One Year Abroad
Buenos Aires, Argentina
365 Days abroad; over 20,000 miles traveled; 22 nations explored (26 touched) by foot, horse, motorcycle, car, truck, bus, boat, train, and plane; 167 travelogue entries posted; and 8,106 photographs taken (with 2,558 exposures in the gallery).
An amazing year.
An Unexpected Path
I honestly never expected to move through the Caribbean the way I did, or to even enter into Central America in the first place! It was my original intent to make it to Brazil for Carnival 2006, but that ended up falling apart when I was on the island of Trinidad.
I became a crew member on a yacht and sailed north for almost two months aboard the Odessa, until reaching the island of Bequia (of St. Vincent and the Grenadines). After living amongst the bananas and coconuts for a month I jumped to a few more islands and ultimately ended up back in Puerto Rico, where I had started months earlier.
From Puerto Rico I took a flight into Cancún, Mexico, and started sauntering south—eventually visiting every country in Central America.
From Panama I took a flight into Colombia, where I started traveling counterclockwise around the continent. Eventually I reached Buenos Aires, the capital of Argentina, where I decided to spend the remaining weeks of December waiting for New Year.
A One-Way Street
One of the biggest challenges I've been dealing with is maintaining relationships with friends and family left behind. My life is pretty much an open book, thanks to the massive effort I've put into Travelvice. Sadly, what's almost totally absent is news and events from people I care about.
Friends and family have new homes, jobs, cars, schools, lovers, babies, stories, and adventures that I'd still love to hear about—but most aren't use to writing these things out for someone to read. I have to work hard to e-mail regularly, ask questions, and pull the answers out of 'em. Maintaining these relationships is important to me.
English is an important world language to know. I am fortunate to have been born in a country where it is the national language. Unfortunately in the U.S. learning a foreign language is far from an educational priority.
I've told people: Learning English in your country is a necessity; learning a foreign language in my country is a novelty.
How does travel change you? How have I changed in the past year?
How much of my change is a result of my life experiences abroad, or is the majority of it just the natural progression of my personality as I get older?
How long and far does one have to travel to become/be considered worldly? I wish to be thought of as such. I know the definition, but what does it really mean to be worldly?
I've met plenty of backpackers with round-the-world tickets that visit many places, experience many things, but don't seem to have absorbed anything at all. A collection of photos from the world's most famous landmarks, people slept with, and party scenes at the bar.
I have no doubt it's very fulfilling for them, sometimes I'm a little envious myself, but does a collection of stamps in a passport make you knowing or sophisticated?—no, of course not.
I can sense when an experienced traveler enters the room—almost like a Highlander does with their own (minus the cheesy sound effect). The equipment they carry, the casual calm that's exuded as they take in their new surroundings for the first time—it's similar to the gaze a seasoned surfer displays as he sizes up the waves.
It may be a new location for him or her, but all the familiar elements are there (like most every supermarket I've entered). Same, same, but different.
During the past year of travel in the Caribbean and Latin America, I've lived in a lot of lackluster places. I've seen the good, the bad, and the very, very ugly. People who know nothing about properly setting up and running a hostel (essentially a place with a stove, common area, and beds) are making silly amounts of money.
I've developed my own thoughts on what constitutes the foundation of a good living environment—a home away from home:
- Location—its proximity to the big three: a grocery store, Internet access, and local points of interest
- Safety and Security—with regards to both the traveler and their belongings
- Cleanliness and Comfort—well maintained bathrooms and clean beds
I think many would list socialization as one of the top three attributes sought after—perhaps above that of a toilet with a seat—but I find that if the above three are in place, the location will be filled with happy travelers, and finding someone to chat up won't present much of a problem.
I don't need or want 60% of the filler in my Lonely Planet (or most every other brand guidebook that I've read). If I was to design one of these, it would have these essential elements (and be available as an e-book):
- Why I'd want to visit the location;
- City maps (words can't describe how useful these are);
- Where to stay for the first night or two in town;
- Parts of the city that should be avoided (if applicable);
- Taxi and bus details (how much, where, how often, etc);
- Recurring holiday and festival dates; and
- An explanation of city points of interest (as mentioned in the Why You'd Want Visit section).
Everything else comes easily once you're in town.
I have trust issues. I am not ignorant to the fact that there are people who wish to take something that I don't want to give (tangible or intangible—money, possessions, time). It takes time to advance through the levels—from please watch my seat to please watch my backpack.
Traveler-on-traveler crime is one of the worst violations likely to be endured. I have nothing but utter contempt for these people.
There is a common bond between backpackers that allows for conversation that even the most introverted person can casually initiate: Where are you from? Where have you been? Where are you going? When do you return home?
Around a third of people I encounter aren't actually sure what country I'm from. Part of it is a lack of people from the U.S. in certain places, some has to do with my behavior or European features, but the bulk is attributable to my accent (or lack there of) and the vernacular I use.
