It’s strange being in an airport after all of this, but here we are. This is it. The end. A year has just about passed since we left our little home on Beacon Hill in Seattle. 29,000 miles, hundreds of tacos, empanadas, arepas, pupusas, many conversations, god-knows- how-many tollbooths, and countless memories later, it’s time to return. Belongings have been sorted, things given away or packed. Cosmo is in the good care of our friend Sebastian until a buyer shows up. Passports are packed. We’re ready, I guess, I think. Here we go.

I have a pet peeve about travel writing. I get really frustrated when reading about someone’s adventures in far off lands if I don’t feel the author has learned something at the end. I’m not asking for enlightenment or anything, but I want to know that the experience has touched him/her some how. Otherwise, what’s the point? That’s why I asked the other Tangletown4 how they were impacted by a year on the road.

Sunset on the Chilean coast.  Photo by Nate

Sunset on the Chilean coast. Photo by Nate


Most teachers, I have noticed, at least in elementary school, always want the kids to write an essay on what we learned that year. Writing and reading in Kindergarten and First grade, singing in Second grade, multiplication in Third, fractions and U.S. history in Fourth, and in Fifth grade, well in Fifth grade you kind of do all the above. But this year when Nate asked me what have you learned? I responded with where the heck do you want me to start?!? It goes farther than just math, science, or reading and writing. We have seen the way life moves, is born and how living things survive.  We have learned how to bargain with someone who is ripping you off and when to leave if they’re not budging. And after seeing turtles being born and moving to the ocean, after being robbed in Nicaragua, after meeting travelers from Germany, Switzerland, U.S., Hong Kong, Argentina, Taiwan, England, and more, people of all sizes, colors and voices, after getting to the end of the road, after learning to make cookies, after hikes in the Andes, after sunrises and sunsets, after glowing lakes and frozen lakes, after all this, we are saying good-bye to the trip, and to Cosmo the van, and good-bye to South America, and so many more good-byes.

She’s right, we’ve learned a lot on this trip. Important things like what granite, sandstone and rhyolite feel like. How to change a flat. Where to find a safe place to spend the night in a van. How to get free internet and bathrooms. That big families and many friends is better than lots of money. Thermodynamics, evolution, geometry, algebra, budgeting. Religion, politics, civil rights, poverty, race, in both U.S. and Latin American contexts. Pablo Neruda, Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera. The Maya, the Aztecs, the Inca, Mapuche, Tehuelche, Arahuacos, Chavin, Chol, Tzetzal, Chimal. The Zapatistas, the Sandanistas. U.S. history, Latin American history, the history of the CIA. Jungle, desert, mountains, pampas, sea, clear rivers, dirty rivers. Breakfast at Tiffany’s, The Bicycle Thief, Dr. Strangelove. David Bowie. Prince. Guthrie, Seeger, Dylan. Billie, Etta, Aretha. Leonard Cohen, Rodriguez, Iggy Pop, Miles Davis, Warren Zevon, Hector Lavoe, Janis Joplin, Atahualpa Yupanqui, Chopin.

Important things. Take THAT No Child Left Behind Tests!

V finding her pixie rock gardens.  Photo by Nate

V finding her pixie rock gardens. Photo by Nate


I have learned many things this year, but one of the most impressive is the kindness of people. Thanks to our friends, both those who we already knew and those we now have, we have had excellent experiences throughout North and South America. We stayed with family and friends all through Oregon and California, in Costa Rica Colombia and Santiago. We were welcomed by new friends (friends of family, friends of friends or newly found friends) in La Paz, Guadalajara, Queretaro, Mexico City, Oaxaca, Cuenca, Pareditas, Chaitén, Santiago… Then there were the smaller things, like when after we got robbed in Nicaragua and found a nice hostel where we wanted to stay, the manager not only lowered the price by about 50%, but also said we could get the dorm all to ourselves. Or when Nate and I got food sickness in Huanchaco and the manager of the hostel lowered the price of the room so we could be more comfortable. Or the way Sue from Pequeño Paraíso (Ecuador) made us feel so welcome. They made our trip that much more enjoyable, and I’d like to thank them all for that.

