International date lines are a funny thing. I left Seoul, Korea at 4pm on August 2nd and arrived in Austin, TX at 11:45pm the same day after 25 hours of travel. That in itself was confusing, but coupled with an ugly dose of jet lag and a heavy dollop of reverse culture shock, I was a bit of a zombie for days.
A twelve-hour time difference is a tough thing to shake and there are really only two choices: force yourself to stay awake and adapt to the local time (2-3 days of misery) or give in and take naps to survive (a week of waking up at 3am, unable to sleep). I chose the first option, and my friends kindly kept me heavily medicated on cheap margaritas and massive plates of Tex-Mex. I couldn’t really tell where the jet lag ended and the hangover began and I was perfectly okay with that.
Eventually the haze cleared and I found myself waking up in a comfortable bed (with sheets and pillows and everything!) and wondering where the hell I was. While taking a hot shower (in a tub, no less — I didn’t have to stand next to a toilet or anything), it hit me: Oh yeah… I’m home.
Home for Good?
Oh, hell no — I’m here for six weeks or so, then I’m heading south to Central America. It’s great catching up with friends and family, stuffing myself stupid at my favorite cafes and restaurants, visiting old haunts and finding new ones, but I can feel the itch already. The road calls.
The culture shock hasn’t been as profound as I feared. I certainly feel like a stranger here but I’m not catatonic, or curled up in a corner whimpering. Well, okay, there was that first visit to a supermarket, but that was justified: an entire aisle devoted to breakfast cereal? Seriously?
Sticker shock… now, that’s a different beast entirely. I spent a week in Korea visiting my brother, so the prices here weren’t a complete shock but damn it’s expensive. After five months of eating amazing Thai meals for a dollar and drinking sixty cent fruit smoothies, paying three bucks for a coffee just boggles my mind. I tried to haggle the price down but the cashier threatened to call the cops.
Where to Next?
I’d planned on heading into Mexico next but have a chance to travel with a friend, so we’re flying to Honduras the first week of October to kick around for three weeks or so.
After that I’ll move into Guatemala and make my way through Central America over the next nine months or so. Hopefully my two years of high school Spanish will kick in (I can currently only find the beer and the bathroom, usually in that order).
In the meantime, I’ll be blogging about Austin, which really is a great city if you like food, drink and live music. I’ll share my favorite spots and try to ferret out the bargains, places where you can eat or drink without going broke. I’ve managed to land here during the hottest summer on record, of course.
One travel skill I have not mastered is the art of traveling with the seasons: I was in SE Asia during the summer, then Northern India and Nepal in the winter and now this. It will be rainy season in Honduras when I land there, so you can’t say I’m not consistent.
Umm… what happened to the itinerary?
Well, a funny thing happened along the way — about 6-8 months into the trip I realized that this is what I want to do with my life. With that realization (and a commitment to making it happen), I no longer had to be any one place at a certain time. I’m not trying to pack 18 countries into 12 months of travel. I missed a ton of places in SE Asia –despite being there for over a year– but I’ll make it back eventually.
Had I followed my planned route, I would have arrived in Cairo the week of the uprising. I kind of wish I had and I’m kind of glad I didn’t, but a travel blogger without internet access is a fairly useless creature so I guess it was for the best. I’ll make it there yet. For now, Central and South America are calling my name.
There isn’t one. I don’t know where I’m going or how I’ll get there. I just want to travel until it isn’t fun anymore, seeing and experiencing as much as I can. There’s so much to explore that one lifetime really isn’t enough, especially when you get off to a late start, as I did.
When I started this site, I dreamed that it would eventually be self-financing and that I could make a living traveling, writing and taking photos. After a year and a half, it’s finally at that point — I can honestly say that I’m a professional travel blogger.
It feels good.