When It Rains…
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.