The Beginning of the End, The End of the Beginning

HELSINKI, FINLAND & COLORADO, USA: February 24-27, 2014

Steve: It’s no surprise now that we’re back in the United States. In what seems like a blink of an eye we were in London, England, visiting with Leah’s cousin and his wife, all the while steeling ourselves for the impending end of our journey. Somewhere in England we fell into a wormhole, bridged the space-time continuum and suddenly here I am in Denver, Colorado wondering what the heck happened. In reality it wasn’t a wormhole, just the combination of Norwegian and Icelandair flights that whisked us away to Helsinki for a quick stop-off where we hugged an old friend (Emmanuelle) and acquired some extra luggage (Theta) before heading back to the United States. It was a heartwarming breath of fresh air to catch up with Manou, but needless to say it was much too short. God willing we will get to catch up all over again back in Colorado sometime soon and in the meantime we all have lives to live.

After having been in Helsinki for the third time on our trip, I had the strange feeling that we were returning home; even when we arrived at Kalevi’s, the most gracious Couchsurfer on the planet (and new friend), he answered the door by saying “welcome home.” Although we opted to spend the next night at a downtown AirBnB flat (our first AirBnB experiences have both been phenomenal), Kalevi and his roommates, Jess and Stuart, had even previously offered to host us, Emmanuelle and our husky companion. How’s that for hospitality? Indeed they did host Emmanuelle for her induction into the world of Couchsurfing and continue to show how bright and beautiful the world can be when everyone pays it forward. Alas time flies and we had to quickly trade our surrogate Scandinavian home for the real one across The Pond.

Leah: It could not have been more perfect to complete the symmetry of our Finland trip by staying with Kalevi and clan again, since they do indeed feel like family at this point. And of course it proved beyond fitting that we started our Finnish sojourn in September 2013 with Emmanuelle and that she was the one who brought Theta down from Hetta with her before heading off to do her own world exploring before vet school starts in the fall. The three of us enjoyed an evening of salad, wine, hummus and finger foods (Manou was starved for fresh veggies and new flavors, as I figured she would be), while bedtime saw Manou and I snuggling in the loft as Steve and Theta took the pullout below. Even our airport goodbye was somewhat joyous since we knew we'd see each other back in Colorado.

Steve: The reentry back home is a new experience for me and hasn’t been without its difficulties. This is something that Leah has been through and she seems to be adjusting fairly well, but of course it is still early in the scheme of things. I’m still an American—and proud to be one—but I now see things through new lenses. After seeing and living through so many other peoples and cultures a fundamental change has happened somewhere in my psyche. I know that time will ease the unsettledness that pervades my reality, but I think I’ve taken the red pill and I can never go back. This is a great country and it is founded on honorable principles but we are not the end-all-be-all of society. Coming back my immediate observances have been overarching consumerism, suffocating superhighways and a second-to-none bureaucracy that is bolstered by a pessimistic political system. Please, please, please don’t think I’m jumping on the America-bashing bandwagon, because I think that is as ignorant and cliché as the gun-toting ethnocentric redneck that many think the US is comprised of. But these are the things staring me in the face since I’ve returned and after living comparatively basic lives abroad it is tough to readjust. A life on a remote Finnish husky farm, a Scottish highland croft, or a tiny rural Bulgarian village sounds so much simpler right about now.

Like I said, I’m sure time will make things easier. I have complete faith that things will work out how they need to and I am constantly reminded of how blessed Leah and I are to have each other, our unfaltering families and our friends. Of course we are faced with realities of income generation—normally referred to as "jobs"—and while one or both of us may go the same routes, and with possibly the same companies, as we move forward we are hyper-cognizant that this is the perfect time, and possibly the only time, to choose different career paths. No matter what we choose to do it has become increasingly important if not necessary to our sanity that we stay true to ourselves and follow the passions that have been revealed during this trip, be it travel, writing, music, arts, outdoor pursuits, volunteering…the list could go on and will of course have to be reasonably amended. If these things don’t end up being our careers then they will have to be integral parts of our non-work time. We will continue sporadic blogging and keeping you all up to date but, like a wise man once said, now we need to “decide is what to do with the time that is given you.”

Canis Updatus

Theta, also known as Theta Bean, Theta Lee, Theta 3D (Dirty Darwin Dog) and the Arctic Fox, is probably doing better than we are on the transition to the States. After a snaggletooth here and a few growls there, she is now best friends with her cousin, Maya, who doesn’t mind if Theta plays with her toys. Oh, and the toys. Theta loves playing with every toy she can find and surprisingly is good at retrieving and will often catch a ball in midair if thrown to her. She has a playful puppyish bounce that really makes her look like a fox bounding after prey. And although she’s facing a few days of soreness in the near future when she gets spayed, I really think she’s liking it here. Lots of love, attention, brushing, toys…although I think she could do without the slick tile floors that cause her furry paws to slide out when she sits or stands in the kitchen. Unfortunately, not everything can be perfect.

