Okay, okay – I realize I live a great life. But it’s exhausting having this much fun all the time!
One wonderful thing that came out of COVID was really cheap airline tickets before the world really started opening back up. I had so many points saved from not going anywhere, and then flights were so cheap on top of that. So I splurged on my flight home from South America and went for the full United Polaris Business class experience. And it wasn’t even that much of a splurge. Because Chile was one of the last countries to open to tourism (and was still making travel really difficult as of March), the international carriers were hard up for travelers. I bought this ticket in November 2021, and it was cheaper than economy tickets were just four months later.
If you haven’t heard of Polaris, it’s those little private cabins with lie flat beds. It was incredible. I had a nine and a half hour red-eye from Santiago to Houston, and being able to lie down to properly sleep was such a luxury. With sheets and a nice comforter and a fluffy pillow. And a leather amenities case full of goodies like socks and a toothbrush and lotion. Not that I needed lotion because the bathroom had lotion and a face mister. And of course we were served delicious meals. Seriously incredible.
I don’t know how I can go back to normal travel after that. More to the point, I don’t know how I could afford a normal fare for a ticket like this. I’d love to go again on a daytime flight so I can enjoy the experience more. And because the terminal in Santiago had only opened a few weeks prior, the exclusive Polaris lounge wasn’t open yet. So I guess I’d better save my pennies for the full experience!
In all of 2022 so far, I have cooked fewer than ten meals and it has been wonderful.
I hate grocery shopping and I hate cooking. For the last five or so years, I’ve been surviving on take out, free food at work (pre-pandemic), pre-cooked meals for pickup (like this place in Delisle, Mississippi and this place in Savannah) and meal kits (an endless rotation of Hello Fresh, Blue Apron, Sunbasket, etc. so I can constantly get the “come back!” discounts). Meal kits have been the only way that cooking has been bearable for me. No grocery shopping required, no thinking about recipes, and the meals are actually really, really good.
I also don’t enjoy going out to eat that much. It’s less comfortable than being at home, it takes a long time, and there’s always someone else hovering around. The experience is better in foreign countries since waitstaff tend to disappear after taking your order and are never seen again unless you beckon them. They aren’t stopping by every ten minutes asking how things are and seeing if they can get you something else. Even so, if I had a super power, it would be to have amazingly delicious meals magically appear in front of me whenever I was hungry so I could eat them in ten minutes and then get on with my day. But as a consolation prize, I’ll take the expectation of the availability of takeout food, another positive side effect of the pandemic.
Meal kits weren’t available to me while living in South America, and I tried cooking on my own a few times but nothing ever tasted very good and the grocery shopping experience in Ecuador and Argentina wasn’t any better than in the States. Fortunately, takeout food was very inexpensive and I soon gave up cooking altogether. Going out to get food was a nice way to break up my workday and practice my Spanish chatting to people while I waited for my order. At least in Quito. People in Buenos Aires weren’t so interested in random conversations with strange foreign women.
Here in New York City, I’ve been starting the week with an order of premade food from Amazon Fresh, which gets delivered to my door and I don’t mean to the building lobby but right up to my apartment door. Not only that, but there are several food places on my block where I pick up breakfast and lunch, and they are cheaper than any coffee shop or deli back in Boulder. I’ve been a frequent customer at the 72nd Street Gourmet deli and the guy that works the cash register at night is fun to chat with.
In other domestic matters, I had a housekeeper come a few times in Buenos Aires. Normally I don’t worry about cleaning since I only stay five weeks in most places. I’ll do a quick mid-stay wipe down of the kitchen and bathroom during that time and probably sweep a few times, but I’m not messy enough to need a full cleaning. But Buenos Aires was an eight week stay…and a cleaning cost $2.50. Here in New York, I’m also “splurging” a little by using a wash-and-fold service for laundry. I use quotation marks because it’s not as if I even have a washing machine in my apartment. I can’t afford that kind of place in Manhattan, so doing laundry elsewhere is a necessity. But the wash-and-fold is so luxurious compared to sitting in a laundromat, so that’s a nice additional break from domestic concerns, even if it’s a little weird to have a stranger touch your dirty underwear.
Living in a Foreign Language
I’m proud of myself for being able to do anything I need to do in Latin America in Spanish. I can ask any question, engage in any conversation, and figure out whatever I need. I dealt with COVID needs and rental cars and unusual foods and tours filled with historical and geological information all in Spanish and understood a solid 90 percent of what people told me.
But it’s exhausting. My Spanish is quite good, but not to the point where it’s always automatic. In new or complex conversations, I am still translating in my head before I speak, thinking carefully about the words and the grammar. Then I’m processing the response carefully to make sure I got it. And, as I wrote about previously, Argentina was particularly challenging. I have a ton of respect for anyone who lives full time in a foreign language.
So I’m really happy to have had this four week break in New York City. Even though I’m not from here, everything seems so easy. I understand store layouts and products and cultural expectations. Signage flows seamlessly into my brain and is processed without my realizing it. Everything feels in focus instead of like a muted background that I have to stop and concentrate on if I want to participate. Small talk is so easy, as is getting a meaningful conversation going. Even hearing all the random languages spoken has been really cool, like when not only can I not identify the language, I can’t even identify the language family. I love the diversity of New York, but that I can exist in English.
This brain break has been really nice, as has been seeing so many old friends. My whole body and being feels lighter. As much as I love exploring Latin America and find so many benefits to living overseas, there truly is no place like home. But I’m not one for sitting still and taking the easy road right now, so I’m heading back to Latin America tomorrow for more life en español, refreshed and ready for the challenge! And yes, I’ll be up front in the plane since I’m still burning through all those accumulated points for base fares and buying affording upgrades.