Diann Corsaro: A Life Defined by Travel

After two weeks of flirting with the Amazonian jungle and sharing my bed with all sorts of insects, perhaps even a bat, the coast of Ecuador seemed like the perfect place to relax and ease back into the backpacking lifestyle. I booked a bus ticket to Puerto Lopez, a small stretch of beach shared by local fisherman and a handful of tourists. As the bus unceremoniously dropped me off on the town’s only major road, I made my way towards a Brazilian run guest house that had a beautiful garden surrounded by small little cabins outfitted with hammocks and small tables, all a few yards away from the ocean. Basically, it was paradise . . . except for the insects. Which, despite a mosquito net that must have been constructed for a child’s sized bed, nothing would get in their way from biting, crawling, or buzzing incessantly around my head.


Hostería Itapoá, Puerto Lopez.

The next morning, I set out to see what other accommodation I could find that was slightly less expensive and slightly less rustic than my cabin by the sea. I made my way towards a hotel that claimed to have air conditioning, cable television, hot water, and a roof-top terrace overlooking the sea. A list that left me confident that it was going to be out of my price range. In the small lobby sat a woman who had recently applied suntan lotion to her face and was now intently and methodically removing fingernail polish. As I entered, she looked up and said that if I was interested in renting a room, I should go upstairs and ask the woman who was cleaning one of the bedrooms.

Diann, as I would learn, was a bed and breakfast owner from South Carolina. She was close to finishing her first, and probably last trip to South America. Though she declined to give her age, other than saying, “old,” she started traveling when she was twenty-two years old. Equipped with a Euro-rail pass and with a little less than $500 dollars in her pocket, she made her way to Europe. She’s been traveling ever since.


Over the next hour or so, as Diann and I talked, I kept thinking about my own grandmother . . . Beverly or Mother, as my brother and I would call her. Like Diann, she too was a fiercely independent, courageous, and a strong woman who also loved to travel. Mother, however, only made it out of the United States a handful of times, but was no stranger to traveling alone within the US. She would often pack her car with fresh fruits, nuts, and a cooler full of ingredients to make sandwiches, and with All Things Considered as her traveling companion would venture off to National Parks or small towns in search of an adventure of her own devising. And like Diann, she too would meet all sorts of people from all walks of life . . .  relishing in learning their personal tribulations and triumphs.

As Diann generously answered my questions about her experiences traveling the world, often alone, I kept wishing that I could also ask my grandmother these same questions. I couldn’t help but wonder, what if Beverly and Diann had met, would they have become friends, perhaps traveling companions? And I also wondered if Diann and her stories that bordered somewhere between adventure and catastrophe would have inspired my grandmother to pack her bags and seek new horizons in the larger world as well. . .


As Diann and I said our goodbyes, and I thanked her for her time and her humorous stories and made my way down to the beach. The sun was starting to shine brightly and a few seagulls were picking through the remnants from the last high tide. In the distant, the faint shouts from fisherman exclaiming the bounty they’d just caught in their small wooden boats carried on the ocean breeze. On the shore, small beachfront restaurants, were well into the groove of trying to lure sleepy tourists to their sea-side breakfasts with booming bass and rhythmic beats. And for the first time this trip, as the warm salt water lapped at my feet and the sun beat down on my face, I scanned the horizon of a place that seemed a world away from home, and felt for a second my grandmother at my side.


Here is Diann’s story:

Name: Diann Corsaro
From: Beaufort, South Carolina
Occupation: Owner, Bed & Breakfast
Duration of trip: 3 months


Can you tell me a little bit about why you wanted to take this trip? Well, I think because I thought I was missing something.

Missing? Something by not seeing South America. I thought, you know I’m going back to India every year . . . I thought I was missing something but not seeing South America and the cultures here. And, I think there are still people, indigenous people dressing like they’ve dressed forever but, a lot of its for the tourists, basically. And the expense has been overwhelming.

What have you found expensive? Argentina and Chile, very experience. I don’t find Peru . . . I wasn’t in Peru on my own, but I don’t think Peru is very expensive and Ecuador has been less expensive than Southeast Asia. Much more expensive than India.

