Over-sized backpacks, long bus rides, late night conversations in crowded hostels, and some of the craziest adventures and most beautiful places I’ve ever seen. That’s been my life for the past 4 1/2 months since leaving my job teaching English with international non-profit Nuestros Pequenos Hermanos in Guatemala. The trip began, like most things, only as a mere thought or dream – a road trip, Che-inspired, from Argentina to Alaska. It became a reality when one of my best friends from William and Mary (Jed Talvacchia ’08) agreed to do it with me and bought a 1978 VW van off eBay. The car was amazing and the epitome of a road trip. It came equipped with a small stove-top and oven and space to sleep up to 4 people. Unfortunately, on Jed’s trial run from Florida to Boston, the car broke down twice. That combined with the low gas mileage and the stresses of shipping it to Argentina and then again from Colombia to Panama, made us decide to ditch the car and just go solo with our backpacks.
We began our adventure in Buenos Aires, a romantic and lively city before heading south to Patagonia. Southern Argentina was one of my highlights of the trip – we admired the over half a million penguins in Punto Tombo National Park, trekked across the Perito Moreno Glacier, went on some jaw-dropping hikes in El Chalten, and ate delicious steaks (obviously accompanied by delicious national malbecs). And it was in a small, parrilla (grill) in El Chalten that we ran into two other W&M students – one of whom is a new addition to my Theta family. It was a random encounter but none the less led to a wonderful and easy conversation and other people in the restaurant assumed we were old friends reuniting. In a way we were – I’ve learned since leaving William and Mary that the bond amongst students, current or former, is stronger than I had formerly imagined.
And it was again in Peru, that we met up with another W&M alum – this time good friend Jonathan Welle ’08, who is currently serving his third year in the PeaceCorps in Chulucanas, Peru. We spent a couple days in Huaraz, admiring the snow capped mountains and going on a hike to a gorgeous green lagoon, before heading to Jon’s site. After a week in Chulucanas, the three of us traveled to Loja and Cuenca, Ecuador. And despite some minor (read: major) downturns ie. Jed getting sick with both Dengue Fever and tonsillitis and spending 3 days in the hospital, we had an amazing time together. Jed and Jon hadn’t seen each other since graduation ’08 and I hadn’t seen Jon since I had left for Guatemala about a year and a half ago. But the distance and time apart didn’t seem to matter. We picked up right where we had left off: spending 3 hours on the roof of our hostel talking, playing with llamas in the park (no, I’m not joking), and singing karaoke in hole-in-the-wall bars.
Jed unfortunately decided to go back to the states, concerned he might have to take his tonsils out. I continued on my own to Colombia and then headed north, back to Guatemala. And it is here, at the NPH home, where I will spend the next week before heading to Lago Atitlan. This blog will contain my adventures as I continue to travel for the next two months, as well as my return back to DC and transition to the “real world.” So I hope you all enjoy the journey as much as I am.