And I can breathe again.

You know when you’ve been holding your breath, but you don’t realize it until you finally exhale? I had that feeling when I arrived in Pucon a few days ago. I’d been enjoying the bigger cities so much that I hadn’t even realized my body was craving nature. But once I got here, to this cozy little mountain village with its stunning volcano and sparkling lake, I felt that wave of instant peace and serenity that you can only find in the outdoors. I don’t know how I could’ve let myself forget.

I had a similar experience this past summer. The school year had just ended and I had no idea where my life was headed in the coming year. Nerves were shot, I was bloated from too much coffee and sugar, and my insomnia had started to take a noticeable toll on my appearance. I felt destroyed. Half alive. Unhappy and unhealthy. I needed a break.

I hadn’t visited my dad’s house in Wisconsin for four years. I had all sorts of excuses. It wasn’t the house I grew up in, so I had never really considered it “home”. Plus, he visited so often that it hardly seemed necessary. And honestly, huge family gatherings in years past with cousins and spouses and kids had only left me feeling completely alone. So I had been hesitant to return. But this summer, “basecamp”, as my dad lovingly refers to his refuge in the woods, was the only place I could think of to go.

I’m sure he could tell right away that I was miserable. I walked around in a hazed state of exhaustion the first few days, blaming my low energy on the long car ride and lack of coffee. He let me be, giving me plenty of solo time, and was nothing but supportive when I revealed that I’d officially left my job. And so I spent my days kayaking on the water, napping in the tree house, hiking through the woods…and I slowly began to heal. I began to feel more and more like a human being. More like me. I could sleep again; I could breathe again.

That week in Wisconsin helped my body remember what my mind had somehow, inexplicably, forgotten: I love being surrounded by nature. My soul needs it. And this place reminds me of home (I’m actually writing this post in a tiny tree house overlooking the lake). At this point in my journey, even though I hadn’t realized it, I desperately needed a nature fix to reenergize. It seems I have found my little “basecamp” here in southern Chile, and I feel restored.

Watch me while I disappear…

A month in and I’ve hit my stride. I’m at that point in my journey where I feel comfortable and natural as a traveler…but also completely removed from life back home. I’ve been so focused on the present moment that I can hardly be bothered to write a simple email. I haven’t even taken many pictures in the last few weeks, choosing to see and experience first-hand rather than behind the lens of a camera.

Chile is unlike any country I’ve traveled to before. I expected it to be similar to Peru (which was very reminiscent of countries in Central America, which reminded me of India and Indonesia…the list goes on). But Chile is different. It was obvious the moment I stepped off the plane, as I was hit with slight but unexpected culture shock. 

I adored Santiago. The city felt familiar and comfortable, and I almost forgot I wasn’t staying forever. I met like-minded travelers at the most welcoming little hostel and I just…fit. For that week, it was perfect. 

I wish I could explain what happens when I am in full “travel mode”. I become a chameleon. I blend. I fade away into the scenery. That bored look on the metro; the indifferent gaze from unwanted whistling as I cross the street; my purposeful stride, regardless of whether or not I actually know where I’m headed at the moment.

I can almost see my sisters rolling their eyes at that last paragraph because they will think I’m exaggerating. Or maybe they can’t picture it, because they haven’t witnessed it themselves. No one has. I can be shy and uncomfortable in unknown surroundings, or loud and embarrassing with my closest friends. But I swear I’m different when I’m alone, walking the city. I’m not sure I’ve ever felt quite so vibrant and alive.

So please don’t fret if I go quiet for a few days or a week here and there. I am doing just fine. I have simply disappeared for a bit, wandering the streets and taking in the sights and sounds of some South American city. But don’t worry…I’ll be back soon. Love, K:)

*Obligatory Machu Picchu post*

“You’re going the wrong way!”

“¿Adónde va, señorita?”

“If you’re headed to the Sun Gate, there’s nothing to see.”

Now that I was nearing my destination, I began to pass groups of trekkers disappointed by the lack of that famous sunrise promised them on their final day of hiking into Machu Picchu. It seemed nearly everyone had a comment or some wisdom to impart as I trudged along in the drizzling rain that morning on my way toward the scenic overlook known as Inti Punku, or the Sun Gate. 

I already knew there wouldn’t be a view. It had been raining since I woke up at 3:40am, and upon entering the park at 6am, I had hardly been able to see the path in front of me. But I didn’t care. 

I wished they could see what I saw. The cloud covering gave our surroundings such a hushed mystique that only hinted at the secrets it held. I knew that, once it cleared, I’d lay eyes upon the famous site–that much was all but guaranteed. But for the time being, my imagination convinced me the fog was somehow protecting its famous fortress, forcing its visitors to prove themselves worthy. 

Yes I was soaking wet and my teeth were chattering and I was running on barely two hours of sleep. But I also had a huge smile on my face. Nothing was going to detract me from this experience.

I spent a full eleven hours at Machu Picchu that day, from the time the gates opened until they quite literally had to shoo me out. Toward the end, I begged a guide to let me up to the overlook to watch the sunset. “Diez minutos. ¡Te prometo!” Ten minutes. I promise! 

I knew it would most likely be my only visit, and I wanted to enjoy it fully. I hiked every trail, explored every ruin, and climbed every mountain (cue The Sound of Music). And throughout the day I was able to find precious minutes away from the hoards of tour groups and obnoxious selfie-takers. Completely solo atop little Huchu’ypicchu or the slow meander to the so-called “unimpressive” Incan bridge…tiny pauses from the madness were definitely treasured.

But I think those moments of morning solitude were my absolute favorite. Honestly, my reaction to the less-than-ideal weather conditions surprised me; I thought I’d be angry or upset, or at the very least disappointed. But I felt nothing of the sort. Something about the gentle rain and surrounding mists filled me with such absolute peace. And for a brief instant, I found it. Finally. Perfect and utter contentment.