During the week, it was Alexa’s birthday. She runs the childrens’ home and we all ran to a beautiful farm to celebrate the day. The farm was organic and used ingenious methods to grow crops and other plants cheaply and efficiently. It was so much cooler on the top of the mountain where the grasses grew green and winds whispered among the shouldering peaks. The city of Port-au-Prince below was hot and dusty, a solid layer of beige hovering over it. Flowers of varying colors scattered the farm as we toured the land.
It was a beautiful day that ended with a humble rooftop party filled with tasty homemade treats and dinner and lots of great people. White lines of light swung on string around us in the wind as the sun set. Through laughs and smiles we all enjoyed another successful day in Haiti.
We spent Thursday back at the childrens’ home doing some crafts with the kids and finishing the second coat of paint. The room looked refreshed and we all spent time with the kids to round out the afternoon. The following day was spent overseeing a classroom with some young kids taught by one of the people who had worked in the childrens’ home. It was nice to see that lesson, but it was also an insight into the difficulties some of these kids, even the lucky ones who can go to school, must endure.
It was now Saturday. The last full day in Haiti and also the last full day of my trip. I couldn’t stop thinking about all of the people that I was just a number of hours away from seeing. This day was spent on a trip to the beach with the entire group of kids. It’s infrequent for the kids to get out of the house for safety reasons and so days like this are precious. They ran straight for the water and had smiles as big as watermelons striped across their faces.
Jumping into the water myself, I found 2, 3, and sometimes even 5 kids all hanging on my arms and shoulders as I waded around in circles through the clear water. For several hours, we just played in the water and stopped for lunch and played some more. It was a beautiful sunny day and I couldn’t have imagined a more perfect day to spend with those incredible kids and for my last day of a miraculous trip.
Emotions swirled around me. Incredible memories filled my mind as I asked my dearest Sarah some more questions and spent as much time at the beach as possible. It was a difficult goodbye but of course an inevitable one. Sarah and the rest of the kids waved as their bus road off into the dust. We all returned to our rooms and packed our bags, happy, exhausted, ready for home.
After a week spent with beautiful people in a uniquely beautiful place, we shipped ourselves to the airport. Minutes were splashing past me and I was doing my best just to enjoy the final hours. Finally, we boarded and rose up into the clouds. I was on my way home.
140 days past. Countless memories. Countless people. Countless blessings. It’s pretty incredible up to this point that I haven’t lost anything…or worse. My mind is everywhere. Riding a taxi to the airport after a nice final morning walking the streets of Santiago with a friend brought so many thoughts to the fold. My final hours in this new world, now a very familiar world, were waning down and I was trying to suck up each moment, each sight, each person I met with the absorbency of a thick dry sponge.
Funny enough, that’s how I felt before long in the dusty hot weather of Haiti as I touched down in the airport of Port-au-Prince. I was the first member of the team to arrive and so me and Alexa, the Haiti Connections Director of the Wings of Refuge childrens’ home. We went to a brand new cafe that has become a central meeting place for volunteers since I last visited this poverty stricken country.
After running a few errands, we returned to the airport to pick up the rest of the team. I knew our team leader through some limited meetings, but everyone else was new! Nothing new for me as I’d been in a similar situation the last 4 1/2 months, but there were plenty of differences in this final week of the trip.
This place, as opposed to all the others I had seen on my trip, was home. When I returned to the childrens home I felt a coziness that I hadn’t felt since I first embarked to Peru to kick off this adventure. Walking into the home, a few things had changed but the feeling was the same. I saw the kids and there were mumblings. I had doubts. I wondered if any of them would remember my name or who I was. How could I doubt.
As we went around the room and all introduced ourselves, I readied myself for my turn to speak. But as I was about to say my name, I heard it around the room followed by whispers and giggles. They remembered! As we all socialized with the kids, I ended up running and playing tag with some of the younger boys before talking with Sarah and nabbing a picture with this young sweetheart.
For those who don’t know, this was the girl who stole my heart by giving me a birthday card on my 22nd birthday during my first trip to Haiti. It was the precursor to my return for a second trip and the inspiration for this 3rd trip after a 4 year hiatus. Being surrounded by all the kids on the first day was a dream come true.
Over the course of the next few days, we settled into our new home for the week and also helped a friend living there to move into his own apartment! It was a big moment for him and we were all so thrilled to be a part of it. We painted a large room in the childrens’ home and spent more time with the kids. Running around you in circles laughing and screaming, they make you forget about everyone and everything else.
As we drove around the city those first few days, I noticed less rubble. Less garbage. A few more paved roads. Just a few. For a country that has been among the most impoverished in the world for many years, progress comes slow. But progress seemingly does still come, especially with organizations working together to bring benefit to the people.
We met many of these organizations as one of the biggest pushes the childrens’ home has made since I last visited is to partner with other charities to bring greater awareness to various causes. We visited jewelers who would make beads out of cereal boxes, old glass bottles, and clay. Ingenious reuse of otherwise indiscernible trash. We even got to make our own bracelet with a hammer, brass fastener, and some leather. Far flung from my days of calculating numbers on spreadsheets.
It was a memorable start to an endlessly thought filled ending of the grand adventure that began a short 5 months earlier. Only a few days remain, but in my mind, it feels like an eternity until I can finally return home! More on those days in the final post of the trip!
Also, check out this post I wrote for the Wings of Refuge website and some more insights into my trip back to this wonderful world!
7. Meeting my mom in Buenos Aires and hiking throughout the lakes district.
Speaking of appreciating people, seeing my mom after 2 months without her was just as incredible. It’s repetitive but worthwhile. Appreciate the good people in your life with love to give and receive.
