Month One Check-In: Nate

How are you feeling physically?

It's been a rough few weeks. 

Arriving in Cuenca we both had a week of stomach problems that kept us at home. We didn't really explore or enjoy Cuenca until we took some antibiotics and reset our digestive systems. I don't like taking antibiotics -  I think they have a negative impact on my healthy gut bacteria and immune system - and though we knew we would get sick at some point, we didn't expect to need medical intervention so soon. 

Thought you would enjoy this more than a photo of us pooping.

Thought you would enjoy this more than a photo of us pooping.

I want to stay in shape this year, but knowing I will have unreliable access to a gym, I've started following a body-weight exercise routine created and curated on reddit. It's been good. I'm gaining muscle and I enjoy having a routine. However, I also am continuing to gain a decent amount of fat. Eating out as often as we do requires a different mental calculus. At home, eating out is a special thing and I feel more license to indulge. Traveling, we eat out constantly, and I haven't yet figured out how to balance those two things. 

I couldn't possibly eat an entire loaf of bread for breakfast...AND IT'S GONE.

I couldn't possibly eat an entire loaf of bread for breakfast...AND IT'S GONE.

Overall, the long-story-short is that non-ideal physical environments, new food landscape and a lack of solid routine is stressful for the body and I am learning to adjust. 

How are you feeling mentally/emotionally?

I don't feel nearly as on top of my mental health as I am at home. There are a variety of factors that play into that here. 

At home I had a set of mental, physical and social habits that really kept me positive and productive. On the road, I've lost the ability to maintain most of those habits. I have a few new sources of positive mental energy- certainly the constant newness and variety of life here produces joy and gratitude - but the net result is negative. In addition, I'm finding that some of the normal personal habits I used successfully in the past year are no longer as effective as they once were. For example, there is so much uncertainty and variety in the coming year that doing positive visualization of things I'm looking forward to is difficult. 

Not seeing good friends while on the trip is hard.

Not seeing good friends while on the trip is hard.

In particular, I'm finding trouble making space and motivation for the kind of reflection that typically engenders gratitude and joy in my daily life. Time is so unstructured that it feels hard to get things done or set up any kind of structure. I've made some progress here in Cuenca but it still feels like I have a long way to go if I am going to be a location independent healthy and happy person.

Museo de Arte Moderno in Cuenca

Museo de Arte Moderno in Cuenca

However, I believe every problem is an opportunity. The things we do to take care of ourselves need to be updated as we go through life and if I can create a new set of things that keep me balanced that are location independent then I will be stronger than I was before. I will be able to stay happy and balanced anywhere under any circumstances, not just at home emmeshed in the structures of regular American life. 

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

All of my experiences in nature really leave a big impact on me. Our day in Cajas National Park was very impactful. Being enveloped in a new environment, separated  from all the normal life stuff helps give me perspective. 

Pargue Cajas just outside Cuenca

Pargue Cajas just outside Cuenca

There have also been some really excellent cultural experiences here. Getting foamed to death the weekend before carnival was pretty fun and great. 

I've also been really pleased with how quickly and easily  I have picked up more Spanish and been able to maintain full conversations. I'm very excited to figure out a regimen to gain basic speaking ability in all the languages we will encounter in the next few months.

What’s your least favorite part?

The thing I like the least is how much less often it feels like Jess and I are strongly connected. We have a good time together pretty much everyday and there are moments when a shared experience or new thing will create a moment of feeling deeply connected but so far the overall result of spending 24 hours a day together is less intense feelings of connection than I'm used to having at home. 

Typically, Jess coming home would be my favorite moment of the day. We had things to share, experiences and new things to talk about and we were really excited to see one another after time apart. None of that works right now. 

Museo de Arte Moderno in Cuenca

Museo de Arte Moderno in Cuenca

 I can't tell yet if this lower bandwidth feeling of connection is simply how this kind of experience is and will eventually reveal its own virtues or if the process of differentiating ourselves and our experience of the trip will progress to the point that we can find more moments to feel connected.  

Jess has suggested and I agree that more time apart would benefit us both. I'm struggling even to write about my experience over the last month separate from "our" experience given my familiarity with her experience of the day to day. 

In short, the trip is challenging relationship wise. But I expected no less and am confident this hardship or clarifying will only make us more buoyant and effective in the future. 

What have you learned about yourself?

As I noted at our last check in, I'm not as vigorous as I once was. (I think. Judging mental states over long gaps in time is certainly a dubious prospect.) I would say that I'm tired more often than I expected and the battle to stay out and try to have a bit more experience versus going home to recuperate is pretty constant. 

At home in Cuenca with Lupo the cat who is a dog who will destroy all your clothes if you don't pet him 24 hours a day.

At home in Cuenca with Lupo the cat who is a dog who will destroy all your clothes if you don't pet him 24 hours a day.

I've learned I'm pretty good with languages and that I do actually speak and understand Spanish. 

A few old things have been confirmed. Without a structure or some kind of deadlines, I'm not particularly productive. I enjoy new experiences but have to remind myself to put out the extra effort to pursue and engage with them. 

Even in this constantly new context, I am my old self with the same long standing challenges and strengths.

What have you learned about Jess?

I think I've learned just how much Jess relies on other people for support and expression. I certainly knew that between the two of us she is the more social and extroverted person but I don't think I knew just how much she relies on friends and family to express herself. It's part of the disconnect we feel at times on the trip. Both of us stressed and a bit worn out, she needs more interaction, I need less. We're still figuring that out. 

1 month check in- Jess friends.jpg

I also don't think I can fully understand how novel this experience of free time is for her. She'll remark daily what she would be doing if we were at home in our regular life. It's a great exercise for her. I think it keeps her present and grateful.

