(re)Adjusting to America

It hasn’t been easy (re)Adjusting to America. I’ve been overwhelmed by everything from thick bath towels longer than I am tall (ok, almost), Keurig coffee makers, and the Kardashians – just to name a few of the many things that I can’t seem to be able to wrap my head around. It would seem that I simply don’t know what it is to be “American” these days. Target employees make me want to run and hide in the middle of a rack of clothing. HELLO! HOW CAN I HELP YOU TODAY? ARE YOU FINDING EVERYTHING OK? ANYTHING I CAN DO FOR YOU? And then there’s the plethora of choices. So. many. choices. all. the. time. Different brands. Different sizes. Different packages. Aisles upon aisles of… food and more food. or toothpastes. or bras and underwear. or lotions. or candy. or magazines. or…

When I left America, there was cheese. Sure, there were different kinds of cheese; cheddar, mozzarella, feta… But now there’s non-dairy cheese. Lactose intolerant cheese. Organic cheese. Gluten free cheese. Vegan cheese. And the diets everyone is on? It makes my head spin. I shouldn’t judge. I know my diet changed a lot on our trip. Like in S.E. Asia, there were noodles- so we ate noodles. In Nepal and India, there wasn’t any beef, but there was a lot of curry! We didn’t eat beef, we ate curry. In Africa it was impossible to find fresh vegetables. Guess what we didn’t eat? Fresh vegetables. And now that we’re back in America, where you can eat absolutely anything you could possibly want… people choose not to eat certain foods? Even worse, people let food go to waste?

You’re full after eating your soup AND appetizer, so you’re just going to throw away half of a perfectly good cheeseburger because you’re FULL? Because YOU DON’T KNOW WHAT IT’S LIKE TO NOT HAVE HAD A GOOD CHEESEBURGER IN MONTHS? Girl, please, I will take that cheeseburger home for you if you don’t want it. And no, not because there are poor starving children in Africa (although there are) but because I know what it’s like to not have a cheeseburger when I really, really want one. It’s not just this that’s on my mind if I’m out at a restaurant these days. It’s the bubbly waitress, it’s the constant coffee refills, it’s the tipping… I haven’t tipped in so long, it’s like I never learned basic math skills to immediately calculate and slip 20% in with my bill.

And did you know EVERYONE SPEAKS ENGLISH?

At least in middle America they do.

There was one night in Madison (Wisconsin) though where we found ourselves in a Vietnamese restaurant next to a table full of Spanish speakers. Because listening to their conversation felt more normal than anything had since we touched down in America, I couldn’t help but giggle as one of them (in Spanish) made fun of someone who told them they needed to stop speaking “Mexican.”

And everyone talks to you all the time. At least, to me they do. It’s fantastic! And totally weird because I’m not used to speaking the same language fluently. But it’s great… just as long as no one else is speaking English at the same time. Because I’ve lost all ability to filter other conversations out of my brain simultaneously. When you’re living in Korea, and your Korean isn’t fluent, filtering others out is literally a no-brainer. Same for traveling in and out of countries where you don’t speak the language. But when everything is in English? It’s like everyone in close proximity is inside of my brain and I cannot for the life of me get their voices, their conversations out of it. Perhaps if I thought everyone was speaking at a reasonable volume it would be easier… But it seems like everyone has been shouting at me or in every conversation with or around me since our arrival. I would like to think everyone has just been really excited to see me, but I have a feeling it has nothing to do with me and more to do with the bigger (voice) the better. I have yet to figure out why…

I thought (stupidly) that adjusting to being around our old friends again was going to be the hardest part. It’s definitely been an adjustment, but mostly because Andrew and I went without friends (unless we were lucky enough to meet or meet up with some on our trip for more than one afternoon or night) for 15 months. The majority of that time, we were alone. Friendships were maintained via email and even then it was a bit spotty. I would go for weeks or months without hearing from some friends and I would have to remind myself that I was the one who left them. I was the one who went off the grid when the internet simply didn’t work very well in countries like Nepal or Mozambique or Ecuador… But as soon as I got back, it felt as though everyone was waiting with arms wide open. They left keys under plants for us to let ourselves in after our plane landed at three in the morning. They showed up with a six pack of Spotted Cow – not even for me – but for Andrew! They bought us (and some continue to buy us) drinks when we go out. One drove an hour and a half just to have dinner with us! Now that I have an American number, they text, they send gifs of the Golden Girls to my phone, they call, and it feels like I have friends again. We aren’t alone anymore. The adjustment isn’t a rough one, but an unexpected “Oh this is what it’s like to have people around” feeling that wasn’t anticipated.

