Select Page

There comes a time after a trip when every reasonable person must unpack their bag, backpack, wheelie suitcase or whathaveyou. I’ve been known to leave a bag lying around the house for a day or two while I contemplate the task. But not this time.

As a person with a fairly bionic olfactory sense, unpacking my bag is an immediate rush of smells. The place you went nearly always smells different from the place you are, even if it’s just a little woodsmoke or some soap you used on the road, or your grandmother’s perfume.

I recall a trip to Cuba (US-licensed, of course) during which I cycled around on an old bike whose seat kept tipping forward forward forward until I was holding myself up with my arms to prevent myself from falling down onto the top horizontal tube. I had flown through Mexico, and on the way back, got red-lighted at customs at the Cancún airport. As the official opened my bag, a horrible moldy sweaty whiff came out like smoke, almost visible. And I explained that I’d been cycling in the mountains for days, and I was sorry my clothes stank. And she replied “Todo el equipaje de Cuba huele así” (All the luggage from Cuba smells like this). To this day I’m sure she just said it to make me feel better. I spent over a week in Cuba, and it’s full of good green rainy lush and foodie smells. The mold and sweat were all my own.

Unpacking from this trip, I identified a number of smells from the road. There’s the patchouli-like smell of the alpaca scarf I bought, the smell of an exploded chai teabag I had brought (Zhena’s gypsy tea vanilla chai, sumamente rico!), a foul I-remember-these-were-the-clothes-in-which-I-got-sick smell, too-much-time-on-the-bus smell, went-to-the-beach-and-maybe-didn’t-dry-my-swimsuit-all-the-way smell, etc.

Some of the smells are good, and in this case, most are not, but it’s incredible how the mind can build nostalgia out of almost nothing at all. You see, I arrived at 2:00 AM last night, and as I was loading up the washing machine just now I was feeling all wistful that this trip was over and that normal life resumes. But I threw the stuff immediately into the wash anyway. Because really? My stuff reeks.