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!
The exchange rate is about $1 CAD = $500 CLP. Chile can be a very, very affordable country to visit!
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.
I settled myself at a nearby restaurant and enjoyed a seafood lunch-dinner!
After the meal, I checked out the Municipal market and found a wide range of goods, handicrafts and souvenirs for sale.
It was surprising how fast and efficient they cleared out of the market by about 5 pm.
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.
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…
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.
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.
After the movie, all the stores in the mall were closed except for a few vendors in the food court.
To further conquer homesickness, I resorted to eating fast food at the food court of Mall Plaza de Los Ríos.
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 🙂