Nov
26
2009

Pensive thoughts

A pensive post today.. forgive me if it’s depressing, but I feel that the blog should accurately reflect what I’m going through on the road…

I must admit that one of the reasons I’ve viewed Lima in a negative light is that I’ve been in a funk the last couple of weeks. I think it’s a combination of things – leaving Kathy, concerned about money, questioning what I’m really doing here at all…

I’m having a classic ex-pat existentialist moment. I left my country for specific reasons and don’t want to return (other than to visit you family and friends!), yet I clearly don’t fit in here either. So where is my home? Where are my people? I trust that when I finally do land, I will find (or form) that group; but in the meantime I’m struggling.

Allowing negativity to get the best of me, I’m constantly annoyed by the smallest things – employees that follow me around stores like I’m about to shoplift; the fact that one can buy 20 kinds of potato chips yet not a single bag of corn chips. I know, it sounds ridiculous.. and is clearly a manifestation of larger issues.
I’ve become jaded to things that used to excite me, and the amount of things that continue to grab my interest is waning. I blindly follow the guidebook suggestions without really knowing why, and just end up seeing the hundredth church / ruin / mountain.

I’ve been holing up in my room aimlessly surfing the web instead of going out and interacting with people, which would probably be good for my spirits. But good god, how many times can I have the same introductory conversation? Where are you from, what do you do, where are you traveling, for how long, ad nauseum.

And then I get mad at myself for wasting time and money spinning my wheels like this and not pushing forward (physically – “you should be exercising every day! Yoga! Get moving South!” as well as mentally – “why aren’t you studying those Spanish books you’ve been toting around for the past year?!”). Clearly I need structure – a routine – and yet can’t seem to summon the discipline to provide it for myself. In the face of ultimate freedom, it turns out all I do is wander around aimlessly. I need direction and purpose.

In theory, I still enjoy traveling – seeing new things, having new experiences, opening my horizons – but I’ve grown so weary of the endless buses, the grind of finding a decent hotel room and palatable food in each new location, etc.

The Christmas decorations going up aren’t making it any easier, knowing that I’ll be alone for Christmas this year.

I need to remember to reach out more when I get like this – I just had really nice conversations with Marissa and Chloe back home, and they both gave me good pep talks.

I do like traveling solo for the freedom it gives me, and I value my alone time. But the downside is that I spend too much time in my own head, drowning in my insecurities. Without external forces to check them, my self-doubts bubble to the surface and I start to question things I shouldn’t be questioning. Why are those people looking at me and laughing? Why did that shopkeeper glare at me?

I wonder if this trip has actually been worse for my development rather than bettered it, as one would have hoped. In the face of challenges I find myself retreating into old behavior patterns rather than taking a risk and opening myself up. Staying within my comfort zone.. for example, I would rather figure out where something is on my own than ask directions even if it ultimately takes longer – since talking to people is uncomfortable and I end up feeling stupid because I can’t understand them.
I used to be outgoing and gregarious, but that was when I was in a comfortable space – in my job, with friends, in situations I felt secure in. I admire and aspire to be like Arnie or Australians who are so comfortable with themselves that they can walk into a room full of strangers and immediately disarm any awkwardness, instantly making friends. How does one develop this skill?

I know I’ve said this before, but I’m getting clearer on the fact that we can only help ourselves by helping others. Or, we can only make ourselves happy by making others happy. I’m going to look into volunteer programs more seriously now.

I’ve also realized that I may at last be ready to get married and have a child. It’s shocking to hear myself say that – for so many years I was dead set against such a future. I’m not sure what changed, but I’m feeling the pull. One of my reasons for resistance was that I didn’t want to take on such responsibility until I was complete and whole myself. But the fact is, we’re never ready for parenting or marriage – “marriage makes us ready for marriage”, to quote the famous book. We grow (only) in the context of such challenges.

I had thought that I would end up making more friends on the road, even end up traveling with people for periods of time. But that hasn’t turned out to be the case. Partly it’s my own doing – I would rather stay in a locally-owned hotel (better value) with my own private room than in a backpacker hostel where it would be easier to meet people. But then again, those aren’t the people I really want to meet. The fact is that most people budget traveling are 15 years younger than me – in their gap year or just out of university. I have nothing against them, but we’re at such different places in our lives that we don’t have much in common. Besides, I’m traveling to meet people from different cultures, not my own. Still, it would be nice to meet people older than 30 that speak my own language.. which is one of the reasons I stayed in Vilcabamba so long.

