Sunday, March 15, 2009
I’m feeling a little like my tennis shoes these days: completely worn out. My shirts are sprouting holes, the circles under my eyes have dug a permanent trench, and I’ll scream if I have to plan one more detail. But I also feel a new sense of optimism, hope, and renewed energy as I think about returning to my life in Albuquerque, New Mexico. It’s hard to believe that tomorrow, after 245 days of travel, we are homeward bound. After working towards a goal so singularly for nearly two years, it’s difficult believe that, in a poof, it will all be over, a little like Cinderella at midnight.
When we began talking about this trip 10 years ago, we envisioned it as an opportunity to see as much of the world as possible, to feel the winds of adventure pushing at our back. The end result has been so much richer. We’ve learned not only about the world we live in, but about ourselves and our inner lives. The process of travel and self-discovery ultimately became more important than the sights we were seeing; the inner journey became as significant as the outer one. And that process was primarily propelled by the people we met along the way – from small chance encounters to deep friendships that were forged. We were especially inspired by the other round-the-world and long-term travelers we met, for who we shared a special camaraderie and understanding. The greatest gift of this trip was being exposed to different walks of life through different people, which helped us to realize where we belonged on that magnificent spectrum.
Before we left, I was in a deep rut. I was unhappy with nearly every aspect of my life, but I didn’t know what to do to change it. I was stuck. I had two major questions that had been nagging at me for years that I hoped this trip would answer. Can location affect happiness? Should I accept my life as it is or continue struggling for something better? It soon became clear to me that answering these questions was the key to moving forward, and the trip was the perfect medium in which to do so. By stripping away the known, I was able to see myself clearly, perhaps for the very first time. I’ve spent the past 10 years moving around, trying to find a place were I would feel content and at home. I’ve now had an opportunity to experience so many different cultures and places, and have concluded that I’m just as happy at home than in the world. I think I finally understand, deep down, that we create our own happiness. And while there are certainly places in this world where we personally feel more or less happy, we are responsible for creating our sense of home.
Another part of my unhappiness was feeling disconnected from myself; at the beginning of this trip, I would have had a difficult time articulating something as basic as the things I liked. I wasn’t sure where my life was heading, or what I even wanted from my life. I finally realized over the course of this trip that I had been agonizing over the fact that, like most of us, my life didn’t turn out as I had always planned or expected. And rather than simply investing my energies in living the life I had, I worked feverishly to recapture what I felt I had lost, or to create the life that I thought I should have. But neither of these imagined lives were connected to my spirit, leaving me to feel empty. My friend, Heidi, wisely told me, “Sometimes we mistake restructuring for settling.” I am finally beginning to see that so many of the wonderful things that have happened were never in the cards (I never dreamed, for example, that I’d travel around the world and log 22 countries before the age of 31). I am finally ready to start living the life I have, not the life I thought I would have. While I will always continue to strive to be a better person and find my purpose, I am finally letting go of who I thought I should be and accept who I am.
What will the next chapter look like?
I know the big question on most people’s mind is, “So now what are you going to do?”
A big part of my emerging self is realizing that I’m happier with less, and when I get home, I plan on maintaining a life that is stripped down to the bones and discerning what I really need. I plan on starting a garden and creating some of my own food source. I want to clean my house from top to bottom. I want to get in the best shape of my life. I also realize that my spiritual life has been sorely neglected, and the first way I plan on reconnecting with my that self is through a regular yoga practice, something that has been continuously recommended over the years but that I have outright ignored. The Buddhist culture in Bhutan really spoke to me, and I plan on exploring that philosophy more through classes at a Buddhist center in Albuquerque.
Where will this all lead, career-wise? I have absolutely no idea. In recent months, I’ve begun to formulate an idea of helping people lead better lives through incorporating mind, body, and spirit. If I could sneak in food, writing, and travel, all the better! I don’t know if I’ll ever write professionally, but I’ve been a lifelong letter and journal writer, and have seen the power of the pen. I’d like to be able to help people work through their spiritual problems through writing. How this jumble of ideas will manifest itself in a paid job I have no idea, but I presume it will involve creating my own path, something I’ve been fighting for years but finally need to accept.
