Muchas gracias

Hola amigos!  I’m currently in the Dominican Republic, about to meet my friend Erica and her sister and brother in-law for a week of resort vacation (because I have no boundaries and like to crash family get-togethers like this and who doesn’t need a vacation from their vacation?!) and I’m on day 3 of not having a working phone (sorry if you’ve tried to text or call).

I just finished my month of living with families and taking classes in Costa Rica.  It’s probably been the most impactful experience of my trip.  I know it sounds crazy/entitled/#firstworldproblems to say that it takes a lot to impress me.  But it does.  I’ve seen beautiful beaches and mountains, and so at first it was like well yeah, Costa Rica is cool but I mean, it’s a little bit been there, done that.  And I was really mad at myself for feeling that way, and thought I should probably go home.  Before the trip, I wasn’t sure how I would know it was the end, but then I thought, ok if I’m not impressed anymore, it’s time.  And I felt really bad about feeling that way.  It’s sad when the magic is over, but especially the magic of travel and I was discouraged.  It went another level.  It was cool to speak Spanish, but I was discouraged too.  I felt like, I had the opportunity to learn this in school in high school and college, and I lost it.  How wasteful of me.  Now, I want to learn, but damn, I’m far away from being fluent.  It seemed like locals who spoke English were better than my Spanish and it seemed like I was just so far away from being able to be fluent and use Spanish back home in a meaningful way.

But I was committed to 4 weeks.  Partly because I had paid and was there, but partly because my vision was yoga in Thailand and Spanish in Costa Rica and I owed it to myself to see it through.  It was a little over halfway through that something in me changed.

In my time in Costa Rica, I lived with families and took classes for 4 hours a day, and then explored the community the rest of the day and did some touristy excursions.  No day was spectacularly amazing like hiking Machu Picchu or paddling next to a whale, or transformative like my month of yoga.  But what I did, was practice my Spanish and just live.

I realized that in Spanish, I made new friends and learned about a new place.  I discussed religion, politics and science.  I discussed love and family.  Hopes and dreams.  Somewhere in that time, I realized that for me, language is about being able to connect with other people.

3 out of the 4 weeks, I was in class by myself.  That means 20 hours of talking in Spanish with my teacher.  In 20 hours of talking, you can find out a lot about a person and a place.  And when you live with a family everyday, you also can learn a lot about a person and a place.  And yourself.

At first, I was hung-up on how different things were with my Familia Tica (Costa Rican family).  The climate, the food, the bed… but also just, when was the last time I lived with kids?  When was the last time I shared a bathroom?  When was the last time I lived with strangers that don’t speak English?  It was hard.  Again, it sounds very entitled and #firstworldproblems but eh, it’s how I felt.  So yeah, it made me realize how easy my life has been and how many things I have taken for granted.  It also made me understand what types of environments I’m happiest in.

In my trip, I had been a tourist.  In Costa Rica, I wasn’t a local, but I came closer to experiencing what its like as a local.  And that was awesome.  I was able to see that many things are different but many things are the same.  And the things that are different, that I perceive as “worse” but there is a reason for it, outside of the control of the individuals.  And sometimes, it’s not worse.  Just different.  Not to go down a political or historical rabbit hole, but for instance, why don’t many houses have hot water?  I love a good hot shower.  Don’t you?   Same thing with toilet paper.  Why can’t you flush toilet paper in most of South and Central America?  It seems disgusting to have fecal paper hanging out in the trash can for a couple of days doesn’t it?  So I mean, I’m a little sad to say, I had stigma in my mind about these things, and I thought it was a sign of “less than.”  Sorry, world.  Well electricity is expensive because there are taxes on it, partially because the government wants to protect the environment and partially because it needs to collect money, because a while ago, they decided to pay down debt rather than invest in infrastructure… and thus it’s too much of a burden to redesign the sewage system.

Then you start to think about why the US and Western Europe, the places I feel like I had the most familiarity with before my trip, don’t have these problems.  Well, there are most diverse economies or historical stability… which in many cases come from the fact that these countries could exploit other countries or people – like slavery in the United States or the Spanish and the Brits “colonizing” other places.  So yeah, the development that I think of as “better” came at a price that I don’t have to pay, but in many ways we’re still paying that price like racism in the United States.  Ok the point of this isn’t to be political, but more just to say, I guess it just made me more aware of my privilege and that the dichotomy of better/worse often times comes at the back of a different zero sum exploitation that I want to be more aware of going forward.

But it also made me realize what it’s like to be an outsider and get comfortable in that space.  I’ve said before that I rarely was not in the majority, and it was a strange thing to feel when traveling, to be the stranger.  But for instance, a very basic example, with my Spanish.  So many Costa Ricans were patient with me while I tried to speak Spanish, or repeated so I could understand.  I’m not entitled to their patience.  It was a gift that I appreciated because I was really trying, but it was hard.  It’s hard to not be able to say what I’m thinking or feeling, or to have to dumb it down to what I can say.  I guess it just comes back to what I was saying before, that it made me realize that people and things that don’t meet my standards of what is right, aren’t necessarily bad.  It’s an opportunity for me to learn about things different than what I know and gives me the opportunity to grow and learn.

There isn’t an ah-ha moment really, and there isn’t a clear next step.  But Costa Rica helped me to see on a different level that I had known before, that differences are to be valued and not avoided.  It reminded me of how lucky I am, how grateful I feel and how amazing the world is.  My experience also reminds me that I want to continue to grow and learn, be it with my Spanish or in other experiences that help me relate and connect to people.  It also makes me want to see more of the world that is different than what I know, places that to be honest, kind of scared me because I perceive them to be so different, like Africa and the Middle East.

If I flashback to laying awake in the guest bedroom, because I was too sad to sleep in my childhood bedroom, when I was back with my dad after I tried to go back to work after my mom died and I had a breakdown; I had my vision that I wanted to practice yoga in Thailand and Spanish in South America.  I’ve manifested it now.  I opened my head and my heart to follow God.  Fate aligned the stars for me.  However I want to say it, I did it!  And I’m so thankful for the people and prayers that helped me get here.  It’s not over.  I did what I wanted to do, and the things I learned along the way and saw/met/experienced in the journey were way more than the yoga or the Spanish.  But the yoga and the Spanish on their own were pretty great too.

I still have a few more months left on my year off.  After these first 8 months, I’ve realized that I have a lifetime of things I want to do and see.  And I mean, thank God.  If I could accomplish everything I wanted to see and do in a year, how sad is that for my future?  So for now, it’s really hard to decide what I want to do and what I have to save for a later day.  I want to explore the United States a lot more.  I want to go to Africa and the Middle East.  I want to see more of Europe.  I want to visit my friends around the country and the world.  I want to take my Spanish lessons and study more yoga. I want to scuba dive in more places and hike more mountains.  I want to go back to Asia and Australia and South America.  I want to spend more time with my dad and my oldest and dearest friends.  I want to start my yoga business.

Thanks again for everyone who has supported me along my path thus far and may we remain connected as we continue our journey down this crazy road of life, but like, right now I don’t have a cellphone so we’ll pick back up again soon 🙂

Also, I can’t access my icloud pics because when I tried to reset my phone, it locked my account which I can’t validate with a text because, well, I don’t have a phone… so these pics are brought to you by Instagram, because all posts need a couple of pics!

 

So much gratitude

After my mom passed away, the first time I tried to go back to work, I basically had a nervous breakdown in a German convention center and had to go back home again.  It was that second time back in Edina, when the vision of this trip came to me.  I laid in the guest room bed, because my room was too emotional.  I couldn’t sleep.  I couldn’t move.  I couldn’t handle being at work.  I couldn’t handle being at home, or the place that I had known as my home.  I didn’t have a home.  I sold my house, and hadn’t actually found a place to live in Boston, after spending the summer at the Cape.  I didn’t know where to turn.  So in that place of feeling lost and low, I thought, well what DO you want to do?  And that’s when I came up with the idea, that if I can do anything right now, I want to practice yoga in Thailand and practice Spanish in South America.  I found Ananda, where just about one year later, I did my detoxing and yoga teacher training.  I found this school, called CPI, Centro Panamericano de Idiomas, in Costa Rica.  Next week I start 4 weeks of language classes there.  It took me a little bit of time and a lot of looking inward and getting my shit together, but I’m so happy I’m on this journey.  So this seems like a good time to stop and take stock of where I am and what I’m feeling.  Thanks for humoring me 😊

I’ve had so much fun traveling in South America, and there are so many places that I want to see and things I want to do, that I kind of pushed out Costa Rica.  Now that I’m here, it’s like, this is a big continent and while I’m in the South, I want to do as much as I can!  But I finally drew a line in the sand and enrolled to start on Monday.  It’s a bit of mixed emotions.  It signifies a bit the end of my South American wandering, which is a little sad.  It’s something I’ve been looking forward to for a year and a half now and the more I’m in South America, the more I want to improve my Spanish.  But it also makes me think about what it all means… which, ugh, feeling deep feelings.

When I first found this program, well, let’s be honest, I was in my grieving despair… but one of the reasons I liked it was because it has a special Spanish for business program.  At that time, I thought yeah, wouldn’t it be great to use Spanish to improve my business skills?!  And now, well, I don’t think I’m going to sign up for that program.

There are  4 big themes that keep coming into my head and heart during this 2nd leg (South America and Antarctica) of my trip, and they all wrap around things that I have struggled with for a long time: 1. Gratitude 2. Transience 3. People 4. God.  They tie back to Spanish, but they don’t have a resolution, but that’s the point of taking stock of my feelings right now?  I accept that I don’t have the anwser 😊

Gratitude: While I was in Thailand, I posted a poem that kept popping into my head, called “So much happiness.”  Something in this trip flipped it over in my head and heart, to so much gratitude.  Maybe it’s the winter hat I have that says “GRATEFUL,” haha.  But really, I’ve just been filled with a sense of gratitude.  Like most of my posts and let’s be honest, my life, I don’t have the exact words for it, but I’ll throw a lot of them out there and see if I can corral in the sentiment.  Gratitude often sits with joy and happiness, but it’s like, it opens the door for it.  Gratitude comes in the quiet.  It comes from the heart.  It comes when you’re on the zodiac in Antarctica, looking at the massive glaciers that are millions of years old and it makes you feel so lucky to be part of this world that has existed long before me and will continue to exist long after me.  It enters my heart when I’m with new friends, that I have met on this trip and have a special place in my heart as we share this magical journey together.  But its also found on the streets in Buenos Aires that smell like urine and have homeless people or talking to the cab driver in Ecuador that has left his family in Venezuela because this is his best option to support them; how lucky am I that was born into privilege, to a family that loved me unconditionally and I knew always had my back so I could take risks and follow my dreams no matter what convoluted path that may be.  I was born into a country with a skin color and a religion and sexual orientation that doesn’t limit my opportunities.  I don’t mean for this to sound mellow dramatic.  It kind of is, but all these things – being a part of this beautiful world, sharing the journey with good people, and having the opportunity to take this time to travel and follow my heart and live the dream… well I’m lucky.  I’m grateful.  I guess why being grateful is more prevalent than happiness on this trip is because it’s more diverse and brings more peace for me.

