Monday, 26 March 2012

We're Not Fighting, We're Disgusting

Disclaimer: This post is long and largely personal, even by my standards. If you could care less about Vincent and me and are just here for the pictures and information about travel destinations, please accept my apologies in advance and go buy a Lonely Planet.

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Being in a couple is hard.

Don't get me wrong, I love Vincent very much and we have a great marriage, but even the best relationships can be a challenge. Regardless, after nearly ten years together and a few hundred "discussions"* about everything from whether to have kids to where to put the kitchen sponge, things generally run pretty smoothly at the Bertot household.

(*As a random side note, I learned to say "discussing" instead of "fighting" from my parents, who, when we kids implored them to "stop fighting," would always respond, "We aren't fighting, we're discussing." One time, my little brother and I were playing in my room when we heard shouting from downstairs. David, who as a five-year-old didn't have the strongest grasp on the English language, turned to me and said in a matter-of-fact tone, "Mom and Dad aren't fighting, they're disgusting.")

But traveling as a couple, especially long term travel, is hard. Traveling raises new issues, creating even more topics that need to be "discussed."

The steepest hurdle that we have faced while on the road is the fact that traveling together, unlike in real life where our jobs provide us with a daily 10-hour respite from one another, forces us to spend 24 hours a day, seven days a week together. That doesn't sound like it should be that difficult for two people in love, but think about it: no alone time; no time with just your friends; no one else to confide in or talk to.

Just the two of you.

All. The. Time.

For the first two weeks of the trip, we felt like we were on vacation- we liked being together all the time and congratulated ourselves for being so rock-solid that we didn't need anything but each other to be entertained. As my brother (who has grown into a remarkably witty, articulate young man, despite his early confusion with words) always says: no one was as cool as we thought we were. That was Vincent and me at the beginning of the trip.

By Week 4, we were ready to kill each other.

Slowly, we learned that we needed some time apart from one another in order to appreciate our time together. We started actually blocking off designated alone time and changing our habits so that we each felt like two independent individuals instead of some two-headed couple monster created from a pair of people who were fused together against their wills. You know that old saying, "How can I miss you if you won't leave?" Well, from experience, I can say that it is painfully on point.

Granted, we didn't come to that conclusive solution by simply "discussing" it like civilized adults. No, we were in denial about just how much we needed to change our ways until a theatrical, quasi-public blow-up in a hostel courtyard.

Now, before I tell you all of the embarrassing, ugly details (and you know I will. Over-sharing is kinda my thing.), let me first preface the following by saying that I am a firm believer in fighting fairly. I think that losing your temper is childish and weak, and that getting ugly while fighting- I mean discussing- can have serious negative effects on your relationship. I generally hold to this principle and pride myself on keeping things mature and civil during a disagreement.

But not this time.

Vincent and I had been at each others' throats for a week or so, and despite recognizing that we needed more alone time, hadn't actually changed anything to make that a reality. I have no idea how the fight started, but it culminated with Vincent laying in a hammock, pointedly and disrespectfully ignoring my attempts to communicate with him (which makes me crazy. Like, The Incredible Hulk, rip-your-shirt-off-and-overturn-a-car insane) and me standing on the other side of the open public space, facing him, slightly bent forward at the waist, fists clenched into little balls at my sides, eyes bulging and face contorted with a fiery rage.

"Fuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuck yoooooooooooooooou!," I bellowed, in a deep, guttural voice, not unlike the little girl from The Exorcist, before turning on my heels and stomping away, right arm stretched as far as it would reach over my head with my middle finger waving spectacularly in the air back towards the direction of my husband.

I abruptly turned the corner, causing the cleaning lady, who had been pretending not to watch our drama, shriek and back out of my way against the wall.

Once inside, I couldn't help but peek back around the corner to witness the effect my outburst had caused. But when I looked back, there was Vincent, pretending to read like nothing had happened.

Ignoring me.
Again.

For half a second, I fantasized about busting through the courtyard wall like the Kool-Aid Man and ripping Vincent's head off. But instead, I did what any normal person would do: I dissolved into dramatic, self-pitying tears, ran to our room and curled up in the fetal position on the floor.

