Juxtaposing journeys

I gave away the keys to my apartment last month. After I spun them off of their ring and handed them over, all that remained in my hand was a gold-colored metal key chain with “Peru” stamped on the bottom. Sentimentally, I kept it and walked away feeling lighter; I was back to life without keys for the second time in two years.

Three months after the injury, I finally had doctor’s approval to travel. I packed the Peru key chain into a carry-on bag and boarded an airplane that did not return to the USA. Post-Peace Corps travel was not a tradition that I planned to buck.

I had planned exactly five weeks of my life and nothing more: two weeks in Mexico followed by one week at my mom’s house, then finishing up with two and a half weeks in Germany.

Not surprisingly, I found each trip to be completely different from the other. Could two countries be any more juxtaposing than Mexico and Germany? Probably, but visiting the two back-to-back was a bit of a shock to the system.

Goodbye to colorful, laid-back Mexico

The trip had been planned before my injury. It not was originally going to be a goodbye vacation; it was supposed to be a relaxing family trip filled with cultural discovery. It ended up becoming all of those things.

On the Yucatan Peninsula, I soaked in a landscape covered in teal and yellow.

This was my adios to scarce directional signage and a relaxed attitude toward rules.

No signage since the Mayans, and time has made them unreadable

Signage: Almost nothing new since the Mayans

No helmets and many passengers, no problema!

Road rules: No helmets and many passengers, no problema!

I reminded my family that public clocks are never to be trusted, and encouraged them to stop worrying about time all-together. This is Mexico and this is vacation. People are more important than time.

The locals could tell that something was different about me: I could speak Spanish with a Mexican accent, and I ate mangoes like the locals. I was an outsider with insider know-how. I was laid-back.

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One vacation down, I returned to the USA for a few days. There were a few important tasks to complete before the next adventure: a doctor’s visit, a date with the washing machine, and a trip to the mail center to pick up the shipped-contents from my bedroom in Mexico.

Instead of returning with busting suitcases, medically separated volunteers pick up boxes from a mail center

Instead of returning with busting suitcases, medically separated volunteers pick up boxes from a mail center

One packed suitcase later, I was off again.

Making first impressions in grey, orderly Germany

The trip was about two years overdue, time to meet a host of new people in a beloved city. It was supposed to be coffee-and-cake-fueled, slightly awkward, and filled with laughs. It certainly lived up to the hype.

There, I appreciated the orderly green gardens and grey/black backdrop, and I marveled at how a place could be so different from Mexico.

There, I said hallo to a love of directional signage that is exemplified in the word, Schilderwald, meaning a forest of signs. There, rule-following is so ubiquitous that some restaurants post bullet-pointed instructions on how to properly use the bathroom.

Schilderwald: when one crosswalk requires four signs to alert traffic

Schilderwald: when one crosswalk requires four signs to alert traffic

Kind but stern rules that teach bathroom etiquette and use-rules

Kind but stern rules that teach bathroom etiquette

Somehow I was surprised when locals vocalized if anything or anyone was more than two minutes late. I already knew this about Germany. People frequently re-synchronize watches to the railway clock system, standardized across the entire country. It is important not to waste other people’s time.

Being a foreigner again, I appreciated my cultural integration in Mexico. I struggled to understand and communicate in German, and I peeled hard-boiled eggs incorrectly. I was always with insiders, but I had “outsider” written all over me. All the while, I loved it. Especially for the lovely, patient people who I can now call friends.

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Five weeks later, my airplane landed in the USA. After all of that travel, I was still without a life-plan. But I was in Boston for the first time in two years, and it was summer. Life could not be bad, right?

Stay tuned to find out!

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