Posts tagged ‘Long-term travel’

The Brazilian bus where I served a 26-hour sentence

Twenty-six hours with little sleep on a cramped bus – most of it beside a crying, fidgety child sitting on his pregnant mother’s lap. I’m hungry and weary of cheese sandwiches – the only vegetarian option at rest stops. I forgot to unpack my healthy snacks which are buried in the storage below. I’m under the weather – sneezing and congested and low-energy – from the cold snap that hovered over the region for a few days.

I feel alone in this less-trodden corner of Brazil and miss my companions on the backpacker-friendly coast. I left Cuiabá disappointed by the cost-prohibitive Pantanal wildlife (3-day tours are nearly $800 USD) and the bureaucratic hurdles at Chapada de Guimarães national park that made it very difficult to enjoy.

So I feel the last few days have been a bust. Things just haven’t quite worked out.

Bus break in Brazil

Travel is full of shitty moments like this. Like most things in life – a job, a relationship, a hobby – there’s no shortage of let downs. And when on your own it can feel worse, there’s no one to turn to amid indifferent surroundings.

With the battery dying on my mobile phone, I opened my calendar and counted the days remaining in Brazil. Almost home… I tell myself. What a relief!

As if by chance Mary Chapin Carpenter’s song “Almost Home” plays in my random mix:

I’m not running
I’m not hiding
I’m not reaching
I’m just resting in the arms of the great wide open
It’s gonna pull my soul in
And I’m almost home

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Almost home… is momentarily forgetting the thousand tiny details that travel demands, knowing things soon will be logistically easier. It’s thinking of those I love and miss. It’s setting an anchor by filling my mind with familiar things.

Almost home… is remembering that I choose this life. Being away has allowed me to let go of the demands and dull routines of home. Knowing home is around the corner helps me to accept the here and now.

Almost home… is not being homesick. It’s part of the journey, a destination too. It’s appreciating the home I carry inside that lets me find comfort in new places and with new faces.

Almost home… is a great place to be. It means I’m out there. Travel is a permanent part of my life and home is what connects all the trips, it’s the pause in the middle between adventures.

Almost home… is time to start dreaming about my next travel destination!

Sometimes I’m not happy, things aren’t wonderful and my surroundings don’t delight. Tomorrow will be a new day. I’m just resting in the arms of the great wide open.
And I’m almost home.

Brazilian sunrise as seen from a bus window

Scenes from the Zona Cafetera in Colombia

Here in Colombia’s coffee heartland, I’ve been ingesting a lot of caffeine. And consequently considering things.

Today I’ve been on the road exactly five months. And I have to admit I’ve hit one of those moments. I’ll call it what it is: a travel low.

Independent travel is what I love and what I crave. But it can be hard work, occasionally I get tired and the luster fades. It’s bound to happen – endlessly overnighting in unfamiliar towns, countless buses and constantly eating out, routine conversations with strangers, forever packing, planning and figuring shit out. It all takes a toll.

I’ve never traveled this long or far in one trip. Long-term travelers I’ve met have told me that breaks are essential in enduring lengthy spells on the road. Stopping can be as important as moving. I’m ready to sit in once place for a bit.

Maybe I feel this way because this travel chapter is winding down. Knowing that I have a couple more weeks in South America hastens the process of boxing things up and turning things off. Paul and Mark and Amy arrive in two days – I am thrilled to close out this journey with loved ones but also caught in this hollow of waiting.

So these driftless past weeks have been hard for me. I feel I’m at my best when I have specific objectives, like the Kiva fellowship, working on a technology project or learning something (like Portuguese) in a structured way.

Yet simply traveling around with a backpack is, and always will be, an important goal of mine. But now after extended periods in South America and Southeast Asia – nine months of transient world travel – I’m ready for something with a different purpose: a new vocational direction, more volunteering, deeper engagement with people, some rooting in a community.

It’s not that I don’t have any plans. There’s much I want to accomplish professionally and personally. Paul and I have lots of exciting ideas and are working on them. But nothing yet is concrete. Things remain uncertain, unclear. This business of changing one’s path is a deliberate process. It takes time. And patience has never been one of my strengths.

Soon I will say goodbye once again to South America and it will not be easy. These past months have been gratifying beyond words and my love for this continent and people grows deeper with each visit. And I look forward to my journey northwards; I want to greet family and friends, taste foods that I miss, start new projects, enjoy the ease and familiarity of home turf for a while.

That’s it, my low point: a threshold. My apprehensive transition between here and there. I know things will sort themselves out in time. Today’s trough will be a peak tomorrow.

So enough of these ruminations about past and future!

Here’s where I am right now:

I sit on the colorful wooden balcony of my charming hostal overlooking the main plaza of Filandia. It’s an overcast Sunday, the town is abuzz with locals enjoying this day of rest, this Sabbath. The busy work of yesterday and tomorrow weighs on no one.

Sunday – a threshold too – is a time to pause, sit and chat, sip steaming cups of coffee to lilting ranchera music…

Sunday scenes from Filandia, Colombia