Then and Now

I traveled to Argentina and Chile years ago (1987 and 1991) and return now.  There have been changes in these countries, to be sure.  But there have been far more dramatic changes in my life as a traveler.

Twenty years ago, the only electronics I traveled with was a cassette-playing Walkman, with a stack of music tapes.  I was out of the U.S. for three weeks on two separate trips, and had almost no contact with back home.   Even hotel or pay phones were quite difficult to use, so I was almost entirely isolated from circumstances back home.

In 1987, I was in Argentina during the stock-market crash in October.  I only heard about it days later, and that was in a hotel lobby in Buenos Aires where there were newspapers available — all in Spanish.  But anyone could read the stock tables, and see the drastic declines.  I recall seeing this sea of Americans (mostly older tourists) taking in the news with looks of shock and fear on their faces.  Since my only stock position at the time was a sizable short position, the crash didn’t ruin my trip :-) , but it clearly was traumatic for most Americans with their retirements tied up in a plummeting stock market.

In 1991, I spent three weeks in Chile in late January and early February.  I was back-packing in Torres del Paine, a national park in the bottom of Chile (where we are again right now!), and met some fellow Americans who had a short-wave radio.  On a Sunday night, we were able to listen to the Super Bowl (New York Giants against the Buffalo Bills) for most of the game.  But we lost reception with about five minutes to go, and I didn’t find out who won the game for another two weeks when I returned to the U.S. (and it was a very close game that the Giants ultimately won). 

On this 2008 trip, I’m in constant, easy contact with the U.S.  I’m traveling with a blackberry, a laptop, and an iPod.  Most places have great blackberry coverage, and I often respond to e-mails in real time.  I have been able to get internet access almost everywhere for my laptop, so I’m current on developments in the U.S. and abroad.  And my blackberry gets internet access regularly, so we stay up-to-speed on events in real time (including following Red Sox games during the season) even when we’re out hiking or touring a city. 

I spend a fair amount of time on e-mail each day (probably way too much).  We watch television rarely (although English-speaking broadcasts are generally available), but have been able to catch sports or news broadcasts (primary returns) of interest.  I have a set of daily podcasts that I listen to regularly.  And occasionally, friends will call me, or I’ll check in with them.  Oh, and I make sure to call my mom from every country we visit!

I took pictures when I traveled here two decades ago, but doubt if I could ever find them.  And, while I can’t recall exactly how many photos I took (long before digital cameras), it was probably 100 or so over the course of a three week trip.  I can’t remember a whole lot about those trips, let alone where I stayed or what specifically I did.  I know which areas I visited, have some recollection of what I enjoyed, and kind of run out of gas beyond that.  And I couldn’t retrieve that information now, no matter how hard I tried looking.

On this trip, we have a family website and individual blogs, and keep them current.  My friends and family can follow where we are visiting, ask questions and give us reactions and suggestions.  The four of us take a large number of pictures daily (easily 100-200 per day), save most, store them on-line (we use Phanfare, a service we’ve been very happy with), and add the best ones on our screen-saver rotation every few days.  After dinner, (and, believe me, I know how weird this sounds), we’ll often watch the screen-saver on our laptop and race each other to identify where the picture was taken!?!?

Now, for the hard part.  Which trip experience do I prefer??  Well, if this weren’t an election year, and if I didn’t still have business responsibilities back home, the no-contact trips of the past have a certain appeal on some days.  But for the most part, the 2008-style trip is great.  We’ll save our memories for decades for our kids (and maybe even their kids) as they grow up.  We stay in touch with family and friends.  And we can still contribute to the election process, as well as follow it closely.

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