Fun Facts

Countries that we visited*:

     1)      Guatemala
     2)      El Salvador
     3)      Honduras
     4)      Nicaragua
     5)      Costa Rica
     6)      Panama
     7)      Ecuador
     8)      Peru
     9)      Bolivia
   10)   Argentina
   11)   Chile
   12)   New Zealand
   13)   Thailand
   14)   United Arab Emirates
   15)   Turkey
   16)   Georgia
   17)   Armenia
   18)   Bulgaria
   19)   Romania
   20)   Ukraine
   21)   Poland
   22)   Estonia
   23)   Finland
   24)   Norway (for one day…but we skinny dipped in the Arctic Ocean underneath the northern lights so this counts for sure)
   25)   The Netherlands
   26)   Ireland
   27)   United Kingdom** (including Northern Ireland, Scotland—which may be an independent country by the end of 2014—and England)

* This doesn’t include layovers, which the Mrs. says don’t count. However during our trip we’ve also been through Mexico (got a stamp there), the U.S., Australia, Sri Lanka, Bahrain, Latvia, Sweden and Iceland.

**So I don’t know how official our stay in the United Kingdom can be since we never entered or exited the country as far as UK customs are concerned. We entered via bus into Derry, Northern Ireland where there are no border controls. We thought maybe we’d be checked when we flew from Belfast to Edinburgh but you’re still in the same country so no passport check there. At the very least we thought maybe there would be an exit stamp when we flew from London to Helsinki. Nope. Nada. Zilch. Seems like a major loophole to me Your Majesty…

Movies We Saw:

     1)      Skyfall (for $3 on opening night in Bolivia!)
     2)      The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
     3)      Epic
     4)      Erased (under the title The Expatriate in Thailand; under any name, this is one of the worst movies I have ever seen)
     5)      The Hangover Part III (not a very good movie either, and even worse when censored by UAE regulations)
     6)      Hannah Arendt and Paradise: Hope (at the Golden Apricot International Film Festival in Yerevan, Armenia)
     7)      The Lone Ranger (this was quite special as it was Leah’s friend Manda’s first big screen credit)
     8)      Elysium
     9)      Catching Fire
   10)   The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

Weight Lost:

In short, a lot. We've lost 20-25 pounds each from what we weighed when we started and we're both down at least two sizes from where we were in July 2012. After Hetta we were each down at least 3 sizes from where we started but after admonitions from friends and family that we were too skinny, coupled with hearty Irish farm grub, we put some pounds back on. In short, travel is an effective (and enjoyable!) way to ditch the sedentary lifestyle and get your body in shape.

World Events:

Unfortunately most of the things I can think of are tragedies and don’t paint home in the best light. Even though we were in “dangerous” developing countries we were abroad for the Batman, Sandy Hook, Colorado high school and probably countless other shootings…it’s a hard sell to make me believe the 2ndAmendment makes any of us safer. We were abroad for Mandela’s passing, Superbowls XLVII and XLVIII, and a pair of World Series…all tragedies in their own right (let’s face it I didn’t miss much on the sports front). Whatever you think about politics or the Presidency, we will never forget the Obama-Romney election whilst we were in Bolivia and most importantly I will never forget casting my vote from Ecuador.

Thank You's

So I was going to attempt to make a giant thank you list even though I face the dangerous and likely chance that I am going to forget someone; and then I realized that there really are far too many people to thank and I would put myself in a precarious situation. However I must say thank you Mom, Ma & Pa, all of our families and friends, and work colleagues from ValleyCrest and the Girl Scouts—your continued support and understanding of this most foolish and selfish, yet necessary, endeavor will never be forgotten or taken for granted; the Murrays for starting our trip with your kindness and well-wishes, we will be back in Houston soon, I promise. And to all the friends that we met and made along the way, through CouchSurfing and Workaway, from hostels to tour groups, sheer serendipity and everything in between, we miss you all and hope to keep in touch as the days, months and years go by. You have taught us that the journey never really ends…

CLICK HERE FOR PICTURES OF OUR RETURN TO THE U.S.

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Anna March 17, 2014 at 4:33 PM

Please read The $100 Startup and think it over as you are beginning your new chapter.

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