On Getting Lost In A Foreign Country

The first time I traveled out of the country, I got lost.

It happened last summer. We had gone to Ohrid, Macedonia to visit my grandparents and my mom’s side of the family, and my small, angst-ridden teenage self hadn’t enjoyed the initial canceled flight, the four-hour-long wait to board the connecting flight, either of the flights themselves, the I-don’t-even-know-how-long sweaty bus ride to my grandparents’ house, the random stop to urinate into a hole in the ground (because toilets didn’t exist at random establishments on the side of the road -- surprise!), or -- any of it, really. I was moody, grumpy, and all I wanted to do was go back home and scratch my cat’s chin. (Side note: We couldn’t bring her with us because pets were not guaranteed to be returned to their owners when traveling by plane. I found that out and immediately wanted to throw up, because what?, so we left her at home with sitters who would come by several times a day to take care of her. They did a good job, and I’m thankful for that.)

So, we had gotten there, and it wasn’t even that the city was necessarily bad. It just… wasn’t America. It simply wasn’t something I was used to. Everything was completely different, and I had no idea how to react to it; I ended up just getting ridiculously hormonal, griping over every little thing to the point where I’m certain someone wanted to steamroll me back to the States. My brother felt that way, too, and while we pretty much never fight, we ended up fighting within the first two days over something so embarrassingly trivial that I can’t even remember what we fought about.

In all actuality, it might have been over a flash drive. But I digress.

Anger was high, tolerance was low, and I didn’t know what to do. I spent a good amount of time locked inside my room (“locked,” even though I didn’t know how to use those ancient doorknobs), and whenever anyone went out, I refused to go with them.

It was the fourth or fifth day when I was forced to go out, and hours later, we ended up at a bar (I had lemonade, thanks) with one of my mom’s best friends. It would have been fine, and it was, up until the moment that he lit his seventh cigarette; we hadn’t been there for even forty minutes, he had smoked seven cigarettes, and that was my breaking point. I’m cringing in shame as I write this, because it wasn’t my finest moment, but I whined until I was allowed to leave (with my brother, who also couldn’t stand the smell) and then stomped my way down the cobbled road and back into the main center (which, for simplicity’s purpose, I will refer to as “the mall”). Here, I argued with my brother and he left me -- literally, as in he said bye and abandoned me and made his way back to the bar. Here began my descent into complete and utter misery. Frustrated and overheated, I went into one of the alleyways at the side of the mall and proceeded to climb up yet another cobbled slope, and after walking for thirty minutes, I only ended up coming back out at another' end of the mall.

What was meant to be me "making a point" and "asserting my independence" ended up being one of the most desperate moments of my entire life. For the next hour, I wandered around this unknown city tear-ridden and bewildered and angry at myself for being so stupid as to think that I would be able to find my way back on my own. I asked someone, at one point, if they spoke English, and when they did (barely), I said, “How do you get to the amphitheatre?” because it was right across from my grandparents’ house; they gave me the general direction but it was useless, and I ran down shadowy, desolate streets where the only sounds I could hear were whispered and low -- exactly in horror film fashion; and all I had really hoped for at that point was that I wouldn’t be bothered by one of the half-covered faces slinking around in the empty streets.

To make a long story shorter than I had intended, I made it back. Eventually, I found the road we had taken when we first arrived at the front gates of the city, and this was, coincidentally, the same road my mother had said was dangerous at night. Nothing happened. I got to the house, and when my grandfather saw me, he called the rest of the family; when they got back, I found out that they’d gone around the city looking for me. Not only, then, did I ruin my own night, but I ruined everyone else’s, as well. No one blamed me, though, so they were all better than I was.

My bones ached. My head was pulsing. I was ready to collapse, and I had a long cry in the shower after it was over.

Later, still, at around two a.m., when we were all up and sitting around the dining table, I saw a scorpion on the wall to my left.

That’s a completely different story, and while the rest of the trip was relatively easy-going for me (seriously, that town was historic and surprisingly gorgeous), getting lost was the one thing that I will possibly never forget. I was at this elevated state where all of my senses were heightened, and regardless of the fact that I was so tired or that I considered collapsing against someone’s house and waiting there (not my finest moment, but that’s been established), I ran around until I got myself out of the situation and was back where I should have been the entire time.

It was an adventure, and all I want to say is that I absolutely would not do it again. My biggest takeaway was that intensified feelings will always lead to rash decisions and that this isn’t the kind of mindset you need when traveling away from home in a country that is nothing like the one you’re used to.

Don’t make rash decisions, and don’t hang around smokers. (Just kidding about that last bit. Kind of. Not really.)

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