We cook at home almost every night, making a wide variety of food. We’ve found recipes we love for some great American Italian, Mexican, Chinese, and Indian recipes, and the list goes on. But one thing we have so far failed to make well is the Thai rice noodle dish Pad Thai. It’s one of my favorite foods, dating back to my first exposure to it at Sawadty Thai Cuisine in my hometown. After our latest failure, Theresa vowed not to try anymore and anytime we wanted any we would go to a Thai restaurant. So we went out for dinner tonight at a nice little Thai restaurant near us. And we got to talking about all the delicious foods we’re going to eat on our trip. There’s the steaks in Argentina, the roasted chickens in Peru, the curries and noodle dishes of Thailand, the Pho of Vietnam, the coolness of Ethiopian food (though Theresa is not a fan). It was quite an appetizing discussion, but we weren’t able to come to any conclusion of what we were most looking forward to. So we’re posing the question to you. Where in the world do you think (or know) the food is the best?
What’s That You Say? Language and Travel
Flagging down a cab in Athens is hard work. Driver’s merely slow down as they approach you, lowering their windows to hear what destination you’re yelling out. If they feel like going there, they may stop and let you in. Otherwise they just keep on rolling. So on one of the first days I’d ventured down into the city by myself after I moved to Athens, I was loathe to get out of the cab I was in even though the driver couldn’t understand me and I couldn’t understand him.
He knew the neighborhood I wanted to go to, but he didn’t know exactly where Athens College was, so he needed me to direct him. He didn’t understand English, and my Greek was still so minimal it didn’t exceed far beyond “thank you” and “Do you speak English”. Signaling wasn’t getting us far, and you could feel the frustration building up in the cab. And then, seemingly out of nowhere, the cab driver asked “Sprechen Sie Deutsch?”
Suddenly everything was fine. We both spoke German. I quickly gave him directions, which he easily understood, and then we set to talking about how both of us had come to know German. He reminisced about the years he’d spent there, regaling me with stories all the way to my house. It was a moment of serendipity.
On our upcoming trip, Jeff and I are going to land in many places where our language skills won’t extend far beyond the phrases back in our guidebook. We’ll do our best to learn those, so that while we won’t be able to carry on a conversation in the language of our host nation, we will be able to approach its citizens with at least a greeting in their native tongue. We are fortunate that our mother language is perhaps the one most useful around the world, but we have to realize that there will still be many places where people do not speak it, nor should we expect them to. But if we’re willing to risk bad pronunciation and terrible accents in attempts to speak the language of the country we’re in, we believe that people will be more open to helping us, more willing to find us someone who does speak our language, more likely to try their nonnative-English out on us. This will probably be the best we can do in Southeast Asia and Africa, where we’ll encounter multiple languages in relatively short periods of times.
But since we will be spending five months in the Spanish-speaking countries of Central and South America (Portuguese-speaking Brazil the lone exception), just the basics isn’t going to cut it. Thus Jeff and I have made the first specific itinerary decision. We’re going to spend the first couple of weeks our trip learning Spanish at an intensive language school in Nicaragua. Jeff, who has a solid knowledge already, will take advanced level classes, while I, my Spanish limited to the few podcasts I’ve been able to get through, will work at a more elementary level.
Why Nicaragua, you ask? Well, Nicaragua has been a hopeful destination on our itinerary for some time. Jeff was able to spend some time there in high school and is eager to return and show me around. Additionally, Nicaragua is very inexpensive, and there are many respected schools in the country. Offered on a weekly basis, the classes are usually 4 hours per day with group size limited to 1-4 people. It’s a total immersion experience with the classes conducted entirely in Spanish. For accommodations, schools offer home stays, which Jeff and I are eager to take advantage of. Not only will a home stay give us an opportunity to practice our Spanish in everyday situations, a home stay will also give us insight into the daily life of Nicaraguans.
While we haven’t yet picked a school, we’re leaning toward Granada as our base. Granada is supposed to be a lovely city, so we’ll have things to do in our off-class hours. It’s also conveniently located near other places we want to visit. We’re also considering doing one week of language classes in one place and one in another, but that’s just an idea we’re tossing around at this point. Here are links to two schools in Granada that have gotten good reviews from other travelers and seem to offer what we’re looking for: One on One Tutoring and Casa Xalteva.
