‘They lied to us. They fucking lied to us!’ Zahi said.
I met Zahi at a hostel in Puno. He was leaving the next day, and just by happenstance our paths crossed, as many do, in the kitchen. We discussed how travel was so much cheaper (or can be) than anyone ever thinks it to be, and that governments spread fear, uncertainty, and doubt about travel to other countries, when really – it was all a lie.
Nearly everyone I’ve met in my travels, which Zahi confirmed, has been very welcoming, very nice, and eager to help you have a good time. People want to show the best parts of their countries, and hospitality is a universal concept.
Zahi was from Israel, and he told me the only problems he’s had crossing borders was the U.S. Being from the U.S. I had a tinge of embarrassment, wishing that my country was more welcoming. Not sure who started it, but cross-country bickering has kept me out of Bolivia, leaving me with no desire to have a go again at a country that places such high hurdles to enter. And I fear that number of countries barring the US Citizen will only grow.
I’m currently in Cusco, the gateway to Machu Picchu, trying to figure out the logistics of doing it on the cheap. Zahi called it, ‘…the most expensive Wonder of the World.’ Something like $125 US to enter, and that’s after paying trekking fees (if you do the Inca trail) starting at $500 and up. Rail fees to get to Aguas Caliente and back, plus tips for the guide and the folks carrying your gear can all add up. A fellow I met paid over $2,000 US for his 4 day trek.
The Great Pyramids, Zahi told me, had a $20 entrance fee.
3 months: 2 countries
I’m on my second country in 3 months of travel. I really thought I’d have more countries under my belt by now, but I didn’t account for how LARGE South American countries are, or the effect of my timeline on my psyche. Having an artificial deadline of a year has allowed me to forget about dates. Extend my stays in certain towns. Really discover places that some people sear through in a day or two – where oftentimes I’ll stay for a week, or even weeks. After a year, I am thinking stunned, I might only make a dent in South America.
Two Types of Travelers
A broad generalization is that I’ve met two types of travelers: the ones that are on vacation, or even some that are on Summer vacation, or a “gap year”, with a predetermined amount of time, that go from place to place, marking off their checkboxes on places travelled to, boxes to fill on places yet to come.
And then there is my friend Pedrito, who told me he stayed for 2 years in Argentina. I just saw in his Facebook feed that he finally made it to Bolivia, his 3rd country (after Chile), in his 3rd year.
I think I’m more in between. I don’t have any sort of urgency, other than my money running out. And so I stay longer in cheaper places, and shorter if it is too expensive.
But “too expensive” is relative.
My private room in Cusco is 60 Soles, which makes my pocketbook yelp. ‘But I was only paying 33 soles in Puno,’ I exclaim! But, if you do the calculation: 60 soles is around $20/night in the states. 33 soles was a steal at $11/night USD.
Try to find that low of a rate anywhere in the US.
Like I told Zahi: I had to leave the states in order to out-survive my money.
It’s too expensive to live in the US. It’s actually cheaper for me to rent my house out, which pays my mortgage, and buys my Obamacare, and then travel through South America on my savings, than it would be if I had tried to stay in the US.
Of course, I could always work – but that’s another story…;-)
A quote on a sign I saw in Mexico: “We were meant for more than to work and paying bills!”
After fighting a lawsuit against a multimillion dollar corporation for five years, ultimately winning some compensation, I realized that corporations can be the death of people. They don’t really care about you, they only care about their bottom line.
We used to be a nation of merchants, people who pulled themselves up by their bootstraps. Now, all people look for is a “job”. Someone to take care of them, where hopefully they don’t have to work too hard, or think too much.
And so I look for the escape hatch.
I go from place to place, having experiences, eating things I might not normally eat, try to make myself understood in another language, and in turn understand others. And I remember the idea for a website my friend Jason had, which was Eat.See.Do. A website where he would blog and vlog about his travels – Seeing, and Eating and Doing things.
And that’s what it comes down to – seeing, eating and doing.
But, a part of me wants more than this. And yes, I know that this is a privileged position to be in, in not having the struggle to simply exist. It reminds me of the Tom Hanks response, on why, since he has so much money, does he still act: “You can only eat so well.”
