We are in Auckland International awaiting our flight. I’m a little sad to leave what has been a truly relaxing last month in the quirky Brit-meets-Islander culture of New Zealand, but I am super psyched to announce our final sweet-as destination. In doing so I think it will help explain the difference between a vacation and a “mid-life gap year,” which is how we have described our adventure to many travelers.
The other night we were watching a documentary on TV, in which kindergarten-aged kids were being filmed in the schoolyard so that their actions could be analyzed. Two girls and a boy declared in succession, “I’m a super hero,” “I’m not a super hero, I’m a princess with a beautiful dress,” and, dramatic pause, “I’m a little boy who shakes his bottom!”
Like that little boy, I have spent much of our time on this trip observing, learning the norms of this global schoolyard. Immerse yourself in the cultures of the world and you will have your beliefs reinforced and dismantled over and over again, often without your own knowledge. “One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.” – Henry Miller
But I am not a five-year-old boy. I am 39, and I am plagued with deeper concerns like does it make me truly happy to shake my bottom? Or am I just shaking it for attention? Is it culturally appropriate to shake my bottom? Can I shake it as fast as I used to? I’ve been shaking it the same way for so long, isn’t it time to learn how others shake their butts?
So tonight we leave New Zealand for … drumroll please … Spain.
The reason we chose Spain as our final destination is because it allows us to take the world’s longest commercial flight. At 17 hours and 15 minutes direct from Auckland to Dubai, Emirates takes the existing title from Qantas and its Dallas/Fort Worth to Sydney flight.
Seriously though, Erin and I are terrified of flying, but we have heard great things about Emirates service, which should help. However, I am a little disappointed to hear that this flight replaces the normal pre-landing drink service with a request for all passengers to lean forward and “think light.”
Another 7-hour flight from Dubai, and we arrive in Barcelona, where we will Rick Steves-it for four days before Erin takes a bus to St. Jean Pied de Port, France to begin the ancient pilgrimage known as the Camino de Santiago.
I will take a train to the bustling capital city of Madrid, to take up Spanish lessons again.
So I just asked Erin, “Why are we going to Spain?” I expected a deep answer that would fit this great post that I am writing but she answered, “I would have gone anywhere. You were excited about Spain and it seemed like a good fit for both of us.” Huh, that was blah and unexpected. She must be taking the “Lower the Bar” thing seriously.
Well, here is why I am so excited about our upcoming adventures. First, time is the most precious gift of this trip and I am ready to use this gift differently than we have so far. We have now seen swimming jaguars in Amazonia, purchased fruit smoothies from Incan ancestors, hiked our way through multiple pairs of shoes, and spent the last three weeks relaxing on the beach with the next chapter of a book serving as our alarm clock. We have experienced so much over the last nine months, but during those first weeks in Costa Rica my brain was hyperactively processing a new language. It was exhausting in an almost muscular way, and I miss it.
Learning Spanish not only takes time, it also unfortunately requires not setting it aside to chat with Erin in English about how much you love gallo pinto. And Erin and I don’t normally choose to spend time apart–although we’ve done so on this trip numerous times when we each wanted to do something different and/or we needed a break from each other. The result has always been a renewed enthusiasm for our shared adventure and in the case of Spain, Erin has wanted to walk the Camino de Santiago for years. So while we don’t need a break from each other (although we might after this flight), we both want to do something different and a mid-life gap year seems like the right time to do it.
I am excited to be in old country again, where the line between the built and natural environment is so blurry that it doesn’t command my attention. I am excited to eat tapas and awkwardly explain why I don’t eat jamon. But most of all, I am grateful for the time to exercise those gluts while learning how to shake my bottom in an entirely new way.
While in Madrid I’ll be staying in an apartment shared with two other guests and a señora. I messaged her through Air BnB and thankfully she does not speak any English and is okay with me using her kitchen. I have found that speaking with older women in the kitchen is great for my Spanish. I also know from experience that it is not good for my belly, which is why I have signed up for the Rock n Roll Half Marathon in Madrid in late April. I’m back up to 10k shape since we came to New Zealand, now I just need to double that.
Erin begins the Camino in France on March 28th. I know little about her journey except that it is not quite a hike because it’s not a trail, but it’s not a mambi-pambi walk either. She hopes to complete the 500+ mile walk in 26 days (about 18 miles per day). Most importantly I know that she is going to have an amazing experience that will last her a life time. And we can get a cheap sim card for her phone so I won’t worry too much.
Speaking of worrying, it is time to head to our gate. Hasta luego.