I've come to know many people without ever seeing their face. Coworkers that live overseas, friends that I've met online, customers that I only ever speak to on the phone. I typically develop some kind of mental picture as to what I think the person looks like, I can see in my mind's eye if they're tall, have facial hair, a round face, whatever it may be. To date, I've not once had an even remotely correct picture in my mind. In fact, many times they're diametrically opposed to what I've come to expect.
In many ways the trip has been similar, it has been very different than I had envisioned. We're just over 1 month on the road at this point and I thought I'd talk about those differences and the difficulties we've had over the last month.
Our blog posts have painted a pretty rosy picture of things on the road. For those following along, we're whale watching, biking, hiking, busing, and seeing the sights. What we haven't really talked about are the day to day experiences that are the types of things you (or at least we) glossed over when imagining this trip in our minds eye. Sure we had a list of sites we wanted to see, when I thought about the trip I was thinking about hot air balloons over the plains of Namibia, a train ride across Russia to the far east, and a 4x4 across the surreal landscapes of Salar de Uyuni.
I of course knew we'd be doing laundry by hand, staying in dumps, eating strange foods, and waiting listlessly for hours at bus/train stations. It wouldn't be all sunshine and rainbows, in fact, both Jordan and I anticipated that in the first two weeks we'd want to head home. What I, what we, weren't prepared for was fighting, homesickness, and thoughts that we'd made a monumental mistake.
Jordan and I have been together for 9 years at this point. We've been married for 3 years, were engaged for 1, and we dated long distance during college for 5. Prior to that we were best friends for the majority of high school, all told we've been very good friends for nearly 40% of our lives. I can think of only a couple fights that we've ever had in all that time, in fact I can only really recall the detail of a single fight, we just don't have many disagreements. In the last month we've been nearly always on edge with each other, almost constantly on the verge of some minor disagreement.
Where are we going to eat, what are we doing tomorrow, why don't you want to go here, you want to increase the trip budget, bugs are biting me, there aren't any bugs, how can you not know what lechuga is by now… and on and on and on ad nausium. A lump is growing in my throat as I enumerate these. It is wearing on both of us, but I think it is worse for Jordan as I'm almost always ready for a fight over the stupidest things. Why are we fighting? I can't quite nail it down, but I think the constant uncertainty (a core tenant of the trip was a by the seat of our pants mentality) is really wearing on us and just making us both overly sensitive to smaller things.
Not knowing what we're doing tomorrow, or next week, means that we're constantly needing to research, discuss, and decide what our course will be. This isn't something we've ever even had to think about for as long as we've been together, what is next has always been easy to know. High school -> college -> job, friendship -> dating -> marriage, or pay off loans -> buy house -> save for trip. It was so clearly defined. Now we're wandering and it is making us both emotionally raw.
In the last week or so things have been better. We're staying put and taking spanish classes for a week or two in Montanita, I think having a plan means we're calming down.
For all intents and purposes I haven't lived at "home" since I left for college shortly after turning 18. I lived away from my family and girlfriend all through college and while I certainly missed them, I never had any desire to move back home. I did not expect even the slightest hint of homesickness on the trip, I've always been very independent.
I've found myself craving the comforts of home, the familiarity of the environs and people. Mostly I'd love to be able to read a menu and understand what it says, have normal size napkin, not constantly drinking fruit juice, not have to worry about if hot water was available, have normal pillows, be able to drive somewhere on my own, be able to pay with my debit card, know that the ATM will just work, get some decent pasta, have a vendor able to make change for a 20 dollar bill, eat cereal, not listen to truck mounted loud speakers driving across town offering everyone a fresh pineapple, and Jordan would kill for some peanut butter.
I've got to get over this. Some of the comforts of the US may be available in Europe or Australia, but there is little hope that we'll have them for any other parts of this trip. I'm finding that I just crave a little "normalcy" whatever that is.
Most of all, I never expected to so completely contemplate the fact that I'd made a mistake. Perhaps the years of thinking about and planning for this trip resulted in some kind of romanticization of what this would be. Did I really give up our excellent salaries, comfortable home, and interesting job for this? Sure the activities (climbing a volcano, seeing incredible animals, visiting interesting places) are all amazing, but what about the other 80% of the time? I can reasonably expect that both Jordan and I were on the precipice of promotions, we could really have saved a lot of money now that the loans were paid off, perhaps have endeavored on the next logical step and contemplated progeny…
It is extraordinarily difficult to question a dream, and this really was a dream, so fundamentally. How could I have so gravely miscalculated? We gave up so much to make this possible.
We could abandon the trip, head to Seattle, we've got enough saved that it would make a nice downpayment on a home. We've made no secret that the suburbs of Chicago weren't an environment that we loved. Perhaps we should continue on the usual path in a more urban and outdoorsy environment?
Maybe the problem is South America, should we skip to somewhere with more the modern amenities that we're used to? Perhaps Asia with its well-worn backpacker trail would be easier. There are so many things we still desperately want to see in South America, surely we can't leave the continent without seeing them, maybe we just hit those and then leave? At that rate the trip will last 6 months.
We can't continue to be miserable as we move from place to place.
Then you think about how silly all of this is, this trip is the chance of a lifetime. Dozens of people have told us as much, are we squandering this amazing opportunity? And this long ranting post about the whole thing, should I even write it, it sounds like the worlds largest white whine… poor me, I'm traveling the world while not having to work.
So what are we doing about it? Well as previously mentioned, we're slowing down and staying in one place for a while. It's a bit more expensive than we might like, but it means we don't have to worry about what we're doing tomorrow or the day after. While we're here we're trying to come up with a rough plan of what the following weeks will look like.
We're working to embrace the local food which is cheaper and tastier than the attempts at Americanized food. We're going to be formally taking spanish classes in the next two weeks so we're better at conversing with the locals.
We're sticking with our rough overall plan, at least for the time being. We're going to continue overland through South American hitting Peru, Bolivia, Chile, Argentina, and Brazil. We've got get the hang of this backpacking things eventually… right?
Finally, why write a long, perhaps whiny, post about all of this? Ultimately, I think it does an injustice to us and other who might be contemplating similar trips, not to document how we're feeling during the course of things. The blog is our way to remember how things were and that means capturing everything, even the less pretty bits.
I've put off posting this for a long time now. I've read and reread the contents a bunch of times and both Jordan and I share some apprehension about publishing it. I however, still feel that I want to have my thoughts, my opinions, about how I felt in the beginning of the trip clearly documented, primarily for myself in the future.
In the last 1.5 weeks we've been staying put in Montanita, Ecuador learning spanish. It has been nice, but I'm ready for us to move on to other parts of the country and then to Peru. We may be travelling with some of the folks we've met here through Peru which might be a nice change of pace as well.