My parents’ arrival to the final trajectory of my personal odyssey felt like celebrating Christmas in February. They brought codfish, olives, cabbage, oranges, custard pastries, strawberries with cream, shrimp with mayonnaise, toasts with salted butter and cerelac… we spent the day eating. Watching me eat, my mother looked concerned, yet happy. My father, however, was not worried: “have you been starving or what?!”
With all the playful banter, I asked myself what being hungry really meant. Do we all feel hunger differently, or is hunger always just hunger and that’s it?
For a while now, I keep hearing “man, you’re thin!”, always said in a sad and alarming tone. If I’d be laying in a hospital bed, connected to an intravenous drip, I could even understand that “you’re so thin”. Then I’d probably be in trouble, but as I’m not, I keep trying to explain. I did not fill my backpack with that typically Portuguese table, loaded with excesses. Nomadism throws me into a different lifestyle, which also means different eating habits. I’ll only eat when I’m hungry, and I’ll only spend money on the bare essentials. If I don’t have food every time I feel like eating, that doesn’t mean I’m starving.
On the other hand, that control has made me less demanding and able to get happy with the little I can get. Anyone could call that starving, but to me that’s more of a start to my adventure. I found different eating habits, without having to take too much in, ways of making different choices and ways of cooking quickly with little ingredients, avoiding to eat everything I might feel like. Then a smile will always be a smile, whether I happen to get plenty, or just a cold plate of food. Even with hunger, happiness comes when I get to share some of what I have.
“That pasta was awful, right?”
Without even noticing, we quickly get used to comfort and to anything that won’t require much work. Specially if we’re within what I call a system. The system is what makes think by the rules, and just go along with the crowd. That’s what I thought as soon as I put my backpack down in the camper van. I had a bed just for me, two closets for my clothes, a toilet, and food made by mom. The system was set. Who would prefer to freeze, carry backpacks around, and be constantly looking for a place to sleep? I would! That’s what makes me live free and without limits. But take it easy. Let me enjoy this moment for a while. After all I’ll have enough time to go through what I want and what I don’t want. Then along came the second question.
What are the ingredients to a happy life, if what you really wanted was just a nice meat sandwich?
I’ve tried finding an answer with the many backpackers I already met. What’s the key to survive for months on end far from home, (for those who have one)? Grabbing a backpack and wandering off without a set route may be fun for a few months, but after that, living just with the bare essentials, the first questions start to pop. Taking a trip alone requires a gradual acceptance of who we are and of what we learn from others. We’ll be meaningless enough to not be noticed by anybody if we get lost in solitude. But if we choose that, we won’t be but loners trapped in our own worlds. What’s a trip for if we keep isolated from knowledge? It’s surprising to realize that for many backpackers, taking life as it is means not always counting on help, risking danger and never stopping. Many will find only a part of this is true. Others, like me, will take it as a basis to guide instinct. Going on an adventure with company does not mean we won’t get to learn all this, but the constant sharing and exchanging of ideas will make the experience less personal. It will just turn everything into a process of sharing things learned together.