I left a lot of footprints in the last few months. Some were faint, the imperceptible rearrangement of the smallest particles on the hard surfaces of wooden floors, buses, or the ever-expanding concrete jungle. Others dug deeper, showing the contours of my feet in wet sand, fresh mud, or damp trails. Some footprints were made by the smooth arches of my bare feet and some the awkward flatness of a $1 pair of flip-flops bought in a big market in Thailand. Most, however, were crafted by the pressure of my trusty Salomon trekking shoes.
All these footprints are likely gone by now, washed away by the elements or the many that surely followed after me. Still, it’s amazing to think of where I left footprints this summer.
Before I left even one, I thought about why I travel, inspired by a letter I came across written by Kurt Vonnegut.
I landed in Peru and jumped right into the adventure, taking buses from Lima to Cusco, stopping along the way to sandboard in Huacachina and venture down one of the deepest canyons in the world outside of Arequipa. As soon as I made it to Cusco, I set off on a trek to Machu Picchu via the Salkantay Pass, approaching the journey as a pilgrimage and a chance for open meditation.
From Cusco, I made my way to La Paz. In the border town of Desaguadero, my bus left me, an omen of the trouble to come. After exploring La Paz, I hurled down the World’s Most Dangerous Road on a mountain bike and ran into some trouble on the bus during the return trip.
From La Paz I made my way to Sucre in the south of Bolivia, running into a miner’s blockade halfway. I ended up hitchhiking to Potosi and finding a connecting bus to Sucre, making an expected short journey into a much longer one.
From Sucre, I continued on to Uyuni, running into a car race that shut down traffic for six hours. In Uyuni, I saw the amazing salt flats and experienced the best star gazing of my life and then crossed the border to San Pedro de Atacama in Chile without any bus problems, shaking whatever curse had been following me in Bolivia.
In San Pedro, I checked out a few things and then hopped on a bus to Calama, a copper mining town. I kept moving, getting on a bus to Santiago. I ended up really loving the city for its emphasis on parks and cafes and had a powerful experience at a museum.
My girlfriend, Asha, met me in Santiago and we spent a quiet week in nearby Valparaiso, a city that reminded me a lot of San Francisco. After she returned home to the US, I kept on going to Argentina, making my way to Mendoza. There, I tried my first fabled Argentinian steak, paraglided, and visited some local wineries.
After Mendoza, I traveled to Buenos Aires and slowed down a bit, exploring the city at a leisurely pace, visiting antique markets and creepy cemeteries, seeing tango shows, and, naturally, eating lots of steak.
From Buenos Aires, I took my first flight in two months to Iguazu, where I saw the amazing Iguazu Falls. After taking in those incredible views, I continued on to the north of Colombia, where I trekked through the jungle to the Lost City.
After the tough trek, I landed in the quiet town of Salento in the heart of the coffee growing region of Colombia. There, I had the chance to do nothing and found myself writing and thinking a lot. I reflected on the importance of finding different ways to be mindful, the value in a blank page mentality, and the exponential importance of packing light. All that writing made me remember that I was doing most of it on an iPhone and the important thing wasn’t how you get it down, but that you do get it down.
Nearing the end of my trip, I skipped down to Quito, Ecuador, to meet my brother and his girlfriend, Sara. Arriving in Quito, I learned a lesson in intellectual humility through asking for directions. Josh, Sara, and I raced through Ecuador, visiting cloud forests, hacking through the Amazon, and surviving a rafting trip down a racing river.
Three months after I landed in Lima, I found myself back in San Francisco and started to reflect on the trip and begin writing some “gifts” to some close family and friends that I finished over a few weeks of easy relaxation and lots of good coffee.
It was an unforgettable trip. I had no idea what I was in for when I started thinking about traveling a year ago, but I wouldn’t change a single thing about the last few months. I learned a lot about myself through traveling alone and was able to meet so many incredible people and explore so many incredible places.
I have a sense that the itch to grab a small pack and hit the road will come again very soon. One thing I’ve been wanting to do for a long time is to take that energy and treat my own home as a new place. If there is one thing I know, it’s that there are orange skies to be discovered everywhere if you have an open mind and heart.
Until the next adventure.