Which is where Vincent found me later when he decided to make sure I hadn't blown a fuse completely and came to make peace. We had a long, long, long discussion about how we needed to make some serious changes to our situation, which had obviously gotten ridiculously out of hand. I mean, I couldn't even brush my damn teeth without asking Vincent where he had put the one tube of toothpaste that we shared. Something had to give.

And it did. We have learned that we don't need to do everything as a team. We have to trust each other to make good decisions for the couple and not constantly be peering over each others' shoulders. I can be trusted to go to the store on my own and come back with something other than popcorn and beer (most of the time) and Vincent can be trusted to buy bus tickets without consulting me on the seat location. Our team is stronger when we allow ourselves to divide and conquer our responsibilities and spend our together time actually enjoying each others' company.

So that is the challenge, and believe me, it's a big one that we have to constantly struggle with. But that said, I can't imagine doing this trip without Vincent.

When we aren't wanting to strangle each other, we are sharing an experience that is strengthening our bond and challenging us to be more patient, more caring, more open people. Every new struggle- a missed bus, a room so tiny that we are literally running into each other, two weeks of sleeping in bunk beds- forces us to grow; while every good experience allows us to appreciate what we have.

Traveling with Vincent means having someone with whom I can share that amazing chorizo sandwich or make fun of that guy posing in front of the salt flats in jean shorts with his shirt off, flexing his abs so hard for the camera that he ignores his facial expression and ends up looking constipated and angry about it.

I have someone to help me climb back down the canyon wall and who will carry the six-liter bottle of water that I impulsively bought back to our hostel. I have someone to tell me that wearing one long earring like the Argentine girls looks dopey, and who will assure me that having a beer at 10:15am is ok as long as it's with food.

I have someone who might be pissed (and I do mean pissed) at me for losing my fleece (and my tank top, and my headphones), but who will still let me borrow another layer when I'm cold. Vincent is my emotional crutch, my comic relief and my excuse when I don't want to go out to the bar with that weird German girl who keeps trying to be my friend.

There is no one else in the world besides Vincent that I could travel like this with and no one else I'd rather be with on this adventure.

Traveling as a couple isn't easy- in fact, it's really, really difficult. But I'd rather have to deal with being scolded for losing yet another pair of underwear, than to have no one to hug in wonder when the fog starts to clear, and Machu Picchu comes into view.

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Frambuesas! y Nueces!

Picking raspberries beneath soaring granite mountains. Laughing with a local family over home-cooked meals. Grabbing ripe apples directly off the branch when we want a snack. And all of this before we retire to our cozy log cabin in a corner of the farm and make a fire in our wood-burning stove.

Did I mention that all of this is free?

Well I guess not entirely free. For six hours a day (five days a week) of our time and labor, we have our cabin, breakfast and lunch provided, and weekends free in an area of Argentina where there are more hikes than we could do in a year.

That's the deal for two weeks of volunteering on an organic farm in El Bolson, Argentina, in northern Patagonia. And I have to say: we are loving it.

A typical day starts at 8:00am for breakfast with the other three volunteers before working from 9:00-12:00. Lunch is prepared either by a volunteer or by the hosts and is eaten with the group around 12:30 or 1:00pm. We then clean up the kitchen and have a break until 3:00pm, when we start working again until 6:00pm. It goes pretty fast and the work isn't too physically demanding.

Where the actual work is concerned, I will admit that we were a bit naive in our expectations. When we decided to make volunteering a part of our trip, we saw it as an opportunity to learn important skills that we could use later for a possible career change. So far, we have learned the useful, resume-building competencies of collecting walnuts, digging up weeds and separating raspberries based on their ripeness. Heavy stuff.
I actually really love picking raspberries. Dead serious.
Miss March of the "Lesbian Farmers of Patagonia" Calendar 2012

Despite the rudimentary work, we are absolutely loving working outside and being active all day long. The farm itself is gorgeous and set in a stunning location, and it's nice to be in one place for more than a week.
My dog Mia. She loves me almost as much as I love her (but apparently not enough to open her eyes for our family portrait...)
Sunset on the mountains that overlook the farm
An aperitif on our makeshift patio

