After...who am I now??

I keep thinking of ways to capture how our traveling changed us.  First, I would say, we didnt 'change', but we are forever modified.

The biggest impact, I say over and over, is how much more open we are to taking a risk.  Travelling for a year with no itinerary, no income (for Code, at least), no formal school, no family/friends, and no sounds pretty crazy.  As we were preparing to go, lots of people said we were crazy.  Many told us it was a bad idea. Some said even the thought of what we were going to do gave them a panic attack.  Some (mom) said it was a terrible idea and something bad will probably happen.   Each persons cautions were a direct or indirect reflection of their own fears in their daily lives transferred as fears for our safety (piracy or shipwrecks), financial security (shipwrecked and broke), or career progression (broke and unemployable).

We didnt run into pirates in the Med (there would be more chance of crime on the high seas in Florida).  We did not sail in bad weather (there is this amazing thing called marine forcasts), we werent finacially ruined (we did have a little 'oops' on the boat--but that is what insurance is for) and we lived on a budget, and finally, our careers have remained stable.  

Regarding careers, we now live in a highly transient professional world-not like our parent's generation who made few job changes.  My Dad worked for Wyeth for 42 years, my Mom worked for the same employer for almost 20 years.  Nowdays, working at the same place for 5-10 years then moving on is quite common. The professional world is much more fluid than it was a generation ago, people and opportunities get phased in and phased back out again. Yet, our paradigm remains the same: I-just-cant-quit because we're afraid there wont be a place for us in the workspace when we return.

We-especially Code-have found just the opposite.  Having a year-long sabbatical boosts other's impression of his success...and perception is everything (well, it is a lot).  People want to hire and be associated with someone who is goal oriented, executes on the goal, and takes (reasonable) risks.  Isnt that true of our experience?  

While for me, I would not say that travelling had a direct impact on my career, but there was a positive effect.  First, I just know more about the world we live in.  I have been to Europe before, but never for such a long time.  Second, I know I can manage a boat (alone) with 2 kids, get help when I need it, and that I did something that scared me...a lot!  That makes me much more confident.  Again, third, perception is that I am a confident and capable person.  Without even having to say a word, my clients know that it takes a lot to phase me.





Being at home

We spent the last 2 months in Canada before coming back to home in Silver Spring.  I love Salt Spring Island, and my father-in-law and I have become a smoothly functioning family unit.  It is an amazing thing to live with my husbands father for weeks/months at a time.  It is special, and it is really really fun.  We learn to get along as housemates, respect eachothers space, talk about family history, plan for our family future.  I am really lucky.

 Kids started school - and love it.  I have a recommendation for all parents:  if you want your kids to really love school, try home-schooling for a year.  With no contact with any other kids.  With Dad as the teacher.  That's motivation.  

Code is in Ottawa working, and I am continuing my consultant work from home.  I have to say, it is nice to have a real desk, a real monitor, and a real printer...not to mention just a dedicated work space instead of internet cafes and being locking in the aft berth of the boat.  It might sound surprizing, but there are actually more distractions here at home versus being abroad.  At home I find myself wanting to keep up with the news, hungry for something to buy, thinking of what to plant in the garden.  Overall, feeling less satisfied...or somehow I can feel my appetite for the stuff of urban living starting to rev up.  

On one hand, it saddens me to move away from the simple austere lifestyle of cruising.  We could focus on eachother, the kids, our 'itinerary', and life was about spending a day to go shopping for groceries, or the day to do laundry, or doing something totally crazy like experiencing a hammam or just doing nothing.  The more we do, the more we can handle, the more we seem to need.  



Coming home

We spent the last few days at Preveza packing up our things to bring home, setting aside the items to leave on the boat for its trip home.  We were lucky to find a yacht transport service that just happened to be picking up a disabled mega-yacht in Preveza for a Florida delivery on the 16th of June (just 4 days after our departure).  Ordinarily boats don’t get transported from Preveza.  We were only about 10 miles and about 10 days away from the pick-up date, and we got a real steal of a price for transport.  Unbelievable luck.  Otherwise, yacht transports pick up in France, Majorca(1000 miles away) and sometime in Athens and cost much more (on the order of $20,000+).  The reason we didn’t leave the boat in Athens for transport is that we were anticipating having the leave the boat in storage for several months as we still hadn’t decided how to get the boat home.  Given the steep price of transport, we thought we could leave the boat in Preveza and find someone to skipper the boat home, or do it ourselves, thus putting on as many miles west as possible.  We were pretty lucky to have gotten that far, as transporting from Preveza solved so many logistical problems.  Getting the boat home was a huge logistical glitch we hadn’t solved from the day that we left for the trip, and it is a grand stroke of luck that it we resolved so serendipitously in our last week travel.  I am astonished.

