Three Things I Miss and Three Things I Don’t


1. Jeff
Today, Jeff started work in his lab at Duke. For the first time in a year, we’re not together all day, every day. You think that would be enough togetherness to drive anyone insane and make them long for time to themselves, but really, we have a damn good time together, and I miss him. The fact that I’m home completely alone probably doesn’t help. At least back in DC, I had my “work spouse” Jessica to chat with all day long.

2. Walking
During our travels, we pretty much walked everywhere. We walked to the grocery and to restaurants. We walked to the store. We walked to the beach. We walked through town. We walked up mountains. We walked and walked and walked. I wish I’d taken a pedometer to determine how far we walked each day because it was a lot. Now, we drive. It’s too far to walk most places, the road’s aren’t pedestrian friendly, and well, it’s just not what you do. Sure, you can go for a walk, but walking as a mode of transport is not common. We’re looking to buy a house in an area where our feet would be our main mode of getting around, but right now, the car is what we use.

3. Summer
Fall was nice at first. The crisp smell in the air, the crunch of leaves on the ground, the splendor of trees in full color. I enjoyed putting on a sweater, and not sweating while I slept. But okay, that was enough. I’m done, especially now that we’ve changed the clocks, and it gets dark so early. Winter is on its way, and I, for one, am not a fan. I want summer back.


1. The Clothes in My Backpack
The five tops and five bottoms I took with me on the trip are still in Seattle, and for all I care they can stay there forever. I love having jeans again, enough underwear to not have to do laundry every week, and clothes that actually look good together. It’s a bit overwhelming though, and I have to admit that rather than decide between the many items I have, I sometimes just put back on what I wore the day before (though I do change underwear, don’t you worry). If I could re-wear clothes in stinky, sweaty developing nations, then I can do it in clean, clean America.

2. Dirty Bathrooms
I walk into public bathrooms here and marvel at the cleanliness. There’s toilet paper, soap and running water, hand towels or dryers! Though before I’m sure I found them a bit sketchy, I’m now quite certain I could probably eat from the floors. Private bathrooms are simply phenomenal. The soap smells nice! The showers don’t require shoes! The toilets flush! We are spoiled I tell you.

3. Eating Out
When you go on vacation, one of the highlights is getting to eat out the entire trip. When you go on vacation for a year, however, that gets old really, really quickly. You get really tired of sitting at a restaurant, only getting to eat what’s on the menu, waiting for food, paying the bill, etc. You sometimes want nothing more than to open your refrigerator, pull out your favorite foods, and home cook yourself up something delicious. In South America, a lot of hostels had kitchens, and we took advantage. In Africa, these kitchens disappeared after we left South Africa, and they were pretty much non-existent in budget accommodations in Asia. Now that we have a kitchen back, we don’t want to leave it for a restaurant. I’d rather cook.

***This post also appears on Spargel. I’ll be writing about every day life over there, but I’ll cross-post entries that relate to our trip here on Lives of Wander.

Lives of Wander Phase II

Don’t you just hate it when a website disappears or without warning no new posts appear? We do. I get attached. I then feel abandoned. But have no fear, we won’t be doing the same to you. Now that we’re back, we’re not going to have day in and day out travel tales to tell, but that doesn’t mean we have nothing to share. Lives of Wander will not fade gently into that good night.

First of all, we still have some information to share. I need to finish up our country summaries from Asia. I also need to finish our budget summaries and then write a post on the final numbers. We’ll probably throw up a review of some of the gear we took. We might do a few more “Top Ten” type lists. We’re also happy to answer any questions you readers might have. If there’s something you want to know that we haven’t answered or addressed, leave your question in the comments and we’ll get to it.

But what will happen once we’ve tied up all the lose ends? Well, we didn’t take 19,677 photos just for our own viewing pleasure. No, friends, we took them to share with you. And so far, we’ve only shared through our posts a tiny, tiny fraction of them. So over the next year, we plan to dig through the photos and share some of our favorites with you. Our idea is that we’ll post photos that correspond to where we were at the same time last year. We’ll throw up the photo and then underneath tell the “story” of that photo. Jeff seems to think that we can manage to do one a day (weekdays only); I think he fell off his rocker somewhere along the way this past year, and I’m thinking three posts a week is more realistic. You’ll have to just check back frequently to see what happens.

