Thursday, March 28, 2019

Six Months on the Road

I have officially been outside the U.S. for more than six months now. My "departure anniversary" date was actually on March 11, which happened to be my first full day on Rapa Nui. Easter Island was fantastic!! But, after more than four months of travel through Central America, which I wrote about sporadically and summarized financially in a blog post; then one month of travel through Colombia; then two weeks of cruising around the southern tip of South America with my family (my husband Greg plus my mom and my stepdad); it was time to press the pause button.
Santiago and the Andes mountains viewed from an aerial tram.
My trip has truly been an excellent adventure so far and thankfully devoid of any major issues. After spending a few weeks exploring central Mexico, I traveled overland through all seven countries in Central America then flew to Medellin, Colombia and traveled overland for four weeks through the western part of the country to Bogota. From there I flew to Buenos Aires, Argentina to meet up with my family for the cruise. Eighteen days later they flew home from Santiago, Chile and I flew to Easter Island. Five nights later, I was back in Santiago without a plan for onward travel.
Panorama of Rano Raraku and Ahu Tongariki at sunrise. A truly spectacular experience!
Thirteen days later I'm still in Santiago. After a few nights in a hostel dorm in the Barrio Italia area, where I made some new friends and had fun socializing, I knew that I needed to find somewhere more quiet to rest, relax and figure out where to go next. I also needed time for a sort of "personal wellness check" because, when you travel the way I have for this long, it starts to wear on you mentally, physically, and emotionally.
Glacier-watching from the ship on the way down to Ushuaia.
For example, I have lost almost 20 pounds since I left the U.S. last September. Trust me, this is a good thing, and is a result of a number of factors: I walk (and hike) more than I did in Portland; I have to pull and lift my suitcase (which weighs 44 lbs) on a regular basis plus I'm carrying a backpack with my Chromebook and other most valuable items (total weight approximately 9 lbs) AND a day bag with water, snacks, sunscreen, etc.; I don't drink nearly as much alcohol as I used to, especially beer, nor do I eat as much (usually a very light breakfast, a larger meal for lunch, and a snack for dinner). In case you've cruised before and are wondering, I did very much enjoy the wonderful food on the ship and never worried about what I ate but was conscious of not overeating just because I had 24-hour access to plentiful, delicious, free food. I only gained about three pounds during the two-week cruise and have already lost it because of the intense heat and miles of walking I did on Easter Island as well as in Santiago.
Me on Cerro San Cristobal in Santiago.
Up until now, while there have certainly been times I felt lonely, it never lasted very long because I was always on the go, meeting new people in the hostels, researching and exploring new places, and just soaking up the rich culture of Latin America. Some days were more challenging than others, not so much because I was alone but because I faced a daunting 12 hours of travel by bus or because of illness. Truthfully, the vast majority of the time I am much happier traveling by myself because then I don't have to worry about someone else. I get to do what I want to do when I want to do it without considering someone else's opinions, needs, likes and dislikes, etc. I only have to look out for myself.
Facing my fears (claustrophobia and acrophobia) at Ana Te Pahu on Easter Island.
I had to switch gears completely when I met up with my family in Buenos Aires. Suddenly I had to be conscious of other people's wants and needs, warn them of the safety hazards and other dangers of traveling down here, and act as a translator and tour guide. While the cruise didn't go exactly as planned due to two missed port calls caused by bad weather, we still had a great vacation overall. We spent some quality time together, saw some amazing scenery, and I definitely enjoyed not having to cook, clean, share a bedroom with total strangers, or figure out what to do or where to go every single day. And yet, it still left me exhausted and even a bit sad, because I know I won't see my family again for many more months.
Ronnie, Greg, me and my mom at the Palacio de La Moneda in Santiago.
After a busy five days exploring Easter Island on my own and insufficient wifi to do any trip research or planning, I was also starting to feel stressed. The thought of having to decide where to go next, how to get there, where to stay, how much it should cost, etc. truly seemed overwhelming (because it is, but normally I don't mind and consider it part of the challenge of this type of travel). The distances down here are sooo much greater than in Central America. Plus I know I can't go everywhere and see every single place I've ever read about in South America; it's daunting to figure out how to narrow down the list.
Greg and I with a map of South America during one of
the formal nights on the cruise. Where do I go next?!?!
After a few days of unsuccessful attempts to find the "right" place to stay, I ended up rooming with a family in one of the oldest neighborhoods (Nunoa) in Santiago. I found them on Airbnb. Their house was built in the 1920's and has been mostly remodeled; it is large by Chilean standards. The family was very friendly - a husband (architect), wife (preschool teacher), 15-year-old son, plus a housekeeper who comes every weekday to cook and clean and treated me like her daughter. None of them speak any English at all, only Spanish. My small private bedroom had a full-size bed, a desk, plenty of storage for my belongings, and even a mini-fridge. I thought it was a great deal at $115 total for seven nights (after several discounts). Unfortunately, a new apartment building was under construction next door and there was constant loud noise from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Not the peace and quiet I was hoping for.
My bedroom at my first Airbnb in Santiago.
While I did accomplish some things on my To Do list, I couldn't concentrate long enough to do much research or trip planning. Then I ended up having a horrible migraine for almost 48 hours over the weekend, which completely put me out of commission. Thankfully, my friend Jen happened to reach out to me at just the right moment and offered me her $100 Airbnb credit that was about to expire. With that in hand, I decided to stay in Santiago one more week, but "upgraded" to a 24th-floor one-bedroom apartment near the Santa Isabel metro station. I have the place ALL TO MYSELF and it's absolutely perfect for me.
The view from my current Airbnb, but I have a panic attack if I go out on the balcony.
That's where I'm writing this post from now. It only took a day or so after "moving in" here to finally feel rested and more relaxed. I have made significant progress on my travel planning and tomorrow I will take the day off to go to Valparaiso. Then I have Saturday and Sunday to enjoy in Santiago before I take the bus to Mendoza, Argentina on Monday. It's fall down here and therefore harvest time. I think the vineyards will be a good spot to chill and drink wine for a few days.🍷

