Thursday, July 5, 2007

Back Home and Summary

We are back home now and struggling to remember not to put the loo paper in the bin beside the toilet but in the toilet bowl, to use tap water to brush our teeth and not grab a bottle of water, and not to roll up toilet paper and stuff it in our pocket first thing in the morning. E-mails have been flying amongst the members of the Truck group listing first meals or food eaten when we arrived home: these include: Sunday roast, filet mignon, Heinz baked beans, proper fry up, curry, bacon, cheese on toast, lea and perrins, PG tips and I add proper milk, good bread and rolls. Of course we cannot replace the amazing variety and wholesome taste of the fruit and vegetables and the best meat in the world in Argentina.

Since we have come home, friends have asked us various questions including: “What is it like to be back home after 4 months away?”; “Are you happy to be home?”; ”Would you do another overland truck trip?”; “What did you learn through doing the trip?”. I’ll try and answer some of these questions briefly. (I just re-read this post and I don't think its quite "briefly"!)

By the end of 17 weeks away, we were excited to come home to Canada. Three months away did not seem long enough, but four months seemed just perfect. I think it would have been the same had it been longer, because it was not that we wanted the trip to be over, but knowing that the end was coming, we started to think about home, seeing Alanna, re-connecting with friends, and getting back into a routine – ugh, I hate routines – but getting back to doing something more constructive. We were really excited to see Alanna. Four months plus is a long time to be away from your daughter. I just wanted to be with her, chat with her, do things with her, and give her a huge, huge, hug and hold her oh so close!

I am amazed at how easy it has been to slip back into every day life in Canada. Dare I say that it feels as if we haven’t been away? Despite this, there is however, a heightened awareness of our surroundings. For example, everything seems so “ordered”. While driving home and into Uxbridge the other day, I looked out of the car window over the country side. It was richly green, fences and rows of trees lined the fields, the roads were paved with regular hard or soft shoulders on either side, houses were neat and tidy, towns were garbage free, and the buildings were either in the process of active construction or completely finished. There is also an element of “boring”. I met an American on our travels who had done a couple of years with the Peace Corps in South America, went back to the States for a year and a half, and decided to go back to live in South America because he found the States boring. I didn’t have time to ask him to expand on this, and I couldn’t understand what he meant. But, maybe he felt as we have felt. In South America there is always something happening around you, not necessarily big things like being in the middle of a shooting, but small things. For example: the street life in the towns and cities and even the countryside, its alive, people are animated and expressive, there is often a van going around with a loud speaker broadcasting some local event; in the citites people hang out of buses and vans shouting out the route; dogs are fighting, or you can just watch the dogs patrolling their territories; their might be cows, or sheep or llamas or other animals on the road. Finally, the people are never complacent or apathetic. They are actively involved in their country’s politics and they all have strong opinions about current issues – hence there is heated discussions, and lots of demonstrations about any issue. There is always some type of sports game going on, either football, volleyball, or some game where a ball about the size of a squash ball is hit back and forward over a net with the hand volley-ball style. We never did find out the name, but if you know it, let us know.

Then, the big question, “Would we do another overland truck trip?” Looking at the pros and cons of overland truck trips we came up with the following. First, the pros. Travelling by truck as opposed to local transport offers a certain degree of personal safety both from the point of view of safe travel on the roads, and from the point of view of lack of opportunities to be robbed, held up, abducted, etc. Although, having said this, I have heard that particularly in Africa, thieves have targeted some of the overland trucks from time to time. As well, the tour leader and driver take care of all of the organization, border crossings, documentation, hostel/hotel and camp site bookings, etc., therefore you are not dealing with local authorities over passport issues etc. When we arrived in a town, our tour leader would have all the activities pre-arranged, all we had to do was decide which we wanted to do and confirm with the tour company. At all times we could do our own research and chose another tour company, but why would we when Oasis has the experience of knowing the reputable companies from the non-reputable ones? Further, local transport in South America is often subject to delay and cancellation. I don’t think that we could have covered as much ground in 105 days if we were doing our own bookings using local transport. Our third pro is companionship. We heard people who were traveling on their own, talk about being lonely, and saying how happy they were to meet and spend time with the Truck group.

