29 May

Return To So Called Normal

Welcome Home One of the things that I like reading on a travel blog are the updates people write once they get home. I think that coming home is as much a part of the journey as the planning and the traveling was and I like hearing how people adjust back into their ‘normal’ lives.

It seems to be about half and half as to whether a blog will post back-at-home updates or not. Some travel blogs don’t even make it to the end of the journey, petering out and leaving me hanging as to what’s happening. I understand, of course, that blogging while traveling can be difficult but I feel connected to these people somehow and I want to know how they are doing and so, even though I have subscribed to their RSS feeds, I continually check their sites to ensure I haven’t missed an update (I’m talking to you RunningTowards and WhereAreLizAndAdrian).

I have always planned on writing post-trip updates and, although it seems mundane to write about my normal life now, it will make me really reflect on how I’m feeling as we settle in and the trip becomes more memory than reality. I think what I’ll do is intersperse back-at-home updates with some other trip related posts that I still have in mind (gear reviews, budget wrap up etc) – that’ll be a good mix of how-is-Gillian-feeling vs end-of-the-trip tales…and Paula and Diane W can stop worrying that there won’t be any more posts. ;-)

We’ve been back in Canada for 3 weeks already and our reactions have been mixed. The first two weeks were buffered by visiting with family where we had a chance to catch up, meet new members of the family (hi Matt and Karen!), eat all our favorites (thanks Ma and Mom!), and slowly adjust to being back in North American culture.

And so we are ‘home’ now and have been for just over a week. It’s not really ‘home’ though as we are in a furnished apartment and are, once again, surrounded by stuff that’s not ours and are fumbling around much like we have for the past year. The neighborhood is familiar though and we have wandered around checking out what’s new and different and what is the same…and that’s where it starts to get weird.

Where Is Everybody There is nobody around. We are in a supremely walkable neighborhood with wide sidewalks, grassy boulevards, and close by amenities and yet the streets are devoid of people. I didn’t realize how much I had gotten used to being around people all the time. Almost everywhere we’ve been people live very public lives – the climate allows them to be outside all the time, the living density means that everything is out in the open, markets and shops are on or open to the street…even driving is public in many places as everyone is on a scooter and not encased in a metal casing. Granted the weather here has not been the best since we returned but that does not entirely explain the dearth of people – we just don’t live like that here and I’m going to have to get used to it again.

I expected that as soon as we got home again that I’d be all over nesting and being ‘homey’ but I seem to be fighting it. We only had about 7 boxes to unpack and it took us four days to do it – I didn’t even unpack my backpack until yesterday. I am a natural procrastinator but I don’t know why I’m being so resistant. I was excited to be coming home and was looking forward to staying in one place for more than 2 or 3 nights in a row but now I feel disconnected, frustrated and unfocused for some reason.

We have solved part of the problem. It seemed that we had tons of ideas and plans floating around in our heads but hadn’t put any framework around all of it and so we were feeling like we were floundering a bit. One of the things we learned on the road (thanks to our new friends Keith and Amy from GreenAroundTheGlobe) is the value of setting goals and objectives. I know this is old hat to many, many people but it is not something that we had employed. Chatting with them over a couple of days (that seem so long ago now), we realized that we were missing out on the power of forward planning. So yesterday we sat down and put all of our thoughts and ideas and to-do’s down on paper and, where possible, attached a goal date for each. This helped to organize our thoughts, checked that we were both on the same page, and ensured that the harder tasks do not get procrastinated away in favor  of more fun tasks.

A Warmland Welcome Home Re-connecting with friends and catching up has been tons of fun. Having the blog as a reference has been great as people have some idea of what the last year has been like for us. They ask questions about our stories giving us a chance to add in details and tell tales that didn’t make it into the blog posts. It’s funny though…we’re not ‘talkers’ per se and it’s hard to know how much people are really interested in. I don’t want to be blathering on and on and see someone’s eyes glaze over, but I also don’t want to stop short and give the impression that I’m not interested in talking about it either. I’m working on the premise that people want to hear about it…having friends return from long (or short) term trips I was always hesitant to ask too many questions or I thought my questions might be silly…now I’m on the other side and I’m saying ask all the questions you want – I’m eager tell my stories and to hear about what other peoples experiences are.

There are a few other oddities about being home:

  • We aren’t cooking like I thought we would. Maybe it’s because we’re used to just going out for every meal, or that the kitchen (and it’s stuff) isn’t ours, or we’re just out of practice – either way we’ll have to get back at it, we may both have a bit of weight to lose but we still have to eat!
  • I’m sleeping really well. I’ve slept right through every night since being home – that was a rarity for me while on the road. No barking dogs, no scooter noise, no roosters, and no thin walls with close neighbors means no need for earplugs and the nice soft bed and fresh linens means a nice comfy sleep.
  • I know I joked last week about wearing the same clothes over and over again but it’s turning out to be true! Two reasons…it’s what I’m used to and so donning the same clothes as yesterday just happens, and because my old clothes don’t quite fit yet (need to hit bootcamp a few more times). I have been shopping a little though so although it may be the same few outfits, they’re not the same outfits I wore on the road.

