Sitting in the Vancouver airport, I was full of nerves and butterflies – I was on the road again. Eighteen hours of travel later including a brutal red-eye where it’s impossible to get any decent amount of sleep, the dusty peaks of the South American backbone, the Andes, emerged.
Santiago is hot and loud as is typical for South American cities. The air is stagnant and you can hardly see the mountains that encircle the city. As I poured over the Lonely Planet in my Airbnb, I got occasional relief from the sweltering heat as the fan blew air across the rivers of sweat running down my arms. My body was currently acclimatized to a winter world of rain, hot cocoa and furnaces; but within hours, I’d transported it to a city the heat is so fierce that I’m convinced it’s where the devil lives.
Even after a nap on my first day, I could hardly bring myself to go outside. From the window, I watched local buskers impersonating Michael Jackson on the edge of the Plaza de Armas – their set repeating every twenty minutes so that MJ classics are now the soundtrack to my Latino overwhelm. In the end, I made it around the block that first night. A single block.
On my second day, I expanded my walking radius one block further. I went to a nearby outdoor market in search of some fruit for breakfast. Not knowing the rules, I stood back and watched the process in action as locals filled their wheelie-bags to the brim with produce. Once I thought I figured out the steps, I tentatively grabbed a plastic bag from the stack hanging off awning and began to fill it with ripe nectarines. Then whoosh, a woman descended on me from nowhere and ripped the bag from my hand, nattering at me in Spanish. She spoke no English and I can only order a beer in Spanish which wasn't particularly helpful! Despite our wild street-side game of charades, I couldn’t figure out why she wouldn't to sell me any fruit. Still hungry and now slightly despondent, I choked back a few frustrated tears that were desperate to roll down my flushed cheek. Who knew buying nectarines could be such a traumatic experience?
Things turned a corner after successfully navigating the purchase of sunscreen in the pharmacy and conducting an entire "conversation" with woman in the cell phone shop to get a local SIM card... we hunched over her a computer typing into Google Translate. Bless her for her patience and creative way of solving our language barrier.
While I jokingly say that I was shocked to learn my travel legs had gone “soft” while in a comfortable cocoon at home, the reality is that I generally hate the first 48 hours of most big trips. I have to slowly peel back fear’s sticky grip. Yup. I said it. Fear. Even after watching the sun rise and set in different places splattered across the globe, I still spend the first few hours in a new place feeling fearful. It’s not a fear of anything catastrophic - it's just this tiny, niggly fear of new world outside in general that nips at your heels.
The honest truth is that I spent the better part of my first two days in Santiago hermitting in my Airbnb in state complete overwhelm. So many things contributed to those early hours of culture shock... the boisterous, loud dirtiness of it all... sticking out like a sore thumb because I'm so blonde and fair and don't stand a chance of blending in inconspiculously (I didn't even seen any other blonde tourists in my first days)... my complete lack of Spanish (and likewise their English). Not to mention, I was tired, jet-lagged, had just flipped seasons.
Despite reminding myself of all these factors, I kept thinking, “I’m a well-seasoned traveller, why do I have no muscle memory for this?” Almost chastising myself for feeling overwhelmed, half expecting that I’d be less sensitive after traveling for the entire previous year. Like, this long and skinny sliver of a country snaking down the western side of South America, the travel fear slithered out of nowhere and grabbed me. I’ll admit that I sent more than one teary-eyed message to friends at home that said “What the heck am I doing here? This is clearly not my continent.”
In the travel world, we hardly ever talk about this fear. We perpetuate this image of carefree excitement without talking about those dark days on the road. In fact, to many I probably seem to embody carefree excitement but there can be rough stretches. Especially as we adjust to the foreign worlds we find ourselves in. It’s not unusual to be nervous about the unknown element of travel. It’s like those nervous butterflies you get just before jumping off a 10m diving board. But if we let them, they’ll stop us from jumping. And oh, what I thrill it is when we plunge in.
And when in doubt, a full belly and full-nights rest at a quaint surf lodge on the beach will easily restore anyone’s travel flow... Hola Pichilemu!
Nice to meet you...
I'm Andi (hence the blog name). I'm a travel aficionado, passionate eater, tireless explorer of internet rabbit-holes, and amateur thinker. Join me as I give it all up (ok, that's a bit of an exaggeration) and go around the world on a mid-career "soul sabbatical" & year-of-learning to figure out what to be NEXT when I grow up. Won’t you grab a cup of chai and stay a while?
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