Folks, We're Worn Out
About two weeks ago, our Workaway hosts Maria and Mateo had a family of twelve (plus the four of us, making it a group of sixteen) over for a late lunch party. This was the family of their house's new buyers, who will be moving into this little slice of heaven in November. Maria and Mateo have poured an incredible amount of love and work into this property that hardly had a livable dwelling on it 25 years ago, but after two and a half decades, they are passing it on to an enthusiastic clan who seem to be a perfect fit--and they themselves have a new property project they're working on about 5 minutes down the road.
At this gathering, I was sitting across the table from the sister and brother-in-law of the couple that bought this place, chatting about our trip. At one point, I was asked, "So what's it like traveling for so long?"
"Exhausting," I said lightheartedly, though it's a truthful answer. They seemed honestly surprised.
I do get it--our trip has meant quitting our jobs, trading in 70-hour work weeks for 12 months of unemployment, and I regularly post photos of us lounging by a pool or on a beach or strolling through some magnificent cathedral. Sometimes I am confused about why I'm so tired, because I haven't had a job since September and have plenty of down time.
The streets of Tarragona.
But as I've said before, simply living day to day in new places all the time really takes it out of you. The longest we've ever been in one place is a month, which sounds like a long time if you think of it in "vacation weeks," but imagine if you moved to a new home that often! Between totally diving into other peoples' lives and routines through Workaway, or trying to figure out a brand new country or city on our own, we haven't been able to hold onto any semblance of a routine...at all. Mateo asked us at the grocery store when we got picked up on the first of August, "What do you normally eat?" And we were stumped. We'd been eating cereal and crème fraîche on a baguette for breakfast at Laurene and Holger's, but we ate croissants from the bakery in Nîmes, and we were sleeping so late in Barcelona we just jumped straight to lunch. We just kind of figure it out based on what's available. The question, "What time do you get up/go to bed?" is pretty much useless, too. We were getting up at 6:30am in Wales, but noon in Barcelona.
We've loved trying all sorts of different schedules and lifestyles, and have learned a lot about ourselves, of course. But a total lack of routine, as Andrew put it today, means you have nothing to fall back on when you slept badly or are feeling low--nothing is automatic, and everything is a little bit of a surprise.
Our time at this Workaway has been enjoyable, and mostly quiet. A majority of our days here we never even left the property to do much of anything after we finished working. I've been processing a bit of guilt around that; it's hard to justify laying around all afternoon for the fourth day in a row when you're in a new country and there should be things to see and experience. I worry that, even though I'm not in the mood to do anything now, I'll regret later how still I was during this little period. Sometimes I make myself go out just for the sake of going out, and then we walk or bike down the road for a bit and return in an hour. Andrew is much more grounded, I think. He's the one who reminds me that it's okay to be tired after 10+ non-stop months of travel. Perhaps there isn't such a strong need for me to explore all the nooks and crannies of where we are because, A) the towns are all very small and it takes less than 10 minutes to walk end to end of Miravet, and B) Maria and Mateo have friends over all the time, allowing us to meet people and learn about culture and enjoy fabulous food without having to wander beyond the back terrace. Literally--Saturday night we had a dinner party starting around 9pm with tapas and wine, that culminated in Spanish guitar-playing and the singing of classical and folk songs. We are also getting to know a Slovakian couple who arrived about a week and a half ago, and this is their first Workaway ever. We like them a lot.
Honestly...what reason do we have to leave?
These days, we're looking towards home. We are ready to be with our people again (only 4 days until we see Claire and Dan in Ecuador!) and to stay still for a hot second. We're also ready to have an income, which I'm sure is shocking to hear. I miss horses, Andrew misses motorcycles, and we both miss Trader Joe's (though the food situation at this Workaway is one neither of us can complain about). We're discussing plans for what the next few years of our lives might look like, and we're feeling ready to get those moving. It's also weird to be saying goodbye to Europe after almost nine full months, and it will be sad to leave this Workaway. The property here is stunningly beautiful, the people are lovely, Mateo cooks us amazing meals every day, and there's an abundance of animals to love on. We will miss the cheap and delicious wine that is readily available wherever we go, the cafes with outdoor seating lining the streets, and the train systems. I'm sure I'll be surprised at all the little things I got used to in Europe once we've left, just as I was surprised at all the American things I didn't know I was used to until we got here.
