Monday, June 13, 2016

Airplane Thoughts

I've had a lot of time to write lately. Hours on airplanes and swirling thoughts that became a bit easier when I put them on paper. Here are some of the pieces from different plane (and train) rides:

Sucre -> La Paz

I thought when you traveled for a long time you came back a different person. I figured each day away shifted something. That first you'd learn the little things: don't wear your hiking boots to the airport, owning a corkscrew is a good way to meet people in a hostel. Then you'd start learning more things: how to trust that you can figure out the bus from the airport in the newest language, how to talk to strangers, how to ask for help. And eventually you'd start learning bigger things. How to be alone. How to not feel rushed. Why you travel. What you want next. I thought it would be perceptible. Instead it feels like a gradual sharpening. Almost like the lenses they put on your eyes when fitting new glasses. You don't feel different but little things have changed. You forget that packing your bag every day isn't normal. That wearing the same pair of jeans every day for months isn't standard. That not everyone drives a different road each day. You laugh and marvel when you establish a "normal" cafe for breakfast when you finally stop a few days. You forget the unusual and dwell on the fun.

Sure it's annoying that there are no outlets and the wifi crashes and you have to wait for the bathroom…but you have friends to go see dinosaur footprints with.

The slamming door when someone returns to your dorm at 2am? Part of being in a hostel.
Six currencies in your wallet? Totally normal.

I got so used to going through customs that I forgot to check if I needed a visa before entering one country.

And things that maybe shouldn't feel normal. Not having seat belts in the taxis. Ignoring shouts of "hey girl" on the corners. Walking past old men and women who have spent their lives working harder than I have and knowing that they think I'm rich.

And things shift and clarify. Spend enough time alone and you realise how much you love to read. Spend enough time with people from other countries and you start reading the news every morning. Spend enough time feeling likes there's so much more to learn and you eventually realise that you're no longer questioning whether you want to return to school - only how soon it may happen. And occasionally something shifts in an instant. You meet someone and have a conversation and you feel some of the shades lifting in your mind.

And yet through it all some things don't change. You still laugh too much. You still fret about getting off at the right bus stop. You still miss eating toast for breakfast.

You wonder if you can go back to the life you miss.

Sometimes it crashes. Sometimes you start realising that you're getting better at this - that you trust your spanish skills, that you've made new friends, that you stopped second guessing everything, that you feel - dare I say it? - confident. And it crashes. You get sick and you get scared and in an instant the plans change. All those ideas. Gone.

You shatter. Just like the old you did. And you wonder how it can feel the same after so much has changed.

But maybe you have changed a little. Because somewhere deep down a little bit of you knows that you can figure this out. That you'll make new plans and go somewhere else and you'll start laughing again. That little bit of you starts rebuilding even while the rest of you aches.

La Paz -> Lima

Lake Titicaca from the plane

…Maybe traveling is sort of like picking where to go to college. It's a way of finding a bubble where you're likely to make friends. Maybe you can't dismiss that. Yet something in me chafes at that. At not trying to see what's beyond that bubble…and not letting the world amaze you…maybe I dislike the bubble precisely because it makes things easier. I don't want to be scared.

...The smallest thing can shift. The short conversation. The laughing high school kids on their way home. Having a mountain view take your breath away. Holding on for dear life as you stand in the bus aisle and listen to spanish pop music. The absurdity and improbability of a moment in my life, coupled with the recognition that it is someone else's normal. The paradox of the world feeling so vast and yet so small at once. I don't think I could give up chasing these moments even when the price is loneliness.


It feels like it should be easy. Not like it is easy. Everything changed. The southern cross isn't visible anymore. I can understand all the signs and conversations for the first time in 8 months and it's exhausting. It's spring, or maybe summer, and the flowers are out and it's warm and humid and there's salt in the air. The people playing soccer wear uniforms. You can ask for a glass of water at a restaurant.

I forgot how to ask for the check in English. I sat there trying to remember the word after stopping right before I started saying la cuenta.

I miss it. It's beautiful here and interesting and it was a smart decision but I still miss it. I walked through the farmer's market and realised that I wasn't scared to eat anything but I also couldn't argue about prices. And its funny how different it feels from anywhere I've been - I thought it would be familiar to be in any place that speaks English.

I smiled today. Wandering through the farmer's market and listening to musicians on the street. Realizing I don't have to do anything. I feel almost guilty sitting around reading. Somehow it felt justified to sit around with people, but less so alone...

It's so hard to believe that a week ago I was flying across Bolivia. That view from the plane touching down in La Paz. It's so far away. Maybe you don't change while you travel. Not dramatically. But maybe you get faster at readjusting. Maybe just a little, bit by bit. You find your normal in writing on a park bench and reading over coffee instead of sleeping in your own room.

You think you'll find it too quiet when you go home?
You think you can relearn how to have a routine?

I didn't want to leave. I keep saying that like it should change things. I rarely want to leave, but normally it feels like the right time. Everyone tells me I have to learn to listen to myself. They say that like there's some magical right answer you just have to dig down to. No one says that the hard part can be following through. I didn't want to leave. But I did. It was the smart thing to do. No one said I would be sent reeling by languages, climates, time zones, drinkable water, and lacking the excitement that has guided every twist in project and travels so far.

And one more of those things I didn't expect. That despite all the frustration at computers in South America, I still adjusted enough to have trouble typing on an English keyboard again…

Ireland - thank you for being patient with me. For the unrushed afternoons of watching the river flow by over the edge of a book. For the smiles on the street that I'll start returning soon. For the promise of beautiful places to explore as soon as that excitement starts welling up again. 

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