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Posted by Tim on Jun 10, 2009
Remembering, Again

Just over four years ago, Jessica wrote a post called Remembering, about the little notebook we carried with us. It was still early in our trip, but already it was clear how important that notebook had become to us.

Originally, it was just about recording expenses. We figured that not only would it help with our budgeting on-the-road, but also that we'd like to be able to crunch all the numbers once we'd returned home, and see just exactly how much we spent on our trip. (We thought we'd be doing that just after getting back to the US. Well, we've been home for three years now, and we haven't gotten to it yet. But some day!)

But by the time Jessica wrote that entry, the notebook had already morphed into something more. It had started as just a dry collection of expenses and withdrawals, and somehow morphed into a special little place where we carried around our memories. As she did in her post, allow me to illustrate with an example...

Four Years Ago Today

This is what our notebook entry looks like for June 10, 2005:

'Notebook entry for June 10, 2005

It goes on a little further than that, but you get the idea. Now, some of you may well recognize what's going on for us on that particular June 10th: we're partway through our longest travel day ever, the 40-hour marathon between Salta, Argentina and Arequipa, Peru.

We arrived at the bus station in Arica, Chile early in the morning, and then dropped 300 Chilean pesos (about $0.55 USD) on using the rest room there. (Public bathrooms in Chile, like in many other places in the world, are often pay toilets. You pay a nominal fee before you go in, and they give you a small wad of toilet paper to take in with you. In some places, the price depends on what you intend to do once you get in there!)

Later that day we found ourselves in another bus station, this time in Tacna, Peru. As we waited for yet another but (one that would take us onward to Arequipa, our next destination), we popped into the station's greasy little diner to grab some grub. As the notebook indicates, we spent 26 Peruvian soles (about $8 USD) on a couple of orders of arroz con pollo milanesa (breaded, fried breasts of chicken served with rice). They turned out to be absolutely enormous, basically covering the entire plate. We chuckled about how in hindsight we easily could have just split one of them instead of ordering two. But then when we started eating, it was so mouth-wateringly good that we each quickly cleaned our plates anyway.

I've since eaten a lot of milanesa, in a lot of places around the world. But none of them have ever been as good (or, frankly, as gigantic) as what we got at that dingy, unassuming little diner in Tacna.

There are many things on that epic journey from Salta to Arequipa that I'll never forget, like rolling through enormous salt flats several miles in the air. But there are a million little details from that adventure that I have indeed forgotten.

At least for a little while. Because it all comes back when I look at this entry in the notebook.

Three Years Ago Today

This is what our notebook entry looks like for June 10, 2006:

'Notebook entry for June 10, 2006

It goes on for another full page of writing that is just as tight and small. The excerpt shown above doesn't actually even get to the part of the day where we've gotten out of bed! Something's changed in the way we're keeping these notebooks, but we'll get to that in a moment. First let's talk about what's happening for us on the early morning on June 10, 2006.

We'd been at Elephant Nature Park for about six weeks at this point, but had never seen an adult elephant sleeping lying down. You see, elephants only really need a few hours of sleep a night, and they often get them while snoozing on their feet. Eles feel very vulnerable when they're lying down, and so only do it when they feel completely safe. Our friend (and Park guide) Michelle had told us that because some of the Park's eles felt so comfortable there, they spent a few hours laying down each night.

But we'd never seen it. Until, that is, June 10th, 2006.

As noted in the excerpt above, we took turns sneaking out of our hut at about 1:00 in the morning: first me, then Jessica, each time the other staying behind to make sure the gaggle of dogs who were sharing our hut didn't wander off.

We each checked out a couple of ele families: one consisting of young Tong Jan, her mother, and her two aunties; and the other consisting of little baby Pupia and his mom, and his three aunties (including one – Sri Nuan – whom we'd nicknamed "big head" because of the ridiculous size of her noggin).

I can so completely remember standing there alone in the dark. The warm, humid air of the jungle was as thick as soup, and except for a few nightlights left on at the main hut everything outside of the range of my flashlight was completely black. Tong Jan was nestled against her mother Mae Bua Tong, and just beyond her were the prone forms of aunties Somboon and Thai. They were laying on their sides like sleeping dogs, completely and totally fast asleep.

