In the beginning…

Lets start at the beginning, even though I am already nearly half way through this adventure…

21 March 2010 – at the ungodly hour of 4am, I was up and on my way to OR Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg, South Africa to start a year adventure in South America. I was finally off to the land of Inca ruins, towering mountains, jungle, desert, latin dancing and music and goodness knows what else… For the preceding six weeks I had been crashing in my aunt and uncle’s house in the same complex as my parents having moved out of the place I shared with friends. All my worldly possessions had either been sold, given away or thrown out if they were ‘past their sell by date’ and what remained (mainly a lot of books) was packed into a few boxes and crates and stored wherever possible between my parent’s and aunt and uncle’s houses (many many huge thanks for this mom, dad, Trish and Dermot). My entire life thus consisted of 20kgs in my trusty bright red backpack. My year of being a nomad had begun and I was ready to take on South America…

But this adventure was actually put in motion nearly a year before my bags were packed and with passport and ticket in hand I headed off, so I have to go back a bit first…

The problem with my first overseas experience to Ireland in 1999 was that ever since I have had itchy feet and pretty much am always planning a trip, on a trip or thinking about possibilities for the next trip and in between reminiscing about bygone trips. So thanks to a few key influential people and moments, early in 2009 I decided that my next adventure was to be to the ‘New World’ of South America in 2010. At the time I was working for Ernst & Young and involved in various climate change and sustainability related consulting projects. My work was interesting and diverse and I learnt an incredible amount and I got to meet some great people who I soon considered friends as much as work colleagues. But the flip side was that the hours were incredibly long and I often found myself getting home in the evening, quickly eating dinner and then working on my laptop in front of the TV. The same thing happened on countless weekends. It was very stressful and even though I had always vowed to myself that I would have a work life balance, this certainly was not the case. A great friend once told me “one should work to live and not live to work” (thanks Jared) and while this is so true, it is often far easier said than done. We all so easily get caught in the trap of not being able to say no and always taking on more than we should.

So one day I decided that enough was enough and I had to start making plans for something else…the only question was what…so like many people I decided a longer trip was necessary in order to try and figure out what I want to do with my life. I started saving as much of my salary every month as possible and in between a stressful job tried to begin to learn Spanish which is certainly not easy when you have no one to practice with. The walls in my bedroom were soon covered in colourful pieces of paper with all sorts of vocabulary on them in the hope that something would seep into my brain via osmosis or something to that effect.

As 2010 grew closer I had many internal struggles with myself as to when exactly I was going to leave and when I would resign from work. As usual I was thinking more about other people than myself – “I can’t resign in January as that is a really busy time at work and I am managing two different projects, I can’t leave the team in the lurch etc etc etc…”. December was also a bit of a turbulent time in my family life and I found myself thinking I should delay my trip to try and be there to help sort things out…again, worrying more about other people than myself, even though I knew deep down that I couldn’t solve any of their problems any way. I also had many doubts about whether or not I was totally mad to be giving up a really decent, well paying job at a time when so many people around the world were losing theirs. I had a great job with a lot of potential, wonderful friends, a fabulous apartment and yet I wanted something more, something different, something new. But I was on the verge of canceling all my plans and sticking to my comfort zone…

2010 did not start in the best way for some of the reasons alluded to above, but I remember that on New Years Day I went and had a great discussion with a family friend who is a life coach. Without her saying much at all and me spending most of the time in tears, my path became clear. I remember her asking me various things about why I wanted to go or what I would be staying for. After talking about why I had planned this trip, but also about the things that were holding me back she said that when I had been talking about the trip my eyes were alive and there was excitement in my voice, but when I had been talking about how I should be happy in my job and with what I have in my life right now and I should be wanting to settle down like so many friends are doing she said I had none of the same emotion. She gave me a very apt poem called The Journey (see below) that I have read many times since and it has influenced me tremendously. It made me realise that even though I was scared of going off into the unknown to a place where I didn’t speak the language and with no real plans for a job or anything else in fact, being scared made me know that it was the right thing to do. Being scared made me know I was alive and excited and had so much to look forward to. Being scared made me know that I was definitely leaving my comfort zone behind and who knows what lay in store for me…life was a blank page and only I could decide what was going to be written on it!!! How amazing is that!!! I have come to realise that not many people ever consider life like this and they so quickly get caught up in the trap of what society expects life to be – go to university, get a degree, get a decent job, settle down, get married, buy a house, have children etc etc etc. Don’t get me wrong, I definitely want the white picket fence and all it entails, but just not yet…

