Anchor Chains, Plane Motors, and Train Whistles – A Note on Travel

Anchor Chains, Plane Motors, and Train Whistles – A Note on Travel

George Bailey: You know what the three most exciting sounds in the world are?
Uncle Billy: Uh huh. Breakfast is served; lunch is served; dinner…
George Bailey: No no no no. Anchor chains, plane motors and train whistles.

-It’s a Wonderful Life

I lie in bed in the loft of my grandmother’s condo, a condo which overlooks a river that trails through a city. A city in the middle of nowhere, I could say. A city in the center of everything, you might argue.

As I lie here, surrounded by overflowing suitcases and half-packed boxes, I gaze up through the skylight. The starry sky shines with all the brilliance of a hot summer night. In the past week, the clouds have gathered, the rain has poured, and the province has flooded.

But none of this matters to me — tomorrow, I’m leaving. Read more

On Moving Across the World

On Moving Across the World

I lean my head against the taxi window.  A plane sweeps down to land, so near that I can make out the seams of its massive underbelly.  My leather jacket is creased with campfire ash — remnants of a night that already seems long past.  Wet skin sticky with salt.  Drifting to sleep to the clink of emptied wine bottles and scattered conversation.  But now the rows of tarmac grow ever nearer.

I shift uncomfortably, my muscles tense from a bike ride along the Vancouver seawall.  That morning, the tide had been out. Fields of bull kelp and green algae littered the rocky shore and I inhaled the Pacific in all its rawness.  It smelled like our island.

I tuck away that ocean scent, along with that of the lingering campfire smoke.  Snippets of Canada, the home that I’m leaving.

Read more

La Viajera Auditions for the Amazing Race Canada

La Viajera Auditions for the Amazing Race Canada

“Esther asks why people are sad. ‘That’s simple,’ says the old man. ‘They are the prisoners of their personal history. Everyone believes that the main aim in life is to follow a plan. They never ask if that plan is theirs or if it was created by another person. They accumulate experiences, memories, things, other people’s ideas, and it is more than they can possibly cope with. And that is why they forget their dreams.’” — Paulo Coelho, The Zahir

 

In line with the idea of forging our own paths in life and ignoring the “American Dream” plan, my younger brother, Peter, and I have sent in our audition tape to Canada’s version of Amazing Race.  We are just one of hundreds and hundreds of pairs who entered, but we thought it was a fun project to do together.  You never know, maybe we’ll have a shot.

For our video, we decided to do a spoof of the new Molson Canadian commercial (Check it out here).  Enjoy!

 

One Year and 68 450 km Later… the Final Map of My Journey

One Year and 68 450 km Later… the Final Map of My Journey

It’s been exactly one year since I packed up my bags and took off to Edmonton International Airport for the trip of a lifetime.  (They call it that, but I plan on making it a more-than-once-in-a-lifetime-trip).  At that point, I really knew nothing about what I was getting myself into.  I started off the trip on a high with the Vancouver Salsa Festival.   From there, I headed to Europe, where I spent some time with some of my most beloved Dutch family members, and of course, my close friends.  I even got the experience of St. Patrick’s Day in Ireland with someone very dear to me.  Then it was off to Portugal, and onward to Brazil.

Looking back, it amazes me how many places I visited, and things are beginning to get a little fuzzy.  I’ve been home almost two months now, and I know I’ve slowly slipped into the post-trip rut.  You know the feeling: work seems like a huge chore, and you’re already itching to get out there again.  Some things about home stayed the same, but other aspects (especially of friendships) have changed.  There have been a few days lately when I just want to leave for the Netherlands now…

I think the issue and perceived solution of leaving are one in itself.  Because I know I won’t be here for too long, I haven’t dug in deep roots.  I view everything as temporary.  I haven’t bought a car, haven’t found a “career” job, and have no interest in looking for a relationship.  So I haven’t quite let myself routine to a settled routine.

