Month One Check-In: Jess

How are you feeling physically?

I'm feeling pretty good!  

The transition to Ecuador was a rough one.  As soon as we checked into our apartment, we got hit with some pretty awful stomach problems.  After 5 days, we finally bought some Cipro from the pharmacy across the street, and things improved from there.  I've dealt with a minor cold, which is a pain but nothing major.  

The altitude here is serious (8,400 feet), so I'm finding that I get winded easily walking around the city and especially on the day we hiked in the national park nearby.

How are you feeling mentally/emotionally?

A whole lot more stable.  After a full month on the road, I no longer wake up in a panic wondering what the hell we're doing here.  Instead I wake up first wondering where I am exactly (are we still in Colombia?), then thinking about the stretch of day in front of me and what I want to do with it.  

Despite all my fears and anxiety, I am actually okay.  

We're here on this trip that we planned for such a long time.  Our budget is spot on, and we're able to stick to it with very little effort.  It sounds so dumb, but I didn't really think we'd be able to pull it off.  But lo and behold, here we are surviving.

That's not to say that there isn't emotional discomfort.  

Nate and I have still not mastered the art of getting the alone time we need, and this has led to us snapping at each other about little things that aren't really the issue.  

Today I said, "Can you PLEASE not throw my WHITE fleece on the ground?"  Translation: "Oh my God I can't believe you're still here in this tiny apartment.  Can't one of us please just go somewhere to breath?"  

So, yeah.  Not perfect yet.

Balancing down time is also a struggle.  On one hand, this is my mother effing vacation.  You know that vacation I worked so hard to fund?  So shouldn't I be allowed to nap in the middle of the day and eat Doritos until my stomach hurts and drink wine every night?  

Well, yes and no.  

Never before have I had this much free time.  I could master other languages!  I could get into the best shape of my life!  I could read all of the classics and finally learn to meditate and figure out how the hell you use Google Adwords.  So far I've read a few non-fiction books, but nothing noteworthy.  I am taking Spanish classes, but we could certainly be doing more to challenge ourselves there.

So there's the challenge.  How do I balance this amazing vacation I've created for myself with the desire to also make each and every day count?  

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

Oh man, so many things.

First off, I love having control over my time.  I love talking about WHICH cooking class we're going to take, not whether or not I can squeeze it in after work.  I'm really enjoying doing ONLY the things I really love and very little of the crappy stuff you have to do, like change the oil in your car or respond to your boss's emails.

Learning how to brew delicious Colombian coffee

Learning how to brew delicious Colombian coffee

I'm also really astounded by the natural beauty we've seen so far.  I would definitely not call myself an outdoorsy person, but the hikes we've taken have been really memorable.  When you're standing on a bluff at 13,000 feet looking out over a national park that frankly looks like a freaking Lord of the Rings set, you really feel like you're on a trip.  

Not a vacation, a trip.  

Everything around you is new and different in the best possible way, and it's a stunning reminder that you chose this big different thing.

What's your least favorite part so far?

Getting sick sucked, but that goes without saying.  

I like Cuenca, but it's not my favorite place so far, so I'm sort of kicking myself for having us stay for 3 whole weeks here when we could have gone to do natural hot springs in Banos or to see an active volcano.  That would have been cool.

Also, as mentioned there's guilt that accompanies too much down time.  Like guilt that we should be doing something really deep and memorable instead of watching Ratatouille while we cook pasta carbonara in our little kitchen.

I'm hoping we can figure out a balance between the two so we can feel confident each day that we're making the most of this precious time away.

What have you learned about yourself?

Honestly, I thought I would miss work.  

That might sound stupid, but I thought I'd miss the feeling of importance.  Like, "Oh excuse me, I have to respond to this pressing e-mail."  I thought I'd miss my title and my office and the alert on my phone telling me I had a meeting in 15 minutes.  

It turns out my place in the world doesn’t really revolve around my career.

To be honest, I never even think about it.  

A former colleague emailed me about a manuscript I helped work on for a scientific journal, and she asked for my bio.  I stared at the screen for several minutes trying to remember my old title.  You know, the title of the job I literally just left one month ago... I even asked Nate.  He had no idea.  "I know it was Administrative Director of something..."  It finally came to me, but it struck me as interesting that I've already distanced myself that much mentally from work.

Enjoying the Modern Art Museum.

Enjoying the Modern Art Museum.

It turns out my place in the world doesn't really revolve around my career.  Not that it's not important to me and will be when I return, but I'm certainly not lost without the business card.  

I feel like I'm learning more about what my interests are, how I'd really like to spend my time.  

I've been surprised to find that I've never stopped loving languages.  Talking about preterite vs. imperfect Spanish conjugation actually gets me going.  I've been excited to go to Spanish school each day and am soaking up the local sayings, anxious to prove how much of a native I can sound like.  It's a love I had in college.  I can remember how alive and amazing I felt studying Spanish in Seville, Spain, that Summer my junior year.  Turns out that never really left.

What have you learned about Nate?

In terms of bodily fluids, I've learned so much.  When you both have a major stomach bug and the bathroom in your tiny loft apartment doesn't even have ceilings that completely close it off, you learn a lot.  I have wrapped my head in a sheet to block out smells.  Conversations about our bowel movements are frequent and highly detailed.  

Having breakfast in Ipiales, Colombia

Having breakfast in Ipiales, Colombia

More seriously, I'm learning that Nate carries a lot of guilt about relaxing.  

He constantly feels this "carpe diem" push to relish each and every day and to make everything count, and that's been incredibly motivating for him when working towards a goal, but it doesn't always help him appreciate when he's reached one.

Already this trip, Nate is creating new goals about even higher amounts of money we could save this year (yes, while still traveling).  He's made a list of all of the aspirational places he wants to visit that we can't see on this trip because of our current budget- Antarctica, Japan, the Galapagos.  

Nate in awe of how high up he is

Nate in awe of how high up he is

It's exciting to talk about these big goals, but I think it's also difficult for him to just stay.  To enjoy where he is right now on this trip with no major to-do lists or work pending.  To really celebrate the things he's already worked so hard to accomplish.

How well did you pack?

I packed pretty well.  Cuenca is chilly and rainy, so I haven't seen my shorts or skirt in a few weeks, but my colder weather gear is really perfect so far.

I do have a few techy shirts that I'm not loving.  I bought two really expensive travel shirts from ExOfficio thinking they'd be great because they're antimicrobial (whatever that means) and wick away sweat and quick dry and tell you you're pretty, etc, etc.  

Turns out I just look like a goober that bought travel gear.  

I just don't feel like myself in them and so I haven't been wearing them as much.  On the other hand, my normal, everyday shirts and jeans are getting a ton of usage.  

I've also been loving a few key travel items we bought for this trip that I've never used before.  I wrote a separate post about those 7 items here.