Here we sit, one year on the road. I pondered several ways of commemorating this milestone date and have decided to go with a Top Ten list of things we have learned in the last year of roaming around Central America living out of a suitcase. Though the purpose of our journey has been to investigate the globe and perhaps find our little slice of heaven somewhere along the way where we may eventually settle down. Along the way we have been fortunate enough to see some beautiful places and been lucky enough to enjoy some wonderful sights along the way. It is the learning to live in different environments that has kept us humble and on our toes.
So here goes, the Top Ten things we have learned in one year of travelling:
1. Learn to cope with different looking foods – One of the adventures is going to the local produce mercado for the first time, and even the 100th. The different variety of fruits and vegetables is amazing. The carrots, beets, and potatoes are what you might expect. However there is a collection of other produce that you simply have to step forward and ask ?Que? The people (usually the ladies) will proudly tell you what it is and what it is best for (good chance it will go in sopa).
Trust what they tell you and give it a go. Produce is not that expensive and you will no doubt find a new favourite to add to your repertoire. There are also the differences you will see. In Costa Rica we would ask for cilantro and receive what we would receive at home in Canada. Drive 4 hours north to Nicaragua and ask the same thing and you will receive something that looks more like dandelion leaves than the cilantro you may be used to. But give it a sniff and taste and you will discover it is indeed cilantro (Puerto Rican cilantro apparently).
The other joy about the produce is you purchase it for today or tomorrow. Not the day after tomorrow, way too ripe by then, and I would suggest you specify whether it is for today or tomorrow, it makes a difference in what you receive. The ladies in the mercados are incredibly knowledgable about their produce, listen to them.
2. Anything metal will rust very quickly near salt water – When you see those wonderful photographs looking up a beach with the swirl of white mist visible in the distance enjoy the view and remember you are standing in the middle of that same mist and it is made up of salt water. Just remember to wipe down your camera after. Sitting on the beach with your laptop may sound like a great idea, you may want to consider what is happening to the contacts that are exposed to the air. I use a Macbook Pro and so far have only noticed a slight deterioration of the SD card reader slot on my lap top. I work with it outside, but never right on the beach. When we bought bikes in Belize we got wire baskets for each of them. The baskets rusted through in about three weeks, the non coated edges on my knives were showing rust within two months. Not the end of the world, but you need to take care of those things.
3. Never run from a barking dog – First off let me say the behaviour of the vast majority of the dogs in Central America put most peoples dogs to shame in North America. I don’t know what the reason is but I have had more dogs run at me while cycling and running in Canada than anywhere in Central America. Having said that, I have been charged a few times by dogs down here, even had one slip past and manage to nip my heel in Nicaragua. What I have found to be very successful for me is stopping and walking straight toward the dog. They nearly always stop barking and retreat to their homes. A couple of times I have had to be more aggressive and lunge and yell at them but other than the one incident I have been unscathed. If you run away…….well, then you are the victim and you will get what you are asking for.
4. Wipe down your kitchen counter constantly – Overall, insects down here are nothing compared to being at home in Canada. I have not noticed many insects that wish to bite or sting me down here. Compared to Alberta where it seems every damn thing that flys wants to eat you, it is a wonderful change. However, the ants. If you do not wipe up all remnants of your food preparations from the kitchen counter do not be surprised in a few hours to see a steady stream of ants combing your counter helping clean up your mess. As disturbing as that may sound to some it really isn’t a big deal. Wipe up after yourself and you will rarely see them. And if you do happen to see some scouts looking for food just crush them and give the area a once over so there is nothing to entice their cousins back.
5. Technology is wonderful – I realize there are two camps in this area and though neither of us has had a cellphone in over a year, and loved it. We definitely still fall into the technology is wonderful camp. Yes we both travelled without computers in the past and it was wonderful and we enjoyed it immensely.
