by Kait Whiteside, Greenheart Travel Volunteer Abroad Participant in Peru
Planning my trip to South America has brought me excitement in its most genuine form. I get butterflies every time I think of embarking on my adventure to a continent I have always wanted to explore. First on my travel agenda is to complete two months of volunteering with Greenheart Travel in a facility for disabled children who have been abandoned or abused. I will fly into Lima, Peru and stay in a hostel overnight. The following day I will take a bus to Cuzco and be picked up by volunteer coordinators to continue on to Urubamba.
Volunteering at this facility is undoubtedly what I look forward to the most. I visited seven countries in Europe on a three-week backpacking trip with a couple of girlfriends in 2009. While it was an amazing experience to see the historical sites of Europe, I will never do a whirlwind tourist trip again. I felt I had completely missed out on local flavor and culture. When I look back on it, I am appalled with the total lack of interaction with local people. So, while going about planning my trip through South America I knew contributing to a humanitarian effort would be a priority.
After my stay as a Greenheart volunteer, I have a few weeks open to nomadic, spur-of-the-moment, type of traveling. At the end of May I will go to Chile to study with USAC with the University of Nevada, Reno. Upon completion in the end of June, I again plan to hit the road and travel around Chile and possibly Argentina or Ecuador.
This is the plan. It is completely subject to change but I feel reassured to write it down. (I did that brief outline as much for other readers as I did for myself).
Last night for the first time I sensed a darker emotion hiding within my excitement. I think the butterflies are becoming restless to leave, as am I. As I sat in bed going over the details of packing and getting everything at home in order, I suddenly felt something similar to panic. The voices of all the skeptics I had encountered during my preparation time at home began ringing in my head. I often got funny looks from people as I told them my intent to travel around South America. I would witness the creases in their foreheads deepen into dark valleys as their brows sunk into a disapproving frown while they listened to my plans. “You are traveling alone? As a young woman?? Through South America??? Without a strict agenda?!??” I would hide my frustration for their unsupportive statements and politely smile as I assured them I was exercising a good amount of caution while preparing for this journey (and no, I am not just saying that because I know my mother will read this).
But now that reality has hit, my confidence that I paraded around has temporarily surrendered to the domineering emotion of fear. I tossed around thinking about all of the research I still wanted to complete before leaving, about the logistics of traveling after my stay at the volunteer house with Greenheart, about the unforeseen obstacles that would surely emerge. I tried to push the obtrusive thoughts aside as the hours went by and the faint color of morning peered through the gap in my curtains. But something inside of me snapped and I jerked to an upright position and thought, “Oh my god. I am traveling to South America, alone, as a young woman, without a strict itinerary!”