Emma Bidstrup recently returned from 3 months exploring Columbia, Argentina and everywhere in between. Travel South America with Emma as she shares a few lessons learned & offers up some advice for those looking to embark on an adventure of a lifetime.
Words & Photos by Emma Bidstrup
Honours psychology student by day, dreamer by night – and also by day, and probably more-so than anything else.
After studying Spanish for two years at university (for no reason other than it is apparently the easiest new language to learn) I stumbled across a thirst for knowing Latin-American culture – a thirst that I knew only fully immersing myself in that culture would cure. Little did I know, you can’t go to South America without falling even more in love, and having it take over your entire life. With my mind trapped in fantasies of sand-boarding giant dunes in Huacachina, Peru, dancing to reggaeton until 6am in Argentina, and hiking at dizzying heights among snow-capped mountains with eyes (and mind) wide open, writing about the things I learned seemed a good coping mechanism. I hope reading about it helps you cope with not being in South America as well.
1. Things always work out – eventually. When your bus stops in the middle of Guadalajara, Colombia at 11pm in a scarcely-lit neighbourhood dotted with rabid dogs and drunk men, you just hold your head high and pretend you’re not a 20-something year old female, white foreigner with an 18kg backpack feeling vulnerable and exhausted after hiking through a tropical rainforest for most of the day. You just put those semesters of Spanish electives to good use and talk your way out of the situation. Harness that peace you felt tanning on the Caribbean beach earlier that day, put on your big girl shoes and find another damn bus, even if it takes you 3 hours and a couple tears. Things always work out.
2. Carrying a pocket-knife in your handbag might be illegal but it makes you feel more confidant in anxiety-provoking situations (see point 1) and it’s super handy when you want to take advantage of the abundant delish mangoes and avocados that you can’t afford when you’re at home.
3. Some of the things you’ll see are really, really old. Specifically, about 1500 years ago people were making ceramics and at some point after that they decided that erotic pottery should be a thing. Yes, sex pots are a thing that you can go and see (my highlight of Lima), which is super awesome if you like cool ceramics – or sex.
Women walking to markets – Chivay, Peru.
4. Everyone is family. I’m from Australia – a beautiful country with beautiful people who unfortunately, are rarely connected to each other. The majority of us are blessed with privilege; we have access to nutritious and sustaining foods, around 95% are consistently employed, and even if we are on minimum wage or technically in poverty we have a roof over our head and plumbing under our feet. On a whole, we have our needs met, but most of us are missing a crucial element which is fundamental to our existence – and most of us don’t even know it. I’m talking about our sense of community. Over the past few months, I had the opportunity to connect with locals throughout Colombia, Peru and Bolivia, and I quickly learnt that everyone is your brother, sister, aunt or uncle. Yes, you can trust the people around you, and yes you can ask for help. Yes, you can make eye-contact with people and treat them like an end, rather than a means to it. Yes, by being open and genuine, you can attract like-minded people – and the cruncher is that people are like-minded and genuine when treated like family. Having this mindset fosters that sense of community that is so lacking in our beautiful, developed, consumerist society with so much to offer.
5. There is nothing better than a fresh pressed orange juice and choripan when you are hung-over and/or heartbroken in Buenos Aires.
6. Remember to look up at the stars whenever you get a chance. Just look up. When you’re back home and the daily stresses of your consumerist life start to tax your energy and patience (and pockets), take a sec to breathe and just look up. You’ll feel all the better for it. Life be beautiful. It be full of pretty things: plants, colours, people to watch, romantic words, the moon, light, architecture, animals, landscapes, patterns. Take a moment to be all up in that.
7. You don’t need that coffee. Sure, you want it, but in South America you went without it (mostly because their coffee is actually not very good considering it’s where most of the world’s coffee is grown) and you totally didn’t die. You also don’t need that handbag, that addiction to social media, another slice of cake, milk (they seriously don’t even drink it over there), nor that iPad that disappeared mysteriously from your luggage.
8. You might even realise that the few things you really do need, and wanted while you were in some areas of South America (i.e., clean drinking water, nutritious food, comfortable bed, opportunity to educate yourself, financial assistance) are available at home, and you might even become a little more thankful for it.
That said, you don’t need alcohol, but make sure to guzzle an Amazon’s worth if you’re there because you’ll never get it so cheap again. I’m talking $1 for a six-pack man, I ain’t messing around.
Toddler in pink – Taquile, Lake Titicaca, Peru
9. If you’re gluten-intolerant you’re gonna have a bad time – at like every meal. Seriously, it’s bread or cake for breakfast, crackers at morning tea and afternoon tea, crackers or bread at dinner, and you can be sure that any other meal will be rice or potato so I hope you’re okay with gaining 10+ kg. Also, start liking corn.
10. When you can’t possibly move forward, just take one more step. Your mind and body are capable of achieving amazing things, things greater than you are aware of. Just take one more step.