22 hours: The length of my last, very last bus ride in Peru, from Mancora to Lima. It was bittersweet. No, it just sucked. I consider my last few day sin Lima to have been cultural acclimatization; the city is so big and Western it made for a smooth transition back to the U.S.
Nir and I spent the last night at the famous "Parque Reserva", running around in brilliant and colorful fountains.
On my last day we explored Lima's ritzy oceanside barrios, and forgot every five minutes that we were still in Peru.
On the evening of the 12th I packed for the last time, said a quick goodbye, jumped in the taxi, and roared off to the Lima international airport. I almost missed both planes and had to sleep the night light in the "these seats do not recline" row, but nothing mattered any more, I was home.
Back in Good ol Fitchburg. You'd think that after traveling the world, after being in unimaginable landscapes, after being accompanied by an interesting entourage of international and worldly companions, after finding myself at the craters of active volcanoes, high in the Andes mountains, deep in the Amazon rainforest, and in the crashing surf of a desert coast, you'd think I'd find Fitchburg quite boring. Contrarily, I have need been less bored in Fitchburg.
In June of 2010, my family got up and left beautiful Seattle; moved 2,000 miles East to a slow, wholly Mid Western suburb of Madison, Wisconsin. I had the misfortune of being forced to spend 6 months there between high school and leaving for my trip. I was often bored out of my mid and spent my days biking to downtown Madison (which is actually pretty cool) to work as a barrista.
Now, in Fitchburg again, I find myself appreciating the little things. The broad, green, leafy trees lining the streets, the green green lawns, the simple comforts. There are all sorts of exciting things to do even right inside the house. I am very proud and excited to announce that I have retained the ability to operate: An iPod, a coffee machine a washing machine, a dishwasher, a boombox, and a microwave, even a toaster, among other really cool and exciting machines I get to use.
I'm aware that all the won't last long. And I'm sure it helps that I'll be running off to Seattle in 2 weeks, then road tripping down to L.A. to start college in that big crazy city. The adventures won't end, can't end.
It's been a big year. Needless to say, I can't express how glad I am I took a gap year. When I was planning this trip in the spring of my senior year, I struggled. I pulled up a map of the world, looked at every continent, every little green country, and started to cry. I wanted to go EVERYWHERE. I knew I couldn't. It was overpoweringly overwhelming. I thought not about what I could see, but what I would miss seeing my making a decision.
I know now to measure my experiences with plus signs: Every experience is a bonus, and you're lucky as hell to get each and every one.
And in the end, what stays with you are the experiences you've shared with others; The amazing people you've met, the friends you've made. Now, when I look at a world map, I don't just see the little green countries, I see little pinpricks of light and love scattered across the UK, Europe, the mIddle East, Africa... Dear friends from across the globe I met thousands of miles away from any of our homes and families, down South in exotic Latin America. And I know that any time I get the chance to cross the great oceans and visiting the other half of the world, I'll have great people to visit wherever I go. They are what I'll remember. In the end, human connection trumps all.
My year wasn't what I expected it to be. My other big experience in Latin America was through Amigos de las Americas- I spent 2 months living with one host family, in one small, rural town in Nicaragua. My Spanish drastically improved; I got a real Nicaraguan experience; I came home FEELING Nicaraguan. This time around, I was initially disappointed: Although I was working to help the community of Leon, I was living with a group of white, English speaking europeans, spending all my waking hours working with white English speaking tourists. I tried my hardest, but it was hard to get out and speak Spanish, hang out with locals, and get a genuinely cultural experience. The same situation repeated itself in Pisco, at PSF. I probably spoke the most Spanish while traveling Peru.
But you know what? It's ok. I still got to speak Spanish. I still got a million unique cultural experiences. I got to see far more of Latin America then I did during Amigos. And more: My friends were not from the U.S. At all. They were from Germany. Holland. Israel. England. South Africa. Sweden. I was friends with a half Sudanese, half Polish girl who grew up in Germany and now lives in Britain. A guy who was born in French Belgium and spent his childhood in Zambia, South Africa, Tansania- he says he's from Belgium but only goes there for Christmas. There was a half Jewish, half Chinese Buddhist girl living in Canada, and then a handful of devout Peruvian Hindus. And if they were boring like me and were raised in a comfortable first world country, they could still tell me cray stores of adventures in India, Burma, Antarctica, Patagonia, Egypt, Namibia....
I know that I've accumulated so many perspectives from so many corners of el mundo; lifestyles, ideologies and cultures, that I see the world in a new, more comprehensive, empathetic light. I know what parties are like in Holland. How you have to dress in Iran. What chavs are in the U.K. The places to go in Televiv, in Berlin. And in such an increasingly globalized world, that's worth something.
Right before I left Lima for the last time (for the seventh time), I thought about whether I've changed. I couldn't think of anything, so I figured I'd figure it out once I was back with people who knew me before I left. Now the I'm back, I still don't know. I do know that I've learned to be confident with my decisions, because someone will always question your choices, no matter what they are. And that its ok to make the wrong decision sometimes, because you'll learn from it.
I've begun to really appreciate the power of our minds. You have more control over the atmosphere of a situation or place than you'll believe; you can change a social environment just through your attitude. And if you think good things will happen to you they probably will. And anything you want, reach out and grab it, because anything, really anything, is possible.
Most of all, the world is an effing incredible place. But so is home. A good friend of mine from Pisco coined a singular, poignant phrase that will stick with me for the rest of my life: "Roots and Wings". Roots: Your home, your family, your base; Wings: The ability to fly away, escape, adventure, and chase your dreams. They are of equal importance. Exactly equal importance. And that's a beautiful thing to think about and to know.
Like Chris McCandless says at the end of "Into the Wild", "Happiness is only real when shared". So thanks for reading this blog and sharing my ventures. Special thanks to my dear Mama, Oma, and Alia Payne for reading every word; you're awesome :)
But whatever. I'm home now. And even if my reader audience may have been small, I'm glad I wrote about it because I don't remember shit.
Thats it, I'm signing off now.