Transience:  So the nature of this trip in general, evokes thoughts of everything is temporary.  It’s a cloud that hangs over my head, that eventually, I need to go back to work and stop the traveling, but also, to just live in this moment because I’m doing so many wonderful and amazing things.  But to the best way to express this theme is in two examples and both have to do with what I studied in college.  The first, is Venezuela and Colombia.  When I applied to college back in 2002, I applied to the Georgetown School of Foreign Services.  I wanted to be the Ambassador to Colombia.  At that time, Colombia was dangerous and dominated by the FARC and drug cartels.  I could go into more details about it, but it just wasn’t a place to visit.  I mean, Narcos.  Clearly I didn’t go to Georgetown, but I did study Latin American politics in college, focusing a lot on the relationship with the United States and how it helped/hurt the countries.  I studied Venezuela a lot because it was doing well economically under Hugo Chavez, who didn’t like the US.  But now, 15ish years later, it’s flipped.  I look forward to visiting Colombia.  I’ve met more people than I can count on this trip who have been there, and loved it.  Conversely, I haven’t met anyone who has been to Venezuela as a tourist, and the Venezuelans I have met have left their country for a job and say that sadly, I should not visit.  It’s not safe.  What a difference in my lifetime, right?  The other example is my favorite though.  I studied Argentina a lot too.  One of my best friends, Lexi, wrote her capstone paper on the Madres de Plaza de Mayo.  In the 70’s and 80’s, Argentina had a dictator that would literally disappear dissidents.  It made disappeared an adverb because it was so prevalent.  If you challenged the government, you could just go missing.  And if your parents went missing, then as a kid you would probably go to a family in the government that didn’t have kids.  Very Handmaids Tale, right?  Well, I was in Buenos Aires for International Women’s Day on March 8, where thousands gathered to support women’s right, and it seemed worker’s right, etc.  It was a massive peaceful demonstration and protest.  But I mean, how amazing is that?  40 years after people vanished, now Argentines can assemble for change.  Like the glaciers and the ice shelves, nothing is permanent.  It’s always moving, and changing and growing.  And even if you can’t see the change in that moment, it’s moving.

People: For a long time, I thought I was an outgoing introvert.  I like people, but I get energy from being alone.  I realize that I am an extrovert on this trip.  Yes, I like to be alone.  I’m an only child and need my space.  I need more sleep and quiet time than many.  But really, I feel my best, when I’m with people.  After I left the group that I had been traveling with for over a month, through 4 countries, I was sad, but I realized, people make the experience for me.  I learn about myself in the quiet and on my own.  I find strength and can listen to my heart more… but really, I have the most fun when I’m with friends.  I actually remember thinking, after I slept for like 18 hours because I was so tired from all of our fun, that it made me believe in love again.  And when I thought that, I was like, OMG you’re so cheesy right now… hahahaa… but really, being with these new friends made me remember that sharing something with others really is enriching.  And the same goes with the groups I bonded with at yoga and Antarctica.  But just the people I’ve met along the way, the friends at scuba diving and detox and just meeting along the way… they’ve made this go from great, to wonderful.

God: I go back and forth on if God is the right word, but I think it is, even if the meaning is a bit different than my Catholic upbringing.  It’s also the hardest one to explain, but it’s also the one I probably talk about the least?  The connection I’ve found through meditation and yoga, stemming back from the first part of my trip in Thailand. The power and beauty and presence of nature – the mountains, the deserts, the glaciers, the ocean.  Pachamama as they say in Quecha, Mother Earth.  It’s bigger and more powerful than words.  But it’s more than just meditating or praying, and feeling the power and significance of Mother Earth.  It’s following this vision I had back a year and half ago.  It’s feeling like even though I’m alone on this journey, I’m not alone.  Even though I’m wandering I don’t feel lost.  Even though I don’t have any of the things that previously gave me value and validation in my life – a house, a job, a boyfriend/partner; I feel like I have purpose.  I think that’s God.

Ok, so back to Spanish, haha.  In finding myself closer to God and feeling the peace and power of gratitude and transience and relationships it makes me want Spanish to be a tool.  When I was lost in the Chinese airport after my flight from Bangkok to Aucklund was delayed for weather and had to spend the night in China, it felt awful to be lost and vulnerable because I couldn’t speak the language.  It’s felt more empowering to be able to communicate, even if it’s poorly, in Spanish.  I think being able to communicate and help those who are more vulnerable in my community, is a gift I want to use.  What does that mean?  I don’t know.  It seems like it’s volunteering back when I’m home.  But it brings up questions because I don’t know what it looks like when this is done.  Right now, I think its that I go back to business, but look for a job that I align with on values from my peers and the leadership, or a company that allows me to travel the world and explore or maybe a wellness or yoga brand that would support my yogic journey.  Or maybe I just go right into yoga fulltime and figure out how to make more money and travel on the side, rather than make money and then teach yoga on the side while I figure out my yoga business plan?  How does Spanish fit in it?  I don’t know.  But I’m excited to go to the beach for a month, and intentionally study Spanish everyday.  So far, having an open mind and open heart has turned out pretty well, so I’m excited for the next adventure in this wonderful journey 🙂

Clearly I’m not good at product placement, because these are the best shots I have that feature my GRATEFUL hat.  The magic of just waking up after my first night camping and hiking in the Sacred Valley in Peru; and being in Antarctica can help fill in the blanks 😉

#1 in my heart

Antarctica is the most amazing place I’ve visited in all of my travels.  It’s been about a week and half since I got back and I think I was hoping the words would come to me, as to how to reflect my feelings for this magical place.  I still don’t have them now, but I’m leaving for the Amazon Rainforest in the morning, so it seems like now is a case of what I have now is good enough! 😊

One of the fun things about the Antarctic expedition is that I met many wonderful new people.  This won’t surprise the people who’ve survived the years of sharing their highs and lows with me, but I liked to ask people at dinner, what was the best thing about Antarctica.  Many people had a hard time finding just one thing, but inevitably they could narrow it down.  For me, it seems like everyday it changed.  Everything was just so incredible.  The glaciers, the snow, the ice, the penguins, the whales, the seals, kayaking, stand up paddle boarding, stepping foot on the continent, jumping into the icy waters.  They were all amazing and all things.  But if I were to describe it to myself before the trip, I would be like, yeah, I’m sure that’s amazing.  But like, you can experience that amazingness in other ways.

How is it different than seeing whales in Chatham or Hawaii?  How is it different than seeing seals on the pier in San Francisco?  How is it different than jumping into the Atlantic in Massachusetts in the winter?  Is it more special to step on that this continent than another new continent just because it’s hard to get to?  I’m sure it’s great, but I do not give out best there is lightly.  I’m happy to hand out praise, but very reluctant to firmly commit to anything.

So why is the bottom of the Earth so great?  I think it’s the scale.  It’s not a sexy answer, but it’s the best way I have to frame this up.  First thing about the scale, is just how expansive it all is.  These glaciers are immense and pristine and white, with hints of blue ice which is just majestic, and maybe some lichen or moss for a little pizazz.  But they’re like a million years old.  That’s not an exaggeration!  I went to a lecture on it, and I’ll spare you the details, but its very dry so not much new ice and snow forms each year, and thus it just kind of slooooowly builds up.  A million year old ice from a glacier that I touched?  But it’s more than that.  It’s just so untouched.  It’s the opposite of any tourist place you go, there isn’t someone in the backdrop.  There’s not graffiti.  It wasn’t built up by natives along ago, then exploited by conquistadors or destroyed by bombs in a war.  It’s just pristine beauty as far as the eye can see.

I think that’s why I liked Bolivia so much is that it was these colorful mountains and pink lakes and flamingos and llamas, that you had to get to by driving for a day down a dirt road, where you haven’t had cell coverage for a couple of days.  It’s why I liked hiking the Quarry Trek because it was just the 4 of us and our guide out in the mountains.  Well Antarctica is like that but the extreme!  It takes 3 days just to get there by boat.

Ok, but the scale is more than just how big and untouched it all is.  It’s also how much you get to be a part of it, and experience it.  Why was having the seal swim up to my kayak so much more amazing than seeing the seals in Queenstown, NZ or like I said before, the pier in California?  Yeah, it’s pretty amazing when it swims up to you and looks you in the eye, and not because it’s used to being fed by tourists but because humans and boats are rare and it’s just curious.  But it’s amazing because you don’t have to take the seal in isolation.  You’re not on a whale watching boat with 200 other people when the whale comes 5 feet from you, you’re stand up paddle boarding.  And you’re not stand up paddle boarding in the protected bay formed by the high tide in the salt marsh in Sandwich, MA.  You’re stand up paddle boarding in a protected bay formed by islands and glaciers.  When you see the penguins, it’s not just a handful, it’s a whole colony that has mama or daddy penguins feeding their young, and molting penguins that are just trying to grow their fur and not hate life, and a token chinstrap penguin in a colony of gentoos that you’re like how did you get there?  And you can watch them waddle down their formed penguin highway, and if you sit there for a while, one will come up to you because it’s curious.  And then later, you see them swimming by your boat/kayak/paddleboard, in little packs, just all the time.  They are so close that you can admire the grace and elegance of their swimming, after you’ve just laughed at the waddle which reminds me of trying to walk quickly in high heels and a tight skirt that goes past your knees.  If you have been lucky enough to be in a place where you can interact with wildlife with such closeness, please tell me about it!  I’d love to experience it.  But it’s more than just the sensory overload and how close and real it all is…

It was also just about the experience.  The group I went with was awesome.  I met so many wonderful people that sincerely made sharing the experience with so much more rich and great.  Because when you’re there, in that moment, is when it most amazing.  When you cry because of how magnificent it is, someone else cried too and you can share that magic… and the people I had to share the magic with were delightful, funny, kind and smart travelers and adventurers.  The other thing about the group is that it was so full of knowledge.  On this expedition (not a cruise) the activities are lectures, not napkin folding on the lido deck.  I knew that going into it, and I hoped it would be interesting.  These Antarctica experts are also driving the boats and on shore and with you while kayaking and paddle boarding, so you can really understand what you’re seeing and what’s going on.  It makes it so enriching.  But also, it was pretty great to just have someone to ask your question when you were curious.  How are these albatross flying out here when we’re so far from land?  Is that how whales typically behave?  Is that blood from the seal or his prey?  Or what brings me to the next point, having a historian on board to tell you about your Great Grandma’s cousin, the first man at the South Pole, Road Amundsen.

