Hello everyone! Yes, we've been quiet for quite some time now, but this time we don't have exciting excuses like living in the jungle in a foreign country to fall back on. It's simply that life back in the US has been a bit distracting. We've had a lot of life changes in these past few months in particular, exciting things that we'll share at some point down the road. But for now, let's head back down memory lane to a little country called Uruguay, shall we?
Before we set out on our trip around the world, we had grandiose ideas about the number of countries we would travel to while we were away. It wasn't because we had a numeric goal, it was because every book we'd open would describe another wonderful place we wanted to visit. The salt flats in Bolivia? Yes, let's go. The markets in Morocco? Check. The ruins of Petra in Jordan and the pyramids in Egypt? Without a doubt. Italian food in Italy and art in France? Sign us up. The beaches of Malaysia, the history of Vietnam, and the mystery of Burma? Consider it done.
All of these ideas and places tumbled onto our itinerary. We added countries, cities, and villages without understanding the logistics required for this type of travel. And while daydreaming is good – I'd say vital when it comes to opening your mind to a trip around-the-world – at some point you need to realize that although Thailand, Malaysia, Cambodia, Laos, Burma, and Vietnam are right next to one another, they are not right-next-to-each-other. Pesky things like bus schedules and stomach bugs and political turmoil do not understand daydreams.
By the time we stepped on the plane for Buenos Aires, we had something like 24 countries we were shooting to see in the next twelve months (this was even before we extended the trip by an additional six months). Doing the math, that meant two new countries each month.
"In the fields and woods more than anything else all things come to those who wait, because all things are on the move, and are sure sooner or later to come your way." – John Burroughs
John Burroughs was an American naturalist, following in the footsteps of Henry David Thoreau, and friend to Walt Whitman. He was a man who enjoyed immersing himself in nature and then shared his impressions in nearly thirty published books. I imagine him on an early morning in September walking through the Catskills, sitting on a tree stump covered with moss, waiting patiently to see what part of the world would go by.
What I don't imagine is him sitting with a list of 24 things he needed to see.
When we were only a week into our trip, we headed from Buenos Aires over to Uruguay. I was in need of some quiet time, away from a bustling city. The years and months proceeding our trip had been hectic at best, and now that we were finally traveling, I needed a vacation.
On the advice of a fellow traveler, we headed north to Punta del Diablo, a sleepy fishing village not yet on the tourist map or in the travel guides. Along the way we spent a night in Montevideo and two nights in La Paloma.
We arrived in Punta del Diablo early in the morning, the village was still sleeping and the sun had just awakened. Sitting high on a rock formation being splashed by the ocean below, Tim and I realized that we may never want to leave. In a village with nothing to do but look out to sea, we could have quite easily lived there forever. We had barely left the United States, and already we had fallen in love with some place new.
Forever, however, could only be five nights. Not only were we running out of cash (the nearest ATM or bank were several hours away by bus), but there was just too much of the world to see, too many places to go. And so six days later in the mid-morning sun, we boarded a bus to leave paradise. It was the first time I cried leaving some place, but it wouldn't be the last.
I don't regret staying in Punta del Diablo for only five nights. I consider myself lucky to have been there that long. And I feel had we stayed there longer, even if just for another five days, there is no telling the number of other unique experiences we had while traveling that would not have happened the way they did.
I only mention our time there because it started to open our eyes to the beauty of traveling slower. During the short amount of time we were in Punta del Diablo, the local shopkeepers already began to recognize us. We developed a favorite restaurant and a favorite place to swim. We knew the best time to sit on our deck was in the early evening with music playing, a cold bottle of Pilsen between us, and our imaginations firing with possibilities. We had even been adopted by one of the locals, an old sea dog who we named Flipper who joined us on all our walks.
We had only spent five nights and six days in the fishing village, but already we developed a sense of familiarity, of home. If we could have stayed longer I imagine this feeling would have been magnified. But if we had stayed shorter, for only two nights instead of five, then I don't think those feelings would have developed. Punta del Diablo would simply be a memory, another place we had passed through. It would be a beautiful one with gorgeous sunrises and sunsets, but it would not have started to carve a place in our hearts.
"To absorb a thing is better than to learn it, and we absorb what we enjoy. We learn things at school; we absorb them in the fields and woods." – John Burroughs
Even with the luxury of twelve or more months to travel, time still ticks away. You have to make a compromise – travel to more places and see less, or travel to fewer places and see more.
Many travelers are able to keep a quick pace. Two new countries each month for twelve months, to many fellow travelers reading this entry, will sound laughably easy. But Tim and I soon discovered that keeping pace didn't suit us. We wanted to stop and absorb, we needed to. Stopping, for us, was the only way to see.
Punta del Diablo, it would later become obvious, was but the tip of our slow traveling iceberg. Eventually we'd come to consider five nights in one place a quick stop. Ten, fifteen, twenty, thirty, even fifty nights became our norm. Other travelers playfully teased us about our turtle pace. We enjoyed learning where the locals ate. We relished deciding to stay one more day somewhere if it meant the chance to do something that was never planned or expected.
"I still find each day too short for all the thoughts I want to think, all the walks I want to take, all the books I want to read, and all the friends I want to see." – John Burroughs
Every traveler needs to decide what approach works best for him. And many travelers will tell you their way is the best. We would say, traveling quickly or traveling slowly, in the end what matters is the travel, the experiences you have along the way. And only you are the best person to decide how you experience things the most.
Our travel style meant missing many countries, but it also meant living in Argentina for three months and Thailand for five. It meant traveling in Ecuador for two months, and Turkey for two and a half. And while I don't have a photo of the sunrise in over twenty countries, I can tell you how the sun rises, raises, and falls in the Cambodian countryside when you slowly travel through it.
Staying in place for longer periods of time meant that the world and life came to us. It meant we could experience things to the fullest without having a check list or an itinerary to fret over. It was freeing. The salt flats of Bolivia, the food of Italy, the art in France, the ruins of Petra, the history of Vietnam – for us, all of these things, all of these places, may come another day (or more likely, over several). For the hundreds of places we dreamed about before our trip, there were dozens we lived in during it. And I dare say we saw more of the world by visiting less of it.
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