Wow, it still is hard for me to understand. I’ve been going about my daily business, playing guitar, reading books, getting everything in order to go back to school in July/August. But it just doesn’t seem real. At first, I was overwhelmed by reverse culture shock. “Where am I? Where is this place? Why is everything so orderly and clean? Why does everyone speak English?”. That lasted for about a week. It was hard, because I didn’t want to let go of this feeling I had, this feeling that everything was just kind of strange here. From the roads to the houses to the supermarkets, it was just a realization that the United States, and especially Marin, are really different from so many places in the world. I didn’t want to let go of that feeling because it was like seeing the world in which I’ve lived all of my life up until now in a different light. It was especially hard for me, because as much as I didn’t want to let go of the feeling, I knew it was inevitable, that I was just feeling the effects of change, and that no matter what I did, I would eventually get used to living in America again.
And I am, slowly.
The weirdest thing is that every once in a while, I can get a feeling as if I never left, and I just wonder, where did the past 7 months go? But there are subtle things that remind me, things about myself. Because I am different. I’m not a different person per-se, but there are little things. I don’t mind washing the dishes or cooking, I enjoy going out for a bike ride, I feel comfortable with the Bay in a way I didn’t before, like I can see it as a part of a bigger picture, as opposed to an isolated bubble set aside. I see my actions as impacting that bigger picture. I feel the size of the economy around me, of the commerce, and of the industry. I find myself asking all the time these days, “Where did that come from? How did it get here?”.
This entry has been a long time coming. It seems like I’ve settled into a routine over the past few months, writing a really long entry, getting burnt out from writing it, going three weeks without posting anything, building up ever increasing guilt to the point that when I finally get up the motivation to sit down and write, I write a mammoth entry trying to encapsulate everything I’ve been doing and feeling, get burnt out and then wait a few weeks for the guilt to build up again.
Its an amazing fact to me, that this journey is over, and it still hasn’t really sunken in. I actually don’t look at it as over…
…I just see this now as the American leg of my journey.
I’ve gone through so many different phases and stages, states of mind and relationships to my traveling; that it just doesn’t seem like it was all one trip, all the same trip. To me, it seems to break down into 4 different phases:
Phase 1: Leaving, Traveling with Ben
Ecuador (Nov.1-10) - I finally get up the motivation to leave home with the catalyst of Ben Lawson having a planned trip. The plan is to go 10 days in Ecuador, 5 in Peru, fly to Santiago, Chile, and spend a month swooping down through Patagonia and up to Buenos Aires. I leave on Nov.1 and have a plane ticket back for Dec. 15 or so, home for Christmas.
What a different world it seemed like. In my mind, I had no specific goals, no idea where I was going or why. The trip was going to be a precursor to other trips, to Guatemala(to do the work I’m doing now), and to South East Asia. I was just going to build up my nerve, my travel sense, and get SOME sort of momentum going on all these grand plans I had for my deferred year. After quick trips to New Orleans and Brazil, I found myself stuck, static in the bay for 4 months, taking a long deserved break, having great experiences playing music, but always with this pressure of knowing that I was continually pushing back farther and farther any plans I had.
And Ben Lawson really helped me out with that. I remember the moment, walking around the hills in China Camp for my mom’s birthday, the big 6-0. I was walking with Nick (Broten) and Stephanie (Lowe), all of us singing Leonard Cohen’s “Halleluiah”, practicing for the Sunday Supper. Coming over one of the hills, we went the wrong direction, and by the time we got back on track, the rest of the group had caught up with us. I found myself walking alongside Ben’s parents, and they just casually mentioned that Ben was planning to go to South America in November. I gave him a call a few days later, and before I knew it, I had a ticket too.
I wasn’t planning on splitting ways with Ben, I didn’t have any plans of my own, but two pretrip moments still stick out in my memory.
One, sitting in my room, looking at the Lonely Planet Bolivia book that Renee(who I later met up with in Buenos Aires) had accidentally left me, I remember seeing a picture of Salar de Uyuni, the piles of sand surrounded by an inch of water, reflecting the sky in all directions, and having that be the only thing that I really ever saw in one of those books that made me say, “Wow, I want to go there, I want to see that, that can’t possibly exist”. I also remember thinking, “There’s no way I’d ever go to Bolivia, its way to dangerous, I could never do that”. Irony being that I did end up going to Bolivia, whether intentionally or not, and I did end up needing that Lonely Planet that I left at home. (After losing my Lonely Planet “South America” back in Arequipa, I ended up “exchanging” for a Bolivia book in Loki hostel in Cuzco, (ok, stealing, but there was a justifiable reason, I can’t quite remember why now, but they was at the time ).