I’m not a good writer, but this is the transition to the 2nd part of why it was so amazing in an unexpected way.  My mom’s dad’s mom’s cousin, is Roald Amundsen.  It’s something I’ve known for a long time.  I thought it was cool.  In 4th grade we had to do one of those projects where you research a person then dress up as them and give a little speech.  I chose Roald.  But I’ll be honest, what I remembered going into the trip was that he wanted to go to the North Pole, but someone beat him there, so he decided to go to the South Pole, which I thought was cool because it’s a continent and it was bad ass because the North Pole was in his backyard and then he was like, ok fine, you got me this time, but I’ll travel alllllll the way down and get the other one.  I also remembered that when he was a boy, he slept with his window open in the winter to toughen him up because he wanted to be an explorer.  Again, pretty bad ass.

Well after one of the talks from the historian about the Antarctic explorers in general, I asked him about Roald.  I learned so much, and have since read more about him.  But what turned out to be the coolest was just having this historian, Matt, say that Amundsen was amazing and just have someone who knows so much about it tell me things that filled me with such pride for my ancestor.  It wasn’t a pride in that those are not my accomplishments and I’m not entitled to them, but I just felt proud.  It’s hard to explain, so I’ll go on.  It also helped me feel connected to my mom and her family.  Her dad passed away when she was 18, so I never met him.  And now that my mom has passed away, it was so unexpectedly awesome to be able to learn about and experience parts of the journey that was made by her relatives.  Again, I’m not able to put it into words well, but I’m tearing up now.  The vastness, the isolation, the cold, the volatile weather… I got to experience it in a wonderful protected excursion, but enough to imagine a little what Roald did.

My mom didn’t get to experience it, my grandpa didn’t get to experience it.  Most of my family likely won’t get to experience.  I’m the first one and probably the only one, after Roald, to be down there, in this amazing place.  And it made it even more special.  You know that e.e. cummings poem, “I carry your heart,” I can’t stop thinking about that poem since Antarctica.  I always thought it was about romantic love.  I mean, it is, but with omitting a couple of lines and taking my own poetic license, I think of Roald and the Stormoens and my mom, I now think of it as her with me.  I also listened Malcom Gladwell’s, Revisionist History podcast.  The final episode (at least that’s available on Spotify), The basement tapes, contains this excerpt:

What is a child’s obligation to his parent?  I took my father’s presence for granted for as long as he was alive.  And when he died, the first shocking realization was that I had to find a way to keep him alive in my heart.  To honor his memory.  How do we do that?  Not by honoring our parents’ beliefs.  We are different people than they are.  Born in different eras.  Shaped by different forces.  What we are obliged to honor in our parents in their principles.  The rules by which they lived their lives.

So between e.e. and Malcom, I feel like my journey has a little more meaning and specialness to me, beyond just an incredible adventure.  I get to challenge myself and learn and grow and meet new people and shape my world view.  I feel like I was in a coma and I’m awake now, and though I’m unemployed and homeless, wandering the world without a clear vision of what I want to do next, I feel a sense of purpose.  My mom had a sense of purpose that was very different than Roald Amundsen’s and different than mine, but somehow through this journey, I feel even more connected.  Thanks Antarctica 🙂

Picture disclaimer: some of these pics were taken by other people on the excursion with me.  I’m not that good of a photographer, but it’s what I saw with my real eye 🙂  

 

 

In the words of Willie Nelson

I’m on the road again! Today I leave Ushuaia, or as it’s called here, El Fin Del Mundo (the end of the world).  A little city on the tip of Argentina, where I took off for my cruise to Antarctica.  Which, BTW was SOOO AMAZING.  But more to come on that.

This marks the end of almost 2 months of group travel and structured events.  At first, the group dynamic was a change and even kind of hard.  I didn’t want to move with the pack.  But by the end, I think this may have been the most amazing 2 months of my life.  I don’t know, when I say it’s the most, it means it was better than other things and indirectly, other things weren’t as good… which I don’t feel like saying?  When I think back to the first part of the trip, pretty much everyday I think about my yoga friends, want to go scuba diving and think of going back to Thailand, Australia and Japan, and want to explore more of South East Asia.  Ok, so I digress, it’s all been really really really good and these last 2 months have been really really great.  But the point I was trying to make, is that I’ve been with the group, and now I’m free!  All the places I’ve heard about from friends and have been dreaming of going… well I’m back to just roaming where my heart tells me to!

My inbetween events routine, be it in Argentina or Thailand or New Zealand or Australia or Minnesota, goes something like this.  The first day, I just sleep.  Through out these 181 days of adventure, in the planned sections I usually don’t have my own room or a nice bed or my own schedule.  So when I get all 3, I sleep 😊 haha then I start downloading and reflecting and planning.  Going through my pictures to try to get rid of the bad ones and consolidate, finding my new friends on facebook and Instagram, going through bills and emails, thinking of a blog post, writing my Flat Eliza updates, and now researching and planning what’s next.

The good and bad thing about going to amazing places with amazing people is that my head gets filled with all these amazing ideas of what to do next.  Today I’ve looked at ecocamps and refugios in Patagonia.  Both in Torres del Paine in Chile and El Calafate and El Chalten in Argentina.  I’ve looked at Iguazu Falls and Rio de Janiero in Brazil.  I’ve looked at Colonia, Punto del Diablo and Montevideo in Uruguay.  I’ll do some combination of those in the next week or two.  But then my mind wanders and I’m looking at Cuba, the Amazon, the Galapagos, Cartagena and Medellin, scuba diving in Belize, and booking my Spanish school.  These are all things I want to do in Latin America.  Like, realllllllly want to do.  But I also have looked at gorilla trekking in Uganda, hiking Kilimanjaro, Eurorail passes, yoga retreats in India, and overland camping safari tours in Southern Africa.  I’ve looked at what type of certifications are needed to work on an Antarctica expedition ship and prepared my yoga resume for a job teaching at a resort in Egypt.

The good and the bad thing about seeing the world and meeting so many new people, is that it has made me feel even more excited about life and living it to the fullest.  There are so many wonderful and interesting and beautiful things out there and this tiny piece that I’ve seen recently from Inca ruins to million year old glaciers to parades with tubas, silly string and woman doing choreographed dances drinking beer to Minky whales swimming up to my paddleboard and seals up to my kayak to new friends dancing and singing bad karaoke has made me wonder how much more there is to see and do and explore and meet.

But you can’t do it all.  In Antarctica, there were finite times we could go out on expeditions.  On the last trip, I had to decide if I wanted to SUP, kayak or go to land one last time.  I thought we’d have another chance, but we didn’t.  We had a bunch of expeditions canceled because the wind was too strong or the weather too rough.  I had kissed the ground goodbye, literally.  My friend hadn’t.  She was stressed but picked land.  I was stressed but picked standup paddle boarding.  Here’s what I saw.

 

K.Thompson.DancoIsland.2018.sup-9 2I was still sad I couldn’t kayak or touch land, but I mean, HOLY SHIT I did not choose wrong.  And that’s what I try to remember and embrace.  Its funny how the decisions with the good outcomes almost stress me out more than the ones with the bad.  Just think how lucky you are when you have one good thing to do.  A good job.  A good partner.  A good friend.  A good meal.  It’s great.  So I try to remember that two good options just means I’m super lucky.  I think one of the thing that I’ve come to embrace even more in my travels is that I’m here to be happy.  Its hedonistic, but being in the moment and following my heart has been just great.  It can be difficult at times to figure out and plan all the logistics of getting from one place to another.  Getting across borders, booking transportations and accomodations.  Finding the things to do that are fun and safe won’t bankrupt me.  But it’s so exhilarating!  Imagine if you had a day off of work, and no responsibilities.  What would you do?  Now what if that’s a week.  Or a month.  Or a year.  I’m still writing the book.  I finished a chapter and it was a fantastic one.  But now  the next page is empty.  How awesome is that?!

I know I’m going to Buenos Aires in 3 hours.  I’m going on a sailing lesson tomorrow afternoon.  It looks like it will be a nice day and I really really liked Buenos Aires.  Life is good.  Very good.

Thanks everyone for the kind words of support and encouragement along the way.  It means a lot to know that people care and are interested in what I’m doing!  And stay tuned, a full Antarctica update is soon on the way.  I just need to think of a few more ways to say AMAZING!!

Uno más

Well let me start, the reason why I have time to write these anecdotes down is because I have the wrong date for Antarctica!  BAHAHAHA.  To be fair, the initial email I have says it starts February 19.  But the final trip confirmation I got while I was in Peru says February 20.  So I mean, at least I was a day early and not a day late?!?!

With that said, I wanted to try to go through my pictures and thoughts in my downtime on the boat, but there is not really internet, so it’s best I start now.  Anyway, it’s good to start my stories of odd events with me being a dumb ass 😊

The Tale, or Tail of Jody the Dog

At the beginning of the trip, there was a man named Jody in our group.  Jody is a character, to put it mildly.  He has a gold tooth, tats all over including an eye on his neck, and a man bun.  But he’s funny!  The first night, he told the group he can’t travel to the US or Australia (because he has a record).  The 2nd night he told us that he thinks he has a kid in Thailand.  He’s from England.

Needless to say, when he left us in Bolivia, we were relieved but in need of new entertainment!  When we got to Sucre, we were doing a walking tour of the city, and this dog with a big spot on her back, a scab on her butt, and a smile on her doggy face walked with us for no joke, 2 hours.  When we went back to the hotel, we lost her.  But that night, after the Superbowl, at bar close, she was waiting for us!  She barked excitedly and walked around with us.  But she chased and barked aggressively at locals and motorbikes.  Like our original Jody, she was a little crazy but loyal.  The next day, after dinner at a different restaurant, Jody was waiting outside for us!!  Again, she walked with us and stayed with us.  When we went to an Irish bar for a couple of hours, she waited outside the door.  RIGHT outside the door, and didn’t let anyone in!  She walked us home that night and said goodbye in dramatic fashion at the door.  If anyone goes to Sucre, look for our friend Jody the dog, say hi and give her some food 😊

Can you tell which one is Jody the person, and which one is Jody the dog?My South American Family

If you know me outside of me being a coach/pretending to be a role model, or my family when I try to keep it moderately classy, you know I like to flirt and mess with people.  You probably know that anyway.  Well being with everyone for more than a month, is no different.  I need entertainment!  It started with my hitting on our Peru group leader, Giscard.  He was shy and a professional, so naturally he blushed and got uncomfortable when I made an inappropriate joke, which just egged me on.  But once we left Peru, I found my match in my groupmate, Pedro.  Pedro was Jody (in the previous story)’s roommate in Peru, so clearly he could handle my jokes and would throw it right back.  We were excited to start our family, so we also found our daughter in the group, Kim.  From Bolivia to Chile to Argentina, we took Christmas card pics, planned our wedding, went on our honeymoon, tried to mentor our daughter and her friends.  You know, just do family things.  I don’t want to steal the magic from the Christmas cards, so consider these the outtakes.  I’m not doing this justice, because my creeping antics don’t necessarily need to be documented online, but hopefully you can fill in the blanks.  Oh, but the best part is, on the last day, a couple people asked us if it was real. I love when I can leave something to the imagination! It’s not very often. 😉

