On the last evening of the last month of our four month adventure, I roll glass jars of homemade preserves in what’s left of my clean pants and shirts and stuff them in my backpack with the satisfaction of a would-be fruit smuggler. I smile as I tuck each jar in its own pant leg. They are filled with a bevy of exotic ingredients like star fruit and guava and hand made chocolate – all reminders of a wonderful month in the bountiful land of Costa Rica. As I stuff the remaining jar of mango chutney in and buckle the clips on my pack, I exhale with such finality that it comes out as a wayward sigh. It’s a sigh that describes my mindset better than words probably could. It’s a sigh of happy endings that says, “it was a good, good adventure, and I’m ready to return home to family, friends, and familiar places”. It’s a sigh of satisfaction and content, wrapped in a transparent parchment of sadness; three years of saving, four months of spending, a great adventure around the world coming to an end.
I thought I would catch the travel bug in a bad, bad way – a way that would cause me to dread going back to the routine nine to five, working for the weekend life in the city. I thought I would feel sick to my stomach at the prospect of going from a hot, humid land of perpetual summer to a country of ice and snow. In reality though, I’m returning feeling full of gratitude for the life I have and lofty aspirations to make it even better. Call them goals, New Year’s resolutions, fresh starts. Call these aspirations what you will. To write them down has me feeling apprehensive, as if someone will hold me to them or point a finger when I’m clearly not living up to my newly self-professed ambitions. But as I set out a warm jacket, socks, and pants (pants!), in anticipation of a chilly homecoming in Calgary, I resolve that this is the time to be brave.
- Be more fashion adventurous. From day one, Paris had me feeling dowdy, under dressed, and boring in terms of my day-to-day accoutrement. Women sped around the city on mopeds, beautifully patterned scarves waving in their wake, looking as if they’d just stepped off the cover of Vogue. Heels, red lipstick, a beautiful handbag nestled in the crook of her arm. As cliché as it sounds, the French are just so chic. It didn’t help that I brought with me a rather uninspiring assortment of practical, quick dry lightweight items of grey and black that could also probably pass as workout wear. The rod in my closet at home is bowed in the middle with the weight of all my clothes, the dresser drawers threatening not to close each time I do laundry, shoes are stuffed in every spare crevice and nook – some hidden on Tyler’s side where he’s sure not to look. Despite this, I still cycle through the same five or six outfits week after week. Every once in a while, I’ll wake up with a spark of creativity and put on something a little crazy – maybe toss my hair around in a different way. Inevitably though, I’ll chicken out and straighten my hair and quickly change out of my “radical” outfit before rushing out the door. What was I thinking!? This is a pre-emptive apology to any friends, colleagues, or acquaintances that I may offend by my future fashion choices which are hopefully more chic than shameful.
- Hablo Espanol. I am completely inspired by the countless people we’ve come across that speak two, three, four (or more) languages. Throughout this trip, language barriers have been an ongoing source of learning, humour, embarrassment, and stress. I can’t count the number of times I’ve attempted to begin a basic meal order in Spanish only to have the server babble back something completely unexpected and incomprehensible to my ears. Embarrassed at my own ignorance I will either ask, “Despacio por favor” (slower please), or if I really don’t have a hope of understanding, “No entiendo, habla ingles?” (I don’t understand, do you speak English?). After such incidents, Tyler and I will furiously thumb through our ill equipped phrasebook trying to figure out what he or she just said. While our phrasebook is well thumbed and dog-eared with use, I still find myself repeating the phrase “no hablo espanol” far too often. I hope to make the acquaintance of the wise and multilingual Rosetta Stone when I return.
- Stress less. Stressful situations will arise while travelling. It’s not a matter of if things will go wrong, but when. And when things head south and stress levels fly north, I’ve learned that I can certainly work on how I handle myself. As we drove from the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica yesterday afternoon, we resolved to avoid the city centre of San Jose on our way to the airport. No one has said good things about this city – in fact, it’s been a common theme amongst locals and travellers alike to “avoid it like the plague”. Despite best efforts to drive around San Jose rather than through it, we soon found ourselves in a city stew of pedestrians, honking vehicles, and confusing traffic directives (what do you do when there’s a green light overhead and a stop sign to your right??). “Lock the doors!” I hissed at Tyler as a shirtless vagrant approached the driver’s side with a menacing toothless smile. My stress level continued to rise as I tried to man a map, phone GPS, ipod, and look out for helpful road signs while Tyler maneuvered around pedestrians, stray dogs, pot holes, and psychotic drivers. Instead of calmly suggesting that we pull over and attempt to pinpoint our locale, I literally pounded my fists into the map like a petulant child and wailed, “I have no idea where we are!” Sometimes I wish I could videotape myself so I can see how ridiculous I look. Other times, I’m so ashamed that I can barely bring myself to relive the situation in my mind. I’m forever thankful for Tyler, my travel partner. Not only does he forgive me for such outbursts with surprising haste, he’s also able to lighten the mood and ensure that we can continue on our way in relative peace and tranquility. In the meantime, this is my vow to work on how I handle stressful situations so that I don’t come off as a moaning crybaby.
- Home is where the heart is. If there’s one thing Tyler and I have both learned from travelling it’s that the people in our lives are important to us. Even to my ears this sounds like mushy love stuff, but it’s true. Four months away is not a long time to be gone, but it’s been long enough to reinforce the fact that Christmas and birthdays and Thanksgiving and Halloween, even day to day interactions like texting my sisters or gossiping with coworkers, they are all things that make my world turn. People would probably say I’m not the most social person. Not the most talkative at the lunch table. Not the first one to initiate weekend plans or telephone conversations. But I’m learning that sharing day to day experiences with other people is part of what makes life fun and interesting and enjoyable. It’s what makes good stories for years to come and what keeps us looking forward to the days and weeks ahead. I hope that I can take a piece of the love for home and family that I have in this moment and carry it with me so as to appreciate every occasion that brings us together.
- Life is good. One last notable thing I will bring home with me is gratitude. I like my life. I like that I have underground heated parking. I like my job. I like the people I work with. I like that I am within driving distance to everyone I love. I like my cat. I like my car. I love my husband (I’m also in love with him). My bed is comfortable and warm and has a perfect indent where I sleep. I have good friends that are fun and happy and hilarious and kind. I have good family. I like that the water pressure and temperature in my shower is always consistent. I love peanut butter toast with loose-leaf tea on Saturday mornings. I appreciate the distinct four seasons of the country I live in. I have sushi within walking distance from where I live and where I work. I enjoy a multitude of conveniences at my fingertips. I am grateful for all of these silly and serious things and so much more. I’m happy to be returning to my good life and excited to start a new year.
Each day has taught me something new about myself and the world around me. Travelling has not made me feel more worldly. If anything, it’s caused me to realize how little I know, how big this world is, and how much there is to learn and see and do. I’m not sure where the blog will go from here, but thank you, thank you, thank you (a hundred times thank you) for following along on this adventure. Bon voyage!