To miss and be missed

Traveling gave us plenty of time to think about things at home. The prospect of another bathroom without toilet paper made me dream of the two ply ultra plush charmin that I’m always talking about, but there were plenty of other things we missed about home. Now that we’re home and on the other side of the coin, I can’t stop thinking about the things I miss about travel. Since this week celebrates our second RTW anniversary, here’s looking back at the things we miss, past and present.

Things We Missed about Home

In all its forms, we missed diversity. Of ideas, of cuisines and of people. Although Mexican food in Mexico is delicious, we missed the variety of cuisine on offer in Washington, D.C. Somewhere around week 3 we broke, went running for hummus and falafel when we found it. We also missed the diversity of people, idea and cultures. We were surprised how homogeneous much of the world is.

Say what you want about the traffic jams and potholes, but trust me, we have a darn good system of infrastructure here. We sat on a parked bus in Argentina all night long waiting for some road work to allow traffic to pass. The backups in China were epic and I’m fairly certain we walked faster than any tuk-tuk in Bangkok. Oh yea and remember the Marsabit to Moyale road? Enough said.

Western Junk Food
Whenever we found western junk food we hit it hard and honestly I have no idea why. We don’t really eat this stuff at home, but I guess it was a form of homesickness. IMGP4217 I think I stopped in every Thai 7-11 I passed for a coke slurpee. I hit the oreos pretty hard on bus rides in China, especially after I discovered the half peanut butter half chocolate ones. Let’s not forget the damage we did in Kuala Lumpur. We went through a box of Cheerios, a bag of doritos, a bag of real Pennsylvania sourdough hard pretzels and a jar of peanut butter in a few hours. We felt sick and yet it was delicious.

Tap Water
We mostly used the Steri-Pen to purify tap water, but I missed not being able to get cold, fresh and decently tasting water from the tap. Sure it only took 90 seconds to clean, but that never removed the nasty taste or discoloration we sometimes encountered. Or the fish we caught in our water bottle while hiking in Peru.

I’m the opposite of a fashionista, but I missed my clothes. I take that back, I missed the option of having clothes. I usually carried three bottoms with me- my ubiquitous black workout pants, my zippy pants and my long black skirt. The zippy pants were pretty much inappropriate outside of Africa or on the trail, and while I had a 4 tops, almost all were in shades of blue and it never felt like I had options. Sometimes I missed having a closet. Mostly though, I missed my jeans and hoodies.

Customer Service
I hated having to play “angry (insert euphemism for white person here) woman” in order to get someone to do what they said they would. I hated having to ask for clarification 1000 times before we paid for a trip, tour or excursion so that we wouldn’t get screwed. Basically, I hated having to doubt people’s word.

What we now miss

Third World Convenience
I knew I would miss this right away. Although it took some getting used to, I miss the regular appearance of street food on transportation and it’s friend the cold soda. Heading up the metro escalator in DC the other day, it was pouring buckets of rain and we were without an umbrella. I told Danny we’d buy an umbrella from the vendor at the top. Unfortunately there wasn’t anyone. Had this been Latin America, there’d be three guys selling ponchos and umbrellas. I miss those guys.

These were usually annoying on the road, but now I miss them. Surprise! This bus only goes halfway to your destination. Surprise! Today is a very important national holiday that we forgot to mention. Surprise! The border is closed today. Surprise! The man sitting across from me at the medical clinic in Addis Abbaba lives in DC. Surprise! Thai food in Thailand is actually as good as you imagine. Yes, they could be annoying, but it kept things interesting and I miss those instances where there was nothing to do but to laugh and be flexible.

I miss being able to pick up and move across a country whenever we felt like it. I miss the freedom to go wherever whenever I wanted. Sure, I can still do that now, but it’s much more expensive, which brings me to my next point.