With respect to the cons of overland truck travel we identified the following. First, lack of flexibility. You are pretty well tied to a routine and a route, however, it was always possible to leave the truck if you really wanted to stay somewhere, and catch it up again further on – at your own expense obviously. Second, it is easier to remain isolated from the locals if you do not make an effort to be independent of the people on the truck; and thirdly, you are basically stuck with the same people throughout the trip and there are always people in the group whose habits clash with your own ideals. It takes maturity to maintain your own identity on the trip and not to compromise your own character, beliefs, etc.

So what sort of person could manage a truck trip happily? I would say someone with the following: First, a love of road travel. You have to enjoy driving trips, sitting in a vehicle and finding ways to amuse yourself, if you find this boring, don’t do it. Second, you need to be flexible. You have to contend with a lot of diversity. Not only are the people on your truck group likely to be of different ages, sexes, and nationalities, but you have to contend with the diversities in the countries you are visiting. Also, you need to accept the unexpected without concern. Third, you should like people and be tolerant of their differences; there is good in everyone, but if you have trouble finding it, you will be miserable.

Understanding the above pros and cons, we would definitely take another overland truck trip. Based on the experiences we had with our own and other truck groups (Budget, Kumuka, Bukima, Exodus, Dragoman, etc.) we would be vigilant in checking out the following: (a) information regarding the number and age groups of fellow travelers; (b) reputation and stability of the trucking company; (c) reputation and driving record of the driver and tour leader; (c) design of the truck and participation required by passengers. We were so lucky! Our truck group was diversified and terrific, Tony our driver was amazingly competent and safe, and Diana, our group leader, was confident, well organized, and responsive in emergency situations.

And what did the trip teach us? Firstly, an abundance of knowledge about the 7 countries we visited, about the experiences we had, and about living within a close community. Second, humility. When you compare the human life to the magnitude of our universe, our lives are but a split nano second. Third, not to “sweat the small stuff”. The South American attitude of “its not a problem” is healthy. You notice it in all aspects of life. Ask a North American server to serve you an un-refrigerated beer and they look at you as if you are crazy and make a big deal about finding one. Ask a South American server, and they will smile at you, and find one immediately, even if it means sending someone out of the restaurant to get it elsewhere, and serve it to you as if everyone else had the same request! Fourthly, we don’t need half the possessions we have to live happily and comfortably.

One of the interesting things to me is that life never stands still, and while we were away traveling, all kinds of mainly good, but sadly some bad, things happened in our friends lives. We tried to keep in touch with as many people as possible, probably in some cases communicating more than we would have done had we been in Canada. But that is the beauty of e-mail and I just love the ability to be in constant communication with our friends. Here are some of the things that happened in our friends lives that we are happy to hear about:

Sam’s pups (remember the beautiful Irish Setter in one of my first posts) have grown up and left her with the exception of “Alfie“, who is now a healthy, robust five month old puppy and driving Sam, John and Pauleen nuts with his exuberance. I am waiting for a picture of Alfie and will post it as soon as I can. (Pauleen????)

Tam, our neighbour, is expecting her first baby on September 11. She is threatening to call him/her “Osama”!!

Two of our friends’ daughters have become engaged: Joanna Cooke, and Jenetta Vena.

Lloyd and Sherry had a wonderful holiday in Mexico in March; Roger and Joanne had a dream holiday in May celebrating their 30th wedding anniversary with a trip through Italy, France and Spain.

Pat and Richard have made lifestyle changes and are selling their beautiful home in Etobicoke to purchase a condo in High Park and a condo in Collingwood. Great decision – and we look forward to spending relax time with you on the Bay.

Brian has got a new job, and he and Teresa have sold their awesome home in Wayne Pennsylvania and moved to Annapolis, Maryland. We hope to take them up on their offer to visit!

Sadly, while we were away, Donna lost her Mother, and a business associate of mine, Kevin Munro, passed away.

So life goes on.

Finally, a huge “thank you” to Peter and John for checking through our house, and keeping it safe, to Matt for his virgin snow tracks in the driveway, and to Pat and Richard for taking such loving care of our moggy Chloe. You made our holiday so much happier by being so generous with your time and caring.

And to everyone who emailed us, and sent comments on our blog, thank you for participating in our trip of a lifetime.

So, now all that is left is to get on with life, …. and plan the next trip! I am working on Ray to do a 20 week trip from Tunisia to Bejeing. Any takers to come with us?

Keep in touch!! …. And stayed tuned! There is more trekking in the offing! Also, we are frantically trying to sort out our photos to add some to the last posts on the blog. Maybe check back around the end of July and see whats new!