Monday, May 2, 2011

Leaving Bolivia

(top photo courtesy of Steve Nute)

Once back from The Island, I was fortunate enough to have three separate friends come and visit me - two from the States and one from Argentina. There was a celebration of my 2nd anniversary on the road, and a lot of good meals shared. After the last guest left I had nothing stopping me from packing up and finally moving on.

I have long struggled with the idea of leaving and it has been heavy on my mind for many months now. Ongoing conversations with myself continue daily, about continuing my travels versus the urge to stay put and nurture my freshly sprouted roots. The process has been much more difficult than I had imagined – and I am growing concerned about all the voices in my head.

My situation deserves no sympathy, I realize this and I know how lucky I am to be in this conundrum. I arrived here one year ago almost to the day, exhausted and with my wanderlust largely satisfied. I had gone a year without hearing my name called in public or without being touched in any real meaningful way. In many respects, I had rolled into town on an empty tank.

Things are differently now. I cannot walk across the plaza without hearing my name called, no, shouted at least once. Maybe it’s Angelica selling birdseed in the square or small Ronaldo needing help washing the roof of a truck. And the beauty of it all is that I have the time to stop and help fill bags of birdseed or to wash the roof of that truck. It is my way of taking time to “smell the roses”, and its a daily occurrence.

From my time volunteering with the working kids and just being around for so long I have acquired a large family of little people that supply me with a ton of laughter and affection. Thursdays I take a group of seven to the school for the deaf where we are all learning sign language so that they can talk to a young cousin that is hearing impaired. The outing is an absolute hoot, and I would hate to leaving with such a limited vocabulary.

I have another family in the countryside whose art and way of living fascinates me. I had originally sought out to meet them because of how different they seemed, now their home has become my sanctuary. Recently we have had several conversations about me leaving and my potential return. “Yes, I definitely will be coming back”, I say. On my last visit I was asked when that might be. The only reply I could give, and an honest one at that was, “whenever I feel that my travels are over, maybe one, two, or five years from now”. Speaking in Quechua, but the message perfectly clear, the 82-year old grandmother said that five more years would probably not work for her. The room went silent and it struck me then that it could never be the same again, not as it is now. My little friends would have grown and some of my older friends would be gone.

In addition to my new families, I also have a beautiful, intelligent and loving woman here that wants me to stay. It is has been hard to explain why I am choosing the unknown over her.

During this process, I have had to reevaluate what it is about traveling that is so important to me. I have always discounted the “what are you looking for” comment, and responded with something more like, “I am not looking for anything, its just what I like to do”, but recently those voices in my head have been asking, “why?”

For me, at this point, what I expect from travel is:

a) To experience diverse people and cultures,

b) To learn more about myself, and challenge my limits,

c) To participate in my surroundings, even if in small ways,

d) To allow an adventure to unfold everyday, and

e) Ultimately, I set out to see as much of the planet as possible while still physically capable.

Through the practice of writing this all down, I realize that I am fulfilling much of what's on this list by being here, but it is not complete. Regardless, it feels like a waste to leave. But then again, it feels like a waste not to leave - to go out and see more. “Right?”

That said, I have been actively trying to convince myself to move on, doing everything short of making flashcards of the following:

  • · As fascinating as the culture is here, it is a reminder of all the other interesting cultures yet to be experienced.
  • · Yes, these children are gorgeous, gracious and deserving, but so are so many more out there that you have not yet met. What about them?
  • · The seasons are lined up perfectly for leaving, but there is only short window of opportunity. The time to go is now!
  • · You gave up everything to do this. You owe it to yourself to keep going. It’s too soon to stop, and,
  • · You can always come back.

So, at this exact moment in time, the plan is this:

  • o I will work to shed the extra baggage that I have picked up during my idle time here, both around my mid-section and around my apartment.
  • o I will read about the travels of others like I did before leaving Seattle, encouraging my mind to leave first - body and bike to follow later.
  • o I will focus my attention and research on Brazil and Africa.
  • o I will spend my remaining time here saying good-bye, with full intention of staying in touch.
  • o I will anticipate a bout of Post Bolivian Depression, but will get through it. I will have new scenery, a new language and new culture to distract me.

Therefore, on May 29th I will leave Sucre on my way to Brazil. Within four days of leaving I will be at entrance of the Pantanal, the world’s largest wetlands (aka: swamp) where I will dig out my mosquito spray and expired malaria meds. Will proceed next to the capital city of Brasilia to explore the architecture of Oscar Niemeyer, followed by the beaches and bikinis of Rio de Janeiro. From there, down the Atlantic coast through Uruguay ending in Buenos Aires. Once there I will make the decision to make the leap to South Africa, or commit to starting a life in South America.

I suppose the moral of this conundrum, is be careful what you wish for. You might get it!

Thanks for listening, the voices in my head have quieted.

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