I was not prepared for the barricaded wall of police officers as we followed our taxi driver down the sidewalk and out of the confines of the fenced Cusco airport. As usual, I had done just enough research to be a step above ignorance upon touchdown in Peru. First, we had written a skeletal 6-day itinerary on pace with Speedy Gonzales, the necessary reservations booked for our transport and lodging. Second, I watched a blurry copy of a National Geographic documentary on YouTube exploring the engineering and mystery behind Machu Picchu. That was it.
Just a few days following Georgia and Duncan’s wedding, the rest of the family and I jetted off for our annual #ComptonsConquer family vacation – this year on a home exchange to the Dominican Republic. We knew we would desperately need to slow it wayyyyyy down and recuperate. Now at the end of our vacation, we have finally caught up on some well-earned R and R. The house we traded, Villa Las Ballenas, is situated in Las Galeras on the far eastern edge of the Samana Peninsula, a sliver of land barely attached to the rest of the DR that decided it wanted to have a go at reaching across the Atlantic for Puerto Rico. The village is charming, comprised of local agrarian Dominicans and a substantial smattering of ex-pats barely sustaining European resorts and eclectic dining in the off-season.
If we’re friends on Facebook or you follow me on Instagram, you know that, after an incredible year living and studying in New Zealand — one of the most adventurous, beautiful countries on the planet — I did not settle right into the working life of most young adults.
Since I returned to the States in the middle of the school year and needed to jump through a lot of bureaucratic hoops to be certified to teach in South Carolina, I devoted the spring to re-grounding myself in American culture (I love this country more than ever), spending time with dearly missed family and friends, obtaining my teacher licensure, and finding a job before August. I realized any leftover time was an opportune window of, as Mariah has coined, funemployment. For the last two months, I have continued to travel and enjoy some of nature’s most precious gems — first hiking among the towering glacial mountains and gale-force winds of Patagonia, then on to swimming in Havasupai’s crystal blue waters and camping in Joshua Tree’s dinosaur rock desert.
Our first 72 hours in Chile have gone so smoothly. I floated into the customs entry line amidst the sea of others disembarking from our flight, unaware of my surroundings as I usually am — especially after a three-leg, twenty hour journey. “Well hello there, friend. Fancy seeing you here.”
And there, just a row ahead of me in line, was Mariah. I dove under the line divider and embraced one of my best friends. There was lots of jazz-hand jumping and high-pitched outbursts and laughing and more hugging.
Happy Valentine’s Day! As my soul friend and Italy study abroad companion Mariah so aptly posted earlier today, this year, Cupid set us up on a date with the mountains – in Patagonia! If you’re sheepishly hiding your ignorance that this word is more than just a fluffy fuschia fleece name brand, you’re not alone. FYI though, it’s also the region in Chile and Argentina at the very bottom of South America. Tomorrow afternoon, I’ll land in Santiago, reunite with Mariah – who I haven’t seen in 15 months – and the first big JComp Adventure of 2017 will commence!
It’s a good thing I’m so cheap that I pack most of my meals for layovers rather than pay inflated flights in terminal food courts. Sitting outside of JFK’s Terminal 4, I have finally landed in limbo, both physically and metaphorically. Physically, because my layover here is 6 hours long, and in my haste to get to my next gate and THEN relax, I did not have the forethought to realize that customs is not going to screen me four and a half hours before my departure. So rather than chilling in the comfort of a lounge seat or restaurant bar in Terminal 5 where I landed two hours ago, I ate my unrefrigerated leftover crab cakes outside of the terminal, on a blue plastic chair that’s technically only reserved for the handicapped and elderly anyway. Now I’m cumbersomely attempting to write this post on my phone and kicking myself for a rookie mistake. I hate making rookie mistakes.
I’m in a metaphorical limbo, because on this hard seat, I rest in the calm surf before the wave of cultural excitement about to crash over me once we begin wandering the streets of Spanish-speaking Santiago. Prior to the “rest” of sitting for twenty hours in transit, the last few weeks I have been running on a speeding hamster wheel around Mt. Pleasant – trying to submit teaching applications, and squeeze in a few more babysitting jobs and friend outings, and finalize trip plans for the next few months, and finish up wedding projects for Georgia. I emailed Save the Dates, successfully uploaded the invite list to the RSVP online platform we’re using (…all 618 guests); and finished designing, printing, cutting, and glueing chic burlap Extra Information inserts. Whew! All these to-dos, with a deadline of today, have been simultaneously exciting and exhausting. They did not, however, allow much time to process or reflect or get stoked about the fact that I would actually shortly be embarking on one helluva journey.
Beyond the to-dos, my mind has more recently gotten stuck in the stress of packing, like making sure I had, and could fit, food for 11 days on the trail. Or how I had to run to Dick’s Sporting Goods this morning because Georgia accidentally took the ONE pair of Nike shorts I planned on packing. And how that kind of threw off my relatively “together” mental preparation for some hectic packing two hours before I needed to leave for the airport. How I’ve already realized that I left my hat drying outside after it was washed, or how I forgot to pack an extra pair of contact lenses and dark chocolate and cushions for this planters wart on the bottom of my foot and toilet paper in a ziplock bag and deodorant (deodorant! Which I refuse to spend $6 on in the airport). How I couldn’t find one pair of the wool socks I wanted to bring, and the other pair I did bring I neglected to put in my carry on, so my feet are going to be cold tonight. Things I should know by now. Petty things, many of which I can solve with simple purchases and don’t affect my overall travel, but remembering after the fact, still mess with my mind, still make the butterflies in my gut act up a little, still make me question how experienced or novice of a traveler I really am.
But it’s all good. Because if I was too busy beforehand to get excited, being in the airport now makes me STOKED. All I needed was to walk through the sweeping terminal halls, bask in the serenade of foreign languages around me, the portrait of people who don’t look like me, setting off to their own destinations. And strangely, as I leave my birth home, I also rediscover my world-wide home in this international environment I find so invigorating. For me, I intrinsically associate airports with the anticipation of enriching experiences and welcome opportunities for growth. My nerves have subsided, and if the small packing hiccups I made are the biggest mistakes on this trip, we would be sailing on serene seas.
But I know better than that; mountain trails and international travel are mired in obstacles. It’s the nature of the beast, and overcoming those hurdles is one reason I gravitate to them. From not quite having all the camping permits we need, to intentionally deciding to hitchhike and find accommodation in the cities day-by-day, I have a hunch Patagonia will provide its own unique set of complications; we’ll take them as they come.
As we do, your prayers for safety and protection are, as always, deeply appreciated. Until the next post!
Last week I reunited with some of my favorite people on the Big Island: Hoffa, Mama, Georgia, Sweet RoRie, and Mr. Cain. Since 2007, my parents have prioritized an annual family vacation. I use that term loosely, since these trips rarely involve too much relaxing.
Sometimes we take on exotic international places. Last summer we flew to Ecuador, exploring the Amazon Jungle and quaint mountain town of Banos. Amidst adventures like white water rafting and biking to waterfalls, we also got really sick, had our water cut off, and endured a twenty-hour bus ride circumnavigating landslides throughout the country.
A few weeks before flying to Hawaii, I was FaceTiming one of my best friends, ranting on about my preparations and how excited I was getting.
“And you’re going all by yourself?”
“For that first week, yes!”
“That sounds terrible. Like that would be on my list of top ten things to never do.”