! Only 1000 cheetahs left?? The cheetah numbers are diminishing mostly due to human/animal conflict with habitat loss and poaching, but also because of the establishment of game reserves and conflict with other predators. The large prey and large predators thrive in game parks but that tends to push the fragile cheetah out of the food chain. Except for the strongest males, most cheetahs can’t hunt and kill a zebra or wildebeest. Anyway, I digress. I think the fastest land animal on Earth is a magnificent creature and I feel very compelled to spend time in Namibia, learning what is required for conservation efforts. Again, updates to follow.
Again, I have virtually no background. I don’t love snorkeling or open water swimming and I’m even a little scared of the water. BUT, I have heard that diving is incredible so I figure it’s time I get over my fear. Southeast Asia has some of the least expensive diving certification programs in the world so I plan to tackle this when I reach that part of the world.
Now that you know what my commitments are, I hope you’ll hold me accountable. This round the world trip is not all about fun and games (well, a little bit), but it’s also about strengthening my character, learning new skills, and interacting with people from all over the world. What better lesson is there than that?!