How to find Normalcy while Traveling!

Sifting through my receipts and ticket stubs from my 2013 Epic Journey, I came across my movie ticket for “Life of Pi”. This little piece of paper triggered a landslide of memories and emotions…

It was February 5, 2013 – I had just arrived in the city of Valdivia from Puerto Varas in Chile. The last time I was in a town or city with a McDonald’s restaurant was Buenos Aires, Argentina on December 25, 2012. Within that time I had been to Ushuaia, Falklands, South Georgia Islands, Antarctic Peninsula, Ushuaia, El Calafate, El Chalten, Puerto Natales, Navimag, Puerto Montt, Chiloe islands, Puertos Varas, Frutillar and Ralun – they are all local and authentic to their location. However, that is at least 43 days without “city life” experiences, exposure to traditional North American style fast food, shopping malls or a movie on a big screen inside a movie theatre.

The day had started off “normal” – travel normal.

My bus arrived at Terminal Valdivia on time and the helpful staff at the Information center provided me with maps and information I needed to walk to my nearby hostel. The staff at the hostel gave me the directions to the famous Fish market and the supermarket, Unimarc. All the stars were lining up for me. I was on my way to find a late lunch (early dinner) and explore Valdivia!

Seafood for sale at Valdivia Fish market

Seafood for sale at Valdivia Fish market

The exchange rate is about $1 CAD = $500 CLP.  Chile can be a very, very affordable country to visit!

Fresh produce at Valdivia Fish market

Fresh produce at Valdivia Fish market

Seals, cormorant, vultures and seagulls feast at Valdivia Fish market

Seals, cormorant, vultures and seagulls feast at Valdivia Fish market

Catch of the Day - Sea urchin at Fish market of Valdivia, Chile

Catch of the Day – Sea urchin at Fish market of Valdivia, Chile

My friends who LOVE to order Uni in Japanese restaurants would call this place Heaven right about now! I don’t think Uni (sea urchin in Japanese) gets anymore fresher than this.

Fresh sea urchin at Fish market in Valdivia, Chile

Fresh sea urchin at Fish market in Valdivia, Chile

I settled myself at a nearby restaurant and enjoyed a seafood lunch-dinner!

My seafood lunch at La Perla del Sur in Valdivia

My seafood meal at La Perla del Sur in Valdivia

After the meal, I checked out the Municipal market and found a wide range of goods, handicrafts and souvenirs for sale.

Entrance to Mercado Municipal of Valdivia, Chile

Entrance to Mercado Municipal of Valdivia, Chile

Inside Mercado Municipal of Valdivia

Inside Mercado Municipal of Valdivia

It was surprising how fast and efficient they cleared out of the market by about 5 pm.

End of day at Valdivia Fish market

End of day at Valdivia Fish market

End of day at fish market in Valdivia, Chile

End of day at fish market in Valdivia, Chile

Then I tried a famous traditional Chilean summer time non-alcoholic drink – Mote con huesillos, made from peaches and wheat. It is delicious and I became an instant fan! I even became friends with the vendors, Carlie and Daniela.

Mote con huesillos vendor in Valdivia, Chile

Mote con huesillos vendor in Valdivia, Chile

Mote con huesillos - traditional Chilean non-alcoholic summer time drink

Mote con huesillos – traditional Chilean non-alcoholic summer time drink

What I wasn’t prepared for was the sight of the “Golden Arches”. This marks a shift in my “travel normal” day, which was the new normal until the sighting…

First glorious sight of the Golden Arches - McDonald's in Valdivia, Chile

First glorious sight of the Golden Arches – McDonald’s in Valdivia, Chile

I am aware of the fact that McDonald’s offers unhealthy fast food. However, no one can deny it that it is many children’s homing beacon. I grew up with McDonald’s in Hong Kong and Winnipeg – it is ingrained in every cell of my body. When I saw the Golden arches, waves of unknown, unforeseen homesickness overwhelmed me. The familiarity. My comfort food.

The Golden arches reminded me of home, of my family, of my friends, of the life I left behind in Toronto.

It has only been 6 weeks, how will I survive traveling on my own for another 6.5 months!?!

***

Have I been on the road for this long before?  Yes, I traveled for 6 weeks straight in Australia back in 2009, in lieu with 1 month stay in Hong Kong.

Did I miss my life and my friends back in Toronto, Canada?  Heck yeah! I missed everything that’s close to normalcy.

Was I homesick at this point?!  I did not realize it until I saw the famous “Golden arches”…

***

I did not make a mad dash to McDonald’s and feed my emotions. Instead, I kept walking and exploring Valdivia. The Universe decided to reward me alternatively. I found Mall Plaza de Los Ríos!! I struck GOLD!! Well that’s what it felt like to me. In contrast to the hot summer sun, I found air conditioning and McDonald’s ice cream cone and movies!

The familiarity – walking mindlessly in a mall, non-descript stores offering familiar international and local brands. What have I become!? How warped is it a mindset that walking inside shopping mall gives me comfort?!

I gave myself what I needed at the time – normalcy.

Inside Mall Plaza de Los Ríos, Valdivia, Chile

Inside Mall Plaza de Los Ríos, Valdivia, Chile

Fireworks exploded in my mind when I saw Cineplanet! I love, love watching movies on the big screen! This was the first movie theatre I’ve seen in 6 weeks time. I hoped for a movie with English subtitles but timing did not work out with any movie. So I watched “Life of Pi” in Spanish. It is a movie with amazing images and it did not matter to me that I couldn’t understand most of the dialogue in the movie. I was just floating on cloud 9 that it cost me less than $4 CAD to watch a movie and lessen my homesickness.

3D Movie - Life of Pi poster in Spanish

3D Movie – Life of Pi poster in Spanish

After the movie, all the stores in the mall were closed except for a few vendors in the food court.

Food court inside Mall Plaza de Los Ríos at night after a movie

Food court inside Mall Plaza de Los Ríos at night after a movie

To further conquer homesickness, I resorted to eating fast food at the food court of Mall Plaza de Los Ríos.

KFC meal in Mall Plaza de Los Ríos, Valdivia, Chile

KFC meal in Mall Plaza de Los Ríos, Valdivia, Chile

Homesickness can be frequent and painful to deal with while traveling solo for an extended period of time. With the advent of modern technologies, it has alleviated many bouts of homesickness for me. A quick text message on Viber or WhatsApp. A quick phone call on Skype or Viber. Human connections with those I love and care for help lessen homesickness and lets them know I am safe and sound. Win-Win.

While traveling in nature can make human connections a bit more difficult, carrying photos or mementos of loved ones has helped me greatly.

How have you handled homesickness? Share with me so we can learn from each other 🙂

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2 thoughts on “How to find Normalcy while Traveling!

  1. We traveled for 11 months through Asia and I was definitely homesick at times. Occasional visits to the Golden Arches for cheap and refreshing ice cream cones provided a bit of comfort but Viber messages, emails and Skype definitely did the trick to help keep in touch with people at home, thank you WiFi!

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