And so, I make my purpose: learn Spanish. Find places to climb. And in the middle: eat.see do. I work on my affiliate business, writing reviews and video blogging, and I see the needle move. I dabble in trading, and see potential there as well. Money is a drag, but in this world you have to “…Give unto Caesar what is Caesar’s” – and that is money.
And after money: it having a purpose.
I recently Skyped with my friend Amelia, having to reschedule after her life became busy with house-hunting and job/life conundrums. I try to sympathize, but all I have is time. I look forward to these Skype calls, but understand when life gets in the way. I gird myself for possibly having to wait another month to be able to communicate with my dear friend.
But we were able to make it work, rescheduling for 3 days hence.
‘How’s it going?’ Amelia’s smiling face said.
‘Well, it doesn’t suck,’ I joked.
But, if I look at things honestly, I’ve had some suck, and my fill of FUD: Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt. But, this was mostly in the early weeks of travel, when my greatest fear was losing everything I owned, of being scammed, of being robbed or taken advantaged of in some way.
But, having systems in place, and just being savvy goes a long way to suppressing the FUD. Now, once the logistics are out of the way, I find myself enjoying myself. And yes, the world is (mostly) really nice.
And in these long stretches of enjoyment I still have moments of intense loneliness, of being on an alien planet where no one really understands me. Where I tire of relationships that survive the length of a 3 day tour, and then vanish with a ‘Ciao,’ as you exit the tourist van, never to see these people again.
But: I have also met some of the most amazing people as well, adventurers who have taken it upon themselves to go exploring, to see what this world has to offer, and I have to say, even the brief moments of despair – it doesn’t suck at all. Even the sucky parts are great. Because how great is it to feel lonely in a foreign country. YOU’RE IN A Fucking FOREIGN COUNTRY, YO!
Some keys to thrive:
• Have low expectations. Some people would balk at a toilet with no seat. Or having to throw used toilet paper into a basket. If you can take those in stride then you may be able to thrive traveling. Because the rest is marvelous!
• Try to speak the language. It just smooths things over – and is fun.
• Take challenges as part of the fun. I used to be sort of afraid of learning the new currency. But an Army friend of mine gave me a new perspective: ‘I just think that’s part of the fun.’
• Have a positive take – on everything. If you are the type to compare everything against your home country you’ll miss out on the great stuff, and be sorely disappointed.
• Don’t be so demanding. I saw this guy from England pushing our guide around like a servant, telling him to go tell the waiter to bring more chicken out to the buffet. Our guide was a certified mountain guide, not a servant to be pushed around. And just because you pay money doesn’t excuse you from acting like an ass.
• And if you travel alone – make friends. Or make friends with being by yourself.
This last is key, for me anyway. I find myself more cordial, more funny, more public when on a tour, where I am forced to make friends, and be in groups. Normally a very private person, I become more jovial and vocal while traveling. And then, I can go back to enjoying learning my spanish with my headphones in place, enjoying the sunshine at a cafe table in Cusco – alone.
And, when I see public arguments from a couple having perhaps first discovering that they are NOT as compatible as they had formerly had thought – well, being alone seems just grand. That there are worse things than being alone.
I remember leaving a tour van with barely a wave goodbye. Because, while everyone was nice enough, there was a little that irritated me about every one – be it the berating of our guide, or a snide remark, or the slagging of the hike – which I had found incredible – that I just wanted to escape.
And traveling alone – I could. With enough money to get a nice private room where I could explode my bags without a word of disparagement, stretch out – be a slob. Take myself out for a “pricey” $20 meal, order dessert, get drunk – whatever. Because the only person I have to account to – is myself.
3 month in, I’ve had my share of struggles, but if the worst is a few sharp jabs of loneliness, then all-in-all it’s been great. I’m glad I’ve made videos of my experiences as I’ve travelled – it’s nice to look back and see what I’ve done, what places I’ve seen and the experiences I’ve had. Time can fly by so fast, and it’s good to have markers of your journey to look back on and experience. I’ve only been to 2 countries – but they are huge. Peru is twice the size of Texas, and if you laid Chile on its side it would span across the continental US – if that gives you some perspective!
I’ve been to so many cities, if they are at all similar they start to blur. Was that Iquique or Arica where I went paragliding? Or was that surfing? All in all though traveling, and traveling the way I do, with barely an agenda, and time to spare – has been glorious!
Follow blog via Facebook