Discovering Latin America – and yourself

by Paul Cardwell on June 13, 2013

Bolivia salt flats

Bernard at the salt flats of Bolivia

Is it a cliché that you find yourself when you travel? We don’t think so, because you don’t always. All depends on the trip, how long you are away, and how open you are to new experiences. Here’s an inspiring illustration from Bernard Robinson, who recently ventured on a really epic grand adventure tour of Latin America that we arranged for him. In almost 3 months he covered 8 countries! (For the curious, here is the full day by day) In his own words:-

After a divorce, and searching for missing pieces to rebuild a new me, my first find was a picture on the 14th floor of a Johannesburg mining company where I worked as an engineer. I liked this picture, of mountains, I stared at it, and from this dawned the start of staring at many mountains …. from the top of mountains …. savouring feelings of freedom … empty thoughts yet rich feelings …. a new world.

Climbing Cotopaxi volcano, Ecuador

Climbing Cotopaxi volcano, Ecuador

That vacant stare in the office became an internet search for a local hiking club, becoming a member of a few local clubs and meeting similar-minded people, and finally a yearning to travel the world to the full extent possible. This same force inside me that searched for newness was the force that led me to accept my first expatriate assignment in Ghana, a country I came to love over the 5 years I spent there. On my first rotation I met a friend who spoke of Kilimanjaro, which became my first big ascent. This then which woke yet other strong and excited feelings, which over my years in Ghana led me to travel to Europe ….hike the beautiful alpine areas around Mont Blanc …. summit the same mountain …. then the Matterhorn …. Mt Kenya …. Aconcagua ….. the travel bug bit me hard!!

Uros child, Lake Titicaca, Peru

Great game .. caterpillar under bottle (Titicaca)

Not only was it the visiting of new places, the hike or the climb, but the meeting of like-minded yet vastly different people, travellers, Nepalese kids .. a world of sheer beauty and a spiritual contentment. I left Ghana 5 years later, joined another mining company in Gabon for 2 years, and then the closure of the company and retrenchment of the staff woke up another thought .. why not live! Break out! Take a sabbatical for 3 months, or maybe 6 months, or why not a year!!

The seed was planted and culminated in a 3 month tour of Europe and a 3 month journey across South America. Both had to incorporate adventure … fun … single travel. My approach to South America was learned a year before when an agent recommended a 3 week hiking and kayaking expedition in Patagonia, every detail tied up prior to leaving, and incorporating local knowledge based on my wants.

Jumping the Bolivian altiplano

Jumping the Bolivian altiplano

This time I googled something related to ‘travelling south america’, sent an email to Laura of Latin Discover, and so began the proposals and counter proposals, finally culminating in an endless adventure starting in Costa Rica, skipping to Colombia, and working my way down through Ecuador, the Galapagos, Chile, Bolivia, Peru, Argentina and finally Brazil.

On the Inca trail, Peru

the Inca and his .. umm .. slaves

Biking Salta, Argentina

Biking near Salta, Argentina

Activities included paragliding the Chicamocha Canyon in Colombia, zip lining in Costa Rica, climbing Cotopaxi in Ecuador, hiking the Inca trail in Peru, cycling in Salta, cycling long and straight roads in the Atacama Desert, floating on a lagoon saltier than the Dead Sea, climbing to the summit of Sun Island and admiring the beauty of Lake Titicaca, buying beads on the floating island of Uros, riding endless miles of Bolivian deserts and the spectacular Uyuni salt planes, sleeping in a salt hotel, snorkeling and following turtles in the Galapagos, white water rafting and caving in Colombia, kayaking the fjords of southern Chile, swimming in a tributary of the Amazon as the sun rose … and set. .. climbing Sugar Loaf .. strolling Copacabana Beach .. walking the isles of beautiful Catholic churches throughout South America … sitting in parks amongst the locals … swimming in a lake inside a volcano …. caving …. and meeting umpteen friends.

My world changed on my journey that started from the foothills of Kilimanjaro, and life treated me well as I reunited the friendship of my ex-wife, my good or maybe best friend. Another good friend I met on my South American travels introduced me to a book …. the Power of Now ….. a concept that awakened in me the first time I looked at that picture on the wall, and a worldview going forward …. now is the best …. and the ONLY time you have.

Bernard captures perfectly the wonder of traveling and the pure richness of new experiences, friends and ideas it can bring. You have to leave behind the heavy baggage of preconceptions and see the world with new eyes; and the more active you are in seeking to learn from new worlds, the more likely your worldview will change.

Near Salta, Northwest Argentina

Battling the rugged terrain near Salta, north Argentina

I have to say this was probably one of the most challenging Latin American itineraries we’ve worked on. Every day of the trip was broadly pre-planned and had to involve a strong dose of adventure. In the office Laura Montero almost went crazy trying to match the right suppliers in the different countries with the day’s activities. The whole process took several weeks until Bernard finally gave his thumbs up. We are delighted that not only did it work out so well, but that the intangible value of the trip proved so great.  And that was thanks to Bernard’s incredibly positive attitude, quite beyond our control!

We normally give away a photo album when people travel with us, and it’s always great to see the photos each time. But in this case we went vivid green with envy looking at the incredible shots taken throughout Bernard’s journey. It was simply impossible to cut them down to the free 40 pages we offer; the book came out at 120 pages instead! Such is the convincing strength of the Power of Now –  Eckhart Tolle’s book mentioned by Bernard and which of course we had to order a copy for ourselves.

Preview of the photo album (takes time to download):-

So why not think more actively about your travel plans, in whichever direction they may be directed? Be ambitious and give yourself enough time to immerse yourself in the experience and escape familiar preconceptions. And if a tour to Latin America is a possibility – do tell us more so Laura can put her tricks to work again!

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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Mauricio July 31, 2013 at 4:57 am

what an awesome trip! reminds me when back in the 80`s, when I was just a kid, I traveled with my family from Southern California to Costa Rica and back, by road in our 1969 Ford Fairlane station wagon.

That trip was my father`s inspiration (RIP), and I will never forget it, and thanks Bernard for bringing those memories back!

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