The Irish Prophecy

Before I left, my Irish friend Niall wished me a good and fun and safe and all those things trip, but he said hoped I would get robbed.  Not violently, not dramatically.  Not really get hurt, just you know, live a little.  What a guy 😉  On the plane from Minneapolis to Mexico, I sat next to an Irish guy who was kind enough to help me use up all my drink vouchers that were expiring in 4 days.  On about our 4th gin and tonic, he said that he thought I would get robbed.  Not violently, just like all my cash would get stolen. WHAT’S WITH THE IRISH?  Well anyway, on the last full night in Buenos Aires, we went out to a club.  It was the 3rd late night in a row, and at 6 AM I was drunk and tired and was like ugggggh I need to go.  So I took a cab back to the hotel by myself.  Everyone was like, no, we’re leaving soon.  Just wait.  But I was tired.  Back in Minneapolis and Boston, I don’t’ like taking cabs by myself, especially when I’m drunk.  I’ll take an Uber because there’s a sense of security, but a cab not as much.  Well, I handed the cab driver a $1000 (which is roughly $50.  The cab was $350, which is most it had been compared to other nights, but not that much more.  But I didn’t want to rifle through my lower bills and just handed him the big one.  Anyway, he gave it back to me and was like, you only gave me $5.  I was drunk and tired and flustered and apologized and looked through my wallet and then was like hey, no, that was $1000?!  Then he was like, are you trying to steal from me?  This is all in Spanish BTW.  So anyway, I just gave him the fare and avoided him calling the cops (HA!) but basically, all my cash on me was taken.  So I think we can say my Irish prophecy came true?!  But in defense of Buenos Aire, the next day I had to take a cab at 2 AM to the airport for my 4 AM flight, and the cab driver was SO sweet.  We chatted the whole time (in Spanish).  By the end, we were friends and he hugged me and told me he was proud of me for taking my trip and that he believes I’ll find love and happiness!  He has a daughter my age and is divorced and has lived in Buenos Aires his whole life but reallllllly wants to go to London.  So we had some legit ground to bond over.  Then the next night in Ushuaia, I was staying at the top of a beautiful mountain near the glacier, so anyway, I was fine walking into town but less excited about walking home.  So I took cab.  On the way, the cab driver and I were chatting and his accent was a lot thicker than some others and didn’t speak English, but I understood when he asked about Trump.  When I said that I don’t want to build a wall and I don’t think Latinos are hurting my country, we became friends.  He took me on a tour that night and the next day, on his day off, took me to the national park!  So overall, my Argentine cab experiences have been nice 😊 but also Ireland I’ve learned my lesson and won’t leave the group if I’m drunk or late at night!

It’s shocking, right, that I would get robbed an hour after this was taken?  I look like I have my wits about me?!  *Shakes head*Bolivian transportation

Just about a year ago, I started to look at going to Peru and Bolivia.  I wanted to take a trip by myself to see if I would have fun.  It sounds silly, but I knew in my heart I wanted to take this big trip but I thought, before I quit my job I should maybe see if this is something I can do?  So I looked at going to Machu Picchu and Salar de Uyuni.  In the end, it seemed like the logistics were complicated and especially in Bolivia, it said the Salar was remote and transport unreliable.  So I went to Greece instead.  I had a GREAT time.  Which is now why I’m here and not in Stamford, CT 😊  But anyway, back to Bolivia.  Damn, they were right about the transport.  When we were taking our overnight bus from La Paz to Sucre, the bus was supposed to leave at 8 PM.  That afternoon our guide said the bus called and they’re leaving at 7 PM.  Ha, good times.  We get there, the bus leaves at 8.  Literally, within 3 blocks of the bus station, we have to go up a steep cobblestone hill which is super slippery with the flat rocks and the water.  It takes us over an hour to get up this hill.  Everyone is freaking out, and the driver is just like, yeah, we’ll be fine.  It was just that hill… and we were fine.  But, um, it was scary.  Then, I mentioned this in my previous post, but going from Sucre to Uyuni, there was a strike, and our bus became standing room only and we had to walk 5 miles into town.  With our suitcases.  But we just beat out the rain!  On the first day of the jeep convoy after Salar de Uyuni going to Chile, we had to go through some really big puddles.  Like almost covering the wheels of the jeep puddles.  As we were getting close to the hotel, but still about 25 km away, someone in our car goes, I think the car behind us is flashing their lights at us?  Me and one other person in the car spoke Spanish so we tried to convey this.  Our driver shook it off.  Well a bit later, he flashed his lights at the car ahead of us and was like, do you know where the guy behind us is?  We had no cell service (and wouldn’t for another 2 days), so he tried to use the CB radio, but even that didn’t have coverage.  So he radioed up to the hotel and they sent a car back to try to find them.  Well in the end, that car got to the hotel about 30 minutes after us.  They didn’t need the rescue vehicle, but I mean, when you’re out in the pitch black with no cell coverage and it’s pouring rain, what an adventure!?!  So moral of this story is thank God I didn’t try to make this trip by winging it on my own.  Go with some sort of group.  Have a local who knows what they’re doing and has at least a semi-vested interest in your safety 😊

The presence of angels

I was going to write about this in my “life is like a dream” post, but it took a different mindset to think of the stories and I already had a lot that I was rambling on about.  To frame it up but hopefully not get too off track, I believe in guardian angels and I believe in the power and the spirit of Mother Earth and the Universe.  And I am a Christian and believe in God and Jesus.  This is the last vignette in this post, so if this is offensive or annoying, just stop reading 😊  But growing up Catholic, I explicitly learned you can’t believe in all 3 of these.  The first commandment stops us in our tracks.  I’ve been a cafeteria Catholic, so I just went with it.  Sorry.  But in the last year, I’ve embraced religion more, my faith and what others around me believe.  In Peru and Bolivia, they love Pachamama, Mother Earth.  But they’re also Catholics!  This is because when the Spanish came to colonize/conquest/think of another word that doesn’t mean exploit but actually means exploit South America, they introduced Catholicism as we all know.  Was it to help the indigenous or subvert them?  You decided.  However, there is a lot of art and tributes in Bolivia, made by Europeans, that have Pachamama and Jesus.  Skipping over some key points that would be needed in a thesis, the Catholics were cool with linking them.  So as a Cafeteria Catholic who now is Lutheran, I’m taking this as a sign that I’m cool to believe in Mother Earth, Jesus and guardian angels.  I’ve avoided bad experiences a lot, sometimes narrowly.  I’ll give those more than luck and thank one of the big 3.  But the point of this, is that I’ve actually felt the presence of my mom and other loved ones.  In Salta when the people were playing instruments and singing at dinner, I felt my Great Aunt Ruth and could hear her singing along with us during La Vie En Rose, when none of us knew the words and were just saying “la la la de da” to the melody.  My mom and I spent every Saturday with my Aunt Ruth when I was little.  Ruth’s husband Hub passed away when I was like 5.  They didn’t have any kids, and Ruth was my mom’s dad’s sister.  She loved to sing off key and play the piano as well as her arthritic hands could allow. As an adult, I can see that Ruth and I are kindred musical spirits in that we love it, and what we lack in talent we make up in an enthusiasm.  She also liked to throw back a brandy Manhattan or 10, and would start at lunch if she felt it.  I don’t think of Ruth that often, so feeling her in that moment was special.  I felt my uncle Harry, who recently passed away.  I hadn’t seen him in a couple of years, but we called him Happy Harry because he was always up for fun and celebrations.  When I was by myself in Sucre for the day, while the others were on a hike, I passed one of the impromptu parades, I heard a loud boisterous laugh that reminded me of Harry.  I don’t know why?  I couldn’t name his laugh without prompting, but that laugh sounded like him!  When I turned around, there was a dog wearing a Hawaiian shirt, dressed up for the parade.  Harry loved a Hawaiian shirt.  I don’t know they meaning of these encounters.  I think it’s just to say hi, and you’re not alone.  Either way, I liked them.  I am of course reminded of my mom a lot.  I think of her everyday in some way, shape or form.  I usually feel my mom when there are things that are blue and white and beautiful, but I felt her at the pink lake in Bolivia, when I was surrounded by the pink flamingos.  She supported my weird pink fetish, and I felt her happiness there.  I feel her when I’m doing something that she would think is dangerous, like the crazy bus.  Or something she wouldn’t like, like when I stumble into some left-wing protest.  But I feel her in happiness and when I open up to a new friend and they support me and encourage me.  I miss that I can’t talk to my mom and so when my new friend Kerrie says yeah, you should go to India!  Or when I tell my new friend Barbara about some of my past struggles that my mom couldn’t support me on, I feel her.  I feel my mom in meals that I think she’d like and when I snort when I laugh.  One of the most recent, and delightfully unexpected was when I arrived at this bed and breakfast that I’m staying at in Ushuaia, it’s run by a French-Argentinean couple.  The house is super cute.  But in the kitchen, they have a little dish.  It’s maybe a cheese tray?  Maybe for desserts?  I don’t know.  It’s a little glass stand with a lid that has etched flowers in it.  My mom gave the exact same one to me years ago, but the stand had broken and she had a new one, but it didn’t quite fit.  I don’t think I kept it when I moved.  I can’t remember.  But seeing it on the counter at the B&B in Ushuaia, when I was tired and on my way to the end of the world in Antarctica was amazing.

La Vigilia

My Spanish teacher junior year of high school was Sr. Diaz.  At the time, I liked him and his class a lot.  He was my featured teacher on teacher night at basketball, and the came to the game!  What a guy!  He taught us more verb tenses in Spanish than I even knew existed in English.  But looking back now, I think I owe a lot to him.  I went with Sr. Diaz to Spain my sophomore year, and it was my first time traveling to Europe and traveling abroad without my family.  It was my first taste of travel and cemented my love of Europe.  Sr. Diaz is Chilean, and taught us about the golpe de estado and Pinochet.  It was my first taste of Latin American politics, and what likely influenced my wanting to major in Political Science in college with an emphasis in Latin America.  I applied to Georgetown School of Foreign Services because I wanted to be a Colombian diplomat, so I must have REALLY loved it!  The consolation prize of St. Olaf Poli Sci worked out well though too 😉  It was Sr. Diaz who introduced me to Pablo Neruda and Jorge Luis Borges, poets who I still like today.  I picked a Neruda poem to read at my cousin’s wedding in Mexico, mixing a little English and Spanish because it’s beautiful in English but just so lyrical and lovely in Spanish.  But I was thinking about Sr. Diaz for something else when I started this post!  In one of the books or poems we read in his class, there was a word, vigilia.  It doesn’t exist in English.  When I looked it up just now, it says vigil, which I suppose is kind of right, but really it is the state when you’re half awake but still dreaming.  You know it’s a dream, but it feels real.