I also thought (stupidly) that adjusting to being a physical part of my family again was going to be one of the easier parts of this transition. They’ve known me the longest, right? They made me, or, at least, they’ve been around after I was made… how could they not ‘get me’ by now? I could not have been more wrong. I have become so familiar with what it’s like to feel like I don’t have a family that I was ecstatic to be “home” again. This enthusiasm was not matched and I struggle with how to let go of the disappointment.

It seems as if everyone has their own opinion of our adventure around the world and the choice that we made to do it in the first place. Most people think of our 15 month jaunt around the world as a vacation. Like, we were having so much fun all the time, and the pictures we posted on Facebook meant we were always having this amazing time. It was amazing, it was an unbelievable adventure, but it was also WAY more work than going to a traditional job everyday from 9-5. Even if we were seeing an incredible site in the morning, in the afternoon we might be traveling or planning how to get to our next destination or where our next destination was going to be. It. was. hard. We went on this adventure to learn and grow and of course, see the world, but not because we thought it was going to be a 15 month holiday. And we’re moving to New York for some of the same reasons, but it seems as though a lot of people think it’s just one more irresponsible dream we’re chasing down. This makes the transition even more difficult.

I also struggle with anxiety over the future. Over wanting our move back to America to work out. Over wanting a job again. Over wanting a full kitchen and inviting friends over for a beautiful dinner. Or simply being able to buy all of my friends drinks instead of the other way around. I don’t know what the future is going to bring, and I’m not always confident in it, or myself. But then Andrew gets crazy optimistic on me. Or I get a gif of Betty White shimmying across a dance floor. Or a message from a friend reminding me that I survived a rhino (it was actually a hippo) threat while high on malaria meds in Africa and to keep calm and carry on.

 

Day 439: Cartagena to Playa Blanca

Playa Blanca is a beautiful white sand beach on one of the Rosario Islands off the coast of Cartagena. Per everyone’s advice, we skipped the aquarium/island tour en route, and went straight from Cartagena to Playa Blanca. At least, that’s what we asked for. Multiple times when we were buying our tickets to Playa Blanca. Waiting at the harbor for the right boat was confusing, for everyone it seemed, except those walking around with clipboards and lists of names. 

Once we finally got on what we were told was the right boat (and we did see our names on the list) we discovered we were with a tour group going to the aquarium. Fortunately, after the thirty minute boat ride, we were dropped off first at Playa Blanca. Again, we heeded advice given to us and immediately began walking down the beach  (to the left of where you get dropped off) to get away from the vendors and day visitors. We settled for a cabana steps from the ocean, slipped into our suits, and pulled chairs under the umbrella and didn’t move for the rest of the afternoon.

Day 438: More salsa in Cartagena? Yes, please!

And that’s exactly what we did. More of the same from the day before. Walked around the old town. And, again, were the only two who showed up to the group lesson at Crazy Salsa. At night, we went back into the old town to a salsa club that one of the guys working at the hostel recommended. We must have showed up too early, because while there were a lot of people milling about, none were dancing. We left to walk around the old town at night, stumbled upon an outdoor concert wrapping up, and then back to the club. When we returned, there was a bit more dancing, and some older Colombians took pity on me dancing by myself next to Andrew who was trying to pay attention to all of the fancy footwork on the little dance floor. After several dances with the same two sweet Colombians, we left to catch a little sleep before our boat to Playa Blanca in the morning.

Day 436: Cartagena

Cartagena is hot. It’s not only hot, it’s humid. Our first stop? Giant glasses of fresh fruit juice a block away from our hostel. Another guest informed us the juice was better (and bigger) there, rather than at the hostel itself. Once we were slightly cooled off, we set off for the old city. The old city of Cartagena is a walled-in city full of beautiful colonial style buildings. All of the guide books recommend walking around Cartagena’s old city for days on end. It’s the thing to do, and as you can see below- for good reason. Every street was full of character, sitting in the park watching the birds and the children feeding (or trying to catch) the birds was entertaining, even when it rained, a rainbow popped up over the walled in city. Beautiful. No other word for it. We walked around the entire day, stopping only to cool off in an air-conditioned store or ice-cream shop.

