Lost in America

I am lost in America. You might wonder how that happened, after surviving months abroad, but it isn’t the kind of ‘lost’ that you’re thinking of. IMG_6562IMG_1110

It began as a joke. Perched on my seat squeezed against the window on the flight home, I pretended that I only knew Spanish. Everyone believed it – my flight attendant, the girl sitting by me, and her mom – until I concluded that the girl and her mom only spoke English, and I wanted to chat. “Oh, I didn’t think you spoke English!” exclaimed the mom. The girl was more interested in querying me about study abroad. She was my age, and thought studying abroad sounded like the best idea in the world. Which, I agreed it might be.

I peered out the grimy window at the sun rising over Mexico. Problems started after the flight attendant, who still thought I only spoke Spanish, handed me the customs form without asking the usual question of which language I prefer. Of course. He doesn’t think I speak English. I was about to request one in English when I convinced myself that it’d be a fun experiment to do it in Spanish. Customs had never given me trouble before – would filling it out in Spanish change that? Sure, it wasn’t a terrible scientific experiment, but I was curious how they would treat me with my form penciled in Spanish.

Bad idea. My new friends who had sat with me on the flight strolled through customs just like I usually do, but the customs guy shot me a tough look. He demanded to know where I was coming from, what I was doing, why I was there. Why would I go somewhere like Ecuador to study abroad? Why would I study abroad in the first place? And how come I filled out my form in Spanish? I couldn’t think of a good answer to that one. I felt like it just didn’t seem like a good response. He sure inquired a lot considering that it was obvious from the start that my bags would be checked. People say that I look Hispanic, and I completed my customs form in Spanish. The moment I decided to do that, I already knew I’d be directed to a special line. The man rummaging through my bags was friendly but asked the same questions all over again. “Quito? And you say that’s in Ecuador?” I couldn’t tell if he actually didn’t know where Quito was, or if he was trying to trip up my elaborate cover story. If that was the case, he should be over in Hollywood instead of LAX. I nodded my head with slight amusement; carrying nothing to hide, I was trying to decipher customs instead of the other way around. After not encountering the nonexistent drugs that they were searching for, I was ushered back into America.

We fled to the beach during our layover. That’s when I got lost. I wasn’t physically lost – I had a map. But leaving the airport, hustling into the city, I became quickly disorientated. Where had the thin mountain air gone? How had the mouthwatering aroma of street food evaporated?  Where were the chattering hummingbirds, puffy clouds, and green mosaics of mountainside farms? I craved everything I had left behind. I craved Quito, my host brother, and my Ecuadorian friends.

My bearings were gone. My mind was lingering in Ecuador, and by his silence I judged that Adrian’s was too. He tried talking to the bus driver in Spanish. She repeated condescendingly what she thought he had just asked, finishing her sentence more like a statement. I felt a disappointing inkling that Spanish-speakers are misunderstood here. First in the airport, then on the bus. Probably more white people smuggle drugs across the border and arouse trouble on the bus than Hispanics, but doing anything in Spanish seems to spawn distrust. My experiment had pointed me to the sad truth. The fare machine began bleating after we started dropping coins through the slot. Our driver placed the quarters on her palm to scrutinize them, informing us that we cannot use foreign currency any more than we can get away with speaking a foreign language. Never mind, that there’s nothing un-American about Spanish.

A tattooed guy swaggered onto the bus asking for money. “You got change for a $1 bill bro?” The bus only takes quarters. I mined my pockets for change and shrugged my shoulders in apology. Adrian had some. “Umm… this ain’t real money bro”. He was right. Adrian took the coins back, already realizing what had just happened again. He dropped the Ecuador quarters into his pockets and said sorry. It made me feel a little better that I wasn’t alone in being lost.

Once at the beach my mind was put at ease a little by the warm sand and crashing waves. Tall palm trees cast short shadows under the hot sun, almost as if we were still on the equator. Dolphins splashed offshore, just for fun, like the gulls that were laughing at me.

People tout culture shock as the biggest struggle while traveling. For me, reverse culture shock was a lot worse. For those first few days back in America, I was adrift. Food dissolving in my mouth tasted alien, no matter if it used to be a favorite. My uneventful routine was disorienting. And I was always lost in thought. In the mornings my body would get up expecting hot coffee, ripe fruit, and mouth-watering pineapple juice. Instead there was a cereal box. My mind would arouse wired for Spanish. And my eyes would open anticipating the same views I saw every day riding the simmering bus to school. They would search in vain for  eucalyptus trees, far-off volcanoes, and green pastures, and I would be confused, even though I knew I was back in Portland.