So it’s with mixed emotions that I look back on my trip today.  It’s gotten to the point that my trip seems like a distant memory.  It’s amazing how quickly the rush and clutter of Western life sets in again.  But I know that while I’m here, I will take full advantage of my amazing friends and salsa opportunities, and hold out until it’s time to hit the road again.

Fortunately enough, I get to go on a mini trip this coming week.  Better yet, it’s to the 2013 Vancouver Salsa Festival, where I will get to see a few people that I met on my trip last year, either at the very same congress, or in South America!  I can’t wait to reconnect with them on the other side of the world, and watch my year come around full circle.

For anyone who is interested, here is the final map of my trip.  I’ve listed the dates and hostels that I stayed in in every location, for a reference tool for anyone who is planning their own trip.  Contact me if you have any questions about the accommodations!

Over 315 days, I traveled through an estimated 84 cities/towns in 17 countries, using 29 planes, 15 boats, 5 motorcycles, 3 bicycles, 1 helicopter… and more metros, trains, and buses than I can count.

 Total Distance – 68, 640 km  (This is a rough estimate based on the most direct routes, as opposed to the actual highways/roads journeyed.  The number should actually be MUCH higher than this)

Total Hostels/Accommodations: 55+

 

 


View La Viajera — The Trip in a larger map

Visiting a House, Remembering a Home

Visiting a House, Remembering a Home

“I don’t want to be little again. But at the same time I do. I want to be me like I was then, and me as I am now, and me like I’ll be in the future. I want to be me and nothing but me. . . I want to be every single thing it’s possible to be. I’m growing and I don’t know how to grow. I’m living but I haven’t started living yet.”
― David Almond in Jackdaw Summer

  

 

January 21, 2013

I turn the Toyota Corolla onto a slippery, unplowed suburban street.  The car isn’t mine.  Like many things in my life these days, it was lent to me to aid my transition back to “real life.”

The tires squeal as they slide along the ice.  Some things haven’t changed — 22 years on this crescent, and each one involved terrible winter roads.

I pass a man shoveling snow.  I’ve known him since I was three — the father of my first best friend.  He lives at the end of a keyhole, and we used to mock my mother because she would  habitually turn her head to glance at their house as we drove past.  Once, my brother and I even taped a sign to her windshield — “Don’t look left by the Riediger’s.”

My chest tightens as I round the bend.  #17 looms in front of me.  Dark brown, shadowed by a towering fir tree.

I still think it looks like a bunker.  Or a haunted house — every Halloween our place was the creepiest on the block, even once we stopped decorating it.

Cruuunch — go the tires. That driveway has always been tricky to shovel.

As I put the car in park, I spot the toys in the side yard.  Toys that were never mine.  They painted the garage door lighter, I note.

My vision blurs slightly, and I blink hard.

I ring the bell for a door that no longer opens with my keys.  I stare at the Christmas wreath until the door swings open.

A wide smile, a friendly face.  Behind her, a boy races up the stairs.  Has he already discovered that those steps are great for jumping tricks? My brother and I once choreographed a whole dance routine on those stairs, to “Backstreet’s Back.”  We pretended not to hear when the pop stars asked, “Am I sexuaaaal!?” just so my mother wouldn’t get mad.

“You must be Ellen.”

My focus snaps back as she greets me.  Her husband enters the hall.  He shakes my hand, and passes me a fat bundle of mail.

The floor plan of my house — their house, I should say — hangs, framed, on the wall in front of me, just where the settee used to sit.  The walls are yellow now, the floor, hardwood.

I smile politely, and ask what else they plan to change.  They’ll paint my bedroom, I suppose.  Nobody wants purple-spotted walls.

We talk light fixtures and baseboards while I listen for footsteps and recurring thuds.  (Meisje always bumped into things.) But there’s no Schnauzer coming to greet me, and the silence tells me I can’t linger any longer.

“You’ve kept the bookshelves,” I remark as I turn to leave.

“Yes.  They’re beautiful bookshelves.”

For the first time, I realize, they are clear of clutter.

The Toughest Adjustment After Returning Home? — Facing You

The Toughest Adjustment After Returning Home? — Facing You

“Back to reality” — it’s a saying I’ve never liked.