Packing was a sad drawn out affair.  We had little else to do in Preveza other than pack, reminisce, and anticipate our upcoming dramatic change in lifestyle.  No more jumping in clear blue waters for a swim to cool off (and long swims exploring the coast), no more towns to explore, beautiful landscapes to get lost in.  It felt like a breakup – when you know everything in your life will be different, and on one level you know how, and you reluctantly  soldier on because you know it is the direction your life has to go.  Code and I were absorbed in our memories, sometimes alone, sometimes together and we pointed out to the kids what the feeling of ‘confused’ emotions is like: cant wait to just get it over with an leave, cant wait to see home, cant imagine saying goodbye to our boat, which has been our home for the last year.  Wanting to leave Preveza (because we didn’t like it much) but knowing that the next place was home. It was a roller coaster of ups and downs.

We had much less stowed on the boat to bring home later than we thought.  Shipping the the boat in June (rather than an unresolved, open-endeded date) allowed us so much flexibility in terms of what we can pack and leave.  We knew what we could leave, and when we will get it.  We stripped the boat of items on deck, the bimini, dodger, fuel cans, bicycles, dinghy motor, grill, etc.  By the time we finished, she looked like a generic charter boat, not a well-stocked live-aboard.  We set aside things to donate to charity like outgrown clothes and appliances that only work on 220 volts.  Our last afternoon, we went to a local hotel to hang out by the pool.  One great thing in Greece is that hotels open their pools to the public.  It is free if you have drinks or lunch there.  It is a great idea and we took advantage of it.  Had we not gone to the pool, we would have sat and moped.  We sat and moped, but at least it was at the pool.

Leaving the boat for Athens was hard.  I cried, Aethan cried, Code had a very long face, and Graeme (being in a chatty mood) tried to cheer us up with what was going to be good about going back to America.  I just needed to be in the moment of sad, and I was successful.  We took the 9 am bus from Preveza to Athens, which made a 10 minute lunch stop just 5 miles away from Navpaktos.  Ironic.  Sad.  We waved to the town as we passed it by on the bridge separating the Gulf of Corinth from the Gulf of Patra.  The bus route paralleled the our route by sea, and we couldn’t believe how far we went.  We passed by Galaxidi, Dephi, and over the Corinth Canal, which looked unremarkable from the road.  The contrast of the experience of the 45 minute passage through the canal versus crossing it in an instant struck me.  How many other things to we bypass as we go about our busy lives?  We can always take the long way, can we, but it is direction we sometimes need to remember to take.

We arrive in NY in less than an hour.  Soon the hellos, the sharing, the excitement of being reunited with friends and family will replace the melancholy of our return.  We have lots to do right out of the gate (including buying new cars to replace the ones crushed last fall by the tree) just to reintegrate back into life.  When we moved back from California to our old neighborhood, it felt like slipping into a comfortable pair of blue jeans.  I wasn’t all that happy in California.  I wonder if we will find ourselves restless (given our consideration of moving to Ottawa, restless might be what we’re feeling).  Maybe it is a time for big changes…maybe it is not a time for big changes.  Maybe being home will feel betting than we think, and I am sure it will, but one thing for sure is that we’re already talking about our next trip. 


Almost back

We are in Preveza (Greece) packing our things and preparing the boat for its transport back to the US.  We were stressed all year about how we would get the boat back to the US.  Initially, we thought we would make a quick loop around the Med, around Turkey, Egypt, North Africa and sail our boat home.  That idea fell apart by the time we reached Spain back in July when we realized how big the Med is.  We made it to Turkey, obviously, but in terms of voyaging back west, our goal soon became western Greece, which is where Preveza is located. 

While Nidri was a transit stop for British tourists on their way to the rest of the Ionian, Preveza is a spot where yachtsmen come to drop off their boat and leave.  There isn’t much of a feel of tourism here.  There are a few dozen boats moored along the waterfront, which is where you will hear English spoken as often as Greek, but go ½ block in to town and it is all Greek.  To me, Preveza looks like a town that reflects the Greek economy.  It has some beautiful buildings along the waterfront, built in the last decades or so, like a bank and a municipal building of some sort.  They are built in an old Mediterranean-Venetian style with balconies, archways, and tiled facades.  There is also a labyrinth of alleyways and streets lined with cafes and shops.  More cafes than there are people to fill them, certainly.  The waterfront promenade is planted with palm trees and geraniums, and the grass has been cut – but more like it is just mowed down to be kept short rather than really looked after, evidenced by dense long grass growing amongst the flowerbeds.  Still, from a distance, when the details are not readily visible, the waterfront is pretty. 

