Argentinean journalist and travel writer Carolina Reymúndez offers her take on unpacking your bags and surviving life after vacation.
ILLUSTRATION: Hugo Horita
It’s over. From one day to the next, the trip has ended. Like billboards you passed on the highway. Like the day after the birthday party.
The suitcase is open: socks, t-shirts, pants, they’re all dirty. The evidence of having been away – for a week, 15 days, however long – is there. It was another life. Proof that we’re something more than what we are for the better part of the year. Now, there are bills shoved under the door, and the answering machine is glowing, filled with messages. Your cellphone goes off: two meeting are scheduled for tomorrow.
Jungle, mountains, sea or desert, regardless of the landscape, traveling outlines a new architecture of time, becoming something more spontaneous. The same 24-hour day may feel longer or shorter, but it’s decidedly less gray. And things happen to us: trips are memory factories.
In the souk of Marrakech, I met Hamri, a man with curly eyebrows and a turban. His stall was full of hanging objects: an antelope head, feathers, animal skins and tails. Hamri could break spells and cure the evil eye. I wanted to buy saffron, so he brought out a huge jar filled with red strands. He opened it, unleashing a heady gust, a smell so concentrated and magnificent that it seemed like a genie – or a demon – was about to appear. He then produced a Lilliputian golden scale. He put ten-dirham coin on one side and a small amount of saffron on the other. When the scale balanced, he gave me an approving look. Hamri wrapped the spice in a twist of newspaper and handed it to me. I still have the cone of saffron in my spice cabinet, tucked away like precious treasure.
These are experiences to recount, to post on Facebook and Twitter. Crossing a border, climbing a mountain, going bungee jumping, swimming with dolphins, sharing moments with strangers, spending the day reading beneath a willow tree. Travel combines adventures and anecdotes to last the rest of the year. And they aren’t emptied out like the contents of a suitcase; they stay with us, tangled in the net of our memories.
Where’s the Beach?
Pop! Every time you return from a trip, a bubble bursts. “Where’s the beach? Where’s the mountain that I could see from my window when I woke up? Where’s the papaya juice with my breakfast? And the long chats with my feet in the sand and palm trees over my head? Who took them away?”
As the washing machine gets going, and your toiletries are put away in your bathroom, you find yourself coming back, gradually settling in. When the airplane lands – or the bus pulls into the station or the car pulls into the garage – when you open your front door, when you unpack your bags, when you show up for your first day back at work, your body returns instantly, but your head takes its time.
Psychologists talk about “post-vacation blues,” and magazines give tips on how to go back to work with a smile: meditate, take up a hobby, go jogging, try to enjoy every day as if you were on vacation.
Oscar Wilde once said that, “One’s real life is so often the life one does not lead.” And so it is with travel. That fantasy of fresh fruit for breakfast, lazy afternoons spent reading and walks along the beach? It’s the life that we want every day. You imagine yourself in a cabin by the sea fishing for your food or setting up a bed and breakfast in a tourist village near a lake down south.
Thanks to these dreams and the burst bubbles that follow, your suitcase may have a side order of melancholy, as well as dirty socks and pants. But this should come as no surprise: like Gardel suggested in his song “Volver,” coming back is a tango.
The Power of a Souvenir
When I was a young girl and our vacation was over, the car packed to the brim and heading back to the city, I liked to turn around in the back seat and take one last look at the ocean. Five blocks more and we’d turn a corner, and I wouldn’t be able to see it anymore. That last image of the sea would have to hold me over until the next year. Like the water stored by camels.
A while back, I added the ritual of the souvenir. A skull from Mexico, a little bottle filled with sand from the Moroccan desert, a toy bus from Colombia, Buddhist flags from India, a music box from Paris. Souvenirs are precious; they fulfill a magical purpose: back at work, caught up in routine, they take us back briefly to the landscapes of our vacation, just by looking at them or touching them. Souvenirs are our ally in getting back to business as usual. However, they’re not always infallible.
I remember the time I came back after a few weeks in Patagonia. As soon as I opened the door, the phone rang. It was a friend. We chatted, and he asked what it was like to be home. As I walked with the wireless from the bedroom to the living room, I said everything was fine, the floor was a bit dusty, and the plants needed watering.
After hanging up, I thought some more about his question. I looked at one corner and then the window, the baseboard, the wall, my limits. I turned my head, and there was my front door. After 15 days in distant Patagonia, an endless land where all the landscapes embody the very notion of immensity, I realized that my house was nothing, and not just the square footage, décor, bookshelves or balcony. After 15 days in the wild, windy, rough and vast Patagonia, my house seemed insignificant.
That time, it took a few extra days to get around to unpacking. in