Mar 13, 2006

An Albany And Amsterdam Ancient Affiliation

Amsterdam?  No, Albany
My hometown Albany, NY

    The difference between traveling and vacationing is who returns. After a vacation I return recharged and refreshed but ultimately the same person who left. A traveler, on the other hand, lets the experience wash over and change them. Coming home after trip like ours can be one of the most intense experiences of the entire journey. Suddenly we're somewhere that I know should be familiar but it's changed because there is a different person seeing it.

Albany, NY    For example, the Albany I left was nothing special. It was just the city I grew up in. But last weekend I wandered downtown with a friend to catch the St. Patrick’s Day parade and snapped pictures of the amazing architecture until my camera’s battery died. The city felt both familiar and foreign but it was also familiar to something foreign which blew my mind.

    Downtown Albany has many brownstone buildings; tall narrow buildings clustered so close to that they can lean on one another. The architects had to show their creativity with only the facades, the windows, roof gables, and other architectural details on the narrow wall facing the street.

Albany, NY    That makes it look like another cool city I have visited in my travels, Amsterdam. In the Middle Ages the city of Amsterdam charged property tax not based on the size of home, nor the plot of land, but it's frontage to the street. So, the narrower the house is the less they needed to pay. When the architects were limited by width they went to great lengths to make the facades, windows, and the roof gables distinctive.

    Coincidence? Not really. A little detail from the dusty recesses of my memory floats up. In a middle school I learned that that the Dutch colonized much of New York, and founded Albany, long before they gave it to the English. They established some cultural traditions, like our annual Tulip festival, as well as built buildings. They created places like they knew, like home, like Amsterdam. And even after the English took over the next generation designed buildings to fit the already existing feel of Albany. In other words, Dutch.

Amsterdam Roof peaks
Amsterdam, Holland the former capital of my colonial city

    A highlight of traveling in Latin America was the countless colonial cities we visited. Throughout the trip I wondered what it must be like to grow up in a place influenced so much by an ancient European power.

It wasn't until I got home that I realized that my hometown, and a house I lived in, was shaped by a Dutch tax code from the Middle Ages..

Mar 10, 2006

Computation Conclusion Catalog Coda

    It's finally official. The (first) MacAllen Latin America Epic is over. We got home, to Albany NY with one day to go before I plunged headlong into the last year of my twenties. My birthday kicked off a long week of parties and happy reunions with friends and family so it still felt like the trip was going all the way until after our Homecoming Hullabaloo party over a week later. Madre MacAllen was kind enough to throw us a homecoming party and the house filled up with smiling friends bearing great food and wine. People came in from four different states, and were nearly overflowing out of the house. I'd like to thank everyone who helped and came to the party. It really meant a lot to both of us that you took the time to share this moment with us!

Homecoming Hullabaloo    Nearly everybody's first question is "So, How was the trip?" It's a fair question but I always feel a bit overwhelmed by it because it feels too small to engage a topic so big. As soon as it's asked a landslide of thoughts leap into my mind fighting to be the answer I give. My immediate thought process is something along the lines of...
"This trip was relaxing, stressful, beautiful, easy, terrifying, delicious, horrid, hard work, exhausting, fun, educational, foul smelling, wonderful, merry, playful, serious, energizing. I lost myself, saw things I'd only known from books, got to know my best friend (Tyler) even better, fell in love, caught myself thinking in Spanish, built a building out of shit, leapt into ridiculous situations, learned html, got close friends from all over the world and ultimately found myself... Etc"
    But a tiny question begs a tiny answer. In all likelihood it was just a polite query and the person asking isn't ready to get assaulted with my verbal diarrhea on the topic. So, as these thought go streaming down to my mouth I scramble to pick a simple reply like "wonderful". Unable to summarize, I pick one phrase from the onslaught at random to answer with. Usually it works, but sometimes when the phrase that comes out is something like "I learned html" it surprises and confuses both of us.

    Even now, when I'm sitting at home with all the time in the world to compose this post, I don't know how to summarize an experience like that. Because I am an engineer, I'll put things in the language I understand... numbers.

  • The trip was 8 1/2 months long and spanned 10 countries.
    (Tyler also went to Chile, bringing his count to 11)

  • We took 5,688 pictures:
    1042 from Guatemala

    303 from Honduras

    190 from Nicaragua
    781 from Costa Rica
    201 from Panama
    526 from Colombia
    526 from Ecuador
    526 from Peru
    278 from Bolivia
    1015 from Argentina
    242 from Chile
    At least 293 of Art
    At least 176 of Tyler
    At least 148 of Micah
    At least 530 of Flowers
    At least 146 of Creatures
    (these photos are a random pic from each of these sets, click its link for a slideshow on that theme)

  • The toughest, most dependable camera I've ever ownedTyler and I went through 5 cameras. We started with 1 old beat-up Canon camera, bought 4 more before and during the trip, and broke or lost all but 1 of these.
    (The old Canon made it through, and took most of the pictures of, the whole trip like a champ! )

  • We each got at least 1 infectious parasite.

  • We were both robbed, mugged, or assaulted a grand total of 0 times.

  • I spent the night in 72 different places.

  • I tried parilla, an Argentinean delicacy made with parts of a cow like the stomach and intestines, 2 times.
    (I'll try anything once, twice if it doesn't kill me, and three times if I like it.)

  • Tyler bought, made himself, or was given 23 necklaces, beads, or other pieces of jewelry.

  • Smuggled 6 bottles of Argentinean wine home.

  • We wrote 16 Blog posts in the lead up to this trip, and another 81 on the road for a total of 97.
    (98 when I press publish!)

  • Sampled at least 6 new types of alcohol.
    (Chicha, Fernat, Pisco, Vino de Cana, Singani, Bolivian Agua de Fuego)

  • Started seriously planning to start our own hostel in 3 places.
    (Panama, Medellin, Lanquin)

  • Had a merry reunion with others we met traveling at least 16 times.
    (Arwen, Katherine, Bernat, Nell, Rizwana, Kuku, Edwin, Andy, Io, Kristina, Ditte, Ben, Krista, Flor, Rose, and Patricia)

  • The biggest number, I'm sure, would be the number of times we swore we'd return to Latin America. But this number got too high to count after the first month.

    Tyler and I hung up our backpacks at Madre MacAllens home for the time being and are struggling to figure out what to do next. In many ways this trip gave us a lot of answers that we went into it looking for... what we wanted out of life, who we are and what we want that to mean to the world. On the other hand, this trip gave us more questions than answers. Tylers career and life aspirations went from including Albany and a 10 mile radius around it to a broad five year plan that puts him in an exotic country for most of it. I've got a better sense of who I am, what I want to do with my life... but have returned home to find I left half of my soul below the equator. I don't really know where I'll be in a year, or even a month... but I plan to keep this weblog in the loop. Keep on comin' by!
    An entirely new adventure begun the moment the Latin American Epic ended. And I'm even more excited, and curious, to see how this one plays out.