June 11, 2014

Vagabonding Field Report: Living the beach life in Las Peñitas, Nicaragua

IMG_2459

Cost/day: $30/day

What’s the strangest thing that’s happened lately?

After crossing two borders in one day, and hanging out in León and Las Peñitas, we’ve finally found a place to stay for a little while.

My oldest son discovered a bat on the floor in the room where’s he’s staying in our rented beach house. He tried to let it go outside, but it doesn’t fly. It crawled up a coconut tree, then glided into the attic of the neighbors house… oops. Sorry neighbors.

Describe a typical day:

In the morning we do study time with the kids, then they spend a few hours working on their projects (like creating with clay or drawing and coloring) while my husband and I do our work (with breaks for meals, which we eat together). Every evening we take a walk on the beach and watch the sunset. When we need groceries, we drive into the colonial city of León.

IMG_2442

What do you like about where you are? Dislike?

Like: Loving this beach. It’s great for beginner surfers (like my husband and kids — I’m not surfing, because I’m 7 months pregnant). It has beautiful sunsets, great sand and is good for wading and swimming at low tide.

León is a quaint city, with dozens of cathedrals. Doing our shopping there is a pleasure.

Dislike: Mosquitoes. Bats. We moved here in November and it was mosquito season. We were eaten alive. Hundreds of mosquito bites. Ahhhhh! And there’s a couple of families of bats that have taken up residence in the roof.

Las Peñitas has a great beach, and a great surf, but the town itself is run down. It’s up and coming, and there are a couple of nice rentals, but many of them are sketchy.

IMG_2749

Describe a challenge you faced:

Dealing with the mosquitoes was an annoying challenge, until we moved into a house that was on the beach. The ocean breezes helped to eliminate them, although we still put on pants and long sleeves in the morning and evenings, and slept under mosquito nets.

Oh, and I’ve had to take multiple cold showers per day, and sit in front of a fan from 10 am until 5pm. That’s what comes of living on the coast while 7 months pregnant.

And where will we have this baby??

IMG_3113

What new lesson did you learn?

Every travel experience offers joy and disappointment, pleasure and pain, beauty and the unsightly. Traveling well is learning how to embrace both.

Where next?

A housesitting opportunity has come available in Costa Rica. I think it will be a good place to have a baby.

Learn how to become location independent this year, connect with me on Facebook, or join our Fantastic Family Fridays.

IMG_2466

 

Posted by | Permalink | Comments (2) 
Category: Central America, Family Travel, Vagabonding Field Reports

June 7, 2014

Slumming the Golden Arches

Golden Arches, Barstow Station

Image credit

This month marks the beginning of student-travel season in Europe, which means that — at any given moment — continental McDonald’s restaurants will be filled with scores of American undergraduates. Quiz these young travelers, and they’ll give you a wide range of reasons for seeking out McDonald’s — the clean restrooms, the air conditioning, the fact that it’s the only place open during festivals or siesta. A few oddballs will even claim they are there for the food.

European onlookers will tell you (with a slight sneer) that these itinerant Yanks are simply seeking the dull, familiar comforts American culture. And this explanation might be devastatingly conclusive were it not for the fact that European McDonalds also happen to be crammed this time of year with travelers from Japan, Brazil, Israel, New Zealand, Argentina, Korea, Canada, India, Taiwan, Australia, Mexico, South Africa, and — yes — neighboring European countries.

Indeed, despite its vaunted reputation as a juggernaut of American culture, McDonald’s has come to function as an ecumenical refuge for travelers of all stripes. This is not because McDonalds creates an American sense of place and culture, but because it creates a smoothly standardized absence of place and culture — a neutral environment that allows travelers to take a time-out from the din of their real surroundings. This phenomenon is roundly international: I’ve witnessed Japanese taking this psychic breather in the McDonalds of Santiago de Chile; Chileans seeking refuge in the McDonalds of Venice; and Italians lolling blissfully in the McDonalds of Tokyo.

Before I traveled overseas, I never knew McDonald’s could serve as a postmodern sanctum, and — save the occasional Taco Bell burrito — I rarely ate fast food. This all changed when I moved to Pusan, South Korea ten years ago to teach English. Overwhelmed by the onslaught of new sights, sounds and smells my first week in-country, I retreated to a McDonald’s near my school, where I was able to stretch a Big Mac Meal into three hours of Zen-like oblivion. The appeal of this environment came not from the telltale icons of franchise culture (which I’d always found annoying), but in the simple opportunity to put the over-stimulation of urban Korea on pause. Once I ended my Pusan stint and started traveling across Asia, I retained this habit of occasionally seeking out McDonalds during times of mental exhaustion.