The disorientation gradually subsided. My brain has been reconquered by English-speaking mode, even though I still have dreams in Spanish, and struggle with words while my instinct offers a term in Spanish that perfectly paints what I am trying to say. I have re-accustomed to the change of scenery, and the flatly non-exotic sounds and smells wherever I go. I miss my life in Ecuador, but I am slowly getting my bearings back. Part of me remains somewhere in Ecuador though. Or perhaps, part of Ecuador came with. My mind ponders things about myself and others I never considered before. I refuse myself permission to become unhappy because of trivial things. My mind will wander off to South America, where families with the least are the happiest, and where enjoying a futbol match on a hot dusty field is more important than ticking off a to-do list. Once, in the cloud forest, we played futbol with kids in a town plaza. We had never met them before, and would never see them again, yet we played as if we were fierce rivals and best friends all at the same time. It was midnight. We kept score because we could and because we had to, and played until we lost track. We played in the middle of the plaza, around a fountain, under a dark tree with broad leaves that dropped every now and then, swirling like lazy fans to the cold ground. I catch myself daydreaming. I will be imaging where I would have been a month ago, or two.

Perhaps I was whitewater rafting, or joining the crowds at a futbol game with my host brother, or playing futbol myself. Maybe I was testing my physical extremes scrambling up Volcan Pichincha, or trekking to the crazy swing, meeting friendly farmers on our way up the steep cobblestone road. Perhaps I was relaxing on the grass at the park by my house, watching the alpine glow crawl up Mount Cotopaxi in a blushing hue of pink. Often I wish I could turn back the clock and relive those months. There are few regrets, just the sadness of knowing that it’s all over. There were epic moments and even more amazing friendships. There were spectacular sights, thought-provoking ordeals, and every range of emotion.

Living in another place for a semester permanently changed who I am, for the better. I think it even changed my personality. I am more adventurous, broader-minded, and more adaptable to unexpected situations. After everything I learned and all I experienced, however, there is one thing that I did not return prepared for: being lost in America. The first week back was hard, but I know my heartache will pass. I always feel this way when I have to move on from a chapter of my life. I was even sad at the end of eight grade. Still, there are friendships and moments that I wish I could clasp to forever, like the humidity that would not stop gluing to me in my adventures around Ecuador. I find myself remembering my most intensely emotional moments, and re-imagining how I was feeling; trying to smell my favorite aromas as I close my eyes and unleash my weary brain; visualizing the strange sights I saw; and listening in vain for my host mom calling me to dinner. Sadly this will be my last post about Ecuador. Thanks for reading my blog. I promise to write another travel blog pronto, as soon as I get the opportunity to pack my bags and head off on another adventure. . . . . . . .

A Lot of Lasts

I had imagined something grand for my last day in Quito. My last day of study abroad, a couple of weeks after most of my international friends had flown home. I had decided to stay an extra two weeks, visiting with my host family and traveling around the country.

We just wrapped up my last trip in Ecuador. Setting off two weeks ago on Sunday night, we headed to the beach. Hiking in the rainforest, relaxing in beach towns and taking a boat to an island were all part of the fun. After that we headed to Guayaquil, Ecuador’s largest city, to visit an Ecuadorian friend named Sam who we met in the Amazon rainforest one morning. Sam showed us around “his town”, which included a gorgeous lighthouse overlooking the city at sunset.

The next day a friend suggested, “let’s climb a mountain today”, so we ate breakfast in a little cafe avoiding the 95 degree heat and ended up on top of a 14,000-foot volcano in Cajas National Park that afternoon, where it was probably below 40. I bid my friends farewell in Cuenca and headed to places unknown with Adrian. We were in a little town in the middle of no where that went crazy for the national football (uh soccer) championships, we hiked into a rainforest populated by jungle crabs, toucans, coatis and parakeets that live no where else on earth; and on Christmas we were eating tuna, bread and apples after dark for dinner with some strangers at a ranger station in the jungle where a storm had knocked out all of the power, electricity and running water.

IMG_0490

It was a great two weeks, but here I am. My last day in Quito.

I had imagined something epic. Like the time I ran up Volcan Pichincha in under an hour and hiked down with someone I met on top. Instead, I decide to walk around with Adrian and see everything for the last time. There is something about soaking in the familiar one last time that is even better than doing something new and epic.