I think that word is emblematic of my trip to South America.  Well, before I get sappy, emblematic is kind of a joke we said a lot on our trip, because our Peru tour guide used it a lot, mostly about food and drink.  Lomo saltado is emblematic of Peru.  Pisco Sour is emblematic of Peru.  Then, me being the natural punk I am, used it a lot after hehehe.  Anyway, in this case, vigilia is emblematic.  This just feels like a dream!

I left off my blog posting at the Quarry Trek and Machu Picchu.  It seems like a lifetime ago!  The journey started with a trek.  For 3 days, I hiked with 3 other people from my group and our guide Edwin.  We covered 30 miles, according to my fitbit, climbing to over 4,500 meters, and going up to a 4,750 meters (15,600 feet) at a high point mostly just so we could say we did.  It was an adventure.  To be fair, we started with another Australian couple and an assistant guide, but one of the Australians got altitude sickness and had to go back the first night.  So then it was me, and 3 ex-military 20 somethings (who are my friends, just kidding, love you guys) but damn, they could literally skip up the mountain.  So we covered more ground than we were supposed too.  Yay? Before this, I think the last time I camped out was in the Gaards backyard in girl scouts?  So I mean, I had my doubts about how it would go.  Let’s be honest.  But since this is the first thing I’m describing in my dream-like ramble, so maybe I’ll chose magical?  5 of us, surrounded by mountains and grass and clouds and nature.  Just amazing.  It was the first time I’d ever been at that high of altitude.  We went higher later in the trip, but the first time is always the most memorable… even if it’s in your swimsuit after a luau party at the Legion.  Oh wait, that’s a different first time.. hahah but really, walking in the clouds alone, is like a dream.  There is something indescribable about being in the clouds, but in a way, it makes sense because we have so many metaphors about it.  When I was younger, I loved shoot for the moon, even if you miss, you’ll land amongst the stars.  So I’ve been reaching for the stars, and I didn’t make there, but I made it to the clouds 😊  But not only are you in the heavens, but you’re walking down a dirt path by the Incas 500 years prior, surrounded by natural beauty which is also just simply amazing.  I kind of thought Machu Picchu was going to be a letdown after the hike, but it was amazing.  Most of the Inca civilization was destroyed by the Spanish but this town was preserved because it’s nestled between on the edge of a cliff, on mountain tops.  The size and scale of it is impressive.  It makes me think about other lost civilizations, the people who roamed this planet way before our time, and then makes me think about how our lives our so tiny in the course of human existence, and makes me wonder what will come next?  How will we continue to evolve?  Which victor will write the history and who will get lost?  And then who is lost now and doesn’t have a voice?   If a place can make me stop to think about the course of human existence and the meaning of humanity, err, life, it’s pretty amazing.


After Machu Picchu, we had a few more days finishing out Peru, and heading into Bolivia.  Two of the highlights of this time were visits to villages and a homestay.  These alone could have their own post, but it was just cool to interact and exchange with people who live so differently than me, but yet here I am, in their home.  It makes me appreciate even more, the privilege I have.  The first layer of this realization in these homestays and remote village visits is the importance of getting married and having children.  In one village, you only really had a say in then happenings of the town if you are married, then it was you and your partner.  But in all of them, there is genuine looks of surprise when you say that you’re in your thirties and unmarried!  I have to think it’s in part because having a partner is a necessity.  Most of these places relied on agriculture for the income, before they introduced the tourism of homestays and visits.  In these cases, someone has to work the crops and someone has to take care of the chores.  And it’s better if you have kids to help you with these things.  Right there alone, its like yeah, it’s nice that I don’t live in Little House on the Prairie times where you just had to work harder physically to get by!  Which makes me think, well yeah because I have access to health care and education and when I was 15 I didn’t have to think about finding my husband and taking care of my siblings and helping carry crops up the mountains, I got to go with Sr. Diaz and my friends to Spain and practice my Spanish and see the La Guernica and eat paella and dream about the big bad world.  It’s amazing and I’m lucky!  That’s not to say these women and families aren’t happy or lucky, it just makes me feel like I’m very grateful to be given choices and opportunities #blessed

In Bolivia, it was a tale of two halves.  The first half was cities, La Paz to Sucre to Uyuni. I have written and deleted this next line 4 times, because it’s hard to capture it, but I just want to say, it’s a beautiful disaster.  It’s chaotic.  Big cities are chaotic, but this is 8 lanes of traffic where there’s room for 4.  It’s rat poison being sold on the street booth outside the hotel.  It’s constant cars honking.  But it’s bright colors, and music everywhere.  Top 40 playing from a boombox on the street, Latin music from inside a store, American big band 40’s inside a restaurant, people playing the pan flute and singing on the street, impromptu parades to celebrate carnival. Then the second half was remote and crazy nature.  As I’ve told many people, many times (so I’m sorry I’m sure I’m repeating myself), I booked this trip because I wanted to go to Machu Picchu and Salar de Uyuni.  When I read about going to Uyuni, it said that Bolivia transportation is inconsistent, and it just seemed like it was really remote to travel through.  Welllllll the blogs were right.  The day we were traveling from Sucre to Uyuni (the town closest to Salar de Uyuni), there was a protest outside of Uyuni, blocking the roads.  Many busses wouldn’t go, but ours did and we thus had people standing in the aisles for the 4 hour trip down.  People use the term chicken bus to describe a bus in a developing nation that literally carries chickens with their passengers (you can visualize it I’m sure), well this bus didn’t have chickens but next to the driver there was about 6 dozen eggs in trays, haha.  So we were close 😊  Anyway, 8 km (4.8 miles) outside of the city, the bus stopped and we walked down a rocky hill and then empty highway to make it in.  Then the next 3 days, as we traveled to the Salar and through Bolivia to Chile, we had to take 4 WD Jeeps because those and pickup trucks are really the only vehicles that can get through the muddy, rocky, dirt roads.  But it was worth it.  The Salar was amazing.  It was “flooded” when we were there, in which, it had been raining so there was about 4 inches of water covering it.  I think it would be cool to see it dry salt, but it was crazy too with the water.  From the Salar, we traveled through remote country.  And by remote, I mean, dirt roads and the only other people on the said roads are the two other jeeps in the convoy.  But the scenery was amazing.  Going off the beaten path has its perks!  We stayed two nights on this voyage.  The first night, the floor was made out of sand.  The 2nd night, there was no shower.  Rustic, but fun!  But the best part of this wasn’t the accommodations, it was the views.  The Laguna Colorado was truly one of the most magnificent things I’ve ever seen.  The lake is pink, from the plankton that likes the salty water, made because this was an ocean millions of years ago.  Because the plankton like the lake, flamingos like the lake.  Because the plankton and flamingos like the lake, I like the lake 😉  But really, it’s also surrounded by mountains that have variations of color in the rock formations.  It’s pretty neat.  And it’s remote, so there’s nobody there.

On to Chile and Argentina.  I didn’t weep over the beauty but I did cry from laughing so hard.  Maybe it’s because we bonded over those days in the jeeps and the rustic accommodations, or maybe it’s because there is a different kind of magic in Chile and Argentina, but they were both delightful adventures in a totally different kind of way.  We were only in Chile 2 nights, and on the first night, we celebrated like it was our 2nd to the last night AND 1st night in Chile.  Both grounds for celebration! AMIRIGHT?!  So that first night, I was tired.  I played too much beer pong that turned to wine pong that turned to mint schnapps pong on our last night in Bolivia.  Were Tom and I the champs?  Debatable, but likely yes.  Did I spray people with silly string before bed and anger many, but spread the Carnival festivities to our little dorm room?  Yes.  When we had to be ready to go at 4AM was I still drunk?  Yes.  Anyway, that was the night before… so I was tired.  I didn’t need to go out in Chile.  Ok fine, there’s a rooftop bar?  I’ll go for one.  It’s not actually a rooftop bar, but karaoke and dancing?  Fine, I’ll stay for one.  This wine tastes good… well you get the picture.  After the bar closed, we went back to the hotel.  But we got in trouble for being too loud in one of the rooms, so we went back out.  This was the 2nd time that Pedro, Tom and I – who are nice and respectable gentlemen in real life, got in trouble at hotels for making too much noise late at night.  I blame them, not me.  But back to Chile, in the light of day, I can say that we left because the bar closed so where did we think we were going to go when we left the hotel?  What would be open?  Anyway, I don’t need to answer the question because as we turned the corner to leave the hotel, a group of people with 2 six packs of beer said, are you going to the house party?!  Of course we were.  And we ended up at a Chilean house party, that had a DJ and a bar and a pool.  Those are really the kinds of dreams I have, where series of weird events keep progressing.  Except in my dreams, I don’t lose one of my sandals.  In this dream, I did #RIPHaviana

The going out dream in Argentina was different yet again than Chile.  One of the nights in Salta, we went to this restaurant where let me say first, it was the best steak I’ve ever had.  Even better than classy AF steak I had with my boss while traveling.  Just as I don’t want to say explicitly rule breaking things on the internet where people can get in trouble, maybe my friends from Mayborn know the dinner in Cinncy I’m talking about hahaha.  Again, back to the story.  This was fantastic food and drink.  But the reason we went to this restaurant is because people bring their instruments and sing and perform.  It’s not for tips, it’s not to be discovered at open mic night.  Just to share.  In our room, there was guy maybe in his 20’s/30’s.  As he was playing this guitar and singing, a table next to him with 6 people about my parents age or older, were singing along.  They eventually got a couple of guitars, and it was amazing.  They started trying to sing British, French, Irish and American songs so we could join in.  Joining in with these beautiful musicians was so neat.  La Vie En Rose and Molly Malone almost brought me to tears, but What a Wonderful World and New York, New York actually did.  Maybe it’s because I was drunk and my singing was that bad haha or maybe it’s just that amazing way that art can touch you in a special way.  But it again, felt like a dream.  That I had to pinch myself to know it was real.

The sad thing about this post is, I can’t post videos of the beautiful night in Argentina (or maybe I can, but I don’t know how?) and I don’t have pictures of the epic journey to the house party, so these late night inbetweeners will have have to fill in the gaps as best they can.

In closing, I’d like to give Sr. Diaz one more shout out.  Sr. Diaz, we’re not facebook friends, so you won’t read this… but if you did, thank you for introducing me to a world where I can teach friends from around the world how to play beer pong in a dorm in the Atacama desert… er I mean, thanks for opening my eyes to this world that has brought me so much joy and passion and has enriched my life more than I can comprehend 😊

KPI Tracker

Hola!  I’ve been in Peru for about a week and half and I leave for my Machu Picchu trek tomorrow at 4 AM!  Ok actually, I wrote this the night before I left for my trek, but the internet was too slow to upload the pictures! Haha.  But let’s pretend because I think the trek and Machu Picchu deserves it’s own post 🙂 It’s been a whirlwind week and half since I’ve left the tundra and now the next few days I’m going to be off the grid and hiking so in an attempt to not go out tonight and get rest, it seems like a good time to write an update.  Being in a tour group means that I’m constantly going to new places, seeing new things and learning about them from local tour guides.  I’m not a big bucket list person, but I do love to check a box.  So the best way to think about my journey is in KPIs and let’s be honest, the best KPIs are ones that you know you’re going to meet, so here is an update on the KPIs of an interesting trip.

