At some point on this trip I overhead one of our daughters say with a laugh, “Of course it’s not normal. If it were normal our family wouldn’t be doing it.” I can’t remember what the topic was or why she and her sisters were discussing the normalcy of it, but her words stuck with me. No, I guess we’re not very normal, dear.
Although, sometimes this nomadic life we’ve been living over the past year starts to feel surprisingly ordinary. We get into a routine and see the same people on a regular basis. We pick our favorite restaurants, shop at our favorite stores, take our favorite routes to get around town. Pucón has become another version of normal. Each day the Carisch family gets up and goes to school. We learn from and laugh with our Spanish teachers. Some days we go down to the lake to watch the ducks or find other fun stuff for the kids to do. Brian works. The girls do their schoolwork. I go to the store, forget the most important thing I needed and then go back to the store. Yep, it’s all pretty normal around here! Just a typical American family life…in Pucón, Chile or Addis Ababa, Ethiopia or wherever we happen to be.
But then we get those reminders of the things that aren’t so normal for us here in Pucón. For instance, the sun doesn’t rise in this part of the southern hemisphere until 9:00am. Let me tell you, it’s hard to adjust our internal clocks to this much later dawn, so we definitely aren’t the early risers we normally are. Another new aspect of life is our wood-burning stove. When we finally drag ourselves out of bed in the darkness, Brian has to get the fire stoked back up to heat the house.
Even cooking is a bit different. For the first time ever I’m using an oven without a thermometer. I light it with a match and then it’s either on or off. None of this 350° or 375° stuff. Surprisingly, I’ve found this doesn’t matter at all. I have no idea how hot the oven is, yet everything still bakes the same. Weird, huh? Maybe we don’t need all that fancy thermometer gadgetry on our ovens.
Another major difference in Pucón is the fact that we stick out like sore thumbs again. After a couple months of blending in during our time in New Zealand and Australia, we’re back in a place where we clearly don’t blend in, neither physically nor linguistically. This can lead to some memorable situations. For instance, the annual Chocolate Festival took place recently, so our family went to check it out. We hadn’t been at the event more than two minutes when a news crew walked up to us and asked for an interview. The producer explained they wanted to show the diversity of the attendees. After looking around I realized that we were the “diversity.” Brian, being the wonderful man he is, smiled at the camera man and pointed his big, fat finger at me. Way to throw your wife under the bus, Carisch.
I thought it would be okay at first, but then they asked me to respond to their questions in Spanish. At that moment, all of the great progress I’d made in my language skills over the previous few weeks completely fell out of my head and, once again, I turned into the Blonde Idiot of Pucón. This time though, her antics were being recorded for the evening news.
They asked what I thought of the massive, detailed replica of Villarrica Volcano made entirely of chocolate which took dozens of people days to build. “It’s good,” I stammered.
They wanted to know if our family would be eating a lot of delicious chocolates at this festival of culinary delights, and I responded, “You eat a lot.”
New friends are another part of life here. During his nighttime photography walks, Brian met a Chilean friend and fellow photographer. Eduardo invited him to go with a group of friends to Santuario El Cañi and hike up to get photos of the volcanoes surrounding Pucón. They spent a day trekking 20 kilometers up 4000 vertical feet along muddy roads, frozen streams, mirror lakes and snowy trails, stopping many times along the way to enjoy the view and take a photo or two…hundred. Brian hit his biggest photo count day ever, taking over 1100 shots. Do you see how it works around here? Brian makes friends, hikes trails and sees gorgeous views. I make a fool of myself on television.
So, “normal” life continues for us here in the northern Patagonia region. Of course, I can’t sign off without sharing one of our many lessons learned. It seems like I’m doing this a lot lately, but whatever. Here it is:
People have asked us, “How will you ever go back to your normal life after this trip is over? Won’t everything feel boring by comparison?” The answer is, our life will never be “normal” again. We’ve realized on this journey that normal is only what we make it out to be. If my life living near an active volcano in a country where I don’t speak the language and everything from heating our house to cooking our dinner is done a bit differently…if all that can start to feel ordinary, then that means the reverse is true as well. Living in my home country, going about the activities of a typical American life, running errands, cultivating friendships…that can be extraordinary. That is, if I want it to be.
Our interpretations of our lives are based on our own perceptions. The trick is finding the amusing and memorable things happening around us every day no matter where we are or what we’re doing. We just have to be in the moment to find them. We have to take the time to really observe and appreciate the beauty in our day-to-day world. We have to slow down and put our focus on fully enjoying our relationships with one another. That’s where we find the extraordinary, and turn our normal lives into something truly one-of-a-kind.