Here I am once again interrupting scheduled posts because I'm so far behind. I'm coming home!
Anyone who knows me knows that I dreamed up this trip a long, long time ago and talked about it in future tense for so long that most people probably assumed that I was just jabbering on and that it wouldn't happen as most things of that nature have a tendency towards. But we did actually go. And now it's a surreal thing to reflect in past tense on the 14 months of traveling and living out of a single backpack...I'm officially coming home in 3 days. Someone asked me the other day if it feels like I left so long ago or whether time has flown. I had to think about it for a minute and then a minute more and ultimately I couldn't even decide which described my experience more because I truly feel like both. That blizzardy January day when we left Canada seems sooooo long ago but then also I can't believe that I've done as much and been as many places as I have since then because it just doesn't seem long enough.
As I sit here contemplating it all as I do, I am quite settled with this rare and elusive but beautiful feeling of satisfaction and completion. In an exceptionally uncommon scenario, I truly feel like I accomplished everything that I had either consciously or subconsciously wanted from this trip. And my gosh, I can't even begin to describe how satiating and positive of a feeling and accomplishment that is, especially for my perpetually discontent self.
Over the course of 14 months, I have stepped foot in 14 different countries, sampling life from Asia to the Middle East to East Africa to Central America. There is always a pro/con debate over moving through more different places, seeing more but getting a superficial experience of each or the alternative of visiting less countries, seeing less of the world but getting a richer, more thorough experience of each. Generally speaking for the most part I feel completely good about the way that Bridger and I travelled, a happy medium between both alternatives. I think seeing such a variety of the world as we have has taught us a lot of about life across said world as well as re-inspired a thirst for travel that includes endlessly more desired destinations than we could have ever considered prior to leaving Canada. And I think that we are both so much smarter in ways that we neither could have imagined nor could have become in any other way.
When I dreamed up this trip long ago, the dream was that I (and then it became Bridger and I) would quit our jobs and travel until we kind of had this Forest Gump moment where we just stopped and said "I think I'll go home now". This dream encountered a small hiccup when Bridger decided not to actually quit his beloved job, thus taking a leave of absence instead, essentially turning the trip from the open ended, totally exploratory and slow moving endeavor I had dreamed about to a now finite, close-ended experience that I had done so many times before. As much as nobody in their sane mind will understand this, this was a devastating blow to me. It was devastating not because it would change where we decided to visit but rather, the entire nature of the trip. As much as I understood his reasons and respected the decision he needed to make for himself, I also had to do what I needed to do. So in the end after endless discussion, countless tears and the occasional spat of mass proportions between us, the agreement was that he kept his job if that is what he felt compelled to do as long he could handle my decision to go on without him if that is what I so felt compelled to do. And it turned out that I did need to carry on after the very sad day that he left me in Africa. At that time, though I never knew anything for sure. I expected that perhaps I would continue on another few months, maybe, maaaaaybe travel until Christmas but that was a big stretch. Never in a million years would I have expected that I would a) not be home for Christmas for the first time in my entire life and b) carry on 6 more months without him traversing the globe on my own. But I did. And the thing is that finally after 14 months on the road, I have achieved exactly what I had envisioned for myself the years prior to this trip...I decided I want to come home. For the first time in my traveling life, I actually feel like I am done and I want to come back to Canada and my people. I still expect a solid case of "post-traveling depression" as per the usual because that's how it goes, but I can't even begin to describe what a fantastic feeling it is to live devoid of that regretful feeling of going home too soon. I don't have it, I'm going home because I am ready to wrap up this part of my life, I actually Forest Gumped.
