A stopover on the island of Kauai on our way home from New Zealand at pretty much the same cost in flights? You don’t have to ask me twice. And so we found ourselves back in Hawaii for the second time in our lives, something I would never have predicted during our first visit. Back when we visited Oahu, the Big Island and Maui on our honeymoon, Hawaii was pretty much the most exotic place we had ever been. We spent much of our honeymoon soaking in the differences. Now, as the grand finale to our trip around the world and the first time we were back in the United States in over a year, we couldn’t help but notice the similarities. We were bombarded with signs we were back in the United States right away: things like refillable Cokes, free ice water, incessant news coverage, BBQ, and a whole aisle dedicated to just cereal. The signs continued: warning signs at every overlook, a plethora of channels but nothing on t.v., bumper to bumper traffic, chain restaurants galore, big enormous vehicles, and a big ole’ WalMart (albeit with chickens in the parking lot).
What epitomized the differences between the United States and some of the places we visited was our scuba diving experience. Although we had gone as far as to get our advanced scuba certification, we felt like we hadn’t really experienced a great dive due to poor weather conditions and the general distractions of diving as part of a course. Pounding rain storms and flooding threatened our chances at a good dive in Kauai, but we managed to sneak awesome two dives in close to shore. Kauai isn’t known for its diving like the Big Island, but we thought our dives were pretty fantastic. Swimming in between narrow caverns along side giant sea turtles ranks as one of our favorite experiences from our whole trip. Aside from raving over our turtle friends, we couldn’t get over the difference between diving in Thailand and Malaysia on the one hand and Hawaii on the other. First of all, the cost of just two dives was half the cost of our whole certification course! But you get what you pay for – our equipment was all set up nicely for us on the dock, right next to the boat. We didn’t have to climb through five other dive boats to get to ours, or carry our own equipment on a mile long walk, or wade through swelling waves to climb on the boat. Everything was cleaned for us and our instructors spent time going over safety tips in advance of our trip. Our instructors seemed amazed that we were advanced certified divers but had only been on ten dives; meanwhile, no one in Asia would bat an eye.
Our diving trip turned out to be the highlight of our time in Kauai. The aforementioned weather thwarted many of our plans. Kauai is known as the wettest Hawaiian island, but these weren’t ordinary tropic rains. Flooding closed roads around the island from time to time, and thick fogs obscured our views of scenic overlooks. The rainy cold weather meant we only got to spend one(!) afternoon at the beach. We tried to make the best of it. While we didn’t get to view the awesome Na Pali Coast, we cruised around in our HHR as much as possible and tried to sneak in views around the island during breaks in the rains. We pretty much stalked The Right Slice pie company at various sunshine markets around the island, with the added bonus of picking up the last local tropical fruit we’d have in a while to savor back in our condo. We relished in the comfort of our ocean view condo after a month in a campervan and discovered that Blockbuster didn’t go out of business in the year we were away. Overall, while the finale wasn’t as grand as we anticipated when we booked our Hawaiian stopover, it was a pretty darn good end to The Trip.
A couple of weeks ago, Akila and Patrick from The Road Forks (who, by the way, just took off on extended European travels with their two dogs in tow – check out their blog to follow along) kindly nominated Surrounded by the Sound to take place in Tripbase’s My Seven Links Project. The goal of the project is to dig out some old posts and bring them to the light of day. Since I’ve got over a year’s worth of posts from the trip’s beginning to end, and I’ve been pondering various trip wrap-up post in my head, I was happy to participate. So here goes:
Most Beautiful Post: Kodachrome
How to narrow down the most beautiful post out of all of the posts about the stunning places we’ve visited this past year? I could pick any of the posts about New Zealand, our last (foreign) destination and consistently the most jaw droppingily beautiful place we visited, hands down. But choosing New Zealand feels like cheating and besides, you’ve seen all those posts lately. I could pick natural wonderlands like Plitvice National Park in Croatia, Kruger National Park in South Africa, or the Antrim Coast in Northern Ireland. Or, how about a little village in Japan, the month of April in Paris, or beach paradises in India and Thailand? I mean, I have a whole category dedicated solely to pretty things covering the gamut from cities to flowers to ruins to people to beaches to sunsets. But I think my most beautiful post may be this early one from Marrakesh, Morocco. One of the most amazing parts of travel is the way it opens your eyes to beautiful little things in everyday life. When I look back at this post, with nothing more than pictures and a song running through my head, I am catapulted back into the early days of our adventure amidst Marrakesh’s calls to prayer, scooters, dust, tourists, souks, spices, and, most of all, colors. It didn’t take long to figure out that travel and Kodachrome are one and the same.