Original KPIs:

Dumplings and Yoga: I added these to my KPI list on my first trip.  How many countries can I practice yoga in and how many countries can I eat dumplings in?  The little things that make life good, right?!  Well, I added Peru to the list.  I did a bit of yoga on my own in Lima.  I bought a travel yoga mat so I have no excuses 😊  But, I went to a class in Cusco.  Getting there was an ordeal, between a closed studio, pouring rain, and directions to other studios in Spanish.  Well, this one turns out that it was just me in the class, and the teacher didn’t speak English.  The yoga class seemed to be a mix of some Bikram sequence (not in heat),  a lot of pranayama (thanks Johnny for teaching me so much so I could know what he was getting at!), then what I can only really liken to tai chi movements and Pilates exercises.  But at the end, I felt great, so Peru was a great addition to the list 😊  Which I think is now at 6.

The building behind me is where the yoga studio I found on Google maps was supposed to be… but no worries, I got my own private Spanish yoga class 🙂

As for dumplings, it’s really a meat and potatoes kind of cuisine.  There are some Chinese restaurants called Chifas, but I haven’t been to any yet.  So, I decided that empanadas are kind of Peruvian dumplings?  It’s a local food and is popular and is a little stuffed pocket, which is basically what I call dumplings?  So I had a lomo saltado empanada.  Lomo saltado is a classic Peruvian beef and potatoes dish so I figured it was a good authentic dumpling 😊  That tally is now at 7.  I had dumplings in China but didn’t do more yoga than a few stretches in the morning, so that’s why dumplings are up one on yoga.

IMG-6742

Adventure activities: I started this one in New Zealand when I banged out 3 good ones – skydiving, paragliding and bungy jumping.  I tried to go paragliding in Lima but the wind wasn’t right.  But I did add a new one – dune buggying and sandboarding!  In Nazca, we went out to the desert and drove around in a buggy which is kind of like a cross between an ATV and a Jeep Wrangler.  You drive it around the sand dunes and go over jumps and stuff.  It was great! Then we essentially went snowboarding or sledding in the sand, which was also super fun! Except walking back up the dune… that sucked.  Otherwise, a great new adventure!

Countries and continents visited: Now I’ve been to South America!  Check.  Peru makes my 26th country (I think?).  Mexico makes the 10th country I’ve been in on my year off (including Canada which I just went into with Niagara Falls)

Spanish, Machu Picchu, Salt Desert: Spanish is why I wanted to take this leg of the journey.  Machu Picchu and the Salt Desert are why this tour.  I have gotten a lot of Spanish practice and actually, I’ve really enjoyed it and I think it’s really enhanced my experience here.  It’s been great!!  The other two, I haven’t been to yet!  TBD!

New KPIs:

Weather delays causing unplanned country sleepovers: I jinxed myself to start the trip.  On my insta pic of the day I made a comment about the weather, then sure enough, snow and deicing delayed us in Minnesota over an hour.  That was just enough for me to miss my connection and have to spend the night in Mexico City.  As this is my 3rd unplanned country stay over in the last year due to missing a connection because of weather (I was delayed going from Greece to Boston and spent the night in Amsterdam and then going from Thailand to New Zealand and spent the night in China.) I know the routine a little bit.  First you worry about getting your ticket out, then your bags, then your place to stay.  In this case, the first two sorted themselves out relatively easily.  I was on an AeroMexico/Delta partner flight.  The Delta guy told me I would get a hotel room in Mexico City.  The AeroMexico person said I wouldn’t.  My flight was at 8 AM and they wanted me to be there 3 hours early, and I landed around midnight, so I was hoping the hotel would work out.  Anyway, as I was about to board my flight from Cancun to Mexico City, the gate agent called my name and said I had a hotel room in Mexico City, and handed me a note on the back of a boarding pass.  HAHAHA.  When I landed in Mexico City, I went on a goose chase to 4 different people all over the airport, but alas, I did have a free hotel room.  My Amsterdam delay was fine, I got to go out at night and I was coming back to work after vacation, so extending holiday and then going into work tired and smelly was fine 😊  China was stressful because I didn’t speak the language, but in reality, I didn’t have any hurry to get to New Zealand so it was ok.  This one was just entertaining because every step of the way, I was directed to speak to multiple people. Most of them had limited English.  It was just a roller coaster of what’s going to happen next?!?!

Superlative titles:  One of the great things about going on a tour where I see so much, that’s lead by local tour guides, is I get a lot of facts about how great the place is!  So in this category, most of them I didn’t know I was even looking to collect, but now that I have done it, I wonder how I existed before 😊

Driest desert: The first stop after leaving Lima was a town called Paracas.  We went to a national park.  The national park was a desert that was on the Pacific Ocean.  I’ll spare you all the details about this desert, because I had like 2 hours of information on it… but it really was cool!  Anyway, it’s part of Atacama Desert, which is the driest desert in the world.  I guess I don’t need to visit anymore deserts.  Check please.

Red sand beach: As I said in the desert, we went to this national park with the desert that bordered the ocean.  There was a small beach that is red.  There are 5 red beaches in the world.  This is one.  Another is in Santorini, so I’m 40% done!!  Funny story though, in Santorini they talk about the red, black and white beaches all on the island.  The first time I saw a red beach on my boat cruise I was like, eh, that’s not really red, and didn’t think it was that special.  Haha.  I kind of felt the same way when I saw this one.  So even though I’m 40% through this natural wonder of the world checklist, I’m still kind of a bitch about it!  Oops.  So I’d say who wants to go with the find the others…. But I wouldn’t be impressed 😊

Deepest canyon: As we made our way South to Cusco, another stop was to visit the Colca Canyon and Colca Valley.  We went to the canyon to see condors, which are the largest flying bird.  They were pretty cool.  But also, where we went to see them was the Colca Canyon which is the 2nd deepest canyon in the world, the deepest is in Chile/Argentina.  The Colca Canyon is twice as deep as the Grand Canyon.  So, if you ever want to see a Canyon, I guess just go to South America 😉

Natural disasters: I have real reservations on scoring this one, because I don’t actually want a collection of natural disasters under my belt, especially while traveling.  However, when I was in Arequipa, we had a 5.9 earthquake.  We were eating dinner on the 2nd floor of this restaurant and it first felt like someone was shaking their leg which made the table shake.  Then I was like, are people running up the stairs and that’s what’s shaking the floor?  But one of the guys I was with is from New Zealand and he’s like, this is an earthquake.  We looked around and most people had jumped up and left.  But as we were going to leave, it stopped.  So I mean, hey, I’ve experienced an earthquake?!

Irish bars: Last night, in Cusco, Peru, I went to find somewhere to watch the Vikings game (take a moment to cry Vikings fans).  Sports bars aren’t really a thing here in Peru, but I saw an Irish bar and thought it seemed promising.  It was.  Inside, there was a sign that this is the highest (elevation) Irish owned, Irish bar in the world.  I was telling my friend on the trip about it and she was like, yeah, there seems to be Irish bars all over!  She said that she had a great time at an Irish bar in China!  It got me thinking that hmm, yeah, if I see an Irish bar somewhere, I usually figure it will be lively and give it a try!  I know for sure that I was in Irish bars in Ko Phagnan, Thailand; Bangkok, Thailand; and Queenstown, New Zealand.  I’m also pretty sure I went to one in Sydney, Australia.  So, I feel like I should see how many Irish bars around the world I can visit?

IMG-6737

Flat Eliza’s Feature: You may have seen this on my Instagram story, but this trip I have a new friend with me – Flat Eliza!  My friend Jenny’s second grader Eliza’s class made stick figures of themselves that people are supposed to send around the world and take a picture and send a note back to the class about where they are.  It’s kind of funny because Jenny and I had Eliza’s brother, Flat Emmett with us in Paris a couple of years ago, so I feel like it’s meant to be.  The project just started and nobody in Eliza’s class had visited anywhere outside of the country, so I made the cut to get her.  I forget to take her with me, and then when I do it’s not the coolest pics, hahah sorry Eliza.  Anyway, here is Flat Eliza in Lima, Peru and then visiting the Nazca lines (and the Pan-American Highway) on a little Cesna plane.  Sorry, Eliza.  The Nazca lines pics leave a lot to be desired.  I’d blame my iPhone for not focusing on the lines when Eliza was in the shot so I had to settle for the corner of her head… but really, I was just trying not to throw-up bahahaha

Wanderlust dreaming:  There are 13 of us on this tour, including me.  3 other people are on a year long travel adventure.  3 more quit their jobs to travel.  2 more are retired and have done some crazy things like motorcycle down from Texas to Costa Rica and back.  So needless to say, these guys all have amazing stories of the places they’ve visited.  It makes me really want to go back to Asia and go to Cambodia and Vietnam (and then I can also visit my yoga friends Megan and Lindsay who are teaching in those places!), and really want to go to Africa.  Ugh, I’ve wanted to go to Africa but it just seems scary.  Well these guys have talked about ways that don’t seem so crazy expensive or dangerous.  So now I have Africa with wanting to go to Egypt and see the pyramids and scuba dive, see my friend Lisa in Ethiopia, and then a trek/safari in the South!  I also want to see the Grand Canyon.  I haven’t seen it.  I’ve always wanted to, and now that it’s like, I’m seeing all this amazing stuff around the world, I feel like I definitely want to see the amazing things in my relative backyard! I also still am pumped about the rest of this trip, want to go back to Thailand, Australia, New Zealand and Japan.  I want to visit my friends back in Boston and in other places across the US for that matter.  I want to visit my friends in Europe, and there’s more of Europe I really want to see… But for now, I’ll just stay super excited to continue my South American adventure 🙂

 

 

 

Adios, Minnesota!

I feel like I won the lottery with my first trip.  Nothing bad happened to me, I met wonderful people, the weather was fantastic, the activities I did all wildly exceeded my expectations.  I saw a new side of myself that I really liked.

Now after 3 weeks back in Minnesota, I’m back on the road again chasing summer in the Southern hemisphere, headed to Latin America and Antarctica!  It’s going to be an epic trip. I’m starting in Peru where I’ll go with a tour group through from Lima to Buenos Aires, going through Bolivia and Chile and most importantly to me, stopping in Machu Picchu and Salar de Uyuni!  Then, on to ANTARCTICA!  After that, I’m on my own, but right now I’m planning on going up to Costa Rica to take Spanish classes and then traveling around a bit more.  I might meet up with a couple of friends.  On my first trip, I had a hard stop – December 20 in Tokyo I was going home for Christmas.  But this time, no return flight has been booked and there’s so much of South America that I’m excited to experience.

