Ask the Steve of November 2015 what he’d be doing half a year hence, and he’d tell you, “probably not frantically prepping a backpack to tour Latin America.”
Yet–following an unusually interesting seven months– here I am with a one-way ticket, a high school knowledge of Spanish, and nothing compelling me to return anytime soon.
The plan is to sail, hike, ski, dive, drive, and fly 4,000 miles from Belize to Chile and chronicle my Amazing Adventures™ as they happen because
- Travel writing is fun
- I need to remember what I’ve done so I don’t visit the same country twice
- Mom wants to know where I am
I haven’t had much chance for detailed planning– so far all I’ve got is a CHECKLIST OF ADVENTURE™ consisting of:
- go south
- climb a volcano
- drink on a beach (repeatable)
- gaze in wonder at the ruins of bygone empires
- find Cortez’ gold
- find where quinoa comes from
- eat a cow in Argentina (repeatable)
- ski in the southern hemisphere
- meet a world-weary traveler running from a tortured past
- meet a bright-eyed “voluntourist” full of idealism
- meet 10 Australians
- dive a reef
- see how long I can go without doing laundry
- get robbed
- visit the Galapagos
- find Darwin’s gold
- eat an animal I haven’t eaten before
- experience food poisoning (repeatable)
- lick the salt flats of the Argentinian altiplano
- photograph a cool bird
I’ll do my best to simply write about the cool places I go and the cool things I do– all without “finding myself”, promoting “fair trade” practices, or gaining any appreciation for my place as a citizen of the world. (Somewhere in India there’s an entire ashram of trendy young white people doing that– like Brooklyn, but with fewer yoga instructors.)
I will, however, be Instagramming the hell out of everything I encounter, especially food. If it goes in my mouth, it goes on the cloud. My generation demands no less.
Occasionally I’ll sneak in some reflections about life and startups– but I will NEVER use my actual journey as any sort of extended metaphor for such. We’re better than that. Clickbait titles and listicles are fair game, though.
Now, how and why am I off on such Amazing Adventures? Most of us have jobs, landlords, girlfriends, and a bunch of senators and congressmen counting on us not jetting off to Mayan cities Indiana Jones 4 style. I had all those same responsibilities, too– until I didn’t.
Mine’s a harrowing tale of money, politics, and ambition. There’s romance and comedy; violence and loss; shadowy meetings in Washington and even a chase scene through the cobblestone streets of Paris. Imagine House of Cards meets Silicon Valley, featuring guest writer George R.R. Martin, and you won’t be far off.
But this blog is about what happens next.
Johnny Cash said, “Freedom’s just another word for nothin’ left to lose.” Now, this isn’t strictly true for me. As one weirdly optimistic friend reminded me, “you still have all your teeth!”
Nonetheless, for the first time in my life, I have little to lose by dropping out for a month or few. Barring nuclear war, economic collapse, or a Trump presidency, I’ll be able to jump back into my career no worse for the delay.
Somehow I’ve ended up with a combination of youth, health, time, and resources that I never expected to have. It’s the sort of freedom that’s “terrific” in the archaic sense of “inducing terror” if you don’t find a purpose for it. So why backpacking? Why Latin America?
I’ve reached the age((I’ve seen seven-and-twenty winters)) where most of the “adventures” my peers and I have to look forward to are the metaphorical ones: relationships, careers, family, etc. Ironically, my pursuit of those hallmarks of stability has created a fresh chance for a literal, put-on-a-cool-hat-and-strike-forth-to-parts-unknown adventure.
I spent 1/5 of high school studying Spanish language, history, and culture. Growing up I watched Discovery Channel documentaries set in the rainforests of Costa Rica; later I watched History Channel shows on ostensibly alien-wrought ruins in Peru. I studied the political economy of these nations in college, but all this knowledge is very much abstract. I want to see those tree frogs and pyramids and cities for myself.
But first… how many socks do I pack?
Any amount of Spanish you know will be invaluable.
And as a seasoned backpacker of Europe, South America, and Southeast Asia, I will give you just one piece of advice – PACK LESS!! There’s stuff you need, stuff you might need, and stuff you don’t need. People make the tragic mistake of bringing that middle category, shlepping pounds of stuff around that they never use. Ditch it. If you find out you really need something after all, just buy it there, because other humans live there and therefore also need whatever that something is, and also it’s cheaper wherever you’re traveling.
Love reading about your adventures.