What I Learned from each South American Country

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After returning home from our six-month adventure it’s been quite overwhelming trying to make sense of it all. 

At first it just felt like a whirlwind of unforgettable experiences jumbled together into one incredible adventure…but the more I sat down and thought about it, the more I realized that this trip was WAY more than that — each of these countries taught me something unique and extremely important.

There are some things that can’t be learnt in a classroom. Some things in life you have to experience for yourself to fully understand. It wasn’t until we visited South America that that statement began to make sense to me. 

So, what did I learn from each country? Well…A LOT! But here are some of the top lessons that I learned from my time abroad.

Colombia – The Importance of Community 

Colombia has been through so much. The 1980’s was a time of fear and heartache for the country. Pablo Escobar and the drug wars single handedly made Colombia the most dangerous country in the world. Families were torn apart and many people were forced flee the country and start a new life somewhere else. 

Fast forward 25 years and now we find ourselves in one of the most upbeat and beautiful countries on the planet! Jordan and I both agree that out of all of the places we visited, Colombia ranks number one! 

And you may be asking yourself…why? And to that question I have one simple answer…the people. 

Gloria and her family welcomed us in as if we were one of her own

As soon as we stepped foot into Colombia we felt accepted. We felt important. We felt as though we were apart of an incredible community of people who have a zest for life. 

As I said before, these people have seen things. Things you and I could never image. And you would think that living through such a horrible part of history would leave people sad and torn apart but I have never met a more lively group of people in my life! 

Instead of dwelling on the past, Colombians embrace their history and use it as a driving force for community and they extend that warm welcome to foreigners as well!

It’s not uncommon for strangers to come up to you and welcome you to Colombia or want to sit and chat for hours getting to know about you and your home country — and quite honestly, I found it really refreshing. Back in Canada even just making eye contact with a stranger can be awkward but in Colombia you are always greeted with a warm smile or a friendly conversation. 

So, if I can take away anything from my five weeks in Colombia it’s to be more open with your national community. Say hi to strangers, always have a smile on your face, keep your head out of your phone and just enjoy life! 

Ecuador – Stay True to Your Customs 

Ecuador is a very underrated country! Although the people may seem a little more reserved, they are just as warm and welcoming as Colombians. Jordan and I took the time in Ecuador to really try and experience their native customs by visiting markets, joining in on traditional cuisines and exploring its natural wonders.  

It was incredible to see the traditions that are still present in their day to day lives. Men and women still dress in Incan inspired clothing and we found out that the Ecuadorian woman’s dresses are the closest representation to the Incan clothing that was worn in the Andes!

Fresh strawberries from the famous Otavalo Market

Not only do Ecuadorians celebrate their culture through dress but also through language. Although Spanish is the most common and technically the official language of Ecuador over 2 million people still speak Quechua — the primary language of the Incans and a testament to the regions indigenous heritage! 

With all of the change that’s happening in the digital age it was so nice to be apart of a culture who stays true to their customs and encourages their youth to keep their traditions alive! 

Peru – Challenge Yourself 

Peru was definitely a country where I was forced out of my comfort zone…multiple times! We started off our visit to Peru with a 7 day canoe trip into the Amazon Rainforest. Yea you read that right, a CANOE! While we were there, it was just Jordan and I and our two guides paddling through the jungle in dry season — that means little rain and extreme heat! The mixture of sunscreen, bug spray and sweat meant you always felt sticky and dirty and guess what? The only way to wash off is to jump into the river!!! 

Having an extreme fear of snakes made that a bit of a problem for me…so here came challenge number one. Forget what might be swimming in that murky water below and go wash off! After a little bit of encouragement and a mental break down or two I got over it and in I went and man was it ever refreshing! 

No one can tell how scared I am with this nervous smile!

Later that night came challenge number two. During our excursion we were sleeping in ranger outposts, which are just little shacks on the side of the river banks, and I thought to myself “OK, we are indoors, protected from animals and potential rain, how bad could this be?” Little did I know that we would be sleeping on mats as thin as paper with no pillows and only a thin bug net  around the mats protecting us from the mosquitos. “It’s only a week long, I can power through,” I thought to myself.

It wasn’t until it was pitch black and Jordan and I were getting ready for bed that I saw dozens of cockroaches circling our sleeping mats and one little guy even managed to get inside of our net! Here comes breakdown number two. After we managed to get that little dude out I knew I wouldn’t be sleeping at all that night. I asked Jordan what I should do and his response was “Just close your eyes and pretend they aren’t there.” And at that point he was right that’s all I could do.