It’s interesting being home. Just like being on the road it’s not quite what I expected and my emotions seem to be all over the place. It’s all part of the journey though and I just take it all in and figure it out as I go. I don’t start work for another week…that’ll be a whole other adjustment!

22 May

Re-Entry

Looking Toward Home We’ve been back in Canada for two weeks now and, in many ways, our year away already seems like a distant dream. It’s amazing how quickly comfort and familiarity ingrain themselves again. We are enjoying being surrounded by culture we know and understand, are loving catching up with family and friends, and are happily getting back to our regular activities.

But, some days, it seems as though our re-entry into society is delayed…we keep regressing into on-the-road behavior.

  • We want to take our clothes out of the dresser everyday…just to put them back in again.
  • I still think about washing my panties in the sink every couple of days because I forget that I now have enough to last longer than a week.
  • When I open my closet I gravitate to the same three outfits even though I now have a full wardrobe again.
  • I find myself constantly stuffing toilet paper into my pockets in case the next pee break doesn’t have toilet paper.
  • I still hoard plastic bags and napkins…never know when I might need them.
  • We keep wanting to check out the Lonely Planet Canada to plan what to do/where to go the next day.
  • In a public washroom I check the stall first to make sure it’s not a squat…and then I check the seat to make sure that no-one has stood on the seat to use it as a squat.
  • When we go out for dinner we just about choke when the bill comes because we lived for 2 days on that in Vietnam/Bali/Thailand.
  • When walking past fences and walls I hold my breath to avoid the disgusting stink of it being used as a urinal.
  • I have to resist the urge to introduce myself to perfect strangers  explaining where I am from, how long I’ll be here, where I’ve been etc and then ask them for their favorite places and recommendations.
  • We still write every purchase or expense in ‘the book’ to keep track of all the money…seriously…but that is a good habit to keep and we plan on continuing. Never hurts to know where all the money goes.

I’m sure, soon enough, these habits will fade away. Until then they are quirky reminders of the time we spent away.

08 May

Lasts

Homecoming, Vancouver Last day, last country, last international flight. We’re currently winging our way back to Canada three hundred and forty five days after we left.

We had so many firsts when we first set off that it was impossible to count them all. First time packing the bags, first long-distance, overnight bus ride, first time staying in a hostel, first time climbing a mountain, first time trying to communicate in an unknown language…it was all firsts. And it kept going as we kept going…first time crossing a border, first time being completely overwhelmed, first time being in absolute awe, first time sweating while standing in the shade absolutely still, first time using a squat toilet. I will remember them all and we will talk about them for years to come.

And then comes the time when we realized that we were doing something for the last time…and the ‘official last time’ list was started. Last time we would cross a border, last time we would speak Spanish, last time we would take a bus, last time we would swim in that ocean…last time we would pack our bags, on the last day, in the last country just before we board our last international flight. Last…for now.

We are not sad that the trip is over. It’s been an amazing year – one we will look back on as the year that started us out, pushed us out of our comfort zone and made us realize what we are capable of. We’re excited to see what our next Giant Steps will be.

Fear can hold you prisoner. Hope can set you free.’      Shawshank Redemption

02 May

Cigarettes And Chocolate Milk

These are just a couple of my cravings
Everything it seems I like’s a little bit stronger
A little bit thicker, a little bit harmful for me

We’ve been away now for almost a year. A year without the comforts of home,  familiar culture, food and routine. We’ll be back in Canada in less than a week and as much as we’re looking back reminiscing about all the fabulous times we’ve had we’re also looking forward to some of the things we have missed.

Here are some of our cravings, in no particular order because at any time any one of these could be the thing that is missed most:

In The Kitchen, Santiago Food. We have, for the most part, lived without ‘western’ food for the entire time we’ve been away. Mainly because we have wanted to enjoy the cuisine of the countries we have been visiting, but also because non-western countries don’t do western food all that well (unless there is a sizable expat community). 

We have also missed cooking. At home we both cook and enjoy trying new things. This isn’t possible on the road (outside of the couple of times we’ve rented apartments) and it’s amazing how much we miss cooking, and eating, even the most basic of dishes. The thought of having a kitchen again, and being able to have something as simple as a cup of tea and some toast fills us with joy at this point…I know, it’s the simple things.

