After spending the better part of two weeks back in the US, I am settling into San Juan Del Sur, Nicaragua. As I look out over the stunning view from the hostel Casa Del Olas I can’t help but think about the vast differences in the travel life and the American life I used to lead. While I was home I was even making a mental list of the things I had to get used to again.
So rather than slip straight back into the backpacker lifestyle I thought I’d share some of the contrasts before they fade from memory.
The trials and tribulations of toilets abroad
I have had a pretty big hang up when it comes to bathrooms while traveling. In Mexico they were horribly dirty to the point I would just hold it instead of risking touching some of the filth. Almost everywhere else, squatting isn’t really an option if you’re any taller than 5 foot as the stalls are so cramped you can’t bend your legs enough to squat. Then there are the bins. I’m learning that in most parts of the world toilet paper doesn’t get flushed. It goes into the ‘bin’. That took some getting used to but while I was home I had to keep reminding myself not to use the trashcan. TMI probably, but the bathroom situation is one of the larger contrasts…..for me anyway.
Jeans, socks, and shoes
Yes, I am traveling with socks and shoes. No, I hardly ever wear them. The first day I went to get dressed for cooler weather it was definitely odd putting on blue jeans, socks, and shoes. It all felt very constraining. I ditched the socks and shoes after that first day.
It’s very smoggy
How did I live in Dallas for a decade and never realize how much smog there is? It was blatant how hazy the sky looked. I wrote earlier about the beautiful skies in Nicaragua and I’m now convinced that at least a large reason they’re so blue is because of the clean air.
What’s on TV?
For the last few months I only knew the answer to that question if I went googling. While there is TV everywhere and usually more than a couple of channels in English, I’ve found that this TV junky doesn’t need the fix that bad. For some of the shows I really like I downloaded episodes on my laptop but when I got back and perused various friends DVR’s I was surprised how much I wasn’t watching that I would be if I were at home.
Long, Hot, and Private Showers
Sure, most hostels and even hotels advertise hot showers but in reality you usually only get luke warm or a shower that you are taking your life in your hands to enjoy. Almost every shower I took back home was ridiculously long and extremely hot.
Shared bathrooms are also a part of the hostel lifestyle and probably one of the aspects I stressed most. At my current hostel I am sharing the bathroom (one toilet, one shower, and a sink) with around 20 people. It’s hard to get much time to primp but it’s not as bad as I had feared.
Where are all the fireworks?
It took months to get used to the sound of fireworks on any given day. Central Americans definitely like they’re celebrations and it seems that every single one has to be accompanied by fireworks. Sometimes I think they’re just celebrating a random Tuesday or for no reason at all. Early on, every time I heard fireworks my first thought was it’s a gun shot. I don’t know why I went straight there and not to a car backfire but over time I had gotten used to them. (They’re actually are some going off every now and then as I write this) We don’t have enough fireworks in the US.
Dogs with balls
Blatant but yes, every male dog has their balls and every female dog has either just given birth or has had so many litters that there’s a permanent sag. In many places the dogs just look sad and I find myself ordering more food just to be able to dole it out as I leave a restaurant.
A different kind of sleep
In recent years I had been having trouble sleeping so you would think that sleep would be impossible in noisy hostel dorms on rickety bunk beds and without air conditioning. It’s been quite the contrary. I’m not sure if it’s because I’m so much more active when I travel or what, but I’ve been sleeping really good recently. Then I went home. For some reason even with the comfy pillow top mattress and air conditioning I had trouble sleeping through the night.
Central Americans have yet to appreciate the awesomeness of pickles. I just can’t understand it. The couple of times I’ve actually been able to get them on a sandwich or burger you would have thought I’d won the lottery to see my reaction. I had lots of pickles on my visit home.
I’ve never been a tree hugger but…
The most striking difference is the feast and famine feel between the cultures. I don’t necessarily mean literally from a food standpoint but more so the level of comfort, the availability of goods, and the wastefulness. Walking into the international terminal in Managua to board my flight home was like setting foot into a different world. A familiar one granted, but a world that had a new sheen to it. I started to realize how much we take for granted, how large our meal portions are, how much we throw away, and how easy everything is. Again, I’ve never been all that green, but this experience is both making me appreciate what I have and also making me aware of ways to be less wasteful.
I never found a spot to hang my hammock
Since I fell in love and purchased my hammock in Utila, Honduras, one of the first things I’ve done at each new destination is hang my hammock. Even though I was home and it wasn’t exactly hammock weather I still set my eyes searching for a good spot…..I never found one. I really missed my afternoon hammock naps. Yes, it’s a hard life.