-by La Huerita
o there I was wandering around in the shopping district in La Paz, BCS wearing a pair of air-conditioned sneakers— which should have been given a decent burial long before— when I spotted a shoe store with a sale on huaraches. Eureka! “Sale” and “huaraches”, two of my favorite words! Ten minutes later I walked out wearing my new sandals, and I tossed my old sneakers in the trash on my way out the door.
I had forgotten the part about breaking huaraches in. Oops.
Within three blocks I was wishing I hadn’t thrown my sneakers away. At another three blocks I had to stop at a farmacia for Band-Aids. Another three . . . I was barefoot and hailing a taxi. My feet felt like they had died and gone straight to hell, without passing “Go.” I cursed my decision and called myself names for succumbing to the word “Sale.” This was buyer’s remorse writ large.
Over the next several days many friends commiserated with me on the state of my feet and my sandals. I was given much advice on how to make those stiff leather straps more supple and comfortable and I followed all of it. I oiled them. I soaked them. I soaked AND oiled them. None of it worked. I thought maybe if I just wore them around the house for a few days my feet would get used to them and all would be well.
Ha! My feet started screaming as soon as I pointed them towards those huaraches; I couldn’t wear them for longer than half an hour even if I was sitting down. My toes were blistered, the straps cut into my instep, it was impossible. So I exiled them to the back of the closet in a fit of pique. (Perhaps “exiled” is to polite a word; I hurled them into the closet and slammed the door.)
Ever a glutton for punishment (and hating the thought of having wasted a few pesos), a couple of weeks later I repented, dragged them out of their place of shame and cautiously put them on again.
Well, I can’t explain it, but they not only fit perfectly, they no longer hurt my feet at all, even though the straps were not yet supple and soft. Those huaraches quickly became my favorite shoes ever, and I wore them for the better part of two decades before I finally had to give them a decent burial in the trashcan. The odd thing is that when I bought a new pair, identical to the old ones, I had no problem at all breaking them in. What had changed? I’ll probably never know.
Breaking in a new country can be like breaking in a new pair of shoes. Living in a foreign country is a lot different from visiting there. Things that you found charming or cute while on vacation can drive you to distraction once you live there full time and it can be a painful experience. My suggestion: Spend a little time there first; break it in a bit, make sure that the things you love about it are not overwhelmed by things you just can’t live with. Given a little time in the back of the closet (and a little oiling?), you just might find that it’s a perfect fit after all.
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