Aug 20, 2008

The Final Destination

After spending a few weeks relaxing from our incredibly stress-free vacation on the Greek islands, Amanda and I were ready to do some more traveling. I flew to Ann Arbor to spend some time enjoying their unseasonably cool August. Our days were spent playing ladder ball, sipping wine, and eating the most incredible dinners courtesy of Master Chef Ruth Petran and Master Griller Bob Petran. However, in the interest of saving everyone’s keyboards from saliva and drool induced meltdown, I will deny the urge to go over each meal in detail.

We thoroughly enjoyed our grand finale of the good life of all play and no work before our official move to Tucson. Not to place Tucson in a negative light. It is, however, no coincidence that upon our arrival Amanda will begin her massive push to achieve the greatness she had in Rochester and I will begin Law School, a sharp contrast to the lives of travelers.

On my fourth day in Ann Arbor we loaded the Hyundai with the deftness and precision of the world champion of Tetris. Neither nook nor cranny stood a chance against our superior packing skills. By Friday afternoon the Sante Fe was sagging beneath the weight of Amanda’s entire business, a 48” glass table strapped to the roof, and enough artwork to open our own wing at the Louvre.

Our final journey back to the real world began on Saturday morning. Had we not gone drinking with Bob and Ruth the night before, we just might have made it out of Nebraska. Yet, after passing through the potholes of Michigan, sprawling suburbs of Illinois, and the rolling corn fields of Iowa, it was a roadside campsite in the cornhusker state that we settled on for night #1. We were able to catch a few hours of sleep between the constant barrage of freight trains and 18 wheelers that assaulted our tired ear drums all night. I surrendered at 3:30 AM and decided to pack up the tent. It was an early start to a grueling day.

Sixteen hours of driving can be worse than waking up with your head sewn to the carpet. Yet, the beautiful scenery in Colorado worked hard to fray the strains of sitting upright for so long. The massive leather bound photo album behind my seat destroyed any hopes I had of reclining to an even remotely comfortable seating position. After passing through some heavy hitters in the famous ski resort lineup such as Breckinridge and Vail, we headed south past Telluride to the small ski town of Durango. The beautiful peaks surrounded us with the realization that you really don’t have to travel far to see some of the most stunning nature in the world.

We had our first real meal in two days at a Mexican restaurant in Durango and then drove our final hour to Mesa Verde National Park. Once our tent was erected we took a sunset hike on Knife Edge Trail. It skirts the edge of the Mesa allowing us to see for hundreds of miles over the flat valley below. Afterwards we attended a talk by a park ranger about the storytelling tradition of the Pueblo peoples that inhabited this land over a thousand years ago and still do to this day. We definitely heard the spirits talking that night. We fell asleep under a bright full moon in the desert: our new home.

In the morning we took a tour of Cliff Palace, the largest cliff dwelling in North America. After visiting dozens of ruins in the last few months, it still managed to impress us by its size and level of preservation.

By noon we were heading towards New Mexico for our final day of driving. We passed through the Navajo Indian reservation, the eerie specter of Shiprock, and were welcomed to Arizona via I40 by the incredibly nostalgic Route 66 town of Holbrook and a lush and green palette of plant life. It seems the arid forests and deserts of Arizona have had a good share of rain the past few years. How beautiful it has become. As we headed south we passed from high desert to pine forests, over red rivers, and into the Sonora desert. This dry desert is home to more species of plants and animals than any ecosystem in North America. Now you can add two more: Amanda and Leighton. We drove up to our new home just after a rainstorm and in the middle of a colorful sunset that is so common to the desert.

And so, after nearly 2300 miles we are here. Our new lives have officially begun. We were welcomed with open arms and a warm dinner by my parents. We have no income, no friends, and so many unknowns. We hope Tucson is as good to us as Rochester was. It’s a high peak to summit but we have faith. Amanda’s business will grow and I will study. Of course all are welcome to our spare bedroom on Croyden St.

