When It Rains…

Morgan and I spent a lot of time last week doing travel research and making reservations while the stormy weather kept us mostly inside.

Morgan and I spent a lot of time last week doing travel research and making reservations while the stormy weather kept us mostly inside.

Before Morgan and I left in mid-August, we talked a lot about how there will be times when traveling gets tough, when we feel fatigued and worried about the myriad consequences of uprooting for a year, and when we second-guess our choices. We knew we’d feel homesick not just for home per se, but for friends and familiar routines, and we might feel pangs of regret. That’s why we added the “no regrets” phrase to our tagline — not because we’re blithely traipsing off in the world with nothing weighing us down but our backpacks, but rather because we knew from the start that doubt might haunt us, just as first-time home buyers flirt with buyers’ remorse when the repairs pile up and bills come due. “No regrets” is shorthand for “no turning back, so let’s make this work, and in the long run we’ll look back and be so glad we did it.” Or in Spanish, vale la pena. It’s what we say to each other and to ourselves to bolster confidence and commitment, because what we’re doing takes an occasional pep talk.

Last week was one of those weeks.

This may come as a surprise, since the previous post about arriving in Patagonia was so effusive. As my brother noted, we seemed besotted with the landscape. We still are, but we had, for lack of a better word, a moody week, exacerbated by a steady rain and cold that limited our ability to get outside and explore. Cabin fever and my head cold infected the cabana’s coziness.

A tour of Bariloche's chocolate museum lifted our spirits one afternoon and also gave us all an interesting history lesson.

A tour of Bariloche's chocolate museum lifted our spirits one afternoon and also gave us all an interesting history lesson.

Nothing terrible happened — no accidents or thefts — just minor disappointments, annoyances and parenting/sibling flareups. For example, a close call on a run (described on my running blog) made us dwell on worst-case scenarios and the extra steps we need to take to avoid them. Then there was a fiasco involving the Kindle, in which something that should be simple — shipping a defective Kindle back to Amazon.com and receiving a replacement — turned into a weeks-long abject lesson in navigating international customs, taxes and language barriers, which took more money, phone calls and cab rides than I care to relate. Morgan, with the help of his dad back home, eventually sorted it all out.

We experienced a higher-than-average number of travel planning snafus, such as when I screwed up and booked some wrong dates for New Zealand and couldn’t simply change them back. Then, more hours spent speaking and emailing in broken Spanish to make a reservation for lodging we really need next week, and finally getting to the bank to make a deposit to secure it (because a lot of these places require cash deposits, not credit cards called in) — and then discovering, as the rain fell and cab drove away, that the bank closed an hour earlier. Now we know that banks close at 1:00 on Thursdays.

And then there was the case of the bored, clever 8-year-old gremlin named Kyle who kept changing passwords and other settings on IPhones, IPods, laptops, in-room safes and any other device with a button and a silicon chip, in spite of repeated reminders and warnings, which led to technical difficulties and parental reprimands. And a laughably bad daytrip, which Colly described on her blog better than I ever could.

Kyle has grown very attached to this dog, which belongs to the groundskeeper. He loves playing with her, but then gets sad when he remembers our dog back home and realizes he'll have to say goodbye to this dog, too.

Kyle has grown very attached to this dog, which belongs to the groundskeeper. He loves playing with her, but then gets sad when he remembers our dog back home and realizes he'll have to say goodbye to this dog, too.

Meanwhile, I struggled to put more than two sentences together on this blog, briefly contemplated a pitch for a freelance writing assignment and then abandoned all efforts for several days, convinced that no one would ever care to find and read my long-winded prose since I’m apparently the only one in the over-saturated travel-writing universe who has decided not to Twitter.

All four of us, at various times, argued over how best to spend our days and how best to homeschool. We tossed and turned at night over long-term plans and got teary about missed friends and holiday traditions.

I’ve probably lost a lot of readers at this point who have no patience or sympathy for this sad sack. I hope you understand my main motive: to document some of the down days along with the good times, so that we don’t forget them when we wax nostalgic a year from now, and so anyone contemplating a similar journey gets a more complete picture.

