It’s a strange feeling trying to acclimatize to a new culture, new meal times, new language, while also planning for our return to the states. For the past year, we’ve moved from one country to another and learned a new set of customs every month or so. Next week we’re returning to what we call our home, what is supposed to be normal, except it hasn’t been our home for a long time.
When traveling, you’re always planning the next step. In Indonesia, we were looking into how to get a SIM card in Nepal. In India, we were making plans for Turkey. You are booking flights and researching hostels, looking at exchange rates, local foods and significant cultural sights.
But planning for the next chapter of our lives is much different. Our planning involves researching health insurance, used car prices and reading profiles of cities in the US that might be our next home. We have been doing all of this from farms in Spain. In the morning we have been working outside harvesting beets, sorting dried beans, or cleaning out silos. But at lunchtime, I’m Skyping with Leticia at the Maryland Health Connection office and Zach is sending out applications for farm internships in North Carolina. We are returning to our country, but starting something new.
I have to admit, I have a whole boatload of feelings about coming home. I’m dying to see my sister and my niece that I haven’t yet met. I’m ready to have a living room again. There are bits of American culture that we haven’t seen (or eaten) in a year and a half: chicken wings and a Lagunitas IPA, Netflix and Midol and well paved highways. But every country has it’s pros and cons and spending time living with folks in other countries has helped me realize that there are more ways of living than the go get ‘em culture that is so common in the US. In New Zealand, we learned to slow down and have a chat with the neighbors. This often involves tea and cake. Nepal made me realize how easy and comfortable and clean we have it in the States, but also how many regulations we have (you’d never be allowed to take a sheep on a bus at home).
I’ve come to enjoy the small towns that we’ve stayed in and hope, as we transition out of our backpacks, to make our home in an adventurous place where kind people work hard and enjoy their lives. So though our trip abroad is coming to a close, our travels continue as we find a new hometown in the US of A.
We didn’t know it while we were traipsing around Rajasthan, seeing the sights, but the little town of Hampi is what we have been craving since we arrived in India.
With so much history and so many really big, really beautiful historic sites, we couldn’t resist checking out the Golden Triangle. We saw the forts and tombs, palaces and temples, and our favorite, Jantar Mantar. We got tired, rested, saw some more sights, got tired again, rested again, went to a new city and did it again. For two weeks, we were full on tourists in cities where people make their money from tourism. For two weeks, I didn’t leave the guest house without telling ten rickshaw drivers “no,” or trying to avoid begging children. We were a wallet, an opportunity.
“Hey my friend! Where you from?
“Obamaland, Michael Jackson, Michael Jordan! Nice country.”
“Yeah, pretty good, but we are enjoying yours as well”
“You come to see my shop? Very nice, you come.”
“No thank you.”
“Yes, you coming. Shopping. Very nice.”
And so it went until the next person came by and started from the top. “Obamaland, Michael Jackson, Michael Jordan!” It was endearing the first time, but got old very quickly.
We were doing the things that you do when you’re in India. It was really cool being in the presence of structures from empires ago and learning about the history of India, but it was exhausting and felt a bit like going through the motions. Is this what traveling in India is like? Is this what people do for six months? For a moment there, we forgot that long term travel is a balance of new cultures and new activities while also maintaining some routine and indulging in things you know you like.
So when Robyn and Stephen, our former room mates from New Zealand sent us a message saying, “We are in India! Smashed it out last night all the way from Bangkok to Chennai then Bangalore to Hampi! Hampi is amazing. Actually so good I cant believe I missed it on previous trips…Climbing, friends, bicycles, a risk board…,” we scrapped our plans for further sight seeing and booked three back to back night buses to go see them in Hampi.
Hampi is quiet and comfortable. We climb the famed Hampi boulders in the early mornings and cool evenings and avoid the heat of the day by flopping around the open air restaurant at our guest house, eating thalis and drinking tea. As Stephen said over breakfast the other day, “Not everything you see here is going to be enjoyable while you’re here. That’s not why you’re here. You’re here to see what it’s like in India. Well that, and to see 50,000 camels competing in a beauty pageant.”
“Here, chug it.”
“We’re chugging wine?”
“Yes. Someone get Alfie. Rikki! Leave the dishes and get over here. Cheers!”
And down the hatch it went. Chugging red wine from paper cups on my last night of work in the kitchen.
Except, holy shit, WTF is that sludge in the bottom of the cup?! Gulp gulp, gulp, tastes like vinegar…. ABORT! ABORT! Definitely vinegar.
“Fuck! What was that!?”
