Well…here we are, it's been over 18 months since the first attempt at a Blog Post for this little blogging experiment. It all began on a cool June morning; June 1st to be exact...of 2011 and Gina and I were giddy
with excitement as we posed for a departing photo in my parent's driveway in Oakland, California. We were pulling out that morning and heading for G's parent's driveway in Muskego, Wisconsin. It would take nearly 2 full days of driving to put that first stretch into the books.
Looking back on those early days of the trip I can say that I didn't really quite grasp what we were embarking on. Since that first blog entry we have explored 30 US states and 1 Canadian province while on the "domestic" portion of the trip. Setting off on the "international" leg of the trip we made it through a total of 38 countries on 5 continents: 6 weeks in Europe, 5 months in Asia, 6 weeks in Oceania, 3 months back in North America as we cruised south through Mexico and Central America before finally capping it all off with 4 months in South America. It's a lot to get my head around even now…6 weeks after we arrived back home safe and sound in Oakland.
I've put off writing this post for some time; sort of waiting for something profound to strike me…but, really I think that a trip like that, while a mother when you look at it as a whole, really comes down
to a collection of small experiences. Each piece was unique and special, every place beautiful and amazing in its own way. Following suit, the reflection back onto the trip is comprised of a thousand
thoughts, lessons and insights gained along the way. What I think most about is how lucky we were to have the opportunity to even dream up a trip like this, let alone actually being able to live it.
And, I can't be thankful enough to have been able to experience it all with the only constant and the best thing about the journey; a great travel partner, and my best friend…and it would be remiss for me not to mention: my fiancé and the love of my life: Gina Marie. Her good humor, sense of adventure, positive attitude and fun loving nature was inspiring at all times, but particularly in the tough times and was a great complement to my more neurotic and serious tendencies. Can you imagine someone putting up with me for literally every waking minute of every single day for almost 18 months? Yeah, me neither…she really is a saint.
The other thing that has to be noted is the incredible support and generosity we have experienced along the road. We have been taken in, given shelter, showers, laundry facilities, food, hospitality, drinks, tour guided, transported and otherwise looked out for by literally dozens of different sets of friends and family members along the trip. We would never have been able to last as long as we did and certainly
couldn't have had the depth of experience along the way if it wasn't for all the fine folks we are lucky enough to consider friends and family. To all of those people who have helped us and supported us
along the way: we are forever indebted and look forward to paying the favor back in the near future.
What's your favorite place? A question we get all the time and one that is nearly impossible to answer succinctly. As I said each place is special in its own right, and there are so many variables that go into one traveler's experience in any given destination that it'd be short-sided to say that one place is a "favorite". It's much easier and realistic for us to break the trip into segments and then to pick places or experiences that were highlights.
By in large the trip's highlights will coincide with places where we either knew somebody or met up with someone. Really, even a place that under normal circumstances one could write off as a total s***hole can be transformed into a highlight when you are there with some awesome people. I guess you could say that a place is as awesome as the company you keep while you are there. As I have mentioned, with Gina in tow I had great company the whole way along…so even the stinkiest, grimiest and most dangerous s***holes were still fun…yes, even Manila.
Still it has to be noted that there are many places that are just so unbelievably beautiful or amazing that in their own right they deserve mention; to name but a few: Colorado and Utah, Bruges, Munich and the surrounding mountains, Croatia, the Italian Lakes Region, Koh Lipe and Koh Muk, Chang Mai, Laos and Cambodia, El Nido- Phillippines, Mt. Kinabalu, Lombok and surrounding islands, Margaret River- Western Australia, Oaxaca, Isla Mujeres, Tikal and Antigua, Costa Rica, Colombia's Zona Cafeteria, Ecuador, Buenos Aires, Mendoza, Chilean Lakes District, Patagonia, and Machu Picchu. It's by no means an exhaustive list, but you're winning at life if you find yourself in any of these places with time to kill, that's for sure.
