From November 2019-March 2020, my partner Chrisy, (turned fiancé on this trip!) and I made our way from Colombia down to Bolivia with just our backpacks, riding on dodgy buses that took 7 hours longer than expected, keeping up with the local accent changes in each country, and so many adventures along the way.
(Laguna 69, Peru)
(Tatacoa Desert, Colombia)
The year before, we had spent 4 months traveling from Mexico to Costa Rica in the same fashion, but our Spanish was a little rusty, and wow, was South America different than Central America in many ways. It was a lot more... raw. There were significantly less English speakers to lean on in times of uncertainty, which was a difficult but good lesson.
Our favorite stay was at La Finca Kuruksetra, an off grid farm in the jungle of Ecuador, where we stayed with our three hosts and a few other travelers from all over. There was no electricity, the shower was a bamboo chute with a hose propped inside that would go to lower ground and bathe you in cold water (there was a spigot for running water, that was the only amenity)–I did not take long showers. There was a compost toilet that overlooked the land and trees, we stayed in a bamboo structure in our tents on the second level. There was a kitchen that nothing could be stored cold, so we got very used to ants in our honey, flies in our food, and not really caring that everything was always dirty. I loved it.
We lived in harmony with the land for a month. Waking up with the birds at sunrise, going to bed with the sounds of the jungle, the insects, the rain, it was like a symphony of exotic sounds lulling me to sleep every night. We slept near ayahuasca vines and floripandio (or angel trumpet) flowers which they say can enhance dreams from sheer proximity. I slept deeper there than I ever have in my life being so immersed.
The mosquitos were relentless, the conga ants were massive and would bite, the smell of smoke (to keep the bugs away) was infused in our skin. The laundry loads we did by hand in a bucket would then dry above the fire on the second level of the structure, so more smoke. The meals were incredible, one of the hosts was an amazing experimental cook who loved throwing crazy combinations together and it made us get more creative too using whatever ingredients we had and what we gathered from the land.
They tasked me with a lot of painting projects to add to the myriad of art that covered the handmade structures; it was such a beautiful, humble place to be a part of for a short time. This remains my top place I've ever stayed in my life. We came away with better Spanish, even more connection to nature, a true sense of what it means to live with the land, to eat and gather in community, to appreciate the small things, like doing laundry by hand, that one I don't miss.
(Ours was the orange tent and that's Chrisy playing a tiny guitar in a hammock)
(Every meal we gathered and ate together)
After we left, even though we didn't really want to but our journey had to continue, we made our way to the ocean, got a good clean and slept in a bed. The next day as we strolled along the beach, Chrisy asked me to marry him, it was perfect, no big production, just the two of us on a semi empty beach.
It was after this time, that all of a sudden, every time I opened my sketchbook, another drawing appeared! I was on a roll and couldn't be stopped! This style emerged that I was able to keep relatively consistent, and after about a dozen or so, I made my mind up to create a coloring book.
My goal was to make a 25 page coloring book and I exceeded that quickly, so my next goal was 40. Not only did I draw them all, but I watercolored nearly all of them (taking black and white pictures before I did so that I could scan them into the computer).
We were traveling through Peru at this point, we did some incredible hikes, of course saw Machu Pichuu, and stayed at another Workaway where we were nestled in the mountains by a river and it was some of the most gorgeous landscapes I've ever seen.
I had big plans though for my future art markets I wanted to do, I was constantly drawing up ideas for what I would create to sell in a booth in weekly markets in my college town. I wanted to return there for the summer and not be a student, involve myself in the artsy town that it is known for (I attended the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire). I was envisioning such a lively summer being a part time artist, and getting a job up there doing something that wasn't related to horses for the first time in years...
So I thought.
I remember the moment, looking out at the green and valleys around us, getting thrown back and forth as the bus zig zagged at high speed around the mountain switchbacks (I swear it was on two wheels at one point), Chrisy and I looked at each other and we both agreed, out of nowhere, that it was time to make our plan to head back home.
We had no end in sight, we imagined still being on the trip for at least another two months, money was getting low (wasn't it low to start with? haha), but we knew we could do workaways and be fine.
But both of our intuitions spoke to us, simultaneously.
We decided to make it down to Bolivia and then head back up to Lima to fly out, not exploring Chile like we hoped. At this point, we were still nearly a month away from our flight date: March 17, 2020.
Now, if that date feels familiar, it may be because that was pretty much the day that the world shut down, or at least close.
We did our trip to Bolivia, then took a couple of 24 hour buses back to Lima. On our way back over the border, which we only had crossed two weeks prior, there were people in hazmat suits asking everyone questions, taking temperatures.
(Bolivia, Uyuni Salt Flats)
Our Spanish was okay, but we really couldn't understand what was happening. When we arrived in the hostel in Lima, we overheard someone saying that the airports would be shutting down air travel to Asia and Europe in a few days. Even though they didn't say North America, we didn't know what really was happening, so we bumped up our flight for the 15th instead, having us leave in just two days.
We got back on US soil, sure, we missed our connecting flight, but we made it out of South America... who shut EVERYTHING down the 16th and Peru was one of the toughest lockdowns in the world. We knew people who were stuck in hostels, had to order in food into their dorm rooms, get emergency flights back home.
We were so incredibly grateful that we were able to land safely at my parents house and ride out those first couple months of shaky unknown during the pandemic together.
Any time we wanted to complain about the pandemic we would say, "At least we're not stuck in Peru."
I had negative dollars to my name, was living at my parents house, 27 years old, no job.
I knew art was going to be what I focused on this year, but I didn't realize I had to jump all in at once! I bit the bullet and purchased a Wacom Cintiq tablet that I hooked up all the cords to connect to my Macbook. It was a bit much, but it was amazing to not have to draw on paper, outline in pen, scan in, then make the image in Illustrator. I could just draw and it was digital. It was game changing.
Also, I had been going through a huge unlearning and questioning everything I thought I knew about horses for the past year, even though it'd started slowly before that. So I started drawing what I was going through in my changing perspective with horses, sharing it online, and finding that it resonated with others! I gained traction quickly and it kept propelling me forward into what you see today, and I feel like i'm just really getting started. ;)
Thank you for being along on this journey even if you've just arrived, I hope you stay with me and see where I'm going... because I sure don't know but I know it's going to be epic.