The Back-to-Black Blues

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Admiring volcanoes in Amboro National Park, Bolivia

This time the Back-to-Black Blues has already hit me three days before starting my arduous journey home.

Saturday, August 26, 11.35 a.m. I’m shuffling towards a lagoon that is supposed to house some flamingos but which, frankly, looks as dull as a bathtub, in the middle of a group that’s a mixture of families with excited children and backpackers who look slightly disappointed that the tour has so far not been even close to what we all expected. I’ve been alone all morning; it doesn’t bother me. I don’t even feel like talking to anybody, anyway. The wind bites hard in this eerie landscape that is oddly reminiscent of Mars – of course it’s not as nice as Salar de Uyuni was, I doubt anything will ever be as nice as that, but for the last days of my trip I’ll gladly take this cheap knock-off.  My thoughts brush on the people I met during the past eight months, and suddenly longing swings me in the chest with the full force of a baseball bat. I’ve only got three more days left in South America. Three more days. How does time get away from us so quickly? I feel it was years ago since I stepped out of the plane in the sweltering hot Salvador, years since I stood in that kitchen of the first hostel in dire need of a shower, already learning gross details of my fellow hostel-dwellers before learning their names, bumping our green plastic cups of watered down caipirinhas together. It feels like years, and that’s why it has surprised me that the day of my return has drawn so close; I guess part of me was starting to feel like this adventure would never end.

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Llamas!!! Laguna Hedionda, Bolivia

I’m standing on that little opening, looking at white dots in the distance that might be flamingos or just cardboard cut-outs, and some lady is explaining to her son why they can’t go any closer. I’m trying to look away from them because I’m pretty sure I’m crying a little bit. I feel like shit. I keep thinking of our little group of misfits that was so dear to me in Brazil, scattered all over the globe – literally, all of us in different countries now; of the boy I met back in Cusco who made me wish I could spin around and track my steps right back through the route that I already took; of the places I missed on the way, the ones I saw and fell for, the ones I didn’t mind leaving behind. Then I think of home and it rises like a big, scary shadow before me. I am as reluctant to go as if someone had asked me to jump off a cliff. This fervour to stay surprises me in its fury; all these months, while being grateful and giddy to be in South America, I have also been planning what to do when I get home. Homesickness is a bit of a foreign concept for me, but this year I’ve been suffering from something close to it. And now my brain is telling me that going back is the last thing I want? I’m going home too soon; I should have been home months ago. Everything is confusing. I guess I kind of understand that little resistant voice. It’s the voice of adventure. It’s a voice so much stronger than that of real life.

 

Real life? Ugh, I’ve always hated that phrase. I travel so much that my trips have become part of that real life. I’m not just going on holidays, it’s a part of my lifestyle. Many of my friends have told me that I am brave to travel alone, but in reality I am so much less afraid of traversing far-flung lands than staying still. The world is not some big, scary place full of dark fears and strangers waiting to take advantage of you; it is a welcoming embrace, the next chapter in a page-turner bestseller, a source of endless inspiration and awe. Home is the opposite of it, the cruel funnel of life. If I slip, I fall all the way to the bottom and slide into the comfortable roles of a worker, a citizen, a mother, a wife. As long as I am lost, I can find my way. It is the mundane clarity that scares me. Over the past five years, I have spent almost as much time abroad as in Finland – I did the math one night as I was lying in a dark dorm room, unable to sleep because falling asleep would bring next morning on faster, and then I would just be speeding towards that airplane waiting to carry me home.

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Sneaking onto a rooftop is no easy task but somebody has to do it. Arequipa, Peru

So no, travel and real life are not separated for me. The problem is just that travel me and home me seem to be living two lives, not separated from each other but bound together, but two lives in different colours all the same. As I stepped on the plane that took me away, I slipped into the skin of someone else, someone who resembled me but was a little stranger, a little braver. I travelled in her skin through foreign lands and fell in love with her in sunsets and among snowy mountains, and like a foreign lover I have brought her home with me to introduce to my friends and family. But as soon as I got back, I stepped into my old clothes, into someone more comfortable, into the girl that attends a Master’s thesis seminar and goes to the library once a week and drinks wine with her friends watching Sharknado and Star Wars, and suddenly my adventurist lover has found herself abandoned. She can only see the map outside of the borders of this country and she drives herself crazy, imagining wild places and romantic affairs, gluing herself to that imagery of an adventure like a sticker to a picture. The itch to go stays like ants under her skin, crawling through every pore, making her anxious and reckless and unable to stay.

As I go about my day, she paces from wall to wall in the apartment that doesn’t quite fit me like a home, restless, mad with longing, shoving me with her shoulder as she passes. ‘How can you be so calm?!’ she scolds me as I step in and shut the bygone day behind the door. ‘Are you not seeing all these places we have never been to? How are you not going crazy?

