Zambia is beautiful. It is greener, lush-er, colourful-er than anything we’ve seen in the past nine weeks in Africa, the humid opposite of Namibia, and the Africa that we had come to see.
From the unorthodox air of formality at the border post –
an unclear order of a multitude of counters where we paid unexplained and unnamed fees, incorrectly entered information dismissed with the wave of a hand, breastfeeding with half the community present at the insurance window, and a suggestion box in the corner to let them know how best to run their border control
– to the fullness on the streets:
tall trees and bushes, semis swerving along potholed roads, children in tattered clothes running barefoot on the dirt, women in colourful patterns carrying something – everything – on their heads, and everyone on bicycles…
This is what we were waiting for.
Immediately Livingstone, the base town for Victoria Falls, felt familiar. It reminded me of Southeast Asia, a backpacker haunt, where the air is humid, the nights are hot, the music is on, and the chair is always in the lounge position if not actually a mattress. And I loved it.
But we entered after sunset, a bad idea for any town, and any camp: it is dark, it’s hard to get your bearings straight, you can’t see what anything really looks like, and inevitably the lights won’t work, the wifi will be broken, the water will be cold, and a dog around the corner won’t stop yapping. And being far away from the center, on an unlit road in a compound can only build on fear of what’s out there.
But the muezzin call woke me up at 4:45am and I loved it. And we moved camps to a backpacker haunt that’s off the main strip right where women in colourful patterns carry groceries home, children in white and brown uniforms walk to school, and silver taxis with a purple stripe carry business men to work, and it is exactly what we wanted.
Moreno and I have been coming to Point Roberts to enjoy the waterfront for some time, but now that we have most of our Africa gear, and since we’re planning on doing a couple of multi-day hikes while we’re there, Moreno and I decided to take a multi-hour hike around Point Roberts to break some of our stuff in.
Point Roberts lies on a 13km2 peninsula on the west coast of the United States. It is part of Washington State, but as it’s not attached to the mainland whatsoever (see map), you have to go through Canada to get there by land.
A day out to Point Roberts
09:34The border crossing is quick – visitors are only Point Roberts bound – and this ease of access makes it an easy getaway for Canadians who flood the town during the summers swelling the population of 1,500 to three times that number.
09:45 On Tyee Drive, the two-lane artery that runs down the length of the peninsula, you pass a couple of gas stations and realize one of the main reasons for those from up north to visit: cheaper gas. Immediately on the right are a handful of post offices and shipping services on the right – the other big reason to visit.
09:50 You can see the marina up ahead, and beyond it, the ocean. Though small, Point Roberts is blessed with big vistas on all three of its coasts: coves looking out onto the ocean in the west, waterfront cabins facing Saturna and other islands to the south, and the forest viewpoints looking out onto the cityscape of Vancouver and Mount Baker to the east.
10:30 Off Apa Road to the east, the tide is low and the locals enjoy the sandy flats interspersed between the otherwise rocky shore. This area was once a favoured spot for the Cowichan, Lummi, Saanich, and Semiahmoo tribes, and the Salish Indians gathered together at Point Roberts to fish the salmon that came through during the summers.
11:45 Walking along South Beach, you reach another mudflat and take a left into the tall yellow grass towards the hill. The path veers under a small gathering of trees to expose a rusted boiler the size of a sedan, one of the few remaining signs of the cannery that resided here.
While the first Europeans came around 1791, it wasn’t until the late 1800’s that the government turned the area into a giant fishing district. A cannery was set up right on shore and was eventually bought out by the great Alaska Packers Association.
Now the only remnants are dilapidated boilers, rusted and discarded over the beach and fields.
13:10 After a short picnic under some trees lining the back of the cobbled beach, you decide against walking towards Birch Bay, and find a route up towards upper Lily Point instead. There is a barely visible path straight up the bush covered walls past the cliff face, and you lunge up a 45° path for the next hundred meters with the dirt shifting below you, grabbing on to branches you hope are attached to the earth, at times being chest to the ground.