 This place is over-run by adorable fluffy things.
I have no witty caption, I just like this picture.
The best thing about the place, though, is our accommodation. While our cabin is extremely rustic, it is cozy, has a kitchen and a bathroom with hot water, and above all, it is private. For the last three months, we've been constantly sharing a living space with other people. We have gotten used to working around other backpackers in the kitchen when we are cooking, passing people in the hallway on our way to the bathroom and being forced to make small talk in the breakfast area before we've even had our first coffee. For the first time since we left Switzerland, we have our own space (albeit an extremely small and basic one) and it is wonderful.
Home Sweet Home
Keeping the romance alive with bunk beds
Our kitchen/dining room/entry/office
We also lucked out with our hosts, Roly and Analia, who are extremely sweet. That is, we think they are sweet, but since they only speak extremely fast, incomprehensibly-accented Spanish that sounds like a turkey's gobble, we usually only have a vague idea what they are saying and basically just try to interpret facial expressions and hand gestures. In fact, for all we know they could be insulting us during every conversation, but as long as they do it with a smile, we'll just nod with dopey grins on our faces and say, "Si, gracias!"

Just to make things even easier on us, Roly is a very kind but very excitable man who Punctuatates! Every! Sentence! With! An! Exclamation Point! He's so excited about things like walnuts (Nueces!) and raspberries (Frambuesas!) that he talks even faster than usual while giving us instructions, making it all but impossible to understand him. Below is a typical conversation between Roly and us:

Roly: Gobble gobble Nueces! Gobble this morning gobble!

Us: Si!

Roly: Gobble gobble behind the house gobble!

Us: Si...

Roly: Si, si, si! Nueces! Afterwards gobble gobble gobble! Bueno!

Us: Si, gracias!

Lunches are even more awkward, when we sit around the table with Roly and Analia and try to keep up our end of the conversation for an hour. Our Spanish is slowly improving enough that we can make basic small talk, and when Roly isn't talking about walnuts, he calms down a little and we can actually understand him. But it's still pretty painful and we sure as hell aren't having any philosophical discussions around that lunch table.
Overall, our time here is both relaxing and enriching. We are enjoying the place, the work and the people, and are managing to improve our Spanish as well.

But I think by the time we leave this weekend, I'll be glad to say goodbye to nueces.

Sunday, 18 March 2012

Feeling the feelings in Switzerland, I mean, Patagonia....

Want to hate me even more that you might already? I'm serious, are you ready for this?

I was disappointed with Patagonia.

I know, I want to hit myself too.

We took a 20-hour overnight bus from Buenos Aires to Bariloche, in northern Patagonia, and even though I was a little sad to leave the capital city, I was excited to go to the famed region. After all, Patagonia  is mythic. Mysterious. The end of the earth. I mean, half of my travel clothes are named for the place. If that doesn't warrant a little excitement, I don't know what does.

We arrived in Bariloche and I admit, it was beautiful. Green mountains dropping abruptly into deep blue, crystal clear mountain lakes that surround the town. Tiny, tree-covered islands jut out from the water and pebble-covered beaches line the lakefront. To give you an idea of the area's geographical set-up, here's what Google Maps has to say on the matter:

See that snow-capped mountain range? Those massive, Alpine lakes? The forest-covered landscape? It looks like New Zealand or Canada or the Northwest US.

Or Switzerland.

I have to admit, there was a part of me that said, in a tiny, embarrassed voice, "We came all this way just to be in a place that looks like home?"

As if to mock me, the architecture in Bariloche (which was, I later discovered, founded by the Swiss) was primarily log cabins and wooden chalets. The streets were lined with restaurants selling chocolate and fondue, and hostels with names like Chalet Suisse, Alpine Hostel and Hotel Chamonix. It's like they felt my pained disappointment and just wanted to twist the knife a little deeper.

