Wednesday, March 19, 2014

On Coming Home

Yup, I freaked out a little bit. Maybe a lot, or just a wee smidge more than I thought I would. I'm referring to my reaction to the title of this missive. It's now the middle of March 2014. Alli and I's rollicking Asian adventure (plus a glorious trip to Costa Rica thrown in there) has been over for some time now. We flew back from San Jose, CR on December 4th and upon setting foot in the Phoenix airport, a trip we had started in April 2012 came to a close. And just like that we were back in the land called America.

Family photo in a jungle tree house in Costa Rica. We're 25M (82ft) up in the canopy. For more info on climbing and sleeping in the tree we're in click here (THIS WAS AMAZING). *** Click to enlarge.
I think there's an unwritten rule in the travel blogosphere that you have to type a finale out, one last smattering of words that tie it all together. You know, the obligatory 'what it all means' entry, or at least, what we learned about other cultures and ourselves. Blah blah blah. Sounds like the potential to be real serious drivel, but hell, why not riff some on how this whole shebang played out. I think you're also supposed to be a tad more punctual with it than I've been. Oh well. I'll give it a shot.

I'd like to get a few things out of the way first. I didn't leave Ammmmurica for SE Asia because I had a problem being here. I didn’t hate my situation in Tucson at all. As a matter of fact it was just the opposite, I was having a ball. This wasn’t a soul-searching endeavor either. I was almost 28-years-old by the time we flew off to Singapore so I had a reasonably solid idea of who I was. I was set in my ways, and definitely had my opinions and convictions. Ask Alli about my stubbornness, she can attest to that.

We went over there to scope out some amazing places and meet the folks who live there; to get an upfront view of species and ecosystems we’d never seen before; to scarf cuisine foreign to us; to scratch an itch that had been bugging us for some time; and yeah, to help some damn sea turtles, too.

Home is where the cactus is. The expansive and always impressive Sonoran desert.
I don’t have anything grandiose to write on the lessons I learned about myself. Or have anything particularly poetic to say about our travels (in short: they were frickin' incredible). That’s not really what this post is all about. I could probably delve into some witty commentary on the inane buffoonery of drunken backpackers ‘discovering what it all means’ on a Malaysian beach or the zen highs-and-lows of Nepali public bus travel, but I can’t be bothered (that’s just one of the brilliant British phrases I’ve come to love).

This epilogue is about what it has been like to come home. To return somewhere I hadn't been for almost 20 months. I'd be ruthlessly lying through my teeth if I didn't say it was tough to return to the U.S. It's funny that when you're traveling around with no job it's viewed as quite romantic, but as soon as your return to your native country, you are in a sense homeless and out-of-work.

The entire transition has been much more complicated and frustrating than I ever could have imagined. In reality, and maybe I was being a little too naive, but I thought it was going to be fairly cut and dry. I come home, see friends and family, eat unhealthy numbers of al pastor tacos and Sonoran hot dogs, find a few Gila monsters, drink stouts and IPAs, get a job somewhere, find a house with the Lady and blend back into the blob of over 300 million people living here.

Literally my first Sonoran hot dog after SE Asia.
Not so fast hombre. I've accomplished all of the things above (though my taco and hot dog consumption could be somewhat higher), except overall it's been a peculiar transition. It's almost hard to put into words, but I am writing a blog here so I'll do my best. I felt out of step. I felt a sense of floating around events taking place, like I was watching it all pan out from a distance. Random things were shockingly annoying. Most friends had moved onward-and-upward since our departure. The fact that I was unemployed and the next age I turned was 30 started to freak me out. The latter statement was one thing I especially never thought would be an issue that I would grapple with.

The minutiae of daily life irked me: driving on eight-lane highways while passing the umpteenth Arizona strip mall; writing cover letter after cover letter; planning for rent checks, utility bills and car payments; not being able to buy any medication over the counter for whatever your ailment is (visiting a doctor in Asia? Fuhgettaboutit); the fact that a crappy sandwich from a student union here costs more than a delectable Malaysian dish swimming in peanut sauce; and so on and so on.

All of this griping though had to cease. Partly because I didn't want to devolve into some Larry David/Louis C.K. character that was always complaining about their situation. And partly because the reason I felt like this was that I wasn't ready to give up our experience. While we had been back in the States for some time, I kept comparing our post-trip life to our travels (for example: the laundry list of grievances in the previous paragraph). That just doesn't work.

I lost sight of what our return was all about: reconnecting with people, moving ahead in our professional lives, eating real cheese again, hiking through Arizona's stunning red-rock and saguaro-studded canyons, etc etc. We got to ride an exceptional wave for over 1.5 years, but returning only to nitpick away at daily life in America was taking away from the overall picture.