I’ll readily admit here that, within certain hipster circles of indie travel, announcing that you patronize McDonalds is kind of like confessing that you wet your bed or eat your boogers. For many politically minded travelers, McDonald’s is less an eating establishment than it is a broader symbol of cultural degradation and corporate soulnessness. In fact, fast-food franchises have been the target of so much protectionist, environmentalist, and anarchist ire that firebombing a McDonald’s has become a globally standardized symbol of protest — a McDonaldization of dissent, if you will.

(Interestingly, Marlboros are sold worldwide — and American cigarette brands are just as unhealthy and aggressively marketed as American fast food — but for some reason there is not a similar activist reaction. Perhaps this is because there are no Marlboro outlet stores to firebomb — but I suspect it also has to do with subliminal, adolescent-style favoritism. The Marlboro Man is, after all, a handsome tough-guy, whereas Ronald McDonald is a makeup-and-jumpsuit-wearing dork.)

Political gestures aside, I’d wager that the contempt sophisticated travelers hold for McDonald’s has less to do with ethical principle than the fact that fast-food franchises ruin the fantasies of otherness that are an inherent part of travel. To be sure, the aesthetic enjoyment of the Taj Mahal or the Jardin des Tuileries can often feel compromised when the Golden Arches are just a few blocks away.

Look closely, however, and you’ll discover that (despite their placeless ambience) the McDonalds in far-flung places are culturally discernible from the McDonalds you’ll find in Modesto or Milwaukee. In India, for example, a McDonald’s serves chicken “Maharaja Macs” instead of Big Macs (due to Hindu and Muslim taboos against beef and pork), and a door-greeter is often available to assist the middle-class clientele. Moreover, as any Pulp Fiction fan will note, Paris McDonalds offer the option of ordering a frothy beer with le Big Mac.

At times, an international McDonald’s franchise can serve as a kind of measuring stick for cultural nuance. In China, where familial identity is a core virtue (and where a sexually ambiguous bachelor-clown mascot might seem a little weird), Ronald McDonald is known as Uncle McDonald, and he has a wife, Aunt McDonald. In parts of Bangkok, where the laid-back Thai concept of sanuk (lightheartedness) threatens fast-food efficiency, McDonald’s staff members use James Bond-style digital countdown clocks to ensure the food arrives in a timely manner. In Cairo, I witnessed young, middle-class Muslim couples going on chaperoned first-dates in a McDonald’s; in Tel Aviv, the teenage staff got so flustered when I ordered non-kosher cheese on my Big Mac that they forgot to add the beef patties.

Just as fascinating as these local variations of American fast food are the local food chains that copy the McDonald’s model. In Jeddah, for instance, you can join Saudis for a round of halal chicken-burgers at Al Baik; in Tokyo, you can compare the teriyaki burgers at McDonald’s to those served at the Japanese Lotteria chain; at Jollibee in the Philippines (which has exported its franchises to the United States), you can sample chicken, burgers, or a startlingly sweet variation of spaghetti.

Ideally, of course, fast food should play a decidedly minor role in any international sojourn. Still, it can be interesting to learn how the simplest experiences overseas can affect the way you see things when you come home. I recall how, after returning from my first year in Korea, the understated calm of a Great Plains Christmas left me with a severe case of reverse culture shock.

My solution? I headed over to the west 13th Street McDonald’s in Wichita, where my sense of place melted away the moment I walked through the front door. Indeed, as I ate that Kansas Big Mac Meal, I may have as well have been back in Asia.

Tip sheet: A few pointers regarding travel and fast-food
1) Street food is the true fast food.

Remember that fast food didn’t originate with Ray Kroc: Street vendors, who cook local delicacies right in front of you, mastered the art centuries ago. Any city or region you visit will have plenty of street-food specialties: samosas in Mumbai, roasted sweet-potatoes in Quito, crepes in Paris, kosher-dogs in New York, sheep’s-brain-and-falafel sandwiches in Damascus, mandu dumplings in Seoul. And fresh squeezed juice from a guy pushing a cart always trumps a Super-Sized Coke.