That's the trouble sometimes with travel. You know you are lucky to be doing this. You know you should be grateful for every second. You know that you are a sh-t head if you complain or you aren't wowed at every turn. But you can't help it: sometimes you are simply disappointed.

Luckily, my bad attitude changed after about twenty four hours. We went on a lovely hike along the lake and up one of the smaller mountains, giving us incredible views over the area. It really was gorgeous and I realized that even if it looked like Switzerland, Switzerland is beautiful and it's not a bad thing to have a little taste of home during the trip.
Our last evening in Bariloche, we took a few beers and snacks down to the beach at sunset and had a picnic. We had been on another hike that day and took the opportunity to cool ourselves off with a quick swim in the clean, frigid water. The lake was as clear as a pool and between the stunning mountain views and the soft light, it was just about the most romantic thing ever.
But of course, instead of spending the last moments of the dying daylight gazing lovingly into each other's eyes, Vincent and I spent the evening drinking our beer while making fun of the people around us, who were all engaging in activities of varying degrees of ridiculousness.

You see, Bariloche is known as a bit of a hippy town. Everywhere are either over-the-hill flower children who came as backpackers and never left, or youngish bohemians with dreadlocks, flowing pants and a baby on their hip, selling handmade jewelry on the sidewalk and not thinking about their retirement plans. The area attracts the kind of people who eat only organic soy bran and interest themselves in things like obscure Far-East religious sects and interpretive dance.

That particular evening, on the beach near us were several people watching the sunset and feeling their feelings so profoundly that for them, the rest of the world ceased to exist outside of that one miraculous moment. Or something like that.

There was a lone biker, covering his face in meditation, which caused him to completely miss the spectacular view he came to the beach for; a middle-aged, barefoot couple doing Tai Chi; and a solitary young woman in a prairie dress of all things, gazing out into the distance as if she was posing (which in fact she was, as we couldn't resist the opportunity to take a picture of these yahoos.)
So, as if I wasn't enough of an a-hole for being disappointed with Bariloche, here I am making fun of people who are just trying to get in touch with their inner light or whatever.

Feel free to slap me the next time you see me.

Sunday, 11 March 2012

Two (and a half) Month Check-up: Expectations and Impressions

This will be the last of my two month check-ups, seeing as it has now been well over two months since the trip started and frankly, I'm bored with the check-up concept. To spice things up a little, I'm going to organize our expectations before the trip compared to the reality during the trip in a fun(ish) Fact or Fiction format. Oh, the alliterations!

Fact or Fiction: A trip around the world is usually uncomfortable, difficult, unsafe, disorienting and miserable.

Fact, but not nearly as bad as we thought. The reality of budget travel in developing countries (note, Argentina, for example, does not fall into that category) is that things are not always easy. We sometimes feel a little lost and confused, a little dirty and uncomfortable.

But in all honesty, the trip has been much easier than we thought it would be. This might be due to the fact that we have had to adapt to local logic, lower our standards, learn to be patient and remain flexible at all times. It might also be because Spanish is the main language in the countries in which we have traveled so far and we can get by with the little vocabulary we have.

But it also may be simply because things are more comfortable, safer and easier than we expected.

For example, we thought we would have to stay in awful hostels and be uncomfortable most nights. While we only stay in budget accommodation and a few of our choices have been on the limit of comfort, we have mostly managed to find places that make a nice home base; places that are clean, with kind owners and conscientious guests. We have almost always had electricity, running water, indoor toilets and hot showers. Almost.


Fact or Fiction: Most of the people we will meet and get to know during the trip will be other travelers.

Fact. While we have met some locals from whom we have learned a lot, the vast majority of the people we really get to know are other backpackers. The reality of it is that most local people see so many tourists come and go that they simply do not have the time or motivation to invest in anything more than the most basic rapports, which usually concern the exchange of money and services. And if I'm honest, our shoddy Spanish skills do nothing to help our efforts to build lasting relationships.

That said, we have made some great friends along the way, some of whom we have been lucky enough to meet a second time in another location when our paths have crossed again.There really is nothing like arriving in a new place and being able to meet up with the familiar faces of people you met a week or a month ago somewhere else. It's been fun and has added a whole new dimension to our trip.


