Over the past two years, living in South America has taught me five things
Reflections on living in Colombia and Argentina
Since I left the US in 2018, most of my time has been spent in South America. In this time, I would say I have spent almost three years combined on this great continent.
A continent that, when I started traveling, thought, "who wants to go to South America" "it is probably like America, just Spanish speaking." I was so naive, yet I am also a budget traveler.
I was able to use air miles, and the cheapest flight I could find was to Bogota, Colombia, in August of 2018. So why not?
I knew I wanted to go to Peru and heard that Argentina was fun. Yet neither was on my bucket list.
It was a new adventure, and as I stepped into my new life, I knew I would leave if it didn't vibe with me. I had nothing to lose, and I was so naive, and sometimes stepping into the unexpected brings the most beautiful surprises.
My first day in Bogota proved that choosing Colombia as the first step on my big adventure would not be easy. If you wonder if Colombia is an excellent step to start a solo journey, I will say yes.
Only if you are up for a challenge; if not, then go to Thailand or Peru. Yes, these two are used to tourists and much easier places unless you are up for an adventure.
I keep writing Latin America and changing it to South America. I think Central America and Mexico are great. Yet, I am not an expert living there as I have only been to parts of Mexico and Costa Rica, and as beautiful as Costa Rica was, I prefer Colombia.
So I will talk specifically about South America.
My first lesson was in humility.
When I first got to Colombia, I wanted a coffee and food. I was starving. I knew the basics in Spanish, as in hola, de nada, and gracias. I could tell you my name. That was it.
In my naive state, I assumed they would speak English in the big cities. No, they do not. Some places do, but most of the country does not, and why would they if they are not working in the tourist industry.
I stood in line at Juan Valdez (its Colombians version of Starbucks), almost in tears, saying cafe con leche and pointing at the food.
The barista said something in swift Spanish; it was a disaster; I was shaking, tears in my eyes, and embarrassed. They had no idea what I wanted or was saying; there was a huge line; I was humiliated; how did I expect to last in this country?
I knew it was leave or adapt. Learn more Spanish, listen more, observe more, and overall be kind.
I eventually got what I wanted across, paid, and sat down and wondered if I was over my head? Would I accept this challenge that I set before me, or would I cower off to a new country? Then I stayed in Colombia for four months!
My addiction to South America had begun.
My second lesson was in patience.
I worked in a fast-paced environment my whole life; I lived in a fast city my entire adult life. If there were a line or too many people, I would leave. I would come back another day. I would not wait, I would not stand in line, and I would go home and order it online.
I had no time to wait; my time was precious. I could be filling my brain with busy work that did not matter.
We are all too busy, I now realize. Here in South America, standing and waiting in line is expected. The grocery store, the bank, western union, for food.
They are not standing, stomping their foot, or looking at their watches or phones. They are talking to the person in the line. Sometimes they talk so much they don't realize it is their time to go next!
There is no hurry up and wait; they make the best of it - the same with restaurants. The food comes out when it is ready, not all at once.
It comes when it comes, and you wait. If you complain, they do not care; it will not make it happen any faster. You being angry only hurts you.
I used to think I was patient. I always have a book, an audiobook. My patience when I arrived here was tested a lot, especially in the first year.
I went through a lot of growing pains the first years on the road. Now I can tell you I am patient.
It did not come from wanting to be patient but a need to adapt to my environment. I still have my book and audiobook, but now I am not also stomping my foot.
I am standing there like everyone else. If someone speaks to me, I talk back. I have stopped filling my mind with busy work and enjoy the moment of just being; instead of thinking about what else I have to do, usually, I never would do the "what else I have to do anyway ." It was just a way for my brain not to want to be where I was.
My third lesson was to let go.
It was a huge one. I realized that when I got to a new country, I had to let go of control. I had to let go of trying to control everything around me.
It taught me that my thoughts are the only thing I can and will ever control. I am not sure why we, as humans, believe that we have control over anything in this world.
We often think that we can control what happens just because we have entered a new place. You can only control how you react or not respond to someone.
I did not get angry because the barista could not understand my bad Spanish; I thought, how can I fix this within myself. It was to let go and become a sponge of the environment I immersed myself into.
Let go of expecting everything to work on my timetable, on my expectations, and learning a new way of being.
My fourth lesson was to stop being so busy and take time to relax and enjoy life.
Living in South America has taught me that it is ok to do nothing. It is beautiful knowing I can sit on my porch, have a cup of coffee, and do nothing.
How can we be productive if we never give ourselves the time to be bored or unproductive. I know that I am happier when I let my mind relax without guilt.
I have to be honest. I get into the mindset of work work work, and an I must create.
Yet why? What am I working toward? To have the life I already have?
I realized this yesterday; I was neglecting my garden. So I spent the day in my garden.
We in the western world have become obsessed with working to obtain things instead of cherishing the things or people we have in our lives.
Here in South America, they don't work to have an excess. They work to maintain what they have and to live a happy life. They are not working to buy the newest iPhone or Mac computer.
They work to have food on the table, a roof over their heads, and to be happy.
My fifth lesson is to enjoy what I already have and not waste money on useless things that do not add to my life.
I am no longer working to buy things. I only need so much money; I only need so many things. I do not work to be a consumer of things.
I know how much money I need to live the lifestyle I have. I am not looking to buy anything I do not need. I have everything I need. I have food on my table; my dog has food.
I prefer to spend my time sitting on my porch, working in my garden, and creating my food forest instead of going shopping and buying things that will sit in my closet.
I do not buy into the idea of buying something to have them. If they have no use, they do not get purchased. I enjoy creating things with what I have lying around; yesterday, I built a trellis for the planted beans. It was with wood I had lying around.
I also collected some of the wood from the river. It was more rewarding than going and buying it from the store.
So as we all have goals, have you already reached your goals, and you are entirely unaware?
I do not want to confuse you and think that I have met all my goals, but a dream of living abroad and doing what I love is in process.
When a plan is done, does that mean it is completed or a continuation state?
I feel that I am in a continuation state, yet my goals continue to grow as I continue to live inside of the plan; it is increasing as each objective is obtained.
Yet my goal objectives have changed; it is no longer attached to a monetary value yet a value of happiness, joy, and contentment. Not an I must make XYZ amount of dollars. That once was my focus that has slipped away and transmuted into feelings instead of dollars.
Living in South America has taught me a lot about my life and myself.