Top 10: Things Taken for Granted

Top 10: Things Taken for Granted

Leah: As our time in South America draws to a close, I find myself reflecting on the last 7 months—where  we’ve been, who we’ve met and the backpackers we’ve become. I could wax philosophic about each of those topics, but instead I’ll present you with a special feature post regarding (in no particular order) the Top 10 things I miss from home and had taken for granted before starting this trip:

1. WASHING MACHINE. I am in no way above doing laundry by hand...the African mamas from my Peace Corps days in Gabon trained me well. However, when you only have a somewhat suspect tiny hostel sink and/or 5 minutes to soak, wash and rinse your filthy clothes, it’s just not adequate. There’s something to be said for the cleansing agitation of a washing machine and knowing that your scum-caked outer (and under) wear has been surrounded by soapy bubbles long enough to get the ick out.

2. WELL-STOCKED KITCHEN. This refers to both appliances and ingredients. Too many times we’ve showed up at different lodging establishments excited to use the kitchen, only to find there’s no fry pan. Or can opener. Or hot pads. Or spatula. The list goes on indefinitely and in the case of the (missing) can opener, it’s a wonder we’ve haven’t lost digits trying to slice through metal with a knife. And then there’s the food. Yes, we love to eat, but no we are not food snobs. However, we love fresh ingredients, different spices and experimentation, so when I have a hankering for curry powder and it can’t be found, it makes me miss my beloved Penzey’s assortment even more.

3. QUIET AND DARK SLEEPING SPACE. If I had a dime for every time we’ve had a sound and restful night’s sleep on the trip…I still wouldn’t be able to buy a DoubleDouble Animal Style at In ‘n Out. If it’s not inconsiderate (and often wasted) dorm mates stumbling in at 3:30 a.m. and turning on the light while talking, it’s bus drivers on overnight rides blaring eardrum assault music until dawn or bedrooms positioned right on a busy and bright street. And let’s not forget the animal offenders—roosters while it’s still dark, llama/horse stampedes and dogs that seem to think they have the prettiest bark in town. Sure, we’ve tried eye masks and earplugs, but they only help so much and there’s something to be said for a cozy bed in a cocoon of a room when you know that errant poultry or the obnoxious traveler in the next bunk won’t cause your sleeping demise.

4. WARDROBE. I am not a fashionista by any means, nor do I adhere to a shoe fetish or rush to buy the newest blinged-out accessories. However, I miss being able to dress professionally. Or sexy. Or wear jeans. Or shoes that are neither flip flops nor mud-encrusted hiking boots. Sure, I made the conscious decision to pack light and therefore eschewed some of these “luxuries”, but I miss them a great deal. However, the worst pangs are probably reserved for my jewelry.  I have a lot of whimsical, sentimental and memorial pieces that I didn’t dare bring in case they were lost or damaged and not a day goes by where I don’t reach for a necklace that isn’t there or try to fiddle with a phantom bracelet that’s safely ensconced in a drawer at home. I’ve even dreamt about being able to wear my engagement and wedding rings again (for those who don’t know, we left our real ones with our parents for safekeeping).

5. FLUFFY TOWELS. This may seem silly and inconsequential, but I assure you it is not! Imagine getting out of the shower, clean, fresh and glowing, only to be greeted by your small, thin, limp camp towel. It’s the very real equivalent of wiping yourself down with a chamois—no Downy fresh scent or thick and comforting thread count for us, let alone that mine's so small I can't even wrap it around my body. Sure, they dry fast and pack tight, but there is nothing as wonderful as a plush, over-sized towel to swaddle yourself in after a shower. In fact, we damn near squeal with delight when we discover the rare hostel or Workaway experience that provides us with real towels.

6. TRUSTING PEOPLE. At home I don’t consider myself naïve, but I do tend to generally trust the people with whom I come in contact. I trust that the taxi driver will take me from the airport to my front door without holding me at gunpoint and driving me around to ATMs to drain my bank account. I trust that my fellow passengers will respect my belongings and not rifle through my stuff and remove what they like while I sleep. I trust that prices quoted for food are accurate and the same for everyone. We’ve touched on this topic before in the blog, but when you have your life in your backpack it’s onerous and grueling to constantly be on alert for pickpockets, shady characters, rip offs and scams. I hate ignoring people on street corners because I think they’re going to distract me with conversation while their friend lifts my cash. I hate thinking every congenial person on the bus is looking for an opportunity to slit my bag and snag my camera once the sun sets. And I hate having to lock up my backpack in the dorm because I’m concerned the nice gringo in the other bunk will steal our laptop.  I want to take everyone I meet at face value, but we’ve heard too many stories and acclimated ourselves too well to the backpacker lifestyle—not trusting is a survival tactic.

7. BOOKS IN ENGLISH WHEN DESIRED. I read a lot. And fast. Even before this trip I devoured books like the Very Hungry Caterpillar plowed his way through all those delightful fruits and veggies on his quest to become a butterfly. Now that we’re traveling and have even more time, I’m insatiable when it comes to the written word. I’m also stubborn and decided to bring lots of real books—the paper and ink kind—instead of an electronic reader. Therefore, I usually have a handful of books ready to exchange at the next hostel for a fresh batch; I become giddy just thinking about the possibilities. However, more than once, I show up with my arms loaded ready to exchange and my heart skips a beat when I notice a choice pick I’ve been wanting to read…and it’s in German. Or Japanese. Or Hebrew. In fact, there have been times where hostels had no books in English, or if they did it was some smarmy 70’s romance novel by an unknown author, or a self help book on radically changing your life using oatmeal and a parrot (okay, maybe not but close). I’ve gotten so desperate that I’ve actually caved and will be picking up a Kindle for the second half of the trip.

8. MY OWN SPACE. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t have some sort of living space that’s all hers where she can retreat and be alone when needed. Whether it’s a certain room, a cozy chair, a shaded hammock or even the car, everyone I know has a space that's a safe and welcoming respite from the world, a place to recharge and spend some solo time. Except for me (and Steve of course). My space is where I am at the moment (hostel, Couchsurfing, Workaway), which also means that it’s on loan and not really mine to begin with. I needed a quite a bit of solo time in my own space at home to function, which I inevitably received because a.) I had a residence I could make my own and b.) I wasn’t attached to my husband 24/7. This trip is definitely a whole new ballgame.

9. A COUNTRY THAT PROMOTES SPAYING/NEUTERING PETS. ‘Nuf said. It's obvious Bob Barker and the Price Is Right never made it to Latin America.

10. BEING CLEAN. This relates closely to #1 but goes a step further. It’s one thing to have clean clothes, but if you never actually feel 100% clean it’s a moot point. At home I could control the level of my cleanliness- I could shower when I wanted, in a bathroom that we personally scrubbed to our own standards. I knew that my sheets were clean (well, when I got around to washing them!) and that our kitchen maintained a certain level of hygiene. On the road it’s a different story. I dare anyone to tell me that communal showers leave you feeling blissfully clean—a shower I need to use flip flops to get in and out of does not tick that box off for me. And while our Workaways and Couchsurfers have been incredible experiences, accommodations have varied and hygiene standards ran the spectrum. The cleanest I’ve felt on the trip so far was in Buenos Aires at the B&B my folks gifted us at New Years, and even then we chose to do laundry in the sink instead of paying for it, so please refer to #1.

There you have it folks. We’re currently at a wonderful Workaway in the middle of nowhere about 2 hours south of Santiago and will be posting again over the weekend (for a sneak peek, here’s where we’re at). Until then, hope this provided you with a modicum of insight as to my brain activity on those long bus rides! 

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