This hospitality has really renewed my faith in humanity. V and I haven’t been looking forward to the transition back to the U.S. If our Facebook feed is any indication, we’re coming back to what seems like a country torn and in a transition of its own. But it’s comforting to know that there are good, kind, warm people out there, happy to take in four stinky strangers. That probably doesn’t sound like much, but it offers me hope. It’s a hope I will hold onto as I roll up my sleeves and begin digging in and participating in my community, my region, my society.

Out last night in the woods outside Santiago.  Photo by Nate

Out last night in the woods outside Santiago. Photo by Nate


Life has its funny ways of doing things. We had just bought a house and had started to really feel connected to a place. For the first time since I can remember I was excited to go to work every morning. The call to go was stronger though, as it’s always been. And so we went, to Patagonia and beyond. This trip was meant to be a gift of love to myself, B, A, and to my favorite travel partner. I saw what I wanted to see. I saw the people, the way they live in this beautiful world. I lived this dream of ours with the love of my life and created more dreams to share together. I spent a whole year with my babies (not so anymore), and felt them close. I think I gave them roots. I think they will be ready to fly in their own particular way when the time comes. I leave (come back?) ready for more: for more world, for more connection, for more community — at home and out there. I leave with the need to continue living in the most intentional way possible. I leave being so grateful for the people that embraced us everywhere we went. I leave with memories of sunsets, mountains, many street dogs, coconut lemonade and mosquitos. This was a line in the sand. Life before the trip, life after.


Life does have a funny way of doing things. I don’t have a clear picture of how the universe works. I have, however, experienced a certain… I’ll call it a “flow” for lack of a better word, two times in my life that makes me think twice about the mere surface of things. This trip was one of those instances. There was a sort of unfolding of events as we prepared for it. There were many times we didn’t think this dream was going to be realized, but then out of nowhere a little thing would happen unlocking the next thing. Then another, then another. Little steps forward, signs that we were on the right path.

How has this trip touched me? In some ways I feel that I see the world a little more clearly, with a broader view. But at the same time, the view is a little murkier too, with more questions than before. More than anything I come away with an overwhelming sense of gratitude. As travelers, we make plans. But so much can change with the turn of a wheel, with a change in the weather, with the stop of the police. Really we’re at the mercy of the people and places around us, and I’m grateful to those people and places for receiving us, grateful to spend this time with my family, to create and strengthen bonds, grateful to have the opportunity to see just a little bit more of this beautiful world of ours.

Our final night of the trip, we found ourselves eating a celebratory dinner in Santiago. It was one of those nice restaurants. You know, with fancy food, nicely dressed patrons, delicious beer, and good music coming over the speakers. Halfway through the meal, we realized the music was actually a live broadcast from KEXP, our beloved Seattle radio station. The band that was performing was Bomba Estereo – a Colombian band. Seattle and Colombia. Home. We took it as a sign that we’re still on the right path.

South America from Nate Brown on Vimeo.

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Showing 3 comments
  • Wayne

    I’ve come to love the words, “Todo bien”. As your trip aptly demonstrates, life is a string of “todo bins”. May your time on this planet have many more. Welcome back with much love, Dad

  • Kim

    Welcome back!!! I loved reading this final post and am so happy to hear about what this trip meant to all of you. Can’t wait to hear about your adventures in person!

  • Jeneen

    How has it been a year already? I loved reading about your adventures and “visiting” all the wonderful places with you all. People are really the only thing that matters – the Paris memories I have are not what we did but the people we encountered – the little boy who was so thrilled to show us his magic tricks and the guy who wanted to share his lunch with us, among others. So glad you found your own magic on the road and are bringing that home with you! Happy re-entry!

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