I’ve also found that when I have gone out on a limb and approached people, locals have been more receptive than fellow gringos. Ironically, I’ve felt most lonely on this trip when amongst people from my own culture. Perhaps other gringos also feel insecure and therefore act defensively. Perhaps it’s that I am picking up on their cliques (all too common in the younger age bracket); whereas with locals, I am blissfully unaware of the social mores.
Amongst my peers, I want (therefore experience anxiety) to be accepted, whereas with locals I know I’m an outsider and have no hope (therefore no anxiety) of being accepted.

At other times, the disconnect is due to my being on a year-long odyssey and the people I meet being on a quick vacation. We’re naturally interested in doing different things.. they would rather be pampered in a spa than meander through the market.. or get drunk at the bar than follow the parade down the street (two real-life occurrances from this trip).

Enough wallowing in self-pity. I promise with the next post to return to fun travel dispatches!

Written by in: Ruminations | Tags:

18 Comments »

  • Jessica says:

    Maybe it is time to begin settling and building a home and a community? At the end of our travels (which were significantly shorter than yours) I know that is what I craved the most: a community, and a kitchen!

    It sounds like hard times, but surely all evidence that you are growing. Will look forward to the next post.

    Hugs and love from Denver!

    • Josh says:

      Thanks, Yess – I feel your empathy and support.
      A community and a kitchen, you’re absolutely right that those are two major things I’m craving right now.

  • Sarah and Alex says:

    Yosh!
    I don’t think we will ever stop talking about our wonderful Belize vacation and how special it was that you shared it with us. You are the perfect traveling buddy, I MEAN THIS! I hope you can find solace in the fact that so many people care about you and really admire what you are doing. You are loved!

    • Josh says:

      Sarah and Alex, what a wonderful blast from the past! It means a lot to hear your words of encouragement. Thank you for chiming in.
      You four were so generous to share your vacation with me. Really good times, and I never felt like a fifth wheel. I have great memories of our time together and hope that we can do it again.

      I went for a run today to try to clear my head and cheer up, and it started absolutely pouring. I felt like Charlie Brown and just had to start laughing. And then it dawned on me that without the bad times we wouldn’t have good times. [“Breakdowns lead to breakthroughs,” in Landmark language.] And then I remembered that great column by DJ Riz, and all the terrible things he says we’ll go through on our way to becoming a world citizen. And that made me happy.

  • Jessica says:

    Here, here, Sarah and Alex! I think we should do it again. Where to this time?

    Thanks for re-linking to this article, Yosh…I read it when I met you in San Pedro, and have passed it along since. These lines remind me most of my time there, before the dry season:

    “You will quit minding the rain. You will sleep deeper than you ever did in that comfortable home you barely recall. You will dream in three dimensions, in THX sound and surreal colors. You will awaken at all hours of the night, excited by the need to wander further through unfamiliar streets.”

    Beautiful, and so true.

    Thanks for the inspiration, and keep living the dream, however it evolves for you. We look forward to reading the next chapter! xxx

  • christine says:

    Josh! Davison and I were just sitting in the production office at TDLV feeling depressed and really questioning what we were doing. It’s crazy that you were having the same sort of feelings across the globe, sortof a blast from the future for us. I miss you and I hope you are finding the small things to keep you strong and happy. You are a wonder. Keep going. You will find your home. Take care. Lots of love from Davison, Anna, Stephan, Geoff and I. (sending you rings around the world! xoxo)

    • Josh says:

      Stine! How crazy.. I can picture you guys at those tables overlooking the Seine, with the late afternoon light pouring in and Benedicte constantly popping in to hassle Davison.

      I guess happiness/fulfillment really doesn’t depend on physically where we are or what we’re doing. Externally viewed, many people would envy our lives: “Creating art in Paris? Backpacking around Peru? Let’s trade!” But it’s our internal state that matters. What’s that Zen koan that Cage used to quote? “Before becoming enlightened, I was a woodcutter. After becoming enlightened, I am still a woodcutter.”

      I went for a run again today (exercise really does help the mind) and Cat Stevens’ song “Don’t Be Shy” came on. Surely one of the greatest songs from one of the greatest films (Harold and Maude). Which reminded me of another Landmark lesson – that we’re all walking around afraid of (looking bad in front of) each other. The sooner we get this the sooner we gain the freedom to act unselfconsciously and become more fully self-expressed.