My interest in South America started young.  I studied Spanish from elementary school all through college.  In 4th grade I was obsessed with the Mayans and taught myself their number system (it was non-base 10.  I don’t remember it now, but it does remind me, good joke – there are 10 types of people who speak binary code.  TAKE AWAY, I’ve always been a loser).  In 5th grade we did a presentation on Venezuela.  My essay to get into Georgetown for undergrad was about how I thought the US should redirect the efforts from spraying chemicals from planes on coca fields to investing in healthcare and education to give people opportunities to work instead of being forced into gangs and drugs in the “war” against the FARC in Colombia, because I wanted to work for the Colombian embassy (I got waitlisted.  The plan had some holes).  I still like reading Pablo Neruda poetry because my Spanish teacher Sr. Diaz was from Chile and was so passionate about the golpe de estado and Chilean history and it made such an impact on me.  In college, my majors were economics and political science, and in econ my areas of emphasis were management (liberal arts and their lack of a business school hehe) and international development.  In political science my emphasis was Latin American politics.  I’ll spare you the trip down memory lane that my head is going through faster than my fingers can type… but the point is, I had a vested interest in the region.  Ok, ha, I’ll share one.  In my Latin American politics capstone, I did a comparison of states that didn’t like the US – Cuba and Venezuela, and I in the end, I thought that when Fidel died, Cuba would take a step backwards but if Chavez left Venezuela would get stronger bahaha St. Olaf, you can’t take back that degree 😉  And actually, in my other poli sci capstone I looked at the differences in ethnicity and nationality and I used Spain as my case study (I really did like Spanish) and compared the Bosque and Catalonia, and I thought the Bosque would try to secede from Spain not Catalonia.  So I was 0/2.  HA.

But I digress.  It’s funny, I have thought about this post a bunch of times.  Really, I want to share how I’m feeling going into my South America trip, but it always changes.  The day before I left, I had a weird nervous pit in my stomach.  The day I left, the same thing, but more excited.  But still, I would just get these flashes of things to worry about.  What if I’ve built this up too much?  What if I have a false sense of confidence after my first trip?  What if this area actually is more dangerous than I’m imagining it?  What will I do if this happy high I’m on from my first trip fades?  And what if it doesn’t and I never want to go back?

But the funny thing is, I was delayed leaving Minneapolis, so I missed my connection in Cancun and had to spend the night in Mexico City.  But through that turmoil and being lost and confused, all my other anxieties seemed to go away?  It’s like, yeah.  I can speak Spanish.  I can travel on my own.  I can roll with a bit of adversity and actually turn it into an adventure.

So I’m sure things will be bad, and I have the hope that things will be great.  And I might not make it to Angel Falls in Venezuela for 5th grade Vanessa, or eat in the cafes in Santiago that Neruda and Allende ate in for 11th grade Vanessa.  Or visit the Plaza de Mujeres for senior year of college Vanessa.  But I think I’ll have a great time, and be exactly where I’m supposed to be, doing the things I’m supposed to do, enjoying this journey of South America and of my life 🙂

The next 35 days!

Tour Map

One in a million

Are you sick of my self-aggrandizing introspection yet?  I am a little bit, haha.  But I’m almost done.  I’m finalizing my South America moves and will be on the road again soon enough and I’ll be like ugh, I wish I would have taken the time to flesh out some of my thoughts.  So this 2nd of the 3 part series (ha) of the last 3 months is what are my 5 key learnings from Thailand/Australia/New Zealand/Japan 🙂

One in a million.  Everyday, one million people cross this busiest crosswalk in the world in Shibuya, Tokyo, Japan.  I didn’t know that fact until the next day, when I was talking to my new friend from South Korea that I met at cooking class… but for some reason it really resonated with me.  Here I am, on this trip of a lifetime, one of literally the million people who will cross this street on that day and it filled me with a sense of wonder and gratitude.  And Dumb and Dumber quotes.

IMG-5483

  1. Kindness is the universal currency

Up until this trip, I think most of the situations I’ve been in, I was in a position of power.  I was born into the position to have the skin color/sexual orientation/language/dialect/education/citizenship that I can do pretty much what I want, and if I couldn’t get what I wanted, I mostly have been given a fair opportunity.  When you’re in another country whose language, laws, customs are different than yours, all of the sudden I was an outsider.  I couldn’t just go about how I always had, because that’s not the way it works everywhere in the world.  I needed strangers to give me a break, to help me, to be willing to extend me a kindness to help me get by.  When I was stranded unexpectedly for a night in China while trying to get from Bangkok to Auckland, it was the kindness and generosity of the lounge staff member at the Nanning airport to help me understand what was going on, rebook my flight, redirect my luggage, get me on the list for a comped hotel room and keep me posted of all the changes that continued to happen and only be announced in Chinese.  Whether it was trying to order lunch in Japan, get my clothes washed in Koh Tao, figuring out a taxi in Koh Phagnan or understanding the ferries in Auckland it was the kindness and patience and generosity of people who made it all work. It was also the kindness of strangers to extend friendship to me everywhere I traveled.  Most of the acquaintances I made that added fun and depth to my trip – everywhere between yoga class to wine tours to having breakfast to waiting for a show to start – already had their friends and family with them.  They didn’t need my company to enhance their experience, but they extended kindness and made the trip more memorable and rich.  And to the friends I made on the trip – scuba diving, at yoga, in cooking classes, reuniting with in Australia – opening your hearts to share your love with me made this an experience I’ll never forget. We’re all on this journey together and showing kindness costs you nothing but can help everyone.

Two of the best acts of kindness imprinted on me: my adopted family including me in family day in Bangkok – the two wonderful China Southern airline employees who talked me off the ledge and made sure I made it out of China with all of my luggage to New Zealand.

2.       Committing to well-being

As I’ve told many of you, the driver behind this year off was a vision that I wanted to practice yoga in Thailand and Spanish in South America.  I felt like yoga was a tool to help me get back to a place of well-being – physically, mentally and spiritually.  Well hot damn, if it didn’t deliver in spades.  Spending over a month just dedicating to wellness was such an amazing experience.  It wasn’t always easy, even though that’s all I had to do and I was in a beautiful place with wonderful people.  But my body, and my heart and my mind just feel lighter and better from it.  I practiced yoga daily, I ate mostly vegetarian, hardly drank any alcohol or soda, and just hung out with wonderful people who I think I’ll be friends with forever.  I’ve tried to get my shit together before.  I’m sure everyone has.  I’ve tried to lose weight and get fit.  Weight Watchers, Slimgenics, signing up for half marathons or triathalons.  Ok, listing out everything I’ve tried to get my mental and spiritual well-being on track is even longer, but I mean I’ve tried to focus on my job, or focus on a relationship, or go to grad school, or give up alcohol or teach Sunday School or just say fuck it and try to have as much fun as I could.  But I think because I would latch on to this idea that getting that THING right would make me better, I would neglect everything else and thus create a life of imbalance that would inevitably come crashing down.  But like I said, right now, I feel lighter and happier and generally at peace.  As I write this, I realize I can’t put this “learning” into words, which maybe negates the principle of it… except that I feel the best I’ve felt for as long as I can remember and that feeling definitely makes the top 10 list of things gained on this journey.

3.       It’s a small world

In the most obvious sense of this adage, while wine tasting on Waiheki Island I met a couple from Minnesota who knew one of my ex-boyfriends brother and I later ran into them in Queenstown and we had dinner.  I met a mother-daughter pair at the Milford Sound who have family in Edina.  I met a Brit who lives in Taiwan while in Chiang Mai whose coworker I went to college with.  I mean just kind of crazy and makes you say, yeah, it’s a small world.  But even more it’s a small world how we’re all connected.  I want to hate on social media, but it has been amazing.  I am shocked how much facebook has meant to me and helped me stay connected while I’m away.  I can stay connected to the friends I’ve met from around the world and share with my friends from home while I’m away.  The outpouring of support I’ve received from my blog and posts has been amazing and the conversations and exchanges it’s facilitated have been so great.  It’s also just so cool how I’ve been able to get travel tips from so many people who’ve been in my life at the periphery but they’ve had such an impact on my trip!  For instance – a woman I went to a summer basketball camp with for years when I was in middle school gave me the suggestions for hang-gliding and going to see a performance at Sydney Opera House!  And they were some of my favorite things!!!  Two people I worked with at Target came in huge, one with suggestions and one that I spent the day with in Sydney!  Just a small world.  The final thing that comes to mind when I think of this small world, is the need to collectively take care of our planet.  I’ve never been a nature person.  I embraced that saying – I’m outdoorsy.  I like to have a drink on a patio.  But after seeing this beauty and nature that is unique to certain areas of the world, and then seeing how different countries approach things like preserving nature and protecting wildlife and promoting clean air it’s really opened my eyes that we can’t all live in our own bubbles because we share this Earth together.

I’m on a boat cruise on the Milford Sound in Southern New Zealand, and this mother-daughter from Richmond have relatives in Edina, who I would recognize.  Small world.  Also, I seem to meet friends who want to have prosecco.  I’ve popped bottles with new friends in Thailand, Australia and New Zealand 😉

IMG-3641.JPG

4.       Beauty is all over

I decided to do my Instagram picture of the day mostly so I could have some sort of memory of my year off.  I know myself enough to know that I struggle to journal consistently and I rarely make those photo albums I always intend to put together.  I think I’ll remember the details and the moments, but they slip away.  So I figured, taking a picture and positing it everyday would give me something to look back on and at least have something to represent my year.  What I didn’t anticipate is how much I’ve grown to enjoy consciously finding something interesting in my day and thinking about what makes things interesting to me.  I stayed at Ananda for 5 and a half weeks.  20% of the time I was only drinking dirt and giving myself colemas.  The other 80% I was in a classroom or a yoga studio being sweaty and wearing the same 4 tank tops with the same 12 people.  But it was a magical and life changing experience, and finding something meaningful to capture with my iphone everyday was kind of eye opening.  When I talk to my friends now that I’m back, they think it was all just amazing… and it really was!  But it didn’t always feel that way when my whole body ached and was sick of the same food and just wanted to take a nap.  Now that I’m back in Edina again, it’s fun to think of what I missed when I was gone or what I appreciate even more.  Getting to see my friends that I have known for years and have been by me in my best and worst times, even if we haven’t always consistently been in each others lives?  Amazing.  Even going to the Galleria.  I lived 4 blocks away from there and my mom and I used to shop there and I have a lot of great memories at the Galleria.  But lately I just feel like, ugh malls.  Consumerism isn’t the answer.  But now after being gone, it’s like oh wow, look how much this place continues to change?!  Always evolving.  And I can get a latte, eat lunch, buy yoga blocks, buy a book, find a new moisturizer all in the same place and it’s warm and clean and I don’t have to worry about my purse getting stolen and everyone speaks my language and I don’t have to negotiate the price and you’ll take my American Express card?!  Such a treat!  So I guess I mean to say, it’s been a blessing to find something special in every day.  Some of the best things in each day aren’t ‘grammable or the ‘gram doesn’t truly capture the magic.  And that’s another cool takeway in that, some magic moments can be capture, but some can’t.  But if I’m looking for magic with my eyes and my heart.  I’ll find it.  Many days don’t feel special and many days are filled with things that are difficult, but every day really is a gift.

