Friday, February 8, 2013

It's so easy

People talk about how they feel after traveling abroad for awhile so we were curious as to how we would feel during our few days in LA prior to renewing our travels in New Zealand, Australia, Indonesia and Malaysia.  We have been back only two days but have one dominating thought:  It's so easy.

While traveling for the last few months in South America, we had incredible experiences with people, nature, and domestic animals.  Each day was an adventure and the vast majority were rewarding, stimulating, educational, and some, even mind-boggling.  However, each day was also a struggle.  Every day required us to figure out the basic necessities of our lives.  Where would we sleep, how could we move from point A to point B, how would we get drinkable water, what could we safely eat, and how could we find public toilets?  Those basics of life were being executed in second and third world nations in a language that was foreign to us and in societies that were novel.   Some days were more complicated as we sought medical assistance or tried to communicate with financial institutions in the United States.  Getting money was much harder after we were robbed of the easiest tools for accessing our resources.  Transportation was challenging and often fraught with greater risks.

In LA, we slipped into a rental car (prearranged by bidding on Priceline) at a daily rate one-fifth of what we paid the two times we rented in Chile.  While our phone was shut off, it still provided GPS map service given the coverage in Southern California.  We were able to see a podiatrist in the morning and get a same day dental appointment in the afternoon while driving safely through, for the most part, paved, well-marked streets.  Our beloved Tito's Tacos provided some of the safest, quickest, and most delicious food we had eaten this month, and Trader Joe's supplied our healthy dinner.  Our best friend Lisa's house and our cousin Michele's home were warm, secure, and welcoming with a refrigerator full of good food.  There was excellent coffee for breakfast rather than the freeze dried Nescafe beloved by people to the south.  And everywhere we went, there were toilets with toilet paper provided (a rarity in South America) and the ability to flush it into a system terminating in a wastewater treatment plant rather than turning a local river a frothy, chocolate brown.  As we stopped briefly at a CVS pharmacy, the array of choices for our needs was truly staggering as well as was the quality and, overall, lower prices. 

It's easy here and we did not understand the difference until we sold everything, put on packs, and chose a distant land for our destination.  We cannot say the experience has made us more grateful as each day of our lives we recognized we were two of the luckiest people to have ever walked the planet.  Perhaps it just makes us more certain of the truth behind that statement.

We are curious as to how we will feel in both New Zealand and Australia and suspect it will feel much the same as being in the United States given a common language and first-world infrastructure.  Indonesia, Malaysia and Southeast Asia lay before us as well, and we know that those cultures have much to teach us about ourselves and others.  It is almost time to put on the freshly washed clothes and packs and begin again.....

Posted in Irvine, CA.  Pictures are of our cousin Michelle and Sally at In-N-Out Burger and Sally getting a much needed haircut!

Monday, February 4, 2013

Kids Again

As we head out of Latin America, we decided to finish this part of our "hundred stories" with two of our favorite events.  Both were unexpected in the power they had to tap into our deepest childhood memories.

Outer space

My dream as I was growing up was to become an astronomer.  At the age of seven, I was totally captivated when Sputnik was launched.  Space captured my imagination, and I spent many hours gazing skyward, identifying constellations and looking for planets.  As the space race began, I became especially interested in the Gemini and Apollo projects and kept a thick scrapbook of newspaper clippings concerning each mission.

As happens many times in life, as I grew older, I followed many different paths and left my dreams of astronomy behind.  Though still perking my interest when major stories concerning the skies, heavenly bodies, and space craft were broadcast, I no longer pursued my dream with the energy I had displayed in my earlier years.  

Dreams have a way of being realized sometimes in the future.  Last night I had the opportunity to realize a part of my dreams in a major way when I was able to stand, awestruck, in the middle of a giant observatory and watch as it "woke up" to the night sky.  My guide in this miraculous opportunity was a young astronomer who is just now beginning his lifetime journey investigating the vast universe through the lens of the incredible scope housed in this structure.  

As I stood in silent wonder, the walls of the observatory began to rotate, giving me a sense of vertigo.  The walls opened and as I looked up to the top of the dome, it, too began to slowly expose the scope to the sky as the center piece receded back onto itself.  The huge blue supporting arms reached high and, as the surreal experience continued, the entire structure began to tip toward me, slowly revealing the majestic mirror, looking like a sea of quivering, silver mercury encased in a huge blue dish.  As the blackness of night closed in around the observatory, we adjourned to the grounds outside the awesome structure, pausing to watch as more and more stars took their age old places in the heavens.  Then, within a predesigned plan, a laser beam shot an eerie,  straight orange line from the scope far, far into space.  Against the blackness of the night time sky, it was an incredible sight.

As we left the observatory late that night, I was humbled and filed with wonder as I again was a child of seven gazing into the vastness of the heavens.....  

Inner Planet

"I had thought they would be gone" was the answer to why I was crying.  I couldn't figure it out.  The Chilean captain had announced that blue whales were off the port side of the ferry and as I rushed out to see them, I caught my first glimpse of the biggest mammal that has ever existed on the planet.  As I watched the four individuals dive and move around the ship, I started to cry.  

Deep emotion is often connected to deep, long un-accessed memory.  As I searched for the root of my tears, I remembered an eight-year-old Jess doing her "show and tell" presentation on "endangered species," a new concept after the 1973 act signed by Nixon became law.  I had chosen "Blue Whales" and pasted pictures of them and sea life into a shoebox diorama.  My report to my third grade class was about how we had overhunted them to probable extinction and less than 1% of the intelligent giant denizens of the deepest ocean were left.....yet the hunting continued.

At the tender age of eight, I mourned their loss from my planet.  I thought they were gone.  Yet, there they were before me on a cold day near the coast of Chiloe Island.  A few thousand exist, persisting and surviving.  Seeing them wild and free made me cry tears of deep joy and gave me hope for other species, including our own.

Posted from Santiago, Chile