Most Popular Post: Random Lessons From a Year Abroad
My most popular post by far is Random Lessons From a Year Abroad (which got even more attention after a little old stumble from Jodi at Legal Nomads – thanks again, Jodi, for sending your many readers my way). Which is kind of funny, because I wrote this post off the cuff. It was one of those posts that I could have kept adding to forever and ever but for once I didn’t overanalyze it and just posted it. I’ve always felt appreciative when others wrote about what it really is like to travel, especially all of the conflicting emotions that percolate behind the surface, so I was happy to share what was on my mind after one year on the road and even happier it seemed to hit a chord with some.
I don’t really do controversy, per se, but this category winner has to go to the two part series, Adventures in Eating in Japan, Part One and Part Two. I started noticing an unusual amount of traffic on these two posts coming from some Japanese websites. Now I’m not certain, you see, because the websites were all in Japanese, but I’m pretty sure the Japanese were up in arms about me mentioning that Japan is a rather expensive country in which to travel. Their beef (literally) was that we spent $143 on a rather touristy (and ultimately unfulfilling) meal of Kobe beef. True, but even minus ridiculous splurges, Japan can be a budget-buster. At least they didn’t seem to mind that I exposed their love of whale meat. : )
Most Helpful Post: The Slooooooooooow Boat to Luang Prabang
In reading other travel blogs, I’ve learned that reading a blow by blow of the logistics of someone else’s travels is only interesting if you happen to be going to the same exact place and need more information. So I avoided writing too many posts specifically about logistics and instead tried to weave tips into our stories, like in this post about budget accommodations in houses of Croatian Grannies or this one about visiting Petra. There were a few times – usually when I couldn’t find specific information I needed – that I dedicated a whole post to logistics, like this one about Tips for a DIY Safari in Kruger National Park. My most helpful post is a bit of a hybrid; it’s about our experience on the slow boat from the Thailand/Laos border to Luang Prabang down the Mekong. It’s a common trip, and judging by the outside interest this post has received, I think people are curious (like I was) to see what they are getting into before they commit to a two day adventure.
A Post Whose Success Surprised Me: Tom and Jerry, Sun-Lit Scenery and Porn: Just Another Trip to the Desert
Why, oh, why do people want to find porn with Tom and Jerry in it? Are there some sort of male porn stars named Tom and Jerry that I am not aware of? I am still surprised to see this post about spending September 11 in Wadi Musa, Jordan getting hits day after day. Sadly, it is not because people found my post to be full of insightful social observations or beautiful desert scenery; nope, they just have a fetish for a cartoon cat and mouse.
A Post I Didn’t Feel Got the Attention It Deserved: Hog Tales, Vietnam Edition
I don’t know that any of my posts deserve to get attention, but there are many that I write and then don’t hear much about. One example is my recent post about returning home. I’m guessing by disappearing for a few months after our return I answered the question in the post title. I am not going to be posting as often now that our trip has ended, but I like writing. At the very least, I still want to wrap some things up on here about the trip. So if you are still inclined to read what pops up from time to time, make sure you subscribe by email or add the RSS feed to your Google Reader. But since my last post is not really part of the archives that this 7 Links project is designed to unearth, let’s go with Hog Tales, Vietnam Edition, the story of our three days riding around Vietnam’s Central Highlands on the backs of the motorcycles of two Easy Riders. Sean and I had a lot of fun seeing Vietnam through the eyes of My and Mr. Pepperman, and I think this post captures the quirkiness of the experience.
A Post I am Most Proud of: Impressions of India by a Type-A Personality
India is complicated. It took me a long, long time to put together my thoughts about India down on paper (well, on screen). When people ask now what my least favorite country was I’m tempted to say India. But it’s not exactly true, because even though India was challenging for me while we were there (in essence because it is so radically different from the American society I’m used to), it is the country that lingers with me the most. When I look back at my posts from Calcutta, the Andaman Islands, Fort Cochin, and the Kerala backwaters, in particular, a smile breaks out. So I am most proud of my introductory post about our time in the country because I think I finally captured, in words, my jumbled emotions about India – by far the most fascinating country we visited.
Thanks for indulging my trip down memory lane. Hope you found some posts you may not have seen before to give you some more reading. To continue on with the My Seven Links Project, I nominate these bloggers. I’ll be looking forward to seeing what they write.
