Back when I was living in Cambridge and scheming my way back to South America, I started posting monthly reviews about all the cool things I did in and around the Boston area (exhibits A, B, C, D, and E). I like reading these recaps on other travel blogs; writing my own helped me appreciate the everyday a little more and showcase other aspects of my life besides my travels.
When I moved to the Valle de Elqui, I fell into a pretty standard routine: supporting my team of volunteers, volunteering in the local schools, reading by the river, and hanging out with friends. I worked to establish an intentional routine, but felt that I didn’t have much to report otherwise. In retrospect, I actually did travel about once a month, mostly to Santiago, but I also made it to Buenos Aires and Iquique.
Since I left my home in the Valle de Elqui in late December, a lot has happened (to say the least). The first quarter of 2016, or South American summer, has been a period of major growth, both personally and professionally. Here’s a recap of the months of January, February, and March 2016.
Where I’ve Been (January-March 2016)
- Chiloé, Chile (Ancud, Puñihuil, Castro, Dalcahue, Cucao)
- Valdivia, Chile
- Lima, Peru (Miraflores, Barranco, and Cieneguilla)
- Tumbes, Peru (Zorritos, Corrales, Tumbes)
- Piura, Peru (Cabo Blanco, Punta Sal, Máncora)
- La Serena, Chile
- Valle de Elqui, Chile
- Santiago, Chile
Fulfilling Travel Dreams
On January 1, I took the ferry to Chiloé, a place that had long captivated my attention with its islands surrounded by mist, palafitos (houses on stilts), and UNESCO-protected wooden churches.
Favorite moments of my stay? Wandering the streets of Ancud, learning how the wooden churches were built at their museum, visiting the penguin colony at Puñihuil, talking to the Chilote (resident of Chiloé) tour guide about his childhood in the countryside and the reality of life on the island, buying native potatoes in the Castro market, and chatting with the artisans in Dalcahue. (More photos here.)
On a whim, I decided to squeeze in a trip to Valdivia, part of the Los Ríos region, boasting a distinct culture from nearby Los Lagos, or the Lakes Region. While exploring the island forts was interesting, the best part was meeting open-hearted travelers in the Aires Buenos Hostel, who reminded me of how important it is to pay attention to our intuition, both in travel and in life.
At the end of January, I decided to head to the beaches of northern Peru in the departamentos of Piura and Tumbes. Máncora’s party-centric backpacker vibe was not the beach retreat I was looking for, but thankfully my research led me to an awesome beachfront eco-hostel in much quieter Zorritos. I spent hours reading in the hammocks and bussed around to the local sites like Punta Sal, Máncora (of course), Cabo Blanco, the city of Tumbes, the manglares (mangroves), and the ancient ruins of Tumpis, also known as Cabeza de Vaca.
Most importantly, I spent a lot of time reconnecting to the present moment, clearing my head, and recalibrating my internal guidance system to prepare me for my next steps.
Revisiting Lima a Year Later
Although I’m currently based in Lima, my visit in January was originally only a temporary one. My main reason for heading to Lima was to attend a Vipassana meditation retreat in Cieneguilla, in the foothills of the Andes. Vipassana meditation receives a lot of favorable press from long-term travelers, and as such had kept popping up on my radar. As my time in Chile came to an end, I decided this was something I wanted to do. When else was I going to have a break between jobs to spend 10 days going within?
I spent a few days in Lima catching up with friends and preparing for the retreat, and then I hopped on the bus to Cieneguilla, handed over my cell phone, and that was that. All the downtime between meditation sessions gave me a chance to brainstorm my next steps. As I describe in this post, it became clear to me that I had to go back to teaching online through English with Kim, and I had to find a base for a few months to do so.
You’ll notice that I’m not raving about the practice of Vipassana itself; I do not recommend the technique. I would suggest reading some critiques of the retreats before committing yourself (more here and here). I think most people researching this retreat, including myself, are more concerned about whether or not we can survive the intense schedule and forget to consider the actual content and objectives of what is being taught.
The plus side to my experience at the retreat is that it made me recommit to my already established practices of yoga and mindfulness meditation. If I can dedicate 10 days to a technique I know little about, I can dedicate a lifetime to my personal practice.
