By Sandie von Brockdorff
Sandie managed to get in touch with Catarina da Silva and Asmir Fetahovic to ask them a few questions about their raw travels before making their way to Colombia.
Catarina da Silva emigrated from her hometown in Portugal to Switzerland in 2012. Two years later, she met Asmir Fetahovic; a Swiss man who moved in with her friends. A year later, the two fell in love and began their adventures together. On the 4th of July 2017, they sold most of their belongings and began globetrotting. They’ve already visited most of Southeast Asia, Macau, Hong Kong, China, Vietnam, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, Singapore, Indonesia, Thailand, the Philippines, Mexico and Jamaica.
- What made you decide to travel?
A/ We had a great life in Switzerland and we decided to travel before settling down to start a family. The decision to quit everything and pursue our passion was very quick. My dream has always been to travel without a plan and to stay in a place or country for as long as we desire, or until our visas expire. Actually, we’re living our dream.
C/ Since I was a little girl, my dream was never to have a white dress and get married or to live my life in the same city, with the same office job and with the same people surrounding me. I was always very curious
about new and different things and I was never afraid of the unknown. I believe that the most precious thing that a human being can have is freedom. Being able to live a period of my life without an alarm clock or any other obligations that society imposes on me was my first goal. The second goal was to absorb all the new things that this world could give me. New cultures, new languages, new landscapes, new tastes, new smells – to learn and enjoy life, and reinvent myself everyday.
- What has been your most exciting moment?
A/ There are a lot of exciting moments connected to every country. One special experience took place in a small city called Lampang in Thailand, where we met a monk and he invited us to his temple. We spent two great days with him and learned a lot about Buddhism, its culture and history.
C/ The best thing about travelling is that because you see and feel so many different things everyday, at the end of your travels, you can’t choose just one most exciting moment. It is always very exciting when you arrive in a new country. Sometimes you have to change the way you dress, the language you use, or the way you interact with people. I really like that moment when you realise everything is going to be new again.
- What is the most beautiful thing you’ve witnessed?
A/ One thing that I will never forget is swimming at night with fluorescent plankton in Halong Bay. I encounter many small beautiful things everyday, so it’s hard to decide which has been the most beautiful
thing up until now.
C/ I am certain that the most beautiful thing about travelling is breaking stereotypes. I realised that people are pretty much all the same everywhere in the world. They say that the Chinese are shy and not very polite, but we met so many friendly and hospitable Chinese people, with a good sense of humour too! They invited us into their houses so many times and were so proud to show us their country. It is said that Muslim women live with a lot of restrictions and are not respected, yet we visited Jogjakarta, a beautiful city where more than 80% of the University students are women. They took so many pictures with us and we were even interviewed. A lot of them shook Asmir’s hand and some of them even kissed me on the cheeks. They were all intelligent and independent women, and I was so proud to witness that. Another beautiful moment was in Sri Lanka, when we were in the bus (as usual, it was very full) and, as a mother got on with her two little children, I asked if she wanted to sit the kids in my place. She couldn’t speak English but she understood me and just handed me her little girl. I held her the whole ride until she fell asleep on my lap, whilst her mother was just smiling. Her smile warmed my heart.
- Did you ever feel in danger?
A/ Fortunately, not really. We had some crazy rides – but that’s part of travelling.
C/ Bad things can happen everywhere but fortunately, up until now, I have never experienced any danger. Having common sense and respecting the rules and beliefs of every country helps a lot. In some countries, crime is higher than others and you have to be more careful with your things, depending on the area you are in. In general, there are always more good people than bad, so I try not to think about it too much and just trust my instincts.
- What was the biggest culture shock you experienced?
A/ Definitely the first day of travelling! We left Switzerland and arrived in Beijing. From the first moment, I missed the fresh air. It was chaotic, hot and loud like all other Asians cities, but we acclimated to the changes very fast.
C/ I think the biggest culture shocks were in China and in Sri Lanka. Since China is a communist country and almost no one speaks English or ever went abroad, their mentality is very different from ours. They don’t use Google or Facebook and some Hollywood movies are even forbidden. Social status means everything to them; you are nobody without a good job, a house and a car. Men still pay a huge sum to a woman’s parents to get married to their daughter, and work always come first. They saw us as ‘aliens’ and always wanted to take pictures with us. Sometimes they’d ask, sometimes they wouldn’t. Although they live a very strict life, they laugh at everything, even things that you would never understand. Spitting on the floor and jostling in a crowd are normal things which you get used to. Maintain a good sense of humour and you will have a wonderful time in China, like we did! In Sri Lanka, I experienced a greater culture shock, as a woman. I felt that men still have a very old school mentality about women there and it was difficult for me to interact with locals, since almost no woman could speak English.
- What was it like travelling with someone for so long?
A/ I never had doubts about travelling with my girlfriend, who is also the best travel buddy ever! I never feel lonely and can share all the great moments with someone that I love. I would say it made our relationship stronger.
C/ It always depends on what kind of relationship you have. A lot of people prefer to travel alone, some with their best friends and a few with their partners. The key is to complement each other. Fortunately, we have a very solid friendship and very similar personalities, it couldn’t be easier. It’s great to share so many beautiful moments with someone you love. It’s also good to have the confidence to disagree with something and find solutions together.
- How have you funded your travels so far?
C/ We sold almost everything… some personal belongings and the car. We quit our jobs and sold our lovely flat. We saved as much as we could and we travel as cheap as possible. Up until now, we haven’t worked. It’s a possibility but not an obligation for us, since we saved up. We try to avoid flights, and travel more by bus and train, and we always stay in hostels or couchsurf. We eat street food or buy food and cook it at the hostel. For activities, we found that it’s better if you find some other travellers who want to do the same, as it’s easier to get a lower price as a group.
- What are your plans for the future? Do you have plans to settle down in one country anytime soon?
A/ There has never been a plan to settle down somewhere. I think that after our money is spent, we’re going to fly back to Switzerland and start our future from the beginning.
C/ I fell in love with Switzerland, although the first two years living there were a little bit difficult. All my family and friends were in Portugal where the mentality is very different. I always wanted to start a family and I think Switzerland is the perfect place for that. But we still have a good budget and I intend to enjoy this wonderful experience a little bit longer.
- What was the most valuable lesson you’ve learnt along the way?
A/ Don’t judge or hold onto any stereotypes before you visit the country and get a taste of the culture. It’s not money that makes you happy.
C/ Nothing is more valuable than family and humility, and poverty is not synonymous with crime and unhappiness.
- What advice would you give to anyone who wants to travel long-term?
A/ Travel slow and try to spend as much time as possible with the locals, they have the best advice.
C/ Don’t be afraid! If you really want to do it, just start to save some money and then go. You will hear a lot of different opinions and some of them won’t be positive. Just make the first step and don’t be negative, travelling is not as expensive as people think, it just depends on budgeting. Trust your instincts and take the risk, it’s absolutely worth it. You will spend a lot more years of your life working than just having fun, so don’t feel bad if you decide to just enjoy life without any responsibilities for a few months or years. You will learn so many things and you will start to see things from a different perspective. You will also cherish the things that you have back home more and get more excited about the small things.