We create our own reality.  If you don’t like yours — change it.

Still, at the end of every trip, it’s a phrase that we toss around.  It symbolizes a return to work.  To responsibility. To routine.

For the first time ever, I was excited to return to Canada.  To see friends and family.  I couldn’t consider this a return to reality.  In 2012, “reality” had meant waking up every day with no commitments or sense of where I would end up.  I wasn’t going to return to my “old” life back home; I would be continuing the path in my new one.

My plane touched down in Edmonton last Wednesday at 2 AM (three hours late), in the middle of a blizzard.  Even the weather couldn’t quell my excitement.

Within hours of landing, I was hit by so-called “reality.”  Not work.  Not responsibility.  Relationships.

The biggest adjustment this time around has been the reintroduction of friends and family into my daily routine.  While traveling alone, I made new friends, but my interactions with the closest people in my life were generally limited to Skype sessions and social media.

I forgot about gossip.  I got over a broken heart.  I avoided jealousy and drama.  I learned to be more independent.  Too independent, perhaps. 

I was lucky enough to have amazing friends come to visit while I was gone, but for most of the time, I was alone. — Perito Moreno Glacier in Patagonia

Suddenly, I’m immersed in a world where people know me.   Inside and out.  I have acquaintances, exes, friends, and maybe even an enemy or two.

It’s a fabulous feeling to walk into a bar, and see a circle of familiar faces.  To enjoy a meal with my family.  To get advice, and share secrets.  But, I’d forgotten what it was like to tell someone news, and watch it spread and mutate at a cancerous rate.  To have people judge and assume.  Tell me who to date, and who to stay away from.   My life is on display again.

After getting used to so much independence, and the ability to disappear in the Amazon for a week without hearing from anyone, it’s a bit of a change.  Yet considering that I already expose much of my life via this blog , I can’t call it a major issue.  The bottom line is, I love my friends, I love my family, and I love that they care.

You are the reason I came home.  

 

And so ends 315 days of travel…

And so ends 315 days of travel…

In a few hours, I will head to El Dorado airport to travel the final 6651 km of my trip.

Tomorrow’s destination: Edmonton, Canada.

Home.

Over the last 315 days, I’ve found myself in 84 cities/towns in 17 different countries.  (Including flight layovers).  To get to these places, I’ve used 29 planes, 15 boats, five motorcycles, three bicycles, one helicopter… and more metros, trains, and buses than I can possibly count off the top of my head.

I’ve met hundreds of people, many of which have opened their homes to me or shared with me their food and stories.  Some of these people have become close friends, and I know for sure I will see them again in the future.  To everyone I’ve met, I am forever grateful for the way you have shaped my trip.  And of course, to my brother and friends from Canada/Holland who came and met up with me, thank you for your visits!  I’m glad I have people I love to share some of these memories with once I am home. 

Above all, thank you to everyone who has supported my writing by keeping up with La-Viajera.com.  For those of you who may have been wondering, my return to Canada will not mean the end of this website.  I’ve already renewed the domain for another year, and hope to extend it beyond that.  I have ten months of stories built up, and have hardly scratched the surface of that with what I’ve posted so far.  I have received lots of messages asking for South America travel advice, so in addition I want to build this site as a practical resource.  Above all, I hope to use this as a stepping stone for a career in (travel?) writing.

Some upcoming stories include…

-My Near-Death Experience on a Bolivian Bus

-How to budget a multi-month trip

-“Yellow Underwear” and Other Colombian New Year’s Superstitions

-Notes on Being a “Strawberry” in Mexico

-“So Why Don’t You Have a Boyfriend?” — Reflections on Being a Single Solo Traveler

– One Malbec, Two Malbec, Three Malbec…Floor: Biking the Argentine Wine District

-How to Survive a Dutch Night Out

 

I hope that you continue to read and enjoy what I have to share.  My next adventure is just around the corner!

Thank you all once again for reading and participating in my trip.  For those of you in Canada, I can’t wait to see you all!

All my love,

La Viajera