2012; A Year Of Growing Through Travel

by Stephanie Walsh · 12 comments

in Colombia, Location Independence, Mexico, North America, South America, Travel Thoughts, Travels

Ajijic, Mexico

This past year has been, without doubt, one of the best years of my life. There was, of course, many difficult times and times I wished for nothing more than to be back in Ireland, in the safety and familiarity of my home with family and friends. But those hard times always passed, and overall, I have been one very lucky and happy girl this past year.

Tulum Mexico

One lucky couple. Andres and I in Tulum, Mexico

I’m Going On An Adventure…

I left my little apartment in Dublin, Ireland, just over a year ago, on a freezing cold but sunny January afternoon, not really knowing what to expect, or when I’d be back. With my trusty backpack, I travelled alone to the airport, making up ‘sensible’ answers to questions thrown at me by the taxi driver. I still didn’t have answers to his innocent queries like ‘How long are you going for?’ or ‘When will you be back?’ so I lied and told him ‘3 weeks, probably’. I had told everybody that, and a very small part of me even believed it to be true.

Honestly, I knew nothing about Colombia. I had never spoken a word of Spanish in my life and I generally had no idea of what I was doing or getting into. I was completely naïve but with a blind faith that everything would work out ok. And it did.

A year later, I am still in Colombia (excluding a 6 month trip to Mexico), for the same reason that brought me here in the first place; Andres. For me, Andres has been the best thing about this year. We have spent every single day together and it has really been amazing. We have shared so many amazing experiences together and without him they wouldn’t have been half as fun.

On the way to Cancun

In the airport, on the way to Cancun!

Was I crazy to come to Latin America without one word of Spanish?! Had I been alone in this adventure, then probably yes! I used to consider myself a very good traveller before my recent extended vagabonding. And I was good, by a lot of standards anyway, but now I think back to how naïve and inexperienced I was, just a mere year ago. I have really come a long way, in many different aspects of my life.

Taking Photos in Tapalpa, Mexico

Taking Photos in Tapalpa Mexico

What Now?

Andrés and I have recently slowed down and settled temporarily here in Colombia, after 6 months of backpacking around Mexico and 4 months backpacking through Colombia. It has been nice to be able to empty the entire contents of our backpacks, without worrying that we’ll have to repack them again soon. Having a wardrobe and being able to do regular exercise again has also been amazing!

Staying in the same spot for a while has been really refreshing for us. Although Andres is in his hometown, I am still in a foreign country and always discovering new things, as Colombia continues to surprise me everyday.

Continuing To Explore, Dream & Discover

We have visited a lot of stunning places and experienced some amazing things in the last year. Highlights that come to mind include swimming with whale sharks and sea turtles, camping on a beach in our own tropical paradise, learning to surf, swimming in a mud volcano and getting to know the small indigenous towns and large archaeological sites of Mexico.

My catch!

My catch!

However, despite all the places we have been, what makes me most proud is how much I have learned about these countries since I left home. Now, I immediately jump to a whole nations defence, when I hear anyone say something unfair about Colombia or Mexico. I increasingly notice the subtle (and not so subtle) prejudice towards Latin American people on US television. I see how sensationalized major news and media channels are towards Colombia’s current situation and its troublesome history. Worst of all, I see how these perceptions have rubbed off on the general publics view of these countries and their people. When I think of Colombia or Mexico, the very last thing that would cross my mind is drugs or violence, because these countries are so much more than that. And if that is all I can take away, then it has been worth it.

Talking to locals is a great way to find out more about a place

Talking to the locals in Chamula, Mexico

I have also opened my eyes to the larger world, not just Colombia and Mexico. I see how obsessed with money and material possessions the majority of the world is. I literally can’t watch TV or music videos anymore without feeling angry or sick. I get so disheartened when I see so much unfairness and inequality in everyday life. Corruption, theft and racism are everywhere but so are good people, trying to make a difference.

Me and Pedro from Tenejapa, Mexico

We were invited into the home of Pedro, from Tenejapa, Mexico :)

The growth and learning I have experienced this year is beyond my comprehension. I can’t put it down in words, or explain it out loud; all I know is travel has changed me and I cannot be unchanged. I see the world from more than one perspective now. Although I still have many, many more sides of the story to see, I would never take back what I have learned in 2012.

As Frodo Baggins says at the end of his quest:

“How do you pick up the threads of an old life? How do you go on, when in your heart you begin to understand there is no going back?”                                                   Frodo Baggins, The Lord of the Rings


I never understood what was meant by that. Now I finally do.