Thursday, September 23, 2010

Ingrid Koch: Me year

I think that at the moment I embody ‘Girl on the loose’. I am a nomad with nothing much more than 20kgs in a bright red backpack, a rather heavy Lonely Planet Guide to South America and a dream of exploring this amazing continent and meeting some of its fabulous and diverse people.

Parque Nationales Los Glacieres
Until the middle of March this year (2010) I was an environmental consultant with a large international firm in South Africa. I liked aspects of my work, but for nearly a year I had been planning on giving up the stress and strain of the 8-5 life (which was NEVER just 8-5) and going exploring for a while. I felt that there had to be something more to life, but I was feeling a little lost about what I wanted to do and where I saw myself heading, both from a career and personal perspective. It dawned on me last year that I was in the unique situation of being debt and obligation free and had no one to think about except myself – WOW!!! How often can we say that in life? So despite many fears, doubts and anxieties I knew I had to make the most of this time in my life and thus I started trying to learn Spanish, saving up money and dreaming about exploring the mountains and jungles of the New World.

Was I crazy? Probably…
Was I scared? Definitely...
Did I think of backing out? Many times…
But I got on the plane, ready for my ME Year– I vowed that this year I was going to take every opportunity that came my way, live and appreciate every moment and just see where life took me…

Yesterday I marked exactly 6 months of my South American journey and all I can say so far is that it has far exceeded everything I expected and wanted. I started this journey hoping that somewhere along the way my life path would become clear and I would know what I was supposed to do with my life. I am still waiting for the lightning bolt of inspiration and I know that it probably won’t happen in the way I am expecting it to. But I can say that I have grown from each and every experience I have had so far – as a person and definitely as a woman.

'Girlondaloose' asked me to share my story. I wanted to share some lessons I have learnt so far on this adventure. None of what I say below is going to be anything you haven’t heard before, but hopefully I can give a different perspective on it and add some personal experiences and MOST importantly inspire you to get out of your comfort zone and live your life as you have always dreamed of doing…no matter how scary and daunting it may seem!

1.  Take every opportunity that comes your way, even if it seems scary and takes you into the unknown
I was put in touch with a guy from Belgium who was traveling through Argentina in a 35 year old Citroen. He needed ‘co-pilots’ to share the journey with him. But I don’t know this guy at all…what if he is a psycho…what if we don’t get on…what happens if the car falls apart on us since it is so old… doubts and fears and concerns were racing through my mind (as well as the minds of my family back in SA). But in the end I did it and I can honestly say that my 7 week (and nearly 2000km) road trip through Patagonia was the biggest highlight of my trip so far. I can’t elaborate more here, but you can read the details of the adventure on my blog
So go for it – take that opportunity or make that change that you have been thinking about for ages! If it doesn’t work out the way you want it to, then you pick yourself up and start afresh, BUT, if it does work out then who knows where you will end up… and that is the exciting thing!
Me with the 35 year old Citroen at the end of a grueling
 stretch of remote dirt road in Patagonia, Argentina.
We both survived, although she was a little worse for wear…

2. Don’t be afraid to have to learn a new language
Girlondaloose can agree with me here, that it is very daunting to move to a country that doesn’t speak your language. Never again will I take for granted asking something as simple as “where is the bus station?” or “Do you have any milk?”…because so often in the last six months I have worked out exactly what I wanted to say in my head and managed to communicate it clearly enough, only to then have no clue what the person replied because it was said at warp speed or with a strange accent. I have had many occasions where I have been very frustrated at not being able to communicate properly and when I have felt totally inadequate and lonely because I couldn’t understand everything going on around me. But I have had many triumphs too and moments where I have been so proud to have had a decent conversation in another language. There is no greater skill to have then being able to speak other languages and I think this is a skill we lack desperately in SA. Six months in, I am not nearly fluent, but I can survive and every day I learn a little more and I embrace the challenge of a new language with as much enthusiasm as possible.
So, never let something like a language stand in your way of doing something or going somewhere. As humans we are incredibly adaptable and will always find a way to communicate, even if not with standard words!