Day 433: El Rodadero

El Rodadero seemed to be the least dangerous area of Santa Marta. Perhaps this is because it might be the least visited by foreigners. Once we walked around town, we realized why. It seemed to be a locals only tourist destination. When we walked down the main beach, we were amazed at how many people there were and to be frank; how dirty it was. Families upon families were camped out next to each other and garbage was everywhere. At least while we were walking along the beach there were a few garbage men picking up the trash, but still! It was rather unbelievable. I wanted (desperately) to photograph it all, but I didn’t feel comfortable whipping out my DSLR on the beach amongst a lot of locals, so I kept it tucked away in my bag (or room). We left the crowded beach and found a smaller, less crowded, and much less dirty beach a little ways down and enjoyed the water and beach there instead. It was lovely to be on a beach again, but quite different from the beaches of SouthEast Asia and it made us question what fuels the difference. 

Day 432: Medellin to Santa Marta

Despite our love of 12 hour+ bus rides (kidding), we decided to fly from Medellin to Santa Marta instead. We weren’t totally sure if it was going to be smooth sailing, as we heard multiple stories of Viva Colombia! Airlines often canceling and delaying flights. 

There was a lot of confusion within the airport itself, but we managed to land safely only about an hour later in Santa Marta. Much more convenient than a day (and night) on another bus.


Day 407: Quito at 5 AM

Quito at 5 AM is not exactly the best time to be walking around with all of your worldly possessions in tow. We jumped in an overpriced taxi (we’re gringos after all) and headed straight to our hostel, where we weren’t sure if we would be able to check in immediately or not. When we found out we weren’t able to, we camped out in the living room, and not feeling comfortable enough to sleep, we both pulled out our computers. Until we were able to check into our room, around ten in the morning, I worked on the blog. Yep, for five hours, on very little sleep, I edited photos, videos, took advantage of the fast internet connection (the first time I had a fast internet connection in several weeks) and tried to get some work done. By the time we were sinking into our bed, I had five new posts up and was more than ready to crash. Which is exactly what we did for the majority of the afternoon. We were exhausted. We went out for dinner, and then amidst the excitement in the streets for another Ecuador World Cup Qualifier, we headed back to our room to watch the game in bed, instead of a bar. The best part was not being able to watch the game in my underpants- but that our television was on a tiny delay. Every time we would hear loud cheering on the streets, I would know to pay attention and wouldn’t miss a goal (or a save)! I’m sure not everyone would agree, but given how exhausted I was, it was the perfect way to watch Ecuador make it into the World Cup! 

Day 386: Trujillo

Despite clearly planing our trip to hop so many countries, and see as much as we have this past year… Some days it clearly catches up to us and we’re simply tired, overwhelmed, or in need of a slower day (and at least one soft serve ice-cream cone from McDonalds). Today, in Trujillo was one of those days. We arrived in Trujillo early in the morning, and thankfully were allowed to check into our (very) modest room immediately. Most people nap in the afternoon. Our naps are usually between the hours of 6:00 and 1:00 in the morning and very early afternoon. It’s become almost routine. We indulged in a longer nap than usual before walking around town, an early dinner, some ice-cream, and an early night in.

While I wouldn’t change a thing about how and where we’ve traveled this past year, I might not do it quite the same way next time. Yes, we’ve already discussed next time. You are welcome to roll your eyes and think we’re crazy. We roll our eyes, often at each other – and we think we’re crazy – quite often. However, aside from knowing I’d like to change up our next jaunt around the world, it really burns my britches when other travelers (especially those who are on a different schedule, have a different budget, or even have different goals) make backhanded compliments like “I don’t know how you travel so quickly!” or ask questions like “Are you actually staying in one place for more than a couple of days?” and “Don’t you get tired?”

Instead of kicking them in the shins, while they are sandwiched in between their backpacks, I generally smile and try to explain that it’s simply what I wanted from my trip around the world. What I really want to say is usually saved for Andrew’s ears only. He humors me (or tunes me out, I really haven’t been able to discern when he does which) while I lecture the air in our room for the night about how my fellow travelers should know better than to be judgmental of anyone who simply wants to see the world, regardless of how they do it! Really, sometimes I just want to say:

“The only thing worse than a judgmental person is a judgmental traveler, and that judgmental traveler is you!”

Too harsh? Maybe. But, my point is this: Every traveler is different. Every trip is different. We’ve traveled so quickly this past year because it’s what we wanted to do this time around. We do actually stay in one place for more than a couple of days, but sometimes we don’t, and we’re ok with it. And yes, of course we get tired.

Do you know one traveler who doesn’t get tired ever? No, I didn’t think so.

When I get tired, I take a nap. When I get overwhelmed, I order pizza and watch a movie (or several episodes of American tv) in my hotel room – unless we’re in Africa and I watch a movie – if we have power – without the pizza. And when I need to slow my roll (like today) I walk around for a couple of hours, maybe take some pictures, maybe not, and then (especially if it’s not the most exciting city in the world- like, maybe Trujillo) I call it a day.