13:15 It is hot, but you have made it onto solid, horizontal ground and are under the cover of forest. Lily Point Marine Reserve contains a series of trails (as well as a newly constructed wooden staircase to get up and down the hill) and preserves one of the most significant ecosystems in the region. The lookout point is near the entrance to the Reserve and overlooks the Straight of Georgia and the beaches below. With the low tide and blue skies, Mount Baker is clearly visible and the ocean stretches out in front of you.
2:30 The walk along Apa Road back to the car is mindless, and you’re ready to relax with a cold beer and some snacks. Not too far is the Southbeach House Restaurant where you can enjoy a delicious and generous helping of the seafood salad and a quaint lawn terrace overlooking the cobble beach you had started on, but you opt for a refreshing gin and tonic with fish and chips at the Pier restaurant instead. Situated near Lighthouse Marine park on the opposite end of the peninsula, it offers a change of scenery and the opportunity to visit the Point Roberts Marina.
4:30 Stuffed and satisfied, you declare the Point Roberts day out a success. Your two choices now? Head back towards the border, or enjoy the beach as the locals do.
When it hit me that I’d be going home a few weeks back, I panicked. I was convinced that if I just kept traveling, all my experiences would remain ‘real’ and wouldn’t succumb to fading in the dusty box of surreal memories in my mind.
Turns out that was the least of my problems. I didn’t understand reverse culture shock, and it snuck up behind me and struck me upside the head.
I’ve come back, but I’ve yet to find the feeling of ‘home.’
My relationships, held strong over time by skype and email, feel oddly distant face to face. I want to share what I’ve experienced but there’s so much that can never fully be conveyed, and I find myself missing the company of those I met during my journey: they barely know me and yet somehow know me better than anyone else.
And there’s an odd sense of duality: I look like everyone and talk like everyone but somehow feel like a foreigner. It’s like I’ve lived a whole other life and I’m not quite sure what to do with this whole other person that came back from the east.
Maybe I’m not sure what to do with the one that stayed here.
Reverse Culture Shock
After a bit of research and talking to people, I found that reverse culture shock is actually quite common.
It strikes when someone comes back ‘home’ after getting accustomed to a different culture, and shows up as loneliness, frustration or a general feeling of disconnect between the re-entrant and their surroundings.
But with people describing it as a “misalignment,” saying that everything is “almost right,” and that “everything feels familiar, yet different,” they’re clearly not just talking about cultural differences – this unplaceable disconnect is a result of the change that happens within the re-entrant: everything is the same and yet somehow different because it is the re-enterant’s view that is different.
How To Deal With It
You might get distracted and barely notice it, or feel odd and out of place for a few weeks, or maybe end up shutting out the world completely. Either way, whether your return home is temporary or permanent, dealing with the shock of being back can be difficult. Here are some things I’ve been doing that you can do to make the transition easier:
While you were living your travels, your close ones were living their home lives, and it’s important to realize all the changes that have taken place, whether internal or external. Sharing some of the experiences you’ve gone through, and asking them about the goings-on at home will give everyone a chance to know where the other party is coming from.
Connect & Reconnect
Keep up with the friends you met while on the road – they know you at your most recent and can often be the ones that know the ‘changed you’ best. Maintaining those connections can help you readjust and prevent you from getting lost in the ho-hum of everyday life.
On that note, start making new memories with the people that you’ve just come back to! Getting stuck reminiscing only about memories of by-gone travel adventures will make everyone miserable.
Regardless, combining aspects of your travels that you enjoyed or that specifically became a part of you will make being back less of a terrifying, ‘boring’ option, and more an exciting opportunity. Make your travels keep on giving!
Play Tourist at Home
I’m always shocked at how little people tour around their own countries or cities. *cough* Guilty. *cough* But ‘traveling’ around your home town and to nearby cities is an easy way to keep up the adventure, and can make ‘home’ less of an ‘end’ and more of another destination where you happen to be spending time. There’s a good chance tourists come to your town for something – check it out! Alternatively, go where tourists don’t go. Oooh, now we’re talking.
Give it a Moment
My mom keeps saying, “You were so ‘go-with-the-flow’ and accepting on your travels – Accept this now, and that it’ll pass.” It’s probably good advice. So accept it, don’t push it. Find a place where you feel comfortable while you ‘deal’ with it – eventually you will readjust, reassimilate, reintegrate anew.