Happiness is eating good food for every single meal and not worrying about getting GI problems. Happiness is spending all your time with family and friends. Its being thankful for simple comforts, luxuries, and pleasures: clean air, carpet, quietness, space, swimming in the (clean) ocean, drinkable tap water, refridgeration, ice, and even a familiar language.
We arrived in Honolulu late this morning for one last hurrah before returning home. I’m expecting a great couple of weeks here for a couple of reasons. For one, Hawaii is one of our favorite places. Besides all the family and friends we have here, there’s every kind of Asian food, the local food is good, the weather is awesome, there are verdant volcanic mountain ranges and dozens of gorgeous beaches, and its incredibly diverse. It’s the one place in the world where there’s a sizable population of hapas. It is everything that we’ve been lacking and craving for the last four months: family, friends, food, and comfort.
Not only is Hawaii paradise, but Oahu is meaningful to me in the same way that Fremont, Santa Barbara, and Delhi are. Although my first visit was not until I was 18, many important events in my life have taken place here. Its where Joylani and I started dating in 2003 and where we got engaged two years later (at Ehukai Beach, pictured above). Some of my closest friendships have been forged here. It’s where I began my adventurous streak, from simple pleasures from driving scooters to complicated endeavors like skydiving to pure pursuits like hiking. It’s great, familiar, and I could not ask for a better way to wind down our adventures.
Four weeks have passed since I last wrote anything for this blog. Recovering from a bad bout of food-poisoning along with a four-day trek, three over-night bus rides, and keeping up with the most energetic 70+ year olds I have ever met, have all taken a lot out of me, and I have chosen to sleep in my spare time, rather than write. Oh, I have a draft or two here and there, and some wafting around in my mind, but nothing ready to post just yet. I will post them…sometime soon…but in the mean time I couldn’t let this last day of our days abroad go by without sharing a thought or two.
As our plane sat on the runway in the crisp air of this morning’s chilly dawn, I felt a sense of accomplishment. Victory. We made it. A little bit scarred, perhaps a bit thinner, survived bad haircuts, a few disastrous bus rides and hotel rooms, got sick a few times—but we made it. And we had so much fun while it happened. And sometimes not so much fun. But it was a good trip.
I didn’t spend very much time thinking about what it would be like to be leaving finally. More of my thoughts have been spent thinking about what it will be like to arrive home and how I will feel: Happy? Sad? Nostalgic? What will it be like to completely change my lifestyle of the last 21 months? The answers will slowly start to show in the next few weeks. But for now I want to break down this victorious feeling I have.
This is not what I expected to be feeling on the plane this morning. It’s like the pleasure of winning race you have spent a long time practicing for. And the triumph of having, perhaps not overcoming, but at least to have survived the perils of dubious sanitation and food over the last couple of months (and be on my way home). I am not a believer of Nietzsche’s, “That which doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,” because I think that that which didn’t kill me has kind of jacked me up. But I do find strength and hope in knowing I will eventually be fully recovered. And it is nice to know I’m coming to a “safer” place where even if I will never look at peanut butter the quite the same, at least I will feel secure brushing my teeth in the tap water.
Finally, there is an accomplishment in having “done” this crazy dream. The dream, or in my opinion at the time, delusion, started sometime around Matt’s first time in India, and during my whirlwind of a trip visiting him. I had had a really uncomfortable last 24 hours, and we had just boarded a train bound for Delhi, where I would be leaving from in a couple of days. We shared the cabin with another couple, maybe five or six years older than us. They were also finishing up a trip—seven months on the road. They didn’t have jobs. I thought they were crazy—what type of adult quits his or her job and gallivants around? Matt, on the other hand, thought they had a good idea, and over the next year, proceeded to make me believe the same. We graduated. We got married. And we worked. We ate a lot of peanut butter sandwiches for lunch, and we pined away at the big map on our wall during dinner.
And then we left, and were finally swept up in the randomness and adventure that happens in dreams. And like with all good dreams when over, I hope to pick up in the same dream again one day.
This is not the end of the blog (coming soon: Hawaii and all my other posts…oh yeh, those…), but for now here’s a little song.
Unfortunately, Joylani’s still pretty sick and stayed inside for most of our last day here. So I ventured out alone this morning. I visited the Basilica del Voto Nacional and climbed up to the very top of its gothic spire. The 360º views of the city were well worth the climb. Afterwards, I stepped into a KFC-type place for some fried chicken, fries, and a Coke- the quintessential South American meal. I sat in the Parque Alameda afterwards to reflect and write a little bit. I’m not nearly as reflective as I thought I’d be, although I hope that those thoughts and emotions will come with time. But I do have some thoughts today.
Today is our last day in Quito, Ecuador, South America, and as international travelers. It also marks the end of our longest overland journey ever. From Buenos Aires to the southernmost point on the South American mainland and then north along the entire Andean range to Quito. Glancing at a map right now, I estimate that we travelled about 10,000 miles over the past 3 months. From Antarctic to Equatorial, it was an amazing journey through five countries. Yet, I am happy to be leaving tomorrow. We’ve seen a lot of amazing things and have had some good times, but we’re both definitely ready to leave the continent for a myriad of reasons. Although not our favorite region of the world, we’re both thankful for the experiences we’ve had. Travel, and life for that matter, is not always comfortable or enjoyable, but valuable and meaningful experiences can still be had. If nothing else, we learned about South America, saw how life is down here, and broadened our perspectives. Although we’re both ready to leave South America, only Joylani’s ready to go home. Me? I could keep on travelling for awhile, but I don’t know if that feeling will ever change.