I've absorbed a lot of different words and expressions from countries traveled in, and the nationalities around me. Words and phrases from the different regions of the United States, Canada, the Caribbean, UK, Europe, and Australia have found their way into my day-to-day speech.
I'll reference things in meters and Celsius, occasionally call a refrigerator a chilla, say queue instead of line or wait, and pluralize the word vacation (How long are your vacations for?).
Where's Home For You?
Common introductions will inevitably include asking where someone is from. I often respond by saying I use to live in the United States (or in Arizona). This almost always baits the question, So, where do you live now? from the other party. I often smile and reply, And now, I don't.
Some people ask if I'm running away from something (a girl, job, police), or (most often) if it's because of my president. No, I say, I'm not into politics. I usually explain that I've lived a quarter of a century in the United States, and that I think the world's just too big to live there anymore. I tell them I plan on spending the rest of my days abroad.
I personally figured out what my greatest passion in life is, above all else—travel, and living abroad. With 673 countries, territories, autonomous regions, enclaves, geographically separated island groups, and major states and provinces in world, it isn't hard for me to focus on spending my remaining years (probably 50, if I'm lucky) living and/or traveling within them. It's not a lofty goal… I'm doing it right now.
Although I'm not trying to please or impress anyone, most folks seem to be pleased or impressed with this line of thinking—excluding my grandmother, of course, who keeps telling my mother's side of the family that I've got a several screws loose.
Life is short, do what's important to you.
Food and Water
I'm living proof that eating food from street vendors instead of in restaurants and drinking tap water is perfectly fine for you.
I trust meat that's cooked to my satisfaction in front of me; I don't drink the water if it looks or smells funny, or if the locals avoid it (such as in the Dominican Republic). I was hit with food poisoning from a restaurant in Peru. Unless you wash your own dishes with very hot or bottled water, and never eat food prepared by others, you're gonna ingest the water (limited as it may be).
I can't read on buses (motion sensitivity)—20 hours in a bus would be hellish without music. Don't be anti-social though—share something personal (music) with your neighbor (especially if they're cute). Perhaps introduce them to the fancy thing you're carrying that doesn't need tapes, cd's, or a radio signal to pump out tunes.
Bait The Hook
If I ever want to have a good debate/discussion with a European or Aussie/Kiwi, all I have to do is bring up gun control (in the United States). That's a solid hour of time spent right there.
If the recipient is open and willing, I can bring a level of intimacy to the table that makes hours feel like days, and days like months of history together. I'm not talking about sex, I'm talking about the connection between people, or the bubble that forms around partners.
Travelers are so afraid and hungry for intimacy. With friends, family, and/or lovers left behind in a now distant land—there is a noticeable absence. Some travelers feel free and go wild, others withdrawn and/or lonely. Often times it's somewhat of a mix.
Backpackers are generally an outgoing subset of a given nation's population—especially folks from the United States, where it's not part of our culture to travel abroad. I tend to keep this in mind when formulating opinions (about the people) of countries I haven't visited, based on the travelers I encounter.
This past year would have been a completely different experience if I hadn't had the support of my father. Dad has been in my corner, willing to help out with anything and everything I've thrown at him.
Signing over power of attorney before I left the U.S. enabled him to manage my finances (paying credit card bills, asset transfers between accounts, dealing with stolen credit card issues, doing my taxes), effectively removing the burden of such things from my life.
He's helped with research, assembled more than one package for me (running around Portland, Oregon, picking up supplies or ordering them off the Internet), alerted me to problems with Travelvice, and donated personal items (such as the HP Jornada I've been typing with) to my travels.
He continues to make my life infinitely easier.
Thank you, dad.
I'm honestly not sure what 2007 has in store for me. I've found it can often be hard (or wasted effort) to plan more than a few weeks in advance—things change too frequently.
Two events are for certain: Carnival in Brazil, and a flight off the continent. I'll be in Salvador in February for the big festival, and then I'll start moving towards an airport. I seriously doubt I'll be flying out of Brazil (expensive).
I have interest in seeing the northeastern part of Brazil, and possibly taking a boat trip half way up the Amazon River. If I do this I'll probably head north through the jungle mountains into Venezuela, for a flight out of the capital (although I have zero desire to see Venezuela at the moment).
My flight is either going to be heading east or west. The cheapest eastern flights will probably take me into Spain. I'd very much like to run with the bulls while I'm still in my 20's, so that I can be young and foolish when I do it (instead of just foolish). A flight west could find me in the Philippines, opening a hostel with Andy.
I honestly don't know. A lot will have to do with where the cheapest flights will take me. I have a strong desire to see many places in this world with my own eyes—especially those reported on the news in the past few decades (such as the Middle East). If I fly east, there's a strong chance I'll be well on my way in that direction this time next year.
What can I say, I'm a boat with a full sail, and no rudder. Where ever the wind blows me.