IMG_4588

Quito has become more than a city to me. It’s a home. I remember my first week here, when everything was so exotic. Excited street vendors shouting and trying to sell me things I could not identify; extravagant fruits, snacks and grilled guinea pigs. The crowded markets and bus chofers yelling at me, hurry up! Move out of the way! Pay your fare! Now it is not like that at all. I enjoy the exotic fruits, street food, and cuy. But now rather than being unable to fathom eating them, I cannot imagine not eating them. Grabbing a grilling skewer from my favorite curbside stand, popping a tomate de arbol in my mouth or chowing down on a bowl of hot chicken-foot-soup has become my norm. Surviving the ecovia, hurrying up and paying my fare has become as natural as riding a bike. Now I cannot imagine a city without honking taxis, narrow European-style streets and thin mountain air. Alas, it is my last day in Quito.

We hop on the Ecovia bus for the last time and I realize that I will miss the crowds. We wander around the Iñaquito market and buy avocados, tropical juices and maracuya fruits from the usual vendors who I have befriended. We linger a minute even to read our favorite pieces of street art (graffiti) for the last time. We head to the park to eat our last grilled street foods for a dollar and feel our lungs burn as we sprint past the futball and ecuavolley courts, where so many fun competitions were had. Cotopaxi is turning pink from alpine glow and it is time to hurry back.

It hurts to say good-bye, and my eyes are teary as we head to the airport and the sun drops behind Volcan Pichincha for the last time. It was an epic four months filled with life-changing experiences and even more amazing people. Some day, as I promised my host brother, I will be back. I will walk the streets of Quito again, tasting the street foods and my host mom’s cooking, visiting with old friends and playing futball in the park with new ones. Nothing, though, can ever be quite the same as my first day in Quito, or the last.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

Why You Should Study Abroad

IMG_6322

  1. Now is your chance, if you’re in school! I am on track to graduate in four years, despite a semester abroad. Talk to your adviser or study abroad coordinator and they can help you figure everything out.
  2. It is actually cheap. Worried about money? You can apply to a huge number of scholarships offered by organizations and colleges that want people like you to study abroad. Once you go, making money is possible – some of my friends work – and if you go somewhere inexpensive, like I did, your expenses might be lower than they are back home. Prices while shopping, buying coffee, paying for room and board (with my amazing host family), and recreating treat my wallet kindly.  Studying abroad will not necessarily set you back financially – and it will boost your resume and hiring opportunities when you return.
  3. It is really easy. Your university wants you to go abroad – and so they make things easy. Set up an appointment with your adviser or study abroad coordinator to realize just how simple it might be, regardless of your major.
  4. To live with an amazing host family. Joining the crowds at a futbol match with your host brother and his friends means truly immersing yourself in the culture. Speaking Spanish, while discussing current events, going crazy at soccer games, and eating authentic foods with my host family enrich my time abroad and allow me to enjoy every single day.
  5. To learn about yourself. You grow as a person. If life begins at the end of your comfort zone, as people like to say, then life must begin when you study abroad.
  6. To learn a new language to put yourself ahead. Not only does it open doors for your future, and broaden your global awareness – it gives you a sense of accomplishment and happiness.
  7. To be a part of globalization. Get out and see the world, because our planet’s seven billion people are more interdependent than ever.
  8. To improve your communication skills. In an era of increasing internet usage and crumbling communication skills, studying abroad and working across cultural barriers will boost your ability to interact with others.
  9. It will change the way you think. Anything you do after heading home will be enriched by the unique perspectives, skills, and thought-processes you gained abroad.
  10. To have the time of your life. Study abroad has ups and down like everything else, but the downs will be the best learning experiences and the ups will be the most fun times of your life.

.

.

.

.

.