2) Save franchise food as a last resort.

Visiting a McDonald’s to temporarily escape the urban hubbub of Kiev or Curitiba or Kuala Lumpur is perfectly normal — but eating there every day is silly and escapist. Granted, travel can be taxing and disorienting, but overcoming these challenges make a journey invigorating. One visit to a Burger King or KFC per week on the road is plenty; any more is a cross-cultural copout.

3) McDonald’s (and other fast food) is easy to avoid.

Irritated by the fact that you can spot the Golden Arches from the Acropolis, Tiananmen Square, or Copacabana Beach? Not to worry: McDonald’s doesn’t make Greece any less Greek, China any less Chinese, or Brazil any less Brazilian. Just hike a block in any direction, and it will be easy to find authentic local food (and the farther you get from the tourist attractions, the cheaper that food will get).

[This Rolf Potts article originally appeared in Yahoo! News on June 5, 2006. All rights reserved.]

Posted by | Permalink | Comments (2) 
Category: Backpacking, Europe, Food and Drink, Travel Health, Vagabonding Advice

May 15, 2014

Is the phrase “be careful” making us less safe?

There is a moment on every trip where I recognize just how embedded in my being the cultural norms from my home country really are. Like most travelers, I seem to see norms revolving around eating, social interactions, personal space, even pace of walking pop up around almost every corner as I explore foreign streets. But every once in a while a “bigger” norm comes into focus and I start pondering whether I am happy with the price I am paying to have it rent space in my brain.

One of the concepts that has been embedded the deepest in our collective American psyche is fear.

Fear of strangers, fear of immigrants, fear of change, fear of accidents, fear of pain, fear of sickness, fear of being taken advantage of, fear of being judged. We seem to love our fear, wrapping it around our language, our interactions, and our opinions like a much-loved blanket. We base our biggest and our smallest life choices around the concepts of “fear” and “safety”- it’s not even just a concept or a feeling anymore, it’s a way of life. Where to buy a house, which school to send our children to, what car to buy, what advice to take, which job to accept, how to treat our illnesses, who we interact with, even what clothes to buy are all decisions we make on a daily basis, out of fear. By far, the #1 reason I hear from people as the reason they do not travel, especially long term, is fear- fear of the unknown, fear of danger, fear of things that are different.

Perhaps worse than the understanding that fear is a big part of our culture is the realization that we communicate our fear continuously in the simplest of ways. Take for example our constant need to shout, “be careful!” to any child climbing a jungle gym, running in the park, wrestling in the grass, digging furiously in the sand, climbing a tree, eating an ice cream cone with gusto, turning cartwheels, jumping on a trampoline, balancing on a curb, or otherwise using their bodies and exploring their own limits.

IMG2072

What is the constant reminder from an outside source to “be careful!” doing to our kids? Could we possibly be making them LESS safe? I think so.

When we shout “be careful!” we instantly divert a child’s attention from the task at hand. They are no longer paying attention to that last rung on the ladder, they are paying attention to us and trying to dechiper what we want them to do. Every time we say those two words we rob them a little bit more of the freedom to assess their own ability and push themselves just a little further. Soon thoughts of escapades involving far off lands, climbing very tall trees, and balancing on curbs that are obviously really Olympic balance beams, turn into thoughts about what may or may not be “safe”. We are wiring their brains to look for danger instead of possibility and to seek outside understanding of “safety” and fear instead of looking within to find their own compass on their individual limits.

So, why does this matter to a traveler? Because if you really think about it, most of us carry around the accumulation of all those adults yelling “be careful” as we climbed, explored, and got just a little closer to breaking free. It holds us back, if ever so slightly, from fully engaging. Many long term travelers are re-wiring our own brains. We are taking stock of our culture and the baggage it brings- both positive and negative- and learning to listen more to our guts than to our embedded culture. We are starting to recognize that bad things (and extraordinary things) can happen anywhere and that a culture with a strong basis in fear might not get us as far as we want to go.

IMG4650

But what about everyone who is too scared to venture out? Could all of those exclamations of “be careful” be a part of the weight that binds them to their “safe” corner? What if one of the best ways we could encourage a new generation of travelers was to hold back as many “be carefuls” as we could?