Hopefully after a bit of study at one of these schools, I’ll have the basics down and be better tuned to pick up more of the language as we travel. It’ll certainly be nice to be able to have conversations that are a little more interesting than “Hello. Where is the toilet? Thank you.” Though I can’t say for certain that there’s any more useful conversation than that.
Theresa’s post last week about interesting travel literature inspired some pretty good discussion, and got me thinking. Now, I’ve been known to read a book here or there, and usually enjoy the experience, but in all honesty, I’m not really a book person. I’m more of a movie person. I just absorb things in a more visual fashion I suppose.
So with that in mind, and with tonight being Hollywood’s biggest night, I thought I would put together a list of my favorite “travel movies” related to the areas we will be headed. I’ve also been trying to gather some others that I might watch before we go, but I’ll let you guys vet them for me.
Darjeerling Limited (India) – a fantastic little film by Wes Anderson about a trio of brothers on a train. Just my style.
The Last King of Scotland (Uganda) – the rise and fall of infamous Uganda dictator Idi Amin as seen through a composite Scotsman.
Hotel Rwanda (Rwanda) – one man’s struggle to save hundreds against the genocide there.
The Constant Gardener (Kenya) – a corrupt drug company ruins a diplomat’s life in Africa.
The only movies in and about Africa seem to be serious downers. Anyone got anything a little more optimistic? You know, that would make me excited about going there?
Some other ones I would highly recommend (but not where we are heading) are Everything is Illuminated (Ukraine), Lost in Translation (Japan), the Bourne series (freaking everywhere).
Here’s some others I was thinking about checking out before we left (in no particular order).
Out of Africa (Kenya)
Bridge on the River Kwai (Thailand)
Gorillas in the Midst (Kenya)
The Motorcycle Diaries (Peru)
The Beach (Thailand)
Blood Diamond (South Africa)
Cry Freedom (South Africa)
Hostel (ok, just kidding about that one)
Would you recommend/not recommend these? What would you recommend for me? What movies have you all seen that would fit well on this list? Are there any foreign films that do a great job of capturing the spirit of a country? And what movies capture the essence and the idea of travel best for you?
Is a minimalist technophile an oxymoron?
Those of you who know me know that I am a bit of a gadget and gear junkie. For those of you who don’t know me: I’m a bit of a gadget and gear junkie. To be fair, I don’t have an iPhone, so I guess I can’t be that much of a technophile. But we do have lots of video game systems, an HDTV, DVR and a storage space full of bikes and camping equipment, skis and snowboards, golf clubs and golf shoes, and so on and so forth. I’ll readily admit, I do like having all of my own gear to go camping or skiing or golfing on a whim (and avoid rental expenses), or to host Super Bowl parties or Rock Band parties.
But probably a bigger reason why I have all of these things is that I’m a sucker for a good deal. Pretty much all of these things I’ve gotten at a steep discount to retail price. This is great when its something we’re looking for at the time we need it. It is, however, less useful when its something we don’t really need at a time we won’t really use it. I’ve been working on curtailing these kinds of purchases the past few years, since like Theresa says, everything we get will have to be packed up and stored so there’s no sense in getting things we won’t use. They’ll just take up space. But there’s one particular event that’s my greatest weakness: the REI super clearance sale.
For those who don’t live in an area with one, REI is an outdoor gear outfitter based out of the northwest, though they have stores all around the country. It’s a great store with all sorts of gear at decent prices and sales people who – gasp! – actually are knowledgeable about what they are selling. Whenever we are in Seattle we try to go to the flagship store downtown – it’s amazing. But twice a year, it gets better: they mark their regular clearance items down another 50% in their super clearance sale. Now, in the past, I’ve gone way overboard and bought multiple jackets, bags, etc. But this year we narrowed the focus to just things we would need for our trip. Yet still I sit here tonight after picking up our order with my floor covered in gear from REI. Actually having something to shop for rather than just casually looking for good deals may be even worse for my deal seeking habits. We got a set of titanium camping cookware to match the camping stove we also ordered. We bought three backpacking bags trying to find the perfect one for our trip. I bought two soft shells and a pair of pants that don’t fit. Though I think we found a winner with the thin yet warm travel blanket for $8 (to solve Theresa’s trouble shaking the “chillies”).
