From Our Readers

True Worries of a North American Woman in South America

Before leaving for a five-month visit to South America, I was seriously scared.  For the next 22 months, I am traveling all around the world with my boyfriend, but for some reason, South America was the place that scared me the most.  I felt like it was going to be too different, too primitive, too dangerous.  What were people going to dress like?  What were people going to eat?  I know it sounds silly, but I wasn’t afraid of other places, like Africa or the Middle East for these reasons because I had friends who were from there or who had been there, but South America just seemed so…foreign.

As the days grew closer to when I would leave, I felt a panic start to sink in.  I have always been the brave one, the one who has these grand adventures- what if I couldn’t do it? And I would be flying into Colombia- land of kidnapping and cocaine.  What if I was Taken- like the movie!?  The time came to board the plane and I cried.

Well, now I have been traveling in South America for two months.  I have been to four different countries and I am now living and working in Chile, and guess what- it’s not scary.  In fact, it’s lovely.  It’s a beautiful place full of curiosities, but also full of familiarities.  Everyday I see girls in skinny jeans and sundresses, guys in jeans and t-shirts, I go to the market twice a week for milk, bread, yogurt, fruit, veggies and ice cream.  My life here is very normal.

Michael and me in front of La Portada near Antofagasta, Chile

However, my life here is also an adventure.  The island where I am living is also the home to penguins and austral dolphins.  I live in a yoga shala where I teach yoga to Chilean children twice a week (talk about an adventure!).  I am learning to cook Chilean food so that I can be a fill-in gourmet chef on a Patagonian cruise -woah!  If I would have been scared to open myself up to South America, I would have missed out on these amazing opportunities!

Right in front of our yoga shala home on Chiloe Island in Chile

The things I was afraid of – difference, loneliness, inability to communicate – have either become some of my favorite things or things I laugh at.  My difference to South Americans – I am blonde and fair skinned, and therefore stick out like a sore thumb – makes me get whistled at constantly and always said “Hello!” to, which makes me laugh.  Loneliness is non-existent.  People take every opportunity to practice their English with a native English speaker.  My Spanish has gotten quite good, but sometimes it’s still not good enough, and that’s when the funniest things happen because we’re all pantomiming and drawing pictures – that’s when people are the kindest and most helpful.  My old fears have vanished – instead I have new fears:

Bathrooms! They are just…filthy!  The public ones always cost money and look like a toxic waste zone.  I just can’t justify paying money to patronize a post-apocalyptic facility.  You also can’t flush your TP, but rather have to throw it in a seemingly never-emptied waste bin, adding to the general funky pee aroma.

If you took a few years of Spanish in high school, you can get by.  But not on the telephone.  Talking on the phone is terrifying.  I just plain out refuse to use them.

Water can be very scary.  You have not felt pain until you have drunk bad water.  It is totally debilitating.

Lettuce and soft-skinned fruit.  Equal to water, it can be a menace.  This is especially awful for vegetarians like yours truly – I have learned to love oranges and bananas.  Interestingly, I did not eat bananas before this trip.  I found them generally icky- their shape, overall mushiness, and ability to “brown,” but I have been turned into a believer after one too many risky apples.

Hitch-hiking:  A disclaimer to this being that my boyfriend made me do it in two dire situations in Chile and they were both wonderful experiences.  One in particular, we were picked up outside of Valparaiso by Beatrice, a beautiful soul who felt like she was hurting the environment by traveling alone and only picked us up because I was a woman (my boyfriend is a whopping 6” 4’ with a shady beard).  Even though Chile is supposed to be a great place to hitch, and our experiences were great, placing all my trust in a fast-driving foreign stranger still scares me.

I feel pretty good about conquering my original fears and I feel like my new fears are much more rational, and even healthy, but I learned a really powerful lesson in South America.  Do the things that scare you.  Life is in the moments that are scary.  I know I am stronger, and more capable, because I was able to conquer my fears.  And here I am now, on an island in Chile, living my dream.

Exploring the beaches on Chiloe Island

You can read more from Veronica Norton on her blog.