Colly, bless her heart and mind, channeled our collective mood into her blog post linked above and created a pro/con list about long-term travel. Thinking about what I might list, I realized almost everything would be a “pro” but could also be a “con.” For example, “more family time” — definitely a positive, until you grow tired of finishing each others’ sentences all day long and yearn to socialize with others. “Flexible schedule and more free time” — wonderful, except on days when you struggle to prioritize and feel adrift. “Homeschooling” — so far so good, but when for whatever reason the process backfires, it’s a painful double-whammy: you’re a bad parent AND a bad teacher. “Experience new cultures and simpler ways of life” — always good, and I’m so grateful to see the world from outside of the Piedmont bubble, but feeling like a fish-out-of-water occasionally wears thin.

Halloween 2009: The kids were blue because they knew from friends' emails that they were missing parties, school costume parades and trick-or-treating. Argentina doesn't celebrate Halloween, but Morgan and I surprised the kids with some candy and we all had fun taste-testing the Latin American brands.

Halloween 2009: The kids were blue because they knew from friends' emails that they were missing parties, school costume parades and trick-or-treating. Argentina doesn't celebrate Halloween, but Morgan and I surprised the kids with some candy and we all had fun taste-testing the Latin American brands.

A couple of days ago, for example, I grew frustrated at the grocery store by my inability to decipher the strange brands and felt helpless to cook anything decent for dinner since I don’t have any spices or proper cookware. As I fruitlessly looked for frozen pie crust, canned pumpkin and condensed milk, I thought, Can it really be this hard to make a pumpkin pie? Yes, when you’re the only one in the country who craves pumpkin pie in October, it is!

But these lows don’t last. I knew this one wouldn’t, and it didn’t. Like in a marathon, as a favorite piece of advice I once heard goes, “There will be highs and there will be lows, and neither will last very long.” The same is true with long-term travel. Appreciate the highs and ride out the lows. Look up and around and think, We’re really doing this, we’re really seeing all these parts of the world together. Hallelujah!

Several factors pushed us out of last week’s funk: Morgan’s good advice and dark humor, a momentary lifting of the clouds for a fantastic day trip (details and photos in a post to come), the hatching of bird eggs outside our window, and — as is so often the case — running. If I have one piece of round-the-world travel advice to share this week, it’s this: Nurture a hobby as you go. It can be hiking, art history — anything that adds more meat to the skeleton of an itinerary, motivates you to explore more of the landscape, and makes you feel better when you get stalled in one point. Thanks to running we toured Buenos Aires on foot, and now we’re altering our itinerary to fit in some more races (such as the Nov. 14 Salomon K42 trail marathon in Villa La Angostura).

Cause for celebration: The eggs outside our window hatched! All week long we watched the mother guard her eggs and squawk at anything threatening. Yesterday, Morgan rescued a chick that fell down a drainpipe.

Cause for celebration: The eggs outside our window hatched! All week long we watched the mother guard her eggs and squawk at anything threatening. Yesterday, Morgan rescued a chick that fell down a drainpipe.

Running takes us places not found in any guidebooks. For example, I experienced a sense of accomplishment last week when I booked a room in the middle of Nowhere, New Zealand, following a string of travel-planning setbacks. We’re going there so Morgan and I can both run a trail race the weekend of January 16 — the first race we’ve ever registered for that requires runners to carry a whistle and safety blanket — and I think I even managed to find a babysitter (broadly defined) to watch the kids during the event.

The race ends on the West Coast of the South Island in a tiny hamlet called Blackball, at a roadhouse called the Blackball Hilton (the use of “Hilton” appears to be a long-running joke). We wanted to stay there since it’s the only place around, even though the most recent review on tripadvisor.com warns, “The rooms were tiny, dated and not to mention dirty. The room had layers of dust in it, dead flies and dirty carpets. The bathrooms were at the end of a corridor, and were also very dated and had flimsy locks.”

