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Ship Log

The So-Called Routine of a Traveler

Santa Cruz, Chile
March 2011

You asked and I didn’t exactly answer, because it’s hard to describe our daily routines when there’s so little pattern.  Our routines are quirky and depend on where we are, and for how long. But even as vagabonds, we have developed a rhythm. We wake and read, read and have coffee, have coffee and research or plan or write. Then we go out, usually with a destination in mind, or to eat and have a walk around.  The sites we visit are streets, shop windows, neighborhoods, museums, art galleries, friends, or familiar places.

Most days, I know of one or two things I’d like to do, and it’s usually a combination of a destination out and about, plus something I want to work on myself.  Yesterday I sent a couple stories to Round Earth Media, today I need to start typing up notes and transcripts from interviews in Quito.  I have a few poems started.  I correspond with friends. I keep telling myself I’ll clean up my photos, my computer, and my email, but that will be another day.

The most mundane and simple errands or chores take up a fair amount of time because of unfamiliar surroundings.  When we get to a new place – assuming it has a kitchen or refrigerator – we find a grocery store and pick up the basics: milk, cereal, fruit, yogurt, tuna, cheese, bread, peanuts, coffee, beer or wine, mustard, butter, lemon, oil, salt, lettuce.  That gives us plenty to get us through a couple days, and still not too much to haul back on foot.  Finding the essentials in a new place involves a lot of time and walking. We look for small packages, no glass (too heavy), local brands, best price, and ingredients sans chemicals, sweeteners, or gelatin. If I remember, I use fabric shopping bags so that the plastic bag handles don’t turn my fingertips blue on the walk home.

Laundry has to be planned, because we are generally waiting for use of public or shared machines, and once the cycle starts, we really need to be around to keep things moving.  Laundry is followed by a couple days of delicate items hanging from doorknobs and cupboards in the apartment. This was only a problem in Quito when one of Tom’s students came to our place for classes.

Cooking dinner is an adventure.  I like to make meals out of anything and everything left in the refrigerator or cupboards. From place to place the kitchens are outfitted differently, so I feel like an engineer trying to open containers, drain liquids, grate or peel, bake without an oven, cook without gas, blend without a blender, or season without seasonings. Oddball soups and salads are the result, with some old basics like sandwiches, stir-fry, or rice/pasta dishes thrown in.

Even coffee can be tricky. In Chile we’ve moved from my trusty press pot to instant powdered coffee with water heated in the omnipresent electric pots, kind of like the one I used in college. I haven’t found coffee beans or regular ground coffee yet, and even if I did, I’d have nothing to brew it in.  But the milk here (and in Ecuador) is good and packaged in 1 liter cartons which are light and compact. Did I mention the grocery shopping is influenced by how much I think I can carry? Uphill? In the rain?

Twice so far I’ve loaded up and taken a taxi home.  That sounds like quite a luxury until you try to get in and out of the cab with 8 plastic bags in two hands, dig for a wallet and money to pay the cabbie, and trudge uphill some more to the front door.

In the past four weeks, we’ve settled in four different cities, counting Quito, Ecuador,  plus Con Con, Santa Cruz, and Santiago in Chile. On the move or not, our routine includes planning our travel, whether it’s finding a new home or planning a day’s or weekend excursion. We are living proof that the old fashioned travel agents earned their commission. I can spend days checking airfare, reading about restaurants, and looking for hotels. For urban tourism like Quito and Santiago, we start with Lonely Planet. Our first weeks in Quito were busy with the normal tourist sites and the time-consuming procurement of the proper visa paperwork. On a regular basis, we’d need to visit the phone store to buy more time on our phone, confused at first that we could run out of ‘Saldos’ even without using minutes, just because the valid time frame was over.  Also in Quito, Tom had a teaching schedule, and we visited a particular bar frequently to watch the World Series and select soccer games.  Hey, these are the kinds of things that build routines.

In Santiago, we are finding more sources of information online or via posters and magazines.  We have TV here, but we still prefer our TV series on the computer: House, The Wire, Veronica Mars, currently Friday Night Lights. And we are both Kindle equipped.

We have no schedule yet here in Chile, and no classes or deadlines forcing us into one.  But we have our phones, we’ve found an apartment, we’ve made four or five acquaintances, have done the preliminary grocery run, and now we will check on a couple items for the apartment, welcome a guest tomorrow, and plan for the coming weeks. Tom returns to Minnesota, my friend and I will figure out a plan for visiting Patagonia, and despite being out of state for nearly a year, there is still a pile of bills to pay, insurance to consider, and mail to sort through.

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