Goodbye my South America

A layer of salty water embraces the shallow cavities of my reddening eyes as my fingers dance between the keyboard and occasional swipes at my cheeks. My stomach twists in a melancholy fight against the knots that pull it back towards my spine and the thousands of bees that bounce against its elastic walls. My chest feels tighter than usual as well. As if my heart is trying to decide whether to contract deeper into its shelter or burst from its shell all together. Today I am leaving South America, and this time I may not be back.

Me at Perito Moreno Glacier

I have given my life to Latin America since, well, I chose to focus my university studies on the region after a trip through Central America. Latin America has become more than just a destination, a location on the map, or a region studied; for me it has become a fabric of the very person that I am. And the truth is that as I sit down and write this passage I realize that Latin America has also given itself to me.

Brendan van Son at Machu Picchu

Me at the sun gate of Machu Picchu

I have grown so much here. I learned to speak my own brand of Spanish. I have met hundreds of peoples. I have shared my views of the world with taxi drivers, and learned about theirs as well. I fell in love, and then fell right out of it. I stood in awe, and I stood in shame. I grew, and I realized how much room I still have to grow. Because of Latin America I’ve become wise enough to admit that I know very little and I’ve become brave enough to admit that I’m scared. I am a better person because of what I have learned and experienced here.

Brendan van Son in the Amazon

Me in Ecuador’s Chunk of the Amazon

Brendan van Son in Bogota, Colombia

Me in the main plaza of Bogota, Colombia

However, during my recent trip across The Darien Gap I realized that I needed to move on. I realized that I had lost that foreign feeling that I draw from like an addiction. In The Gap I felt like I did the first time I travelled. I felt scared, I felt strange, and most of all I felt like an adventurer off on a wild discovery of a far off land. My heart knew in that moment what it desired. It desired that “foreign feeling.” I realized that I was comfortable, and perhaps my own personal growth had slowed after spending so much time in one place. I speak Spanish, I walk the streets like a local, and feel like I belong. I know that to most that doesn’t seem like a problem, but for me its enough to say goodbye.

Brendan van Son on the Death Road

Me standing alone on the death road of Bolivia

The truth is that I’ve never been truly sad to leave anywhere before. I’ve faked the emotion, knowing that it’s strange not to be sad to leave. But this is different. Writing this article along has left my hands shaking, my cheeks warm, and my eyes sensing the drip of a tear. I know that everyone says this, but the sadness lessens by telling myself I’ll be back. That when my ever-moving feet finally slow I will come back here, marry a Colombian girl and raise a family. However, my logic tells me that life changes, and so do one’s desires, lusts, and dreams. I know that I may never be back in South America again, and that breaks my heart.

Brendan van Son in Torres del Paine National Park

Me looking out at Glacier Grey in Torres del Paine National Park

The realization that I am really going sinks in as I struggle to draw a conclusion to this essay, partly as a means of denial. Closing out this article means it’s over. It means I am on the plane. It means that I have left a part of my heart behind, and I may never recover it.

Brendan van Son in the Galapagos Islands

Me hanging out with a giant Tortoise in the Galapagos Islands

I look for reassurances that I’m doing the right thing and open the pages of “The Alchemist” partly looking for advice. I know that I am still a boy, seeking out his true desires. If I had found them here I would not be leaving. My heart draws me to a new place, one that I can feel raw again; a place that sends chills of excitement, wow, and fear down my spine all at once. I want to chase lions, watch suns set across vast lands, and I want to be inspired to help make the world a better place. The excitement of the next leg of my adventure’s journey masks my sentiments. The thought of watching cheetahs play among the tall grasses of the savannahs or nomads lead camel along the dunes of great red deserts draws hope to my soul’s current weak state. My heart rises as well.

Brendan van Son at Iguazu Falls

Me on the Brazilian side of Iguazu Falls

Still, like leaving a girlfriend behind that has done nothing wrong in the relationship, I feel guilty. You have given me so much. I have done nothing but take and take from you, still you loved me like your own son. You gave me a smile when I felt down. You gave me a hand when I felt lost. You gave me your heart when I felt like I had lost mine. You gave me drive when I lost my wheels. But most of all you gave me my life’s rhythm, and there is nothing I can do to thank you for that. I may have the skin of a gringo, the accent of a Canadian, but I will always have the heart and soul of a latino; because you granted me those gifts in my time here. You will be missed but not forgotten. You will always be looked upon with romantic eyes no matter where from in the world my eyes may be looking at you. Goodbye South America, I hope to see you again someday.


Author: Brendan van Son

Author: I am a travel writer and photographer from Alberta, Canada. Over my years as a travel photographer, I have visited 6 of the 7 continents and more countries than I have any desire to count. If you want to improve your skills, be sure to check out my travel photography channel on Youtube . Also, check out my profile on . to learn a little bit more about me and my work.

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37 Comments

  1. You’ll be back! Even if just to visit. I can relate to your need to move on though — feel out of place, like Marcello feeding a hyena by mouth in Africa.

    I’ve seen enough of Asia and Africa to know South America is where I want to live the most. Though if I could afford Western Europe, I’d give life in France, Spain or Italy a shot.

    Good luck with whatever is coming next, and try not to get into too much trouble!

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    • Thanks Dave… but as you know. I have a problem staying out of trouble. It’s usually that I go looking for it.

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  2. Dear Brendan,

    The truth is, I’m not really a girlfriend who has done nothing wrong because, well, I kind of stole your camera.

