Refugio Chileno at Dusk

Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened…

I’ve been back in Toronto for two weeks now, and I have certainly kept that quote nearby. After traveling for such an extended period of time, coming home can be both a relief and a disappointment. You realize that little has changed while you were gone. The world has turned just the same, and people have gone about their lives. As I said, this can be both a relief and a disappointment.

I think I went down to South America expecting a lot. You always read stories of people who went to far away places to try and find themselves only to have some life changing epiphany while doing something completely out of the ordinary. Now that I’ve come back, I’ve arrived at the conclusion that these people are just really good writers. The average traveler is no different than myself – some person with a normal career who has obtained time off work in some way or another to go and have an experience. I met lawyers and doctors and engineers and not one single travel writer or photographer who gets to travel around the world on someone else’s dime and document their experiences. Though I don’t doubt their existence… Maybe I just wasn’t looking for them.

So while I didn’t discover the meaning of life, or my purpose within it, I did learn a lot about myself and my limits. Traveling around South America was all about experiences – where else in the world can you walk with penguins, hike a glacier, peer into a volcano, tumble down a canyon, sit in a sea of white salt desert, visit the ruins of ancient civilizations, and walk among the stone people all in one 3-month span. Each of these experiences tested my limits in different ways and I think this is the greatest reward from my trip. I know myself now, better than I ever have. I know I can conquer that volcano again – I didn’t then, but now I do. And I can use that in the future, that is something tangible that will never go away. When self-doubt creeps in, I can pull that experience and a dozen others from the depths of my mind, and stab self-doubt in the gut. And that alone was worth everything.

I’ve gotten a lot of common questions since I’ve returned. One of the most popular is, Were you ready to come back or do you wish you were still there? And the answer is I was ready to come home. The first two weeks I was down there, felt like a normal vacation. I was excited, trying to do everything I could because it hadn’t hit me that I was down there for a while. In the third week, I got quite homesick – this was now the longest I’d ever been traveling and I felt like I needed to return home. It didn’t help that at this time I was in Ushuaia, which aside from the penguins, was not the most interesting place on the trip. But then I got to Torres del Paine, and any homesickness was completely forgotten. After Torres del Paine, for pretty much all of March, I was riding a real high. I traveled with others for the whole month (first Tom and Robin, then Pearl and Nadia). I was doing great, amazing things day after day. Then April came along and I got to Bolivia. And its while I was in Bolivia that I started craving home. Only a little at first, as Bolivia was quite engaging, and I eventually met up with another travel partner (Sinead). It wasn’t until I got back to Santiago, about two weeks before flying home, that I knew I was ready. Walking around Santiago, I was thinking about Toronto, home and work, and I found these things excited me. I was really looking forward to going back to work – that’s when I knew. I had days where I forgot all of this – climbing the volcano, and most of my stay on Easter Island – but for the most part, my last two weeks was kind of a countdown to coming home.

When I first got back, I indulged myself with all things Canadian, not available in South America. My first meals were poutine, bagels with cream cheese, and pancakes with maple syrup. I ate Kraft Peanut Butter straight out of the jar. I’ve re-immersed myself in Montreal Canadiens hockey, as they continue their glorious and highly unexpected run to the Cup. But now that I’ve been back for two weeks, I can realize what I miss and what I don’t miss from the far South. I miss the food. South America really impressed me with the quality and freshness of the food, both in restaurants and in the grocery stores. So much of what we eat in North America is processed by comparison that I have had a hard time in the grocery stores lately. If anything, I think there will be a renewed effort on my part to try and cook with more fresh, raw, whole foods. I miss the outdoors. After essentially going on a 3-month hiking trip, its been odd trying to readjust to a strictly urban lifestyle. I think I will have to try and spend more time in the Canadian wilderness this summer so that I can continue pushing my limits and seeing where it will take me.

The next most popular question I get is, What was your favorite experience from the trip? This is a tough question, especially since if you answer it one way, people then assume that you didn’t enjoy other experiences that weren’t alike. For example, if I say my favorite experience was the volcano, people reply with Didn’t you like the penguins? Well, of course I liked the penguins. In fact, there were absolutely no experiences on this trip that I didn’t like. Some things I liked less than others, for sure, but all in all, everything I did was rewarding in one sense or another. That said, my favorite experience on the trip was climbing the Villarica Volcano. It was without a doubt the most challenging and rewarding thing I did in the entire three months. Conquering that volcano opened my eyes to a whole new world. My next blog post will be a list of favorites – favorite experiences, favorite hostels, favorite restaurants, etc.

Since I’ve been back, my camera has found its way to the depths of Canon repair land. I don’t know when I’ll see it again, it could take as long as two months for them to get it back to me. The camera served me incredibly well on my trip, save for the software issues. It went everywhere I did, took a lot of abuse, and never stopped taking pictures. That said, when I get it back, I may move on to a different camera. As a photographer, I think I’ve outgrown it and technologically, it is now outdated.

I took approximately 8500 pictures, totaling about 85 GB of storage space, in the three months I was gone. There’s a lot of great memories in there, and a handful of great photographs. I’m trying to go through them as quickly as possible, as I want to pull out the absolute best of the best, the ones that tell the story, and put together a photobook. I know the longer I wait, the harder it will be to do this, so I’m hoping to get something together within a month or two. When the book is ready, I plan to put it up for sale on the website along with the photos that are already for sale.

In the meantime, while I don’t have any more Flickr pictures for you to look at, click here to see a time lapse video of the scene in the picture above (Refugio Chileno at Dusk, in Torres del Paine National Park). Its not the smoothest or highest quality time lapse ever made, but given where I was and the gear that I had, I’m pretty happy with what I got.

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