Happy 1 year of travel

The date today is Sunday, May 16, 2010.  One year ago Jason and I stood at the airport and said a very teary goodbye to my Dad. As we waved goodbye to the last familiar face we would see for some time, I was speechless. And for those of you who know me, that does not happen very often. I was overwhelmed with so many emotions. We had finally embarked on the trip we had talked about since meeting freshman year of college. Our trip around the world was in front of us, and I couldn’t take a single step out of sheer terror of all the what if’s and maybe’s that lie ahead.

Soon I recovered from my momentary paralysis and took our first steps into the airport.  Those steps  would later get to be a nonchalant experience as we moved from country to country, but for that moment my feet seemed too heavy with my thoughts to move fast. Jason was still semi-unconscious from the early hour but the look on his face was reassuring. We were all nervous smiles and giggles. I remember the phrase “we’re really leaving” being repeated throughout the morning. I remember feeling caught between so many emotions but the dominant one overcame the meek. I was excited.What would happen on this year 1/2 long journey?

Fast forward one year. To put it lightly, a lot has happened. I am now sitting on my torn, yellowish, imitation leather couch in Busan, South Korea. I have a 40 hour a week job teaching 5 year old’s their ABC’s and not to dong-shim each other (butt sword). For the first time in my life I am living in a  true, hustling bustling city and I can see the ocean in 15 min. on my blue Delfino scooter.  I can’t speak much Korean but I have my students convinced I can so they don’t talk crap about me. A well-placed Korean “really?” into any of their conversations does wonders for my reputation. Each day my conversations with Jason revolve around “the next big adventure” which is referring to our 2nd leg of our trip that starts in November. I get excited when I get packages from home with protein bars in them. I can’t buy any shoes in Korea and most of their pants. Needless to say I have saved a lot of money out of sheer embarrassment of the shop keepers repeatedly telling me I am too big. I will probably cry if I can find a pair of pants to fit my amazon legs. I feel a true sense of community in Busan. I love my friends here and they have become my second family. I feel involved, active, social…..but what does this all mean???

I had all those things back home in Chicago. Well, not the 5 year old Korean children but outside of that, I was set. Why did we leave what most people would call “the perfect life?”

To tell you the truth there has been moments in the past year when I have questioned our quest. Usually those moments have happened because of a negative experience and I immediately sought comfort in the thoughts and memories of home. Home to me right now is comforting. Home is easy because I know where I am, where I can go, who I could see….it’s so comfortable. Soft around the edges with vegetarian food on top.

That’s why we left. We didn’t want to fall into the trap of comfort in everyday life. I thrive on variety and so does Jason. Although we both can be creatures of habit, we both agreed that we wanted to push ourselves on a marathon of a trip. We wanted to combine our passion for helping others with our other passion to travel. I do feel we pushed it to the extreme by being gone so long but with my best friend at my side, the world was ours for the taking.

I am not going to sugar-coat it at all. Many points of this trip have been extremely difficult. Tempers have flared (as well as my nostrils), time-outs have been taken, given, stomachs have shrunk, emptied and the sacred phrase “I wish” has been muttered about numerous things from food to turning signals. I have struggled. I have daydreamed about home, friends, family and little white dogs.

Why? Why travel for so long, be uncomfortable, hungry, missing home, missing a bed, my cute dogs and whatever other creature comforts that keep us happy in a normal everyday life?

I can’t pinpoint one moment when it was all worth it. There are so many. The amazing moments, sights, scenes, experiences, and people far outweigh the negative moments that we will someday laugh about. I do truly believe that because we focused our trip around helping others it in turn helped us. It was much easier to make the sacrifices necessary to live through the challenging situations that come while backpacking through an unfamiliar place when there was a drive and purpose behind it. Not having everything I want at my finger tips has made me forever grateful for the ease at which we can get whatever we want in an hour or less back in the good USA.