Anyway, the larger point I’m trying to make with this is that I’m planning on spending a full year on the road with just what I can carry on my back. If I want to get to the finish line without a permanent hunch, I’m going to need to be very selective and minimalist with what I take. This is not something I am used to, or particularly good at, doing. Sure, I’m good at taking relatively few clothes, shoes, and toiletries. We rarely have to check luggage for trips under a week. But everywhere I go I seem to take my laptop, Sony PSP, Nintendo DS, iPod, a couple of magazines, etc etc. And its exactly those things I’m going to have to eliminate or seriously pare down. Plus, the open ended nature of the trip is going to lend itself to all kinds of convincing … “I just might need that warm fleece plus the soft shell” or “Why not one extra pair of pants, they could come in handy.” So I’m going to have to be really honest and really critical of how much I will use something. But thankfully, I have Theresa, who’s very good at eliminating excess in many ways. I have a feeling I’ll lean on her a lot through the packing stage (or at least acquiesce when she berates my desire to take something frivolous). I’m gonna say it right now though, one place I will not skimp will be underwear. I’m gonna have enough of those, by god.
I read as if I’m starving. I don’t nibble; I don’t pick up a book and read a chapter or two and then maybe another chapter or two a day later. I consume voraciously, flipping madly from page to page, often completing an entire book in one setting. When I open a book, I’m transported to a new world that I’m reluctant to leave until I’ve read the last word on the last page. Stopping to go about my life in my world spoils the magic, at least a bit. If I’m busy, I usually end up neglecting books all together and turning to magazines and newspapers for a while. I can’t stand to put a book aside unfinished.
To me, reading is a way to experience a different life, to learn about another culture, to see the world through someone else’s eyes. Sometimes I have a moment’s glimpse into another country, sometimes a look at another time. Sometimes the places I travel to do not exist except for on the page and in the reader’s imagination. Regardless, I learn something new, something that affects the way I interact in the world and with other people.
Often when we prepare for trips, the kind that require luggage and plane tickets and hotel reservations, we spend a lot of time reading guidebooks. We learn opening and closing times, admission fees, bus schedules, and maybe a brief history of the place we are going. That’s well and good, and really quite helpful. But it doesn’t give us a true feeling for life in that country. That’s why I like to read books about the places I’m visiting. Sometimes I read nonfiction books, histories of people and events. But more often, I read novels and short stories. Though I won’t get a plethora of facts from these works of fictions, I’ll get a taste of what people believe, feel, care about. I’ll acquire tidbits of history and notes about problems.
As we prepare for this trip, I’ve set myself a goal of reading a book related to each of the countries we plan to visit. The book can either be about that country or written by someone from that country. Some countries aren’t difficult. India is currently very popular in the American market. Chile has turned out a wealth of excellent writers. Other countries I’m having a harder time finding books for. Here’s a look at a few books that I’ve already read, and a couple of books I hope to read.
A Sample of Books I’ve Read that Relate to Places We’ll Visit
1. In Patagonia by Bruce Chatwin
2. The Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai (India)
3. The Bridge of San Luis Rey by Thornton Wilder (Peru) [It’s been a long time since I read this, however.]
4. The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien (Vietnam)
5. Shake Hands with the Devil by Romeo Dallaire (Rwanda)
Too bad we’re not going to Afghanistan (The Kite Runner & A Thousand Splendid Suns), Pakistan (Three Cups of Tea), Congo (The Poisonwood Bible), Columbia (One Hundred Years of Solitude), Nigeria (Things Fall Apart), or Japan (Memoirs of a Geisha), since I’ve been introduced to all of them through rather excellent literature.
A Sample of Books I’d Life to Read Before We Go
1. The Voyage of the Beagle by Charles Darwin (Galapagos) [Before we rafted the Grand Canyon, we read John Wesley Powell’s account of his discovery trip through the Canyon, and we found it interesting to see places he noted in his journal.]