Things I'm very excited for at home:
- Friends and family. That one's a given. The internet is amazing for keeping in touch, but there's nothing like actually being with people who know you well. Or even just being in the same time zone!
This tiny little guy is more than a year old now!
- Burgers with barbecue sauce and onion straws.
- Automatic vehicles, which means I can actually drive places, which means I can have autonomy over my own transportation.
- MY CLOTHES AND SHOES AND JEWELRY! I've actually been daydreaming about outfits I own...
I miss my Grammy! (And this outfit. Get ready for me to find literally any reason to dress up.)
- Being able to read product labels and going back to my favorite brands of shampoo and conditioner, etc.
- Knowing where things are. Which grocery stores we like. Which restaurants are open when.
- The lack of a language barrier! I'm grateful for how much learning and problem-solving I've had to do because of language, and we're lucky that most of the world speaks English, but everything is a little harder with a language barrier and I'm excited to know my questions are understood/be able to read the menu/have my Google results automatically show up in English.
- Painting. Art of any kind on a surface larger than the pages of a journal with materials other than a pen.
- Cooking in a familiar kitchen. Any kitchen! Just one with spices we recognize and appropriately sized pots and pans! But someday soon, our own kitchen.
We know Mateo's spice cabinet is so good! But what are they...?
Things I'm going to miss very much:
- Wine prices. WINE PRICES, PEOPLE. The wine aisle at the Barcelona Lidl had mostly bottles for three euros or less. That were actually good. We, in America, are suffering.
- This contradicts my car comment above, but reliable and widespread public transportation. I am missing the option to drive, but I don't like being required to. I'm talking about rural places, too!
- Meeting a very diverse set of people, easily, and in a uniquely... immersive way, if that makes sense. As Andrew put it, it's hard to go out of your way to meet and talk to new people back home the same way, and learn their stories.
Šimon and Zuzana, our Slovakian Workaway friends, at the dancing event in Miravet. There was line dancing and ABBA.
- Not thinking about health insurance... we both have emergency travel plans, but visiting the doctor for something minor costs $30 out of pocket here, nothing more. I was also able to get my prescription contact lenses over the counter just by telling them what I needed from memory.
- The access to swimming pools I've had for the last two months.
- Easy access to very high quality, local food--especially the bread and produce.
- Being together with Andrew for every second of every day... Believe it or not, we still like each other just as much as we did when we left, if not more. Probably more. We are both very concerned about the upcoming shock of having to actually spend time apart. There's a Bill Murray quote that goes, "Buy a plane ticket for the two of you to travel all over the world. to places that are hard to reach and hard to get out of. And when you land at JFK and you're still in love with that person, get married." We did it the other way around--including JFK itself--but it didn't backfire at all! We are 110% still obsessed with each other.
Views from a hike, straight out of town.
- The identity I've built around active travel. I've been thinking about this more and more as we've come closer to our end date. People these days are asking us more questions about going home and what we'll do, whereas in the beginning, and all questions were about where we'd be visiting and our favorite experiences so far. You get used to the planning and the constant change and being The American Couple wherever you go. I wonder how the way I see myself while I'm away will blend and mesh with the self I have been in Washington State since ever. Only time will tell!
It was a rainy day today, which seems fitting. In this region, of course, the rain is met with joy and excitement--no need to water the plants today, and everybody enjoys the excuse to do a little less work. (Our 9am start time mysteriously got pushed back until a quarter to ten.) Maria assured us that the Spanish start describing symptoms of S.A.D. after two days in a row of rain, though. We were taken out to lunch, and enjoyed some Spanish comfort food at the hand of someone other than Mateo before a proper siesta. I overindulged in fideuà and only had a little wine, but have been basking in the excuse to lay down all afternoon...again. It's okay to be tired. I'm not not enjoying Spain, I'm just focusing on the food-and-siesta parts!
Up next are two very unique, and the final two, phases of this trip. We fly to Ecuador for about three weeks, and then we fly + road trip to Mexico to SV Galapagos and Andrew's parents. We're due to be home before the end of October. Our next two months are family-centric and hopefully restful in that way. New countries and a new continent, but familiarity in the people. It will be good.
Topo, usually known as Toppy. His name is translated to "mole."