And just when I thought, Was there soy sauce in there? Am I going to barf? an onslaught of condiments came hurtling toward me. Cream pie to the hair, a heavy dusting of cocoa and a shower of oil from squeeze bottles had me cowering in a banana box, yelling expletives while normal people had lovely desserts at Francesca’s Italian Kitchen. Laughing and crying and dripping, I got got. Apparently you aren’t supposed to trust anyone on your last day in the kitchen. I didn’t know that.
I had an awesome job in Wanaka. I worked with people who helped me make a career change from teacher to chef (though I don’t feel comfortable using that title quite yet). I made friends with four chefs who taught me everything I needed to know. How to use the meat slicer, segment oranges, make sabayon, skin a ham, trim a filet, make pastry cream, plate food and do that little smear of caramel on a dessert plate.
They taught me what its like to work in a kitchen, to use scales and timers, to label things and always be looking at tomorrow. They showed me how to work during those in between moments during service, to prep more lettuce for the next rush, or get the hazelnuts roasting so tomorrow you can just come in and get started on the praline. Or to caramelize apples in the middle of service because people are eating twice as much dessert tonight (they do that when its cold).
I loved learning skills and spending my whole day working with food. In New York, I looked forward to preparing food when I got home from work, but now I get to do that for work. But the thing is, I don’t care too much for stress. And I like eating dinner. Neither of which jive too well with making many other people’s dinner all at the same time. Despite not loving dinner service, I’ll probably wind up doing it in several more restaurants, as it is an awesome arena for learning new skills.
I decided to send my knives home and will pick up an all purpose knife along the way. I’m going to miss the scales, kitchen aid mixer, and easy answers from experienced chefs, but as a going away present, my kitchen fam gave me an awesome travel spice kit so I can still work some magic over the camp stove or in the communal hostel kitchen.
Hopefully our paths will cross again. Maybe next time it will be in front of a pig on a spit at our farm
It is a strange thing being in another hemisphere from most of our friends and family. As we are enjoying the last of the long evenings and noticing that mornings are nippier than usual, our friends in the states are thinking about the farmer’s market and pastel colored jeans.
Wanaka has already started emptying out and is making it’s way back toward the quiet town we landed in in November. Since Christmas, it has been buzzing with bus loads of 19 year old German sightseers, timesharing Aussies, and Kiwis in town for weddings. Last weekend was the Wanaka A&P Show, which was a bit like the local version of Labor Day Weekend. One last big party.
This weekend marks the first of our friends to leave town. On to Bali, Norway, Figi, England, Vietnam, and Prague, virtually everyone we have become friends with is moving on in the next month. Some will come back in June to work and take advantage of the skiing at Cardrona and Treble Cone, and some won’t. I have to admit, all this talk of Lonely Planet guides, cheap Air Asia flights, and hole in the wall restaurants has a part of me itching to hit the road again.
And we will continue on, just not right now. Because right now we are up to something. Our decision to stay in Wanaka through the winter wasn’t difficult. I have just moved from dishwasher to line cook at the restaurant and am excited about work, excited to learn and to get better at working on the line. I learn a new skill or recipe new every day, be it how to make home made marscapone, flavored olive oils, or chocolate truffles. While I work in the kitchen, Zach will start a new job working at the pizza truck, and we try to find a balance between climbing, skiing (!!) and saving a bit of money for flights to India in September.
The people we met here were a major reason that we decided to stay in Wanaka back in November, but as the summer comes to an end and those people continue their travels, we are here, ready to make new friends and continue to learn about food and potential business options from our posts in the kitchen and on the food truck.
Cheers to a great summer and a new chapter in Wanaka!
Our departure was an awesome month long celebration, and while sometimes exhausting (169 bar, I’m looking at you!), we have felt so much love. Our friends took vacation days off of work just to go watch Batman together. Others rearranged client dinners to have drinks with us, came in from out of town to take trapeze lessons, took half days to go on boat rides around the city, and stayed out late on a Tuesday just because it wouldn’t happen again for awhile. And while I am a staunch believer in ditching work to have fun, I understand that this is also a very big deal.
We also received some really awesome gifts. As if our departure was Christmas or something! But, the best part of that was that every one was incredibly thoughtful. Often when people say, “It’s the thought that counts,” it is like a consolation. Like you missed the mark with your effort, but at least you sort of tried. Even if that card was a week late. Not with this crowd. Whether it was a gift card that takes up no space in a backpack, or a tiny leather man tool, or a text message on the day of our departure, it really is the thought that counts. It is that someone is thinking about you, thinking about how to express something, and then picks the best way. So many people did that and it feels awesome.
We have arrived safe and sound and couldn’t have asked for a better send off. Thanks guys!