This weekend got me reflecting a bit on the experience of traveling solo here in Ecuador. Despite the fact that I am down here by myself, I very much rely on others for weekend travels and such. This weekend my plans to go for a long trip fell through, and I was pretty bummed but also began thinking maybe I would travel to this particular place alone. Safety, of course, held me back and it made me a bit frustrated for a few reasons. At some level, I attach a sense of complete independence to the ability to take on that solo voyage and meet people along the way and have that quintessential backpacker experience. Also, I sometimes feel that I am too afraid of the world and the possible risks associated with whatever and it worries me that I might hold back from a truly great experience because of it. In truth, I questioned coming down here due to safety concerns, and that would have been a real mistake. Finally, it really bothers me the reality of having to take much greater precautions as a woman traveling alone than as a man. I don't think it's a fabrication to think that I would have traveled alone, no doubt, by now if I was a man, but have not partially because of being a woman and the dangers associated with it.
All those points made, I have realized (definitely with the help of talking to others) that independence is what you make of it and I actually have a great deal of it and have cultivated more by coming down here alone. It's been a good learning experience to be forced into a new culture/language/location alone and to make friends and acquaintances on my own. It can get lonely, for sure, but working through that has been essential to the experience. At this point, I have a solid little base of people I call friends and I've realized how solo travel brings up countless opportunities to meet super interesting people.
There's Austin and Aliya, two kickass freelance journalists who traveled here from Egypt to follow the Assange case and now Snowden as well. They're two of the most knowledgeable people I've ever met about world events (I suppose that's necessary for a journalist) and even in the short time I've known them they have caused me to reflect on the importance of having a stance on things, formulating an opinion, and being open to talking about it. They're also fantastic at questioning the status quo in a way that makes me think about my own role in, dare I say it, changing the world.
Richard and Andrew are two chill guys I traveled to Banos with - it seems that we're all in a similar boat about trying to figure things out and hoping maybe Ecuador is a place to facilitate that. Andrew is studying for a law degree and working for an environmental lawsuit here and Richard came to work for a hostel pretty much out of the blue. In all honesty, it seems that most people here - foreigners at least - are looking for something. Or maybe we're just more honest about not having it figured out. There's a great amount of camaraderie in being in a new place together. I'll also add Justin, a paramedic here, to the list of we're-figuring-it-out.
There was a cool Australian guy who was traveling around the world. And Simon, a British guy I went biking with for the day, was doing something similar. He had a very interesting perspective on travel - I don't know whether it was a getaway for him or if it was simply taking advantage of being young. In terms of how long travel disrupts your "career" (or just career depending on how much weight you put into the whole idea), he said: Is there really any risk? At worst you work a bar job or whatever until you can get another job you want. Ok, so that didn't sound as philosophical as when he said it, but it does make me question the illusion I often fall prey to about the linearity of life. When in a place like this, maybe it's that you appreciate the figures that pop in and out of your life. Though I'd say there's a statistical likeliness that people who ship out to Ecuador on a whim are more interesting or have more to say than the average person.
Quito has been a good reminder that I can't try too hard to prescribe a certain experience for myself. There's a lot of imagery out there that makes me feel that I have to have certain stories to tell at the end of this trip but there's no way to live up to them. I do believe that some of the best things in our lives happen when we aren't looking for them. So, here's to not looking too hard and having four more weeks to explore!