Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Lying solo

One of the many ways in which living abroad has changed me has been by forcing me to become more comfortable with my own company. Since before coming to Chile, I have enjoyed spending a certain amount of time each day alone with my thoughts; if I can't, I become anxious and, I would venture to say, a bit unpleasant to be around. However, living in Santiago and Quito has taken my alone time to a whole new level.

First of all, I have a more limited support system abroad than I do in the States. This isn't to say that there aren't people here and in Ecuador whom I laugh with, confide in, trust and love. It's just that there are fewer of them. This means that frequently, I deal alone with problems that, were I in the States, I would discuss with family or friends. I've had to learn to trust my own instincts, form my own criteria and analyze my own decision-making process. The fact that I've been able to successfully take on challenges --negotiating my rent, assembling a bed, standing up for myself when I feel I've been scammed -- by myself means that I've grown more confident in my own capabilities. Additionally, reflecting on things like cultural differences, my home and host countries' places on the world stage, and my place in Chile has made me spend a lot more time inside my own head -- and realize that I'm pretty comfortable in there. That's fortunate, because judging from the blank stares I get whenever I try to crack jokes around here, very few others would be.

The result of all this is not constant loneliness -- although there certainly is some loneliness involved -- but rather the realization that I rather enjoy my own company. Last year, this led me to try something that, despite having moved halfway across the world by myself twice, I'd never done before: going on vacation alone. I guess I'd just always assumed that travel was something people did with other people.

This changed last year. I made my first solo excursion last February, when I spend four days traveling by myself in southern Chile's Chiloe archipelago. I made my second this past weekend, when I ditched Santiago for Laguna Verde, a small beach town just south of Valparaiso.

"Why?" the server at Laguna Verde's vegetarian restaurant demanded to know when I told her I was traveling alone. Her surprise probably stemmed from the fact that this is not something many women do in Chile.

"Because I needed to relax," I replied.

This was absolutely true. Work, school and other projects had conspired to not allow me a moment's peace for the past eight months, and the stress had taken its toll. I needed a few days to sleep, read and just plain lie around on my own.

Laguna Verde turned out to be the perfect place to do this. The town is tiny, and the only paved road is the one that goes into and out of it. Don't let the presence of a vegetarian restaurant fool you: Aside from a handful of places that rent rooms and cabins, tourism infrastructure is minimal. The beach, which borders a large cove, is long enough to afford visitors with personal space.

Since Sunday was election day in Chile, the beach was virtually empty -- as virtually empty as a beach on Chile's central coast can be on a weekend in the summertime, in any case -- meaning that my weekend looked like this:


Of course, even while stretched out in the sand, I made sure to always be aware of my surroundings. Contrary to popular belief, I try to be careful about safety and realize that a young woman traveling alone in a foreign country unfortunately faces certain risks. I probably would have thought twice about traveling alone had I been less confident in my Spanish and in my experience living and traveling in Chile. Before I left for Laguna Verde, I e-mailed both my mom and a friend in Santiago letting them know where I was going, when I was going there, where I was staying, and when they should expect another e-mail letting them know I had returned safely to Santiago. During the trip, I tried not to broadcast the fact that I was alone, and I had an "I'm traveling with my boyfriend but he's sick and is resting back in the room" story ready, although I never had to use it. And I made sure to return to the lovely Hosteria El Tilo before dark.

Safety concerns aside (not that they ever really can be), I really enjoy traveling alone. There's no schedule to follow but my own. There's also no pressure to be the "perfect" tourist -- i.e., going on a hike in the hills when all I really want to do is lie around. And, perhaps most importantly, I have plenty of quality time to spend with myself.

Anyone else care to share solo travel experiences?


kyle said...

I have never taken any big trips solo, but I also enjoy my own company. I'd go so far as to say that I need it sometimes, since for work I'm always around people!

Hopefully next time you can come to Algarrobo and we can enjoy our own company together :)

Maeskizzle said...

sweet! I've been wanting to go to laguna verde for like 5 years, but it just hasn't happened. my architect friends often had the laguna verde as the stage for their architect models in the University. We even talked of all moving there and having a sort of commune. hahahaha.

were there any waves that perhaps might have been surfable there?

As far as solo trips, I would totally do it, but for the most part, they don't pan out for me. I was going to go to Brazil on my own in February 2005 to play capoeira, buut, a friend of mine invited me to travel the Carretera Austral with his family. Since that was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, I did that instead.

Interesting, I feel like by now I should've taken some trips solo and I can't think of one instance. Granted the last 5 years I've been with V, so we travel together.

I kind of feel I've missed out.

But my Brazil plan was to probably go to Bahia and play capoeira at an institute, perhaps sul da bahia, my group. So I wouldn't have been alone for long.

But yeah, a mix of Chilean street smarts and a good ole American dose of paranoia seem to have kept me safe up until now. hahahaha

Julie said...

I was just a little younger than you are now when I went to Hawaii alone. Granted I was there to be in a friends wedding so I wasn't alone the whole time. I spent 3 weeks total but 1 week traveling to the Big Island and Kauai by myself. I really enjoyed it. I did what I wanted, when I wanted and met so many nice people along the way. I would recommend going on a solo vacation at least once in your life.

Margaret said...

Great post--
I too love to be alone, although I would definitely say that I never felt lonelier in my life than I did when I first came to Chile. But it was a matter of time, settling in, getting to know people, and adapting.
I completely identify with you about needing time in your own head, most of the time I'm perfectly fine with hanging out in there on my own (uh, my head, not yours!)

Ale Gomez said...

It is always nice to read your blog Leigh. Congrats!!! I can't wait for your next post =)

Yeah, when I was 21 I traveled alone around south america: Peru, Chile, Argentina and Bolivia; and it was the best thing I did so far. I enjoy be by myself too and when you travel alone your mind fly away... I love it.

After I read your post, I want to plan a nice trip alone this summer. Thanks for your boost ;)

Sara said...

I totally agree with this post. Being back in Minnesota for these few months has almost been hard. I never realized how independent I'd become or how much I valued my alone tome.

I did a backpacking trip around Europe by myself and loved it. Parts of it were lonely, but I met so many great people like my boyfriend, that it was worth it.

Annje said...

I remember that process of getting used to being alone A LOT. There was some lonliness, Sundays were the worst, the whole city closes down. Now I would pay good money for some alone time, married with 2 kids there is rarely much of that.

Annie said...

I'm with you. No alone time = sad Annie. One of my favourite things to do in London and (was) in Paris is to wander with no objective and no agenda. Alone. And people watch as an anonymous, solo observer.

Eileen said...

oooh! Laguna Verde! It's on the way to Caleta Las Docas, a totally unimproved beach (as in bring your own water) accessible by bike, foot, horseback. One of my favorites, and Laguna Verde is gorgeous!

I have traveled alone more than with other people, and I traveled around Central America alone for 4.5 months on my first trip (a friend accompanied me for the first six weeks). Most recently, I guess two months to Patagonia. I've definitely spent more time traveling alone than with others.

I know what you mean about being comfortable in your head, and just needing to relax. I often have to counsel myself not to befriend people when I'm out and about, because I really crave that alone time, much as I sometimes run from it.

Glad you had a successful trip!

Suzanne said...

So happy to hear you are practicing all you have learned from your mama, "Safety Capt. of the Known Universe." We are tempted to stop wringing our hands but hesitate to abandon you and Quinn to the capriciousness of fate. So we will continue to wring.
Take care...Sue & Marvin