On the outskirts of town, where we are, the economics of Greece are more apparent.  We are in an unfinished marina whose construction was once started by the town.  The quays are built, water and electric installed, lighting complete.  No grass, no trees, nothing but concrete quays and a dumpster.  A group of Roma (gypsies) live just on the otherside of a fence.  Somehow, like at least a dozen others around Greece, the marina so close to town, was never finished.   Water and electric, though installed, was never turned on.  No parking lots were paved, no buildings were built.  It was 80% finished, and then the money, or interest, or connections ran out.  There were three like this in Mykonos alone.  It is a moneymaker waiting to happen.  Here in Preveza the owners of a marina across the bay (a 20 Euro taxi ride away) saw a business opportunity and somehow, miraculously, must have had the right connections to buy the unfinished marina.  It still looks and feels like a vacant lot – hot, dry, weedy, depressing – but the water and electric are on and a few boats, including ours, pay 10 Euros a night for the spot and the relative quiet, away from the fishbowl of the town’s waterfront.

I always find it amusing to be docked on a waterfront quay in town.  Fishbowl is definitely the right term for that.  I don’t know whether it is a European thing or whether it is worldwide, but people stolling along the waterfront look at the boats and comment among themselves regarding their observations.  If they are alone and do not have someone to share their commentary, they just stop and stare, not saying a word.  Just looking at the boat, looking at us.  They seem to think we are on the other side of a one way mirror, or, that by pulling our boat up to a public arena makes us, by default, the entertainment.  If, after a while, we smile or say hello, they are shocked-like someone on their TV screen just popped out and said hello.  They usually are embarrassed and walk off.  I am tempted to jump up and say BOO!!

We leave here on Monday. We take the bus to Athens, then fly to New York.  We’ll stay with my mom for a few days then spend a weekend in Silver Spring.  The following Thursday we are off to Saltspring Island for a few weeks.  The kids will be in sailing camp, of course.

Preveza makes me feel happy to leave, since it is town that I am not crazy about (I am all about the water…if I cant swim in it, I don’t like the town no matter how nice!).  I am not sure if spending so long in Saltspring is the right thing, but I want a home base and I hope we can get some work done on the house and/or garden. 

I keep thinking about how we talked about this trip for 10 years.  I thought it was a crazy idea and that Code would eventually drop the idea.  For 10 years, he dreamed of this.  He read books about families cruising the world, living aboard, travelling, quitting life for a while to learn about the world.  For 10 years, I dreamed he would forget it.  Christmas of 2010 we started to think about the new year, and it dawned on us that this was the year that we said we would go.  We were not ready, mentally or otherwise.  It freaked us out a little – it was time to put up or shut up. 

So we decided to put up.  Mostly, I think, we were driven by the fear that if we didn’t go this year, when would we go?  So we went to the New York boat show and spent $5000 on a radar, chart plotter, and life raft.  Once we sunk some real cash, it did not feel real (and that feeling stayed until the day we left), but we were at least going through the motions of the right direction. 

My dear mother-in-law died from pancreatic cancer when she was only 61.  I spent a few weeks with her before she died, and much of that time she was semi-lucid.  Somewhere between here and there, wherever she was, she said ‘It is over so fast, I can’t believe that it is over so fast’.  In that moment, I could feel with her how instantaneous life is.   It was heartbreaking to realize how very short it was for her, how short it is for all of us.  I realize how short a year is, how short all the years are – it is over so fast, and later may never come. 

I am so grateful that we had this time to travel as a family.  I am grateful to have learned to be less afraid of taking a risk, and to have learned how very little time we have to squeeze it all in.


Waking up is hard to do

We are in Nidri, on the island of Levkas for a night, just to get water, electric, provisions for the next few days.  Nidri is a base for charters, which maybe explains why the town has never developed past a place the you might only want to spend a day or two.  It is a long rambling strip of restaurants, day-tripper boats, and souvenier shops.  The setting, though, is beautiful as the mountains wrap around a lagoon.  That said, the harbor is crowded with boats of all kinds and the water is cloudy, but there are redeeming factors like good provisions and cheap mooring, but the best is that the hotels make their pools available to non-guests, all one has to do is pay for a snack or a drink from their café.  A great idea!

It is June 2, in just 10 days we will be in Athens boarding a plane to go home.  It is beyond strange to be going home.  Part of the feeling of having just gotten started is that we are leaving at the beginning of high season here in Greece.  It is the season that all the shops, restaurants, and vacationers of all sorts have been waiting for, and here we are, with the feeling that everyone around us is at the starting line, and instead of joining them we are wrapping up and going home.

I have had recurring dreams as long as I can remember, but they tend to vary with age and circumstance.  One I keep having, that may sound like more fun than it is in the dream, is that I am saying carnal goodbyes to old boyfriends.  At first, there is a feeling of familiarity (and shock!), but then as the emotions move on it is the same heartbreaking sadness of our final breakup.  Our last days have a similar feeling.  We wake up someplace beautiful and in my waking haze I realize where we are:  comfortable and safe on our boat, on an island in the Med, on our amazing trip. Then in the next few moments I remember that it is now nearly over, the time to say goodbye is seeking us out, and this moment, too, will be among our most precious memories.