Don’t get me wrong, I have fears too. Like most people, I have fears about difficult journeys and “dangerous” places that need to be almost continually unraveled so that I can enjoy and participate fully in my own journey. I’m not immune to fear, I am just starting to recognize that a good portion of this fear may not be mine. But what I am most afraid of is communicating to our children that this world is too scary to explore and perpetuating the thought that we should be focusing on being careful and not on the experience at hand.

I wonder, could creating a culture based on exploration rather than fear be as simple as reflecting on the language we use and changing it where appropriate? It just might be. We can argue that there are so many other factors involved, and there are. But considering the fact that one of the most common expressions of our culture is our language, it’s probably a good place to start. We control our language. We choose what we communicate and how we influence our youngest members in society. It’s a choice- a choice that is adjustable on an individual level.

Be Free

So, to all the climbers, jumpers, dreamers, tumblers, diggers, runners, and explorers I say this…. be engaged, be confident, be dedicated to discovery, be wildly idealistic, be adventurous, be creative, be free, be brave enough to listen to your own inner voice, and as much as you can, be consciously aware. But whatever you do, don’t “be careful.”

How have your fears affected your journey? How have you overcome them?

Posted by | Permalink | Comments (1) 
Category: Ethics, Family Travel

May 14, 2014

Vagabonding Field Report: Crossing two Borders in one day (and running out of money)

IMG_2357

Cost/day: $100/day

What’s the strangest thing that’s happened lately?

We left El Salvador and crossed the Honduras AND Nicaragua border in one day with our five kids (and ran out of money at the Nicaragua border.) Oh, and I’m six months pregnant.

Describe a typical day:

This was an untypical day…  after being unable to find a house we wanted to rent in El Salvador, we decided to head to Nicaragua to find a place. Since there was only a small portion of Honduras we needed to pass through, we opted to cross both borders in the same day.

What do you like about where you are? Dislike?

Like: There’s something special about being on the road, on the move. It feels good to see new places.

Dislike: Literally, the moment we crossed the border into Honduras we were stopped by police who attempted to get us to pay a bribe. Then we were stopped 5-6 more times that day before reaching the Nicaraguan border… not cool. (But we refused to pay one single bribe, so that’s good.)

Describe a challenge you faced:

There was a little bit of cash left in our wallet, but most of it had been spent on groceries. If necessary, we planned to withdraw any money we would need at the border. When we arrived, the entry into Nicaragua was more than we had remembered/expected ($12 per passport, and there’s seven of us.)

My husband attempted to withdraw money from the ATM to pay the fees, but the machine ONLY accepted Visa… and the only cards we had were Mastercard. We could not access our money, and the nearest ATM that accepted Mastercard was an hour into Nicaragua, or a couple of hours back into Honduras. What were we going to do?

Soon my husband spotted some European backpackers and thought he better take advantage of any opportunity he might have. He struck up a conversation, then asked them if he could offer them a ride to León, Nicaragua, in exchange for a loan to pay our visa fees (and a promise to pay them back as soon as we found a Mastercard ATM.)

Thankfully, they agreed. We paid the fees, then made room for our new friends and drove into Nicaragua. By this time, however, it was getting dark and starting to rain. The drive was a little intense, with lightening flashing, pedestrians walking in the rain, and the reflection of headlights off the wet asphalt.

At last we made it to León, made a withdrawal at the first ATM, paid back our friends then dropped them off at a hostel.

What new lesson did you learn?

Always have enough cash on hand before you arrive at a border crossing.

Where next?

We’ll be renting a house in the beach town of Las Penitas.

Learn how to become location independent this year, connect with me on Facebook, or join our Fantastic Family Fridays.

 Dennings Antigua Guatemala

Posted by | Permalink | Comments (2) 
Category: Central America, Family Travel, Vagabonding Field Reports

May 8, 2014

Does travel ever scare you? 5 thoughts on finding security as a nomad.

About a week and a half ago my train pulled up to the platform in Tundla, India where a sea of Indian military men were waiting for it. There was a rush of commotion as we all pushed towards the doors- a commotion which only grew when we discovered all the doors were locked. The train sat there with its locked doors for 5 minutes while the military men grew angrier and angrier, beginning to bang on the doors with their fists, sticks, muskets, anything. I kept thinking that surely someone would open the door. We’d paid for tickets after all. We’d reserved cots for the overnight train.

Then, the train started to pull away without us. Hardly thinking, we rushed through the crowds to the one door that someone had managed to open a few yards away and with our heavy bags in hand, we jumped onto the moving train. The rush of frantic soldiers crowding behind us carried us like the current of the river onto the train.

