Why I traveled to Latin America what I learnt
Reconnecting with my Heritage
I was born in South London to Peruvian and British parents. Growing up, “Latinidad” didn't really have a meaning to me. It was simply just the way things were. Spanish was spoken at home, Peruvian food was served, we’d buy our food at the market and on Saturday mornings I’d have to get up to clean! Our friends were Peruvian too, so nothing felt unusual to me. Moreover, being raised in a multicultural environment like London taught me that everybody did things differently at home.
It wasn't until I moved to a small town in Germany where I realised that I was different. I have never been ashamed of my culture. However, subconsciously, I did understand that it was safer to keep my culture to myself, safe from the harsh words and judgements of people who didn't understand and maybe didn't really care about my background.
My mother taught me that being Peruvian means that we work hard. And so my years of education were filled with excellent marks, prizes and honours. Being in a foreign country with a new language was no excuse for bad grades, and so I managed to learn German very quickly and very well.
When I was fourteen years old I first discovered the "backpacker lifestyle". I found out that people were travelling around the world. To Latinamerica! Crossing boarders and living day to day. Volunteering and making money as they went. I was in love. I, who felt estranged from my culture wanted this more than anything. I told my mother that I was going to do that when I finished school and she smiled.
During my last years of school, identity and background came up a lot as topics. When I graduated, my school nominated me for a scholarship. It was a great honour and completely unexpected. If it hadn’t been valid for so long, it probably would have convinced me to go to University. But I had the strong urge to reconnect with my roots and find myself. Everything had to wait.
Many people told me I was “throwing away my great potential” and “wasting an amazing opportunity”.
What they didn’t see was that I believed I was creating a new opportunity. And I knew, at least I really hoped, that this was something big.
I wanted to find was myself, my identity and my purpose. Fully self-financed I set off to Latin America with nothing holding me back. How long for? I didn't know. I just knew that I had to go. And, that everything was going to be fine.
My mother dropped me off at the airport, crying and told me she hadn't thought that I was being serious. But I was. My journey started in Costa Rica and took me through Nicaragua, Mexico, Cuba, Peru, Colombia, Ecuador, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic and even Miami and LA.
When I am asked what my favourite place was I can’t answer. Because every place was wonderful in it’s own way and connected to an emotional experience.
I remember the first time I was really alone. I was in Tulum, Mexico and I believe I had been travelling for around three months at this point, but yet had never been alone. When my plan for the day flopped, I was determined to go alone. I was so shy that even though I knew I had missed my stop on the bus, it took me a few minutes time to gather the courage and speak up. I really cherish this memory because today I am so much more confident. That could never be me again!
My experience made me also realise that I was so much more brave and prepared to take risks than I thought I was. I became so convinced, that everything would always be ok. This didn't mean that I became fearless. But it showed me that that suffering for the future was a waste of time. There was always a solution.
I found out that I could be whoever I wanted to be. When arriving to a new place, nobody knew me. I could introduce myself as whoever I wanted to be and it was completely legitimate. I could alternate between my names, sometimes I was introverted and sometimes I was extroverted. I could really embody each of my interests one at a time. Why? Because I wasn't worried about what anybody would think. And this concept I have ever since applied to my daily life.
My most optimistic insight restored my views of humankind. Despite being warned about the dangers of very bad people around, I mostly encountered good people! One time when I was walking home in Medellin, Colombia and I realised I hadn't taken note of my hostel's name, address or any valuable information, I had to ask for help. I explained my situation to a lady who took me to her house, changed her shoes, called her son and helped me walk around to find my hostel. Every time a situation forced me to rely on trusting a stranger, I was fortunate to have a great experience.
But overall, travelling was one of the most eye-opening, emotional and rewarding things I have experienced in my life. It demonstrated to me that Latin America is a place that is so diverse and yet so similar, spiritual in no conventional way. Simultaneously rich and humble. Colourful and with a lot of history. Latin America has nothing to do with the Stereotypes I knew. Latin America was me.