Brendan van Son at Machu Picchu
Me at the sun gate of Machu Picchu

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.