If that’s not enough and you just can’t bear to live without knowing what it is that we’re up to now, don’t worry. Over the next few weeks, I’ll be reviving Spargel, the personal blog I’ve kept since 2003. Our adventures in moving to NC, my attempts at being a full-time writer, and the many rants and raves that you long time readers must be missing by now, will be documented in full color. So dust off the old bookmark or add a new one and come by and say hello. We’re not disappearing on you, so please don’t go disappearing on us. We’re all friends now, and the door’s always open.

Homeward Bound!

363 days ago, we sat in the Houston Airport and shared with you all this post. We were excited, nervous and anxious about the year ahead. Today,we share with you the same image of us in the Seoul Airport, waiting to go home.

All those things we were so anxious about are now memories. It’s been more exciting than we could possibly have imagined. It’s been a magnificent year, but now, we are ready to come home! See you all very soon!

Our Stories Might Not Be the Same, But They’re All Worth Telling

In a year of traveling around the world, we’ve met a lot of people, many of whom are fellow travelers. We’ve found the majority of them to be fun, interesting people. We’ve shared some good times with them and, in some cases, exchanged info in the hopes of one day meeting up again. But every once in a while, you meet a bad egg. There’s lots of things that can spoil a person in my opinion, but there’s one thing, above all, that I can’t stand: a superiority complex. Just a tad too often for my tastes I find that long-term travelers develop this notion that they are somehow superior to the family and friends they left back at home.

To paraphrase them: “I’m out seeing the world. Every day is a challenge. I’m learning so much, doing so much, growing so much. They’re all just sitting at home, their lives the same today as they were yesterday as they will be tomorrow. They’re not changing at all.” To my never-ending amusement, I usually hear this sentiment uttered by a person sitting at a hostel watching television and drinking beer.

Most of the time I don’t waste my breath with such people, but that doesn’t mean I don’t want to tell them off. Yes, Jeff and I have had an amazing year. Yes, we have learned all kinds of things—about places, about people, about ourselves. We’ve challenged ourselves physically and emotionally. We’ve grown. But so have the people we left at home.

Sometimes when we answer people who ask how long we’ve been traveling, we’re told that we’re “brave.” I usually just smile and feel awkward. We could probably just as easy be called “selfish” for saying screw it to everyone and everything and disappearing into the world, or “stupid” for giving up good jobs just as the economy crashed. We obviously don’t think it was selfish or stupid, but we also don’t think it was brave.

Brave, I’d say, is choosing to bring a new life into the world, something many of our friends and family have done this year. Brave is going back to school in your thirties to completely change careers. Brave is saying that your dream job is no longer going to be just a dream. Brave is giving up a job you love and a salary you very much like to stay at home with the kids you love more. Brave is giving everything you have to a relationship but knowing when enough is enough. Brave is promising to spend the rest of your life with the person you love.

No, our friends’ and families’ lives have been anything but boring, static. They have completed degrees and taken first jobs. They have moved to new cities, and they have bought homes. They’ve been promoted at jobs they love and left jobs they didn’t like. They have said, “I will” to the question of “Will you marry me?” and “I do” to the question of “Do you take?” They have become moms and dads, aunts and uncles, grandmas and grandpas. They too have traveled, some acquiring a passport for the first time, some going to places that we dream of one day visiting. They have grown and changed and been challenged, just as we have.

When our plane lands back in the States and we again get to see our family and friends, I hope that they ask about our trip. I hope that they want to hear about our year. But I also hope that they will tell us about theirs, that they too will have stories they want to share with us and pictures to show us. Because if this year has taught us only one thing, it is that our world is an interesting place because of our differences. How boring the world would be if we all chose to walk down the same road.

Carolina on Our Minds

When we embarked on our trip last October, we had in hand a return ticket to Seattle but no real idea where we were going from there. We had handed over the keys to our apartment in Bethesda and resigned from our jobs. We weren’t planning to return to D.C. Our belongings were piled into a Ryder van and moved to my parents home in Kentucky. Our final destination, the place we would call home when our year in the world was up, was unknown to us. Anything and everything was a possibility. NYC? Denver? Phoenix? North Carolina? West Coast? East Coast? Europe? Though we couldn’t quite see ourselves in the Deep South or the smack middle of the U.S., we weren’t ruling anything out. We left our futures up to fate.

