The Reality Behind Travel

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Behind all the “grammable” moments, the gorgeous album of photos uploaded to Facebook, the amazing snaps and instastories blasted out for the world to see, the reality of traveling is a sobering one.

First, let me start by stating that I recognize how lucky I am to have earned opportunities to travel and to live abroad in different countries. I know a lot of people look at that with a mixture of incredulity, awe, and probably a bit of envy. A lot of people want me to share photos and videos so they can live vicariously through me. I get that. I do that. However, it’s a slippery slope when you’re not in the right frame of mind.

Even as I’m here, settling into a bustling, beautiful city in Colombia, I see my friends and my family and people I knew at some point having meals together, going to parks, playing games, getting engaged, married, having babies… all together. I feel envious. I feel sad. And I feel utterly alone.

From an objective standpoint, I know I’m not alone. I also understand that these 2D experiences I’m seeing are teeming with loads of challenging nuances that I cannot detect.  And currently, I’m acutely aware that I’m in the first stages of culture shock.

I’ve settled in to a beautiful house with nice people and two cats. I have a space to call my own, a place to store my food, a neighborhood to frequent. I have a launching pad from which I can go discover this city, this country, and this part of the world. It is wonderful relief.

With that relief, the ability to relax, a number of things fade: my survival instincts, the excitement of walking around a new city, re-navigating a language I love, discovering the subtleties of this culture, learning of things to try, places to see, etc. As this “honeymoon” stage melts away, room develops for homesickness, exhaustion, frustration, feelings of isolation and being stuck, even scared, and sadness.

I wouldn’t change this decision if I had to make it 50 more times. But like all things in life, there are ups and downs. Sometimes just going to the store is the hardest thing in the world. Sometimes you just need to curl up in a blanket with some mac and cheese and watch your favorite show. Sometimes things are going to suck, even if you’re in paradise.

So I guess, what I’m trying to communicate is that, while I post pretty photos and share nice stories about my experience, keep in mind that it’s not all butterflies and rainbows. Sure, revel in those moments with me, but please don’t lose sight of the magic of your own experience while you do. I’m going to remind myself of the same thing, especially in tougher moments like these.

You see the picture at the top of this page? My feet resting on a window sill that overlooks a gorgeous patio, lush with tropicalish flowers, blue skies in the background, reeking of tranquility. Well, shortly before taking that, as I ambled my gawky way into the hammock, I fell straight backwards, smashed my head into the bed so hard one of the wooden slats went crashing to the floor, scaring the cat so bad that it flew from its resting spot on my suitcase with her nails out, tearing up the fabric as she dashed away.

All rainbows and butterflies and shit, right?

Not exactly.

And good thing!

Doing it Live: An Impromptu Trip to the Beach

We were seated at the kitchen table eating a delicious seafood paella, discussing potential destinations for a day trip Sunday. We could go to a big lake in Portugal and visit a few of sightly villages around it. We could go to Evora, a beautiful castled city about an hour and a half away and eat some delicious Portuguese fare. We were being very sensible until Maria’s mother jumped: “Let’s go tonight. We’ll finish lunch, I’ll clean the kitchen and you guys go pack the suitcases and let’s go.” Maria’s Dad, Antonio and I laughed. But where? The beach, she told us with the authority of a woman who never once depended on anyone but herself. While Antonio began with protests, I was already itemizing the things that were soon to be in my suitcase. She looked at me and said, “What do you think? Let’s go?” I responded with one of my favorite questions in life: “Why not?”

We scurried through the house throwing clothes into our suitcases, and food in a bag. We didn’t even have a hotel room. We were doing it live. Our final plan was to go to a beach town nestled into the cliffs south of Lisbon called, Sesimbra. At approximately six o’clock we took off on our uncharted, impromptu journey. After two wrong turns, two tolls, and two hours we wound our way into Sesimbra. We found one hotel on the top of a hill and asked for rooms. Booked. We went to another on the beach. Booked. The nice desk attendant called the other two hotels in the small fishing village. Booked and booked. There was one, however, out on the peak of the cape that offered a single bedroom for the wonderful last-minute price of 120 euro, or a master suite for 250 euro. Maria’s mother, being on her impulsive kick said, “We’ll take it!” My mouth dropped open. I knew this trip wasn’t going to be cheap, but I couldn’t let her spend 250 euro for a night in a hotel. I pulled in her reigns a little and we opted for the single with two cots, but as soon as we got into the car we called Antonio, who remained in Badajoz.

He searched on booking.com for places in Sesimbra. Nada. So he expanded his search and that’s when he found a beachfront apartment in Caparica de Costa for 100 euro. In unison we agreed and took off back through the winding highways of Sesimbra heading north towards Lisbon. Thrity-five minutes later,  at about 10:30,  we finally arrived at our destination.  Situated in an old building from the 60’s, when you walk into the apartment you feel like you’re not in the same structure. It hhad been renovated and had everything we could think of, including coffee.

After  the kind owner gave us a tour of the apartment, we went out to try to find some food. We were unsueccesful in all of the establishments except for a Kebab. For those of you who don’t know what a kebab is, it’s basically the taco bell of America: where you go to satisfy your late night drunk munchies. We shared a rather mediocre chicken sandwich with some soggy French fries. We left the Saturday night party burn out behind us while we retired for the evening.

The following day I woke up and waited around for Maria and her mom to wake up. For those of you who know me, you know that I’m usually the one causing the waiting, so you can imagine the change of pace. We spent about two hours walking along the beach. There was a Spring Surfest happening, so surfers, body boarders, skim boarders, and surfers littered the boardwalk and the shores.

We stopped at one of the bars on the beach and found ourselves a table that had a nice view and a nice breeze. We took advantage of the fame of Portuguese seafood and ordered calamaris, mussels in garlic, grilled cod, and grilled octopus. Each dish was truly exquisite. After we devoured the fresh seafood, or at least I think it was fresh, you never really know…Maria and her mother got ice cream and we went on the beach for a small nap.

We watched the sunset, packed up, and headed back to Badajoz. Although it was a short trip, we left feeling recharged and re-energized. Escaping to the countryside and being among nature is also refreshing, but there’s nothing like the beach that breathes new life into me.