In a great stroke of good planning, we are visiting both of our families before we head back to Victoria and so will have the chance to enjoy each of our mothers home cooking.  J’s mom is of German heritage and there we will enjoy fabulous schnitzel and rouladin, along with some great breads and cheeses. My family hails from jolly olde England and mum makes the best roast beef and yorkshire puddings in the world (I can say that now ‘cause I’ve been ‘round the world), plus her pancakes aren’t too bad either! Do you sense some buttering up and hinting going on? ;-)

Ready For Bed, Poon Hill Trek Sleep. I can’t tell you how much I am looking forward to sleeping in the same bed for more than 2 or 3 nights in a row!  I’ve actually done better than I thought I would – I was worried I’d be plagued with insomnia caused by uncomfortable beds, or weird night smells, or (heaven-forbid) bedbugs etc. It hasn’t been as bad as I thought, although there always seems to be a barking dog  and a crowing rooster wherever we are – I  will not miss that at all. The beds haven’t been too bad although I did abandon my take-a-picture-of-every-bed project about half way through – the pictures (and most of the beds) were too bleak to even think about looking at ever again and I’m sure my family and friends looked at some of them in horror.

Carving Workshop, Bangkok-2 Furniture. I have discovered that  the concept of comfortable furniture is lost upon most of the world. Either through necessity, or culture, or climate, or availability of materials, most of the world lives close to the ground or on hard, non-cushioned, furniture. Finding an easy chair or sofa to laze upon has been impossible and my European-soft bones and Canadian comfort ideals have not adjusted to how many people around the world lounge. Although I have great plans on what to do with my time once we get home I have a feeling it will be hard to get my ass out from within the deep folds of our sofa to get anything done.

Along The Ancient Walkway Clothing. Okay, I commented a few months ago about  how freeing it was to be traveling with such a limited wardrobe and how I really didn’t mind wearing the same clothes over and over and over again, but I think it’s reaching it’s limit. Not  only am I seriously tired of the same look day after day but the clothes are beyond worn now – my pants and what-I-call-shorts are faded beyond recognizing their original color and both now have wear holes in the bum region. My one favorite blue t-shirt was faded, holy and so stretched out of shape that I had it remade (in both blue and green) while we were in Vietnam…but they still look exactly like the original and so I am already tired of them. I am looking forward to my old clothes, and some new ones too…something fashionable and stylish, or at least not grey pants and a blue t-shirt.

Street Restaurant, Hanoi Clean. Our tolerance for cleanliness has reached a new low during this year – both our personal cleanliness and that what which we will live in. For the first 2/3 of our trip most of the rooms we stayed in were dingy and uninspired (Asia’s truly cheap prices have allowed us to afford better) and, although we have not slept on any truly dirty sheets, many beds have had graying bedding and slightly smelly pillows. Many of the ‘restaurants’ we have eaten in would definitely not pass health code at home and sometimes I wonder how we have not been sick (J did get Salmonella once early on in the trip but that was because we broke our own lax rules…raw egg white in a Pisco Sour in Peru..just plain silly!).

I will not miss the garbage that piles up everywhere we have been and, although pollution has not affected our health as it does some people, I think we will bend down and kiss the clean green grass once we land in Vancouver and smell the ocean scented breeze.

Northern Turkey Bathroom. Bathroom luxury has, in recent years, been taken to new levels in North America…suffice it to say that this is not the case in the rest of the world. Squat toilets are the norm in many places, and I hate them. There is argument that they are cleaner and more hygienic than western toilets, but I don’t believe it. I am hardly ever able to ‘do my business’ while I worry about where all my clothing is, wonder if items are going to fall out of my pocket, and try not to pee on my feet. And I am unable, completely unable, to do #2 on a squat…my record is 5 days on the Inca Trail without pooing – we ate 4 times a day on that hike and not one ounce left my body…it was impossible! But, on the first day back in town? Five #2’s in one day…TMI, I know…but there it is. I will be happy at home if the toilet is not a squat and if it’s actually attached to the floor (TMI already, so I won’t explain that one) – toilet paper, doors and clean floors are all luxuries.

Our desire to shower is mitigated by at least three factors…how badly do we smell, how clean is the shower, and what are the towels like. This doesn’t take into consideration whether there is any hot water or whether we have any reasonably clean clothes to put on afterwards. A room with a great shower is worth any price and will find us showering 2 or 3 times in a day just for the sheer joy of it.

Routine. I know it seems weird but I miss the routine of my every day life. Traveling has its own routine but I always feel just a little out-of-sorts. I’m looking forward to having my own home again, working in the garden, going to bootcamp, shopping at the plaza, riding my bike and yes…even going to work. I’m sure it won’t last long and soon the wanderlust will return but right now I’m looking over that fence and seeing the green, green grass of home.