Celebrating one year of travel! Some reflections, new plans & our favorite memories
One year ago on October 4, with much trepidation and excitement, Laurent & I landed in Buenos Aires, Argentina with just backpacks strapped to our backs containing everything we would need for the next two years. I had quit my job back in New York, sold my car and many of my possessions and had no idea what the future would hold.
I had grown tired of working just to save money for my next vacation. I felt like I was working just to travel. I wanted to stay in one place longer than one or two weeks, to really be able to absorb culture, language & most importantly, food! So we came up with an idea to combine both of our passions (mine food, Laurent’s photography) to create a book incorporating the food, culture and landscapes of each of the countries we would visit in South America. We saved our money for about 2 years and sold pretty much everything we had. Totally crazy? Yes! Big dreamers? Yes! I had no idea if I would love long-term travel or just want to run for the hills and hurry back home to my safe, secure life in NY.
Both Laurent & I are happy to report that one year later, we are loving our lives more than we ever dreamed possible and have no intention to stop traveling. And more importantly, we are loving traveling together! Everyone said that a trip like this either makes or breaks a couple. We feel closer now than we ever have and even though we have had our share of arguments (trust me!), in the end, we are still holding hands at the end of the day.
We still do not know what the future holds (does anyone??) but for now, our goal is to continue traveling as long as we can. It’s not the easiest life. In a lot of ways my life in New York was much simpler. It was comfortable, it was easy. I knew what to expect most of the time. I knew the language!! Life on the road is not like that! I had to learn to constantly expect the unexpected. ALL the time! To not plan too much. Most of all, I had to just let go and let things fall in their place. To surrender to the fear of the unknown. To truly live in the moment. This was not easy for me at first but I have to say, after one year, I am damn good at it!
So does that mean that the traveling changed us? I think so but not dramatically. It’s one of those things where I probably won’t realize the changes until I am far away from it. For now, I don’t feel radically different. I still feel like me. It’s not like I have had some major vision or epiphany on this trip. I didn’t choose to sell my possessions & hit the road to ‘go find myself’. I am not a big believer in needing to ‘find yourself’. I feel that knowing oneself is an eternal process that stretches your lifetime. We are all constantly changing & adapting and how you are today is not how you will be tomorrow. Also, I wasn’t seeking some kind of spiritual enlightenment. I am already very in touch with myself and feel a deep connection to nature and others around me. That being said, I am so much more relaxed than I have been in a very long time. The years living in New York had taken their toll on me. I was frazzled, stressed out, impatient and easily annoyed. I didn’t like those parts of myself. This past year has forced me to let go of the little things that used to stress me out and I am a much happier person as a result. Even though I have traveled a lot in the past, traveling like this has allowed me to see the world much differently. I learned the importance of learning the language so that you can take time to talk to the people who inhabit the countries you visit, rather than just ticking sights off of a list. Immersing yourself in the culture and meeting people is a new way of travel for me. I also know for sure that the impossible is really possible. I used to think it but now I know it. Anything you imagine for yourself can be achieved if you want it badly enough. We’ve realized that we are fond of slow traveling. We have stayed in one place for almost a month. In just one year we visited five countries and stayed three months in all except Uruguay. We don’t plan much ahead of time. We found it’s the best way to absorb all the different food, landscapes and culture we come into contact with. We hope to continue travel in this way.
And what about that book we are making? Well, it’s a slow process. Right now, I have so much information about the foods from each country and Laurent has a gazillion photos. The information is pretty well organized but we haven’t actually started writing the book. We know we need to stop traveling in order to just focus on writing. At the end of November, I will be returning to New York for the holidays. We are spending New Years Eve (our 5 year anniversary together) by meeting up with great friends in Marrakesh, Morocco for one week and after that, I will go to France with Laurent for 3 months. In France we have a quiet place where we can work and will start writing the book then. And then in April, we will return to South America to gather more information. This is the new plan.
Most of our memories this year have been pretty special in their own way. Sure there have been some bad moments too! Life on the road is NOT perfect! I prefer to focus on the positive and so I’ve recapped some of our best moments from the past year. I could have gone on and on but this is the best of the best so far.
1. Sailing to Antarctica with the Bark Europa
If you remember way, way back to when we planned this voyage-how nervous I was about taking an old sailboat for 22 days across the Drake Passage to a continent barely visited by humans. Sure there were times when I was nervous on the boat (like doing watches at 3 am strapped in with waves splashing my face) and working on the boat was tiring at times and yes, we both got horribly seasick. In retrospect, that all seems like small peanuts. The ‘old sailboat’ has forever captivated our minds and hearts, as well as the landscapes and wildlife we witnessed in Antarctica. It truly is like no other place on earth-it exists in its own space and time. The crazy boyfriend was right about this one. We indeed earned Antarctica and the memory of celebrating 4 years together floating to this surreal, unforgettable place was romantic and special and simply one we will never, ever forget.