This year was going to be all about ME!!! 2010 was going to be Ingrid’s year. The year I could be totally selfish, explore places, cultures and most importantly explore myself…I vowed to live totally in the present and take one day at a time and live it to its fullest.

So after this amazingly insightful conversation with Sharon (to whom I will always be extremely grateful), I went and booked my ticket to Buenos Aires for 21 March! That was it, there was no turning back. There was no more chance to doubt myself or try and talk myself out of this (not unless I wanted to lose over R8000 in a wasted plane ticket). Then came the weeks of worrying about how to tell the people at work that I was resigning – I literally had constant knots in my stomach. This was the first time I have ever resigned and it was horrible – I was so worried about how they would react, which was stupid in hindsight. Once I had told Jayne and Loshni about my plans they were both incredibly supportive and I will never forget what Jayne wrote in my farewell card – “on your travels do everything you can, no excuses, spend all your money as this only happens once in a lifetime”. I don’t think I could have gotten better advice because yes, this is a once in a lifetime opportunity that I had to grab with both hands and see where it took me.

So then it came to the last few weeks of work and one crazy week free after I finished at EY before I was on my way. These weeks were incredibly stressful and I lost a lot of weight just by not having time to eat (not healthy and it has all been subsequently piled on again due to lots of starch and yummy sweet things in Argentina and Chile). I worked harder in those few weeks then in half the year before as I wanted to finish as much as possible and leave things as perfect for my team as I possibly could. While this may seem commendable, I was putting far too much pressure on myself and I only realised how exhausted I was when I finally got on the plane and headed west. Many people told me I was crazy to be working so hard in the end and it didn’t matter since I had resigned – why should I still care? But it is just in my nature to not want to make anyone else have to deal with problems or unfinished things etc! Another character flaw I am working on, I promise. But my last day eventually came and it was really sad to say goodbye to everyone at EY. Happily I am still in contact with many of them and it seems I am still missed for my craziness and funny life stories that seemed to keep the team entertained.

The farewells were done, my bags were packed and my parents took me to the airport. I was finally on my way…the tales of the girl with the bright red backpack were finally beginning. Or actually, simply the next installment of my tales was about to begin…the previous adventures have just not been documented in a blog, but are definitely sown into the backpack and my memory.

So if you are interested in hearing about the tales of a girl with a bright red backpack then read on. I hope within this blog to not only be able to capture and bring to life the places, people and cultures I am exploring, but also the thoughts, fears, emotions, doubts, exhilarations, laughter and tears that make up my time in South America. Since I am only starting this blog six months into my travels, I can already quite honestly say that taking this leap of faith and changing my situation was the best decision of my life and I still have so much to look forward to in the coming six months…    

2 Responses to In the beginning…

  1. Pier Myburgh says:

    Hi Ingrid

    I have read your whole blog and love it! Not only are you a very good writer, but you’ve reminded me of my own wonderful trip in Chile (which was still one of my best holidays ever). I’ve resigned – no surprises there – and now work for an investment bank. Have learnt to balance life and work, and continuously remind myself that I work for my own entertainment only.

    Please keep updating your blog…and when you’re back, let’s have a pisco sour.
    Cheers, Pier

    • ingridckoch says:

      Hi Pier
      How funny is this – just yesterday I was thinking about you and wondering where you were these days after Liberty and how life was going. And then you pop up in my inbox 🙂
      Thanks for the comments and for reading my blog. I love hearing that people enjoy it as much as I enjoy writing it. This has been an amazing journey so far and there is still so much ahead for me…including potentially working with EY Chile for a few months as a freelance consultant. Still undecided, but it is a great opportunity.
      I will keep you posted, so keep reading.
      Ciao
      Ingrid

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