There's an unspoken rule of travelers. You don't talk about the difficulty of long term travel. You can bitch and moan a bit about lost luggage or stolen wallets, but it is verboten to say you're tired, isolated and maybe, just maybe, the idea of chucking it all and going home has crossed your mind.
But admit it or not, everyone, everyone feels that way at some point. Yesterday was that day for me.
My parents visited us this month to be here for Lila's fifth birthday. They flew back Sunday evening, arrived in Atlanta Monday morning. I didn't hear from them, but considering we have limited internet and phone access, I didn't think much of it.
Around 4pm, I get an email from Noah's aunt. "Have you heard about this?" she asked. Turns out, my dad was rushed by ambulance straight from his seat on the airplane to the hospital. They didn't even have time to get their luggage.
My dad hasn't been well for a while now. A couple years ago after what seemed to be a routine operation on a torn rotator cuff, my dad emerged from anesthesia to find that his pituitary gland no longer functioned. It sounds so simple, doesn't it. This tiny little gland, the size of a pea, who could imagine what a difference it makes to your body? Without it, the body cannot regulate itself.
So I'm all the way over here in Salta with my parents in Atlanta. My parent's cell phone sat -- as usual -- battery drained on my dad's desk at home and no one's checking e-mail. Had I been in Atlanta, I would have hopped in the car and gone straight to the hosptial. Or better yet, I would let my mom take care of things in the emergency room while I went to the airport to track down their luggage.
Of course, it hasn't entirely escaped me that my parents luggage wouldn't have needed tracking had they not been on that flight from Argentina. Nonetheless.
So what did I do? I waited until my mom came home to answer the phone. I waited, because it was the only thing I could do.
I recently read an article on Worldhum by Rolf Potts about how to tell your family you want to travel long term. It's a solid article, well written with good advice, but geared primarily for people just graduating high school or perhaps college. It's not aimed at traveling families with children who need their grandparents.
Back in January, I had dinner with two friends I met in Buenos Aires. Alysa, a woman visiting for a month with her husband and kids. The other, Jo, a woman traveling alone in South America for six months. All three of us love traveling, love living abroad and each of us has at least one parent with a serious medical condition.
Over a couple bottles of really lovely Torrontes -- oddly, from the Jose Mounier vineyard we visited while in Cafayate this past week with my parents -- the three of us discussed the nature of leaving a sick family member behind while traveling. It's impossible to shake the feeling that if you go away, you may never see the person again. Perhaps you should stay, not travel,spend time with the person.
But Jo, her mother has been sick for over a decade. Should she have put all her travel plans on hold?
There will times you look back and know you did the right thing. Other times, you will look back and wish you had made a different choice. There's no way of knowing for sure at the moment. You just have to make the best decision you can with whatever information you have at the time.
So last night, Noah and I had a long talk about what to do. Should we stay or should we go?
This morning, I finally talked to my dad. You know what? He sounds great. Apparently what he needed was an additional dose of his medication to get those pituitary hormones back in balance. He gushed on and on about what a wonderful time he had with us in Argentina. It was the best vacation he's ever had. We did so many interesting things.
What a huge relief!
Last night, I looked on Lila's camera to see what she'd taken of my parents. I found a video at the Amphitheater, a huge rocky space outside of Cafayate, my dad doing a little birthday song and dance for Lila You see things like that with very different eyes when you know the person in the picture is in the hospital and you don't know why or what's going on.
This morning, I feel different. I'll soon forget the homesickness and isolation I felt last night. After all, I'm a traveler, we don't talk about such things