The biggest thing that I think of as far as something learned along the way has to deal with perspective and normalcy and it goes back further than the trip to when G and I (and Reining) shoved off in June of 2008 to Australia. It's amazing how, given a long enough amount of time, anything can become "normal". When I first took the road as a gung-ho sales rep for Columbia Sportswear pounding the roads of New South Wales everything about it was a novelty…driving on the wrong side of the road, living in one of the world's most beautiful cities, talking with a faux Australian accent…everything. But, sometime in the days, weeks and months that followed the novelty of those things faded and they became "normal". That is not to say that they became mundane or that I ceased to appreciate them…far from it, those years in Australia are some of my fondest to look back upon and I consider myself exceptionally lucky to have had the opportunity to go and experience life down under. An analogy I have used to illustrate this is a new pair of shoes…at some point after a few weeks or months that new pair of shoes ceases to be "new" and becomes simply your shoes. When is that transition made?
I am not sure where along the road the transition was made from the novelty of traveling as a holiday to the normalcy of traveling being our life…but, it unquestioningly did. At some point all the things that go into traveling: long bus rides, crappy beds in crappy hostels, living out of a backpack, constantly having to plan every meal and every night of sleep, always being on guard so as not to be ripped off, and all the amazing things, (and the list goes on……..)…all those things, they became normal. Again, I have to stress that normal in this case does not have a negative connotation…far from it. It's just that when we assumed the life of a traveler and all that came with it, the alleged normal life we had been leading in Melbourne with jobs, work and all the rest became as strange and foreign a notion as what the fantasy of embarking on the journey had been during that time living a "normal" life. It was a strange realization…"Wait, this is normal now. Weird."
It goes a step further when you look at the concept of "normal" with respect to the societies we live in and the conveniences and luxuries that we all accept as the status quo. A normal existence in the countries and societies we were raised and live in involves houses with heating, plumbing and clean drinking water. The houses have televisions with more channels than you can count and have computers and phones and other devices with lightning quick internet connections that connect us to the world. In the driveways to these houses one can find vehicles that will reliably and safely transport their drivers to a grocery store like Whole Foods where one can spend incredible amounts of money on all manner of extravagance and excess.
Meanwhile, normal life in many of the countries we are lucky to have visited involves thatched roofs, dirt floors, drafty bamboo walls and a sketchy water supply. A TV with an antenna and one static filled channel is a novelty to be appreciated only when the unreliable electricity is on. Transport is dirty crowded and almost always public. What the hell is a seatbelt? A market in this society may more closely resemble what we'd call a mini-mart and is likely stocked with an abundance of refined sugary snacks and drinks and not much else. Real food is grown by hand or traded for at local open air markets; selection can be scant and is almost always seasonal. Yup, "normal" life is a lot tougher there…and yet, they don't seem to bat an eyelash…it's normal to them and they are, by and large, happy.
I realize I am treading dangerously close to sounding like a pretentious, holier-than-thou traveler d-bag; it's not my intent. As with all the entries in the blog, this entry is intended for me and Gina as a reminder of where our heads were at during any given stretch of the trip as much as it is as a reminder of where we went and what we did. I hope that as we wade back into "normalcy" here in the US that we can keep perspective of what that word means and how lucky we are to have such a high standard of it.
With regard to this Blog; at last count we had about 200 entries containing god knows how many words…a few hundred thousand at least. We eased into it with 1 or 2 lines of basic information per entry and somewhere along the line it morphed into a much wordier and more detailed affair. It is in essence our travel journal; published on the internet for any and all to read. If you have ever read even one of our blog entries, much less followed us diligently… I thank you. We appreciate the support, and knowing that people were following along with us helped fight the bouts of loneliness that are unavoidable on the road. We tried our best to make them entertaining even if they were by no means brief.
What's next? Now there is the million dollar question. Since we've been home we've handled a little business; we are pretty sure we know when and where we will be getting married: sometime in 2014 and somewhere in Northern California, if you must know. Gina is spending some quality time in Wisconsin with her family and friends and I am doing the same here in Oakland…we're now in a long distance relationship which is taking some getting used to after such a long stint of constant togetherness. Both of us are being fed a large slice of humble pie with extra "reality-cream" on top as we work part-time, temporary and relatively low paying jobs over this stretch…it's been nearly 20 months since we put in our last days of work with CBSi and Columbia Sportswear back in Melbourne (!!). We've got a few ideas on how the next few months could play out and they do involve another "quick" jaunt before we really settle into "normal"…
So, for now the "AM&G" travel blog is going radio silent…we're looking forward to picking it up again at some point in the not too distant future when the feet are once again itchy and the sight of our backpacks is no longer repulsive. In the mean time; all the best and thanks for checking out our blog... I hope you enjoyed reading about our adventures…we certainly enjoyed living them.