Things Not to Pack

  1. Your iPhone. It takes away from your experience–being unconnected on the weekends was great for me–and you very well might lose it if you bring it.
  2. Shorts. Either there will be bugs or it will be cold. Bring rain pants instead. More importantly, wearing shorts is not a part of the culture–I honestly cannot think of a single Ecuadorian friend who wears shorts–and, for girls, will bring unwanted attention.
  3. Bug spray. Okay, don’t actually believe me on this one or you might get bitten to death, however, I have never needed it–I spent four days in Yasuni National Park in the amazon rainforest and despite wearing no bug spray, was bitten only once, and that being solely because I was too busy photographing a Pygmy Monkey to brush off a mosquito that landed on my hand. It really has not been a problem at all for me, despite traveling to all corners of the country. No promises, though. You should pack a lot anyway, in case the mosquitoes show up!
  4. Malaria medication. Bug spray might be necessary in some cases, but in my unprofessional opinion I have gathered that no one should bring Malaria medication. Available Malaria-prevention drugs have potentially harmful side effects, and from what I have heard, Malaria is very rare and nearly eradicated from the country. Sometimes benefits outweigh the very small risk from not taking it. Consult your doctor.
  5. Considering not getting your Yellow Fever vaccination before coming, if it is not covered by your health insurance like it was for me. If it is expensive for you to get in the states, consider that it may be worthwhile to stop in Quito and get it for $15. The savings might make it worth the inconvenience.
  6. Anything common that you have to go out and buy and don’t already own. It can probably found for a lot cheaper here. For example, a scarf or hat, shampoo, soap, bro tank, etc. You’ll want to go to the market anyway for the experience, and buying a sweater will help your wallet and the local vendors’.
  7. Snacks. A lot of people suggest packing Costco quantities of snacks, but (1) it will disappear super fast, (2) street food and snack food is delicious, cheap, and abundant here and (3) it will cost you more and take space in your bag.
  8. Ecuadorian currency. Other than coins, the Ecuadorian Sucre is no longer valid as of the 1999 economic crisis and subsequent dolarization in 2000. I sure hope you already knew this if you’re planning a trip, but this is something to look forward to!
  9. Charger adapter. I’d recommend not bringing your phone or laptop anyway. Leaving my technology at home in Quito when I travel has enriched my experience. If you must bring something that needs charging, the outlets here are the same at the U.S. standard! Don’t bother with those silly adapters that you need in most countries.
  10. Expensive stuff. Jewelry, expensive clothes, etc. You could lose it on the bus, forget it somewhere, or have it stolen. Folks here are very friendly, but the occasional person who needs money more than you do will be tempted by that expensive watch you just set down on the counter. Don’t risk it. The exception would be a camera or binoculars–there’s no living without those! And robbery other than pick-pocketing is extremely rare as long as you avoid sketchy areas at night, so unless you keep your $1000 camera in your back pocket…

Remember, traveling as light as possible makes for a better experience. Another tip, don’t forget to bring copies of your passport. You will want to pack a camera, extra batteries, sunscreen, any kind of medication you need, anything technologically advanced or not manufactured in Ecuador (imported items are very expensive), a journal, an eye mask, a travel clock, good hiking shoes, warm clothes, rain jacket, lots of extra plastic bags, etc. Cheers! Enjoy your trip.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

A Guide to Surviving Ecuador

A field guide to surviving Ecuador:

These skills are essential for a good trip to Ecuador:

  • Learning to like rice—or how to survive without eating
  • Understanding the Ecuadorian honk:
    • -I’m bored let’s make some music
    • -I am not stopping, move outta my way
    • GO the light is green
    • -Hey let’s GO already (light is red)
    • honk honk honk; taxi taxi taxi
    • -hmm bad traffic… I bet honking will make the traffic get better!
    • *Keep your ears out for power outages. A crescendoing honk ensemble is a sure sign of traffic light woes and another power outage
    • pretty girl! beep beep, beep beep, beep beep
    • -Just making sure my horn still works—it hasn’t been tested since a minute ago
    • -hi
  • Learning the local slang:
    • -chevere (great, awesome),
    • -achachay (brrr)
    • -taita (dad)
    • -guagua (baby)
    • -que bestia (yikes! wow!)
    • -chuta (dang!)…
    • -etc.
  • Figuring out the bus system
  • Learning to bargain—or forever pay the “gringo price”
  • Practicing your pushing –or forever wait for the mythical empty bus. Once aboard, prepare to shove some more if you ever wanna get off
  • Accepting the dearth of good chocolate chip cookies
  • Dealing with that person sprawled across acres of real estate while everyone else is squeezing you to the back of the ecovía
  • Bringing lots of sunscreen. Bug spray might be unnecessary, though—I have not worn it once
  • Staying alert for pickpockets, thieves or worse. Though to be honest, it is not bad—I have been careful and have not run into any trouble. Most people are very friendly
  • Once I walked into the police station asking for directions to the best pizza place. Learn the way of the locals. Let us be honest, the locals know more than you will ever know about where to eat out, how to get somewhere, which beach is the best—you name it. The pizza was very good
  • Understanding Ecuadorian Time. Being uptight will only frustrate you. Talking to your neighbor or stopping to watch a futbol match is more important than hurrying somewhere to be exactly on time. Carrying everything on my back, never making reservations, and deciding last-minute where to eat or stay has helped me deal with that. Learn to be patient. You catch a bus, and if you realize it is taking you to the wrong place, make that an opportunity to head somewhere else. The culture is different here. Learn to embrace that.
  • Understanding Ecuadorian directions:
    • One day I was hiking to a tree house with a swing that sways over a canyon, overlooking an erupting volcano. It is spectacular though few people hike it—most drive. Along the way, we pass some kids herding llamas who tell us “three kilometers”. After a few hours and a “4 km” sign, we pass a “3 km” sign and I know there are only a few miles left. Your destination will always be “dos cuadras mas” (two blocks) and “aqúisito no mas”—a vague local term meaning right over there. After everyone waves vaguely, “aqúisito no mas, dos cuadras”, you will have walked two blocks for every person in town
    • -They will not admit to not knowing. It is rude not to give your best guess, even if that amounts to a random guess
    • -The directions will not include landmarks. The hostel you are seeking may be next to the only plaza in town, but instead of saying so, your direction-giver will wave in that direction—”aquisito no mas!”
    • -You should survive such inconveniences by using triangulation. Cobble together a mental diagram of the average suggested direction, and determine which way is most probably correct
  • Learning Spanish. Seems obvious, but the number of gringos frantically waving their hands trying to explain themselves to the taxi driver or waitress is unfortunate
  • Learning how to have fun! Ecuador will be miserable if you are the only person unwilling to put yourself out there and enjoy it!

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Dia de gracias is not celebrated in Ecuador, surprisingly enough. I have not missed home as much as I expected to, but today I do. I miss the damp golden leaves blanketing sidewalks, the crisp November air, pumpkin pie. I miss the family time and games, the smell of the kitchen, and the tasty turkey.

They might not celebrate Thanksgiving in Ecuador, but that doesn’t keep me from being thankful.

I don’t want to downplay any of the things I am thankful for, but they are too many to list. Here are a few:

-I am thankful for the friendliness of strangers. Bonding with someone you just met is under-appreciated, yet so special.

-I am thankful for random acts of genuine kindness. It gives me hope.

-I am thankful for pillows and blankets–it gets cold at 10,000-feet, even on the equator. I do not know what I would do without my wool sheets, although I would be less likely to hit the snooze button.

-I am thankful for my adventurousness. I hope I never lose it.

-I am thankful for adorable dogs. They never fail to cheer me up!

-I am thankful for laughter and smiles.

-I am thankful for challenges. Life is boring without them.

-I am thankful for my family and friends.

-I am thankful for my good health.

Finally, I am thankful that you are reading my blog! Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

.

.

.

.

.

Why I go to the Napo

The point of going somewhere like the Napo River in Ecuador is not to see the most spectacular anything. It is simply to see what is there. Such words begin Annie Dillard’s Into the Jungle. In one month I will be attempting sleep aboard a flight to Portland – four weeks ahead of me, four months somehow passed. On Facebook my friends are orchestrating one-month-left posts for mass social media appeal. To me, though, pasting a paragraph for all of my friends to ‘like’ seemed too much like an easy way around a more meaningful reflection.

I have seen spectacular things over a summer and study abroad – sunsets in Africa, leaf-cutter ants in the rainforest, and volcanoes that spill waterfalls from their steaming flanks. It has been a wild stretch full-filling my craziest travel dreams and taking me to the most spectacular places on earth.

Yet, I agree with Dillard. The point of going somewhere like the Napo River is not to see the most spectacular anything. It is simply to see what is there. People want lists of the best places, vistas, and sights that I have witnessed so far, but my most enriching travel experiences cannot be ranked on a scale of spectacularity.

While idling for a bus under the starry Ecuadorian sky, enjoying a festival in a remote town untainted by other gringos, I begin realizing that simply seeing what is out there is so much more meaningful than chasing what is labeled as “most spectacular”.

For dinner I gnaw on skewers grilled by a curbside vendor and toss the bones toward a gangly pack of stray dogs. I go for my fifth skewer, striking up a conversation with the tiny old woman as she slaps more meat on the sizzling grill. She tells me her elaborate opinions in lilting Spanish. My Spanish flows fast and natural now as I talk with her; my skin has darkly tanned from months of daytime sun, and I realize that I might look like a local. Bobbing headlights appear from the bus trundling into town, but I do not want to leave; I have no need for a destination.