Fact or Fiction: A trip around the world is something unique and special.

Fact AND fiction. Don't get me wrong, we are often simply overwhelmed with gratitude for the opportunity to be able to do something like this. So many people will never be able to have this experience and we shouldn't take one moment for granted.

But let me be honest for a second: there are a lot of other people doing what we are doing. Some aren't doing quite as much in terms of time and scope, but they are still taking a large chunk of their lives and savings to travel.

On one hand, it's humbling- we aren't that cool. On the other hand, it is heartening to see so many people, especially young people- I'm talking kids in their early twenties- who are making travel a priority and who want to see the world. Sometimes, we feel a little jealous of those 19 and 20 year olds who are backpacking around South America for six months; we feel almost regretful that we waited this long.

But then we pull our heads out of our asses and realize how much we've done before this point and that we have no excuse to ever feel like we don't have enough.



Fact or Fiction: Bolivia is a scary place, full of thieves, terrible roads and horrible food hygiene.

Fiction, Fiction, Fact, and Fact, but it helped me lose weight, so I'm not complaining.  Before we left for the trip, Bolivia was like a dark, scary cloud over our itinerary for me. I had read so much about how it was dangerous, researched all of the various methods in which people were going to take me for everything I had, and expected to be uncomfortable our entire time there. The reality couldn't have been further from our expectations. The Bolivians with whom we came in contact were lovely, kind and generous people. They were patient with our bumbling efforts to get by in their language and genuinely wanted to help us. We never once felt that we were being taken advantage of or that we were in danger.

No, I take that back, we did feel that our lives were in danger. But only when we were in buses or taxis. If you have been reading this blog for a while, you already know that transportation in a country like Bolivia is at best nerve-wracking and uncomfortable, and at worst down-right dangerous. When drivers aren't passing on blind curves, they are trying to muscle each other off cliff faces or playing chicken on highways. They are accelerating through gravel roads turns and slamming on their brakes like the stop signs snuck up on them. It is truly terrifying and while we loved Bolivia, we were relieved to see that Chilean and Argentine drivers actually seem to value human life.


Fact or Fiction: Doing a trip like this will be difficult and trying for our couple.

Fact, but that's a good thing. I am going to cover this topic in much more detail in a later post, but the short answer is that long-term travel with someone is like living with someone: there's good and bad, easy days and hard days. Vincent and I have learned a lot about ourselves and our relationship after just two months of traveling, and we expect that we'll continue to be challenged.  But that's an important part of this adventure; after nearly ten years together, it's almost comforting to know that there is still more to learn, still work to be done. It is not, I repeat NOT easy to travel with a partner, but it is absolutely worth it to be able to share this experience with someone you love.


Fact or Fiction: We have a realistic itinerary that we can follow using land transportation.

Fiction. We seriously underestimated the distances and the amount of time we would spend in buses. 20 hours one day. 17 hours a week later. 19 hours two weeks after that. While we love being able to see more of the country and our budget demands that we stay as far away from planes as possible, it also results in a lot of time in transit. As a result, we have decided to forgo certain destinations, simply because it would take too much time and money to get to them. Brazil is one of those places, the very south of Patagonia is another.


Fact or Fiction: It will be impossible to maintain acceptable personal hygiene while traveling and we will basically turn into swamp monsters on the road.

Fiction, but it doesn't mean we look good. Yes, I still wear make-up (albeit less of it). I still shave my legs and (don't read this, Dad) even got a bikini wax. Vincent goes to the barber for a haircut once a month and shaves his big grizzly beard slightly more often. We are able to shower nearly every day, barring tours, treks and 24 hour buses, and haven't had that much difficulty finding laundry facilities or washing our clothes in the sink.

That said, we don't look great. We are making due with our painfully unsexy technical clothes, I haven't used a hairdryer in over two months and kinda just look like a dude all the time, and the nicest outfit Vincent has with him is his hiking shirt and convertible pants. We look like backpackers. But I guess that's the point.