I placed an international call through Skype to the proprietor and had a lovely chat with a lady who seemed to come from Kiwi central casting, who punctuated each sentence with “right-oh!” and “no worries!” She told me she would be delighted to keep an eye on my kiddos during the morning of the race, and Colly and Kyle could have the run of the pub and help her manage the festivities as runners crossed the finish line. This was all oddly reassuring, not alarming, to me. Sometimes you just have to go with a gut feeling. I reserved the night before the race in the Blackball Hilton’s “family room” (who knows what that room classification means exactly), and I hung up very happy and grateful to know that we have a date in New Zealand two-and-a-half months from now in a backroad tavern with 100 other trail runners to keep us company.

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8 Comments

  1. Martha Howard, November 2, 2009:

    Hey Sar – hang in there. You sound a little exhausted. I know how your head colds hit you. Peaks and valleys… Before you know it you’ll be back on cloud 9 about all of this. C & K will have so much fun in the pub! Tell them Happy Halloween for me. They can be planning their costumes (I’ll help make them!) for next year. Love you guys soooo much -

    M.

  2. Kelly Valen, November 2, 2009:

    i really enjoyed this one. i should be working but i love reading your posts. if it were all positive, it wouldn’t be authentic or balanced. keep them coming! (meanwhile, that family’s bangkok adventure you copied me on was enough to turn any family off to that stop! hopefully, we won’t encounter those kinds of difficulties.)

    here’s my two cents: stay off twitter – it will ruin your experience! don’t beat yourself up about booking errors. i double booked two rather expensive houses on martha’s vineyard for the same week this summer and spent weeks agonizing and wondering if steve would divorce me. managed to get a few days’ rent back on one of them so a very costly error, but looking back? these things happen. you’re trying to give your family an amazing experience and covering so many bases at once. cut thyself some slack. you will laugh about all that very soon, i suspect.

    so glad things are going better

  3. Brendan, November 2, 2009:

    Back when I was just stepping out of the US, Siobhan told me that, from personal experience, it’s okay to have culture shock and to want to cry sometimes. It can be a pain navigating a foreign country just by oneself–four people (two of whom are kids) sounds crazy.

    Have you guys had the opportunity for any train travel yet? Train travel is awesome (and I imagine it is exponentially more awesome if you’re young) and it’s really relaxing to just watch the scenery for a day or two and not have to worry about anything besides making the occasional conversation with people in the dining car or which book you want to read next. Great fun.

    Hang in there!

  4. David W. Lavender, November 3, 2009:

    In “Waiting for Godot”, Valdimir famously observes that “habit is a great deadner”–and he’s right, of course. But the corollary is that the familiar can often comfort, can narcotize us to the point where we blithely embrace the proverbial ‘unexamined life.’ It sounds as if travel–in a way that must be both delightful and daunting–is daily forcing you to ask the sort of question (“Just what the heck am I doing here?”) that we so rarely ask ourselves while sleepwalking through our daily routines. I think that in the long run this has to be a good thing, no matter how challenging it may seem in the short run!

  5. angela, November 3, 2009:

    You are right on, Sarah. Travel is hard. Like you said, highs and lows. I hope this week brings you guys some better weather and a little time apart! We have been visiting friends this week, and it was such a refreshing change from our travels. Take care.

  6. Cheryl, November 3, 2009:

    Gosh David, that was exactly what I was going to write!! ..uhm ..well sorta something along those lines..lol…. It is true. I know from my travels, it’s the times that I encounter problems and challenges that always lead to the most significant periods of insight. I’m glad that you can return to running to relax in the familiar and see the world in an “off the beaten path” sort of way. Just be careful not to let it suck you in too much…least you spend too much of your trip in a state of “constantly preparing” for an event down the road..instead of being present for what is happening around you now. Love and miss you guys :)

  7. Garett, November 3, 2009:

    Your stay at the Blackball Hilton sounds like a real winner. I wish we could be there, too! Also, it’s great to know that Morgan is out running again!

    I liked the marathon-related quote. Another one of my faves has been: “It never always gets worse.”

    We think about your family every day. Please keep up the great blog posts!

    - Holly, Garett & Sawyer

  8. Kia, November 14, 2009:

    For some reason this made me get a little teary. It’s so beautiful, and beautifully written. I love your descriptions of frustrations and down moments. Reading this makes me envious (and almost sad) that our boys aren’t getting this amazing experience. Think of your kids working in the tavern….how great is that?

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