So THANK YOU, Jen, and thank you to my family and friends who continue to support me and cheer me on from afar. There's almost always a point during long-term travel when you "hit a wall" as my friend Terri-Lynn just wrote about on her blog yesterday. The important thing is to recognize it and take as much time as needed to deal with it. And then get yourself together and hit the road again!

Friday, March 22, 2019

A Source of Inspiration

One of the things I have discovered about myself as a writer is that there are a certain experiences or triggers that inspire me to write immediately. No matter where I'm at or what I'm doing I have to stop and jot down at least a few notes so hopefully I can expound on the idea sooner than later. Sometimes, like now, if I happen to already be sitting at a desk with my laptop at the ready, then I can get it all down without delay.

What is today's source of inspiration? I received an email this morning from containing a link to an article that was just published in The New York Times Magazine. Written by Sam Anderson, the article is an 8,000 word profile of the man behind the very successful Rick Steves' Europe empire and, as someone who has ascribed to the "back door" way of travel since discovering Steves' guidebooks more than 20 years ago, I immediately clicked the link and read the story.

It is an excellent piece of journalism that reveals some interesting personal details about someone whom I already know a lot about. You see, even though I have never met him personally, I have not only read every book that Rick Steves has ever published, but I have used his guidebooks to research and plan every trip I've ever taken to Europe as an adult, going all the way back to 1998. If you use the search field on the upper right side of this blog and type in "Rick Steves" you will find dozens of posts where I have referenced his guidebooks, website, travel accessories, free audio guides, etc. which have all been invaluable during my travels.

The magazine article refers to Steves' hard-core fans as "Rickniks." I have never thought of myself this way; I'm just someone who has the same ideas about travel as Steves does. An interesting fact:  In the early 2000's, while I was a flight attendant for Delta Air Lines and was based in New York City, I was considering a move to the Pacific Northwest. I spent a couple of weeks looking at real estate in Portland, Ore.; Seattle, Wash.; and many of the smaller cities in that region. Since I was in the area, I also went to Rick Steves' headquarters in Edmonds, Wash. out of curiosity but also to submit my resume, in person, for a job as a tour guide. Nothing ever came of it, but it was fun to entertain the thought of being part of his team and another way to make a living doing something I love.

It's not just Rick Steves' guidebooks that inspired and informed some of my first travels outside of the United States; it's his travel philosophy. That's what this magazine article articulates so well; it truly captures the man's unquenchable desire to travel and to encourage people, particularly those born in the U.S., to expand their cultural horizons. After one long paragraph describing how Steves is "absolutely American," Anderson writes this:

And yet: Rick Steves desperately wants you to leave America. The tiniest exposure to the outside world, he believes, will change your entire life. Travel, Steves likes to say, “wallops your ethnocentricity” and “carbonates your experience” and “rearranges your cultural furniture.” Like sealed windows on a hot day, a nation’s borders can be stultifying. Steves wants to crack them open, to let humanity’s breezes circulate. The more rootedly American you are, the more Rick Steves wants this for you. If you have never had a passport, if you are afraid of the world, if your family would prefer to vacation exclusively at Walt Disney World, if you worry that foreigners are rude and predatory and prone to violence or at least that their food will give you diarrhea, then Steves wants you — especially you — to go to Europe. Then he wants you to go beyond. (For a majority of his audience, Steves says, “Europe is the wading pool for world exploration.”)

This is exactly what I have tried to convey to anyone who will listen to me over the past 20+ years; that traveling to another country where everything is foreign to you: language, food, religion, social customs, may be intimidating or even scary for some, but it is the best way to expand your knowledge and understanding of the world and its' peoples, and to maybe be a little less inclined to think that the United States, as great as it is, is superior to everywhere (and everyone) else on this planet.

Travel, to Steves, is not some frivolous luxury — it is an engine for improving humankind, for connecting people and removing their prejudices, for knocking distant cultures together to make unlikely sparks of joy and insight.

As of today, I have traveled to 83 of the 195 countries, 61 dependencies, and six disputed territories in the world. I personally prefer to think of England, Ireland, and Scotland as three separate countries given their distinct differences and because I have spent the equivalent of several months traveling around all three, but I only count them as one (United Kingdom) to be as accurate as possible. The point is that I have seen and experienced a lot, and have met thousands of interesting and inspiring people all over the world. My life is richer because of it and, I like to think that, by sharing my travels on social media and by writing about them on this blog for the past 10 years, I have also played a role in encouraging others to go beyond their comfort zone or at least to learn more about the rich history and diversity of people on this planet.

If you want to know a bit more about the man and the philosophy that has inspired and guided much of my travels, especially in Europe, then I encourage you to read the article in its entirety here:

And yes, in case you are wondering, I also kept handwritten journals of my first trips to Europe long before I started this blog. I still have them and love to reread them occasionally as they remind me of how clueless about the world I was as a typical American young adult.