In short, when we were envisioning the trip, we were spot on in some expectations and horribly mistaken in others. Overall though, and this is only two and a half months into the trip, this adventure has been everything we hoped it would be and more. We are loving every second of it. Well, maybe not every second, but even the bad seconds aren't that bad and more often than not, at least make for a good story. We are having a blast, learning so much and just allowing ourselves to enjoy every day. I don't know what more to say about it. It's beyond words.

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

-Uruguay. -No, you're a guay!*

*Actual conversation between Vincent and myself. This is what happens when you speak two different languages...

We didn't plan to go to Uruguay. It was never on our list, was never a place that interested us in the least. I couldn't even locate it on a map a month ago. But there it was, just an hour by boat from Buenos Aires.

And they had a beach there.

As yet another of our split-second decisions, we bought a boat ticket to Uruguay and booked a hostel in Colonia del Sacramento, a small town on the coast of the Rio Plata. While it pained me to leave Buenos Aires, a city I had fallen in love with and never wanted to say good-bye to, we never once regretted the two days we spent in Uruguay.

I can't even pretend to have gotten a feel for the country- we spent less than 48 hours there, spent nearly every waking hour on the beach and ate at a wine and cheese restaurant for dinner. But Colonia was a cute, well-maintained little colonial town with a historic center that looked like it hadn't changed in 200 years (except maybe for the wine and cheese restaurant...). It was all cobblestone streets, candy colored houses, whitewashed fences, sycamore-lined avenues and palm-shaded plazas. Sailboats bobbed in the harbor, a lighthouse towered over the center. A perfectly rusted one-speed bike leaned against a faded stucco cottage. It was f-cking adorable.
During the day, we went to a beach a mile out of town. It was a long, wide strip of fine sand, lined on one side by eucalyptus and pine trees and on the other by the wide opening of the Rio Plata where it meets the Atlantic. There were no waves, just an endless expanse of flat, clean brown water, reflecting tones of blue from the cloudless sky. Although it was fresh (not salty), the water rose and lowered with the tide. The beach was nearly empty- only a scattering of small groups of people here and there- and made for the perfect place to do nothing but relax in the sun and congratulate ourselves on finding this little paradise.
The second day, we rented bikes from our hostel to go to the beach. We were overjoyed at the cheap price of the rental until we saw the bikes: the only two models with any air in the tires were a gear-less road bike from the seventies with one pedal missing and a child's dirt bike.

Guess which one of us got the dirt bike.

I'm a pretty small person, but I'm not child-sized, and I spent the rest of the day peddling around with my knees in my armpits, legs splayed out like bat wings. On the up side, it was handy to be able to easily reach the ground with my feet, since my bike had no brakes to speak of.

On the boat ride back to Buenos Aires, we were a little regretful that we couldn't have extended our mini beach vacation a little longer. But we had a bus to catch the next day to Bariloche, in northern Patagonia, and we weren't able to change our tickets on such short notice. Such is the life of a backpacker. It's rough, but we persevere.

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

An Ambiguously Gay Love Letter to Buenos Aires

Dear Buenos Aires,

Even before I met you, I had heard about your beauty, heard how cool you were. Everyone seemed to love you and naturally, I wanted you to disappoint me. I wanted to spend some time with you and then be able to say, "I don't know what the big deal is. I've seen better."

At first sight, I had to admit, you were especially attractive. Not the most beautiful in the world, not Amsterdam or Prague. But you had something beyond beauty that immediately captivated me. You seemed familiar, like I'd met you before, yet you were exotic and slightly beyond reach. You had the elegance of Paris or Madrid, the laid-back ease of Barcelona and the cosmopolitan grit of New York. But you were still accessible. Within a day of meeting you, I felt like I knew you. Like a part of you was already mine.

Yet despite your universal appeal, you aren't too easy. You aren't made for people like me, gringos who don't speak your language. You might accept us, but you don't cater to us. The most noteworthy attraction you have for someone who doesn't want to get to know you is a cemetery. But that's just it- you play hard to get. You force us to get to know you.