    Adios,

    South America

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    • hahahhahahahha Torre!!!! Classic!!! haha

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  3. You’re definitely making the right decision to challenge yourself and move on to another region with your travels. I can relate to how difficult it is to leave somewhere that has grown fond in your heart; however, as you’ve mentioned South America has become familiar (like home) and with your adventurous spirit it can no longer stimulate you the way it once did. This is a nice honest piece of writing that I can ‘almost’ forgive you for wearing that hideous Habs toque 😛 Best wishes as you begin a new chapter!

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    • @Sam – How dare you talk about that Habs hat that way!!! That photo was actually on CTV news when the Habs were in the East Finals.

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  4. Wow, touching post man. S. America is my dream destination, so reading this was like looking into my future. It’s interesting how you felt comfortable and then realized you needed to leave. I’ve never stayed anywhere long enough to get comfortable (besides Vang Vieng, haha), but yeah, it sounds like you had an awesome journey. I’m sure whatever you do next will be great.

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    • Thanks for the comment Chris – You’ll love South America. It’s like nowhere else in the world. For me it taught me passion, rhythm and a whole lot more. I think that you’d have to be blind, deaf, and mute not to take away a vibrance from south america like I did. Good luck when you get there!

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  5. As Dave said, you’ll be back, even if it’s just to visit sometimes. The place where I lived abroad in my early 20s has stuck with me until now. It holds a place in my heart even after all these years, and I went back a few times to visit. That helped me see it for what it was– a place that was instrumental in my personal development but not the place I should spend the rest of my life. Best of luck with everything comimg up! I can’t wait to follow your next adventures. Stunning photos, by the way (as usual).

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    • @Jenna – I’m sure I’ll be back at some point… just how long from now????

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  6. Good luck with your next move! It sucks to leave behind someone you care about, whether a place or an actual person, but if you know it’s time to move on, you’re doing the right thing. Looking forward to reading about your new adventures!

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    • Thanks Ali, as I’ve now touched down in NYC I’m very excited about this next leg. On to new and exciting places and people I suppose.

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  7. Nice testament to things we should never take for granted.

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    • Steph – it has drawn me back already so many times I can’t imagine it either. But having said that, I also understand my constant desire to try new things. And I think I’ve taken from Latin America all of its new… until it changes o course 😀

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  8. Somehow, I have a feeling you’ll be back someday, even if it’s only to visit. Places that shape and impact us so much never really “let go,” no matter how much we may want them to. But I totally understand the desire to move on to something new.

    Where to next??

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    • Amanda, you’re probably right. Where’s next? Well, I’m home for the holidays and then I have some tricks up my sleeve, but that’s for another post!

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  9. Congratulations for having the courage to continue to follow your heart. We wish you all the best as you chase the lions, watch in awe the elephants and cheetahs in the grass. Africa is waiting for you it deserves you. Good luck with your future travels.

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    • Ohhhh, you guys caught on to the hints didn’t you!!! I’m glad some people did 😀

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  10. Beautiful post Brendan. I have walked that path plenty of times so know how you feel. You’ll be back to visit again,, just think of all the years ahead of you that you have yet to fill with adventure. A new place will take your heart very soon.

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    • You’re right Caz, but you also how guilty you often feel leaving one adventure for another haha

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  11. This is really beautiful-and I think you probably will find your way back someday-whether that is to Latin America or that “feeling” you have about it. Good luck on your next adventure-but be careful chasing lions-sounds dangerous!

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    • @Caitlin – Thanks… I survived chasing jaguars in Paraguay alone… I should be ok haha.

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    • @Gareth – haha, thanks for that buddy. Just remember that she’s mine when I get back!

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  12. Mate, I almost had a tear in my eye reading this article! We just returned back to Australia and we also found ourselves numb to travel at times. We were starting to feel a sense of sameness. We have come back home but not for good, well never anywhere for good. We will continue to be inspired by your adventures mate. Looking forward to the next chapter.

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    • @Ant – Thanks buddy. The numbness is hard to fight through isn’t it. I’m in NYC right now and i keep having to push myself to do something different or it just feels like another city on the map. Like adventure junkies we always need to be pushing for something more challenging. Want to travel to the moon???

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  13. that was a really cool piece of writing man, good luck!

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    • Thanks Scott, I’m glad you enjoyed the piece.

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  14. Life is long, you will be back!! Es facil enamorarse aqui y tratar de volver una y muchas veces mas. Las puertas siempre estan abiertas.

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    • @Yomila – Gracias, seguramente volvere pero nunca sabe cuando….

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  15. I felt like this when I was leaving the south of France, and I still feel kind of choked up when I look through my pictures from my time there. Especially if I look through them after having had a few glasses of wine (various friends have forbidden me from doing this). BUT, as hard as it sometimes and as much as I know I’ll always miss it, I’m glad I was there at all. It looks like your time there has shown you so many things about the world and yourself that you wouldn’t have seen otherwise, and you are so lucky to have gotten to experience that! Can’t wait to see where the next chapter takes you 🙂

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    • @Jackie – You should know that Red Wine and photos of old relationships never mix properly. Just don’t drink whiskey or you’ll end up burning the pictures and swearing that you actually hate the south of France and don’t miss it at all. hahha

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  16. Beautiful words and photos! I feel this way EVERY time I leave South America. I have no idea why I feel SO deeply connected to the continent? I hate saying goodbyes with all of my being, but I always think about it like this with my friends and it can be applied to countries as well: if I didn’t say goodbye to 1 friend I’d had never had met the next friend. Best wishes with wherever you go to next!

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    • Thanks for your comment Andi. I think you are a little bit more connected to the continent than you think. Did you forget that you’ve married to it? haha

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  17. Wow Brendan. Have followed your adventures throughout South America. I’ve been back to the continent twice now… the second time for 9 months. There is something so magical about that place. I felt the same way as you when I left.. I’m looking forward to getting to know another continent. Great post.

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