Jasmin and I met at a crossroads. As she was preparing to return home to Switzerland after backpacking through parts of south and central America for 6 months, I was just settling into the groove of my second month of travel. Having walked all over Quito’s historic old town, I was antsy to get out of the city. When I mentioned that I wanted to go to Mitad del Mundo (half of the world), a monument erected near the equatorial line not too far from Quito, Jasmin said she’d join me.
Our journey to the middle of the world (which in truth is 300 meters south of the truth equator) was more or less a touristic exercise. We took photos of each other straddling a yellow line marking the equator, half our bodies in the northern hemisphere the other half in the southern. We visited the free galleries, museums, and each had a glass of sangria while performers danced in the main plaza. Not such a bad way to spend a Saturday afternoon.
As we toured the center of the world, Jasmin and I talked our experiences traveling and I asked her if she would be willing to share her story for A Tribe of our Own.
Here’s her story:
Name: Jasmin Frei
Languages: English, Spanish, German, Italian, and French
Length of trip: 6 1/2 months
Why did you want to take this trip? Well, I don’t know. I think it’s because of my problems at home. I quit my relationship with my ex-boyfriend and I thought, I want to do something else. Then I said, okay, why not . . . let’s go on this trip. So, I planned it in about three weeks, which was good for me because if liked a city, I stayed longer. If I didn’t like a place I would just go further on. I just booked my flight and nothing else.
Why did you want to come to South America? Why not? I have been to Australia and to Asia and other countries, and I wanted to see South America.
Why do you like to travel? I want to learn about other cultures. I want to see other countries. I want to see how other people live. But, I also want to learn it.
Is this your first long-term trip? Yeah, more-or-less. I spent about five months in Australia, Thailand, and also Vietnam and Cambodia.
That was all in the same trip? Yeah.
And you started this trip by yourself? Yup, I started by myself and then I met some other people, guys from Holland and also from Switzerland and then we traveled together.
Can you tell me a little bit about where you started and your experiences in some of the other countries you’ve been too? Yeah, I started in Ecuador and went to school (Spanish lessons) there for four weeks and then also volunteer work for a hospital there for another four weeks. Then I went to Peru, Bolivia, Chile, down to Patagonia, flew up to Panama and then went to Costa Rica and Nicaragua and now I’m here in Ecuador again.
And you’re returning home in a week? In a week, yeah . . . oh my God.
How do you feel about going back home? It’s difficult to say. Actually, I want to stay longer because I love traveling and I want to see the rest of South America, but it’s also nice to go home. To see your family and friends there, and work, I also love to work . . . so it’s difficult to say.
What has your experience been as a solo traveler, have you had any difficulties? I don’t think so. I think it happens how it has to happen, so I live this trip day-by-day. I got robbed. My laptop got stolen and then I thought, okay what do I do? Should I cry? Should I laugh? It’s okay. It is how it is. Its different from in Europe for example.
Now that you are at the end of your trip, do you think it’s met your expectations? Yeah, I think so. I think I got stronger because when you travel alone, sure you get more – I don’t know how to say it in English – but you get stronger. And, I think it’s really important for yourself.
You feel like your stronger because you took this trip, is there anything else that you’ve learnt about yourself while traveling? That’s a good question . . . I don’t know how to say . . . I thought that I couldn’t travel alone, because I’ve never done it. I mean, I’m never alone. I live with friends near my family and I always have people around me. I think in the beginning it was very hard to meet people . . . but now I think I’m more open.
Can you tell me about some of the people you’ve met? Oh, I think this is the nicest experience – the other people, because everyone has other ways of thinking, other lives, and other occupations, And, I don’t know . . . it’s very important for me to see that.
You have traveled between South and Central America, you’ve taken Spanish lessons, and volunteered for a hospital. Can you tell me what the highlight of your trip has been? Oh, you know I think every day has been a special experience. I think for me, every day has been the best day of my life on this trip, because you see other things, you meet other people, you do all this stuff. I can’t say that this country, or this day, or this time was the best.
Any experiences that you wish didn’t happen? I don’t think so. When something bad happens to you, like when my laptop got stolen . . . I think it’s not bad, because it’s just how they are. I don’t know . . . they have nothing. They need the money more than me. Or also when they cheat me at the market, for example, I think to myself, what should I do? Should I fight for this dollar? Because, they need it more than me.
Were your parents concerned about you traveling alone for so long? No, because when they were young, they also traveled. They said, you know, do what you want to do because . . . it makes you stronger. I’m sure they are scared sometimes, that’s how parents are.
Earlier today we were sorta talking about our preferences between “beaches” or “mountains,” but both agreed that we both really liked being in nature, can you tell me about an experience you’ve had with nature on this trip? The best experience was to climb the Chimborazo, the mountain, because I told you that my uncle died there. It was . . . oh God . . it was amazing. I was standing there, I just come from the beach after two months in Montañita and there is this huge mountain, about 6,000 meters. It was just so emotional. Yeah . . . I love the mountains.
Can you tell me a little but more about how your uncle died? It’s very difficult to talk about because he loved to climb mountains. He climbed a lot of other mountains, like Mount Everest. He also had a girlfriend and they wanted to get married and he said, “okay, the last thing I want to do is go to Ecuador to climb Cotopaxi and Chimborazo, and then I’ll come back. I want to marry you and quit this dangerous stuff.” And then he came here to Chimborazo and climbed it . . . and at first we didn’t know it, because he didn’t have a cell phone, so we heard from the police here that they found him and he died because of lighting. Now, he is back in Switzerland. It was so emotional for my grandmother and my mother because I said, I also wanted to go there. They were so scared in the beginning. Saying, “just don’t do it, it’s too dangerous.” At first, I really didn’t want to do it because I was scared. But, when I was standing there . . . it was so emotional . . . I don’t know how to say in English. When I climbed up there, there was a monument with his name and everything.
What is the monument? It’s just kind of a stone. I can show you a picture later. It’s just a stone with his name. Yeah, there are a lot of these monuments because so many people die there because its pretty high and dangerous and also because of the weather.
You climbed all the way to the top? No, I didn’t climb to the top. Just to 5,020 meters.
What will your life be like in a week when you finish traveling and return back home to Switzerland? Oh, I have to go home. I will have to search for a new flat. Hopefully, I can go to my last job, I don’t know yet, but I think my life has changed a bit because of this trip. I have other feelings . . . like I really know what to do now. Do I want to come back? Sure. I want to travel further and you know, I think this was the best thing at the time, that I could do . . . just to go away.
Any advise for people thinking about taking a trip similar to the one you’re just about to finish? I think that every person should do what they want, because if you want to do something, you can do it. I can say, okay I want to get a doctorate, and I think I can do it. I had to quit my flat and everything, so it was a huge change in my life, but its worth it.