I laid in my cot and felt what would have been homesickness if I had a home.

So my question is this: what do you do when this whole “travel thing” scares you, exhausts you, bewilders you in a way that leaves you in need of something secure? What gives a nomad security?

In attempt to wrestle with this question, I’ve come up with a list of 5 things that help me cope with the moments that scare me.

1.) Writing.

Writing is not only a great way to process your thoughts, it’s also a way to record the feelings that may likely evolve over time. At one point in time I did this by keeping a travel journal, but my laptop has since replaced it. I have documents upon documents that I may never read again, but the act of formulating my thoughts was all I needed at the time. Not to mention, it helps me to see the experience as the story it will be tomorrow, when I’ll feel it less dramatically and see it more logically.

2.) These are the times I’ll make sure I can find a more secluded hotel with an environment I can really find relaxing.

tranqilhotel

Getting a hotel right in the center of activity can be wonderful when you’ve got the energy for it. But the exhausting moments leave me wanting space and quiet. As much of a clean slate as I can get. This has been especially true in a place like India. For this reason it’s a great idea to have some kind of rainy-day fund of either money or hotel points.

3.) Something from home, even if it’s McDonalds or Pizza Hut!

Never again will I judge a traveler for eating at McDonalds. (Is it sad that the McChicken is my home away from home sometimes?)

4.) Good Internet.

These days internet is the most basic necessity for contacting loved ones back home. The days of calling cards and pay phones are on the way out. This involves point number 2- finding a hotel you can relax in means, in my case, finding a hotel with good internet. Preferably this is in-room internet I can use while curled up in bed in my own space.

5.) A few days of nothing.

Sometimes the main attraction in any given destination is just not worth pushing your nerves past what they can handle. In our case, we found a quiet place in Katra where there happened to be a popular mountain temple. It was a very popular spot for Indian tourism… but we let it go. And I don’t regret that. I needed some time to clean the slate and regroup.

 

Conclusion

These are some things that helped me get back on my feet and face the vibrant and intense world that is India again, despite the fear I felt at the thought of all the things that could have gone wrong in our impromptu train-hopping experience.

But I’m curious, what are the things that help you feel secure?

Nomads and vagabonds, and all long-term travelers are in a unique position of transient-ness with an almost ephemeral concept of home rather than a permanent one. This is at least the case for myself as well as a few other travelers I know. So we’re faced with an interesting challenge when we need the kind of comfort a different person may find in their stationary routines and their permanent homes. So I’d like to learn from the creative ways other travelers have found comfort in moments of fear.

Posted by | Permalink | Comments (4) 
Category: Adventure Travel, Travel Health, Travel Safety

May 4, 2014

Greyhound across America: Photos from a month on the bus by Kristina Perkins

Starting from Minneapolis, Minnesota, I spent 30 days exploring the United States (traveling to 37 states) and documenting the faces and places I saw on the Greyhound Bus system with photographs and short stories. I showered rarely, slept infrequently, ate poorly, and I loved every uncomfortable minute of it.

My fascination with the culture of the Greyhound started in college when I would take the bus to Montana to visit a dear friend. As I discerned my creative inspiration to street photography, I felt a pull to quit my awful job, forget about my recent heartbreak and get on the road. Why wait?!

While exploring in the few moments I had off of the bus, I wanted to learn about each city’s preferred method of travel. Was it bus? Subway? Bicycle? On foot? Why were people commuting the way they were? As you can imagine, the answers varied based on financial and geographical limitations.

I took over 4000 digital and film photographs using four different cameras: Canon DSLR, Holga, Fish Eye and iPhone. My trip was funded solely by the Minneapolis community with individual donations. The gallery exhibit profiling my journey was funded by a FEAST MPLS grant I won in November 2010. My self published book, Falling Asleep Behind the Lens, documenting my journey is available on my website: KPCreates.com

KPC_VB14_1

KPC_VB14_2

KPC_VB14_3

KPC_VB14_4

KPC_VB14_5

KPC_VB14_6

KPC_VB14_7

KPC_VB14_8

KPC_VB14_9

KPC_VB14_10

KPC_VB14_11

KPC_VB14_12

Follow Kristina on Instagram or through her website

Posted by | Permalink | Comments (0) 
Category: Images from the road, North America, On The Road, Solo Travel

April 20, 2014

Post Salkantay trek, Peru

Well, I did it! Just barely, but I managed to “conquer” around 60 kilometers (37 miles) on one of the most challenging treks I’ve ever done. Four days and three nights of difficult uphill, painful downhill, sunburns, rain, aching muscles, and freezing nights in a tent was rewarded with some of the most beautiful scenery that ends with a visit to Machu Picchu. If you like a good challenge, llamas, starry skies, snowcapped mountains, sleeping in tents, and good food, then this is a trip for you.

