Chapter 17Stability

Backpacking 8,000 miles throughout Central and South America, you learn to take very little for granted except that change is constant.

Sleeping in so-called primera clase (first class) buses seemed cramped and unforgiving—that is, until you've spent the night on the cement floor of an actual bus terminal. However, it wasn't the occasional squalid conditions but rather the constant variability that at times grew exhausting.

While El Salvador and Ecuador use exclusively U.S. currency, the first stop in other countries was always to exchange or withdraw local money. Upon departing a country, I often had so little currency (or such small denominations) that it wasn't worth exchanging the remainder, so I began amassing wads of small bills and bags of coins that I'd squirrel away.

In many cities I was only able to spend a single night—the hostel little more than a secure place to sleep. There is the frisson of arrival, not knowing whom you'll encounter and what thrilling adventures you'll share for a night, but never a sense of stability.

Private rooms, shared rooms, dorm rooms—often a surprise until you arrive, as the act of reserving a bed sometimes carries more wishful intention than actual binding contract. Most hostels did have Wi-Fi, although often only dial-up service on which 50 guests were simultaneously trying to Skype to parts unknown.

Nearly all hostels had wooden boxes or metal gym lockers in which valuables could be securely stowed, but each time ...

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