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Picaflor is the South American Spanish name for the hummingbird – ‘a snacker, nibbler, pecker of flowers’. When Jessica Talbot first arrives in Peru at the age of 32, she identifies immediately with this little bird, calling herself ‘a restless searcher of sweet nectar’ in her attempts to find some sort of meaning and contentment in her life, a place to call home. She has no idea if South America is it, but for this native New Zealander, her life as she has lived it to date in New Zealand and Melbourne has not brought her the peace and reason for being she craves. As a psychologist, she is well used to analysing the human mind, but this does not help her in understanding herself. Since her early twenties, she has been drawn to South America, so one day, after a particularly difficult time in her life, she packs her bags and goes to Peru ‘because it seemed exotic and wild and mystical’ for a three month holiday of sorts, first working as a volunteer with street children in the city of Trujillo, then travelling around.
Her gut instincts prove spot on. Everything about where she travels – Peru, Colombia and Ecuador – completely captivates her. A holiday romance with the delicious-sounding Paco ultimately leads to her packing up her life in Melbourne and moving to Buenos Aires. She learns Spanish, makes friends with the locals, retains her sanity with her other expatriate friends, falls in love with the equally delicious-sounding Diego, marries and has a child. She has found her place to call home, and has been living and working in Buenos Aires since 2004. This book is the story of how she found that inner peace and stability.
This is not just a travelogue; although for anyone considering a move to South America, particularly for a woman, it is great reading. This book is very much a personal journey of self-discovery and growth that we could all take a lesson or two from. After all, Jessica left a successful career, a comfortable life, family and many friends to go on some sort of wild goose chase in search of some sort of unknown intangible, based essentially on a gut feeling. But the way she tells her story, she was dead inside living in Melbourne, and realized for her own personal survival she did need to change something. The major decision that resulted in her life taking such an unexpected and different path also enabled her to deal with a lot of long-buried family issues, resulting in some much-needed resolution with her family.
It would have taken some courage to write this book, and maybe that is why it has taken ten years from when she went to Argentina for her to do so. She works through a lot of ‘stuff’ in this memoir and would appear to come out a happier, healthier, more contented person. Most of us are not really in very deep touch with our inner selves, and her analysis / coming to terms with all this ‘stuff’ is just as interesting and touching as the family ‘stuff’. Being the type of person that prefers reading plot-driven books, at times my eyes did glaze over a bit when she was yet again visualizing or angsting about something, for which there is no shortage of material. I did find her ongoing ‘letters’ to her one time love Daniel annoying, but if it helped her process everything going on, then all power to her!
Despite my initial doubts, thinking it was going to be another Eat, Pray, Love, I did really quite enjoy reading this book. I got to like Jessica, and at the end I was smiling to myself, thinking how great it was that things had turned out for her, how far she had come since she got her picaflor tattoo in her second month. As she says in her author’s note at the very beginning – ‘my intention has always been to write a warm, human story about overcoming a difficult past and creating a brighter future’.
Reviewed by Felicity Murray
Picaflor: Finding Home in South America
by Jessica Talbot
Published by Picaflor Press