What this new kind of relationship to time will mean to her still seems to be in chrysalis for her. She expresses a lot of wonder and surprise about it without a strong set of conclusions to accompany it. I think she's doing a great job at enjoying it and I aspire to relax and enjoy myself as much as she does.

Jess has surprised me with her resilience and ability to adjust, which is a little weird for me to say now that I see it written down. I've always thought of Jess as extremely plastic and flexible in terms of her way of thinking and her attitude. I guess I expected her to be less able to handle the physical discomfort that accompanies travel in less developed places and the reality of having so many fewer choices in terms of our appearance, food and clothing. 

As per usual, she is a perennially optimistic and excited person. I feel very lucky to have her as a partner in life and travel.

How well did you pack?

I feel pretty good about my packing. I ditched two pairs of shorts, a t-shirt and a long sleeve shirt in Medellin and I haven't missed them. I think the general rule of needing only two outfits - one to wear, one to wash - is pretty good. 

I added a few new video reviews of gear that you can find on our Youtube page

THE GOOD:

  • Google Nexus 5x and Project Fi
    • When last we spoke, my Nexus had not yet figured out how to connect me with data. Since then its been pretty reliable and that access to data has been incredibly useful. My last truly long term trip was at the close of Peace Corps service in 2009 and its unbelievable how much easier it is to get around with a smartphone and data access.
    • That said, this certainly seems like a service that is still in development. My data connection gets dropped at times and I have to restart my phone. The speeds vary widely with the result that I can have data access but certain apps (in particular Tripadvisor) refuse to operate because they don't detect it. The customer service team at Google has been incredibly conscientious and involved when I've had problems but, it seems clear, have no real knowledge of the networks I am roaming on or how they might interact with the phone. They work hard to troubleshoot the phone and its setup but inevitably can't keep track of the multiple service providers and intricacies of data infrastructure in all the places we visit. I'm certain I will experience complete outages like I did in Cartagena and I'm dubious that there is anything their technical team will be able to do to fix it when it happens.
    • Other complaint is the inability to connect the phone to my Macbook Pro to download photos. I can't get Bluetooth to work and because the phone is USB-C I can't physically connect it to the computer (even with adaptor). This also means I have to carry an extra dedicated charger for the phone. Not ideal. No doubt in 2 years when everything is USB-C this won't be an issue. It is now. 
    • I should note that the camera on this phone is amazeballs. The fingerprint recognition unlock feature is a seamless security feature far better than Jess' iphone. 
  • Steri-Pen
    • Another pretty incredible advance for travelers, long or short term. This portable rechargeable UV light can be used to make water potable provided its clear of grit or sediment. It's a winner in so many ways. It drastically reduces costs, waste and its convenience ensures your are more hydrated than you would be otherwise.
    • My only note about it is that it really requires a large mouth water bottle like a Nalgene in order to be easy and reliable to use. I love our collapsible Vapour water bottles but their narrow mouth make cleaning water in them a nerve wracking proposition. Here in Cuenca we bought a cheap water pitcher and make water in it multiple times a day. 
  • Ice Breaker Collared Shirt
    • It's cool here and I wear this thing all the damn time. It's still incredibly comfortable, looks good with everything and hardly ever needs washing. It's worth $80.
  • Bluffworks Khakis
    • Similar to my Ice Breaker shirt, these things look great, are super functional and easy to care for. 
  • Patagonia Torrent Shell Rain Jacket
    • It rains a lot here.
  • Patagonia Down Sweater
    • It's cold when it rains.
  • Darn Tough Merino Wool Socks
    • These are definitely too thick to wear in 90' heat (like in Cartagena) but great otherwise. And frankly, if it's hot enough for these socks to not be working, then I should probably just be wearing sandals.
  • UE Mini Boom
    • Jess' instinct that having a good speaker with us was right on. We watch movies, listen to music and use it for Skype calls. It's great. We use it every night 
  • Mizzen and Main Dress Shirt
    • This was a last minute splurge gift from my mom and it is tremendously useful. I didn't realize how much I would enjoy having clothes that I actually like and look good in. the shirt is great for hot or cool environments and looks like a high quality dress shirt. It dries quick, never wrinkles and is easy to wash. Also super 'spensive. Like $125. But that's why someone else bought it for me. 

THE BAD:

  • GoPro
    • I spent considerable time and money on choosing extra batteries, a tripod, a selfie stick etc to make the fullest use of this camera but its hardly been used at all. It's too much trouble to take out, carry around and turn on and off when I have a tremendously good camera on my phone. 
    • It doesn't help that Cuenca is definitely not a locus of adventure activities. The GoPro will be great for more diving or other adventure activities, but as of yet, it's seen little action, takes up a lot of space and promises many hours of difficult video editing when I get around to emptying out what we have already shot, minimal though it may be.
  • Tortuga Day Pack
    • I really do think these guys design great stuff and the customer service I have experienced is top notch. Unfortunately, they clearly are unable to find a fabricator to make their stuff to a high level of quality. When I initially received my full size back pack, it had a stitching problem on the front pocket that caused me to return it. The new one that arrived had a similar problem though less severe. It was clear that the seam there was not being constructed well. 
    • Having now used the day pack for less than a month, the strap has already pulled apart from the back of the bag creating a small hole in the pack at the bottom. Emblematic of the low quality construction is the fact that having only experienced mild rain, the Tortuga logo on the back has already started peeling off. I know these guys would send me a replacement, but I don't have time for them to ship me a new one every two months while I'm moving from hostel to hostel every week. I'm already wondering if half way thru the year I'm going to need to buy an Osprey like Jess' which has bomb proof construction if less convenient design.