Feeling Rich
It’s hard not to feel this way in developing countries where you can buy whatever you want whenever you want despite a tight budget. It was really nice to travel when we didn’t have to worry about the budget and could order whatever we wanted off a menu. Sounds awful, but it was nice to feel rich.

What I miss most about traveling is the people. I miss their hospitality, curiosity and genuine friendship. I miss their offers to help us whether we wanted it or not, and their kindness. The world is an amazing place and we were overwhelmed by the generosity we were shown. I miss the way a train conversation would morph into a discussion spanning the entire car about our predicament or how passing peanuts to the back of a shared taxi elicited a joke that made every passenger burst into laughter. I miss meeting these incredible people.

Brussels: Chocolate and a Tour…

We were determined to prove two Belgian travelers wrong about their country: it is NOT possible to see Belgium in one day. In fact we spent 4 days in Belgium and only left Brussels once. So there.IMGP5355

More than any place on this entire trip, Brussels reminded us of home. No, it wasn’t the french accent, the chocolate, the strange little boy statue or the little-Africa neighborhood downtown. While these could all be said of DC, it was the vibe of “power” in the city. The political center of the European Union, we attended a birthday party where the attendees were from no less than a dozen nations.  (In fact, ‘Happy Birthday’ was sung in three different languages.)  It was the first time in a long time that we were really able to enjoy ourselves in a big group, not having to constantly wonder if the other person understood what we were saying.  English in fact, despite there being only three native English speakers at the party, was the language of choice.  Like DC, everyone it seemed directly or indirectly worked in European politics. Conversations swirled about current events, international politics and exotic travel. We felt at home.

Brussels of course is not like home. IMGP5381Chez Antoine is not cooking up fries on in a petite maison on 14th street in Washington and there is no way Ben’s Chili Bowl is going to start serving pomme frites with 20+ varieties of mayonnaise. We walked into the European Parliament building without showing a badge, doing the same in DC would have been a breach of national security! Buildings are much older and much taller, and there’s good Belgium chocolate is everywhere…not just at Trader Joe’s.  Yes, things are different, but not by too much.  And since we were there for the 4th of July, we still managed to enjoy a nice BBQ, some fireworks, and a trip to to Waterloo to celebrate the defeat of the French….clearly the next best option when in Europe with no other American’s around…

Besides eating ridiculous amounts of french fries, we spent our long weekend in Belgium visiting with friends, and dragging them to the Tour de France, which went through Brussels on its way from the starting point in Holland back to France.  Le Tour was the real reason we wanted to come to Brussels. If we were going to be in Europe in July, we were going to the Tour de France. That was the deal. So off we went, and when people asked why we were in Belgium we always replied in the best French accent we could muster, Le Tooouurrrrrr! The Tour did not disappoint, but you’ll have to wait for our next post to find out why…

The Garden Route

The Garden Route is a seemingly mythical stretch of coastline in South Africa stretching about 400 miles from Cape Town east along the Indian Ocean. This stretch is known as a surfer’s paradise offering bay after bay of relatively warm waters abutting sleepy seaside towns where ones biggest worry is when to sleep. But since we don’t surf and I happen to be from South Florida, which makes me a spoiled little brat when it comes to all these world class beaches we keep coming across, we skipped most of the Garden Route.

The one big Garden Route activity we were sure not to miss was the Tsitsikamma National Park. As we hadn’t arranged to hike the five day Otter trail in advance in Tsitsikamma NP we were only able to spend a night there gazing at the stars, watching seals and dolphins, and hiking along some of the most stunningly violent coastline we’d ever seen.

A trip inland from the Garden Route to the Cango Caves yielded us one of the best spelunking experiences possible. These caves are hundreds of thousands of years old and are amongst the biggest in the world. The most amazing part is that they are still growing and as a result the vast majority of the known cave system is still unexplored. The reason that this tour was so wonderful was that there was an adventure option where we were able to go deeper and crawl through small little spaces, getting our clothes snagged and making us wish we’d skipped that last cookie. It was quite a workout and gave us a profound respect for the people who actually do explore caves rather than just take tours (that would be us) of big caverns. Sure swimming through the caves in Guatemala was probably more memorable but this was still pretty darn cool.

