Traveling is supposed to change you. There’s a pressure to it, even. You’re expected to come back different. All everyone asks you about when they see you is, “how was it!?” and “tell me a story!”
Several days into my first big girl trip, I did not feel any different. I felt tired and excited and tired from being so excited, and,most annoyingly, a looming pressure to make the most of all of this. This is the first vacation I’ve taken in a long time and the first time I’m not working for longer than a couple days in years.
Everything around me is beautiful and different, here in Ecuador. The Spanish architecture is jaw-dropping. Elaborate cathedrals paint the backdrop on each cobblestone street. I pass by flower markets and hole-in-the-wall restaurants and street musicians who enlist their whole family in the job. Old women with beautifully wrinkled faces and bright smiles wear intricately embroidered skirts that I found out usually cost so much that their whole family has to pitch in in order for them to have it. Stores don’t stay open during the hours they post on Yelp. Men are ruthless in their gazing, but usually always with a non-threatening twinkly in their eyes, which is not the case with American men. Children are trusted; they run around the streets laughing, free of helicopter parents.
Noticing all of this has been great and interesting. Each glance around has added new information to my head’s personal file cabinet on culture, which also happens to be my favorite cluster of knowledge.
But standing in Ingapirca, Ecuador’s most important Incan ruins and also an extremely adorable town where the people seem happy and move slow, living among the most beautiful setting I’ve ever seen, I learned my first lesson. Halfway down a mountain slope, I was drinking in views of a few locals tending to their cows at the bottom of the hill, string bean trees shooting up higher than they logistically should be able to from the bottom to nearly the top, a refreshingly blue sky dotted with fluffy clouds and clusters of colorful adobe houses. A brook provided background noise.
I was in the middle. As a foreigner, I almost felt like I wasn’t supposed to see any of this. If I was on the bottom, near the cows, I would have gotten a great view of the cliff, but missed the beauty of a birds-eye view of the cows. If I was higher, I could barely see the cows, and my view would be half sky and half land. In the middle, I saw everything.
Which made me think, does the middle have the best view?
When you start something, it’s exciting and daunting and all at once, foggy. You have no idea what you’re doing or what will happen at the end and along the way. When you finish something, you see everything, but tainted with omnipresence, feelings and endings.
In the middle, you’re free of the scary pressures of beginning and not yet needing to grasp at warped, nostalgic memories. You just experience. Whether it’s friendships, relationships, jobs or trips, even something as finite as a house party, the middle offers the most pure perspective.
Beginnings get all the romanticism. Endings act as an inevitable filter.
I’m going to try to remember the forgotten middle more often.
Also, I got to hug a llama while I was there. His name is Pancho and I love him.