The only sounds above the frogs, cicadas and geckos in the distance were the noises of them sleeping. There was the occasional whooshing of of a gasped breath, which sounded to me like nothing so much as the sound of a dolphin's blowhole when it surfaces for air. As they slept and dreamed, their ears would twitch and flap, making a heavy, leathery sound. Below all of this was another sound, the hollow "wind tunnel" noise of four giant (well, three giant and one adorably small) elephants breathing.

I stood there for what felt like hours, just soaking it all in. It was one of the most magical little moments of our trip.

And then, somehow, I forgot about it completely. Until this morning, when I decided to write about our notebooks, and idly wondered where I was three years ago today.

The Power of the Written Word

The difference between the first notebook excerpt and the second one is that as we traveled, and as we started to realize how important these notebooks were becoming to us, we started taking much more copious and detailed notes. At the beginning of the trip we were recording expenses, with the occasional extra note here and there about things that stuck out to us about the day. By the end of our trip we were religiously jotting down intricate summaries of all the events, big and small, that had befallen us that day.

I can't imagine not having these notebooks to look back on right now. And it's so funny that we wound up with them, not originally having had any idea why they'd become so precious to us.

If you're heading out on your own trip, or if you're on the road now, do yourself a favor: take notes. It might feel like a pain in the ass, but you will be so thankful later that you took the time now.

You don't want to risk forgetting that time you saw elephants sleeping.

If you enjoyed this story, you might also like these ones:

Snapshots and Memories

Snapshots and Memories

Coming to America

Coming to America

The Stuffy Who Fell On The Floor

The Stuffy Who Fell On The Floor

June 10, 2009 at 5:50pm
I have kept a journal while traveling ever since my first backpacking trip almost 17 years ago (crap, I'm old), and I pull out those journals every once in while and read them…and am reminded of so many things I had totally forgotten about.

I echo your sentiments…keep some form of journal because no matter how special you think the moment is and that it will stay in your memories forever – it won't. Time goes on, you'll forget, and the old memories will be replaced by new memories. But if they are written down you can relive the old memories all over again years from now, and you'll be so thankful that you took the time to write them down.

Tim the hedgehog
June 12, 2009 at 4:30pm

I have kept a journal while traveling ever since my first backpacking trip almost 17 years ago

Wow! That's incredibly impressive. When you look back through them all, do you notice any differences between how you've recorded and remembered your travels?

It's kind of neat to know there are so many memories in our notebooks just waiting to be remembered and relived again. :)

Which reminds me: Jessica and I have to buy a new notebook for our travels this year. When we took notes in Mexico City, they were on the back of receipts and what not…time to get out the glue stick! :)

June 14, 2009 at 11:30am
"When you look back through them all, do you notice any differences between how you've recorded and remembered your travels?"

Definitely…I used to take the time to write in complete, descriptive sentences (more like a diary), but now I usually just jot things down in point form, or use short summaries. I can't seem to find the time to write so much detail any more…hmmm now I'm thinking I need to try to slow down and take the time to write in detail – thanks for reminding me of that, and how important it is to record memories.

Tim the hedgehog
June 15, 2009 at 2:54pm

hmmm now I'm thinking I need to try to slow down and take the time to write in detail

I totally know what you mean. It's a catch-22 though, isn't it? The more amazing a day you have, the more you want to record your thoughts and memories about it…but the less time or energy you have to do so! (I'll admit Jessica is much better at this than I am.) We often have to remind ourselves to just take a few minutes to write down the details at the end of the day. But we still lapse now and again into jotting down super quick notes. So it's a good reminder for us too. :)

June 16, 2009 at 11:57am
The fact that you guys recorded the details of your adventure in cheapie little steno notebooks makes me smile. I can't really express why; I just like the idea of these things being transformed into something of such profound value.

And I would give anything to witness elephant sleepage first-hand. :)

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