The secrets to my happiness when I am abroad are actually quite simple.
The higher the number of item on this list that I can cross off, the happier I am:
-There is a market. It can be a food market, crafts market, flea market. I don’t care. Put me in a mercardo, a night market, a farmer’s market, and I am the happiest person alive. (Also integral to why I’m starting to like Toronto: Kensington market and St. Lawrence markets, respectively.)
-There is a good second hand bookstore. I went to London, ON in February. It was a strange choice, chosen by a person I likely won’t see again. There was a farmer’s market AND two good used bookstores. I was a happy camper.
-Street food. I have been eating for approximately 13 hours today. Some highlights include a grilled banana stuffed with cheese, a donut like pastry stuffed with cheese (do I detect a theme here?) and barbequed crabs. I squatted on the sidewalk with a Quechua boy and stuffed my face. His expression alternated between fascination and disgust. I was delighted. It cost me $2.50 to inhale those crabs.
-Not speaking the language. I will master a few basic phrases (How much does this cost? Where is the bathroom? Wow, lots of traffic!) and I am perfectly content to be left alone to my brain for a while. Maybe one day I will master a third language, or at least develop a rudimentary ability to speak one. But don’t switch to English on my behalf. I will muddle through.
-I will get up early. Far earlier than I normally would for work. I’m typically ready to hit the ground at 7 a.m. This works well, because outside of North America and Western Europe, this is when things happen anyhow.
I love Otavalo. I have spent the last 2 days wandering around pretty much in circles, looking at silver bracelets, knitted sweaters, Panama hats, bags, scarves. And aside from the silver bracelets, I ended up with everything on that list. I’m not the most dedicated person at bartering, and at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter. I will wear my overpriced Panama hat, mucho tourista with pride, as my neck and shoulders peel from the sun.
On this particular journey through Ecuador, I can actually fall asleep. This is monumental. I typically spend the first 4-5 days of a trip in a perpetual stupor, until exhaustion and jet lag kick my butt into a restless night of sleep. Maybe it is because I am not suffering any jetlag, or maybe I am so emotionally exhausted sleep needs to work its magic. I’m not complaining. I have had a few glorious nights of 8-10 hours of rest. Perhaps the high altitude is clearing my thoughts of the disaster I left behind.
My very first trip abroad in 2006 – seems so long ago – worked wonders to help me mend a broken soul and a wounded heart. Not every trip involved heart ache, but there were more trips that involved some sort of mending than not. This one is no different, except the mending is slow in advancing. Or maybe the journey is too soon, the wounds too fresh.