One day I found myself in a small town in northern Ecuador eating lunch for one dollar in a dirty, little local restaurant, trying to decipher what type of meat I was eating. A couple days later I found myself eating shrimp cocktails and drinking champagne in a morning suit at a wedding in Great Britain. After spending nearly the last year of my life living on only the most basic necessities of life, living and traveling in Central and South America, I jumped at the chance to attend two family weddings in both Wales and England. I’ve done a lot of traveling in my life in third and first world countries, but I have never experienced such an outrageous contrast in culture before. Let me give you some examples….
After living out of a backpack for a long period of time things like wrinkles, funny smells and holes in my clothes were an everyday occurrence. Doing laundry isn’t always easy or possible so what I like to call the ‘Smell Test’ becomes a regular activity. This is when you simply smell articles of clothing in your backpack to determine their cleanliness. When everything is dirty you have to determine what appropriate level of smelly is okay for certain activities. For example, if I am simply going on a hike with my friend I will wear my smelliest shirt because I am bound to sweat and make it bad anyway. On the other hand if it’s possible I’m going to meet some chicks at a beach or bar I obviously try and pick the least smelly shirt. My parents brought a suitcase full ‘England Appropriate’ attire with nice, ironed dress shirts and adequate underwear for every single day of the week. With enough clothes and a washing machine in the next door room it wouldn’t even make sense for me to wear the same shirt two days in a row. So you can imagine my embarrassment when without thinking I found myself smelling the armpits of a dress shirt I wore to a party the night before thinking ‘this isn’t so bad, I could wear this again….’
When you order chicken in London you are given a nice clean breast or thigh. Ordering chicken in a small mountain town in Colombia you might find yourself with a soup containing a clear broth, a heap load of internal organs and some chicken feet. How you are supposed to eat the talons of a chicken continues to bewilder me, but this is not the point. The food in general is much more raw in Latin America, it’s not rare to see dead (or alive) animals just lying on a table outside a restaurant, ready to be cut up or slaughtered for your order! For this reason and the fact that cheese in Latin America tastes like milk flavored rubber, you can imagine my excitement for some good European food. Eating brie and bacon sandwiches on a regular basis, never have I felt such an appreciation for rich food before!
When I’m looking to go out drinking for a night in Ecuador, I usually just bring $10 with me. This should usually be MORE than enough for drinks, food and perhaps a late night snack of some sort. Going out to in London I found myself spending at least $60 per night on drinks and entry fees alone. It’s difficult to get used to a couple nights out costing more than an entire week of living expenses in your home country. This made me realize even more why so many people from poorer nations will never, ever have the chance to travel, because it’s just such an outrageous gap in prices!
When you are used to sleeping in a hostel room with 9 other strangers, taking cold showers and using a bar of soap as shampoo a normal hotel room seems like a castle. My first night in a hotel I felt like a king. After embarrassing myself asking my parents if it was safe to drink the tap water, I found myself just standing under the hot water using all the little soap, shampoo and conditioner bottles I could get my hands on. Everything just felt so clean and my bed with multiple pillows and zero chance of bed bugs gave me the best night sleep I’d had in quite some time.
What did I learn?
Living the lavish life after so much time with just the basic necessities was a very valuable experience. I realized how much more I appreciated the simple things after having lived without them. Before my time in the third world, being excited for hot water or being able to drink out of the tap was completely non-existent. I took so many things that many people would consider luxuries for granted. When I’m back home in the US I often find myself wishing I had more things. Like driving my older car wishing I had something newer, it’s easy to desire the plethora of luxuries our country has to offer. What’s cool about living without them for a while is that now I truly appreciate how awesome it really is to have a car. I’ve spent more hours than any human being ever should on bumpy buses and just any car would be such an amazing improvement. Appreciate the things you have, no matter what they are!