2. Completing the Torres del Paine circuit
Our first attempt at this 3 years ago was a fail. We were not properly prepared back then for a 8 day circuit of carrying our own camping equipment, food while trekking sometimes up to 12 miles per day. This time around, we were ready. We had completed many long hikes just prior to setting out on the circuit. We went ultra-light with the food and carried only essential gear. I had to really push myself out of my comfort zones to complete it (trekking over ice, snow and in a blizzard!) but the efforts and rewards both for myself, each other and the camera were well worth it! As an added bonus, we got to see another perfect sunrise on the Torres.
3. Crossing the border into Chile by foot and hitchhiking the Carretera Austral from Villa O’Higgins to Puerto Montt
When we first heard that you could trek 23 km from Argentina into Chile crossing some of the most beautiful, wild and remote landscape, we were instantly hooked! We were initially told that there would be horses to carry our backpacks and were shocked to discover that it was not true! I cannot tell you the horror we felt when we learned we had to carry all that weight ourselves (poor Laurent with 40 kilos-88 lbs! and me with almost 30 kilos-66 lbs!). That border crossing pushed us both to the very limits, literally. But that was only the beginning of the adventure. The Carretera Austral, runs for over 1000 km through the wild & most beautiful part of Patagonian Chile. Transport is a real problem on this gravel, pothole-filled ‘highway’ that snakes its way through rural villages and drop-dead gorgeous scenery. We soon realized the only way to get around is by hitchhiking and it took us 6 weeks from Villa O Higgins to Puerto Montt to finish. We camped along the way, ran out of money at one point, had our biggest argument of the trip, met some amazing people, saw even more amazing things and in general just had one great big adventure. Unforgettable.
4. Renting a car for 3 weeks in the Andean Northwest of Argentina
The Northwest part of Argentina has some of the most beautiful landscape in the country. Colorful, desert-like at times, rainforest at others. It’s a vast area and the best way to get around is to rent a car. Laurent & I along with a French guy we met, set off for a road trip adventure. Visiting smal, rurall towns like Iruya, sampling some of the fresh queso de cabra washed down with the areas star wine-Torrontes, discovering the best homemade pasta outside of Italy and driving some of the most incredible scenery that seemed to change with every hairpin turn were just some of the highlights. Small towns like Cachi, Molinos, Iruya & Rinconadillas are places we will never forget.
5. Couchsurfing in Cordoba, Argentina and learning to cook asado gaucho-style in the backcountry
Boy did we get lucky. We had not one but two amazing hosts for couchsurfing in Cordoba, Argentina. The first guy we met was an astronomer and took us to the local observatory for an amazing viewing of the full moon and Jupiter. The day after that, we set off with him into the nearby mountains of Cordoba for an overnight hiking adventure. Our backpacks were full of meat (as well as red wine!) and we prepared an asado (Argentinian style BBQ) the way the gauchos would. There was no parrilla (grill) at the campsite, so we set to work making one out of fresh branches. Using only wood to make our brasas (the key to the best asado) and our homemade parrilla, we feasted on one of our most flavorful versions of this Argentine tradition. Our second couchsurfer taught us to make an asado the more traditional way on a modern parrilla and after we feasted we watched football and drank maté. We love Argentinian culture!
6. Taking cooking classes
From learning to make empanadas & alfajores in Argentina to learning the secrets of Mapuche cooking in Chile, taking classes for cooking is one of my favorite things to do. I learned so much through not only the formal classes but also from women in rural villages in Chile or from couchsurfers (like our first host in Buenos Aires who taught me to make a proper milanesa). Learning about the foods of each country has been my favorite part of this trip and taking classes or learning from people just heightens this passion. I plan to keep doing this for every country we visit to help increase my knowledge of the foods in each area.
7. Spending my birthday at the Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia with one of my best friends
I can’t even begin to tell you how special and exciting it is to have someone from home come visit. I was lucky enough for her to come visit on my birthday, no less and in one of the most beautiful locations in Bolivia to boot! The Salar de Uyuni has been on my list of places I’ve wanted to see for a long time. How memorable to spend my 39th birthday here with one of my best friends, my boyfriend and a guy we had met earlier on our trip while hitchhiking the Carretera Austral. I felt very blessed. The Salar was amazing and even more incredible, was the landscape surrounding it. We spent 4 days in a Jeep with a driver/guide and cook to reach the Salar. The days spent in the car were long but the scenery and the company was unforgettable.
8. Northern Chile; Parque Nacional Lauca & San Pedro de Atacama
Chile is a striking country. With a coast almost as long as the continent itself, there is much variety between the south and the north. The south was very green, lush with glaciers and waterfalls tumbling from everywhere. The north was a stark contrast. Desert-like, lunar, stark and raw. San Pedro de Atacama was amazing to see but filled with hoards of tourists. Parque Nacional Lauca had an equally beautiful landscape but without the crowds. Sublimely serene, this is where we bid our farewell to Chile.
