I am an idiot. I should have known better. This was the third time I’d returned to Canada since I began traveling 5 years ago, and I was fully aware of the many reverse culture shock-y things that can occur when one comes back to one’s country of birth after time spent abroad. I knew that travel had created a healthier life-style for me not because travel was some glorious, magical cure-all, but because of the habits that a life in transit forced or inspired me to adopt; among them, an appreciation of the everyday.
Which is why I feel the prat for not maintaining the habits I was keeping while traveling to record for this blog upon arrival back ‘home’.
While on the road there were 5 things I was never without: my phone, my camera, paper, pen and my passport. Alright, I can probably do without my passport in my home country but the rest were what allowed me to record my thoughts, take notes, capture memories and, through social media, stay connected during the course of it all. This is an ongoing blog. I’m not done. But I stopped these habits. Why?
Was it that I didn’t have anything going on worth sharing? Nope. In fact, my trip back home coincidentally happened to coincide with the arrival of a couple friends over from Newfoundland on their honeymoon. This was the second time our timing had been fortuitous; when last I was back it had been just in time to partake in their very awesome steampunk-themed wedding.
The five of us (the couple visiting, the couple I was staying with, and myself) planned to make a road-trip out to Prince Edward Island to visit yet more friends from our university days. I hadn’t been to PEI since I was knee-high to a grasshopper; back in the days of my youth our parents would throw my brother and I in the car every summer for a drive out to some random location in the Maritimes for a family vacation. The tourist trap capital of Atlantic Canada was a popular destination.
PEI’s an odd place. Somehow the entirety of the island not already covered in potato fields or L.M Montgomery memorials has managed to fill out with ramshackle family parks (Rainbow Valley, anyone?), and obscure novelty attractions like ‘Ripley’s Believe it or Not’ and, no joke, ‘The Fantazmagoric Museum of the Strange and Unusual’. Other claims to fame include being the home of the world’s longest bridge (that runs over freezing waters), the Cow’s ice cream franchise and the provincial record for Canada’s highest rate of obesity (actually, there may be some correlation between those last two).
When you’re not caught in a tourist trap you’re rather centrally in the middle of absolutely buttfuck nowhere; red-earthen potato fields or, oddly, meadows of renegade dandelions stretch as far as the eye can see, while the locals idly drive their ride-on mowers (contributing factor #2 to the provincial obesity record) around their over-sized lawns. As we passed the 14th empty acre on the drive to the Banfield’s homestead, John proclaimed that “Holy shit. I thought we lived in the middle of fucking nowhere.” On a lark, we passed the time by learning the Nato phonetic alphabet. Because, really, what else are you going to do during the 6 hour drive to ‘Miscouche’?
Being in PEI (papa echo india) outside of tourist season is particularly surreal, though the sandy red beaches are certainly easier to enjoy without screaming toddlers running up and down the length of them. This, at least, I took my camera for.
Still. Throughout the entirety of May and June combined I had taken less than 34 photos (including the ones sprinkled throughout this post). While in India during the month of April I’d taken 783.
The lack of photos saddened me less than the lack of attention I was affording my home country. I am ashamed to admit that even while packing my bags, it had not occurred to me to dedicate a blog post to the upcoming road-trip. Even afterward, when we arrived back in Sydney and I returned to planning for my upcoming overseas relocation, it didn’t even tickle the back of my brain as it being odd I had no plans to write about my interim time between India and Australia.
I had no excuses. There was no reason to isolate Atlantic Canada from the recounting of my travels. Indeed, there was nothing to differentiate it from my time in India save geographic location and cultural norms (. . .alright, those are admittedly some rather large points of differentiation). Still, my cultural norm is not someone else’s, and it would have been fun to try and view my home country as viewed through the eyes of an outsider. Shit like Walmart box stores could be a novelty when juxtaposed against the dusty, bustling street markets I’d just come from and I could easily review the best locations for deep fried clams in PEI (Frosty Treat in Kensington = NOMS) just the same as I could suggest cha’at joints in Delhi.