  • Allen Craig says:

    I’m traveling through sudamerica as well and I totally understand the funk you are going through. We actually have quite a few things in common. One thing I’ve been doing that helps the inevitable and unfortunately regular slide into funkdom in our situation is to become engaged with an effort and/or family. Or something that allows you to connect with locals in a local way—and that defines a schedule for you for a few weeks.

    In my case, I’m committing to a month at a time in a town before moving on—IF I want to move on. Partly to be consistent with my spanish lessons, partly to give myself time to feel connected. In fact, I’m leaving Otavalo today for Cuenca and feel pretty sad because there are a few people I’ll miss dearly (one darling little five year old has totally won my heart.) Of course that’s a bit of a problem, too.

    Anyway, good luck pushing through the funk and stick it out. You’ll be pissed if you go back before you’ve felt like you’ve conqured whatever it is you need. I promise you’ll be dying to get back on the road again. (And thanks for some of your posts, they actually help me a bit with my particular funks..)

    allencraig

    • Josh says:

      Allen, thanks for the comment. Good points about connecting with a project or family. How did you find such family?

      I appreciate your comment about the 5-year old. Some days it’s the children that get me through. While their parents are giving you that judgmental up-and-down look, the kids greet you with an unbridled enthusiastic smile that asks for nothing and just sets the world right.

      Going to check out your site now..

      • Allen Craig says:

        …and to add to it, a guy tried to cut into my camera bag on the bus ride to Cuenca. I caught him and roughed him up, and as a fellow NYer I know you’ll appreciate that, but it certainly left me feeling more vulnerable than I normally do. But now I’ll have to spend a few more days getting over it and trying to reconcile my belief in humanity with yet another example of the maybe more realistic state of humanity.

        My connection with the family in Otavalo was through the school I studied with, but I think they are relatively easy to find although the situation might be seen differently: enthusiastic student vs. rentee.

        • Josh says:

          Glad to hear you roughed him up! Was that coming from Quito, by chance? I was warned that buses out of Quito (heading south) are notorious for that sort of thing. Yikes.
          I know what you mean about needing to regroup your faith in humanity. One does start to become a bit cynical (or is it realistic?) as to the ultimate nature of humans. I’ve seen so much selfish behavior and very little ‘thinking of the future’ or ‘considering your neighbor’ behavior on this trip that it’s definitely caused me to reassess where we are as a planet and where we’re headed.

  • Greg Parchello says:

    Hey Josh
    I understand your funk, my friend.
    As a 63 year old, I’m considerably older than you, so for me it was tough to find anyone to connect with in terms of outlook of most things. But I assumed the “loner” role, even tho I am more an extrovert by nature. In fact, I avoided English speaking tourists and backpackers – they were on a different “mission” than me.

    But I’m getting ahead of myself – I spent 6 weeks earlier this year in Colombia, started in Bogota and ended up in Cartagena at the end (with many stops in between).
    Towards the end of my trip, I was getting pissed at the non-stop hassles and hustles by peddlers on the beach at Bocagrande where I was staying.
    I plan to travel to Quito early in the new year, after the Olympics, and spend 2 months in Ecuador. This time, I will be volunteering for a couple of weeks mid trip – this might help me overcome the listlessness I could feel creep in…
    I am also evaluating the possibility of living somewhere in SA on a permanent basis.
    After my last trip to Colombia, however, I was relieved to get home – so much we take for granted, isn’t there?
    Buena suerte

    • Josh says:

      Hi Greg, good thoughts. I can imagine how different it must feel doing the circuit at age 63. You do meet the occasional person on the road around that age, but it’s rare. Mostly retiree couples doing package tours. And anyway, those sorts of folks wouldn’t come to Colombia!

      I think your plan to volunteer is a very good one. I’m looking at that more seriously now for all of the above reasons. It’s just the best way to access the local community and have them see you as a human being with dimensions rather than as ‘moneybags’. And it’s probably the best way to learn Spanish. Umm, so what have you been waiting for, Josh?! Partly it’s that I’m picky, lol. I don’t particularly want to work in the fields or pay a lot of money to milk cows all day with 19-year-olds. So I’ll have to find a program that suits my interests and skill levels appropriately.

