In some ways, this trip is a vacation. In other ways, it's a self-imposed exile, in which we must slum around the world, often without food, showers, or the benefits of clean clothing.
The terms of our exile are these:
* 40 days, almost 6 weeks.
* A meagre daily budget.
* No cell service, no data, no texts.
* Lodging at hostels, airports, and as provided by the kindness of strangers.
* We don't speak any of the languages.
* No firm plans.
* We can't leave.
What is the purpose of this trip?
At first I thought maybe it was going to be trying to live cheaply in many different places. Then I thought maybe it was going to be seeing as many sights as we could in a short amount of time.
But no. I'm discovering that this trip is about learning to survive and flourish in a world outside of our own. It is about figuring out the user interface for the rest of human-occupied existence.
Language and currency are two big pieces of that user interface. But there are more: customs, subtle understandings about how responsibility is divided up between people, geography, ways of relating to foreigners, ways of communicating difficult ideas, friendliness vs respect for privacy, ways of running public transportation, understandings about safety, expectations - and what happens when expectations are disappointed.
I'm not really sight-seeing. I'm picking up skill-sets, constructing mental maps, learning to figure things out, from whatever culture they emerge. I've learned how to negotiate with cabdrivers in Peru (I don't even know how to hail a cab in the States), how to sleep in an open air house in winter, how to communicate when I don't know the language, how to feel safe in places Americans are warned not to go, and how to protect myself when sleeping in buildings that feel like movie prison camps.
This feels right. It feels good not to be afraid of what's out here - out beyond the edge of the world I know.