Saying Goodbye to Chile and Falling for Santiago
In February, I headed back to Chile in order to officially hand over my volunteer program and say goodbye to the Valle de Elqui. In December, I had had mixed feelings about leaving; in February, I knew it was the right move.
After retrieving the rest of my luggage and saying goodbye to my friends, I headed to Santiago for my last few days of work followed by a week of exploring the hidden corners of the city. While many people say that there isn’t much to do in Santiago, that’s because they are sticking to the fairly bland tourist offerings, but Santiago is a super intriguing city if you take the time to get to know it. Staying at an awesome AirBnB in my favorite neighborhood of Providencia, I started to regret my decision to leave Chile at the end of February (especially with a valid work visa in hand!).
But my decision was made, so I reluctantly said goodbye to Santiago, packed my belongings once again, and headed back to Lima. (I describe my feelings on leaving Chile in more detail here.)
Basing Myself Out of Lima
Deciding to move to Lima was impulsive. After my travels in southern Chile, I was hoping a clear path would appear for me, but as I recently wrote in an email to a friend:
Before I decided to focus all my energies on my teaching business again, I was trying to be open to whatever… and turns out waiting for stuff to happen to me was not actually much of a strategy. I feel much more empowered now that I’m making decisions towards the kind of life I want to lead.
Lima felt like home – completely familiar and known to me, and with the added bonus that a number of my friends still live here. When I came across a cheap flight from Santiago to Lima, I jumped on it. Although I have spent a lot of time in Lima, I have never actually lived in the city proper – I lived and volunteered in Huaycán, part of Lima province. I decided to give it a try for three months, until I return to the US in June. So here I am.
After so much travel and so many transitions, I have really needed a home base. I’m sharing an apartment in Miraflores that is located only three minutes from the malecón. I have a giant closet, which has enabled me to unpack my belongings and get a sense of stability as I decide the terms of my life and career going forward. The apartment is so well located that I can watch the sun set over the ocean from our balcony, but more often than not, I head to the malecón to appreciate it up close and personal.
Embracing Life as a Freelancer
After the volunteers finished up in December, I took my work as field director on the road, which cemented my desire to have the freedom to work from just about anywhere. This convinced me to leap into working full time on my online tutoring business.
In mid-February, I began the process of reestablishing my tutoring business and re-familiarizing myself with the latest online teaching techniques and methods. Most importantly, I basically gave myself a crash course in digital marketing in order to generate more interest in what I offer.
So far, things are off to a solid start; in particular, March was about getting clear on my teaching approach, making necessary improvements to my website, marketing methods, and social media, and setting goals for the rest of 2016. One major goal is to release an e-course by mid-2016; I’m all about passive income, and creating an online course also helps me reach more students.
What’s to Come on Blueskylimit
Even though Blueskylimit is not a source of income for me, embracing the freelance lifestyle means I can put more energy into writing high quality posts that provide advice on traveling to parts of South America off the already very-well-established backpacker trail. I love having a place to post my photos besides Instagram, and I genuinely love sharing stories of my experiences.
I do what I do in my life and career because I value connection, and Blueskylimit is an extension of that.
With so many travel blogs focused on bringing in income and opportunities, I wonder if I should be doing more to publicize my work, but then I read this post reminding us that reaching an audience of any size is what matters, even if it’s only one person. I know from comments and emails that my suggestions have helped other people plan their travels, and that’s why I started this blog. So if you’re out there, and you’re reading, I thank you. Most of my “real life” friends don’t read any blogs at all, nevermind mine!
For the next two months, I’m continuing my work from Lima without any special plans. I’ll probably just keep exploring the new-to-me cafés around Lima as well as a couple of nearby neighborhoods where I’ve yet to spend much time.
I’ll probably do a couple of day trips and go on hiking trips near Matucana and Surco, and I’d like to finally visit Lunahuaná, Huacachina, Paracas, Ica, and the Nazca lines. Basically, I’m going to finish my Lima bucket list from 2013.
At the end of May, I may take a couple of weeks to travel, most likely to somewhere I’ve already been but would like to visit again. It’s been 9 years since I visited Arequipa, Cuzco, and the Sacred Valley, so that’s crossed my mind. Or maybe north again – we’ll see!
In June, I’m heading back to the US to visit my parents in NH, my friends in Boston, and hopefully NYC, but I’m not sure how long I’ll stay. Time will tell! 🙂