After our parents left on January 14th, Willie and I ventured from Arequipa to Puno, Peru. We saw the floating Uros Islands by boat on Lake Titicaca, where people have been living for hundreds of years on manmade islands made of reeds that grow in the lake. The same reed is used for medicine, food, dental hygiene, cooking fuel, and building materials for houses. From Puno, Willie and I parted ways for a couple of weeks. I traveled to La Paz, Bolivia; Iquique, Chile; San Pedro de Atacama, Chile; and Santiago, Chile. Throughout my solo travels, I have bought a travel guitar, gone sandboarding, drank Chilean wine, perused lots of markets, and met many fellow travelers at hostels. Here are my musings on flying solo:
(1) Crossing borders scares me. There is something about bordercrossing bureaucracy that is absolutely terrifying to me. Mostly my thoughts are: what if they don’t let me out? ok, I’m out… What if they don’t let me in? And then, what if they don’t let me reenter where I just left? For US citizens, Bolivia has a complicated visa process. Everywhere I read online said that you can buy the visa at the border if you prepare the following: a copy of your passport, passport pictures, proof of a bank account, an itinerary, proof of reservations, and proof of vaccinations. Arriving at the border I had my usual fears but felt confident in my preparations. Turns out, I was missing one document from the Bolivian website, and I had to go back and forth between the Bolivian immigration office and a Peruvian print shop several times before obtaining the document. Because this took about two hours, the bus I was on left with my backpack. And I was left at the border. I suppose it is a good thing my worst fears were realized: I almost wasn’t let in to Bolivia and my bus left me behind. Surprisingly, I didn’t freak out too much. I managed to catch a local bus to La Paz and recover my big backpack at the bus terminal.
Crossing into Chile, I again had my fears that they wouldn’t let me out or in. This time, I was worried because I had bought a bunch of chia seeds for cheap in Bolivia (I was stoked about this purchase), and I thought I might get in trouble for this. Turns out, it was no problem, plus there is no visa, so I crossed in to Chile with no problems.
(2) Buses make bad beds. At 5:30 AM I awoke with a start, reached for my guitar (now my most prized possession), and looked out over the lights of Iquique, Chile, completely pitch-black sky. After 15 hours, I had finally arrived. I was groggy. My plan was to see if I had the wearwithall or the energy to keep traveling the 8 more hours to San Pedro de Atacama, my eventual destination. I did not. 6 hours of fitful sleep on a bus is a disaster for me. I’m an 8hoursa-night kind of gal, so I was a mess. After stopping at 5 different hostels with a taxi driver, I finally found a “residencial” for $20 a night. Note to self: it is high tourist season in Chile and planning ahead is a must. Ok, I know better. Upon arriving in my room, I immediately fell into my full size bed with 2 pillows what a luxury! (Just for one night)
The 22-hour bus ride from San Pedro de Atacama to Santiago went a lot better because I upgraded to the bigger seat. I got a blanket and a pillow, and they fed us dinner and breakfast. Pretty fancy! But of course, I was happy to arrive in Santiago and put my feet on solid ground. I walked the three miles to my hostel with all my stuff, just because I was so antsy to move after sitting for so long. Even though the upgrade to the nicer bed was a good call, I will be happy to not sleep on buses for awhile!
(3) Joys of the road: I get a lot of joy from little accomplishments while traveling solo. Today I realized that I needed a electrical plug converter. After walking only 2 blocks, I found this sort of Ace-hardware like store (they also sold fruits and veggies, strange) and asked if they had the converter. They did! This sort of tiny seeminly-mundane accomplishment energizes me and puts a spring in my step. I’m in a foreign country getting my needs met!
Traveling solo is not what I expected it would be. I predicted that the hardest part would be feeling scared because I’m a woman traveling by myself in South America. While I am more cautious without Willie, I don’t feel scared to be alone. So many people that I have met in my travels have been kind and helpful, and with technology, I can usually have some sort of plan(s) that make me feel secure. No, the hardest part for me, the extrovert, is feeling lonely. (Willie, I’m sure, probably feels the opposite, as an introvert.) For me, I love to share experiences and discuss observations of cultural differences. Though it can be lonely at times, on the flip side, there is something freeing about being in new places by yourself. This freedom, wandering streets and discovering a good restaurant. Exploring cities at your leisure, stopping wherever you please. Sitting on benches for long periods of time people-watching. Every time I get on a bus, I get this feeling that I am unstoppable. It’s a rush of freedom: I could, can, go anywhere.
Where to, now? Over the last week and a half, I have traveled 2,299 miles by bus through three different countries seeing so many incredible sights in a short time. After this constant travel, I am ready to settle down for awhile. Tomorrow I head to volunteer at a farm just north of Santiago, and I am looking forward to time in nature and some peace and quiet.