Meet: Mavi Parra

Name & Age? Mavi Parra - 28 

Where's home? Pichilemu, Chile

What was/is your last/current trip? 4 months hitchhiking through the south of Chile. First three of those entirely on my own. Started in Santiago and hitchhiked solo all the way to Chiloe, after which I met with my former partner and we kept hitchhiking all the way to Caleta Tortel in the Chilean Patagonia, touring the entire Carretera Austral and back.

What got you started? Ever since I moved to Chile 5 years ago everyone told me about how beautiful the south was so I needed to see it for myself. Also, I decided to give myself a challenge and see how far I could go while spending the least amount of money possible, as well as proving that hitchhiking and backpacking on my own as a woman isn't nearly as dangerous as it's made out to be. 

How do you pay the way? I started with some money I had saved but tried to keep that only for an emergency, picked up odd jobs along the way (waiting tables, helping out at hostels), sold food and also worked remotely as a journalist and translator.

What's always on your packing list? My ukulele, a travel journal, my analogue camera a swimsuit and trekking shoes. 

What’s the last thing that blew your mind? Caleta Tortel, a tiny little town in the chilean Patagonia. It's seated between two ice fields at the mount of the Rio Baker and it's built entirely on wood. The road stops at the edge of town since the village has no streets,  just a bunch of creaky boardwalks connecting it and lots of stairs to go up the hills where the houses are set. Here the 500 or so locals live completely disconnected from the world, having very little phone reception and relying on an airplane shipment of food every week or so. They live off of cypress wood extraction and a bit of tourism.  

By land, by sea, or by air? By land, for sure. Best way to see where you're going. 
 
Hotel or hostel? Camp or Couchsurf? 
Hostel, and hard to decide between camp or couchsurf. I love Couchsurfing and have met awesome lifelong friends through it, but in most cases nothing beats a tent sitting in the middle of nowhere, talk about a room with a view!

What's your travel pet peeve? Selfie stick tourists, you know the kind that doesn't even look at where they are because they're just too focused on getting the perfect selfie or profile pic with the spread arms. 

How do people react to you as a solo female traveler? Everyone's always pretty curious and most of the times they're extremely worried about my safety, a lot of people treat me like I'm some kind of superhero, telling me how brave I am and how they could never do that themselves. 

What scares you? As much as I love camping, I always have a bit of a rough time sleeping in the outdoors by myself on the first night. It sounds completely ridiculous but I always feel some psycho's gonna come attack me in the middle of the night. Other than that, I'm mostly scared of getting lost or injuring myself while I'm in the outdoor alone. The whole idea of having an accident or a sickness of some sort that pushes me to live a less active life that the one I currently have is quite terrifying to me and in more existential terms, I'm always scared of not being able to see and experience the world as much as I hope to.   

How do you overcome fear / anxiety / doubt? I used to be a very anxious person, but at some point I realized this was not the way I wanted to live my life so I picked up on yoga and meditating, it has helped me a lot in the sense that when in fear, I now try to focus myself in the present, breathe deeply and be very gentle to myself, trying to feel and understand the fear but also letting it go through me while talking and soothing myself the way that I would with a friend. 

Worst memory: After having a rough fall on the road that left me with a pretty ugly split lip and a broken nose I had to take my still bleeding and very shaky self to the ER. They stitched me up and gave me some antibiotics but I still needed a place to sleep that night after my couchsurfing host wouldn't answer his phone, in a new town I'd never been before and with very little money. I ended up taking a bus to a nearby village where I found a camping place with showers and electricity and a very nice owner who took pity of me and gave me a pretty good discount. That was the only time during all of my years travelling solo in which I honestly wished I had someone with me. 

One unforgettable memory: Wild camping in Mechuque, a tiny island in the Chiloe Archipelago, at a clear spot that was high enough I could see the main island, the Cordillera de los Andes and all of its volcanoes in the distance. There was no other human being in site - not that there were many in the island since only about 100 people live there - and no electricity, so when the night came I laid on my back and was amazed by the clearest sky I had ever seen. It was the first time in my life I ever saw a comet and after a while, there was a big, unexplained glow in the distance: It was the full moon coming out from behind the Cordillera. 