2. The House of the Spirits or My Invented Country by Isabel Allende (Chile)
3. Long Walk to Freedom by Nelson Mandela (South Africa)
National Geographic Traveler’s Website offers an Ultimate Travel Library, which I’ve been using to get some ideas. But I need more suggestions. So tell me, what book have you read that you think I just must get my hands on before we leave? Leave your suggestions in the comments. (If you’re not sure where we’re going, feel free to suggest a book about any foreign land.)
This is My Rant
In the last post I wrote, I talked about the influence of American politics on the rest of the world. While writing that post, Jeff and I got to discussing a related idea—how difficult it is to hear other people criticize your country when you’re traveling. It’s almost as if America is family; I can pick on it all I want, but by God, you better not say a negative word about it.
America is an easy target. We wield a huge amount of power, and we often do really dumb things.
I’ll be the first to admit that I think our current President is a moron, that the war in Iraq is a disaster, that our environmental policy stinks. And if you, Mr. or Ms. Non-American, say these things to me during a civilized discussion, I’ll acknowledge that you’re right. But if you just throw out an insult, or if you catch me in a foul mood, I’ll be right up in your face defending America tooth and nail. Though W and I don’t see eye to eye on pretty much anything, you better not tell me that he’s a terrorist. You better not say that our war is worse than the 9/11 attacks. You better not claim that America is evil. I don’t deal in platitudes and gross exaggerations. I don’t deal in comparisons of horrors. I know that America is good. And if you even dare go anywhere near these statements, you better have a damn good answer about what your country is doing to make the world a better place.
Way back when Jeff and I first started planning this trip, I mentioned to him the one thing that I would have a really hard time putting up with. It wasn’t squat toilets. It wasn’t long bus rides. It wasn’t having limited clothing options. It wasn’t even dealing with foreigners who hate America. Most of them don’t know America well enough for their opinions to count. The thing that will be hardest for me is dealing with those Americans, who we’re bound to come across, who love to have pretentious conversations about how stupid/awful/self-involved/arrogant/whatever America is and how whatever third world country they’re in at the moment really has it figured out.
Sure, I agree, the $6 beachfront bungalows and the $2 steak dinners and the $0.50 massages are awesome. But you know why they’re awesome? Because you can afford them. To the people who live in these countries, all of that is still out of reach. Education, health care, a chance to improve their lives…that, too, is probably out of reach. I’m not saying you need to pin an American flag to your backpack the way the Canadians pin the maple leaf to theirs (why, again, do they do that?). I’m just saying that you need to be a little more respectful of where you come from, a little more humble about what you’ve been given, a little more thankful that by the grace of God (or whatever higher power/good luck you want to acknowledge) you were born in a place that might not always do the wisest things or act in the best way but allows you a hell of a lot of opportunity.
I am not a flag waver. I can’t even begin to describe how frightened I was to come home to a post-9/11 world after months away and find flags plastered everywhere and the national anthem de rigueur at every event right down to the ballet. But send me out into the world for an extended period of time, and the patriot inside comes out. During the 2002 World Cup, my roommates and I risked life and limb to wave an American flag and chant wildly at a German gathering as the U.S. played (and almost beat) Germany. And I don’t think I’ve ever heard a more perfect rendition of our national anthem then when our German hallmates sang it to us (print out of the lyrics in hand) from the balcony as we played wiffle ball on the 4th of July at our Freiburg dorm.
Distance does indeed make the heart grow fonder.
Travel Take Two: Belize
For our second installment (see part one here) of our intermittently updated series rehashing our past travel adventures, we’re going to take you all back to our honeymoon with us. This was one of the few wedding tasks I was charged with (along with music selector and food taster) and it was a bit of a dilemma. My original decision divided between Portugal and southern Spain and Belize. To be honest, I can’t tell you why I chose these two to choose between. I wanted to go somewhere atypical and unique, and yet, at the same time, it was our honeymoon, so I wanted to go somewhere where we would be completely comfortable. As a person who generally travels very modestly with cost as a high priority, it was the one time I was going to splurge. But I also didn’t want to be stuck in a stuffy, dull resort. So to harken back to what I said about last week about adventure vs. comfort, I wanted somewhere that would provide us with a perfect combination of adventure and classic honeymoon relaxation. It was with this goal that we ventured to the beautiful cayes and raw jungles of Belize.