Two, sitting at the kitchen table, looking at a map of south America, realizing that if I split with Ben at Cuzco(I originally wanted to see lake Titicaca because it was so close), then I could, hypothetically, take a bus all the way from Cuzco down to the very southern tip of Chile. At the time, it seemed impossible, ridiculous to even think about. I remember thinking “but it looks so small, its only a few inches”, and then realizing those few inches were the equivalent of basically crossing America. I remember fantasizing about a lonesome thoughtful road trip, from deserts to snow covered mountains, and thinking how cool, but unrealistic I would be. Little did I know that I would actually do it. Ok, not exactly that way, not through Chile, but through Argentina mostly.
Three (I know, I said two, but I just remember the real first thought of South America). Mule days. June 2006. Bishop California. Before there was ever a roadtrip to New Orleans with Me, Nick, and David (Bolin) (Link), there was a gathering of all of us, plus Stephanie and a few more Swedes(Marcus, Leo), coming together in Nick’s home town in Eastern California for the annual celebration of all things Mule. It was an unlikely situation, spawned by crazy ideas hatched after an impromptu acapella jam session in front of the I-House front desk one day. It was only a few days, and we there under the auspices of playing a concert to raise money for “Katrina Relief”, (aka Gas money to get our Van down to New Orleans). The first morning, we woke up to catch the end of the main Mule Parade, thousands of half breed horse-donkeys, followed by tens of sanitary street sweepers to clean up the whole mess. We wandered down the street and curiously stopped to check out a photo gallery that just seemed out of place. It was filled with all the photos from a single person, and her journeys around the world. I remember one photo in particular, a huge wall portrait of wild horses running free in front of a steep mountain face with a jagged summit that seemed to define physics. The info read, “Wild horses, Torres del Paine, Patagonia”. I remember thinking to myself that such a photo was impossible, that in these days of Photoshop, no such place could actually exist, it must be doctored. I also remember thinking “I should know this, but where exactly IS Patagonia”. I’d be ashamed to admit it, but it speaks to how surreal it was that in just a few months time I actually found myself there, somewhere that I didn’t even know where “there” was a few months earlier. While I didn’t end up going to Torres del Paine itself, I sat and walked around the same Patagonia, and even had the surreal moment of seeing wild horses run through that open field in front of a huge Patagonian mountain (Volcan Lanín really), the picture come to life.
I’ve just gone into to all that detail to help myself realize how different it all seemed back then, my concepts of South America, of travel. That was the mindset I was in when I got on a plane for Quito with Ben Nov. 1. I didn’t know where I was, why I was there, or what to expect, and I didn’t see the need to. I remember from my very first personal journal entries(which were sadly lost in Bariloche, Argentina) that my initial intentions for this trip were entirely personal, not to see, not to do, but just to observe myself, put myself in new situations and see how I react, to not expect, but to accept what I find and learn from it.
It felt odd, those first two weeks, in Quito and Cusco. I saw other travelers, and just didn’t identify with them. I was surprised to find a whole backpacker culture which I remember writing on the first day, seemed like I-House on wheels. A group of international (mostly European, British Commonwealth, and Isreali) people hanging out, exploring new places together and forming a tight (yet temporary) group that could insulate you from the enormity and foreignness of a place, and provide a community in which you feel safe, no matter how strange an environment you might be in. Not to mention they partied a lot.
I just didn’t identify with them, they had been traveling for so long, me just a few days. That would ask “Where have you been? What have you done? Where are you going?”, but I didn’t really know. I would ask, “Why are we traveling? Where are we coming from? Why are we here and not there?”, but neither of us would really know that either. We were all trying to answer our own set of questions, in our own way. For me, the irony, was that I knew that I couldn’t just go find an answer like I could climb a volcano or visit a ruin. I wasn’t convinced there was an answer, but I was more convinced that the openness of the search itself would bear its own rewards in time. In many ways, it felt like a free ride, because all I had to do was sit back and enjoy, and whether my travel “plans” worked out or not, everything was equally part of the search, and had its own reward to bear. As I used to say with Amalia on our trip to India, “Everything is just bonus”.
Phase 2 Traveling with Myself
Peru (Nov 18th- December 10)-.....
But that'll have to wait for another day,
Ciao for now from Marin,