Sunday, 11 March 2012

Two (and a half) Month Check-up: Expectations and Impressions

This will be the last of my two month check-ups, seeing as it has now been well over two months since the trip started and frankly, I'm bored with the check-up concept. To spice things up a little, I'm going to organize our expectations before the trip compared to the reality during the trip in a fun(ish) Fact or Fiction format. Oh, the alliterations!

Fact or Fiction: A trip around the world is usually uncomfortable, difficult, unsafe, disorienting and miserable.

Fact, but not nearly as bad as we thought. The reality of budget travel in developing countries (note, Argentina, for example, does not fall into that category) is that things are not always easy. We sometimes feel a little lost and confused, a little dirty and uncomfortable.

But in all honesty, the trip has been much easier than we thought it would be. This might be due to the fact that we have had to adapt to local logic, lower our standards, learn to be patient and remain flexible at all times. It might also be because Spanish is the main language in the countries in which we have traveled so far and we can get by with the little vocabulary we have.

But it also may be simply because things are more comfortable, safer and easier than we expected.

For example, we thought we would have to stay in awful hostels and be uncomfortable most nights. While we only stay in budget accommodation and a few of our choices have been on the limit of comfort, we have mostly managed to find places that make a nice home base; places that are clean, with kind owners and conscientious guests. We have almost always had electricity, running water, indoor toilets and hot showers. Almost.

Fact or Fiction: Most of the people we will meet and get to know during the trip will be other travelers.

Fact. While we have met some locals from whom we have learned a lot, the vast majority of the people we really get to know are other backpackers. The reality of it is that most local people see so many tourists come and go that they simply do not have the time or motivation to invest in anything more than the most basic rapports, which usually concern the exchange of money and services. And if I'm honest, our shoddy Spanish skills do nothing to help our efforts to build lasting relationships.

That said, we have made some great friends along the way, some of whom we have been lucky enough to meet a second time in another location when our paths have crossed again.There really is nothing like arriving in a new place and being able to meet up with the familiar faces of people you met a week or a month ago somewhere else. It's been fun and has added a whole new dimension to our trip.

Fact or Fiction: A trip around the world is something unique and special.

Fact AND fiction. Don't get me wrong, we are often simply overwhelmed with gratitude for the opportunity to be able to do something like this. So many people will never be able to have this experience and we shouldn't take one moment for granted.

But let me be honest for a second: there are a lot of other people doing what we are doing. Some aren't doing quite as much in terms of time and scope, but they are still taking a large chunk of their lives and savings to travel.

On one hand, it's humbling- we aren't that cool. On the other hand, it is heartening to see so many people, especially young people- I'm talking kids in their early twenties- who are making travel a priority and who want to see the world. Sometimes, we feel a little jealous of those 19 and 20 year olds who are backpacking around South America for six months; we feel almost regretful that we waited this long.

But then we pull our heads out of our asses and realize how much we've done before this point and that we have no excuse to ever feel like we don't have enough.

Fact or Fiction: Bolivia is a scary place, full of thieves, terrible roads and horrible food hygiene.

Fiction, Fiction, Fact, and Fact, but it helped me lose weight, so I'm not complaining.  Before we left for the trip, Bolivia was like a dark, scary cloud over our itinerary for me. I had read so much about how it was dangerous, researched all of the various methods in which people were going to take me for everything I had, and expected to be uncomfortable our entire time there. The reality couldn't have been further from our expectations. The Bolivians with whom we came in contact were lovely, kind and generous people. They were patient with our bumbling efforts to get by in their language and genuinely wanted to help us. We never once felt that we were being taken advantage of or that we were in danger.

No, I take that back, we did feel that our lives were in danger. But only when we were in buses or taxis. If you have been reading this blog for a while, you already know that transportation in a country like Bolivia is at best nerve-wracking and uncomfortable, and at worst down-right dangerous. When drivers aren't passing on blind curves, they are trying to muscle each other off cliff faces or playing chicken on highways. They are accelerating through gravel roads turns and slamming on their brakes like the stop signs snuck up on them. It is truly terrifying and while we loved Bolivia, we were relieved to see that Chilean and Argentine drivers actually seem to value human life.

Fact or Fiction: Doing a trip like this will be difficult and trying for our couple.

Fact, but that's a good thing. I am going to cover this topic in much more detail in a later post, but the short answer is that long-term travel with someone is like living with someone: there's good and bad, easy days and hard days. Vincent and I have learned a lot about ourselves and our relationship after just two months of traveling, and we expect that we'll continue to be challenged.  But that's an important part of this adventure; after nearly ten years together, it's almost comforting to know that there is still more to learn, still work to be done. It is not, I repeat NOT easy to travel with a partner, but it is absolutely worth it to be able to share this experience with someone you love.

Fact or Fiction: We have a realistic itinerary that we can follow using land transportation.

Fiction. We seriously underestimated the distances and the amount of time we would spend in buses. 20 hours one day. 17 hours a week later. 19 hours two weeks after that. While we love being able to see more of the country and our budget demands that we stay as far away from planes as possible, it also results in a lot of time in transit. As a result, we have decided to forgo certain destinations, simply because it would take too much time and money to get to them. Brazil is one of those places, the very south of Patagonia is another.

Fact or Fiction: It will be impossible to maintain acceptable personal hygiene while traveling and we will basically turn into swamp monsters on the road.

Fiction, but it doesn't mean we look good. Yes, I still wear make-up (albeit less of it). I still shave my legs and (don't read this, Dad) even got a bikini wax. Vincent goes to the barber for a haircut once a month and shaves his big grizzly beard slightly more often. We are able to shower nearly every day, barring tours, treks and 24 hour buses, and haven't had that much difficulty finding laundry facilities or washing our clothes in the sink.

That said, we don't look great. We are making due with our painfully unsexy technical clothes, I haven't used a hairdryer in over two months and kinda just look like a dude all the time, and the nicest outfit Vincent has with him is his hiking shirt and convertible pants. We look like backpackers. But I guess that's the point.

In short, when we were envisioning the trip, we were spot on in some expectations and horribly mistaken in others. Overall though, and this is only two and a half months into the trip, this adventure has been everything we hoped it would be and more. We are loving every second of it. Well, maybe not every second, but even the bad seconds aren't that bad and more often than not, at least make for a good story. We are having a blast, learning so much and just allowing ourselves to enjoy every day. I don't know what more to say about it. It's beyond words.

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