We do still have a couple weeks in Hawaii before going home home, but we both see that as more of a transition period than part of our trip. It’s taken me awhile to fully comprehend and process many of the big transitions in my life and I doubt this one will be any different. I hope to do a lot of reflecting and writing in Hawaii and I hope to blog at least some of my thoughts in the coming weeks.
We’ve crossed the equator a few times on this trip, but today we actually visited it. There’s a park and monument on the outskirts of Quito. Actually there are two, although both are supposedly “off” by a few hundred meters. It was a bit anticlimactic, although I don’t know what I was expecting since it’s just a line. We took the obligatory photos and walked around the monument. We still had an enjoyable morning, picnicking in the park and walking back and forth between the hemispheres.
Joylani’s feeling pretty sick, so we had a pretty mellow day, but we did make it up to Itchimbia Park a few blocks from our hotel. Although it’s rainy season and its been overcast the past few days, we were still afforded amazing views. I’ve read in a couple places that Quito’s population is 1.4 million. Although I doubted that number based on our explorations of the past couple days, seeing the sprawling city from above has convinced me that the census must be way off. Other random thoughts up at the park included: its weird not seeing all the major cities/sites in a country, its odd not being in a country long enough to get a real feel for it, and the thought that we’re actually flying to the US in two days. I’m wondering why I’m not thinking about the end of our trip more, but Joylani said that’ll come once we start life at home again. We’ll see. Anyways, I’m determined to enjoy my last day in South America tomorrow.
We arrived in Quito early this morning after crossing the border and catching a night bus yesterday evening. During the night, we ascended over 2800 meters and woke up considerably colder. The drive in to the capitol is actually quite beautiful, as the highway follows a verdant valley. Quito just kind of appears, sprawling across the valley and up the mountainsides, like so many other South American mountain towns.
Once settled, we began our day by walking to the Botanical Gardens. It was a few miles away from our hotel, but we got to see a lot of the city. Surprisingly, it’s a really nice city. Green mountains rise above either side of the city. The streets are wide and clean, as are the sidewalks. The old town has been nicely restored, while the new town is clean and seems well maintained. There’s good public transport as well, something Bolivia and Peru sorely lack. I guess I just didn’t expect Ecuador to be this developed or look this nice. The botanical garden was interesting, since Ecuador has so many climatic regions. Afterwards, we ate at one of the many KFC-type fastfood restaurants. I usually like to only eat local food and avoid fastfood for a variety of reasons, but almost all the food I saw in town today was fried chicken or beef fillets. So given the options, I’ll take chain-restaurant food over street stall food purely for sanitation. It seems that we’re regressing foodwise again, which is what I expected of Ecuador. Anyways, just a couple more days here.
Besides surviving bad food, I’d say our biggest accomplishment over the past few months is not having anything stolen. Although I haven’t witnessed any theft or violent crime while in South America, the amount of precautions that people take is witness to the fact that crime is a big problem. In the cities, there’s walls and fences everywhere. You must ring a doorbell at many places to get past locked gates and doors. I’ve been told in countless cities that its unsafe to go out at night. In Bolivia, there’s fake police with fake police cars and fake police stations! There’s fake police in Peru as well, but getting kidnapped or mugged by fake taxis is a bigger problem.The US State Department does not allow its employees to travel at night in Peru. We were wanded, searched, and video-taped while boarding buses numerous times in Peru. Now on a bus in Ecuador, we’ve already been stopped twice by police who pat down all the males and search everyone’s bags. The somewhat frequent bus-jackings in Peru and Ecuador are one of the many reasons that these two countries are considered the most dangerous in South America. But even in developed nations like Argentina and Chile, all baggage going under the bus is tagged and you’re given a baggage-claim-ticket. In Peru, you must check your bag with the bus company rather than putting it under yourself. Its great that so many precautions are taken, but its disconcerting to know the reasons that they’re taken. Tons of theft, armed robbery, and even kidnapping. Even though we’ve been extremely lucky and fortunate, I hate worrying about our belongings and not being sure of our safety. Like the food down here, I hate the prevalence of crime and am thankful that we’ve survived it.
After our bus-delay debacle of yesterday, today was extra sweet. Woke up from my deep slumber, threw on some shorts and t-shirts, walked down into town. Mancora is a touristy little beach town straddling the Panamericana. After getting some delicious bread from the bakery, Joylani and I headed down to the beach. A real beach, not like the few we visited recently. Sand as far down the coast as you could see. Early in the morning, there weren’t too many people out; some kids on horses, some fisherfolk, some surfers, and some families. Joylani and I walked down the beach for an hour. The waves were aqua, the sand light. As we walked, the beach became deserted- just us, the grassy dunes behind us, and some pelicans. The nicest beach I’ve been to in South America, although that’s not saying a whole lot. We didn’t do too much today. Just enjoy not being on a bus. Enjoy being just the two of us for the first time in awhile. Enjoy our last full day in Peru. Mancora’s not an unbelievable beach, but I think its just what we needed.
After spending all afternoon and night on a bus, we were supposed to be at our destination of Mancora by 9am this morning. Instead, we were in Sullana, just a couple hours away from our destination. The Panamerican Highway, and the only highway in these parts as we were to learn, was being blocked. Apparently farmers were blocking the road to protest the government’s plan to privatize the water utilities. No other highways. No possible detours. The riot police were ill-equipped to handle the hundreds of protesting farmers. Eventually, the road was opened, but only when the farmers all went home at the end of the day. We arrived in Mancora around 9pm, 12 hours late and 30 hours after we’d left Lima.