After a year in Canada and a difficult transition back to Paris in the fall of 2014, I decided to travel alone for a few months. I needed a change of air, and a complete new deal on every aspect of my life: place, work, ideas, feelings.
In order to change all at once, I decided to go for a long road trip in Latin America. This meant I had to move out of my apartment, as I was going to be gone for 4 or 5 months. Streamlining your life isn’t a fast or easy process and it took me several months to sort and donate a lot of my stuff, organize my moving out, sell all the furniture, leave the apartment and store the rest of my belongings with family.
Finally, in the first days of April, I took off to Patagonia to take advantage of this time of my life where I was free to go where I wanted, without constraints, in order to explore a part of the world I like a lot. I speak Spanish and Brazilian Portuguese, so I have always felt something special for this part of the world, a quite romantic feeling about the idea of crossing Latin America and being able to blend in, and get out of any situation.
A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step
The Tao Te Ching says that “a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step”, and as a perfect illustration of this image, here I was, on April 10, at the foot of Mount Fitz Roy in Argentinean Patagonia, starting a few weeks of solo hiking. I would begin my trip by trekking the incredible autumn colors of the Patagonian range before winter kicked in.
The rest of the trip wasn’t all decided but I knew I would more or less cross Latin America: from Patagonia to Buenos Aires in Argentina, then Sao Paulo in Brazil, in order to make some portraits for Climate Heroes. From there I would jump on a plane to Cozumel in Mexico, a special island very close to my heart, where I would dive the second largest reef barrier of the world. I would continue by visiting Yucatan and its Mayan temples (an old dream of mine since 2009, when a H5N1 flu pandemic cut short my Mexican trip and prevented me from seeing those wonders of archeological heritage).
As the trip started, I also learned that I was invited to speak about Climate Heroes in Mexico City at the Social Media Week conference at the beginning of June. Things were starting to take shape.
Out of my comfort zone
This was the rough plan for the beginning but nothing was more detailed in terms of daily travels, housing or logistical aspects, not even for the first night.
This trip, in retrospect, was a good way to get out of my comfort zone, for several reasons. When you get on a long trip (4 months so far), several things can come up that can get you worried: where to sleep, what to eat, how to get transportation, and so on. But after the first days where you are improvising a little, you progressively get in the rhythm. Days pass without you noticing it, and you survive, of course :)
1) No schedule, but a lot of (too many) goals
Beginning a trip without a clear schedule or idea of where to go can be stressful. I knew I was going to be in Patagonia for a few weeks then in Brazil and then Mexico, but nothing else was decided. I didn’t have any booking beyond my bare flights, no hostel, no clear idea of how to reach the Patagonian National Parks beyond the airport door. But I believe this is the best way to do it.
I chose to do this also in part because I did not want to follow a traditional touristic approach, but wanted to be as eco-friendly as I could in my to travel (something we initiated with my girlfriend at the time in Paris and Montréal, buying in bulk and trying to limit waste), as well as living a more genuine experience, staying out of the usual tours and tourist attractions. While you can’t always avoid getting on that bus with other travelers to reach a specific landmark, you can always look for ecological or environment conscious lodges or hostels.
Improvising on the spot is also why I ended up camping alone by 0°C in a rental tent without the proper gear. I froze myself all night, but it was a nice experience and the opportunity to meet fellow campers!
I also had several diverging goals: take a personal break, explore a bit, work on Climate Heroes, and scout Latin America for photo stories I could come back and complete later on. Well, I had to give up on several of those ideas as I went on. But such is life!
Overall, after hiking demanding treks for over 10 days, and carrying quite a lot of gear in a huge bag, I can say that all went well. Why so much gear? Because I had to cover my needs for cold nights out in Patagonia, as well as photo gear in order to be able to work during my trip, and make some photo-shoots for Climate Heroes. Hauling 18kg of mountain gear and 12kg of photo gear just isn’t a picnic walk.
One of the main concerns one can have in such a case may be how to find food and eat healthily (being flexitarian and trying to eat as little meat as possible doesn’t make grocery shopping easier, especially when embarking on a week-long trek where you need to have enough energy to carry a heavy backpack).
Days go one after the other and I was surprised at how I could find ways to cook vegetarian meals in Argentina, Brazil or Mexico (all three known for their meat eating culinary traditions), or even find little shops to buy fruits and seeds in bulk!
It certainly takes a bit more thinking when doing the grocery shopping, but there are benefits to it: did you know you can carry cucumbers in a backpack for a whole week, and that they will keep very well? I learned this when I was hiking Mount Kenya back in 2009: cucumbers, crackers, tomatoes, cheddar and chili sauce made up our lunch menu everyday for 10 days. We kept the nicer food for dinners.
Lunch is just a short break when you’re hiking, and this combination + a fruit is actually the perfect mix of energy and vegetables, without being too heavy to carry. This time, I jazzed this up a bit with rice cakes instead of crackers, because that’s what I found in the little grocery store in the middle of Puerto Natales, Chile. And actually, rice cakes are so energetic; it’s really amazing how far you can go with them.
I also got quite good at making guacamole in Mexico, and it is very easy to prepare (for the foodies out there: 2 avocados, 1 tomato, 1/2 onion, 1-2 limes, some chili, some salt. Chop it, mix it. Here you go. Add a cerveza, that’s a winner after a long day out!)
I knew I didn’t want to pay for organized tours and large commercial buses, so I had to find other transportation methods. I did use some of the major bus companies when I had no choice, but I also hitch-hiked a good part of Yucatan/Campeche with a friend met on the road.
This was particularly exciting as it was the first time I had ever hitch hiked in my entire life. At first, it was a slow process: people are incredibly nice in Yucatan and Quintana Roo, but they are also very afraid of being hijacked, and therefore sometimes don’t stop that easily…
A particular experience to hitch-hike from Bacalar to the Calakmul Biopshere Reserve and Archeological Site proved to be quite an adventure. The site was in the middle of nowhere, therefore this transportation method made sense, but we had to change rides multiple times, last of all for an unexpected reason: the tire of one of our driver blew at full speed on the road, in the middle of nowhere in the jungle, which technically called for the end of his generosity.
Thankfully, after a long wait and some convincing, a truck driver stopped. Even though he was very afraid of ambushes and being assaulted by hiding mercenaries, we managed to convince him. It did help that my friend and I looked like a couple, as lifters are more comfortable sometimes when a girl is present…
Luckily, he accepted and was super nice. It was a fun experience to reach our final destination in this huge lorry!
Getting out of your comfort zone is always more intimidating before, than during the experience itself
Life isn’t about wishing to do something, or saying that one day you can go travel and see the world. You do need to have the right conditions lined up, but it is up to you to make them right to allow yourself to follow your dreams. Sitting in the comfort of your home or your office won’t take you very far, if what you want is to be alive. All it takes is opening the door, stepping out, and taking part in what is happening around us.
The process may be stressful at first, but don’t focus on that stress, as many of us tend to naturally do in such situations. This would limit your perspective into an “all or nothing” do it/don’t do it alternative, in which you would get discouraged very fast. You don’t have to bear an insurmountable amount of stress and push yourself to extremes. Take one step at a time. Again, “a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step”. Ways will appear, and you will find small ways to navigate.
Little by little, you will reach a place you haven’t imagined before. Before you realize it, you will be out of your comfort zone, but not feeling uncomfortable at all. You will actually be enjoying it and feeling alive, impressed at yourself and having the best time of your life!
How about you? What recent experience (or trip) took you out of your comfort zone? How did you go about it and felt afterwards?