After the caves we went to the ostrich farm, although you’ll have to wait till tomorrow to see those videos.

It was in George where we most enjoyed the Garden Route while making good on an invitation we received while in Bariloche, Argentina. While we were with them we were welcomed in as one of their own, joining them on the morning bike ride, for a picnic at the beach which included ocean surfing kayaks, visiting the local market, and grilling at the local park. The most important thing we did however, was debating the merits of the peanut butter and jelly sandwich against the peanut butter and syrup sandwich…

Despite beginning the weekend with a hurt foot, (I’d had a plantar’s wart removed the day prior) banging my nose with a paddle (everyone agreed that it was actually Jill beating me) while surfing, and having a poisonous (we’re not sure so we decided it must be poisonous) snake swim toward us while we were paddling in the river, we had an absolutely wonderful time. Its times like these that we most value at this point in our travel. Not because these are things we could never have done on our own but because these are the experiences which leave us the fondest memories possible of a place. Its also good to feel at “home” once in awhile too!

The world keeps on moving…

It hasn’t been such a rough transition coming home for “intermission.”  We’ve been gone long enough to appreciate rather than be annoyed by the little things that make home, home.  Yes, people yelling into their cell phones are annoying, but that appears to be a worldwide phenomenon and one that’s probably not going to change.

We appreciate so many things we took for granted before we left.  Little things.  Sitting in Bryant Park last week I used the most incredible public bathroom I’d ever seen.  Well decorated, clean with fancy hand soap, soft ply toilet paper and fresh cut flowers; I couldn’t help but laugh out loud at the thought of some of the restrooms I’ve used over the last nine months.  The difference couldn’t be more staggering.  That bathroom  was like heaven on earth.

I’m sure we’ve changed more than we think, mostly because we don’t think we’ve changed that much.  Nine months is a long time, and yet change happens very slowly.  Take for example many of our friends and family.  They’ve become parents (12 new babies we know or are about to know!) and homeowners, met a significant other, bought new furniture, taken new jobs, and planned their weddings.  They’re the same people and yet they have all matured, changed, and moved forward  in their lives.  Not that I ever expected things to remain at a standstill, but its amazing to see how similar and yet different people are after nine months.   Ever heard the expression same, same, but different?  That’s how I feel.

Same, same, but different.  That’s probably how we seem to all of you.  Life goes on and next week we’ll be in Africa.  Perhaps there it won’t be so similar, but having traveled all over South America we’ve found that people, in every small village and of every background tend to live up to the expression.  We’re all the same same, but different.

Oh and one more thing to women out there- when did tights become pants?

We´ve hit our minimum!

6 months into our trip!

On Friday, March 13, our friend Alan dropped us off at the US boarder just south of San Diego…and we walked into Tijuana. We were scared, nervous, bewildered, and any number of other adjectives that one can use to describe confusion and fear of the unknown. But we were excited too. The world awaited and our time had come to go out and discover it.

Six months is significant for one reason and one reason only. It was our minimum. Six months was the amount of time we decided we´d force ourselves to meet. Once we´d been gone six months it will have been worth it to quit our jobs and make ourselves homeless. If we came home after six months, well, at least we gave it a good shot.

We´ll be home in November.

But in December we will fly to South Africa where we will begin the famed Cape Town to Cairo overland trek. Sure, we may have to fly over a space here or there but we´re going to Africa and that is exciting in itself.

To tell you the truth though, travelling like this has been hard and we plan to write a couple of posts in the near future talking about that. We are very much looking forward to our trip home to see our friends and family and hope that many more will follow in the footsteps of Poncho and Leah and join us along the way. Most importantly, thank you to all of you who have helped along the way with messages of support and reminisces of home!