Destination: Honeymoon, Belize. Four nights on Ambergris Caye followed by three nights in the inland Cayo district
Date: August 1 – 9, 2005
Travel Partners: Just the newlyweds.
1. The beautiful views off of Ambergris Caye. Here’s what we saw basically out of the back of our room. Not too shabby.
2. The Mayan ruins at Caracol. While we also went to ruins at Altun Ha, they paled in comparison (see Lowlights #2). Caracol lies two hours down a gravel road (with the last mile or so oddly paved) and deep in the heart of the jungle. It creeps in on all sides and the howler monkey’s chatter only adds to the ambiance. The tallest temple tops out above the trees leading to an incredible view of the surrounding valley.
We wandered right through a research camp that was closed for the season, and save for one other pair, had the entire ruins to ourselves. Most amazingly, they said that much of the ruins of the city are still hidden in the jungle. Definitely made me feel like Indiana Jones.
3. Snorkeling at Hol Chan Marine Reserve and Shark and Ray Alley. We started by snorkeling through the Marine Reserve, a vibrant and colorful coral reef teeming with fish. We enjoyed snorkeling and free diving through tunnels, though we were a bit jealous of the divers further down below us (see Lessons Learned #3). Then our guide steered us into the aptly named Shark and Ray Alley, where we jumped in with rays and nurse sharks drawn by the chum we were throwing overboard. I touched both before I got a face full of bonefish that got excited by the chum that landed much too close to my noggin.
4. Hiking to many waterfalls surrounding Hidden Valley Inn in the Cayo District. There’s nothing quite like a refreshing, cool pool beneath a waterfall after a hot hike, especially one this tall. And who can beat having your own private waterfall for the day, complete with catered meal and bottle of champagne (part of our honeymoon package)?
5. The Belize Zoo. This small but well-done zoo is home to wild animals, all native to Belize, that were either injured or had been domesticated for documentaries. It’s a difficult zoo to explain, but so totally unique and interesting. I’ll start with this picture.
Now take that same poetry and sense of humor, expand it to each exhibit and envision the paths through them so narrow you feel that you are in the exhibits themselves. It’s a very cool experience. My favorites were the jaguars and the howler monkeys
This was the tapir that peed on Theresa, just after this picture was taken. He got close to the fence, raised a leg, and got good distance on his spray. I was fortunate enough to avoid the calamity. Theresa, ever the trooper, went on like nothing had ever happened, after a few brief squeals of disbelief, of course.
2. The no-see-ums on Ambergris Caye and the mosquitos at Altun Ha. No amount of bug spray was enough against these tenacious bugs. One afternoon on Ambergris Caye, we thought we would walk from our hotel to the main town, San Pedro, a distance of about a mile. We made it all of 200 feet down the road near the beach before we were both doubled over swatting insanely at the air around our legs. Fortunately, a passing taxi, complete not just with driver but also with the driver’s wife and two kids, picked us up and drove us to town. At least there the bugs had other people to eat too. At Altun Ha, the sun was blaring down, but the shade was even worse. The mosquitos literally formed a wall at the edge of the shadows, and if you walked in, the whole world turned black. We could either bake in the sun or get eaten in the shade. It was a no win situation.
1. We are not relaxers. I believe we lasted a whole of one day, fresh from the insanity that always accompanies weddings, laying on the beaches of Ambergris Caye next to the pool at our posh resort before we were ready to claw our eyes out. This was the first day after arriving, when we were still declaring how ready we were to kick back, relax, and not do anything for the entire time on Ambergris Caye. Fortunately, the resort was equipped to arrange the snorkeling and ruin trekking trips for us.
2. The “rainy season” is not always rainy. We went to Belize in the offseason. The only rain we saw was a few drops the first day, and a little overnight in the Cayo district. The weather was beautiful, and everyone said it was cooler (though it sure felt hot!). Better yet, accommodations were cheaper and the places we wanted to go weren’t crowded.
