They say that travel changes how you see the world and think about life. What they don’t say is that living out of a giant bag, in tiny rooms for seven months, can leave you permanently, irreversibly deranged. Want proof? Read on . . .
Most Sensitive Issue
The thing about Sensitive Issues is that they’re . . . well . . . sensitive. They’re also kind of ridiculous. And it’s for that reason that when two people travel together for an extended period of time (i.e. spend most hours of the day together), they spend a lot of time trying not to be too . . . sensitive. But sometimes things come up. Like the issue surrounding who carries what. I remember when I was a kid, I always used to ask my mom to carry my gum, my scrunchies, my books, my money, my Walkman, my *anything* when we were going out. Pretty soon, she bought me a purse. Let’s just say that same situation happened 25 years later. Except in reverse. And not with my mom. Um . . . Right. But! To be fair, there is another side to this . . . problem. For the better part of the trip, we’ve taken on an extra bag, mostly to port around our camping stove, the cooking gas (if we have any), spices we’ve gathered along the way, and food we’ve bought at the market in larger cities to take to smaller, lesser-stocked villages out in booney-ville. Who carries this hefty load? Pretty much always Mark. So, yeah. There’s always that. As long as I carry the huge jug of water. Harrumph.
Lest I go on . . . Remember what we said about long, sweaty bus-rides? There have been a lot of them. There have also been a lot of fantastically long and challenging hikes. And there was this one time that we spent five days on a boat sailing from Colombia to Panama. Not a shower to be had during the entire trip. So, how did we choose who would be the first one to shower post-any of these activities? Well, we developed a couple of supposedly failsafe strategies. First, we tried to alternate who went in first. But then we’d forget who went first last and sometimes there might have been lying involved (Hey! I’m just saying there might have been!). Then, once or twice, we played Rock-Paper-Scissors until Mark admitted he didn’t like that game. Finally, we found a method that worked for quite a while: the old coin-toss—that is, until I kept winning. Every time. Erm. So, now we’re back to the original alternating-firsts routine. It’s working so well this time around, we might even bring the game back to New York with us. Oh, won’t that be fun.
Winners: Who Carries What & Who Gets First Shower
Best Invented Phrase
Following from above, we have needed to create our own vernacular to properly address the myriad situations that don’t quite have a proper analog within non-travel life. As Lex mentioned, first shower was frequently decided by an ultra-high stakes form of coin-flippery referred to as Toin Coss. Why backwards? Well, let’s just say I think somebody else was working some kind of shady voodoo shaka to rig the competition. How else does one explain how that certain somebody won *every* time?!
We’ve also discussed the general need to take things easy and go with the flow when confronted with a strange, stressful, or otherwise potentially vexing situation. Whenever I began to suspect one or both of us was in danger of losing our composure, I’d offer up that tried and true piece advice: “Don’t squeeze the cheese.” It’s not just the words, but the delivery. You gotta be smooth, seductive, and reassuring. But also a little creepy. Picture a guy in a skin-tight polyester shirt using those words as a pick up line in a bar outside West Memphis, circa 1972. That’s the voice of reason that would speak to us in sweet, soothing tones. In case you are wondering, this phrase did originally involve a piece of cheese purchased before a bus ride in Ecuador. In the end, it meant so much more.
Finally, there was an essential non-verbal phrasing we employed when words had simply run their course. We all repeat ourselves from time to time, mentioning the same thought or anecdote to the same person with whom we’ve already shared it. There are even people out there inclined to repeat themselves more than twice. And yes, there may be other unnamed individuals who grow tired of offering up polite reminders such as, “Oh yes, you mentioned that before.” After a while, we decided it was simply more efficient to raise one’s hand and flash the number of fingers corresponding to the number of times said topic had been repeated. Perhaps this sounds a little deranged? You try traveling SEVEN MONTHS with the same person and tell me your best suggestion? Our friend Jared offered up that after five times, the fingers might clench into a fist and deliver a penalty arm-punch. I suppose that could be what happens when traveling together for several years.
Winners: Toin Coss, Don’t Squeeze the Cheese, and the Finger Count
Most Memorable Skin Condition
The thing about traveling to all the wonderful, verdant forests and marvelous seaside retreats we have seen is that you also encounter a mind-boggling array of bugs. It began with the mosquito storms of Patagonia and carried on to the point when we couldn’t even tell which bite came from where. Eventually, I stopped caring and figured it was better to get the occasional bite than slather myself in toxic DEET every day. However, there was one incident that broke through my façade of cavalier indifference. The award for Most Memorable Skin Condition undoubtedly goes to the Junin Massacre. I will admit this may be a bit of an insensitive title, given the history of social conflict in this small mountain town in Ecuador. However, I cannot think of any other words to describe the utter carnage left behind by the tiny, barely visible, fly-like devils that attacked us there. You don’t see them, you don’t feel them . . . but then, moments later, the welts appear. Our legs were covered with bites that remained virulently itchy for about a week then left us with red spots that took a few months to go away.
Winner: Junin Massacre
Inanimate Object From Home We Missed the Most
If you asked either one of us at various points on the trip to divulge which inanimate object from home we missed the most, we’d probably have a different answer. Before Howie and Marisa were so kind as to bring us each our own Tom’s of Maine from the States, I’m sure one—or both—of us would’ve chosen non-chemical laden deodorant. Along those same lines, there were plenty of other times when Mark wished we had fragrance-free lotion, I was pining for toothpaste other than Colgate, or we both longed for shampoo without so many frizz-inducing chemicals. I also developed a particularly keen hankering for plain, drab-colored, non-hoochie-mama, spandex t-shirts with absolutely nothing written on them (no bling! no Aeropostale and Hollister logos! no glitter or weird sparklies!). But, honestly? Were there things we found we just couldn’t live without? No. In the end, we were happy living as we were. In fact, it seems slightly strange to be coming back to boxes and boxes (and boxes) of stuff we left behind seven months ago.