Can you tell me about your itinerary? I started in Buenos Aires, was there for two weeks and went over to Uruguay for a few days to Colonia. Then I came back and went to Iguazú, took the long bus ride to Iguazú and was there for three days. Because I couldn’t get into Brazil without a visa, I did the Argentinian side of the falls twice . . . which was really worthwhile because the first time you’re sort of shell-shocked by everything and the second day you can really get the intensity that’s going on. And then from there I flew over to Salta and spent a week there. I rented a car and spent eight days in the surrounding areas. Did a couple of bus trips, and found out I couldn’t do a bus trip. I can’t ride for four hours, get there, spend twenty minutes, get lunch, and go back. I can’t do that. I have to go there and see it. So, I went and got a car and did the entire ring, north and south and it was wonderful. That was the way to do it. I did have a flat tire though, and that was an interesting experience. I was in the middle of nowhere. And then, I left there and went to San Pedro on the bus and that was nice. And then I went to Iquique to get a bus to Lima, which turned out to be very difficult. They wanted to send me back to Santiago to get a bus and I said, “no, no, no, there’s got to be a bus that stops here from Santiago and will take me on to Lima.” And, I finally got them to understand that I wasn’t going to Santiago, so I finally go to Lima and met up with my tour and did Machu Picchu, but I had a horrible tour guide. He was nasty, but only to me. He lost my luggage and then it was . . . we were at each other’s throats for the week. And then I went to the Galapagos and had a fabulous tour with a nice boat. Then I came back to Quito, and spent about a week there. Spent two weeks in Cuenca . . . good food, really good food . . . lots of Americans and a nice hotel and lots to do. Every day I did some fun thing around the place. Found nothing to buy. Usually I buy things on trips, but I found nothing to buy, except in Cuzco I bought a few things, because they had wonderful stuff that was very reasonable. And now I’m here (Puerto Lopez, Ecuador) and took a boat tour yesterday and it was $30 and Isla de Plata and that was really fun. You can go and snorkel and do a hike, but I just snorkeled all day. Normally when you go on those tours you’re limited to 45 minutes or so, but this was fabulous.  From here I’m going back to Quito, and then I’m going home. I’ve got a bed and breakfast back home in America and I have to go back home and work.

Who’s taking care of it in your absence? A live-in sitter. She’s lovely. She does a good job for me.

You’ve been traveling for three months? Since December 1st. How has it been traveling by yourself, with the exception of the tour? The tour was with people, yeah. I’ve met a lot of people along the way. Like I met people on day trips and things like that so it’s not been lonesome. I’m never lonesome, I’m always having fun and I have games on my iPad so I never have a problem with finding fun things to do.

You mentioned you normally go to Asia. Are those normally like this, three months in duration? Yes. I’ve been to India . . . the last three years, I’ve been to India two years for three months and then one year my granddaughter went with me and we went to Thailand, Malaysia, Germany and then back home.

What do you like about traveling? I think that I like to get away from reality into some other dimension and I think when we’re in Southeast Asia it’s one of the few places you can go in the world expect maybe parts of China . . . where you can see the way people lived a thousand years ago. Still today it hasn’t changed.

You didn’t feel that way about parts of Peru? No. No, I think things are pretty westernized there. I think they dress the way that they dress because . . . Actually, I was in the jungle. I took a jungle trip and they are living like they lived several thousand of years ago. It’s very unique. They don’t have any contact with anybody from the outside except for the people who come in with tour guides. They never leave the area and they never go anywhere.

Do you find any aspects of traveling challenging? Yes, sometimes I do. Sure. I think traveling is very hard. It’s a lot of work.

What do you mean by that? Well, you are always having to figure out where your going next. You’re always getting to the next place and figuring how you are going to get from point a to point b. And, you have to figure out what’s the easier, cheapest, safest way of doing it. And I think here in South America, the security issue has always been a factor. The lack of security of in Argentina in Buenos Aires, the street people poured garbage down by back and then they rush up to you and try to get you to let them help clean you up. (Then they relive your pockets in the process.) But, I knew the scam so I waved them off. Or people will just come up to you and pick-pocket you and that happens a lot.

And have you had any other experiences where you thought . . . I was in danger? No. And I didn’t feel like I was in danger when that happened. I just felt I was going to be robbed. I told the lady at the hotel where I was staying and she said, on Sunday the streets in Buenos Aires there are only criminals, bandits, and tourists. No body is else is down there, so you’re leaving yourself wide open.

What’s your family’s reaction to spending so much time traveling? Oh. They always say, “Be careful. Be Safe.” That’s their reaction. They say, “keep doing it for as long as you want, mother. It’s good for you.” And my one son says, “mother you spend less when you’re out-of-town than when you’re home, so keep traveling.”

Do your children ever travel with you? I took my sons to Mexico a couple of years ago. And they got off the airplane shaking thinking they’d be killed in Mexico. They wanted to see what I do down there, so they came with me and went to Tulum and said, “wow this is wonderful.” But, I haven’t gotten them back again. And they haven’t gotten their wives and children to go, so who knows.

Have you learned anything about yourself on this trip, that maybe you didn’t know before? I don’t think so.

What has traveling, in general, taught you about yourself? I just think it’s a good escape. When I go to Southeast I feel like I’m very free. I feel very safe there and I don’t feel very intimidated by the cultures. And the poverty and those thing don’t bother me there. And I always find India, Cambodia, and Laos to be very real. Real places to go.