Traveling is about spontaneous moments. Traveling is about starting a competition with someone you just met. Traveling is about striking-up a conversation with an Ecuadorian riding the bus, grilling street food, or sitting around a campfire in the woods. Traveling is about embracing being the only gringo in an out-of-the-way village. It’s about reaching a town called Tena late into the night and conking-out before changing your clothes soaked through from the nighttime humidity of the Amazon rainforest, and awaking the next day excited just to see what is there.

Tena abuts the Napo River on the rim of the Amazon basin, where the Andes tower in the west. Spines of jutting ridges rear into sagging clouds, begging to shed their lush jungle shawls. Green mountainsides spill rivers that crash down like cymbals. Massive trees line the river banks – giants with with spreading crowns dropping vines just how rivulets pour from an umbrella. Flocks of parrots wheel overhead shrieking noisily before fading over distant forested hills.

Here we slide into the gentle current in a yellow raft, prepared for my first whitewater run – an adventure that will take us thundering through mighty rapids of the Rio Napo headwaters. We practice our technique on tranquil water until we can discern a distant hissing of rapids.

The river turns suddenly meaner. I am sitting at the bow, and minutes after aligning with the calm current, waves start crashing around me, swamping the boat and sucking heat from my core. We paddle for our lives. Calm riffles morph into looming walls of thrashing whitewater, thrusting the flimsy raft into car-sized holes before slamming us up and over the other side. In the wildest pounding rapids the boat is swallowed and I surface gasping for breath after the merciless river tosses me like a child’s toy into the roaring torrent.

Wheezing, I haul myself like a survivor back aboard the raft. We have a minute to regroup, preparing for battle, before the throttling river drops again from beneath us. I am strengthened by adrenaline, deafened by the roaring that engulfs me; and blinded by cold water blasting my face. My heart torques as we freefall down into the next gaping cavern bullied by thrashing towers of whitewater.

On the other side the rapids exhaust themselves and the river tames into threaded channels lapping at muddy shores and draining, suddenly lethargic, toward the Amazon. My body still pounds with adrenaline, but the scenery becomes tranquil as warm clouds sweep in from the humid lowlands ahead.

We float straight into the ripe scent of rain. The air is overpowered by the sweet, pungent smell rising around us. My shivering skin starts to sizzle from hot fat rain drops that begin plopping from the sky. Suddenly it is pouring. Warm rain falls in sheets, splattering the muddy river and steaming the landscape. Water runs in furrows through my eyebrows, dripping into my eyes and clinging to my face. Everything is hot and humid, and quiet except for the soft pattering of rain on the water’s surface. Drops splash, steam is rising, and the streaks of rain pelt from the sky, as the hot downpour runs down my face.

Suddenly the rain stops. The smell evaporates into the clearing air. A chill quivers through me again. On either side of our yellow raft stretches the vibrant Amazon wilderness. The swelling brown river swirls us along the shore where bright green trees spill-over the banks as if trying to escape the strangle of thick vines. Colorful birds flock in treetops, bouncing on limbs and squealing happily from their perches.

For a brief evening moment the sky clears. Parrots fly noisily overhead again, winging towards their nighttime roosts.  Upstream behind us, the sun begins burning-up over the distant toothy Andes. We let the muddy steaming river pull us down-current. Our tempo matches the lento sink of the sun. Shadow falls over the jungle, and as we are hauling to shore over smooth riverside cobbles, the flaming sunset sky is extinguished.

The next day begins as the last one had, an exciting blur of experiences and emotions. We rise with the sun, again excited just to see what is out there, excited to be traveling and on the road where everything seems to have meaning.

I cannot pinpoint why I love traveling. Some might suggest that it’s the breathtaking sunsets, the adrenaline from a roaring rapids, or the spectacular sights you will see.

I suspect that something else is at play. The best moments while traveling cannot be ranked, or compared. These moments comprise a synergistic entity that hits all of your senses full force like the strong onslaught of a hot downpour in the Amazon.  As Dillard writes, We are only here on this earth once. We might as well open our eyes and see what is out there. Spectacular or not, there is something remarkable about conversing with strangers in another language; the blast of exoticness as you step down from a bus; or the wind on your face as you embark into the unknown.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.