Monday, June 4, 2007

The Halfway Point

It's official. We've passed the halfway point of our trip. We now have a little less ahead of us than behind us. So it seemed like a good opportunity to take stock and see where we are at. And bear with me. This will probably be a bit stream-of-conscious writing as I'm still absorbing and interpreting all our experiences. Here, in no particular order, are a few observations I've made looking back at our travels so far.

* One of the many reasons I'm lucky to travel with Tyler is that he's got a great sense of direction. Almost always, when we step out of a doorway, I'm totally perplexed about which direction we should go and where we are in relation to anything, but he can confidently set off in the right direction. After about six weeks (I am a bit stubborn, you can see), I stopped doubting him and knew to trust what he said. (One thing that's lucky for me about travelling is an ability to sleep just about anywhere--a bumpy bus, train, car, hostel room with a beeping smoke detector outside the door. It makes long journeys pass much more quickly. Unfortunately, night buses and long trips don't do any favors for Tyler.)

* I think we're still working on finding the balance with how to deal with situations when people want to sell us stuff--goods or services. Especially since arriving in Vietnam and India, we've seen far too often people acting very rude and aggressive--usually unnecessarily. While we try to act with compassion and humanity (these are people just trying to make a living), we probably have at times also been taken advantage of.

* We very much have a love/hate relationship with Lonely Planet travel guides. While the times we haven't had guides or have had another kind of guide have been worse, we definitely get frustrated by it more often then we are happy with it. They have a definite bias; once you know what that is, it's better. But it's also been frustrating when some of our favorite experiences and places haven't even received a mention.

* People worry about a lot of things when considering travel--mugging, terrorist activity, identify theft, other random violence--but I feel confident saying that the State Department is right in saying that the most dangerous thing is probably being on the road. Driving in any non-Western country feels a bit like being on a roller coaster, with stoplights and lanes optional and safety precautions (guardrails, for example) non-existent. We haven't seen any bad accidents so far, and I think that local people have a mutual understanding about their own rules of the road, but I think it's one of those cases about people worrying less about the things that are probably the most dangerous.

* The things I ponder have really varied from place to place. In South America, where it was harder travel (language barriers, heat, threat of pickpocketers, etc.) I thought a lot less about myself and my life and more about what the people in these countries--who have less materially--still have things to admire and aspire to. Closeknit families and community, public places that are used and alive, cultures that are intact versus those that are maintained for tourist dollars. But once we got to New Zealand and Tasmania, I had the realization that when you travel, you bring yourself along. We didn't go on this trip to escape things or ourselves--rather to enrich our lives--but travelling brings out new and better parts of me and sometimes exacerbates things that I am much better at keeping under wraps under a more routine day-to-day life. For example, I've found to my pleasant surprise that I'm handling a higher degree of chaos and uncertainty better than I could have imagined. It doesn't bother me even after 2 1/2 months to be living from a suitcase, being on the move where I can be a bit of a homebody at times. But I can also see times when some of my lesser qualities (bossiness and stubbornness, especially) come out and rear their ugly heads, particularly when we're tired, hot, hungry and/or just arrived in a new town. I think some of this was just more evident when we didn't have a lot of the same challenges as you do in less developed countries.

* Travel has led to great conversations about everything from squatting policies and art and life with Tyler that just don't happen as frequently when we have work and bills and chores and such.

* It's surprising how many people want pizza and french fries and familiar food while on the road. Here in Ladakh, every restaurant serves Indian, Continental, Israeli, Mexican, wood-fired pizzas, Tibetan....and none actually serve Ladakhi.

* While some have laughed at our trip as being a "whistle-stop tour of the world," and while it's true we always wish we had twice as much time everywhere as we do, the way we structured our trip has been working well for us so far. After about five weeks, I think we tend to be ready to tackle something new. This is probably in part because we know our time is limited, and we knew we'd never get to see or do verything in any one country that we would with more time, but it will help us see what we want to come back and do or focus on.

A month ago, the idea of our travels concluding really bothered me. We were getting into our own groove of travel, feeling more worldly, ready for motorbikes in Vietnam, 22-hour bus rides, strange foods, knowing when to start taking Cipro, and otherwise feeling like we could take care of ourselves anywhere in the world. Lately, though, my mindset is changing a bit. Knowing we have as much ahead of us as behind us is exciting but also daunting. I've also finally felt my first pangs of missing home, family, summer in Seattle, and friends. And I'm also feeling more excited about life after the trip, which will just be an adventure of a different kind.

I also have to be honest and forewarn people that Tyler and I are likely to be totally obnoxious upon our return, with our, "Remember in Bolivia when..." and "Doesn't that remind you of that time in Tassie...". We've probably totally forgotten how to have a conversation that isn't about travel with other travellers. But I'm sure we'll re-learn quickly enough!

1 comment:

The General said...

For the record, when Sarah refers to "squatting policies" she's talking about homeless people living in abandoned houses... not using the bathroom in 3rd world countries.

Beyond that, I agree with her completely!