3. We want to get PADI certified. It was fascinating to look down on the scuba divers from our sea level perch with our snorkels. I kept wondering what they were seeing. I had a similar revelation in the Red Sea, where we went on a similar trip. We hear the certification done well and cheaply in Thailand, so we will try that. Theresa is a little worried about the claustrophobia that comes with all your air coming from a tank, but I have a feeling we’ll both find it exciting.
4. When you’re at a prison and a man (not clearly a guard or an inmate) walks by with a live chicken in one hand and a machete in the other, be ready to leave. What were we doing at a prison, you ask? Well, on the way to Hidden Valley Inn, we passed the prison and saw the sign (in the picture below) advertising a prison gift shop, so on the way back we stopped to check it out. You didn’t really think we could pass it up, did you? After browsing and buying a nice picture frame, we were headed back to the car, when the machete- and chicken-wielding man came toward us. You’d be impressed with how quickly we got in the car, locked the doors, and got out of there. This was more a reaction than anything, but it’s good to know my common sense won’t abandon me on the road (unless of course you consider visiting a prison gift shop not a good idea.)
5. Take time to explore the local areas. We spent all of one afternoon walking through San Pedro just searching for the local areas. We found the cemetery, ate at some delicious “local” restaurants, and sauntered along the local’s beach. We happened upon some great kids that loved the camera too.
People here are not wealthy, but they’re not terribly poor either (though Americans buying property there and driving up prices is making things more difficult). It was just very interesting to wander through their haphazard mix of English, Caribbean, and Creole culture and just soak it in for a while. It’s a good lesson that it’s not always about checking another sight off the list, but also about enjoying the culture and exploring local life.
I Know You Didn’t Ask, But I Think Your President Sucks
Tomorrow Jeff and I go to the polls to cast our votes in the Maryland presidential primary. Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know that the presidential race is pretty big news here in the United States. Record numbers of people have been turning out to register their thoughts on who should be the next to lead our country. We may possibly witness a turning point in American history–the election of someone who is not a white male. We’ll see. The fact that the Democratic nominee will be either a black man or a white woman is, in itself, groundbreaking.
But interest in our election is not confined to within the American borders. People all over the world are keeping an eye tuned to the race. For better or worse, American politics affects people all around the globe. Our policies on immigration, on economics, and on environmental issues travel wave-like out from our shores, impacting millions and millions of people who don’t have a vote to cast in this election. Our policies on war and defense can mean life or death for those living in countries we consider unfriendly and those living in countries that join with American forces when we go to war. It’s rather amazing to consider how important U.S. elections are to the world. Makes you wonder why it’s not more important to some Americans–particularly those who don’t vote.
The two years I spent living abroad happened to fall within a period of particular worldwide interest in American politics. I flew to Germany one week to the day before the attacks on the World Trade Center. I stood staring at a store’s TV display, surrounded by crying Germans, and watched the towers fall. (It was the middle of the afternoon there.) Over the course of that year, as we went from a country under attack to a country on the attack, I watched the tremendous goodwill of the German nation turn to animosity and anger. I lived in Greece in the run-up to the 2004 election, seeing first-hand how passionate other people were about American politics.
What stuck with me most from these two experiences is the forthrightness with which foreigners are willing to ask you about your political leanings. I can’t even count the number of times I got in a cab and was directly asked who I voted for or who I was going to vote for. Perfect strangers had no problem asking me what I thought of Bush and giving me their uncensored opinion. It was often startling. That’s not something we do here in America. It’s like asking someone’s weight or age or how much they make. Taboo. Sure, we discuss politics with friends and family. When we are fairly certain of a person’s political leanings, we might be free with our views. But we don’t ask people who they voted for. I mean, isn’t that why there’s the little curtain at the voting booth?
I certainly appreciate the idea of the secret ballot. No one should feel bullied into voting for anyone. But at the same time, don’t you think it might be productive for people to be “forced” to answer for their vote? Shouldn’t we have a reason for voting the way we do, and shouldn’t we feel strongly enough about that reason that we’re willing to stand up for it? If someone should ask us how we voted, shouldn’t we give a proud answer rather than responding that it’s none of their business. We might all vote a little smarter if we were held accountable for our vote: not, of course, by government or anyone official or threatening (God forbid), but by our friends, by our families, maybe even by our cab drivers.