An illustrious half week in Futaleufu filled with camping, rafting, and lots of outdoors led to some pangs of desire for urban life. I had been in the lesser populated and incredibly beautiful nature I so desperately craved coming from the graveled earth of the NYC metro area. But now, I wanted that city experience again. In a small way, a taste of home. It was a big secret, but I was just weeks away from home at this point. Another 10 days in Chile and a long week in Haiti before my unforeseen return.
To get there, it took some more long bus rides and a few detours. First, there was no bus connecting Chaiten and Puerto Montt, two of the connecting cities to get to the capital, Santiago. I stayed in one of the only places open in the entire town in Chaiten, a lonely, dusty hostel. It took some time to even find the place, but luckily it didn’t stop me from catching a group rate taxi to nearby celebrity, Chaiten Volcano. This friendly peak was smoking ominously after a raucous eruption in 2008 evacuated the nearby town that I now inhabited.
Thankfully, there was no eruption on this day. Instead, I had a crystal clear sunny day climbing to the outer rim of a bluff adjacent to the volcano. It was a great experience and a beautiful day to be up close to a volcano that was still steaming at the top.
The next day, I rode a long set of buses and ferries along the Carretera Austral. A famed country road stretching from the northern end of Patagonia up to Puerto Montt, where more traditional highways carried traffic up to Santiago and riding north to the furthest end of the Atacama desert. It took nearly 12 hours, but I finally made it. Well, sort of. I had another 20 hour bus to Santiago. But thankfully I could sleep on this bus as there were no transfers or ferries to wake me up along the way.
And so, I had finally made it to Santiago! But I wasn’t finished. I decided to take a stop in Pichilemu. It was a famous surfing town in Chile and promised of relaxing days and vivid nights. The vivid nights weren’t on display, however, as it was offseason. It was a bit of a ghost town. Making the most of my time there with lots of reading and writing and long walks on the beach, I spent three nights before making my way to Valparaiso.
I was particularly excited about Valparaiso. Since I hadn’t really stopped in Santiago for more than a connecting bus, this was my first legitimate city in South America since Buenos Aires. With the confluence of rising hills, deep blue water, pearl white sand, and color-blasted streets, this city had a character like no other city I’d ever seen. Taking walking tours to view the sights and sounds of this quirky place, I fell in love immediately. It quickly became my favorite city in all of South America.
Accompanying me in this city were a few adjusted locals originally hailing from Germany. Along with some other fun people, we took the walking tour together and explored the beaches and nightlife deep into the morning. Once again, people made the experience better. No big surprise.
One of my favorite parts of the city was the famed home of historic poet and Chile’s proud Nobel Prize winner, Pablo Neruda. It was such a unique home, taking the quirky qualities of the city surrounding it into its very architecture. The top floor, just one room occupying the space, was a marvel for me. I always imagined being able to write in a room at the top of a house overlooking the sea. With this room it was a reality. While I won’t be able to write like Neruda did in his esteemed life, it felt like a privilege just to be there.
It was a nice surprise to meet a few guys at Neruda’s home who ended up being from my very own hostel without even realizing. We all shared a delicious lunch before making our own ways out of the city. And it was from there that I took my final bus back to Santiago. In a trip full of bus rides and endless hours of jumbling in public transportation seats, it was a nice feeling.
I won’t lie, I wasn’t sure how this trip would end. I was worried something bad would happen (lost wallet or passport, canceled flights, just feeling lonely, etc), but I realize I never should have been so concerned. After a quiet night arriving in the capital, I took a walking tour the next morning. I almost didn’t go as I was running late, but making it in the final minute before it started, I joined the English speaking group. We meandered through the markets and streets of a city full of life and stories to tell.
Meeting several people throughout the group, it seemed that we all had a friendly connection and got along very well. We enjoyed the rest of the tour including a particularly riveting speech by the young tour guide in the city cemetery as we basked in the shadow of former Chilean President Allende’s grave. The sight of this tour’s conclusion was a foreshadowing of the colorful opinions and insights of a man living in the remnants of a terrifying time in Chile’s history. Hearing his story was touching and worth mentioning.
After this, we all sprang from the somber topics discussed to come together for a favorite party drink in a nearby bar before enjoying lunch with some of the people I would spend my final few days with. And oh what a lunch that was! Our waiter was as charismatic as they come. He gave us a few belly laughs in between gulps of delicious seafood stew and shellfish and soups. Some pisco sours and a particularly minty drink on the house to round off the lunch left us all pretty happy.
After visiting an interesting Chilean cafe and going our own ways, I paid for what was a very long overdue haircut. Feeling refreshed, I met the friendly mother-daughter duo traveling together and their newfound friend for dinner. We joked and laughed for the long dinner about nearly everything that we could imagine. After one too many pisco sours, we scrambled back to our respective “homes” and turned in another memorable night.
On this, my final full day in South America, I spent most of the day with a group of three friends from the US as we explored a somber museum detailing the rugged history of Chile and visited a fancy wine restaurant. Picking up my last load of laundry on the road, I met up again with those girls and then with the mother-daughter combo as we ascended the view-laden peak of San Cristobal. It’s a large greenery filled hill right in the center of the city. The sights from atop that hillside were only outdone by the company I had. And the sights were unbeatable.
Well, that’s it! South America in a few words! Ok, so maybe more than a few. But thankfully there’s more. Learn about the final chapter of this saga in the next post!
8. Seeing Vanessa come through the gate in Colombia.
There’s nothing quite like seeing a loved one after a long time with a long distance. That time came to an end twice during this trip, in Colombia and back in NYC. It’s a great way to remember to appreciate those who mean so much in your life!
9. Climbing down and up colca canyon in Peru and meeting wonderful people.
It was a challenge, walking down, along, and back up the canyon walls. Thankfully we had good company and great views. It was a hot 3 days of hiking with lots of very dry trails but as always it was completely worth it!