Thank goodness I kept a journal. You never really know how much you’re going to forget something until you pull a year-old, leather-bound, sea-salt scented book out from the bottom shelf of a bookcase in your bedroom and realize that you hadn’t thought about it for almost a year. Trust me, that’s exactly what happened to me about a week ago.
I started this whole thing a little bit disgruntled. I’d traveled to Europe a couple of times before I was offered a trip to Ecuador and the Galapagos by Longacre Expeditions, a local adventure trip company and I always knew that I wanted to do something a little more “off the beaten path.” But I am not an athletic person, and an adventure tour like this gave me the horror-movie chills. I figured there was absolutely no way that I would be able to scale a volcano and bike thirteen miles with a backpack strapped to me. But there was Spanish, and there were penguins and finches, and it was an experience that I would never be offered again. So while biting my lip and fighting off the butterfly in my stomach, I boarded the plane to Quito…
Over the course of three weeks or so, I did much more than I had expected I would. I ended up climbing Mount Cotopaxi, hiking through the Amazon Rainforest, snorkeling with sea lions and turtles in the Galapagos, seeing the sun rise and set over the Pacific Ocean, and wearing Butch Cassidy-style chaps to ride horses through the Avenue of the Volcanoes. Going into the trip, I would have thought that doing these things, none of which I’d expected I’d be able to do, would be enough to satisfy me for life.
But I would have been wrong. It was the people – the local families with which we did home-stays and the guides that pointed our way – that really changed my life. If I had to, I would forget everything I did and everything I saw in order to remember the people I met. The moment that a little girl walking next to me on my way back to my home-stay house one afternoon up in the Andes took my hand, looked up, smiled, and just kept walking was the moment when I realized that my heart had been in the wrong place the whole time.
The people I met were not rich. They didn’t have big and healthy families, and there houses were smaller than the shed in my backyard. But they were some of the happiest people I’d ever met. Having traveled only to developed G20 countries in my life, I thought that I knew what happiness was – it usually had to do with a shiny Vespa or a cute Creperie. But the second that the little girl took my hand, I realized that happiness only required one thing: an absolute love for the world around you. Money and fame, wealth and glory do not make happiness – happiness does.
It was through this experience that I realized why I’d never felt that sort of happiness in my life before. I’d been too worried about athletic prowess and over-exhaustion; there wasn’t anything that I loved. But if my trip to Ecuador and the Galapagos gave me one thing, it was an absolute love for the world around me. I guess this explains the last three words written in my journal for that trip: ahora, estoy contenta… I am happy now.
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