The trek started out with a steady incline at almost 10,000 feet above sea level, so the air was thin to start with. The terrain changed from dirt to rock and back again pretty much the entire way. Horses would occasionally run by unmanned, local families would walk past carrying supplies, and sometimes a different tour group would pass us (or at least me). There were birds, flowers, wild animals, and sunshine all along the trail. The people in our group (11 of us) were from Denmark, France, America, and Ireland, and they were all lovely.

In my previous post I mentioned that I felt a bit unprepared, and I have to admit that I questioned my ability to get through the whole trek on day one, when I got hit with altitude sickness. I was worried that it would be an issue for me, and almost wonder if I talked myself into experiencing it subconsciously. After walking uphill for a few hours in the direct sunlight, I suddenly felt like I couldn’t take in enough air, felt dizzy and panicky, and needed to sit down. Fortunately, our guide Primo had his “magic potion” with him, which is some mix of herbs that are supposed to help open up your lungs to take in a bit more oxygen. After resting for a few minutes and breathing in the mixture, I was able to get going again, slowly at first, but I made it through the rest of the ascent with no issues. Sadly, since I had a little trouble the first day, I decided to take a horse for two hours at the beginning of the second day, which is exactly what I had hoped wouldn’t happen. I’m not a big fan of riding animals because I find it terrifying. Especially up windy mountains, through rivers, and down rocky terrain. However, I managed to survive, and on day two we made it to the highest point, which was 15,000 feet above sea level. I give approximate numbers for things like distance and altitude because even the guides seemed unsure at times of the exact numbers.

The company we chose was Cuscoperuviajes and our guide was great. He put up with our constant slowness due to picture-taking, outfit rearranging, and water breaks. The tour included horses to carry up to 6 kilos per person and cooks that ran ahead of the group to prepare the meals and set up camp. It was almost freezing at night, and we were so tired from hiking at least 12 miles every day that I could barely make it through dinner without passing out. However, being up so high on a clear night allowed us a view of the brightest star-filled sky I’ve probably ever seen.

In the end, I felt that I was prepared enough as far as gear went. We packed for pretty much every temperature, had great shoes and socks, plenty of first aid stuff, bug spray and sunscreen, snacks, raingear, and camera equipment. I definitely recommend plenty of pairs of socks and warm layers for sleeping. Also, you are provided with a thin sleeping mat but no pillow, so I was glad I remembered my travel pillow. I packed extra snacks but was surprised at my lack of hunger while trekking. I wasn’t in my absolute best physical shape, but it only slowed me down, I still finished.

At the end of the third day, we were taken to the hot springs, which were beautiful and very much needed. The rest of the group stayed on for a 4th day that allowed for activities like ziplining, but me and my two friends took a bus and train to a hostel in Aguas Calientes. We were determined to go out for drinks to celebrate surviving the three tough days, but of course wound up being tired and went to bed early to rest before our big day at Machu Picchu. We were pleased that it wasn’t as crowded there as we had feared, and we were free to roam around one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been, frolicking with the llama population.

I definitely recommend this trek, and visiting Peru in general. Cusco and Aguas Calientes were both really neat cities that you have to pass through to get to Machu Picchu. Overall we spent two weeks, and we didn’t see nearly enough of Peru. If anyone has any questions about the trek or getting around I’d be happy to help, you can reach me here or on my website. Thanks for reading, more photos below!

(more…)

Posted by | Permalink | Comments (1) 
Category: Backpacking, Destinations, South America

April 19, 2014

Up Cambodia without a phrase book

landmine

Image credit

I am 15 minutes into my hike down the muddy little stream when a tree carving captures my attention. Sticky with sap and arcing brown across the bark, it seems to have been made recently.

I drop to my haunches and run my fingers over the design. After three days of living on the Indochinese outback without electricity or running water, I feel like my senses have been sharpened to the details of the landscape. I take a step back for perspective, and my mind suddenly goes blank.

