Sunday, March 4, 2012

Back in the US of A

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It’s been about eight months since I’ve been in the States, and with each return trip I recognize how much I have changed. We’re here to attend the New York Times Travel Show and of course visit our family, but only an hour outside of Cuenca I first noticed something different.

Two years ago the 3 hour van ride through the Cajas mountains to Guayaquil was for me a tense, white-knuckle experience. This time I actually fell asleep on the way, once waking up when the vehicle suddenly lurched to the side.

Me: “What happened?”
Cynthia: “The van was dodging some big rocks in the road.”
Me: “Oh.”

Our two hour layover in Bogata, Columbia was enlightening. I have not been in a country that doesn’t use the US dollar since we went to Europe several years ago. The prices in the airport were astronomically high, and it turns out the conversion rate is 1800 to 1. Well, no wonder, I thought. Then I started doing the math, and the prices were still pricey, at least by Ecuadorian standards. $2 for a can of Coke or a bottle of water? $5 for a damn hot dog? Stop it. A vendor at the Port Authority here in New York only charged $1.85. I know airports aren’t generally where you go looking for bargains but still-----.

I hadn’t really thought much about what to anticipate or prepare myself for prior to leaving Ecuador. And it’s funny what you forget and what you get used to. For example, I was temporarily caught off guard when as soon as we got off the plane everything was in English. Then we got to the immigration area and things were---orderly. A guy was actually directing traffic—OK, the next five of you go down there to #36, the rest of you wait. In Latin America it’s pretty much a chaotic free for all with people either looking bewildered or rudely breaking in line.

Speaking of which, a new immigration window opened up while we were waiting our turn and this old guy went from somewhere behind us and stood by himself in front of her booth. He isn’t a bewildered Latin American. He’s just a jerk. It’s 5 in the morning after an all-night red eye. We’re next. I’m not in the mood.

Me: “Hey, what do you think you’re doing?”
He: “She’s calling people.”
Me: Yeah, she’s calling people from the front of the line. Get your ass back where it came from.”

As the immigration officer stamped our passports he cheerfully said, “Welcome back!” And it’s good to be back. I’m munching on a piece of Vermont extra sharp cheddar while writing this and remembering how much I miss all the delicious goodies so readily available here. I love my family so much and don’t see them as often as I’d like, and I look forward to every moment we’ll be together in the coming weeks.

But I’ve changed. I can tell I don’t live here anymore. The energy is so different. Everything/everybody seems to move incredibly fast. “What’s the rush?” I keep wondering.

Our kids ask us about our plans while we’re in the States. We don’t really have many—just a general idea of what to do each day, then off we go to enjoy whatever adventures come our way, just like in Cuenca.

The slowed down, in the moment lifestyle I’ve adopted feels better. I can’t even remember why I was always in such a hurry before, and it seems like I should have accomplished a lot more, or at least had a lot more fun, for all that effort. Perhaps there is an unquestioned cultural consciousness that most everyone simply accepts as “the way it is.”

Still, it’s wonderful to be in the US again, to visit family and partake of the material abundance (and bring a few special treats back in our suitcases). What a blessing to enjoy the best of both worlds.

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