The Lady in Pima Canyon, Santa Catalina range, Arizona.
The truth is that the minutiae of daily life everywhere is irksome. While Alli and I regale folks with jolly, pithy tales of our life in SE Asia, there was plenty that you could label frustrating, too. Language issues; having an outbreak of slimy, airborne worms descend on your house, which ooze to death upon contact; the constant stress of helping run a conservation project in a village where your presence is not always desired; rats chewing through your hotel ceiling while one of you is deep within the depths of a post-malarial medication sickness; rubbing the wrong jungle plant causing your skin to burst into an itchy mess; living out of your sweat-stained backpack in poorly-ventilated plywood guest-house rooms; I think you get the point.

I was doing the same thing upon my return home that people do who don't enjoy their time abroad, whether it's for work, holiday or just plain living. It's unrealistic and a recipe for going down a post-travel depression wormhole to think anything in America is going to resemble our Asian adventure. You can't compare the two. It's grapefruits and durians. Hip-hop and K-pop. Hersheys and Milo.

So where do we go now? Alli and I have no plans to go abroad in the immediate future. We just signed a lease to an old-school adobe-esque house in Tucson. We've both lined up gigs, hers is back as a research specialist at the University of Arizona but in a new lab. I'm doing field work again (bats in Texas, herps in Arizona and surrounding states). We're also going to be an aunt and uncle come July. Exciting stuff, no doubt. With all this on deck and 2014 moving along, our time in Asia is getting farther away in the rear-view mirrow. But I'm finally okay with that.

I can sit here, content with what all the Lady and I were able to do. I can realize we were lucky, while I gobble down my grapefruit, listen to UGK or the new-ish Pusha T, and sip some hot chocolate. And if I ever start jonesing for some facets of our Asian life, I can always add a little sweetened condensed milk to my Hershey's.


A random assortment of photos from Costa Rica and in the U.S. after our return. While some of the photos were taken by myself, a big shout out is in order for Alli who took a lot more of these overall than I did.

Tree climbing. No big deal. Crystal and Noah taking care of business. Seriously this is one of the coolest things I've ever done, like in life, not just on our trip. Check out the website and get in touch with Peter if you go to the CR:
Almost to the top, or bottom, of the treehouse. The entire structure (two floors, kitchen, toilet, shower, beds, lounge areas) is suspended. No drilling was conducted at all. So damn cool.
Birding in the morning after spending the night up there. Parrots and Toucans gone wild!
Look at that purdy birdy. Rubbed to perfection.

It had been awhile since I'd done a beer-can chicken, so what can I say, I was elated. And we smoked it too!
On top of a part of the Superstition Mountains, Arizona.

Polly (aka P-teazy aka P-town Supreme) is still kicking! Going on 16 years.

Creeping on a crested saguaro outside Pima Canyon.

Even got a Blacktail Rattlesnake (Crotalus molossus) out and about on our Pima Canyon visit. Welcome home indeed!

More Pima Canyon. If you've never been, go.
Making some Christmas time homemade BBQ sauce with Hailey and Barb.
Noah and Crystal on an outing to Madera Canyon. Their incredibly precious and unique dog Willow (aka Lil' Willie aka Ill Will) can be found below.

Our other temporary pet roommates (Irving and Raja). Watching, always watching, cats are.
You can't get a sub like this in Malaysia! Hell, you can't get a sub like this in AZ. Had to go to Jersey for this.
Christina is making moves at the bank!
Her snowy street on Martha's Vineyard.
And the new house her and boyfriend Owen just bought in the fall of last year. Adult moves!
Best. Dog. Ever. The Bear.
Yeah, it was chilly there. Sideways eye snow makes photos hard.
Bringing Sonoran dogs to Martha's Vineyard!
It is a science people.

Owen is into it!
The finished products. I definitely topped out at 4 or 5 this night.
Pretty sure it's mandatory for dudes to walk out onto frozen lakes and bust-a-move.
Walking around what I think has been deemed "the cutest darn neighborhood' on Martha's Vineyard.
They'sa so tiny.

Awesome family portrait.
Alli and I having some moments on the beach. "Drunk in Love," no big deal. Too cold to surfboard though. We be all night!
Obligatory photos from the famous Gay Head light house. The sand cliffs are majestic. So is Alli's pink down jacket.


  1. At Uncle John's funeral, his sister said, "Growing old means you have a lifetime of wonderful memories." So, you turn 30 years young, when things get tough, you can reflect back on the exceptional trip you had, and smile. When life gets tough, I always count my blessings, that we got to go sailing for 14 months, which most people only dream about it. We also go to go when we were young, so I have many more years to reflect on the memories, and know I went after my dreams and lived. It is not how old you are, it is all about how well you lived your years! You have wonderful memories that previous generations never had the opportunity to do enjoy. Rejoice in seeking your dreams. There are dreamers and dreamers who do it! Look at the wonderful parts of returning home, and the experiences you have had in your life. Live life well!

    1. Thanks Mom. You're definitely right. Pretty insane that I got to do that sailing trip, along with our recent adventures in SE Asia. Couldn't have asked for more.