Some people wondered if we’d just decide to keep on traveling, but I think we both knew that wouldn’t be the case. We love travel. We love this adventure. We will forever be planning or taking a trip, but we both have things we want to accomplish, opportunities we want to pursue that require a commitment to a time and place.

Some people suggested we consider settling overseas, perhaps calling Europe home for a few years, and when we left we thought that was an option solidly on the table. Yet after a year away from family and friends, we are ready to be a bit closer. We want to be able to talk to them more, see them more. I can’t say that a stint in Europe doesn’t have appeal, but it doesn’t fit for us right now.

As with Europe, other options lost their luster over the course of the year. The opportunities there weren’t right. The weather wasn’t good. The flight connections home to Louisville and Seattle were crap. We weren’t really big city people after all.

In the end, I think fate intervened. Jeff found a lab doing exactly the kind of work he wanted to do in an area that we’d talked about with interest for years. The lab, in turn, found Jeff to be an appealing candidate for a position there. A good friend of ours from D.C. took a position at the same place and reported back to us nothing but good things. Multiple friends of ours who had grown up, lived in, or gone to school in the area sang its praises.

Without ever really deciding, we seem to have come to a decision. This fall we will be moving to North Carolina, specifically the research triangle area of Raleigh-Durham- Chapel Hill. It’s a move we’re both excited about, though it’s also a move into the complete unknown. Neither of us have ever been to the area. In fact, we’ve only been to NC once, and it was to Asheville. I guess some people might consider this crazy, but we just consider it an adventure. We’ve spent a whole year going to places we don’t know much about; why not go ahead and live somewhere we’ve never been?

So now that you know where we’re going you’re probably wondering what we’ll do when we get there. Well Jeff has just received full funding to do research on RNA regulation in Dr. Jack Keene’s lab at Duke University. He’s back to the microscopes and centrifuges, a prospect that might make many of us run but which he regards with great anticipation. He’s lucky in that he honestly enjoys what he does, and he’s good at it to boot.

As for me, well I’m going to be a writer. I’ve just agreed to a contract to write the Moon Kentucky guidebook, so I’ll ease back into the real world researching my favorite state. This means that although we’re moving to North Carolina, I’ll actually be splitting time between there and Kentucky. And while I’m very much looking forward to writing this book and perhaps doing a few other travel pieces to have a bit of money flowing in, what I will be doing the rest of the time is writing fiction. Or at least trying to. It’s about time I pursued a dream deferred. I don’t know if I’ll succeed or fail, but I do know that I’ll regret it if I don’t give it a try.

So there it is. Our future, at least the next small snippet of it, laid out. And while we’re very much looking forward to it, now that we’ve thrown it out there for all the world to know, we’re going to lay it aside for a while. We still have six weeks left on this trip, and more than anything knowing what lies ahead gives us a freedom without worry to enjoy every single remaining minute.

Love and Marriage: A World View

On July 30, Jeff and I celebrated our 4th wedding anniversary. Around the world, the fact that we’ve been married for four years has elicited one response: shock and awe. The reasons for this differ, however. If it’s a Westerner we’re talking to, they want to now just how old we are if we’ve been married for four years already. If it’s a local we’re talking to, they want to know just how it is that we don’t have a child (or four children) if we’ve been married for four years already.

The practice of marriage is nearly universal; yet at the same time marriage differs greatly around the world. For those of us in the West, we see marriage as a celebration of love. We marry someone because he/she inspires something inside of us that no one else does, because when we’re with him/her we’re a bit closer to being the person we wish to be, because we can’t imagine a life without him/her. We marry for a completely inexplicable feeling we call love. We’ll pass up someone better looking, someone with more money, someone with a better job, someone with higher social standing to marry the person we love.

It’s a beautiful thing (the 50% of the time that it works out). And it’s a concept that to most people in the world is completely foreign. As our new friend Byoung Jo, an engineer from South Korea, put it to me when he found out we’d been married for four years: “Jeff had no house. Jeff had no job. But you married him anyway. Why?”

Love obviously wasn’t the answer he was looking for, so I just laughed and replied: “He had potential.” Byuong Jo just shook his head. It was incomprehensible to him. No girl in Korea would agree to marry him if he didn’t have a good job and a nice home–and probably a few other assets to boot.