  • Nico says:

    hola amigo !
    This article is so rich with in-depth thoughts !
    I understand your feelings, I went through such a blues period quite recently, maybe softer I admit. Bored to see amazing landscapes every day (in Patagonia !), bored to have always the same introductory conversation (“where are you from …”). Bored to meet only occidental travelers, all very nice and interesting, but finally all the same. And wondering finally what’s the point with all this.
    I guess this is quite normal on such a long trip. I’ve been thinking about staying longer in one place, woofing or volunteering, I think that a could make a big change. Have you thought about this ?
    As you say, structure, direction and purpose are the answer, you’ll probably find a purpose quite soon !
    hasta luego

  • Your Aunt Marty says:

    Hi lovey lamb,

    Haven’t read the blog in awhile, sorry I didn’t know you were a bit angst-y. You just have -itus, in this case a strong case of trip-itis, with a secondary infection of 30s Soul Examination-itis, a paralyzing combination. Perfectly normal and reasonable. Sensible even. It doesn’t mean whatever you’re feeling isn’t also reasonable and right, it’s just it sounds like you’re ignoring the actual physical/neuronal part of it, too much stimulation and processing, you’re overclocking your chip. And while you can get away with overclocking for awhile, urgent gaming needs, etc, in the long run it’s not good for your memory modules, your heat sink gets overloaded, and the whole system starts to slip. More BSODs, odd reboots, accumulation of glitches, more need to focus on core functions and dump your peripherals, the usual. But most of it’s just physical. You’d be able to think all the other things through if your cache wasn’t full. You have a a buffer overflow, your server is under DoS attack and you’re doing a pro job keeping your site up and running at all, I’d say. But like in stage and event management, when one is in pro mode one just copes with what comes next because the show must go on. But that’s not a good time for thoughtfulness and future planning, it’s just survive and get ‘er done.

    So these are some thoughts I had:

    You started to travel to see things and learn stuff and learn about yourself. You’ve done all those things, maybe you’re done? It’s not a failure of a journey or quest to achieve the grail–more knowledge–it’s the actual accomplishment of the journey/quest.

    Corks float well and get around and see a lot and have adventures but they’re not a part of the ocean, or for the land dwelling, they don’t have roots, aren’t part of a biology and ecosystem, organically or philosophically or geographically. There are cool colony creatures who float around like that and take their friends with them, but difficult with humans, though not impossible. Think of those floating arks and world traveling ships, your community, perhaps goes with you.

    But maybe you’ve learned as a result of the quest what your grail is, or begun to fine down your focus anyway. Reading the above I thought No, Dweebis, you’ve just listed what you’ve LEARNED 🙂

    Among which:
    Maybe you don’t like to be on the move all the time, it leaves you feeling distant and transient and somehow unable to be involved with those around you because you and they know travelers move on.

    Traveling is mentally and emotionally exhausting and constant traveling accumulates unless you get off on that feeling and you’re thinking that as a long term deal, perhaps you might not like to.

    That you might like a sense of community and roots and place and meaning in what you do. Of some sort. Though it could be quite a variety of things that could lead to that and there’s always a reluctance to decide if we don’t have to decide, so we float and look another day.

    It’s exhausting to live in a foreign language.

    Biologically, your learning cache is like a lung sucking in oxygen, it’s a cycle–you suck stuff up and it fills you and then you process it and use it and there’s a curve and then you get to toss out the parts you didn’t need and suck again, but it’s an insy-outsy thing or your lungs explode. I think back to when I was first learning computers and the joyous absorbing sponge feeling of stimulation and synapse building and storage happiness etc, and then, over and over, and I’m sure you’ve been there too in many ways, as we all are when we learn heavy duty stuff, my brain would shut down. I’d had enough. Too much. Something about the brain needs to digest and process new learning, it has a way of handling the sequence and we’re all stuck with, it’s the way our biology works. We dream differently, we sleep differently, our brains are deluged. Political campaigns. New fields of knowledge. Playing Myst. Traveling.

    Important not to mistake the travel for the journey she said in her Buddha mode. It’s not like one of those manic single handed round the world sailboat races, that I love, where the goal is to do geography and distance or a set destination, the goal is to complete the journey.

    Maybe stay in one spot for 6 months and veg out and do something useful if you can find it if being there seems right.