Part of the life I always imagined for myself involved having a high-powered career in which I would do “big” and “important” things. Through the people I’ve met on this trip, especially Hellen from Lake Titicaca, I’ve finally realized that that person I envisioned is not me. I’ve always had so many eclectic interests that I’ve struggled to settle on one thing, which I perceived as a detriment. However, I’m finally understanding that having diverse interests is part of what makes me me; that I will probably never have one career; and that I will probably do many different, interesting things over the course of my life.
So what have I learned these past eight months?
I can live without a television, but not the Internet. Don’t trust anyone who routinely refers to things as “brilliant,” unless they’re from the UK or Australia. I’m stronger than I think I am. Traveling during high season sucks and should be avoided at all costs. I have more patience than I ever dreamed possible, but I still need more. I hate hot weather. The less people have, the more they have to give. Most people’s travel advice is dead wrong; there is no “right way” to travel. I never want to wear a suit to work again on a regular basis. I have more time and money to give than I thought possible. A good meal can turn any day around. The greatest gift you can give a child is to expose them to other cultures through international travel. Things never go as planned, but always seem to work out. Simple is better. I appreciate the freedoms, rights, and organization of the United States like never before. I’m happier with less. It takes at least a month to get acquainted with a country. You don’t need to pack that much. Maikael truly loves banana milkshakes. I have a ridiculously high tolerance for bullshit. I never realized how deep my passion for food ran. Language should never pose a barrier to travel: you can bumble your way through any situation. American tourists are the only people in the world to wear trucker hats. Always trust your gut: it is nearly always right. Nothing – nothing – is ever easy.
What Will I Miss?
Of course, ending a journey of this magnitude is met with a certain sense of sadness. I recently realized that, over the past eight months, I’ve tried something and learned something new every single day. While often maddening, my life was never boring. So what will I miss? Meeting new and interesting travelers. Trying the cuisine of the world. Cheap bottles of great wine. Dulce de leche everything. Soda in a bottle (the only way I’ll drink it now). Being able to stand at the edge of a cliff, or some equally dangerous thing, without a guardrail or warning sign. Feeling a part of the amazing community that is round-the-world travelers. My everyday life not being governed by so many rules. Kissing perfect strangers on the cheek. Big Kids Summer Camp. Being invited into other cultures and learning the ins and outs. Not having to worry about grocery shopping. Argentine steaks. Always having a new adventure on the horizon.
What Am I Looking Forward To?
On the other hand, there are a million things I’m looking forward to, like breakfasts that don’t involve dulce de leche. Knowing exactly what I’ll get when I order a chicken sandwich. Bathtubs, decent showers, and bathroom fixtures that make sense. Orderly lines that people obey. Not having to jockey for space on hot, overcrowded public buses. Eating hamburgers, french fries, and pizzas with my hands. Good Mexican food. Being completely, 100% understood. Exploring my own backyard. Starting a garden. Beginning yoga. Learning the samba. Getting in the best shape of my life. Perfecting my Spanish. Catching up on all the movies I missed this year. Starting a new blog? Getting my life back in order. Giving more freely of my time and money. Killing my cable. Reconnecting with friends and family. Having time to read again. Laundry not being an ordeal. Never cooking in a hostel kitchen again. Not having to spend another minute or dollar planning this trip. Translating everything I learned on this amazing journey to life at home.
So that’s it. The end of a huge chapter in my life, the completion of the biggest personal goal I’ve ever set for myself. When I set off on this journey, I knew it would change me; I just didn’t know how. I hope you’ll find a person who is more compassionate and giving; whose interests have grown deeper; who is a better friend, daughter, and wife; who cares more than ever about the world she lives in; who believes fully in the kindness of strangers. Thank you, dear readers, for accompanying us on this journey.11 comments
In 72 hours we will be home, something that is difficult to fathom as I sit eating a thin-crust pizza with a fork in Quito, Ecuador, this evening. In preparation for our journey home, I have created a new page, which you will notice as a tab on the front page called “Credits.” I wanted to express my appreciation to the many, MANY people who have helped support us in different ways on this journey. On Sunday night I plan on publishing a final blog post reflecting on the past eight months: what I’m looking forward to, what I’m going to miss, and what I’ve learned in the process. So stay tuned!2 comments
Our first batch of photos from Ecuador are now posted. For once I had time to add caption, so enjoy!1 comment
Monday, March 9, 2009
“The last time I was in this airport it was a lot dumpier and I was drunk,” said Maikael, as we cruised, stone-cold sober, towards immigration at Mariscal Sucre International Airport in Quito. He visited the city as a 16 year-old boy on a spring break trip from Costa Rica Academy, at the invitation of a friend who lived in Quito, whose father was the head of Peace Corps operations for Ecuador. We’ve talked about Maikael’s memories of that trip over the years while thumbing through faded photos from March 1993. There was the Middle of the World monument, where Maikael was pictured happily straddling the equator. He remembers being whisked through immigration with the flash of an official black passport from his friend’s father. He remembers the country being poor, highly indigenous, and very cold and rainy.
