I had a dream. I made a promise to myself. My heart was set on visiting the country of Brazil. I was infatuated with everything about it. The culture, the music, and the thought of Christ the Redeemer towering over me. I made the choice to go to Brazil and nothing was going to stop me.
The day I quit my job was the moment that changed everything.
It was just a few months prior when I received confirmation that I was accepted to volunteer for the 2016 Rio Olympics. I bought a one-way ticket to Rio de Janeiro in preparation for living a life true to myself and not the life others expected of me.
But I became exhausted. I grew tired of explaining myself to anyone who thought I didn’t know what I was doing. Did I know what I was doing? Kind of. If anything, I was preparing myself the best I could to try and convince everyone otherwise, especially my unsupportive parents.
I was determined to learn everything I possibly could about a country that was poorly portrayed by the media. I learned about favelas, the slum neighborhoods in Brazil. I made online friends with locals and other volunteers through apps and social media. I read all of the recent news articles about local crime and which scams I needed to watch out for.
As a young female without much experience traveling abroad, I was slowly building confidence in myself and turning to the people I met online for the support that I was lacking.
At the same time, I was bombarded with a never-ending list of concerning questions from the people in my life. “How will you find a job when you get back?” “Do you think they would hire you again?” When news about the Zika virus popped up they asked, “What about Zika?” “Are you scared?”
Soon, athletes and volunteers started to drop out of participating in the Olympics. I started to question myself and my entire trip, so I turned inward to the same people that supported me and the people that would know the truth more than anybody, the Brazilian locals. I was reassured that it was a lot safer than what was shown in the media. I was learning to create my own perceptions of the world and not the one the media showed me.
As my departure day got closer, the length of my trip seemed to grow, not in days, but months. I decided to make it a full-on backpacking trip through the entire South American continent. The more I researched, the more places I wanted to see with my own eyes, like the rainbows over Iguazu Falls and llamas hanging out amongst the Inca ruins of Machu Picchu.
I officially became “funemployed” and spent the last couple of weeks in Alaska preparing for my trip. I sold things I didn’t need or want anymore, I donated the things I couldn’t sell, and I packed up the things I decided to keep and store between the luckiest of my family members.
As the typical Alaskan that I am, I decided to spend my last nights in Alaska backpacking with my friends to Caribou Creek Cabin, a public use cabin that sits seven miles along Resurrection Pass Trail. This trail is located in Hope, which is almost a two-hour drive from Anchorage. The problem was that I left for this overnight backpacking trip with the same 65-liter backpack that I planned to use for my year-long adventure.
On the same day that my Alaska Airlines flight was set to leave Anchorage, I was trying not to panic as I began a seven-mile hike back to the car that was parked two hours away from town. I managed to make it back home with just enough time to stress pack.
The anxiety hit and it hit hard. I overpacked by shoving clothes and things I didn’t need inside my backpack.
I made it to the airport and was surprised to successfully sneak my noticeably overpacked bag onto the plane as a carry-on item. I shoved it into the overhead bin, sat down in the window seat, buckled my seatbelt, and took a deep breath. I was relieved. I didn’t know what to expect when I landed in Rio de Janeiro, but I was excited.
But, my flight to Rio wasn’t direct. I planned to spend a couple of weeks driving the Pacific Coast Highway with my sister and making a final pit stop in Austin, Texas to visit my brother. I managed to leave behind a few things that I overpacked before I hopped on my last flight from Austin to Rio de Janeiro.
When I got off the plane in Rio de Janeiro, I made my way through the hectic airport and hailed a taxi into the city towards Copacabana. I was staying with a male host that I found on the Couchsurfing app. I didn’t have cell service, so I sat in the back of the taxi translating words from English to Portuguese. I practiced how to tell the security guards who I was staying with.
I arrived at the gated apartment complex and after repeating the Portuguese over and over again in my head, I still completely butchered the translation when it came out of my mouth. Luckily, I arrived at the right place and my host eventually managed to come down and greet me at the gate.
It wasn’t the first time I used couchsurfing, but it was the first time I was by myself so naturally I was nervous to stay with a male host. I settled into his apartment. I had a whole room with a private bathroom all to myself, and we started up a conversation to get to know each other.
It wasn’t long into the conversation when he tried to kiss me. I pulled away and told him that I wasn’t interested. I was shocked. It was my first day in Rio de Janeiro and I already had to find a new place to stay. Being late at night, I decided to wait until the next day to figure out if I should leave or not.
The next morning, I wandered around the apartment and stepped onto the balcony. As I looked up, I was overjoyed at a perfect view of Christ the Redeemer sitting at the peak of the 2,300-foot Corcovado mountain. The sunny and cloudless sky filled me with excitement in anticipation of my big moment, but the intentions of my host loomed over me. As the day went on, everything seemed normal and our conversations made me feel like he understood that I just wasn’t interested. I decided to stay.
I spent a couple of days familiarizing myself with the city before I set off to hike to the top of Corcovado mountain. The trail started in a park just across the street from where I was staying. I left the apartment with my day pack and made my way through the park to the top of the mountain.
I always thought when I reached the top of the mountain and stood below Christ the Redeemer statue that I would shed some tears, tears of joy.
Instead, I was grinning from ear to ear as the moment filled with pure happiness and appreciation for all of the wonderful people and things I had already experienced during my trip. The sun was shining, and the panoramic views of Rio de Janeiro were breathtaking.
During my time spent in Rio de Janeiro, I hiked up to Christ the Redeemer twice. The iconic statue served a purpose every day. I used the statue to navigate my way back to the apartment and it was always visible from the Lagoa Stadium, where I volunteered during the 2016 Olympics. It was a constant reminder of the promise that I made to myself. The dream that I turned into reality.
My journey eventually brought me to Tierra del Fuego, the southernmost tip of South America, also known as the End of the World. Being born and raised in Alaska, I never could’ve imagined myself standing in front of a sign that read, “17,868 km from Alaska.”
I was reminded just how far away from home I really was and in the same moment I was reminded of a journey that moved me closer to myself in months than the compound of everything I had experienced in my entire life.
What matters in the end are the moments that moved you closer to yourself.