Week 1 Check In: Nate

How are you feeling physically?

I'm feeling both good and bad. I'm sleeping well here. We are fortunate to have a dorm room that is comfortably cool at night, and the beds are better than I would have expected. They clean the rooms daily and give us new sheets. 

The sheer newness and variety of experience also means that at the end of the day, I am pretty exhausted. We walk a lot and are always processing new things, trying to figure out what people are saying. Each day is full and very tiring, and so I'm resting really well. 

Cathedral de San Pedro Claver is the lit up church at the end of the street.

Cathedral de San Pedro Claver is the lit up church at the end of the street.

On the opposite side, my allergies have been pretty bad. I primarily get itchy eyes, and I'm on a consistent diet of Claritin, Benadryl and eye drops. As often happens in hot countries, I'm dehydrated most of the time since I'm just not used to losing this much water on a daily basis. 

How are you feeling mentally/emotionally?

There's a lot going on. Living in a hostel is stressful. On top of that is the impact of actually being on the trip we have planned for so long and trying to ascertain our relationship to all the attention and audience we developed in the last few days before leaving.

As far as hostels go, El Genoves is very nice. There's a small cool plunge pool for hot afternoons, good wifi, free breakfast, a rooftop patio, and the staff is very friendly and competent. The place is clean and the beds comfortable. 

Plunge pool with eating area in the background. 

Plunge pool with eating area in the background. 

However, we are staying in a 4 bed dorm room, which means that we are sharing the small space with two other (frequently changing) guests. The bathrooms are also shared. There is very little privacy, and there are all the difficulties you would expect with people operating on different schedules.

Since it's budget accommodations, most of these travelers are younger and in a city known for its night life (partially because it's so hot during the day that you don't want to go anywhere) they tend to stay out late and come home in a loud way. Our sleep masks and earplugs have mostly eliminated that problem, but when your dorm partner opens their security locker drunk at 2:30 a.m. or climbs the ladder to the bunk above yours, it's disruptive. 

The beds are big and comfortable but the room is small. There's A/C above the upper left of this photo.

The beds are big and comfortable but the room is small. There's A/C above the upper left of this photo.

On top of all that is the accomplishment of a long term goal and reckoning with what to do next and considering what we've accomplished means to me and how I want to handle it. Finally, there is the unexpected component of a new sense of responsibility to this incredible audience of supporters and onlookers who have asked to be a part of our experience.

Practically, it's meant that I feel kind of exhausted and stressed. Anxious and feeling a need to communicate but intimidated to actually write or produce anything. Not feeling connected to Jess or the trip, like I'm finally here and I mostly want to hide out and not do anything. 

Most of it has to do with balancing expectations with present needs. This trip is such an accomplishment, and all this attention has been so exciting that I'm feeling this need to feel or act a certain way now that I am here. And the gap between how I should be - passionate, joyous, excited, expressive - and how I'm really feeling - stressed, anxious, tired, listless - creates a self-reinforcing guilt hangover where I feel bad and then feel worse for feeling bad in the first place; I just accomplished this incredible thing and all these people think its incredible, so shouldn't I be having the time of my life?  

Me on the square just off our street.

Me on the square just off our street.

I'm adjusting, and it's improving.

I'm remembering to take time to do the things I want to do and caring for myself. I'm reminding myself that my goal with writing and documenting all this is only to tell the truth. I'm reminding myself that this trip is for me and for Jess, and we don't owe anyone anything. It's only by really staying in touch with how I'm really feeling that I will be able diagnose and ameliorate any problems with my perspective or expectations. 

The circumstances and transition have been difficult, and I've made it worse by guilting myself with my personal expectations and the projected fictional expectations of our audience. Things are improving, and as we adjust to all this newness, the stress level is dropping. The more things I do to take care of myself and my experience, the better I feel.  

What’s your favorite part of the trip so far?

I've really enjoyed a few specific moments with Jess. Drinking beers in a public square while people watching, eating ceviche and salad with white wine for lunch at street-side cafe and purchasing street food at carts after dusk as crowds of people streamed by. (Apparently I like eating and drinking).

Can't beat six beers for $4.

Can't beat six beers for $4.

My favorite things so far have been moments with Jess where it's apparent how on the same page we are about what we think of this experience, why we are doing it and how much we just want the other person to be happy and do what they want.

Those moments provide a great sense of security to me as we contemplate being each other's primary (and at times only) source of social support. She's a good egg, and I'm very lucky.

What’s your least favorite part?

Yesterday we went to Playa Blanca which is said to be Colombia's most beautiful beach. White sands and Caribbean sapphire water. That description is accurate, but it can be hard to actually see the white sand or blue water through the crowds of people, hawkers, traveling bartenders and tour groups. 