Aug 6, 2008

Epilogue of the Wanderers

Millions of people travel in this world. Many of these tourists take packaged tours with guides and travel agents. However, many go as Amanda and I did. They take the bare minimum of supplies; a couple of shirts, some underwear, and a toothbrush. They put these items on their back and leave. We met hundreds of such travelers. Some had no plans and had been gone for more than a year. Others had 1 year’s worth of plane tickets with plans to spend no more than 2 weeks in each country. Some worked as they traveled. Some took many drugs. Others hung out in the same hostel for months. Some traveled to escape their reality. Some were looking for themselves. Some had no budget. Some had the smallest budget imaginable. Some traveled alone. Many traveled with their loved one. Many more traveled alone only between traveling with new friends they met along the way. We traveled with people from Canada, Norway, France, Australia, Israel, India, Argentina, Ireland, Scotland, Germany, Sweden, New Zealand, and many other places around the world. And while we all had our own agendas, our own plans, our own time line, and our own budget, we all shared one thing in common: we had all sacrificed so much to see what the world had to offer.

While Amanda and I would love to look at ourselves as pioneers, we are not. We simply are two Americans who created an opportunity for ourselves to get out of our familiar lives of work and play to explore this vast planet we live on. Go ahead and browse through this blog again. In the last seven months we packed in a lifetime of stories, adventures, sights, sounds, and food sickness. We saw so much. In typical American fashion we moved fast and tried to see it all. Yet, we failed miserably. Once we got to Peru, our first country, we realized we could not see it all. Once we reached India we understood why everyone told us 25 days was not enough. The vastness of this world and diversity of its inhabitants is astronomically huge. In a way, it is overwhelming. Take India for example. Life is simply a struggle to survive in India. The majority of over 1 billion people try every day to find safe water, and food, shelter. Yet, the resources simply cannot be spread thin enough. Where do we fit in as tourists? In Bolivia we saw a new president, Bolivia’s first with Inca roots, fighting a wealthy Spanish population in the Southeast in a country that has been ruled by Spaniards since the occupation in the 1400s. In Turkey we saw a country caught on the fence between the westernized world and decidedly un-western Muslim religion that 97 percent of its inhabitants practice. Many of the countries we visited are all too familiar with terrorist attacks and civil unrest and strikes and chaos. We were simply tourists there to observe from afar. Some countries made us miss the comforts of home more than others. We have it good in America. Sure most of the world hates us and our foreign policies. But we have to ask ourselves if this matters as long as we can flush our toilets, buy our fancy electronics, sip our Starbucks, and buy our cheap gasoline ($13.5/gallon in Turkey). I don’t mean to sound sarcastic or even elitist. These truly are the things you begin to miss. We have rights in this country unlike any others. We have laws that protect us and police who don’t ask for bribes (often). America has its issues much like any country, but it is a wonderful place to call home.

Maybe this is why we travel. It is good to leave for a while and forget about the mundane media reports on the price of gas or Obama’s preacher. It is good to step outside of our American cruise ship to catch a glimpse of the beautiful and turbulent ocean that surrounds us; if nothing more than to realize how grateful we are for all the comforts of life in a western world.

We missed our friends, we missed our family. We missed knowing what was happening around us. We didn’t miss the hectic schedules and American work ethic. We didn’t miss 14-hour workdays and only spending a couple hours a week with each other. We didn’t miss the American media or the election news. In fact, there is a long list of the things we didn’t miss so much about home.

It seems Americans, much like any country, have the tendency to become engulfed by the microcosm of their lives. This is only natural. Why worry about the ban on head-scarves at public universities in Turkey when it’s Muslims that wear head-scarves and Muslims who are killing American soldiers in Iraq? Who cares if Argentina is facing a nationwide strike due to taxes on beef exports that could send the country into its second massive recession in 10 years when we can still buy a Big Mac for $3 any time we want? It is easy to view the world through our American goggles. This is what I loved about our trip. We saw the world in a different light. We hope that my words and Amanda’s photos acted as a portal of this perspective for our friends and families. We want this blog to not only share our experiences, but to reveal a small portion of the vast world that exists beyond our borders and TV screens.

We hope we can carry all of the wonderful experiences with us as our journey continues on the homeland. Life is, after all, nothing more than collection of experiences. We strive to find a way to shape them into some meaning now that we've returned to a different reality. We certainly have a more global perspective and we hope it will last as I begin to bury my head in books for Law school and Amanda begins building her successful business from scratch all over again.

We want to thank all of our readers and encourage you to check back every few weeks. We have decided to keep the blog going because life can be an adventure – even if we aren’t stopping thieves, escaping road blocks, getting published in a national magazine, or hiking the Inca trail. We have seen so much of the world and it has been a bittersweet ending to this chapter in our lives. We will miss the life of a tourist. Yet, we are excited to see what life brings us next.

And because ending with a quote just feels right, I will leave you with J.R.R. Tolkien:
“Not all those who wander are lost.”