Marriage in most of the world is more of a business deal than anything else. In Africa we’d often hear talk of “bride price” or how much a man had to pay for his wife. In tribes and rural villages, the price was often in heads of cattle. In cities, it was a straight exchange of money, though quaintly enough the price was still discussed in terms of cattle. In other countries, there is talk of dowry–gifts of money, jewels, livestock, or other objects of wealth–from the bride’s family to the groom’s. Parents choose spouses for their children often without even a word of input from the to-be-weds. Being in love prior to the marriage isn’t part of the deal. Maybe it will come later. Maybe it won’t. To much of the world that seems irrelevant.

To them, marriage isn’t about love but is instead a merger that hopefully results in a better situation than if the two individuals stayed separate. It’s also about babies, about creating a family. It seems that pretty much everywhere we go, people expect that you have a baby within the first year of marriage. In some places, the marriage is considered void if a baby isn’t produced within a certain time frame. To many people we meet, being married but not having children makes about as much sense as pigs flying.

At first the constant questioning about whether we had children seemd odd. Now I’ve just learned to anticipate it and answer with a smile. I don’t try to explain the difference in our cultures. Instead I just smile and say “Not yet…” and then accept their offers of prayers or voodoo offerings or whatnot graciously. Later I offer up a silent thank you for the fact that I was born in a place and time where I’m free to marry whom I want at whatever age I want (or to not marry at all) and where the choice to have children, how many to have, and when to have them is all a personal decision (unless you have those pushy parents we’ve heard of, but luckily know nothing about ourselves).

A Bit of Shameless Self Promotion

So as you may have noticed when checking out our comments, I have a publicist. No, unfortunately our blog hasn’t been “discovered.” We haven’t landed any sweet book or movie deals (though if you’re thinking of offering, we’re always listening). “My” publicist works for Moon, a guidebook company you may be familiar with and for whom I spent most of 2008 writing a hiking guide. That guide, Moon Take a Hike Washington DC, is now available in bookstores. (Or else, it will be very soon, as it’s official publication date is May 1, 2009.) So, what, why are you still reading? You should be on your way to your nearest bookstore, or simply typing into your browser, and buying my book right this stinking moment. If you live in or near DC and like to hike, buy the book. If someone you love, like, sort of kind of know, or may one day wish to meet, lives in or near DC, buy the book. If you have never been to DC but may one day go, buy the book. If you don’t think you’ll ever set foot in DC and/or hate the great outdoors, buy the book anyways. Why? Because I wrote it. Because it’s good. Because you know me (or at least know my blog). Because it has nice photos. Because I worked really, really hard on it. Because I spent practically every single weekend between March and August hiking hundreds and hundreds of miles, sleeping in campsites without showers, and eating a lot of peanut butter sandwiches. Because this is one of those rare guidebooks where the author actually walked every step she wrote about and didn’t just visit a site or two and call it good. And because, if lots (and lots and lots and lots) of them sell, I may see a penny or two in royalties, and hey, a girl’s got to eat (and preferably not just peanut butter!).

Blog Love

If you check out our sidebar, you’ll notice many links to other blogs that we follow. Unfortunately, since we’ve been on the road, we haven’t been able to be as frequent of readers and commenters as we would like to be, but we do check in when we can. One blog I always love to check out is Asian Ramblings, primarily because blog owner Stevo, who you have probably seen leaving comments here, is an awesome photographer. He´s so amazing that he actually inspires in me an interest in China, which as I once wrote right here on this blog is one of the places I was at one point least interested in visiting. Obviously, I am not the only one who thinks Asian Ramblings is awesome, as this blog is a finalist in the 2009 Bloggies in the category of Best Asian Weblog. He’s totally deserving of this honor, so I want to encourage all of my readers to first go check out his blog and then second to go to the 2009 Bloggies page and vote for him!

And because I know you all need more ways to waste time online, while you’re there, check out some of the other finalists in the various categories and you’ll find lots of good reading material. The Pioneer Woman was a daily read of mine back when I was in the working world, and Camels & Chocolate always makes me jealous as the woman who writes it is younger than me and has an awesome freelance travel writing career. She also tells hilarious stories, so I can’t hate her too much.

Our First Hundred Days

Today our new president took office. He’ll have four years to accomplish his goals, but first of all, he’ll have a hundred days. The famous “First 100 Days” is the inital judgment period for a president. And today as Barack Obama begins his term and his first hundred days, we complete our own first hundred days. That’s right, as of today, we’ve been on the road for one hundred days. So without further ado, here’s a review of what we’ve done in the past hundred days.