Now don’t get me wrong, the experience was once in a lifetime but I have never been so rawly exposed to my fears the way that I was in the Amazon. I don’t regret anything about our Amazonian adventure because looking back at on it we had quite a unique experience. Most people take a three to five day group tour on fan boats and stay in lodges, but we got to experience the jungle in its raw purity and it never would have happened if I didn’t learn to cope with my fears.

Now, Jordan always says he wants to return to the Amazon one day particularity in the wet season but I’ll be quite honest I don’t think I could do it again. I’m glad I saw it, but one time is enough for me! Take your dad next time Jordy 😉 

Bolivia – Live Simply 

In my opinion, Bolivia was definitely the most unique country of the seven that we visited. The people were lovely and enjoyed living a very simple life. We spent a lot of time exploring La Paz which was completely different from all of the other major cities we visited like Santiago, Buenos Aires and Rio. There were no giant skyscrapers, many people visited street markets to do their every-day shopping, everyone is dressed very modestly in traditional clothing and everyone was content with what they had. The love for community and culture enriches everyone.

In Sucre Bolivia, Jordan and I signed up for a very uncommon trek through the barren mountain range of the Cordillera de Los Frailes. During our three day hike we were exposed to the calmness of a simple life. We walked everywhere we needed to be, we ate homegrown and homemade meals, we washed in rivers and sat under the stars.

A rural home settled in the the Maragua crater, Cordillera de Los Frailes.

The stillness of this experience was eye-opening and refreshing and reminded me to take a step back every once and a while to enjoy the present, embrace those around us, and appreciate the simple things in life. 

Chile – Relaxation is Key

Chile was one of the last stops on our South American tour and we used the two weeks we were there for reflection and relaxation. We spent the majority of our time in the small costal town of Chiloé where we indulged in copious amounts of seafood and spent our days exploring seaside villages and enchanted forests. 

We realized that after being on the road for four months that we were in desperate need of some down time. Immersing ourselves in the laidback lifestyle of the Chileans really helped rejuvenate our bodies just in time for our next couple of weeks of hiking in Patagonia! While the excitement of life on the road is exhilarating, I honestly think that if we didn’t take the time to rest before some of those intense hikes, Patagonia would not have been as enjoyable as it was.

Argentina – The Power of Nature 

Which brings me to Argentina. I never realized how at home I felt in nature until we visited Patagonia. Being constantly at one with nature is such an addicting sensation. Although some of the hikes we did were exhausting the outcome at the end was always 110% worth it! 

El Perito Moreno isn’t exactly a strenuous hike, but definitely an awe-inspiring scene!

During a lot of our hikes I found myself really taking in the experience with all of my senses — the sights, the smells, the feelings, and I intentionally did that to engrave it into my mind because of the raw power it had over me. I know, I know, I’m starting to sound all philosophical but it’s TRUE! While we were in Patagonia I left all of my stresses behind and fully invested myself into nature and it was something truly special. 

You don’t have to be climbing mountains to understand what I’m talking about even just taking a stroll through the park can work wonders! 

Brazil – Live in the Moment  

Some locals showing us up on Copacabana Beach!

After weeks of hiking it was nice to escape to Brazil. We spent our final days lounging in the sun sipping on caipirinhas and wasting our days away strolling through the streets of Rio. Our whole trip had been pretty much planned out day-by-day but once we hit Brazil it was a free for all. We had no plans, no objectives and all the time in the world…well for those two weeks at least. 

The laid back attitude of Brazilians was addictive! Rolling with the waves and not having a care in the world was the way of life down there. One day Jordan and I woke up and said to each other “lets go paragliding today” and so that’s exactly what we did! I really wanted to go surfing but the waves were monstrous, do you think that stopped me? No way! 

Un-freaking real! A beautiful day to fly in Rio.

Learning to stop overthinking everything and just living in the moment was one of the biggest lessons we could have learned during our time in Brazil and is defiantly something we still work on to this day! 

Final Thoughts 

It feels weird to finally put these thoughts down on paper but I think that these lessons were something worthwhile sharing. I knew that my time in South America would be impactful but I never imagined it to have totally changed my outlook on myself! I was faced with situations that made me uncomfortable, scared, anxious, you name it! But each of these experiences thought me how to transform those insecurities into something amazing!

Be sure to check out our other written posts for more travel stories and backpacking adventures.

Also be sure to check out our instagram @brightintheworld for more travel inspiration!


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Thank you for sticking around and reading our post. If you have any other tips for fellow travellers we would love to hear from you in the comments below! For more stories and photos from our adventures make sure you check out our Instagram and Facebook pages @brightintheworld

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