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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.
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
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.
It was a gratifying return to the United States: a few days of affection and rest in my childhood home of Dubuque, Iowa. Dad and Kelly greeted me in blustery Rockford, Illinois and we drove the beautiful stretch through Terrapin Ridge to the icy Mississippi River Valley, my old stomping grounds.
After six months rambling in South America it felt good to be back with family. It was easy to adapt to non-Latino life — I found respite in simple things like hot showers, speaking English, brushing my teeth with tap water, and slumbering deeply under heavy blankets and winter’s darkness and silence.
I was treated like royalty: Dad carefully planned each meal of home-cooked fare and kept up lively topics of conversation about politics, history, academia, my travels and the wider world. We kicked back with bottles of Leinies, discussed articles from the New York Times and The Nation, and laughed in a tavern drinking pints while the snow flurried wildly outside.
Each night I fell asleep with freight trains sounding in the distance. I awoke to Dad waiting for me with a smile and a cup of coffee. I was warm and content and cared for.
While I’ve lived more than half my life away from Dubuque, it’s probably where I’m most rooted and will always find homey comfort. It is safe and familiar, where things are measured and known, my reactions predictable and my memories stored away securely.
I spent an afternoon cleaning up old papers, sorting through the blurred places and faces from elementary school, junior high, high school. Wistful feelings surface: compunction, gladness, ambiguity.
I guess that’s the key to going home: delighting in the nostalgia while accepting the ambivalence.
My childhood’s home I see again,
And sadden with the view;
And still, as memory crowds my brain,
There’s pleasure in it too.
— Abraham Lincoln
Well… another arrival and departure of Paul. It doesn’t get easier.
We had an extraordinary five weeks together in Ecuador’s wild playground: traipsing through the rainforest, flying on zip-lines above thundering waterfalls, crisscrossing the Equator, hiking past volcanoes, descending the steepest railroad track in the world, lounging on Pacific Coast beaches, galloping through the tropics on horseback, mountain biking from the Andes to the Amazon — we did it all.
It’s been a transient few months for us. I’ve been living in South America, volunteering and traveling through four countries. Paul has been moving between friends and family and joining me when he can. We have no fixed address since we rented our home.
But we’re not homeless. We’ve long yearned to be free of the hassles and headaches of maintaining a house and being tied down. It has been a long (and arduous) process of letting go.
We’re working to establish a new way of living, one that is freeing but also fleeting. The bonds of living together under one roof become slippery; special care is required to keep our relationship on meaningful footing.
This is new to us. It’s exciting, tricky, bold, and irregular… We’re learning as we craft new ways to engage our interests and passions and each other.
Today as I entered Colombia I was marveling (as usual) at the breathtakingly awesome Andes. And reflecting on my rambling ’round life — now in its fifth month.
The truth is I deeply miss Paul. But I’m also very happy. It puzzles me.
Then as this song popped in my headset the light bulb went off:
Let me come Home
Home is wherever I’m with you
Let me come Home
Home is whenever I’m with you
This feels crazy but it all makes sense.
Home by Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros:
My life as a Kiva Fellow was obviously different than my normal travel mostly due to the fact that I lived primarily in one city, had an apartment, went shopping for food, spent time in an office, and had time and energy to socialize at night.
Here are some pictures and captions that I hope give a sense of my daily life in Bolivia.
Home: More than just a place to hang my hat for a night or two…
Office: No cubicles, a 10-minute commute, a two-hour lunch break, and not a word in English…
Work: Still lots of time in front of the computer but I could definitely leave it at the end of day…
Leisure Time and Food: Fun friends and new experiences and a vast new universe of flavors to explore…