When I was little, I often daydreamed about where I would travel to when I grew up.
This summer, I spent four months backpacking Uruguay and nine other Latin American countries along with it, just as I dreamed when I was little.
Yet my trip this summer involved a good share of discomfort, even pain such as itching bites and frozen toes.
In order to do things that you really want to do, you have to pinch pesos. Students do it all the time. Backpackers do that, too. Community is built by trading tips on how to save a few cents.
In a lot of ways, being a backpacker is like being a student strapped for cash. Sometimes, you have to make difficult decisions. Rice and beans for every night saves a bit. Cramped dormitory bunk beds beat paying for a hotel.
Occasionally, in the midst of discomfort, worry and frugality, something happened. I had a moment – a moment of authenticity.
In Latin America, you can feel the spray from the waterfalls. You can chew coca leaves with Bolivians at more than 4,000 m. above sea level. You can claim your own tropical atoll with nothing but a hammock strung between two palm trees and colourful fish for company. You can sip maté with lighthouse keepers watching the sea lion colony on the shore. You can trek to a glacier named “Wild Mountain” by the Quechua speaking Andean people of Peru.
I used to spin the globe, letting it whirl and jabbing my finger at random when I was a child and I most often hit Uruguay. And I was finally there, in Uruguay, in the tiny village of Cabo Polonio on the coast.
Simplicity is conversation by candlelight to the lapping waves. Sunrise becomes miraculous without electricity. Locals were proud to call their paradise, “rústico pero auténtico”. Rustic, but authentic.
I trekked, hiked, camped and mountain biked down a road in La Paz, Bolivia that claims to be the most dangerous road in the world. Mostly unscathed, I continued onward to what is probably the most famous landmark in South America.
As my journey went on, I became daring. And searching for more authenticity, I was in Machu Picchu.
It is the place that I had for years dreamed about getting to. I thought it would be a highlight of my trip, but it might be an understatement after all.
“Plenty of people cry when they get there,” said my Peruvian guide Juan Carols.
I now understand what he meant.
Not only is the site an archaeological feat and a cultural wonder, but also is the embodiment of adventure and travel. I felt so fortunate to just be standing there.
It was a perfect post card. The city is still clearly divided into agricultural, religious, industrial and residential sectors by Inca stone walls with Waynapicchu Mountain towers behind.
I didn’t plot and plan very much. I didn’t really know what I was getting myself into. I just wanted to experience it. I was seeking authenticity. I wanted an unforgettable adventure.
And as my journey went on, I wasn’t disappointed.
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