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Five Life Lessons from Traveling in South America

Blue colored Glacier formed by melting ice

Nature is rich with metaphors to solve many of our problems. When you let your subconscious play and your body absorb through your senses, wisdom often floats to the surface. Here are a few lessons from traveling around South America that I invite you to glean insights on applying to your own life.

1) Sometimes you need to go slow to go fast.

Cargo and cruise ships that want to bypass the 7,822 mile trip around South America utilize the Panama Canal. Not only does it save time, but it saves on resources. If you fly into Panama’s Tocumen airport, you can see hundreds of ships waiting their turn. When it’s time to go through the channel, there are a lot of moving parts involved.

Cargo ship entering the Panama Canal
Cargo ship entering the first of three Miraflores Locks of the Panama Canal.

Powerful trains surround the ship on each side (two in front, two in back) to guide it safely through the lock system. These trains keep the ship from bumping into the canal walls and damaging anything. The ship waits in each lock for the water to rise (or fall, depending on direction traveling) until it can move to the next lock, and the next. It takes time to release water from one space to another through powerful pumps. From merely the Miraflores Locks (there are three: Miraflores, Pedro Miguel, and Gatun), the process to move one cargo ship through took about an hour.

Spiritually speaking, on our journey toward a more mindful living and presence (higher state), there is a process of releasing beliefs that no longer serve you. Along the way, there are guides to help you that come in the form of coaches and other holistic healers. They tug you along and hold you in a safe space. Grounding in meditation (going slowly) expedites the overall release process during thought work. Depending on how much (emotional) weight you’re carrying, it may require more space and time to pass through to the next level.

You could go all the way around to reach the other side without any help, but it sure saves time and emotional energy to tap into the many spiritual resources out there that can provide a safe space for you to go slow, to go fast.

Where else do you go slow to go fast in your life?

2) There’s enough for everyone to live abundantly, let’s support each other rather than compete.

Patagonia is home to some of the strongest and most resilient creatures and plants. One of these plants is the Lenga tree, whose leaves and branches enable it to live in some of the world’s harshest conditions. Even so, for every one-hundred Lenga trees that are planted, only one survives.

Lenga Tree along Patagonia hiking trail
Las Torres del Paine’s famous Lenga trees are built to withstand the region’s harsh conditions even though they need help getting started.

In Las Torres del Paine National Park in 2011, a camper started a wildfire that ravaged much of the park. The region’s notoriously strong winds escalated a small quick action to devastation before anyone even realized what was happening. The scars on the land are still prominent these seven years later. It is estimated that it will take over 100 years to replenish the foliage that was lost during that single fire.

A tour guide explained an interesting and recent change in reforestation philosophy. In generations past, ecologists believed each plant fought for resources such as light, water, dirt and space. Therefore, during reforestation they planted with the goal of each tree or bush having uninhibited access to such resources.

After more research and desperate to find a better solution, they started to plant Lenga trees in close clusters and introduced a specific species of mushroom to the dirt around the bases of each. With this simple change in perspective about resources and the interrelationship of plants, they were able to substantially increase this tree’s chance of survival.

One of the many, many reasons I love being a Martha Beck Life Coach is that we belong to a community of support. This community of coaches share tips, offer guidance, give free workshops and classes, and even refer clients out that would be a better fit for another niche. We don’t look at each other as competition for clients, we look at each other as fellow tribe members who are stronger together. At our foundation are the tools (like the mushrooms) that help us help each other. In doing so, we also grow.

How can you find a community to lean on and offer your mutual support?

3) Beneath the surface, you are immense and powerful.

One of the biggest attractions for visiting Patagonia are the big, beautiful, blue glaciers. These magnificent forms are awe-inspiring to behold. Throughout the year and with each season, the glaciers grow and subside, ebb and flow almost like an extended ocean tide. Rainfalls and ice-melts flow downhill to refreeze and reform the glacier outward.

Blue colored Glacier formed by melting ice
Don’t let the name fool you, Grey Glacier was named because of the color of sediment the glacier colors the surrounding lago.

In Summer months, icebergs break off from the glacier in a thunderous collapse that echo off the surrounding granite mountains. Many float out and are themselves destinations for boats of tourists to drive around and admire.

Floating Iceberg in El Calafate, Chile
An iceberg’s beauty is more than what you see at the surface. Beneath the water is an immense force waiting to rise.

While at the surface an iceberg may look the size of a building, it’s not until the tour guide announces that it’s three miles wide underneath the surface of the water that you can truly appreciate the magnitude of it. It’s then that it hits you, “The Titanic didn’t stand a chance.”

Each and every one of us is an iceberg. The form that one sees on the surface can’t possibly define or limit what we are capable of when we dive into, and use, our unique gifts. You are a beautiful, immensely strong force. Dare to go below the surface and behold the bright, blue light that is waiting to be tapped into. Own your WOW!

What WOW do you have hidden away? How can you bring it out to play?

4) Ever-changing weather means dress in layers.

The weather in Patagonia is as promised: unpredictable, harsh and constantly changing. Unlike the weather in California, where you can reasonably predict one day to the next, or one minute to the next simply by looking up at the sky, it’s a wholly different, wild world in Southern Chile. Even the local eco-tourists can’t make any promises for the weather for any given day. So they simply and wisely suggest to wear layers and remove or add as needed.

Within a nine-hour span you can experience heavy rain, sunny blue skies with a few wispy clouds and brisk yet calm air, high winds that blow you around (and down), and snow flurries. The wind comes and goes without notice or warning. It may bring with it rain clouds, or wipe them away in a single blow.

Sunrise in Las Torres del Paine National Park
Standing in the rain to watch sunrise.

Like life, the only constant is that it’s constantly changing. It’s a much more enjoyable journey if you accept and embrace that there’s no way to stop it or predict it. Then all you simply need to do is address each circumstance as it comes. Ask yourself, “What does this situation call for? What can I do to better my circumstances, if anything, until the storm passes?”

If you’re cold, what will warm you? If you’re feeling the heat, what can you remove? Think symbolically and your answers may surprise you.

5) Even if you think you have nothing to offer others, you do simply by being you.

What could you offer to a butterfly that they need to live? Think about it. You have five guesses. I’ll wait.

Here’s a hint. It’s something you do naturally, without any thought or effort behind it. Especially if it’s hot and humid outside.

If you guessed sweat, I have a hunch you have had some interactions with butterflies before.

Iguazu Falls, on the border of Argentina and Brazil, is ranked No. 9 on the Top Wonders of the World for good reason. Aside from inspiring admiration and wonder at its beauty and sheer volume of flowing water, it’s home to more than 600 species of butterfly. Prepare to be amazed at seeing thousands of brightly colored butterflies of varying sizes flying about, filling the sky and rainforest. And they all want what you have: sweat.

The mixture of salt and water give them exactly the sustenance they need. They’ll land on you (and everyone else meandering through Iguazu National Park) for a long drink with their even longer tongues. It’s hours of mesmerizing entertainment watching these gentle insects tickle your skin.

So the next time you think you have nothing to offer someone, remember the butterflies. Someone out there wants what you offer, it’s simply a matter of having the opportunity to share your gifts with those who truly need it.

Please share your own life lessons from your travels in the comments below!