We have spent time in five countries: Nicaragua, Chile, Argentina, Peru, and Ecuador.

We have ridden on over 75 buses, both local and long-distance, from over-crowded school bus to comfortable nearly fully reclining cama-class overnight buses.

We have been on 8 airplanes—seven for transport between locations (Seattle to Houston; Houston to Managua; Managua to Panama City; Panama City to Santiago; Puerto Montt to Punta Arenas; Lima to Cusco; Cusco to Lima) and one for a tour (Nazca).

We have hiked the 100-km extended version of the W at Torres del Paine and the 46-kilometer Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, along with many other kilometers on less well-known trails.

We have stayed at 43 different hostels, hostals, hosterias, hospedajes, and hotels.

We have lost one item: a headlamp on day one.

We have missed the announcement of two engagements and three pregnancies of friends.

We have eaten ice cream 17 times, the majority of these in Argentina.

We have eaten the best steak of our lives, a tenderloin so tender that our server cut it with a spoon at Viejo Jack in Salta.

We have eaten all things they tell you not to eat—unpeeled fruit, hamburgers from a street stand, salad, and water from the tap—and are no worse for the wear from it, aside from a few extra trips to the toilet of course.

We have read only 7 books—A Walk in the Woods, The Geography of Bliss, The House of the Spirits, Collapse, Astrid & Veronika, Best New American Voices 2007, and Far from the Madding Crowd—thanks primarily to the really bad taste of other South American travelers, which makes trading for a good book nearly impossible (expect a post on this soon!).

We have been to the self-proclaimed end of the world…from where we looked south and saw more land.

We have visited 11 national parks.

We have become nearly fluent in Spanish (Jeff) and sort of kind of competent (Theresa).

We have crossed borders via airplane, bus, collectivo taxi, and foot.

We have added the following stamps to our passports: 1 from Nicaragua, 6 from Chile, 3 from Argentina, 2 from Peru, and 1 from Ecuador, along with two stamps from Machu Picchu and one from the end of the world. 

We have on more occasions than is possible to count experienced the kindness of strangers, witnessed the commonality of people everywhere, and smiled in wonder, amazement, and joy at the beautiful world we live in.

In our opinion, our first hundred days have been a roaring success and we are looking forward to the hundreds of days remaining.

The Little Things

Last week when I saw my brother Gregory off at the airport, I felt sad to see him go. But I wasn’t just sad that he was leaving, I also felt a tiny bit jealous, jealous that he was going home.

Don’t get me wrong. I love what we’re doing. We’ve seen phenomenally beautiful places. We’ve meet incredibly friendly people. We’ve had experiences that others dream of. And there are so many more places, people, and experiences ahead of us, and I’m excited about all of them. But after three months on the road, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t miss home…at least a little bit.

So what do I miss? Well, of course, I miss the big things, like Christmas at home with my family, but mainly I miss the little things. I miss lazy weekends with tuna fish sandwiches, chips, and pickles for lunch and NFL games on the TV all afternoon. I miss getting to gawk at all my newly engaged friends’ rings in person rather than via e-mail. I miss conversations with my co-worker Jessica about what we had for dinner last night and what books we’re reading. I miss spicy tuna rolls, chicken salad sandwiches, cooking dinner in a fully-stocked kitchen, and grabbing snacks from a well-stocked refrigerator. I miss driving. I miss random phone calls from friends. I miss having enough underwear to avoid choosing between washing my underwear in the sink or just rewearing them. I miss sleeping in a bed that I know is comfortable and between sheets that I know are clean. I miss being able to get my hair cut without fearing I’ll end up with a mullet, and I miss the occasional good hair day.

Like I said, it’s the little things, the things we normally take for granted, the things that seem basic, regular, normal, that I miss most. Really, I think in the end, on the days when I feel a twinge of homesickness, what I miss most is just that: normality. So right after Gregory left, when I was feeling a bit blue, we did the best thing we could: we lounged around in a fairly comfortable bed, made tuna fish sandwiches for lunch, and watched the NFL on TV. And as excited as I am about the adventures we have coming up in the next few weeks—the Galapagos, am Amazon lodge, and much more—for that one day, I couldn’t have imagined anything better.