There have been major highs and lows thus far, many within the same day. I’ve come to realize that as much as I embrace and appreciate this whole experience, I was also romanticizing many aspects. At times when I am dirty, tired, cold, hungry, sick and achy, everything seems dank. Then there are times when I am completely comfortable, clean, rested, full and so thrilled with life that I feel like hugging and kissing strangers. Apart from the obvious strains of backpacking on a shoestring, I have had a hell of a time with some personal challenges. At the risk of sounding like a big wimp, but for the sake of honesty, I’m about to let you in on a few of the lows (as well as highs) of traveling. Maybe this will help our most jealous friends feel better!
I lived a very austere life on an ashram in Mexico for eight years and broke a lot of my Westernized expectations and material attachments, but after a year and a half back in the USA, I have definitely become spoiled and comfortable again! In Mexico, and many other countries in the world, you have to become very Zen-like to make it through everyday life happily, and I did. Water and electricity are often lost because of strong wind or broken pumps, punctuality is nonexistent and what Americans consider to be necessities are actually privileges and luxuries. It’s time to get back into Zen-mode! I am consciously trying to enjoy every aspect of traveling, but as much as I hate to admit it, I often have to confront my judgmental side. Dirty holes as toilets, no toilet paper to be found, wearing the same (at times stinky) clothes for many days, trying not to let my imagination get the best of me while wondering about hostel sheets, being electrocuted (not shocked… electrocuted!) by faulty wiring, 12 -18 hour bus rides with kids kicking your back and smelly people snoring symphonies, bus drivers that blast static radio stations on an overnight trip or watching a cook cough directly into your order - sometimes it’s hard to not get annoyed or fanatic about personal space and cleanliness.
There is an internal struggle that goes on as I constantly remind myself to observe, learn, appreciate and experience without holding anything up to my normal living standards. Every nightmare experience actually becomes incredibly funny once it’s over. Having someone to shoot looks at when things are getting nutty is a huge benefit of traveling as a couple. Nothing is better than knowing someone you love is suffering from the same chaos and enjoying the same wonders along with you!
Those of you that know me well know that I don’t like to walk up hills. I know, it sounds lazy but I HATE hills. I can walk for days, but add an incline and I lose it… my heart pounds out of my chest, I lose my breath and I turn into a miserable, complaining, little-old woman. Anyone that knows Izzy, knows that he LOVES hiking up mountains and anything else difficult enough to make you hate life while doing it. So far I have endured many climbs. It feels like every day we are on another hike that Izzy swears is ending, “just around the bend.” I can honestly say that after the fact, I appreciate everything he challenges me to do. I have realized how much I would be missing out on if I had done this trip alone – so many sights I wouldn’t have seen and gratification I wouldn’t have felt. I still say I’m not doing it every time I hear of another plan to climb something, but I know now what I’m missing if I don’t, and so I eventually give in.
EATING (OR NOT EATING)
I have been a vegetarian for 16 years and while in Mexico I was a vegan as well. Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE cheese and ice cream, but I also know the great health and ecological benefits of cutting out dairy (as well as meat). I was eating dairy again before starting the trip (including massive amounts of Dairy Queen ice cream as we drove cross-country!), but I watched the video Diet for a New America before leaving the US and I have been pretty put off by it since. Staying with the Hare Krishnas (outside of Lima) was wonderful because everything was mostly vegan, but towards the end of ten days living on just potatoes, corn and rice, I started giving Izzy my portions. There is only so much starch one person can take! I started eating half of what I normally would, while Izzy started making up for it, eating two to three times what he used to eat in the States (I’ll fatten him up yet Jeanie!).
Once out of Eco Truly, things only got worse and I eventually burst into tears at a restaurant that promised me a big veggie salad, but brought me ¼ of a lettuce leaf, five cheese sticks (that I couldn’t eat) and a teaspoon of guacamole. Poor Izzy was searching for answers, trying to understand why his girlfriend was having a nervous breakdown over cheese sticks. We came up with a plan and the next day we went in search of the elusive fruit and veggie market. Next, we scouted out the best sized purse (turned “Marisa lunch bag”) we could find. With my new Peruvian sack full to the brim with olives, avocados, tomatoes, carrots, apples and cucumbers, I finally felt at peace. I had been hungry for so many days that I had started losing my common sense – why hadn’t I done this earlier? Meanwhile, Izzy had been having a heyday eating everything from octopus to chicken feet soup and according to him, guinea pig still to come!
Spending 24 hours day together for the last two and half months has been a surprisingly easy challenge. We have had our tiffs a few times, like the time he didn’t want to take off his rank-nasty clothes before getting into our new, clean bed or the time I ate his box of chocolates without asking him, hoping to cover my tracks the next day (I was unsuccessful), but all in all it has been a joy to travel together. I love how this lifestyle has accelerated everything. We have had to deal with issues we would probably never have had to in our LA life. We are very good at laughing at each other when we are being ridiculous or moody – that helps a lot! We are having a blast together.
One of the most beautiful parts of traveling so far has been the humanity of connecting with people from around the world, fellow travelers and locals alike. There is a natural affinity among backpackers and everyone looks out for each other. For example, last night on the train back to Cusco (from Machu Picchu) we sat across from a guy from Uruguay. He was traveling with a couple friends and I offered him my coat as a pillow so he could sleep. We didn’t talk until the last two minutes of the train ride, but when he found out we would be visiting his country in a few months, he immediately offered to set us up with places to stay when we get there. Strangers caring about strangers, I love the comrodery. I mentioned this before, but it’s worth mentioning again - this is like summer camp! We get to make new friends everyday and play like little kids. The freedom is incredible and I appreciate every moment of designing my life. This is a wonderful stepping stone to formulating exactly what we want to do in our future life together!
Trying our hardest to be uncool...
DEAR OLD FRIENDS
I cannot tell you the joy it gives us to hear from you all. Please continue (or start) to comment and send emails. You are all on our minds and we talk about you constantly! If you haven’t subscribed to the blog, please let us know if you are reading along. It’s more fun posting when we know we have readers!!! Last note: We just got the greatest news that our buddy Gur (from LA) will be meeting us in Buenos Aires, Argentina for ten days over the Christmas / New Year holidays! Who will be next?