I suppose it’s natural to take pause at the end of one chapter of your life, to take it all in, especially as you prepare to start another. Maybe to absorb….maybe to reflect….maybe to celebrate…maybe just to reminisce. And while some years roll into the next without much notice or change, this year has been a big one for me. It deserves a moment of pause…a salute as it passes by…something.
I remember last New Years Eve like it was just yesterday, and at the rate the years seem to fly by as you get older, it nearly was just yesterday. Brian and I spent the day and evening with our friend Pete whom we had met in the Yucatan roughly 8-9 months before while staying with RTW motorcycle legends, Ken and Carol-Ann Duval. Because we three were heading south, bound for Ushuaia, and traveled at generally the same pace, we were lucky enough to spend time with Pete in several countries – Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama, Colombia, Chile and Argentina.
Pete was staying at a great hostel in the mountain village of Villa la Angostura, in western Argentina. We left our hospedaje to shop for kebabs, meat, sausage, veggies and wine and planned to have a small asado (Argentinian barbecue) at Pete’s hostel and have a few drinks. As we got the grill going, some other guests started grilling too, a traditional cordero/whole lamb on a splay-frame over an open fire next to where we grilled.
Hostels are one of the true melting pots of our world, a crossroads for all sorts of travelers. And that often makes them some of my favorite places. The stories that would sound brash or out of place back at home, are just normal conversation here…having had to cross landslides in 15,000 ft mountain passes, hilarious interactions with border guards using only creative hand signals and stick drawings in the dirt because of no common language, bodge jobs on motorcycles to nurse them across deserts to the next village, a beach stroll among a million penguins, an impromptu shower in an icy glacier cascade, a sideways rainstorm in Patagonia that leaves one entire side of your body (head-to-toe) completely dry and the other side completely soaked, a hike along the rim of a barely steaming but still active volcano, visiting the winter home of millions of butterflies…
As we sit at the table to enjoy our dinner we start chatting with a girl from Poland who is backpacking through South America. We share some laughs and wine, and now, memories. It’s the perfect way to welcome a new year on the road, with a relatively old friend (in the sense that we had already shared so many road experiences with Pete), and a new one.
The kitchen and dining area buzz with conversation and friendship. And as I look around, it strikes me that these people aren’t so much celebrating a new year as they are celebrating just another day. Sure in a way it’s maybe a little more active tonight, but most nights in a hostel are like this. These people, and Brian and I, have gotten really good at celebrating or stopping to better appreciate life nearly every day. We have gotten better at living in the moment, at appreciating all things in a way I have not done enough until this trip.
It was a beautiful realization. These people were all living in the moment, being happy, and sharing with strangers. People, as a rule, really just want to be happy, healthy and safe. Most people enjoy sharing something with their fellow man, and having a laugh. When we are interacting with one another one-on-one, we very nearly always find some common ground instead of finding or focusing on our differences.
As this year winds to a close, I’m pausing again. To reminisce. To absorb. To reflect. And certainly to celebrate.
Instead of bundling up for an outdoor mountain village asado and lots of lively Spanish conversation with a couple dozen international travelers and vino tinto, I’m planning a night at home alone in the Black Hills of South Dakota. My honey will be in England with his parents. (Sending you a Happy New Year smooch, Bri. xx) I’m hoping to be in my pjs and curled up with my laptop writing down some of my favorite memories for my book, a memoir of the trip. The one constant from last year might be some vino tinto. And I will raise a glass to Brian, to Pete (who I think is somewhere in Brazil?), to our friend from Poland, and to all the lucky bastards and bastardettes still out there traveling.
The people I work with have been so welcoming and warm, and that has made all the difference to me in this transition. It hasn’t been easy. I’ve had a lot of anxiety and sleepless nights. And the job is/will be a lot of hard work. But it gets better every day. And I’m very lucky to work for a good company in the city I’ve lived in for 20+ years, near my family and friends.
As much as I have enjoyed traveling, I’m also enjoying being home. Travel teaches me so many things- patience, courage, kindness, perseverance, etc. but perhaps most of all it has taught me me an even greater appreciation for home – both the place that I am from and the “home” that my people give me in support and love. So for now, I am enjoying being in South Dakota.
Here’s wishing all of you a wonderful year ahead filled with health, happiness, love, laughter and some exploring and new appreciation of the world around you.