I have gotten to travel with the most incredible, bizarro man I know for 8 months, ending our life plan as we know it. I got to travel with my super adventurous mom for a total of about a month when she met up with me in Uganda/Rwanda and Nicaragua. And I've also gotten to travel solo for 6 months which, as stupid as it is, is something I'm really proud of my neurotic self for. I didn't realize it at the time, but looking back at my life of travel thus far, I feel like all my last trips have been grooming me for this moment for a long time. I started my traveling life with friends and then (coinciding with those same people getting married, going to school, having babies, buying houses etc.) after much encouragement that I could survive from everyone I knew, bust out traveling for the first time on my own for very short, very systematically planned trips to Belize, Guatemala and California. Traveling solo lost its initial shock and terror value long ago so this wasn't nearly such a jump for me. Over the course of this trip, I think back about the places and situations that I have just been randomly cruising through on my own, little white girl, in the last 6 months and sometimes it is so surreal and honestly seems like it's not even me. I think about being stuffed one of 12 in a Toyota Corolla on some of the worst roads you can imagine; I think of wandering through banana fields at sunset; Wandering aimlessly through the streets of my tiny Ugandan town; sitting on my backpack at a bus stop all alone way off the tourist trail with not another tourist in the entire town nor probably any other English speaker. It's nuts but also, somehow, totally normal! When you travel alone it's just the reality of life that sometimes you have friends and sometimes you don't and that's totally ok. And since you can't plan or predict it, you just learn not to rely on other people and just do what you want to do regardless. Though there can definitely be some low parts, overall you start to just experience a healthy degree of neutrality about the whole thing. Ultimately you become comfortable in the company of your friends but also with yourself. It is all very liberating! They're definitely out there but, overall, the amount of solo female travelers are minimal compared to solo male travelers. Haha I feel like I always have to justify why a bunch of rando men are always showing up in my pictures and keeping my company but, really, when so often you're the only girl or one of a small handful in all your dorms, proportionately, there are just more men to accidentally end up friends with. So ladies, don't wait for someone to travel with and potentially forfeit your opportunity altogether if such a thing doesn't happen, just get out there and do it because you really, really can! And I'd be happy to help you or kick your ass that little extra way if you need it ;) Anyways, the experience of both traveling with people and proper traveling solo has been another thing ticked off the bucket list.
The other thing I've always had dreams of doing is volunteering in Africa. So I decided that I might as well do it now while I have all the time in the world because, after all, I'm unemployed for potentially the only time in the foreseeable future. So I basically offered the services of this traveling SLP and settled for 5 weeks in Fort Portal Uganda to SLP it up at a totally innovative and much needed therapeutic rehab centre for children with disabilities. I learned a ton but more than anything, I was constantly filled with this deep rooted sense of gratitude for the opportunities we and our children have in Canada as well as inspiration for what people who seemingly have so little will do to help their children. Amazing stuff. In addition, another totally random opportunity presented itself when I found out my Aunt's family had a sponsor child at an orphanage in Uganda, the very country I happened to be in! So off I went to visit and volunteer, living with the most incredible Ugandan woman in her own personal house, working on become a little more Ugandan myself. It was a totally random and equally exciting opportunity.
I also always wanted to learn to speak and understand Spanish so off I went to Nicaragua to take two weeks of Spanish school/homestay. Not gonna lie, this one is still a massive work in progress but happy to have experienced the whole Spanish school thing that I always wanted to give a go.
When I started this trip I didn't really exactly know when I would come home. To be honest, I had always wondered if I could be one of those people who just sold everything I own and travel indefinitely. But nope, after 14 months I am tired of traveling and I feel like I have done what I went to do. And weirdly, I'm looking forward to building a bit of a "normal" and routine life for awhile. Ya, I'll try that out. Of course, one with itchy feet will probably always have itchy feet so I fully expect the "normal" life will get old sooner rather than later and I'll be off in some form again...but so goes another chapter in my life of perpetual discontent. As I like to say, "not unhappy, just discontent", both a blessing (because I think it's driven me to do a lot more than I would have achieved otherwise) and a curse. But then I'm home 3 days and then off I go to a 10 day silent meditation course which will maybe have some bearing on the latter ;)
I love Canada, I love my people and I'm feeling good about coming home!