Three Month Check-in: Jess

How are you feeling physically?

Since we transitioned from South America to Africa, I've been much lazier.  While I wasn't exercising at a gym, we were doing a lot of physical things from hiking the Inca Trail to white water rafting in the Sacred Valley.  

In our first week here in Cape Town, I'm mostly eating and drinking.  Which is amazing since the food scene here is incredible, but it also means I've been feeling more lethargic in addition to the jet lag that plagued me the first few days.  

Having tapas in Cape Town.

Having tapas in Cape Town.

Flying to a time zone 8 hours ahead really messed me up, and for a few nights I was falling asleep past 2 a.m. and dragging myself out of bed at 11 a.m.  Luckily we hadn't planned too much and could account for the extra sleep.

We spent more than a month at altitude (like over 9,000 ft), so now that we're at sea level, I have visions of myself going for runs along the beautiful Cape Town coast.  So far it's been mostly drinking white wine, but I'll keep you posted.

How are you feeling mentally/emotionally?

You would think that after three months of transitions, I would accept that changes on the trip are hard for me.  Every time we've moved from one country to another, I've felt lost and disoriented.  

Our hectic arrival to La Paz

Our hectic arrival to La Paz

As can be expected, Africa is very different from South America.  I'm disoriented by only speaking English and never hearing Spanish.  In Sao Paulo I spoke Spanish exclusively to the flight crews despite everyone clearly being Brazilian and speaking Portuguese.  

It's weird that I can understand everyone around me and now can eavesdrop without having to intensely focus on translating.  And I can easily walk up to someone and ask a question, where in South America I would have to look up a few words and steel myself for the interaction.

Cape Town is also incredibly nice compared to La Paz.  We can drink the tap water, which is pretty groundbreaking, and bathrooms are spotless compared to what I've gotten used to.  I'm no longer stuffing toilet paper in all of my jacket pockets in preparation for not having any.  

The food here is international and so far we've had Asian noodles, schwarma, sushi, and great wine, all things that either didn't exist in South America or just weren't that great (except in Lima- the sushi was amazing there).  

Yellow tail with mint, basil and cucumbers.  YUM.

Yellow tail with mint, basil and cucumbers.  YUM.

In the bigger picture of the trip, I'm feeling settled in a way that's less fun.  In the beginning of the trip I just couldn't get over waking up when I wanted, going to a movie at 1 p.m. on a Tuesday, doing basically what I wanted when I wanted without the stress of checking work e-mail.  Nate used to laugh as I checked my watch several times a day saying, "Okay so at this time I'd be arriving to my office and logging into my Outlook."  

Now I'm sad to say that I rarely even think about it.  On one hand, it means I've fully settled into this travel schedule.  But it also means I'm not as readily grateful I was.  

That's something I'd like to work on.  

Everyone we encounter (readers here and in person on our trip) exclaim how rare it is that we're here and not at home.  How this is a "once in a lifetime trip" and that we should "savor every moment of it."  

The truth is, it's hard to be ecstatic all the time.  

Just like back at home, sometimes I'm grumpy.  Sometimes I look at a beautiful sunset and think, "Meh."  I know this makes me sound awful and that everyone sitting back at home will think I'm ungrateful.  It's not that.  It's just- I think everyone's as happy as they decide to be.  Although a trip like this will allow you to see incredible things, and I know I'm growing as a person, it won't miraculously make you a happy person every day.  If you're happy at home, you'll be happy on a yearlong trip.  If you're generally unhappy at home, I don't feel confident that a trip like this would make it happen for you.  

What's your least favorite part of the last month?

In Bolivia, we decided to bike Death Road in La Paz.  Heralded as "the most dangerous road in the world" from traffic accidents and biker deaths each year, it's a 30 mile downhill stretch along the edge of a mountain with no guard rails.  

Death Road outside of La Paz, Bolivia.

Death Road outside of La Paz, Bolivia.

The night before we went, I laid awake in bed worrying that one of us would go over the edge.  I confessed to Nate that I was freaking out, and he snuggled me and told me lies like, "Oh, baby, it's just called that for marketing.  No one dies doing this."  Turns out, a woman died the day after we went.  Yep, just biked right off the edge.  

Luckily, we didn't die, but I did flip my bike TWICE, once landing dangerously close to the ledge.  A fellow biker stopped to make sure I was okay, and when he saw how close I was to the edge, calmly said, "You're going to need to scoot to your right now, okay?"  I was too busy assessing the damages to see how close I was, thank god.  The second time I flipped and my bike LANDED ON ME.  Can you tell I'm not the most sporty person?  The whole day was really fun, but I left bruised and battered, and dealing with massive scrapes the next few days was painful.

Mountain bike scrape!  Ouch.  

Mountain bike scrape!  Ouch.  

What's your favorite part of the last month?