You own a bed and breakfast, so you have another perspective on travelers in the states. Are there any similarities or differences in say traveling to South America versus people who might come to bed and breakfast? Well, it’s a very different type of person. The people who come to my place come from smaller cities and they just want to get away for a weekend or whatever. They aren’t really into adventure travel. Most people say, when they find out about the way I travel, “oh, I couldn’t do that.” Or, “that sounds like it might be fun, but I would never risk the comfort or leaving the states.” They would never do it. None, of my girlfriends would do it.

So, I meant to ask . . . did you personally know some of the other people from the tour? My friends from Cleveland were on the tour so I just booked with them. And I thought that I didn’t really want to do those two things by myself because there is a lot of permits, nonsense, and waiting . . . I had talked to one young man who went to the Galapagos from the coast or somewhere and he had to wait four days just to get a boat to go on a tour. And he took the long-boat over, it’s about 600 miles and once he got there he had to wait longer to do stuff and he had to buy all sorts of passes and permits and things. But, he said it was worth it because he loved it and was his favorite place he’d ever been, but he spent a lot of time just churning and churning and trying to figure out what to do next. So that’s why I thought I would do it with a group. Plus, I wouldn’t have to lug my luggage around.

How was your experience with the Galapagos Islands? It was fabulous. Everything about it was wonderful. There were many more animals than I expected. The snorkeling was much better than I thought it wold be. There were just unusual and fabulous animals there. I only have one regret. I didn’t buy a tee-shirt at the Darwin center because I was taking pictures and video of mating pair of huge land tortoises. I couldn’t pull myself away to go buy my tee-shirt.

Any other regrets from this trip? No.

If you had to give to advice to someone who was about to take a trip very similar to the one you’ve just done what would you say? Get an iPad, bring it. Then you can use it to Skype and not have to make phone calls. You have to bring all your technology. Buy cheap cameras. Make sure you have jackets and things where you can hide all your stuff where no body is going to be able to get in and get it. Wear all your money under your clothes. You just have to be very careful. It’s not like India, I don’t think anyone would steal from you there.

Can you tell me about some of your experiences in India? Well, it’s totally overwhelming. The first night I got there, I thought to myself, “Why did I do this?” The second day I hired a taxi to show me around, but it was hard to see anything because they had an inversion, so it was hard to see anything. Then when I got back to the room these huge cockroaches started coming out of the A/C. There were hundreds of them, I was killing roaches all night long. The next day they said that it was because I was on top of the kitchen which just been sprayed so they had to move somewhere. So, I said, “you’re giving me another room.” Well when I turned on BBC they were reported that this was the worst inversion in recorded history in Delhi.

I’m sorry, what’s an inversion? It’s when smog comes in and it becomes a white out and the colder air holds it down. They next day, I went to the Taj Mahal and I was with an Indian tour group, which at first they told me I couldn’t go with, but I said I had to go with that group and they finally let me. . . I had injured my knee on a bus ride because I was cramped. It basically seized up and i was in great pain. So I had hobbled all around . . . and that night we had gone to visit the birthplace of Krishna. And then we went to a place where the old cows, the sacred cows are taken care of by widows. So it was a charity. So we get back on the tour bus after those two things and its around midnight or one o’clock. And I had no idea this tour was going to last from seven am to midnight. So we arrived back in Delhi and there was tons of traffic and road work. So I was sitting in the front with my leg up in the dashboard because I couldn’t move it, I was in pain and the driver said, “you get off.” And I said, “but, I don’t know where I’m staying. I only knew the (neighborhood) I was in, and I told him. He said, “well we’re there right now, you better get off.” It was two in the morning and i had a wad of cash on me and I was walking down the street and all these people were sleeping on the street and it was freezing. I had clothes like these on. I was freezing. So, I’m walking and all the taxi drivers were in their cars asleep, no one spoke English. Finally I came up to a little old man who was jabbing a stick into a log trying to reignite some embers to stay warm and I thought, oh he’s my last chance. And, I asked if he spoke English and he did. He said that I’d gone the wrong way and that I needed to go back four blocks and cross the busy freeway. And finally, I saw my hotel and stepped over eight or ten bodies sleeping in front of the hotel and knocked on the front door and the night manager said, “what in the hell are you doing out at two o’clock in the morning.” That was my horror story. I feel like I’d been initiated by fire.

And yet you keep going back, and want to go back? Yeah! That was my 1st year, third day there. It’s crazy isn’t it. . . . I don’t know it’s been a fun trip. I’ve seen some really beautiful things. That area around Salta is to die for. I met a couple of missionaries from Utah, who are used to the most beautiful scenery in the world and they said they had never seen anything like it. And I agree. I’ve never seen anything like it.

Should you wish to visit or find out more information about Diann’s Bed and Breakfast, the Beaulieu House on Cat Island in South Carolina, click here.

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