Just the usual ups and downs, but in a different country

And just like that, two weeks of pictures, drinks, food, tanning, reading, stress, tears, smiles, calories, strained language barriers, bickering, dollar coins, atm withdrawals, texts, tweets, sunscreen, sunburn, hammock swinging, sweat, key fumbling, showers, packing, walking, hiking, music, panic, political conversations, people watching, street shopping, complaining, flying, obsessively checking for belongings, telling people we’re from Buffalo, NY where yes, it’s snowing, homesickness, FaceTime calls and mojitos later, we’re on our way home.

I’ll remember everything we did and some things we ate from the pictures. I’ll remember the ethereal beauty of Ingapirca when I look at its sprawling Incan ruins and bright green cliffs and valleys eternalized in my iPhone’s camera roll. I’ll remember how excited I was for my two scarves — one black with pink floral embroidery and one that’s several shades of fiery orange, burning red and pink at the tips — when I see my smiling face proudly wearing them in front on a pretty backdrop. I’ll remember the serenity I felt at the jazz bar, listening to music free of words I didn’t understand and drinking wine I actually liked, maybe too much. I’ll remember the meals I liked based on what made my reach for my phone before diving in. I’ll recall the sugary drinks that made my stomach hurt based on their pre-pain photogenic presentation. I’ll remember the breathtaking hiking trails that were so high up they actually took our breath away, enough to have an inhaler on hand.

I’ll never forget the trip from Puerto Lopez to Isla de Plata, on a quest for blue-footed boobies and solitude. Feeling homesick and ready to leave, this trip reminded me of why we came in the first place. We came to explore, meet new people (even if nearly everyone on our boat was from Canada) and revel in the kind of nature that’s not native to us, such as the incredibly endearing and equally stupid blue-footed boobies. I’m not being mean when I say they’re stupid, apparently if there were any sort of predator on their protected island of Isla de Plata, they’d be goners. The poor things just sit there when anyone comes by. But their feet… everyone adores their Tiffany blue flippers.

I couldn’t swim, really, but I didn’t want to be left out of snorkeling. So I tried, failed, and Dan pulled me back to shore. I then jumped off the second story of the boat with an Ecuadorian man and his GoPro and managed to doggy paddle back to the ladder. I smiled ear to ear. Dan kept everyone on the boat waiting as he stayed in the water, snorkeling with as much wide-eyed curiosity for the exotic fish as children have when they visit the zoo for the first time. This was my favorite day.

But then there’s everything else that’s not on camera. I’ll remember the shaky bus rides that can’t possibly be legal, that even if I wanted to film, watching the video again could give me vertigo. I’ll remember the food I didn’t like and how much I longed for American queso and a tuna melt. I’ll remember my panic attack on the beach in Montanita when all I really wanted to snuggle in my own bed with a sweater and my laptop. I probably would have had a day like that — maybe the same day — if I was home too, but when you’re on vacation it feels like your right to sad days is temporarily suspended. There are no photos of my attempts at explaining my anxiety to Dan, telling him that it’s not that I don’t want to be here, it’s that I’m on edge even at my most comfortable, all the time, even at home. So being in a stimulating environment in a foreign country doubles, maybe even triples, my usual anxiety. It’s not as easy as drinking several mojitos and relaxing. I wish it was.

Without photos, I hope to remember falling in love with a book I labeled “rom/com brainless reading” before coming. And soaking up every word, using it to slip away from reality and the never ending anxious buzz inside my own head. I hope to remember sweaty, sandy nights of sleep, so I’ll appreciate my not-really-a-beach town much more. I hope I’ll remember the feeling I’d get once we were in the cab or settled on the bus or on the place, of victory, that we did it. We traveled, we’re here and we can relax.

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