By ALYSSA BURZYNSKI/Montana State News

Rachel Roberts poses with a pair of native Ecuadorans while visiting South America for six months.

Rachel Roberts poses with a pair of native Ecuadorans while visiting South America for six months.

Rachel Roberts had spent most of her life in Bozeman, Montana. She had never even seen the ocean. But suddenly Rachel and a friend were trekking around South America for six months.

“I don’t really know,” she responded when first asked what made her want to travel to South America. Roberts paused for a minute, breaking into a smile, “I traveled so far and for a while because… why not? When else would I be able to adventure like this with no responsibilities.”

Why not?, is how Roberts seems to live her life.

“When Rachel called and said she wanted to take a semester off and travel, I was not too surprised,” said Jerie Roberts, Rachel’s mother. “However, I had some reservations. Rachel sees the idea but tends to forget about the in-between.”

Roberts was in her second year at Montana State University, working on a degree in fine arts. The decision to take time off of school and work was a difficult one. The cost of traveling for six months could be minimized, but it would still be a pretty penny.

From a simple Google search so much can be found out about your destination before you travel. There are a variety of groups that one can join, which provide a guided road map for South America, but that was not the adventure Roberts was looking for.

“I started to form my own plan of which countries, what activities and for how long,” she said. Out of a hot pink backpack, she pulled out a pile of paper. Each paper was a piece to her puzzle; the paper seemed as if it wanted to explode. There was tight scribbled handwriting, stretching from end to end, only half legible.

The first paper in the stack, titled Guayaquil, Ecuador, had the name, phone number and address of her first host family. When traveling abroad it is common to stay in a variety of accommodations, including tents, hostels and with host families.

“I was most concerned about staying with a family I didn’t know. I had never traveled or stayed with people that didn’t speak the same language as me.” Holding up a photo, Roberts pointed to an older woman, “this was my first host mother,” she said with a smile. “When I arrived at Guayaquil airport, this little, five-foot-two woman, dressed in native Ecuadorian cloths came rushing over, waving her arms, yelling “Racqual, Racqual,” and I knew there was no going home.”

“What else was I supposed to do?” Roberts said throwing her hands in the air, “so I went in for the hug.” Roberts took the new country in stride. Soon enough she was working and communicating in Spanish.

Growing up in Bozeman did not lend itself to practicing Spanish anywhere but in the classroom. She had taken Spanish since ninth grade for an hour a day, five times a week. “We forget how easy it is to do things when people understand what you are trying to do.”

Suddenly she was telling a story a mile a minute.

“One of my first days there I went down to the town square in search of postcards and a mailbox. In the middle of a crowded gift shop I asked the store clerk ¿Cuánto tienes tarjeta postal? And the store burst out in laughter, I had no idea what I did. What I had meant to say was ¿Cuánto cuesta tarjeta postal? Or how much are the postcards? In a heavy European accent a girl around my age told me that I had just said, “as you postcard?” “Well duh. The store clerk was going to looking at me funny,” Roberts said as she hit her head against her hands.

“Honestly after that I hardly ever spoke,” she said. Roberts would communicate with her host family and when she needed to, but besides that it was rare occurrence for her to speak Spanish.

“When I heard that Rachel was quiet I was shocked. She is usually the loudest person in the room. When Rachel gets there everyone knows,” says Kassie Carlson, a high school pal. “I knew Rachel would leave Bozeman but I never guessed she would switch hemispheres,” said Carlson, who also attends MSU. A flight from Bozeman to Guayaquil airport is almost a whole day adventure, about 23 hours.

She repeated the question, “would I ever do it again? Would I ever do what again, travel for six months, go to countries where I didn’t speak their language or stay with host families? Well shit I would do it all again if I could.” An average flight from Bozeman, Montana to Guayaquil, Ecuador is $1,400, a tad more expensive than going to Denver.

“The adventure was great. Don’t get me wrong, but at some points, like seven weeks in, I wanted to go home. I wanted my friends, family and most of all to be familiar with the environment and cultural norms around me.” Most Americans are familiar with a McDonalds Big Mac, but the rest of the world including Ecuador is not.

“What I would have done for a Big Mac and some fries,” Roberts said.

Carlson’s first text from Rachel was not, “I’m home or I missed you.” It read: “dude. A Big Mac and fries have never tasted so good!” As soon as Carlson’s phone buzzed she knew Rachel Roberts was on her way home.

– Edited by Codie Wyers 

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