I almost didn’t make it to South America.
If Fear had had his way, I wouldn’t be here in Cusco. I wouldn’t be sitting in this charming cafe in the bohemian San Blas neighborhood, savoring a dark chocolate, banana and coconut crepe, listening to people speaking Spanish, French and Chinese around me; I wouldn’t be living with a fascinating expat family and their daughter who loves to slip drawings underneath my door and sing songs while I play guitar; I wouldn’t be studying Spanish at a school and practicing with the locals, listening in awe as each warm word slips off their tongues (español es muy bonito, no?).
Today marks one month I’ve been on the road. In some ways, it seems like a long time; in other ways, it seems too short. One month is the longest amount of time I’ve been outside of the United States.
Believe me, it hasn’t been glamorous. Case in point: I haven’t brushed my hair in four weeks. For someone with hair past her hips, this is quite the feat. In my fanatical attempt to bring just one bag for a 3-month trip to South America, I decided a hairbrush was unnecessary. (It turns out you can get along quite well without one!)
I’ve slept on airport benches, cried on planes, unwittingly eaten a rabbit, done laundry in a bathroom sink, moved in with complete strangers, and narrowly escaped starting an electrical fire when my space heater’s plug started melting the outlet in Peru (oops).
I’ve also watched the sun rise over Machu Picchu…
…sprinted across the widest avenue in the world…
…hugged stray dogs (DEFINITELY MY FAVORITE PART)…
…wrote and performed an impromptu song with my host family’s daughter…
…and met some pretty incredible people.
“When Are You Going Home?”
“What is home?” an American expat said to me in a cafe in Cusco when I asked him where he’s from. He was born in Colombia, lived in Florida and California for years, and has been traveling all around South America for the past six years. He came to Cusco with the intent of staying for one week–he’s been here for two years.
“Watch out,” he said with a knowing smile. “Cusco will grab your heart.”
I just hope it learns to let it go too.
The number one thing strangers, friends and family ask me is, “When are you going home?” To be honest, I don’t know. I often joke that I’m not leaving this continent until I’m fluent in Spanish. In that case, it could be years!
I told my dilemma to my host mom, who’s from Australia, and she laughed. “We had a return ticket booked too. And we kept extending it and extending it until finally we just let it go. Guess we’re in Cusco for the long haul.”
What Are You Afraid of?
I write about fear a lot on my blog. That’s because he is a constant companion, and an unwelcome one at that. Every step of the trip planning process, he was there whispering vile words into my ear. He showed me all the things that could go wrong and all the things I stood to lose.
“Don’t do it,” he hissed. “It’ll be hard. Dangerous, even.”
Fear is a liar and a coward.
Have you ever noticed that he never tells you reality, but rather, he tells you all the terrible things that could happen? (And even then, in my experience, those things never end up happening). Fear is a liar.
Have you ever noticed that as soon as you take a step toward the thing that scares you, Fear backs away? Fear is a coward.
This post isn’t about me encouraging you to travel. Whatever is scaring you right now, whatever it may be, I hope you choose not to listen to fear. I hope you listen to love.
If you live your life running away from the things that scare you, I can guarantee that you will not avoid pain, but rather, you will prevent yourself from ever experiencing the truth and beauty that lie on the other side of fear.
You will lose for fear of losing.
You will fail for fear of failing.
You Don’t Get to Have All the Answers Beforehand
That’s what the journey is for. The road ahead looks dark and mysterious, but as you walk, you will pick up answers. A few months ago, I had a particularly difficult decision to make. I was afraid because things looked so uncertain, and I thought I had to “figure things out” before I made the leap.
Then a wise man visited me in my dream. I don’t know who he was, but he left me with these words:
“Amy, you can’t fear the questions. You have to live them.”
Jumping the Chasm
I haven’t changed much. I’m not smarter or more enlightened.
But when I look back at pre-trip Amy, I hardly recognize her. I mean, she LOOKS like me (albeit with much sleeker hair and tidier clothes), but when I ask her what she’s worried about and what her plans are, I can’t relate. I can’t bring myself to care about the things she cares about, or even some of the people she cares about. And then I reach out to touch her, and my hand brushes up against this impermeable membrane that separates us. I can’t get through to her. We are on different sides now.
In life you will get chances at things so great they scare you senseless because you have no freaking clue how they’re going to turn out, but either you jump that chasm and into the fullness of your potential–or you stay behind in Fear’s comfy little lair, where you can, from a safe distance, watch your dreams on the other side slip away from you. The choice is yours.
Yes, I almost didn’t make it to South America.
I almost stayed in California because I was afraid of change.
I almost went back to California because I was afraid I couldn’t be happy without what I had there.
If Fear had had his way, I suppose I would be writing to you about how I almost acted out of courage, how I almost followed my dreams.