Honestly, I didn't know much about Bolivia before we went.  And we really only built it into our itinerary because Nate found incredible business-class flights from La Paz to Lima for $160.  So we figured we'd just zip over from Peru into Bolivia a day or two before our flights to Africa.  

Then we found out that Bolivia charges a reciprocal visa fee to Americans for $160 USD per person.  

Ouch.  

Waiting in line at the bank to pay our Bolivian visa fees.

Waiting in line at the bank to pay our Bolivian visa fees.

We decided to make Bolivia "worth it" by spending more time there, so we bused from Puno, Peru, over to Copacabana, a tiny little town on Lake Titicaca, the world's highest navigable lake.  

Lake Titicaca

Lake Titicaca

After a day boating around and generally getting ripped off (Bolivia is a much poorer country, so we found ourselves fighting more over charges there), we bused on to La Paz.  That's where we biked Death Road and booked a three day, two night tour through Southern Bolivia, which was beautiful.  

I repeatedly said profound things like, "Shut up. This is not Planet Earth."  It was strange and breathtaking.  

Flamingo in a red lagoon with a semi active volcano behind.

Flamingo in a red lagoon with a semi active volcano behind.

In the end, Bolivia's been our underdog country.  I'm glad we got to spend some time there.

Aside from that, my favorite part was our business-class flights to Cape Town.  Is that bad?  

Having dinner in business class

Having dinner in business class

I don't consider myself to be a rich person and the only other time I've ever not flown coach was on a flight from LA to Beijing where I randomly got upgraded.  It was the best thing ever.  

We had a total of four flights from South America to South Africa, which normally would wear me out, but Nate's mileage hacking paid off, and we spent those days relaxing in VIP lounges drinking champagne and overeating free snacks.  It was the best.

Passed out in our bed/seats on our flight!

Passed out in our bed/seats on our flight!

What have you learned about yourself?

One thing that I haven't quite figured out is how to balance comfort and adventure.  

Some of the most memorable parts of this trip so far have been incredibly physically uncomfortable.  Nate and I watched the sun rise over the water from a night train in Bolivia.  I will never forget how strange and lovely it was to wake up to such a beautiful sight so far from home and everything I know.

But at the time, I'd also gone several days without showering, was wearing old dirty clothes, had a massive scrape on my arm that was still healing and had eaten pizza way too many times in a row.  I was in desperate need of a real bed and a hot shower and any kind of vegetables at all.  

On the flip side, our business-class flights were so comfortable (am I talking too much about these flights?).  The fancy lounges had showers with rain-water shower heads, and the free food just meant that I totally overate and overdrank.  

Business class, baby.

Business class, baby.

So much free food in the VIP lounges!

So much free food in the VIP lounges!

Here in Cape Town, Nate used points to get us six free nights at a nice Holiday Inn right in the city center.  It has what feels like the nicest shower I've ever encountered in my life.  And the bed is amazing.  It has sheets on it that aren't my improvised sleep sack and blow up camping pillow.  And there are little free soaps and CONDITIONER and a hair dryer, which I haven't seen in more than 3 months and keep forgetting to use.  

All this to say, it's so nice here.  

But that also means I almost never want to leave the hotel bed.  So we haven't seen as much of Cape Town as I'd like, and we definitely haven't done anything slightly uncomfortable like hike around Table Mountain like we talked about wanting to.  

I don't have a solid conclusion from this.  Just know that I'm working out how much comfort and adventure I'd like to make this trip memorable and still make it out alive.

What have you learned about Nate?

Nate has a strong connection to Africa because he spent a year living in Kenya when he was in the Peace Corps.  Because he sort of called "dibs" on the planning for this leg of the trip, I've taken a backseat to doing research.  

Recently, this resulted in me having no earthly idea how to plan our upcoming four-week road trip through South Africa, Botswana and Namibia, which culminated in an unhappy Nate.

Nate and friend Adam planning out our road trip through southern Africa.

Nate and friend Adam planning out our road trip through southern Africa.

I thought that my letting him take the lead on research and planning that I was doing him a favor, but he just ended up feeling overburdened by the number of decisions that had to be made and annoyed at my "I have no idea, baby, let's just go and figure it out" attitude.  

Preparing for our road trip through southern Africa, Nate tested out our borrowed tent in the kitchen of our Airbnb apartment in Cape Town.  Success.

Preparing for our road trip through southern Africa, Nate tested out our borrowed tent in the kitchen of our Airbnb apartment in Cape Town.  Success.

Turns out, you kinda have to plan these things.  They don't just work out magically because you want them to.  

So after a few tense days and then a discussion about it over lunch, we identified that Nate was feeling resentful at how checked out I'd been.  So I put my big girl pants on and spent some time with the guide book building out a day-by-day itinerary with drive times and links to national parks where we can camp.  He took that breather to sort out a lot of the additional gear we'll need to get like binoculars and a sleeping mat.  

It's all coming together, but it definitely took some navigating between the two of us so we didn't kill each other.