Varun Suchday traveled 14 countries in 2015. Here is his story in his own words.
On August 13th, 2015, I landed in Quito, Ecuador. I had no plans. I didn’t even know the name of any other city of Ecuador. The very first day I just roamed the streets of Quito with the enthusiasm of a kid in a candy store.
I sensed a unique kind of freedom.
I was truly free, and I could do absolutely anything I wish or even do absolutely nothing. I kept roaming the streets of Quito looking for nothing in particular. The first was one of the best feelings of my life. I stayed 2.5 months in Ecuador. Then, I flew to Brazil and spent three weeks there.
The winds of travel took me to Argentina, Belize, Bolivia, Colombia, Chile, Cuba, Guatemala, Mexico, Paraguay, Peru, and Uruguay.
Highlights included visiting 3 Modern Wonders of the World: Christ the Redeemer (Brazil), Machu Picchu (Peru), & Chichen Itza (Mexico), 29 UNESCO World Heritage Sites, and hitchhiked (traveled taking lifts) 4400 kilometers for 2 months (January & February 2016) in Argentina and Chile, also stayed in tent on the side of highways, beaches, forests etc while hitchhiking.
What did I like about each country?
Ecuador: It was like first high school crush. I loved everything about Ecuador. Best experience was snorkeling with sharks, golden rays, spotted eagle rays, turtles, sea lions, penguins, and seals in Galapagos Islands.
Brazil: The charm and seduction of Brazilians. They live and celebrate life to the fullest. Fell in love with the Portuguese language. Highlight was 3-day road trip in Chapada Diamantina National Park in Bahia.
Bolivia: The barren landscape and high altitude leave you breathless at the beauty created by the devil himself. People could feel a bit cold. But, with time they show their friendly nature. Salar de Uyuni and Isla de la Luna surely the highlights.
Paraguay: It is sad that very few travelers ever make it to Paraguay. This is one hidden gem waiting to be explored by the hardcore explorers. People are supremely friendly and highly curious about the world. Attractions rarely see tourists and the landscape is romantic. Time is well spent sipping terere with locals.
Uruguay: Another country that people often overlook. I enjoyed the slow pace of life in Uruguay and the relaxed attitude of locals. I camped at a beach near the illegal hippie beach town of Cabo Polonia. It is a great place to meet some revolutionary minds in Cabo Polonia.
Argentina: Ah! Messi, Maradona, Mate, Tango, Fernet, and mile after endless mile of Patagonia. What is there to not like about Argentina. I hitchhiked 2000+ miles in Argentina. People were amiable and intelligent. They educated me about the local landscape, economy, and culture. Even took me to their houses. And, the beauty of Patagonia is serene & pristine.
Chile: Chilean charm and hospitality is as good as Argentinean. I enjoyed Carretera Austral. It has to be one of the best road-trip destination in South America. I sold sandwiches in Santiago de Chile to earn some money. That was a great experience as well.
Peru: Hands down my favorite country in South America. Delicious vegetarian food, sweet smiling people, natural & human-made wonders plenty, and just the positive vibes and spiritual energy in the air. Peru holds a special place in my heart. Lest I forget, Machu Picchu.
Mexico: The people of Mexico will win you over no matter what. I enjoyed spending time with the locals, visiting Mayan ruins, eating spicy vegetarian food, drinking tequila, and those blue waters. And, Chichen Itza, probably the least known wonder of the world is in Mexico.
Guatemala: Guatemalan forests, colonial towns, pristine lakes, fury-bound volcanoes, and Mayan ruins magnetized me to this beautiful country. People are friendly and the cuisine delicious.
Belize: In a region dominated by Spanish-speaking countries, Belize is an oddity. A former British colony with all the flavors and energy of the Caribbean. Hanging out with locals is very different compared to the same in nearby countries. Snorkeling here is world class. Saw sharks, rays, and manatees.
Cuba: Cuba, Oh Cuba, mi amor. Cuba is an ode to the 60s. It is like entering a time machine and going back to the past. Not just the cars and buildings, but even the people are old school. Which translates to timeless chats with neighbors, impromptu salsa on the street, kids kicking a ragtag football and other beauties that our internet-crazy world has long forgotten. I can write a book on the beauties of Cuba.
Financing my trip
Initially, I used my savings that I saved up thanks to 2 years of full-time software development job. As I started moving, my Spanish improved and I started working to earn some money. I taught English, helped locals put their businesses on the internet, and also sold food on the streets to earn some money.
My Biggest Challenge
The most difficult challenge was to get visas for different countries. It is not easy being an Indian traveler. Western travelers can flash their passports, and they are welcomed into these countries. On the other hand, I had to visit numerous embassies multiple times, tell me why I want to travel, submit many documents and all this without a guarantee of a visa. But, I learned a few things through these ordeals.
The other beautiful challenge was Spanish and Portuguese. I learned both languages on the road, and it was a surreal experience talking to locals in their language. It opened doors to incredible conversations.
Another challenge was finding places not mentioned in guidebooks and blogs. I was seeking unique experiences, and through the locals, I saw plenty of secretive places.
If I had to do it all over again, what would I do differently?
I would do it much slower. I would adequately document different aspects of local life. I would work or volunteer in every country to better understand the culture and lifestyle. Also, I would prefer traveling on a motorcycle so that I could reach remote Andean villages or forest settlements.
My advice for global travelers
Travel is becoming a trend. Don’t follow the trend. Create your own style of travel, seek out original experiences, go to unheard places, learn languages, understand the culture, read local history, and if possible do give back to the community in form service or education. Make sure travel educates you. Keep a diary and note down things you learned. Evolve as a traveler.
My favorite place in the world
Cuba. It is unlike any other country in the world.
The internet is limited which is why there is more action and interaction on the streets and in the plazas. There are more opportunities to build organic relations with locals and engage in rewarding conversations.
It is a thought-provoking country. It makes you wonder if we really need all the things we own. It is a country that gives you a glimpse of how life was during the simpler times. Cuba es amor (Cuba is love)
While traveling, we often find it is easy to bond with fellow travelers. I see that as a Catch-22 situation. By bonding with fellow travelers, you are not really stepping out of your comfort zone. I prefer bonding with locals over fellow travelers. You will learn more about the land by conversing with locals.
Disconnect! When traveling, put the Instagram away, sign off Facebook, and put that camera down. Breathe in the location, hear the sounds, look for any peculiarities, meditate on the surroundings, and if you want to document it then write it down. I only reserve 10% of my time for photography that too at the end.
Also, invest in workshops and classes. Culinary lessons, dance, music, local sport, martial arts or any other local art form.
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Varun’s blog: Winds Of Travel