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On homecoming away
Twenty years ago — almost to the day, actually — I rode a bus into La Libertad, El Salvador, and felt like I was coming home.
I was 16 years old and had been baited to Central America by a website that said I could, “Learn Spanish while surfing in El Salvador!” Upon arrival, I found out that the school was basically fraudulent, and I quit after a week. I stayed for the surfing, of course.
This trip was liberating and formative when recalled through a nostalgic lens, but in reality, it was also a struggle. I was home sick, love sick and lonely.
About halfway through my stay, to break up the day-to-day routine, I decided to explore the country’s interior. I visited Mayan ruins, swam in lake Coatepeque, played cards at a casino and danced with some Peace Corps girls. Basically, what any teen let off of his leash would do. A few days later, it was time to return to the coast.
Arriving on La Libertad’s familiar streets, with the smell of salt water coming through the windows, I experienced the warm, comfortable feeling of homecoming. I knew where the bus would stop, knew the way home, knew my hammock would be waiting for me.
This sentiment, in a place that recently felt foreign, is one of the great joys of traveling. It shows how malleable our comfort zones are, and the impressive adaptability of humans. The weirder the place, the better it feels.
Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan is pretty weird, and returning here after satellite trips to the mountains feels incredible. We have our preferred hotel, favorite restaurants, and familiar faces at the corner store welcome us back. As we walk around in the warm summer evenings, to Ala Too square park, the gardens and the $.50 ice cream stand, the feeling is perfectly ordinary. And that’s special.
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