Things have changed dramatically in 16 years. Maikael gawked at the shiny, modern airport, where our passports were stamped electronically. Quito is now a sprawling city, a sea of never-ending traffic choking the highways and thoroughfares. “There were hardly any cars back then,” Maikael recalled. One afternoon we strolled through a gigantic mall constructed in a Spanish style, a gleaming white palace stuffed with a huge supermarket, a deluxe movie theatre, and fast food restaurants. The Middle of the World complex, once a simple monument, is now a full-blown complex of tourists shops.
Interestingly, just like the last visit, we were invited to stay in Quito with friends. We were met at the airport by Dot and Rich, friends of Cecilia’s from her working days in Seattle, who I had met only a few times. They retired here eight years ago, practically sight unseen and speaking zero Spanish. Dot and Rich built a beautiful house on the outskirts of Quito, overlooking a lush green valley, and still speak very little Spanish! “Ecuador is great, except for the silly language,” Dot joked. Amazingly, they get by just fine, proving that confidence is the most important ingredient in successfully living overseas. On the way home from the airport, they regaled us with stories of trips to jails (“I was on my way home from a party and there were beautiful cream puffs and empanadas in the car, so I asked if I could bring them inside,” said Dot), lost licenses, brushes with police, home invasions, and all manner of things that would have scared me to death, but that they seem to have faced with humor and flexibility. Not only that, but they mix a mean drink!
Dot and Rich have shown us a wonderful time in sunny Ecuador, treating us to home-cooked meals, letting us soak in their spa, providing us beautiful surroundings in which to relax, and organizing day trips. On Saturday they drove us to Otavalo Indian Market, one of the few places Maikael remembered from his first trip to Quito. Known for their weaving, Maikael had bargained hard for a wool wall hanging emblazoned with indigenous symbols, which now hangs proudly in our living room. “I think I got it for $5,” Maikael said. Like the rest of Ecuador, the market has grown considerably over 16 years. Once a small affairs with few tourists, the Saturday market sprawls over several streets and is teeming with English-speakers. But the Otavalo, as well as indigenous people from neighboring communities, still man the stalls. The women wear frilly embroidered tops with long navy skirts, their necks laden with gold beads, the number and size denoting their status in the community. They are joined by the men, clad in crisps white linen, their long, shiny braids snaking down their backs.
We stopped for lunch at a restaurant, admiring the vaguely familiar wall hangings that flanked the walls. “Most of those are probably knitted by Jose C.,” said Rich. “He is one of the most well-known weavers in Ecuador,” he continued, Jose Cotacachi’s father having been a renowned weaver. Maikael turned to me. “Isn’t our wall hanging signed by a Jose somebody?” he asked. “Most of the hangings at the market aren’t signed by anybody,” said Rich.
We purchased a lovely little painting, depicting a traditional village scene with a shaman; a knitted wool plant holder, which Ecuadorians hang from their ceilings; and a handmade puppet dressed as a traditional Otavalo woman. On our way out of town, Dot said she needed to stop at Jose C.’s studio to drop off a thank-you note, as he had donated a weaving for an auction she had organized. As we crouched through the doorway of the rustic studio, we gasped. The most beautiful weavings we had seen in all of Peru and Ecuador filled our field of vision, a wash of color and exquisite shapes, all executed with exceptional mastery. We rounded the bend, and there hung a weaving with nearly the same design as the one that hung on our living room wall in Albuquerque, New Mexico. “We have a Jose C. original!” we cried. Unfortunately Jose was out, but Maikael excitedly explained to his wife that he had bought one of his wall hangings 16 years ago. The wall hangings go for more than $5 these days, but an hour later we emerged from the studio with two new wall hangings for our apparent Jose C. collection: a striking crimson design with birds and a gorgeous geometric weaving depicting the Incan calendar.
Some things never change.4 comments