The hard times of my first six months in South America
“How did you it? How was it when you started?” TJ, a friend from the Philippines asked. I smiled and tried to remember the day I arrived South America. “Mighty scarce, sir. Mighty scarce. Something that can pass to be a telenovela piece.”
This is not a victim story. This is a story of honesty, of openness, of reality — it wasn’t easy to be out here.
The day I told my mother, “I am not going back” was also the day I told myself “you’re own your own now.” The last U$700 I saved for the whole trip was used to book a flight from Africa to Brasil. All of it. I always believed the Universe will provide. With $80 left in my pocket, I flew to Brasil with the hopes of finally seeing the world on my own, healing, and forgiving myself and all those who wronged me.
My flight departed from Casablanca, Morocco and stopped in Dubai for 12 hours. I opened my laptop and looked for a host on Couchsurfing. I was a very disrespectful surfer. I just kept sending couch requests without even reading their profile. If they had more than three references, that’s good enough for me. After a few hours, a girl replied and accepted my request. She had no references from other surfers nor enough information of what kind of person she is. Great! First risk. I guess I have a host in Sao Paulo then.
Note: When using Couchsurfing, it is very important to stay with hosts with positive references.
I arrived three days before my birthday. I got used to the very hot weather in Africa and I didn’t have anything to shelter myself from the cold September of Brasil. Everyone was looking at Guarulhos International Airport. What is this Chinese girl doing? It’s freaking cold! I didn’t have any arrangement with my Brasilian host. She just said, “I’ll check if I can pick you up. If not, take the bus and go down at this station. I will wait for you there.” I approached a random dude, used sign language asking if I can borrow his phone to call my friend. Luckily, he understood. I called my host and told her where I am.
After 20 minutes, there came the girl named Livia, my ‘referenceless’ host who became a true friend and a sister. I stayed in her house for three months, met her family and friends, and created the best memories two girls living together can ever have.
It was very difficult for me to find a job but I did land into one. I was hired as a social media manager in a US-based company that pays very well. It was just enough for me to start over. I had $80 to spend until the first salary comes, ate tuna and egg (with rice) everyday to keep me functioning (very unhealthy, really) and avoided night outs I couldn’t afford. I also attended Couchsurfing activities every once in a while (when it’s free) and declined all the boys who wanted to take me out for dinner (even if it’s for free). I wasn’t just ready. I needed to figure out what I was doing in my life first before jumping from one thing to another.
My visa in Brasil was running out. It has been 90 days and I had to leave. I chose Colombia because a friend of mine whom I hosted in the Philippines invited me to stay with her family with the note, “stay as long as you want.” Great! Who wouldn’t take that? I again paid for a $900 flight from Sao Paulo, Brasil to Barranquilla, Colombia. Technically, that’s everything I saved from my online job. I couldn’t do anything about it so I let it go. Remember Trisha, the Universe will provide. Again, I spent three beautiful months in Colombia, upgraded to spending U$100 per month, got the chance to see the beauty of the country and have been a part of a family who fed and sheltered me well. Today, my friend’s mother, Patricia is my emergency contact in case something happens to me while traveling in South America.
It was time to move again. I did my first border crossing with no plans, as always. At the bus station, I met a dude who was working in a restaurant near the border. I asked if there’s a place for me. Luckily, there was. I thought it was a kitchen job. I love cooking so I definitely took it. We arrived the place and I was shocked: the restaurant looked like Leonardo di Caprio’s HOSTEL IN Bangkok in the movie The Beach.
“Uhm, where do I sleep?” He then showed me a very small door in the kitchen, at the back of the fridge. Here. Great! I guess beggars cannot be choosers, right? The bigger surprise: they were looking for a cleaning lady, not a cook. For the first time in my life, I found myself cleaning toilets, tables and washing dishes. Something new. Something challenging.
Everyday, I was crying myself to sleep, questioning what I was doing in my life and tempted to tell my parents what I was going through. I stopped myself. If you call mom, she will demand you to come home. If you tell your sister, she will tell your mom. So I stayed there for two weeks until I found a volunteering job in a HOSTEL IN Quito. It was much better than the previous job. I met true friends and became a part of a family again. The hostel owner took care of us very well and I will be forever grateful for that. It was also the best time to focus on my online job, which I was on the verge of losing because of lack of internet connection. I was able to resuscitate my assigned tasks and eventually kept the job even if my employer was furious.
Peru was a quick turn. I lived with friends in Lima and found the best volunteering job ever. It was by the beach, I didn’t pay for food nor accommodations and found myself slowly saving cash for the much awaited World Cup. It was also a good time to focus on building my blog. I wrote and wrote and wrote. I put myself out the world wide web. Everything was great. The same happened in Bolivia and by the time the World Cup arrived, I was armed with savings and my blog started earning a little cash. I had the best time in my life in Brasil and treated myself very well from all the hard work and volunteering I did in Peru and Bolivia.
From there, I moved to Uruguay with savings afloat. I stayed with an Uruguayan family for a month, learned about how they live and of course, still avoided paying for anything as much as possible. Then I landed an English teaching gig in Argentina which allowed me to juggle with my online job. I grew a lot of blog audience and this gave me the opportunity to tie up with hotels and tour agencies. I got blog sponsorships left and right — I stayed in luxury hotels, ate in the best restaurants of the continent and have been treated as a professional writer, with respect.
So here’s how I did it, TJ. It was a long shot but I survived! Today, I am financially stable, still working on the same online company I found 2 years ago and receiving a lot of recognition from my writing. Do I regret anything? Not at all. These experiences helped me to achieve what I am today. It made me realise that my drive to travel the world is always more important than the money. I learned a lot of things from these experiences. I was a very sheltered girl growing up — I was given everything I needed and wanted in life and being out here taught me how to fend for myself and be truly independent.
After two years of traveling here, I developed a lifestyle — something that is incomprehensible for many but works well for me. I now know that it’s possible to live a life of travel but I don’t know if I will ever stop. I came a long way and every time I try to remember how I started, I always get this big smile on my face.
The Universe is never ever kidding.