And once we do, we realize that you have so much more than superficial beauty. You have personality. An international population who just happens to be stunningly gorgeous. A musical history so embedded in your culture that its dance is synonymous with your name. A dining scene that spans continents, palates and price ranges, despite its youth. As established as you are among global metropolises, you have the freshness of an up-and-comer, like you have more to offer, more ahead of you. And I want to be a part of it.

I know this sounds strange, but after only a week with you, I want more. I want to get to know you better, spend more time with you. Don't get me wrong, this isn't a crush. I don't want to be with you. I want to be you. And today, as I sit nearly a thousand miles away from you, I miss you. But don't worry. I'll be back.

-Elissa

Saturday, 3 March 2012

Two Month Check-up, Part two: Itinerary and Plans

This is another check-up post. If you have no idea what that means, go back to this post.

In Part Two of the two month check-up series, I'm going to go into the fascinating (not really) details of how our plans and itinerary have changed since we started. Hope you are sitting down for this one...

How has your itinerary changed from your original plan?
The itinerary has changed drastically since we first planned it and is still in a state of constant flux. Before we even left for the trip, we gave our original route a complete overhaul. As 99% of our decisions are made on the fly, our plan has continued to change as we go. Our actual itinerary, which I've been too lazy to update for the last two weeks, is HERE.

When we started the trip, we thought that we would have a basic idea of our destinations and would more or less follow the plan. That hasn't really been the case. We started out disciplined enough but as time went on, our plans kind of went to hell and we started just making it up as we went. Which has worked out just fine. We've really enjoyed several places that we originally had no intention of visiting and we have no regrets about those to which we never made it. Once in a destination, we simply look at a map and bus schedule to figure out where we want to go next. We often need to at least consider two or three steps ahead to make sure we are moving in a direction that makes sense, but we rarely know where we will be a week from any given day.

Examples of how our itinerary has changed just in the last eight weeks: We never planned to go to Arequipa or Mollendo; we originally planned to go into the Brazilian Amazon, not the Bolivian Amazon;  we had planned to cross into Argentina from Bolivia, not through Chile (in fact, we hadn't planned to hit Chile until April!); we thought we would go south from Salta and instead, we went east to Buenos Aires, with a random, unplanned forray into Uruguay, where we happen to be now. The biggest, and for me, most heart-breaking, however practical, change we have made is that we are taking Brazil off our itinerary. I desperately want to go, but we have neither the time nor the budget to do the enormous country justice and it just doesn't make sense to do (and pay for) 80 hours of bus to get to and from Rio just to spend one week. Flights are prohibitively expensive, so the land of thongs, Samba, Cacha├ža and beautiful people will have to wait for another trip. And there will be another trip.

At the moment, we are also looking at changing some of the Asian portion of our trip, but since that's still a question mark, I'll wait until the next check-up to cover it.

What about volunteering? Are you still planning to do that?
Yes! We still plan to volunteer while we are in South America and are in the process of finalizing what we are going to do and when. We know that we will spend at least two weeks working on an organic farm in El Bolson, Argentina, in northern Patagonia, and might do two more weeks working in an eco-friendly bed and breakfast.Volunteering remains a key goal of our trip and as much fun as it is cavorting around the continent with no schedule or responsibility, we are ready for a challenge and some good old fashioned hard work. Plus, our budget demands that we get free room and board at some point. So there's that.

How does your original plan for your trip hold up to the reality?
I am going to do a separate post about our impressions and feelings, but regarding pure logistics, the way we are travelling is quite different than how we envisioned it before we left. When we originally planned the itinerary, we thought we'd spend two days here, three days there, moving a couple times a week. In reality, we are much happier and appreciative of the trip when we go to less places but spend more time in each. At this point, we are averaging around 3 or 4 nights in each destination, which is a sustainable rhythm that allows us to do a lot without feeling like we are just rushing from place to place, simply to check it off our list. 

So there's the planning check-up. I'm sure we'll have many, many more changes to our itinerary. In the next check-up, I'll cover how the trip itself has held up to our expectations, which hopefully will be a little more interesting than this white bread cheese sandwich of a post.