In Gratitude to the People and Places of South America

Heather Markel, Writer, Speaker, Photographer, Traveler, Business Strategist

“Sad to leave so many new friends and experiences behind.

I’m sad to leave South America, the landscapes the people the animals..and yet my heart is literally leaping and full of joy as I check my ticket again and see I’m going to Cape Town. I supposed I shouldn’t be surprised; I’ve spent 6 months roaming this continent. These months have been “muy rico” – very rich – a wealth of experiences, observations, new friends yerba mate, high altitude and seeing a few world wonders like Iguazu, Rio’s Christ the Redeemer and Machu Pichu. 

Reality strikes that I’m leaving the continent of South America…for now.

Photograph by Heather Markel. Copyright 2019

This heart leaping I feel is a more frequent experience now. I’m immersed in a life that brings me joy. Instead of daydreaming alternate better lives, I’m loving the one I’m living. And, because I didn’t wait till retirment to do it, there’s a good chance I can figure out how to live the rest of my young life more joyfully as well. I didn’t think of that before taking this leap of faith. But, I do have a great deal of life ahead of me and what a blessing I’ve given myself to try and make that time about happiness instead of about waiting to be happy.

Each time I venture to a new continent, I have in my imagination, a theme I believe that continent will represent for me. Coming to South America I thought my experience would be about dancing. I imagined awakening my body and spirit to salsa and tango and more! Instead it was about love, deep belly laughter (that I didn’t realize I was missing), wonderful friendships, red meat and Jesus Christ. The latter because he seemed to be everywhere I was. For a continent with a wealth of history and religions I’m almost surprised at how Catholic it is. I did dance salsa, tried the tango and even forro and a quick samba lesson. Though I did learn from the dancing (see my last post) it was not the center of my South American experience.

I most recall the beautiful colors and street art all throughout the continent. The artistic talent is unbelievable.

Photograph by Heather Markel. Copyright 2019

“I’ve replaced fears of danger and drugs with beautiful landscapes, food and people.”

A few years ago, a Colombian friend told me he’d love to take a bus from Mexico all the way down to Argentina. I thought he was crazy. I knew it was possible, but, as a female solo traveler, I thought this sounded ridiculously dangerous and imagined horrible things happening on the buses and drugs, and guns…I traveled alone (apart from one month with a companion) all through South America, for 6 months. I did most of that travel by bus. I crossed borders at Chile and Paraguay. I never felt in any danger. Most of the buses even have an alarm that goes off if the driver exceeds the maximum speed limit, and he can be fined, so for the most part, the drivers were pretty decent as well. I also met many couples and families doing that entire drive through the Americas and I could totally see doing it myself in the future. The dangerous fears I had about this continent have been replaced with the richness of its people, landscapes and food and the abundant wildlife I had never seen before.

Now in South Africa I keep meeting people from South America. I’ve met Argentinians and talked about yerba mate. I just met a table full of women from São Paulo, Brazil. They reminded me of Monica, my new friend from Sao Paolo who so kindly had me stay with her while I was there. I told them that I love their country and especially the people I’ve met from São Paulo. They were so happy. Then I told them I learned just a little bit of Portuguese, and shared with them my favorite word, “pegadora.” They all laughed. (If you don’t know what that means you better go to Brazil, or at least to Google.)

My first week in Argentina I hiked the Perito Moreno glacier, still a highlight of my time there.

Photograph by Heather Markel. Copyright 2019

I do miss the informality of the people – the instant bonding and acceptance that can occur. Friendship and sharing seem at the heart of many of the people and cultures I encountered. The impossible beauty of the rolling hills and colors was captivating. I awoke each day feeling like everyone was my friend, looking forward to meeting them. There was an irony, for me, of learning Spain-style Spanish in my past, and all the levels of formal “you” to greet strangers with. In South America, I never got past “tu” – it’s like the formal address doesn’t exist. With this layer removed, I felt deeply connected to so many, experienced so much kindness from strangers my heart is full, and I know I will be back to South America in the not too distant future. Thank you for all the joy!

I’m still amazed I made it to Easter Island, another huge highlight, even though, technically, it’s on the Oceania continent!

Photograph by Heather Markel. Copyright 2019

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