This tarp nailed to sticks only cost $20 and it comes with a beach view! Sort of. 

This tarp nailed to sticks only cost $20 and it comes with a beach view! Sort of. 

$15 for a full day trip with lunch and an hour of open bar is a great deal, but in the end the trip took what is already stressing me out - noise, crowdedness, language barriers and constant attention - and added high temperatures and intense sun. It was okay, but I would not do it again.

I felt more comfortable and relaxed once I was drunk.

I felt more comfortable and relaxed once I was drunk.

What have you learned about yourself?

I've learned that I'm not the same type of traveler I was when I was a Peace Corps volunteer and that my priorities have shifted considerably. Unfortunately, my tendency to apply guilt to the space between my expectations and my daily experience has not diminished. 

This is a pic of me in the Rwandan rain forest the morning after literally sleeping on a concrete slab with a jacket over me. This would kill me now.

This is a pic of me in the Rwandan rain forest the morning after literally sleeping on a concrete slab with a jacket over me. This would kill me now.

I've stayed in hostels before, and this is a pretty high quality one. However, traveling with my wife - and the normal pattern of our interactions - calls for a higher degree of privacy and intimacy than is easily achievable in this environment. In addition, I have little to no interest in what most of these only slightly younger than me people have come here to experience. We are the first to bed every single night and usually the first up in the morning. 

I've learned (once again) that I need to take more time to plan things that excite me and stop simply settling for good enough. I feel accomplished just by being here, and it can lead to a kind of apathy when it comes to finding the motivation to research and enact things that would be genuinely enjoyable or exciting for me. 

What have you learned about Jess?

I'm pleased to report that we are extremely well matched in terms of our emotions and motivations. We are equally irritated by certain unnamed individuals in the hostel and equally excited and pleasured by eating artisanal popsicles or waking early to go for a run in the quiet streets. We both retain a strong interest in talking about money - our own and the economy in which we are currently participating. 

Jess and Nate cartagena RTW

I'm trying to think of something new or surprising, but perhaps what I've learned is that I was right about choosing this person and that I'm still so very grateful that they chose me.

How well did you pack?  

Oh boy. Some serious hits and misses. I'm going to just bullet point this one:

THE GOOD

  • Clipboard: This seemed superfluous but has been vital for quick notes, providing structure for my day pack and has doubled as a mousepad for both of us.

  • Patagonia Men's Daily Wear Merino Wool T-Shirt: It's a bit too warm for midday (really any shirt is too much for midday), but I've worn it into the mid 80s and its been comfortable.

  • Mizzen and Main Blue Check Dress Shirt: I'm so happy to have this with me. It's the only shirt I brought that I really think I look good in and it dresses me up a bit which is an unexpectedly pleasurable feeling. It's handled the heat like a champ and worked out for dinner and at the beach. This thing rocks.

  • Chacos Ecotread Sandals: These are super heavy and bulky in my bag but super comfortable on my feet. Being able to wear sandals all day and not have sore feet is great. 

THE BAD

  • Not wearing all my clothes thoroughly before packing them: Remember that scene in Wild where Reese Witherspoon gets up the first day of her hike and has never actually packed her bag or tried any of her gear before? That's basically what I did. I actually thought to myself, "I don't want to wear this stuff before we go because I don't want to ruin it." This basically informs all the problems you see below. 

  • Not bringing clothes that I think I look good in: I basically found what I thought made the most sense technical wise then bought whichever color was cheapest. So after all the time I complained about Jess stressing out about how things looked, I realized I severely neglected this area of consideration. I basically look like a schlub all the time. 

  • Darn Tough Merino Wool Socks: These socks feel great. Well made, comfortable, durable. Unfortunately they are made of WOOL. Which is just too hot for a city where the daily temperature tops 90'. I also bought black socks. So now I'm the European tourist who looks like they own no summer outfits and decided just buying shorts was enough to blend in.

  • Merrell Gore Tex Moab Shoes: Comfortable and durable, but too hot for this weather. They also feel like they might be a touch too small for me. I can feel my toes butting against the front of the shoe. This likely has a lot to do with my feet being swollen from the heat and the incredibly thick wool socks I'm wearing. My guess is the foam will compress over time and these will be fine.

  • Google Nexus 5x Phone: My Project Fi SIM card is supposed to give me data without switching SIM cards in 160 countries. So far all I can do is text. If this continues through other parts of Colombia and into other countries, the $600 I spent on this phone is going to be a painful waste.

  • Google Nexus 7 Tablet: Haven't used my tablet at all. I would assume once I calm down enough to actually read a real book, I will probably be glad to have this.