The carving is a crude depiction of a skull and crossbones.

Were I anyplace else in the world, I might be able to write off the skull and crossbones as a morbid adolescent prank. Unfortunately, since I am in northwestern Cambodia, the ghoulish symbol can mean only one thing: land mines. Suddenly convinced that everything in my immediate vicinity is about to erupt into a fury of fire and shrapnel, I freeze.

My brain slowly starts to track again, but I can’t pinpoint a plan of action. If this were a tornado, I’d prone myself in a low-lying area. Were this an earthquake, I’d run to an open space away from trees and buildings. Were this a hurricane, I’d pack up my worldly possessions and drive to South Dakota. But since I am in a manmade disaster zone, all I can think to do is nothing.

My thoughts drift to a random quote from a United Nations official a few years back, who was expressing his frustration in trying to clear the Cambodian countryside of hundreds of thousands of unmarked and unmapped mines. “Cambodia’s mines will be cleared,” he’d quipped fatalistically, “by people walking on them.”

As gingerly as possible, I lower myself to the ground, resolved to sit here until I can formulate a course of action that won’t result in blowing myself up. (more…)

Posted by | Permalink | Comments (1) 
Category: Adventure Travel, Asia, Destinations, Rolf Potts

April 12, 2014

Leaping Without The Pile in the Back of the Closet

The pile in the back of the closet

The pile in the back of the closet

Petrified, excited, invigorated, exhilarated, daunted…I felt them all in the weeks leading up to my first round the world journey. So many emotions, so little time. All the planning for this idea of taking a hiatus from the everyday was thrilling, yet frightening. From visa applications to inoculations (those weren’t fun) and new passport pages to hotel bookings the excitement continued to grow. But then it was six weeks before, one-month prior and days ahead of wheels up and the packing began. First world problem, no question; but all the worries came to a head with this-will I be okay without the ‘just in case stuff’ in the back of my closet?

You know that pile with the favourite t-shirt from university, the worn out jumper from sleep-away camp or those old standby jeans for the ‘I’m feeling fat’ days…where would you be without them? Was I really worried about stuff? We’ve all experienced that tug and pull in our own way. At this point, on this day, this was mine. Hindsight is twenty-twenty; was it really the stuff or was it something else? It’s what many who have made the leap to long-term travel have experienced with similar stories about managing on far less than in their pre-long-term travel days. But, I was stuck. Collapsing in a heap beside the flung open closet door staring at the ‘stuff’, I sat. The fashion consultants on What No To Wear would have thrown it out years ago since it’s been that long since I put my hand on it, but it was comforting to know it was there. Smaller after bouts of culling and donating, but, still there. I knew that pile held far more than clothes.

One backpack was all I allowed myself. If it didn’t fit it wasn’t coming. If it didn’t have more than one purpose or matched with three other things it wasn’t making it. I cried. Having looked forward to this journey for over a year, was I really crying over STUFF? Really? Wrapped up in this stuff were worries of everything and nothing. Would we be okay? What if something happened to someone I love? Who would keep in touch? What if everything changed when we were gone? The anticipation and worry manifested in that tiny pile in the back of the closet. The pile, that metaphor for the ‘what ifs of the world’ had taken hold and had me in its grasp. There were memories of time passed mixed with the notion of the unknown possibilities for a time yet to come. The crying continued. Logically, I knew how lucky we would all be if this truly was one of the most difficult decisions to make (perspective is a wonderful thing), but still, it was hard. On a precipice filled with greater meaning, this felt like one of those teachable moments. Either choice was fine, but I knew one led to a new journey in both destinations and personal growth while the other stayed stuck with the unchanging ease of ‘the devil you know’. Getting to the place to make the jump was a journey in itself and this felt like a turning point. Stay with the comfort of the pile or embrace the idea that you hold the key to the meaning of the pile? The rest is just that, ‘stuff’.

It didn’t make it into the backpack and after awhile I got up off the floor. I wasn’t yet ready to get rid of the pile but I was ready to close the closet door and leave room in the bag for the unknown future. The pile didn’t win. It remained, for the time being, in the back of the closet (to be revisited at a later date) and I took comfort in the knowledge that it was there. This journey to a place open to the risks and rewards of the frightening while slowly disentangling from the worries of the ‘what ifs’ is a continual one but each step does make a difference. Long-term travel was ahead with indeterminable adventure and experiences far greater than the stuff could ever hold. It is worth the risk. Maybe I wasn’t yet ready to discard the pile from the back of the closet entirely, but I was able to close the door and open a new one.

