There’s a specific process that I go through each time I travel. As soon as I land in a new place my senses are sharp as I take in the unfamiliar surroundings and try to grasp the unacquainted customs.
The first thing I do is walk. I walk constantly, sometimes all day, looking and learning, trying to orient myself. I notice faces and gestures, I register landmarks and neighborhoods, I catalog shops and eateries, I study the local conveyances and set my bearings.
The newness amazes and confounds me: simple things like transport, streets, prices, meals, the protocols of daily interactions and small exchanges – these usually occupy a huge space in my mind for the first few days. I am acutely aware of everything. It’s an overwhelmingly stimulating period and a tiring one. My mind is constantly gauging and processing. I drain easily.
And sleep doesn’t always come easily those first days. The sounds and smells, the altitude or humidity, the jet lag or the change in seasons – these all contribute to restless nights and a fatigue that accompanies my waking hours.
Landing is a defined progression of settlement. I begin to shed my life back home with its comforts and familiarity. Slowly I build confidence and understanding of my new world as I put on its garments. The “grubby” hotel I first checked into now is homey and clean, the staff friendly. The shouts and commotion of children playing at recess at the school next to my hotel begin to sound ordinary and not irritating. The chola woman, wearing thick sweaters, a wide vibrant dress and outlandish bowler hat, no longer reeks of soot and earth as she passes; rather I smell the fragrance of sweet breads wrapped in her colorful manta tied over her shoulders.
Then comes the first solid sleep and I awaken rested and enthused. I converse during lunch and my Spanish flows effortlessly from my tongue; I feel fluent and self-assured. I look out the window of my trufi minivan zipping me up and down streets and through neighborhoods that are familiar; I am relaxed and relieved not to be so hyper-focused on my whereabouts and simply enjoy the world passing by.
There are still bumps and flashes of confusion each day, but these become more fleeting and peripheral with time.
Finally, I am here. I have landed. I am ready…