The understandable assumption from my lengthy silence would be that for the last two months I have been holed up in the same tiny Buenos Aires kitchen, baking the same lemon slices every day. Well this may sound remotely appealing; actually, we came home instead. But as you can see from my spectacular round the world cake, the baking never stops.
As you might have guessed from my homely yearnings in recent posts, the love of the nomadic life had been slowly dwindling. After ten months of travel and two months of parasites, the stability, space and simple foods of home were appearing more and more favourable. However the decision to give up the last two months of our overseas adventure didn’t come easily. The roundabout discussions and pros and cons lists were torturous, the possibilities endless. Eventually though, the decision made itself after a climactic week with old and new friends in the north of Argentina. Instinctively, we knew there could be no better finale to our trip. From a Gaucho wedding on a delightfully shambolic farm to the crashing splendour of Iguazu Falls. Four overnight busses in two weeks and the resulting exhaustion and satisfaction. Receiving our final lesson in adapting to a foreign culture, learning to love the things we hated to begin with. Within hours of completing our trip to Iguazu Falls we had changed our flights to return to New Zealand. Our Mothers were ecstatic. We were relieved. It’s hard to imagine how tiring ten months on the road can be until you reach that point. We needed home. Sleep, structure and a regular life please.
With that decision made, we could relax and enjoy our final two weeks, starting with the wineries of Mendoza, Argentina and finishing in artistic, port-side Valparaiso, Chile; our bus slowly climbing the Andes in between. A final few days in Santiago present shopping and soaking up the foreign foods and markets, enjoying every last moment, before returning to normality. Sure I couldn’t wait for the comforts of home, but I also knew I would forever miss the feeling of the unknown, the surprise of every day and the possibility of every interaction being something completely new. I knew I would miss it, yet my overwhelmed senses couldn’t take any more in. And so, exhausted and excited we boarded a plane, enjoyed our last boxed up plane meal and made it through one last night’s sleep sitting up. Thirteen hours later, we touched down in New Zealand to two sets of parents, a giant banner, some very excited school girls and a welcome home brunch.
The strange (but in hindsight startlingly predictable) thing was, that everything I had been so excited about, the familiarity and ease of home, the country that I had held on a pedestal this whole trip, didn’t seem quite as amazing as I remembered. It just seemed – normal. As I revelled in the company of old friends, and enjoyed the feeling of having nowhere to be, nothing to pack and no bus to catch, I was pleased, but I couldn’t shake a lingering unsettled feeling.
Perhaps it was a classic case of anticipation versus reality. Or simply the culture shock of adapting back to normality. Maybe it was the feeling of foreign lands and life lessons fading under the glare of 1st world comforts, as toilet paper and running water became the norm again. Or the loss of freedom and excitement that every day overseas had brought with it. Possibly it was the necessary low after a year’s high, my body shutting down to recoup some lost energy. It could have been the worry of returning to reality, and figuring out where to live and what to do with my life. Maybe it was all of these things. But most significantly, I sensed it was a feeling of change. The fact that I’ve changed considerably, and my old world has neglected to change with me. In some cases, has changed in the opposite direction. The feeling that I can’t go back to my old life when I have moved so far from where I began.
The quest for spiritual enlightenment while overseas is rather clichéd, but also tends to be inevitable. By leaving the trappings of modern life behind, you leave the person you identified with behind too. Seeing first-hand how a large proportion of the world lives every day can’t help but change you irrevocably. And afterwards, you may need to make a choice. You can forget these lessons and go back to your old life or you can grieve for that self, and begin a new chapter. I’m hoping that there’s a way to merge my two worlds, the old and the new Fiona, meeting them somewhere in the middle. I’ll let you know how I go.