w r i n k l e d
ADVENTURES IN TRAVEL, WRITING AND AGING GRACEFULLY
ADVENTURES IN TRAVEL, WRITING AND AGING GRACEFULLY
During our tour of Halong Bay, we met a young English woman who had, for the last several years, been stationed around the world as part of Unicef's urgent response team. When I asked about her job, she confessed that for many of her co-workers, working for Unicef was more a lifestyle choice than a career option. After a high stakes placement, they would return to "real life" unable to tolerate the routine of the every day. They had, for lack of a better explanation, become adrenaline junkies, and nothing, but the next disaster would do.
I would never equate our months of travel to doing something as noble as serving the world as a Unicef employee, but I can relate to their feeling of displacement as they struggle to return to "normal life". For 10 months not a day passed where we didn't taste, do, see or experience something for the first time. We were challenged in ways we'd never anticipated, made excited, uncomfortable, humbled, awed and yet, three weeks back and we are often met with the same refrain: "It's like you never left!"
I walk the miracle that is Whole Foods filling my cart with a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables that can only be found in the U.S. The kids run through the aisles of the megamart deliriously grabbing Maple syrup, Goldfish crackers, toaster waffles, Cheerios - all of the foods they missed most during our travels. I re-buy the same bedside lamp, the multicolored cord the only variation. We spend a fortune on new dinnerware, linens, laundry baskets, bathmats, ironing board, spices for the pantry, meticulously repurchasing the things we worked so hard to purge; the path to Target so familiar I drive it as if sleepwalking. When I unpack a stack of boxes loaded with garlic presses and melon ballers, silicon spatulas and Japanese boning knives, I can't help but remember how we'd opened the drawer in countless Airbnb kitchens to make do with three spoons and one fork. We fit all of our new crap, each item the approximate heft of an anchor, into our rented townhouse just two blocks from our old place. The kids run with the same neighbors. The post office is familiar. Tomorrow Chris leaves for his first business trip. It is awful and wonderful and lonely and easy. I wake up at 3AM for my nightly anxiety attack, afraid that the past 10 months was just a dream, that nothing has changed and I've returned, as my mother gratefully sighs, unscathed.
When I tell Elaine I'm depressed, she laughs and says, "Well of course you are! Who doesn't want to be on vacation forever? Now it's back to real life, girl!" I wince. How do I explain that it wasn't just a "vacation", (a real vacation would have been much, much easier) and that the "real life" I once lived is something I'm stridently trying to avoid? Of course I'm happy to see family and friends, but, at the same time, I feel estranged. When I can't join the ladies for a blow out celebration weekend of shopping and a luxury hotel stay, it's not just finances that restrict me.
Chris and I are already scheming: a late summer trip to the East Coast, Winter Break in Brazil and Argentina, next summer in Madagascar. In the meanwhile, we struggle to continue to prioritize family and travel in a culture that measures success and ambition by the size of one's work title, to remain steadfast and decidedly open in an over-scheduled society, and to master the art of living with less in a community that prizes material goods. It's one thing to make changes away from home, quite another to resist the habits of a well-worn path.
Finally, I couldn't close what is my second to last entry without noting the final days of our trip. Five glorious days in nowheresville Costa Rica just north of the Osa Peninsula - a true mountaintop retreat in the heart of the jungle. It already feels like a million years ago. Nothing to do but read, write, meditate and stroll the dusty roads past rugged fields of milky cows and explore the deserted beaches. It could have easily been mistaken for a dream, except it wasn't.
The kids take in the morning view from the outdoor gym.
Pura Vida Eco"Lodge" was another last minute booking - a tiny mountain jungle retreat outside of sleepy Ojochal. A long drive up a steep, rutted, dirt road brought us to this little house surrounded by wildlife, birds, mooing cows and gorgeous views. The living was a rustic, open air, no internet, no paper down the toilet, solar everything, lug your own trash kind of place. And nothing to do but read, write, cook, eat, play games, yoga and take a dip in the little pool. A great time spent reflecting on the trip with my favorite people.
When I see pictures of howler monkeys walking around a terrace, my immediate response is not "Oh cool!" Instead my mind jumps to rabies, feces and nits. In fact, after Bali, Marrakesh and Chiang Mai, I was pretty over the whole indoor-outdoor living thing, but we took the chance on Pura Vida. Yes, we came home covered in mosquito bites and had to check for scorpions and snakes before sitting on the furniture, but we fell asleep to the chirp of night time insects and woke to the chattering of birds. And got to breakfast overlooking magnificent views.
Our town consisted of a little school and this supermarket stocked with a few dusty shelves of canned corn, mushy avocados and a sweaty cooler of pink hot dogs (we ended up eating a lot of rice, beans and plantains). If you needed gasoline, a bank or fresh milk, you had to drive several miles to the next town. This was certainly the sleepiest place we visited.
The ceviche stand at the edge of town.
Yes, Costa Rica has some fancy resorts, but outside the main tourist drags, the living is quite modest. Chris had a lot of trouble finding a birding guide willing to take him and Isoo out on a trip. When Chris was finally able to locate one, the guide was very late. Chris would have been peeved if Caesar hadn't ridden up on a rickety bike, covered in sweat and panting as he tried to make his way up the hill. It never dawned on us that many of the locals in the area did not own a car. Caesar traveled from several towns over just to meet them and then, after a long day stomping through rivers and fields, had to peddle his way back home. They didn't see many birds that morning, but what they did find was a renewed appreciation for the little (and not so little) things we so often take for granted.
Above left - A typical CR house, one leaning room topped with a corrugated metal roof (though ironically almost all are capped with a satellite dish). Above right - You know when you're surrounded by nature when the public trash bins are housed in animal proof cages.
Our daily traffic jam. Brahman cattle are the most common in Costa Rica. While not as meaty as the cattle found in the U.S., they have more sweat glands, and big, flapping, fan-like ears making them better equipped to withstand the Costa Rican heat.
In addition to exploring the nearby towns, we drove a couple of hours to Quepos to visit Manuel Antonio National Park. We hiked past sloths, monkeys, various birds, frogs and insects and then cooled off with a swim at the beach. We spent so long there that the tide came in and took with it our clothes, towels and bags making for a soggy ride home.
But my favorite beach was the one just a few minutes drive from our house. During nesting season, the beach is littered with sea turtles creeping up the coastline to lay their eggs, but on the day we visited, the only things we encountered were giant bleached fallen trees. It was our own private island.
Yes, I'm doing it - a sunset photo to mark the end of our trip. The view from our deck on our final night before returning home. Sigh,