This year has been life-changing. There is no way it couldn’t have been. The lessons I have learned in the most unexpected places has brought true happiness to my heart the way buying material things never could and never will. Jason and I have grown closer than I think we have yet to realize. We have always been close but this trip has broken down any last barrier that have ever existed between us. I still can’t believe that he’s not sick of me but I do think it’s because we have learned to laugh about the disastrous moments that we haven’t ditched each other yet.  The shared moments and struggles have strengthened our relationship and focused our direction for our future careers. I have always said if you can travel with a person you are meant to be…well I guess we nailed that one.

Most of all, the best part of this trip hasn’t been getting to see the sights or do really adventurous cool things. It’s been about the people. Jason and I have been so fortunate throughout this trip to meet  people who have challenged us, taught us things and mostly, just been great friends. Some people we have met it has only been for a day but we are still in contact with them (thanks facebook and Skype!). Many of the people we have met didn’t speak any English but somehow we were always able to communicate and find the common ground of laughter. Some of the people we met were unable to talk but shared with us their smiles and spirit that we will never forget. Some people have become our second family away from home and made it possible for us to survive in Korea for so long. The list of family in Busan can go on forever but I must give a shout out to my SLP family Leah, Dianna, Bryan and Courtney. To all the people we have met along the way, we are forever in your debt for the lessons you taught us and the happiness you shared.

To wrap up 1 year being gone I am going to post some of my top 10 moments and experiences.

1) Holding a clinic with Jason  for the poorest people in Pisco, Peru where they have no education or healthcare about people with disabilities. I was able to tell a mother about her daughter’s disability and re-assure her that her daughter could do anything she wanted to do (which was to be a hairdresser).

swept away on sliding sands

2) While volunteering in Hauncayo, Peru at the special needs school I had a student Jahir who I gave physical therapy/occupational therapy to every day. For the first two weeks he threw a tantrum at the beginning because he didn’t like his atrophied arm touched, let alone made to do things with it. I worked extremely hard at setting a routine with Jahir and one day he showed up to the therapy room on his own and sat down on the mat. He then proceeded to tap the mat to get me to sit and place his arm in my hands to massage it. Then he successfully opened a jar by himself for the first time.

Ashley with one of her therapy students, Jahair

3) Spotting my first Leatherback sea turtle while on duty at 2am. Then getting to hold the egg bag as she gave me 120 eggs.

4) Waking up at 3am to hike in the dark to entrance to Machu Picchu. Then hiking up to Waynu Picchu for sunrise.

My first graders in Korea

5)  Meeting Sally, Anthony, Tonje, Mike and Lauren at the Casa Project in Hauncayo and getting to spend the month with them. Included in that memory is trying to fit 9 people into a cab and because it was Peru, the cabbie not caring. This happened at least every other day.There is too many memories to list but playing with the kids at the Casa project while being with this amazing crew is all rolled into one sweet package in my head.

Expand Peru crew

Baby Leatherbacks just before release

6) Pouring a cement roof in Pisco, Peru the old fashion way. Buckets and manpower. I had the biggest bruises on my forearms which I proudly showed off after we left.

7) Hiking the Haleakala crater in Hawaii with Jase for our 2 year anniversary.

8) Watching Jason work with the kids at the special needs school in Peru.

9) Being in the Busan Night Live Comedy Sketch show and the Vagina Monologues…in Korea

10) Getting dressed up at a Geisha in Japan with my cousin Jessica. Also added to this is the entire trip over Christmas with Deb, Cody, Kevin and Jessica.

10 1/2) My epic 26th birthday party in Korea. 7 people dressed up as the rainbow rejects (colors that didn’t make the primary rainbow). Enough said.

Ninja Turtle Sketch

One Response to “Happy 1 year of travel”

  1. Deb says:

    Wow, what a year! You’ll have stories to share forever. AND we made the “Top 10” Holler! It was the best trip, still can’t believe I went. You two are the best hosts.
    It was great to her you voice Sat. We raised a little over $100,000 for Relay.
    Love and miss you.

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