I was not looking forward to South America. Before we started I truly wanted to go right to Europe and begin our trip there. I was not sure why, but the thought of visiting South America (aside from the Galapagos) made me truly uncomfortable.
I now believe I know why. I didn't know a lot about Ecuador or Peru, and due to that fact alone I envisioned it as a dangerous place with none of the refinements that I felt I needed to feel comfortable. I had heard that we could be mugged in certain places we were going. I also knew that most of where we would be in S.A. is considered a developing nation and although not totally clear on that term, I didn't like it.
This led me to my two first realizations. I have come to realize that I like the United States and New York for all of the things you can expect as a citizen. For instance, I like sitting on my couch browsing Amazon for things I don't really need on my iPad as I watch Blu Rays on my over sized TV all while eating chips and salsa. I also like the accessibility of everything. For example if I want a ham at 3:30 in the morning, I can cruise over to Wegmans, buy one, and go home and bake the thing! Secondly, I realized that the excess in the US is out of control. Why is it necessary to build a brand new building for a McDonalds or Starbucks when there are so many abandoned strip malls and buildings. In addition, why the heck do we have a CVS across from a Walgreens across from a Rite Aid, across from a Starbucks across from a Starbucks, across from a McDonalds across from a McDonalds?! I am at a loss as to a reason for this.
Upon our arrival in Guayaquil, Ecuador, I immediately felt uncomfortable. I realized later after arriving to several other new places at night, that this REALLY throws off my perception of a place. I tried to nip this feeling of discomfort in the bud as I didn't want to spend four months of my life in 'uncomfortable exploration'. I talked with Andrea a bit during our first day in Guayaquil and was able to find some relief in this discussion, coupled with a quote from a friend's Facebook page. The quote read as follows, 'Everything you want is just outside your comfort zone.' There have been several times that this saying has rung true, insert realization number three. The discomfort of something new, something different, something you may be unsure of, is nothing compared the benefits you reap when you put yourself out there and go for it!
A brief story to reinforce this point. We were in Quito, Ecuador, and me being sick took away from a lot of my experiences there. However, it was our last night and I was feeling better. Andrea had taken care of me while I was sick, and had been itching to do something. She had read in an Ecuador guidebook that there was this neat street named Calle La Ronda in the 'Old Town.' This was apparently a narrow street that had a ton of character with loads of restaurants and shops that were great to visit at night. She had also read that the 'Old Town' was not safe...at night. Commence discomfort. I was just getting over being sick, and that night she wanted to head to the part of Quito that wasn't safe...at night? I know a few of you (my closest friends) are probably like, 'Seriously Drew, grow a set, who is the woman in this relationship?' I have this to say to you: 'I have a set, now shut up and leave me a lone.' Anyways, away we went.
It was awesome. The street was beautiful, with unique shops selling Ecuadorian wares and foods. Doorways that led through buildings and into beautiful courtyard restaurants inside. What a sight! We had the best meal of our stay in Quito, bought some overpriced chocolate, and settled down in a cafe for hot chocolate (cocoa with chili). We were enjoying our time in the cafe when we were approached by a girl no more than seven years old trying to sell us something. We reluctantly told her we were not interested, and she eventually walked away. A woman nearby told us, it breaks her heart to see the young girls selling candy and cigarettes on the street, but if you buy things you are just reinforcing this practice. We began talking with this nice woman, and came to find that she was from Peru, but now lived with her husband and kids in Minnesota. She was ecstatic to hear that we were headed to Peru the next day and wasted no time in providing us with a list of 'Must Do/Must Try' items in Peru. We thanked her, exchanged contact information, and parted ways. You really miss out on these experiences if you can't step out of your comfort zone. (Side note: We are happy to report that we have tried just about every suggestion she gave us, and each one has been amazing! Thank you Jessica!)
All in all, I have come to realize a lot about myself. I realized on our last big trip in Australia that if I have to travel on a boat after dark and the seas are rough, I may throw up. Therefore, working on a boat may not be my best option. I realized on our trek to Machu Picchu, that an adventure guide, although it may mean you are climbing mountains and hiking all the time, you WILL do the same trip four times a month in rain or sun. In addition, if you are a guide on a certain trek and you have four jerk clients you are stuck with four jerk clients for four days! No thanks, I will hike and climb on my own accord. I've also reinforced to myself how important nature is to me, and would like to find ways to get more involved with preservation. Lastly, but not least, I have really come to believe that I am truly happy with the career I have chosen for myself. I am a Registered Landscape Architect. I get to create places that will be enjoyed by people for years! I get to be creative, solve problems, and provide solutions that work in harmony with the environment. Now that is pretty cool.
So the moral of the story is, if your put yourself out there every now and then (and yes mom and dad, within reason) you may not only get a heck of a lot in return, but you may just learn something about yourself too!