3. Travel alone at some point in your life
99% of my travels around 5 continents have been alone. Many times I have been asked why I travel this way and if I am not lonely all the time. The answer is definitely NO! Where ever I have gone I have met like-minded, amazingly interesting travelers and shared great experiences with them all. And by traveling alone you have to be able to put yourself out there and say “Hi, I’m Ingrid, where are you from?” and that way get to meet people. This definitely takes you out of your comfort zone of familiar people, but it is so worth it in the end. I am never actually alone unless I want to be…there is always someone out there waiting to be met…and even if you hardly have a common language with which to communicate you can still enjoy each other’s company
So travel alone at some point in your life (even if just for a weekend away) – give yourself time to explore YOU.

4. Climb every mountain – whether physically or metaphorically
Life is always throwing challenges at us and sometimes we don’t think we can overcome them and succeed. Often the obstacles seem as huge as a physical mountain. During my road trip through Patagonia I got to hike or attempt to hike up a few different mountains. These were some of the most difficult and steep hikes I have ever done (even though I have done a fair amount of hiking in Africa, it has not been in massive mountain ranges like the Andes with snow etc). The first couple of mountains got the better of us due to bad weather and I mean really bad – gale force wind, driving rain or snow, knee deep snow to struggle through and icy cold conditions. So on two occasions we had to listen to what the mountains were telling us and accept that we were not going to get to the top. Then we were blessed with amazing weather for 10 days in Bariloche, Argentina and thought that this was our time to succeed. After three frustrating days we got to the top and had the most amazing 360 degree view of the Andes stretching all the way into Chile. The feeling of triumph was amazing.  we then looked around and found another peak just a short distance away that we realized they were also climbable and so two days later we were back and attempting that higher, more dangerous and even less well marked trails. My excitement at getting to the top of that mountain was immense, but my relief at getting back down again in one piece was even greater.
While I have described physical obstacles like mountains here, they are great examples for how we need to tackle any problem in life. We could have given up after not finding the trail the first day, but we kept trying and in the end we succeeded. And it was SO worth it. So even when the going is tough and all you want to do is turn back, give it one last push and see what happens. Enjoy your successes, but always stay motivated with new goals and aims in life. Once one mountain has been conquered, find the next challenge to keep life interesting.  
On the top of Falso Granitico

5. Don’t be afraid to cry or show weakness and value the friends and family that help wipe the tears away
As a woman traveling alone, I am always conscious of appearing as if I am in control and that I know exactly where I am going and what I am doing, even if I have absolutely no idea. This is a vital survival mechanism in foreign and unfamiliar places. But it can get very tiring. Sometimes you just have to have a day when you don’t feel great or are a little homesick or missing the familiarity of friends, family or your city and home. When people see photos of my travels and hear the stories, it is always the happy ones and the amazing memories etc…never the crap days when you hated the language or the people or just couldn’t understand why things are the way they are in that country or were tired of lugging all your worldly possessions around on your back and wanted to stay in a comfy quiet room instead of a hostel dorm with three snoring males…you get what I mean. Traveling is an unbelievable gift and opportunity to broaden ones horizon and see the world from other perspectives…but some days you just have to cry and feel down. And that is when it is so important to have those special friends and family who are only an email or skype chat away to lift your spirits again. Here is where I have to say a HUGE thank you to my mom, Melissa and Jen for being the pillars I can lean on even if from the other side of the world.
So while we all aim to be strong, independent and driven women, some days we just have to realise that we are only human and can’t do everything, not for ourselves and certainly not for everyone else. So on those days when all you can do is cry or be down about whatever, phone a couple of girlfriends, meet them somewhere with a bottle of wine and treasure the fact that there are special people around you to help pick you up again…and if you can’t do this in person then remember that a few words in an email or a quick phone call are always valued by friends no matter where they are in the world.

Smile, laugh, cry, scream, jump up and down, celebrate, hug, love, be peaceful, be loud, but most importantly…LIVE…we only get one shot at life and there is no rewind button!!!

Shared by Ingrid Koch

1 comment:

  1. Awesome story and great tips! We have some travel adventures of our own that we should share, every time we sit down on a bench, something strange/interesting/unique always happens. Good luck with your journey!


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