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Travel friends&lagoons. Laguna Cañapa, Bolivia

Perhaps unbeknownst to her, I am. I was crying as I walked through the airport, seeing all the familiar trademarks and products of Finland. Some of it was joy, unbelieving that all that was still there, a world untouched even though I had been thoroughly turned around and shaken and changed in some way that I couldn’t quite explain. But then that Spanish-speaking couple walked past and I whipped my head around, staring after them as a drowning man stares at the shore, and there were the tears again but this time accompanied by a stone in my stomach, the one weighing me down in this familiar land when all I could think of was the one I had just left behind.

I got on the train munching on some Finnish chocolate (because chocolate heals all). I was texting everyone I could think of that I’d arrived – I wanted to shout it out, make the train filled with drunken Icelanders echo with my screams of I am back from the greatest adventure of my life! Don’t you see how I have changed? Don’t you see how I’m different?

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5,435 m altitude is cool but breathing is even cooler. Chaltaya, Bolivia

You always tend to feel a little blue after a long trip – post-holiday depression is the term people use, I think. (I like to call it Back-to-Black Blues, since I usually return to Finland at the beginning of the autumn when days are just starting to get darker and colder.) In your mind, you’re still free and relaxed, and going back to deadlines and beeping alarm clocks feels less pleasant than torture. You want to talk about your adventure all the time because it’s the only thing that matters but you feel you can’t connect with anyone because no one else has gone through the same amazing experience than you. Like Kellie Donnelly says it in her wonderful article The Hardest Part Of Traveling No One Talks About: ‘It’s like learning a foreign language that no one around you speaks so there is no way to communicate to them how you really feel.’ (By the way – that post should be an obligatory read to anyone coming home from a long trip!)

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Dark lipstick and ripped jeans in Sucre, Bolivia

I’ve surely felt it before. After I came back from Australia, I stayed at home for weeks doing nothing, just watching sitcoms and imagining all the things I could be doing 12,000 kilometers away. Suddenly everything familiar feels so strange, as if you’d walked into your house to find out that someone had shifted all the furniture slightly to the left. All year I’ve dreamed of shopping at a Finnish supermarket – cheap pesto! frozen spinach! feta cheese! – but as soon as I wandered into one, I almost got emotional: they didn’t have any of the stuff I was used to cooking with in Brazil, and suddenly I was lost again.

It’s always like that right after coming home. You feel out of place even though you’re supposed to fit right in, and it makes you crave the road again because there the bars, the streets, the buses were filled with strangers whose ambitions fit snugly around yours. They were the people who understood you. I have never before been so not at peace with going back – then again, I have rarely been to a place that has felt so welcoming as South America did, as if it was a lover I cuddled up to just to find out our bodies fit together perfectly. I miss it wildly.

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Alpacas!!! Rainbow Mountain, Peru

But as the train neared my current home town, as the familiar scenery rolled past the windows, I started smiling. Another lover locked his arms around me – home, a true home, where I feel like I belong. And as the first days have gone by and I’ve kept busy, meeting all of my friends and family and decorating my new apartment, I have found myself energetic in a way that I have never been before after a holiday. My crazy head is buzzing with ideas and mad dreams that drive me forward with such scary ambition that I can only hope to keep up with it. I have new ideas about the blog and how I want to change it, and I have even made a plan how to get out of Finland for most of next spring. I am motivated to even tackle the much-feared Master’s thesis that I’m writing this year. I don’t know how long this burst of motivation will last. Probably in its current form it will burn itself out pretty fast. So far I’m enjoying it, though.

So, when the fierce, adventurous spirit I’ve had to tame to fit the standards of society starts to throw a tantrum again, I can reassure her that she has not been completely forgotten. She will never be a calm lake but always full of impatient ripples, but I let her move beneath my skin because I know now how to contain her furious wanderlust. I am still young, and I know the world will wait for me and my restless spirit like a mother waits for her son back from the sea. I am calm because I know that there is a good future ahead, full of exciting aromas of far-flung places and new stories hiding just underneath the dirt of the road. But for now… I am calm because I know in good time I will have all that I so painfully long for now: the road, the love awaiting on it, the adventure, the place to call home.

But good time is just such a damn long time to wait.

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#runningintothesunset. Huacachina, Peru

Thanks for reading! I’ve been home for a week now and even though it is starting to look like travels will be a lot scarcer this autumn than I’d wish, I am excited to bring you some new, cool content on this site while I reminisce about my past adventures. So, stay tuned…

Do you even feel strange after coming home from a holiday? How do you cope with the post-holiday blues?

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