In fact, I didn’t even need to imagine I was stepping outside my comfort zone. While the married couples checked into local B and B’s, I set myself up in the home of Tanya and Colin, one because I am a broke-ass vagabond, and two, because I like experiencing how other people live their home lives. But Tanya and Colin’s home held something terrifying. Something I had not had to deal with during my time in India, indeed something I had only ever had to deal with in short bursts throughout the entirety of my adult life: Children.
Wyatt and Quinn were 7 and 3 respectively and scared the shit out of me. I don’t know if it’s that I don’t understand children or that I’m afraid I’m going to break them, but I try and give the little bastards as wide a berth as possible whenever I can. I’ll take a night-time walk home through the streets of Cairo over having to maintain a conversation with someone under the age of 10 any day of the week. But no go this time around; I was actually staying in one of the youngster’s beds. Wyatt moved in to share a room with his brother while I moved in to share his room with his pet water dragon, ‘Stitch’.
And there were other points of interest I could have cannibalized into a decent blog post – Colin coached grappling in the area and we rented out the gym for an hour so he could throw me (heh. See what I did there?) some pointers. The Banfields also threw a massive BBQ while we were in; there was so much food that we forgot to serve entire courses and didn’t notice. The day after, we awoke to the mystery of one wall of their shed having been reduced to splinters, tire tracks scored into the surrounding lawn. They contacted the police but, as far as I know, they’ve still no idea what the hell actually happened.
So why? Why, against a backdrop of unspoiled coastline scenery and vibrant country sunsets was I not taking photos? Why, with tasty eats around me and the ability to actually consume them finally restored, did I not consider making culinary reviews? Why, throughout the course of awkward encounters with toddlers and mysterious shed attacks, was I not making notes?
The answer is ‘cause I’m a dick’. And, like many, I take my home, and what I do in it, for granted.
I do not view my home country through the same traveler’s lens as I do others. The wide eyes that serve me so well on the road narrow in complacency the very instant I set foot on Canadian soil. Which is, beyond being completely uncalled for, a goddamn shame.
Part of what continues to endear travel to me is how it keeps me aware in the present moment, constantly appreciating the wonder of the small everyday occurrences around me. But, apparently, I’m only appreciating that so long as the everyday is taking place in a location exotic to me. My xenophilia: let me show you it.
But I’m going to work on this. Going to work on fostering a constant appreciation of the awesomeness of life (because life is pretty awesome) that exists beyond a dependancy on fluctuating geographical location. Like any change does, it’ll probably take time. But it’s time I’m willing to spend.
I apologize to my readers and also to PEI for not giving the province its due, and will attempt to rectify this error by attempting to remain vigilant during any future time spent in Atlantic Canada. In the meantime, I leave you with the words of a man who phrases this sentiment more poetically than I (and with less profanity). I give to you the words of Anthony Doerr, from his Four Seasons in Rome (which I came across via the website of Rolf Potts):
“Without habit, the beauty of the world would overwhelm us. We’d pass out every time we saw — actually saw — a flower. Imagine if we only got to see a cumulonimbus cloud or Cassiopeia or a snowfall once a century; there’d be pandemonium in the streets. People would lie by the thousands in the fields on their backs. We need habit to get through a day, to get to work, to feed our children. But habit is dangerous, too. The act of seeing can quickly become unconscious and automatic. The eye sees something — gray-brown bark, say, fissured into a broad, vertical plates — and the brain spits out tree trunk and the eye moves on. But did I really take the time to see the tree? I glimpse hazel hair, high cheekbones, a field of freckles, and I think Shauna. But did I take the time to see my wife? …The easier an experience, or the more entrenched, or the more familiar, the fainter our sensation of it becomes. This is true of chocolate and marriages and hometowns and narrative structures. Complexities wane, miracles becomes unremarkable, and if we’re not careful, pretty soon we’re gazing out at our lives as if through a burlap sack.”
*This post is about travels that took place in Atlantic Canada on April 27 to June 13 of 2012.