Traveler 1-Pile 0.

What’s your ‘pile’? What helped you make your leap?

 

Posted by | Permalink | Comments (0) 
Category: Backpacking, Notes from the collective travel mind

April 9, 2014

Vagabonding Field Report: The coast of El Salvador

el salvador beach

Cost/day: $55/day

What’s the strangest thing that’s happened lately?

Between my husband and my son, they were stung three times during the one week we were in El Salvador!

Describe a typical day:

We’re driving most days, exploring the coast and searching for a place where we could possibly rent a house. Stopping at towns along the way, such as El Zonte, San Blas and Liberia, we check out the beaches and rental prices.

The roads are windy along the coastline in the north, with cliffs that offer vistas of the sea. Sunshine reflects off the ocean. The breeze blows, the windows are down and our favorite tunes are playing on the radio. It’s great to be alive, exploring this big, beautiful world!

IMG_2188

What do you like about where you are? Dislike?

Like: There are no speed bumps! After being in Guatemala for so long and their countless tumulos it’s refreshing to be able to drive without slowing down for speed bumps.

The people are super friendly, and love the children. They are constantly coming up to us every time we stop and asking questions.

We also found a great little place to hangout in El Cuco… a great campground with a pool and a short jaunt to the beach.

Dislike: We’re shocked with the prices here — food is about 20% more than Guatemala (we’d heard it was cheaper), and rental rates are outrageous! Prices are high, but the ‘niceness’ of accommodations are not. This was not at all what we expected. We can only surmise that rates are being driven up because the coast of El Salvador is very popular for surfers.

Describe a challenge you faced:

We’d hoped to find a house to rent for a month or two, but all rental rates were outside of our budget, and even if they hadn’t have been, nothing we found would work for our family of seven (soon to be eight.) Given my condition of being 6 months pregnant, I was disappointed by having my expectations unrealized.

What new lesson did you learn?

Expect the unexpected. You never really know what a destination has to offer until you hit the ground. Besides, everyone’s desires are different, so it can affect what their experience is like.

Where next?

We’re heading to Nicaragua where we hope to find a house on the beach that we can rent for a few months.

Download 101 FAQs about our travel lifestyle, connect with me on Facebook, or learn step-by-step how to fund travel.

IMG_2281

 

Posted by | Permalink | Comments (2) 
Category: Central America, Family Travel, Vagabonding Field Reports
Main

Bio

Books

Stories

Essays

Video

Interviews

Events

Writers

Marco

Paris

Vagabonding.net

Contact


Vagabonding Audio Book at Audible.com

Marco Polo Didnt Go There
Rolf's new book!


Vagabonding
   Vagabonding

RECENT COMMENTS

Ric: Very good article. That’s the reason I enjoy Theroux and Bill Bryson’s...

stieve@green lotus trekking: But i never love bull fighting with man i love only bull...

mingma@trekking in nepal: O my god very sad to read about this article.

mingma@trekking in nepal: Oh! i havent seen before even heard, its amazing and nice.

www.beaphar.lv: You weren’t happily married to each of these but in some cases...

https://berrybenkashop.zendesk.com/entries/52331524-Top-10-Features-In-The-New-IOS-5: ...

quietpyramid.com: Everyone knows that proteins are very much needed for a healthy body....

theartscentregc.zendesk.com: These concerns have grown to get mute just in case you use...

makemysiteapp.com: Thinking of some creative writing ideas for kids can actually be...

www.socent.gr: You have to possess a must comparison laptop or computer prices in India...

SPONSORED BY :



CATEGORIES

TRAVEL LINKS

ARCHIVES

RECENT ENTRIES

Is all writing travel writing?
Thomas Swick on the merits of traveling alone
Vagabonding Case Study: Michael Hodson
Why We Buy Dumb Souvenirs
Vagabonding Case Study: Ligeia and Mindy
The power of nostalgia for travel
Vagabonding Field Report: The Great Ocean Road
Are you afraid to travel?
William Least Heat-Moon on why we travel
An interview with Freelance Writer Joe Henley


Subscribe to this blog's feed
Follow @rolfpotts