For the 2008 general election, in which the 44th president of the United States will be chosen, Jeff and I will be somewhere in South America. (Which reminds me of another thing to add to the to-do list: figure out the best way for us to cast our votes.) From that far-away perspective, it will certainly be interesting to not only see how America votes, but also to observe how the rest of the world reacts.
(Our apologies for the lack of posting the past week. Hectic doesn’t even begin to describe our lives at the moment, but we plan to post more this week, including a follow-up we already have in mind to the current post. Please keep checking back and leaving your comments!)
Thoughts from the Weekend
The weekend was update-free here at LOW due to a trip down south, back to the alma mater, Rice University. It was the fourth biennial Rice Baseball Alumni Game. It’s always great to catch up again with all of the guys, seeing what they’re up to. New this time around was how just about everyone was now married and having children. Most of the guys I played with had pregnant wives or were already taking care of little ones (or both!). This is a strange duality to me because up here in DC, at 26, we are still considered very young to even be married. (On more than one occasion my ring has elicited a “weird …”.)
But as everyone was catching up, my future plans came up a lot when I mentioned I was finishing in the fall. (Theresa tells me I have to state this as a fact instead of saying “hopefully” or “if everything works out” or “I plan to.” I get the feeling she’s not interested in staying here too much longer …) And so I launched into our plans of world travel and exploration. Which got the same kind of response that I get when I say I’m married in DC. In all fairness, one kindred spirit had recently finished his own round the world trip (and we had a great conversation with him), so the response was not completely unanimous.
A lot of the guys (and girls) responded by saying they had never even left the country, and didn’t really understand why you possibly would. Now some of this comes from the typically Texan idea that nothing could ever be better than Texas, but it also was about security, family and comfort. It was pretty clear that we were currently on two different paths. Theresa likes to talk about wishing she could run two parallel lives … well this was it, exemplified. All of my Houston friends had married, settled down and were starting families. They had support networks of family, lifelong friends and good jobs (at least well paying if not completely satisfying). They knew which restaurants had the best steaks, and where to go for fajitas. They never got lost driving around the city, nor did they have to deal with the hassles of public transportation. Meanwhile, here were Theresa and I, who couldn’t wait to quit our jobs/finish our programs and leave all that comfort and security behind so we could run around the world with only what we could carry on our backs. Now who are the crazies? You have to admit, at times staying put makes a pretty compelling rational argument.
The point is, I guess, that it is all a matter of personal preference, and really has little to do with rationality. (This is probably much too tolerant a statement to put on the internet.) My friends would be happy staying right where they are, in the same house, in the same neighborhood, in the same city, the rest of their lives. They have no desire to wander. And there are times when I wonder why that isn’t enough for me too. But for whatever reasons, that just doesn’t cut it. I need to explore. Deal with getting lost. Have the enjoyment of “discovering” the best restaurant in a new place. Slowly and painfully come to understand a completely different culture. Befriend all the wacky and interesting people you meet. Survive the bizarre events that inevitably occur. And feel invigorated by it all. Because a routine just does not inspire me the way an adventure does. So, anyway, thanks for listening while I justify how I am. I hope it made some sense to you.
Now, all that being said, my friends, the ones perfectly happy to never leave their hometown, are exactly the ones we need to convince to travel. As a case in point, one of our friends didn’t realize there were not feeder roads off of every highway (Houston is pretty much the only city I know that envelops every highway with another two lanes of “local” traffic on each side). It’s both interesting and useful to be exposed to a number of different ways to solve problems, mainly that there are other ways. You start to see things from other perspectives. And if you still like things like “home,” you appreciate it more. So it enriches your hometown as well. I know when I travel, I appreciate all the little things I often take for granted when I return (everything from free public restrooms to a good hamburger to signs in English). So we did our best to convince everyone that it would be great idea to travel themselves. I think we convinced nobody. But whaddya gonna do? They all have little rugrats running around. That’s why we’re still on the rolling five year plan with kids. We still have too much wandering to do ourselves.
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