We’ve been home for almost two months, in fact.
And, yet, you’ve heard nary a peep.
I had every intention of writing about our return. But the truth is, I’ve been having trouble. And the real truth is, I’ve been having trouble writing about returning home because I’m having trouble with being home.
It’s not the culture shock. Sure, things are different here. I had Pad Thai that cost $13.50 – 13 times the cost of the Pad Thai I’d get in Thailand and 13 times the size, too. I can do laundry anytime I want and my outfit options expanded tenfold, yet I still feel like I have nothing to wear. I relish drinking water straight from the tap, everyone’s on a cell phone all the time, including me (even if it is an old school relic that takes me ten minutes to write out a text), and I drove for the first time in over a year. Everything seems really quiet, even though we’re staying in the heart of one of Pittsburgh’s busiest and trendiest neighborhoods. But, overall, the shock part was tempered by meandering our way home from Asia via New Zealand and Hawaii.
No, what’s weird about being home is how not weird it is to be home. We slipped back into our home lives as if we never left. Our cat Fabulous was snuggled back in my lap within hours of our return; we helped my mom with a big move within days; we had eaten at most of our favorite eateries within weeks. Sure, there was some initial awkwardness: at first, we had to actively remind our brains about which direction to go when driving around, even though we’d driven that route a million times. Conversations were strange; how do we, and how do they, sum up an entire year at once? But overall, even though we hadn’t been there for over a year, home is still extremely familiar. The road had become our normal, but returning home pushed our travels back to the realm of exotic and foreign in one foul swoop. Using a squat toilet, eating on the street, doing math every time we paid for something, moving on when things got boring – these concepts suddenly became strange again. Our whole life for the past 13 and a half months didn’t just become a memory, it suddenly seemed like it happened in a dream. Eating baguettes in Paris, getting lost in the souks in Morocco, watching lions protect their kill in South Africa, praying the splash from the Indian’s boy cannonball didn’t hit us with the Ganges’ holy water, riding on the back of motorcycles through Vietnam – did these things actually happen?
Everybody at home warned us we’d be bored when we got here. I didn’t believe them; I was so homesick after being gone for so long, I thought for sure the comforts of home would outweigh any boredom. But after all the reunions, there’s just life at home. There’s big events to look forward to – concerts, get-togethers, new restaurants – but these things happen once every few weeks. I’m struggling to hold onto the appreciation of the little, every-day things I constantly marveled over on the road. It doesn’t help that I have endless hours to fill. Sean went back to work within weeks of returning home (a new job at a great company – yay), but I’m still looking. Even though there are openings at multiple law firms for which I would be qualified (and which would replenish our bank account rather nicely), I’m trying to hold out for a different path. I’m impatient. I am so ready to go back to work, to do something productive with my mind. I’ve had some interviews recently, so there’s hope, but in the meantime, I wait.
Sean’s parents very generously offered to put us up when we got home. We lived with them for two weeks, and while the home-cooked meals and freedom to do laundry was wonderful, we didn’t want to impose on them indefinitely. So, we’re doing it to our friend instead! We’re paying him a small amount of rent and he’s putting up with us and our cat for the time being. We’ve looked at apartment after apartment, and missed out on one due to stiff competition, but rejected the rest for one reason or another. You’d think our standards would be lowered after the hovels in which we stayed during this past year, but we’re yearning to find a good, clean, bright place to call home. We’ve even got our eye on an old house in the city with lots of original charm (and corresponding pain-in-the-ass old house problems) so we’re not ruling out buying something yet. I’ve realized my two loves – old houses and travel – don’t mesh together very well. Every time I get smitten with a house, all I have to do is think of all the places I want to go to remind myself to tone it down and not chain myself to an oversized mortgage and endless hours of renovation.
So, that’s what’s been happening during these two months. I’m in limbo and slightly adrift. I’m eager for stability, yet I jump at the chance to eat some pho or pad thai. Nothing compares to being able to talk to and see our friends and family on a regular basis, or being able to snuggle with Fabulous any time I feel like it, yet we went as far as to price flights to Italy to try to fit in one last hurrah before Sean returned to work. I sat down to write about returning home many times but have been struggling to find the words. Returning home is complicated. I am glad to be home, but I’m still working out what this next stage of my life will look like. After all, if you shake things up as much as we did, it takes a while for the pieces to settle.