9. Taking Spanish classes for 3 weeks in Sucre
My one biggest regret I have for this trip is that I didn’t take the time to take Spanish classes while back in NY. I just didn’t make it a priority and thought we would just ‘learn on the road’. Ha! When we first arrived to Buenos Aires one year ago, we took Spanish classes for one week. This helped a bit (a very small bit but a bit) but we needed more work. A lot more work. We struggled through Argentina where they pronounce the ‘ll’ like ‘sh’ and then onto Chile where they seem to have a language all of their own! It was tough to say the least. When we arrived in Bolivia, we had heard it was inexpensive to take classes in Sucre. We made a beeline there and decided to stay for 3 weeks. I am happy to report that finally, our Spanish is functional and we can even finally have basic social conversations!
10. Taking a homemade raft to Rurrenbaque in the Amazon rainforest
In my last blog post, I detailed this trip. Camping on the shores of the jungle, having a mighty captain to man our raft with his excellent cook, eating fresh tropical fruit, pouring Singani into fresh coconuts and partying with the best group were definite highlights. Some of our most tranquil days of the trip were had on this raft.
11. 2013-A food Odyssey
I haven’t gotten this far on the blog but last month we spent a week or so in Peru’s capital, Lima. We started out at the gigantic food festival, Mistura and our eating adventures just continued from there. The best ceviche you can ever eat in your life lives in Lima! In addition to that, we tried the tiraditos, the sushi fusion, causas with achingly tender grilled octopus atop, anticuchos (grilled beef hearts on skewers), pachamanca (a stew made with pork and potatoes cooked on hot stones), papa rellenos, tacu tacu and more. Peru’s gastronomy is vast with influences from China, Japan and Africa. Then there is the more traditional Peruvian criollo food. The variety of ingredients from the sea to the Amazon rainforest is as vast as the country itself. All of it is colorful, delicious and fresh. A cacophony for your taste buds. And that is just one city in this food-lovers country! Stay tuned!
12. Trekking for 5 days over the Salkantay pass to Machu Picchu
For travelers in South America, Machu Picchu is on almost everyone’s list. It’s even made it on to a lot of peoples bucket lists. A lot of people want to do the traditional Inca Trail but due to its ever-growing popularity, you have to plan at least 3-6 months (maybe more in the busy season). That’s just not our style. A good alternative is the Salkantay trek. We received great advice for doing it on our own but because it crosses a high mountain pass (4650 m-15,000 ft) we decided in the end to go with a guide and a group. We got lucky because the group was mostly Brazilians and a couple from Spain. Even though we don’t speak Portugese (yet), the Brazilians infectious good energy was irresistible! They all made the trip so fun and memorable. A very special group to a very special place. Stay tuned for my upcoming post about this adventure.
13. Celebrating our one year anniversary in the Colca Canyon in Peru
Colca Canyon is twice deeper than the Grand Canyon and it’s simply breathtaking. The river Colca has cut a big gap through this mountain range of reds, oranges and golds. We trekked in the canyon for 3 days and while it was some of the toughest trekking due to its steepness (think carrying a backpack while climbing down 1100 m (almost 4000 ft) and then back up. Blistering sun with no shade to hide under, dusty trails-with dust so thick it got into every crevice of our bodies, hot and dry beyond belief!! Sounds a little torturous, no? That is, until we reached our spot for the night. One night had us in a hot spring just on top of Colca river and the next night had us at a place called “Eden”. Truly an idyllic paradise with palm, banana and papaya trees growing around a sapphire pool with a waterfall fed directly from a spring in the mountain. The water was a blissful 25 degrees (68 F). Refreshing and amazing. We slept at night in little bamboo huts with stone walls. No electricity, no internet, just the nature all around.
14. The people we met
Seeing all these amazing landscapes was breathtaking but what made our year even more special are the people we met. It’s always the people you meet in life that have the most profound effects on us. This past year we met some beautiful, fun, inspiring and downright wacky people! Whether it’s the locals or other travelers, our trip would not have been the same without all these wonderful people we encountered. Here are just some of them.
Cheers to another year (hopefully) of more traveling. We both feel so blessed and fortunate to be living this kind of life right now. I know I put so many freaking photos in this post but if you want to see more of Laurent’s amazing photos from the year (so far) please go see his incredible photography page by clicking here: Laurent Lhomond Photography. I am so very proud of him.
To all of you reading, I hope you enjoyed reminiscing with us as much as we enjoyed it. I know life is busy but we really appreciate you taking time out to share in what has been a very special year for us. Sharing our lives through this blog with friends and family makes the memories even more beautiful. Thanks for allowing me to come into your home through your laptop or smartphone and make a connection.