However, I do believe it is even better with technology. If you don’t agree that is fine, just skip to the next point. Remember, without it you wouldn’t be reading this blog. When you sell everything and board that plane to head off for an undetermined length of time it is not the things you sold that you miss. It is the family and friends that cause you to have tears running down your cheeks at unexpected moments. We suspected this might be an issue so made sure to get each of our mothers tablets so we could Skype regularly with them (I probably see my Mom more now than when I was living 40km from her) and advertised shamelessly to friends about our blog and our email accounts. We have truly loved being able to connect face to face via Skype and FaceTime with friends and family. Whether it is wishing a son Happy Birthday or touching base with a friend who has just moved to Australia, it keeps us connected and involved in the lives of people important to us. As well it allows us to reinforce new friendships we make along the way. I have to give a huge thank you to Facebook here. Yes I know the endless mindless drivel that appears can be a drag but being able to see what is important to people we care about and what things are happening in their lives is a huge safety net for us. First item each morning is sitting down with a cup of coffee and checking on what is up on Facebook with the people important to us. If they are not on Facebook, no problem, we still have iMessage and email to touch base with everyone else. I’m still not ready to get a cell phone, but I do love my computer.
6. Cotton sucks – We lived in Alberta. Beautiful weather most the time, varied temperatures to keep you on your toes. 0% humidity. Being in Central America……cotton sucks! That is all.
7. Have your banking in order – If you are going to travel long term, have a couple of back up plans for getting cash. This one is a little too current for my liking but I will try to contain myself. Central America is mainly a cash society. The lady at the mercado does not take debit or credit. Even though the banks will still lock out your cards repeatedly make sure you explain you are travelling to several different foreign countries before you leave. Bless the “Security Teams” at the banks for recognizing when you were in Nicaragua for 4 months and suddenly you try to withdraw Costa Rican Colones in Costa Rica they lock your card for fear it has been stolen. So now you have no local currency to get on a bus, buy food, buy cooking gas because it ran out two days into your arrival, or reload your prepaid internet connection so you could contact someone about it. Though I don’t like carrying extra cash on me I will now keep extra currency on me for the next time the banks try to protect me. We also ordered extra cards we could activate if there were problems with our current ones. Good idea in theory. Hasn’t worked out so well in practice.
This is where I also have to mention that in most areas we have been there has been an expat who has stepped forward at the right moment and saved our sanity by providing the help we needed. If nothing else, long term travel will restore your faith in the goodness of human beings. I for one have found this to be one of the biggest serendipities of our travels.
8. Learn to say please, thank you and I’m sorry – Even if you are not Canadian, learn to say you are sorry. Because you should be if you do not speak the language of the country you are in. We did not speak Espanol when we started our travels here. Our bad. Instead of asking right away if the person you need to make your life easier speaks English, why not try to speak their language first? It is their country after all. If you bugger it up so badly that they are looking at you like you are speaking Welsh (sorry Beth) then ask “?Habla Inglase? followed by “lo siento” because you should be sorry. Most the people we have dealt with were very receptive to this approach. The money spent on Spanish lessons in Nicaragua was money well invested. We still don’t speak the language but we can make an honest effort to communicate with the locals we are meeting.
9. Shake out your clothes – Remember what I said about insects earlier. Even though most don’t bite, they still make you jump out of your skin when they crawl out of the collar of the shirt you just put on. Remember to give your clothes a shake and knock your shoes on the ground before putting them on. After the first few times you will just laugh when you see the spiders and bugs hit the floor and scurry away after you wake them up and displace them.
10. Toilet paper – Learned behaviour is a fascinating thing. Take something as simple as disposing of toilet paper. Not very glamorous, but for most a daily occurrence. Where does it go? In the toilet you say shaking your head at the silliness of the question. Wrong. It goes in the garbage can beside the toilet. Most infrastructures in Central America and quite a few in Europe are not designed to handle toilet paper flowing through the lines. Which means retraining that automatic flick of the wrist tossing the paper into the toilet. No big deal you say. It took about 9 months to consistently remember to use the garbage can. It is funny that this lands at #1 but it is something we have to think about every day.
With that all said and done, bring on year number 2. Many new adventures in the works and a major relocation scheduled for September.
Life is good.