There´s a moment that eventually hits you during your travels when you decide to stay in one place for a bit. Maybe you´ve fallen in love with someone, or you just can´t get enough of the food, the culture, the scenery. You may feel a tad bit guilty, but you just can´t force yourself to move on…yet. At first it sorta feels like cheating. You realize you´re starting to develop a routine, people are starting to recognize you on the streets and they might even know your name. It feels wrong. Isn´t this the opposite of living a nomadic lifestyle? Aren´t you supposed to be escaping the daily grind, stepping outside of your comfort zone, moving away from the familiar? What if your secret is exposed? What if people back home knew you had eaten at the same restaurant three nights in a row? That you spent an entire day in your hostel without ever leaving your bed?
Slowly but surely you may find yourself settling in to a place. You start going to the same bakery every day because you know it´s the best in town, you grab your umbrella before leaving because you know it always rains in the afternoon. It might happen the first time you invite a friend over to share a beer or a glass of wine, or when notice you no longer cling to your map like someone searching for buried treasure. You might smile with overwhelming pride the first time someone asks you for directions as you realize you´re starting to fit in.
For me it´s inevitable. Being a Cancer I am a creature of comfort and habit. I will try to create a home out of the most humble abodes and meager conditions. I will establish patterns of behavior and make connections that are reproducible, relying on instinct and observation to find my way. It happened when I was studying for a semester in Morelia, Mexico. I developed a schedule. I knew that whatever the rest of my day looked like I would return for a home-cooked meal at 2:30pm on the dot. I started dating the boy who walked me home every night, trusting his company to keep me safe and sound.
When my friend and I were in Europe we also developed a routine. Mornings were spent exploring the city we were in while afternoons and evenings were reserved for ¨wine time.¨ At approximately 4:30pm we´d plop our weary bodies down, order a liter of house wine and sit for hours at a little sidewalk cafe. This time together became a treasured daily highlight.
I´ve been in Shell, Ecuador for three weeks now and it´s starting to happen again. I´m settling in. There’s a box of wine in my fridge and a collection of phone numbers in my notebook from new friends I´ve made. I have a favorite restaurant and I´ve joined the gym (to counteract all the cheese and bread I´ve been eating). It feels strange and a little bit scary to be adapting to another place. Scary because I know the more habits and connections I form the harder it will be to leave. But this is what we do. As humans we find ways to integrate and conform to our surroundings. We look for familiarity and develop routines even when we are half way around the world. Besides, no matter how much I travel I will always be searching for a piece of home. Even if that home is one I carry with me, looking for new places to settle in.