    Maybe going to New Orleans and helping there would be a good idea. Funky, terrible problem with loss and preservation of local culture including the arts, music, dance, art art, could use some tech help, rebuilding, being a vote for the good guys, lots of cool stuff going on there these days.

    Where would you like to be? If you look out the window, where am you? I don’t see warm places, I hate humid heat, or long term any heat, more than I hate even gray. So that narrows what I see. You got any such perferences you’ve learned about yourself? You seem to say you’re looking for a richness of both breadth and depth, and that right now while you’re getting a certain kind of breadth, it’s a non-interactive breadth that suffers from lack of depth? I may have completely misread what I think I read above, but seemed to me if you collect the ‘This is what I think I think’ things you’re sort of beginning to think you’ve learned, you end up with what I’ve bounced off in the lengthy response. I’m on the couch watching the science channel on cable and in my jammies and wearing a hat because it’s a little chilly and I have another cold and I’m mushing around the house in two pairs of socks because I already packed my slippers and I have used kleenex all around me, so you should feel yourself in familiar territory, a weakness in the family genome. Every time I see a child under 6 I get a cold and I see children under 6 every week and therefore I have had a cold or the flu every single day since Spring of 1979.

    I’m making progress on my Conspiracy Theory; did you ever stop to think that there have been more successful missions to Mars than there have been to the bottom of our oceans? I hadn’t, but now I am. There are no doubt all sorts of things going on down there of a Jules Verne and The Neanderthals nature that we know nothing about. The Oil Companies could be involved in covering this up but I haven’t decided, or been able to determine, that yet. But it’s a possibility. I picture a sort of brute force technology enabling cities in the Marianas Trench, lots of bolts and Iron and steam technology. With an Island of Dr. Moreau thing perhaps, a sexual overtone that’s been valuable to the UFOers, cross-breeding, perhaps with the goal or acheivement of Aquamen and Aquawomen and Aquakids from Neanderthal-Cetan recombinant biology. I dare them to prove me wrong… going to sleep last night I thought of lots of stoppers for my critics, like Carl Sagan, he’d still be a critic but he’d say let’s go seeeeee….!, and later remembered at least half of them One of their major connections to the surface world is on the island of Gibralter, the last holdout of the Neanderthals from the predatory breeding nature of the Cro Mags, before they finally disappeared from the SURFACE of the Earth…

    Ahhchooo.

    Your aunt,

    Marty Descartes

    • Josh says:

      My darling wonderful batty aunt Marty, I’m speechless. Have I said how much I love you and your wacky brain?

      All good thoughts about my current condition. You’re right, it’s not just long-term travelitus, which I’ve been reading on other blogs is quite common and natural. It’s also almost-mid-life-thinking-what-do-I-do-now-itus.
      I’m not sure that the journey is done.. I don’t actually feel like I’ve learned a lot about myself. But it could be that it’s all been happening subconsciously and will reveal itself when the time is right.
      I love your cork analogy. That’s exactly what’s been happening, and why I’ve been craving community. [Another reason I’ve been spending so much time online, since there’s community there.] This is why I loved touring so much – we traveled just enough (usually about 2-3 weeks at a stretch, then home for the same period of time) to quench my wanderlust, learn new things, meet new people – but was always able to maintain a relationship and friends and roots back home. With this trip I necessarily had to sever those roots (at least physically, which impacts the emotional ties too).

      I think you’re onto something with this deep sea conspiracy theory. Isn’t it strange that we have no idea what’s down there. On our own planet. Must be a deep-seated biological fear of deep water (I certainly have it) that keeps us from venturing there. Or the Government knows perfectly well what’s going on down there and it’s all been covered up.

  • emma says:

    hey josh just found an old email from eloise and thought id check where you were these days… i’ve been home a month and currently packing bags india 🙂

    can very much relate to your sentiments in this post. so many of those thoughts went through my head in my time travelling sola!

    as you move through the different spaces and observe the shifting dynamics i’ll share my 2 cents. peru’s tourist traps, esp cusco were probably the least favourite of my journey. keep headin south! beeline for bolivia…

    • Josh says:

      Excellent! Too bad you didn’t like Cusco. I’m trying to psych myself up for it.. I head there tomorrow, and was thinking it might be a good place to spend Christmas. Also somebody told me of a Spanish school he really liked there.. but I dunno, the cost of living is high and there’s a lot of gringos. Hmm…

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