Bravest memory: While visiting Tayrona National Park in Colombia I decided to take on a trekking to a "supposedly" nearby secluded beach a friend had recommended. I had a map with me but at some point It became less clear where I was supposed to go so I decided to keep going a little further, making sure I still had the sea by my side and following the path ahead of me so I wouldn't get too lost. After a while the jungle started getting deeper, I couldn't hear the sea anymore, I lost the path and it felt like I was walking uphill. I was alone and not sure where I was going, my intuition told me to stop and turn back, so I did. I ended up getting back to where I started and deciding to camp elsewhere. That night, talking to a new friend I had just met and telling him that story he congratulated me for going back, saying I wasn't even supposed to go down that part of the jungle without a guide because it gets so deep people get lost there all the time, also, it's filled with snakes and sometimes even wild jaguars. 

Culture shock moment: I'm originally from Venezuela but have been living in Chile for the past 6 years, most of the time in Santiago. So people in Santiago, comparing to those in the caribbean, are pretty cold and tend to distrust everyone, a habit I apparently picked up, so when I arrived in Colombia after having lived in Santiago for around 3 years I was walking around the island of Baru, in Cartagena and noticed random people would say "hello" to me, which in my mind qualified as street harassment or them trying to sell me something. Anyways, I was laying on the beach later and this guy comes up to me holding a bunch of palm crafts, he says "hi" with a really wide smile and I just answer "no thanks, I'm not buying anything", to which his answer is "oh, so you're chilean", this sort of offended me so I went back with a "no I'm not, I've just been living there for a long time, I'm from Venezuela", to which he goes "Well seems like you've picked up the accent and the bad habits, cause every time I've said hi to a chilean around here their answer is an immediate no". This lead to a pretty interesting conversation and made me remember how much trusting caribbean people are: If they're saying "hello" to you randomly most of the times is only because they're super friendly.

Best reason to talk to strangers: How else are you gonna make friends? Also, talking to strangers is the best way to really get to know a new place, it's culture and of course, the best hidden local spots.

How are you different while traveling? I trust more, I'm much more outgoing in the sense that I pick up conversations randomly with just about everyone (specially since that experience in Cartagena I just mentioned) but I'm also more introspective, present in the moment and in touch with my inner self. I observe more, I'm not in a rush trying to get things done like I am in my daily life - specially when I was still living in the city- but I'm much more calm and aware of what's going on around me and how I feel about it. 

Is it harder to leave or to stay put? It depends, some places make you feel like you're at home even though you've never been there before, those are pretty hard to leave behind, but other times I feel so eager to keep on exploring I have to remind myself to take the time and really absorb a place before I hit the road again.

Three things you've learned on the road: To trust, in others and in myself. That strangers can very easily become friends and to be present in the moment as much as possible, because it goes fast, especially if you're having fun. 

What keeps you going? An insatiable need to see, taste and experience this amazing planet we call home.

What's next?  Backpacking all the way up to Mexico following the coast. I've recently fallen in love with surfing and I want to go out there in the hunt for better waves and warmer water as I get to know Latin American culture much better than I have so far. 

What would you be doing if you’d never left home? Given that my first home is Venezuela and the situation there right now is rough, to say the least, I'd probably be out there documenting the social movements, protesting and being totally focused in finding a way out of the horrible crisis the country's going through. I'd like to think that I'd also be travelling around the country, which is one of my next projects, given that it's such a beautiful and rich place to explore, filled with natural wonders and amazing people.  

What advice do you have for wanna-be Wild Hearts? Trust in yourself, trust in others, trust in the goodness of this world and get out there, because that is the only way to stop fearing it. 

Last question: What would make you stop traveling? I don't think there's anything that would stop me, because even if my greatest fear of becoming ill or going through a horrible, crippling accident came true, I'd like to think I'd still find a way to keep going out there the best way that I could. I don't think I could keep on living if I couldn't travel anymore. 

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