Most days at Ananda were like this in some way, shape, or form… fresh coconut water, sun, pool or beach, and being happy!  But I didn’t post this as a pic of the day because I thought it had too much boob (haha so sorry to expose ya now) and I wanted a picture with my yoga bestie Lisa because we had coconuts together everyday.  She took this pic 🙂

IMG-3491

5.       I am more bad ass than I even know

If I think back to the first time I flew to Boston by myself for work, or the first time I rented a car, which was in Texas for work… it makes me so happy to not only see how far I’ve come, but to proud of myself for the journey.  Its hard to see progress within yourself and your heart because I mean, you’re with yourself everyday.  It seems like it takes waking up one day and thinking what have I become?!  In a good or a bad way, to be like, damn I’ve changed.  Last year, it was a what has my life become in a bloated, stressed out, not treating people like they deserved to be treated, drinking too much kind of way… and now it’s like, holy cow who knew you had it in you to travel the world by yourself and put yourself out there to try such amazing new things.  Now that my shoulders are more open and stretched out from my yoga practice, I can pat myself on the back.  My quads and hip flexors are also more flexible, so I can kick myself in the butt and say keep on truckin!

I feel bad ass when I’m swimming with sharks or jumping out of planes.  But I also feel bad ass when I’m navigating new neighborhoods and taking public transportation.  Pictured – I’m chatting with friends on WhatsApp, headed to yoga, listening to music just like it’s any other day.  But wait, I’m in SYDNEY! #badass

IMG-5068

Oh the places you’ll go

Well, it’s been a month since my last post!  Oops.  Time flies when you’re flying around the globe, living your best life 😊   But damn, it’s daunting to try to put that whole experience into words!  A couple of things happened. I visited another continent, threw myself off planes, cliffs and platforms, turned 33, visited one of the 7 natural wonders of the world, returned back to Minnesota, started to put to practice all that I learned in Thailand… to put it lightly, it’s been a great month.  I think I’ll do 3 posts about my last month, and then trip in general.  Today – the places I visited in the last month; tomorrow – what I learned and then the new years special of what it’s left me thinking about and what’s next.  And more pics with each one 🙂

Ok first off, I shouldn’t be a travel writer or critic, because I really loved all of them (except Taiwan, but as stated in an earlier post, I know I shouldn’t go somewhere for an overnight, but that’s for later).  Every place I went I thought, damn, this is cool.  I could live here.  I don’t think anything would get less than 8 out of 10 stars, and a lot would get 11 out of 10.  So this is not a relative comparison, because I’m going to use a lot of AMAZING and FANTASTIC.  Oh well!

Where I traveled: New Zealand – Auckland and Queenstown.  Australia – Sydney, Melbourne and Cairns.  Taipei, Taiwan (just over night).  Tokyo, Japan.

New Zealand: Auckland and Queenstown

In one line: Mother Earth smiled when She created New Zealand.

High: 16,500 feet high – skydiving on my 33rd birthday in Auckland.  Haha, good pun, right?  But really, the adventure sports were amazing, and the nature was amazing. 😊

Low: There’s so much of the country I didn’t get to see, including visiting the Marlborough reason on the South island, which is one of the reasons I wanted to go to New Zealand hahaha.  Marlborough Sauvignon Blancs, I’ll catch ya next time.

If I could do it all again: I would spend more time there.  In reality, I spent over a week there, and up until this whole quit my job to travel thing, I hadn’t taken a vacation longer than I spent in New Zealand, so that’s maybe a little bit of a cop out.  But there isn’t anything I did, that I wouldn’t do again or recommend!

Blah blah blah:  The way New Zealand came about was impulsive.  I booked it one day during detox in Thailand, when I was just hot and felt like crap as I was purging toxins from my body, and was like, I need to go to a Western world on a fluffy mattress and a bathroom that has a shower door/curtain and drink wine!  So it was really researched and thought out 😊  I didn’t know much about New Zealand except that it was far away, but everyone I’ve talked to who has been there has loved it.  So I mean, if I’m on that side of the world and not doing habitat for humanity in Fiji and I have to leave Thailand by the end of December and get towards Australia – then WHY NOT!?

I stayed in Auckland for 4 days.  I hadn’t heard as many great things about Auckland as I had the South Island, but it’s where I booked my flight, so I went with it.  But it was just beautiful.  Mother Earth was smiling when she created New Zealand.  I was immediately struck by how amazing the clouds are.  The sky is just a beautiful blue and then these huge cumulous clouds float in the sky like one of those art projects a little kid does, where they paint the top half of the paper as a horizon with sky blue paint then glue huge clumps of cotton balls.  Then it’s on the ocean, and I just love the sea.  It was another beautiful blue.  One of the days I took a ferry to this amazing island for wine tasting, and I saw a pack (school?  Cluster?  I don’t know the word for group) of dolphins swim by the boat.  It was out of a movie.  And the trees!  I was obsessed with the trees.  One of the days I went for a tour, and there was some mix-ups and blah blah blah, the guy offered to give me a personal tour in the evening… so I got to see a lot of Auckland, and there are all these native species that are only in New Zealand.  I tried to take picture, but it didn’t do it justice.  The leaves, the shapes, the trunks, the bark… so interesting.  I asked around in both New Zealand and Australia, and I started to learn about why I was so amazed… well 1, there are just species that are only on these continents, so I have never seen them before.  Fine, makes sense.  Then the North island where Auckland is, was formed by volcanos and has a warm but temperate climate, so it can grow hibiscus trees and conifers.  Just so much variety.  There’s more, but my writing doesn’t do it justice.  Just, yeah, the trees were super cool.  There’s a lot more about the nature in Queenstown, but the last of Auckland is that I turned 33 while I was there, so I went skydiving on my birthday!  It was so cool – the skydiving itself.  16,500 feet allows you to freefall for a couple of minutes, so I really had a chance to look around at the amazing scenery.  Then, it was a perfect storm of the bartender at the hotel’s birthday was also December 1, and I had met some nice Americans on my wine tour, and a couple of other Kiwis that I actually had a birthday posse?!  Not too bad 😊

So the day after my birthday, I went to Queenstown.  And first off, I didn’t really drink much on my trip, but I somehow ended up getting drunk on the nights before I flew, so I’m hungover on the next flight, haha.  So December 2, I flew to Queenstown.  I had heard great things about the South Island, but again, didn’t really research.  And ah yes, the reason I picked Queenstown is that when I was leaving Bangkok, the man working at the ticket counter for check in was like, you can’t enter New Zealand if you don’t have an onward ticket.  I was like, I have a ticket home from Japan and things booked in Australia, I promise I’m leaving.  This man was Chinese, working for a Chinese airline that mostly deals with Chinese people, so the conversation wasn’t that easy.  But in the end, I booked a ticket from Queenstown to Sydney because it was the best deal I could find and both places I thought I wanted to go.  Again, super well thought out travel planning.  Anyway, Queenstown is the self proclaimed adventure capital of the world and a lovely town nestled between lakes and mountains on about the same latitude as Minnesota in Southern New Zealand.  I went on another wine tour, a hike, visited the Milford Sound – which they like to call the 8th wonder of the world and land of 10,000 waterfalls.  You drive a few hours through lots of sheep, mountains, lakes, and rolling greens, and then take a boat tour.  It was just untouched natural beauty.  I give the Kiwis a lot of credit.  There was no cell signal the last hour of the drive.  It’s one huge projected park.  We stopped at this little creek and drank the water.  It was so clean and pure, you could see the colors of the river rocks on the bottom.  But the sound itself was like nothing I’ve ever seen or experienced.  As you travel through the sound out to the Australian sound, you’re surrounded by mountains that touch the clouds.  We saw penguins and seals on the rocks.  There are waterfalls everywhere you look.  Just beautiful.  The final thing I did in Queenstown was completed my trifecta of adventure sports – paragliding and bungy jumping!  I did paragliding on a facebook recommendation, and it was so cool.  It was maybe my favorite thing.  You drive up a mountain, then strap yourself to an instructor who has a parachute on him, and run and jump off a cliff.  Then you sail around and look at the mountains and lakes for a good 15 minutes.  It was like out of a dream.  The bungy jumping, well that’s what Queenstown is really famous for.  Bungy was “invented” here, and they have one of the top 5 highest jumps in the world.  I was torn if I should do it, it didn’t interest me as much as the others, but I figured WHY NOT.  Well let me tell you, actually jumping off the platform aka throwing yourself towards a rocky ravine, IS NOT NATURAL.  It was thrilling.  I’m glad I did it, but I’m not in a hurry to do it again 😊  The one thing that didn’t work out, is two night I tried to do stargazing on the mountain.  You take a gondola up, and they have telescopes, and I just think stars are cool and I wondered if it was different in the Southern hemisphere.   Does the North star point North?!  Can you see the Big Dipper?  But both nights it was too cloudy, so it was canceled.  However, the stars were cool in Great Barrier Reef (I mean, when you’re in a boat at sea there’s not really any light pollution 🙂  and there was a meteor shower which was awesome, but I digress.)  So all in all – New Zealand treated me well. 

Bungy jumping as seen in a series of nervous smiles: Before, just jumped, bottom, after.

Milford Sound, because as I’m typing this, I think it might be a bucket list activity.  JUST SO BEAUTIFUL.

Australia: Sydney, Melbourne and Cairns

In one line: had two of the most unique and amazing singular experiences of my life all while feeling a sense of comfort and relatability.

High: To piggy back on the previous – seeing the Sydney Symphony Orchestra at the Sydney Opera House and scuba diving the Great Barrier Reef are my two bucket list experiences.  Both things that moved me to tears with the amazingness of them, that can’t be replicated anywhere else in the world.

My night at the Sydney Opera House:

Low: I got attacked and bitten by a trigger fish on the last day of scuba diving – only after I had been inadvertently tempting them all trip.  It was pretty funny, after every dive, my dive buddies would be like, did you see that trigger fish?!  I thought you were going to get attacked?!  I never did.  I thought I knew what trigger fish were, but then I would avoid random fish I thought were them and swim right at other trigger fish.  To me, scuba diving is like being on a beautiful alien planet.  Everything is new and just amazing.  It’s like a whole new world.  In school, I wasn’t super interested in science, so we probably learned about these things but I didn’t retain it.  But I digress… good news, now I finally know what trigger fish are! But I mean, it’s a good badge of honor (or maybe honour since it’s Australian) to say I got attacked by while diving with sharks and sting rays and barracudas in the Great Barrier Reef, and survived 😉

If I could do it all again: Like New Zealand, I would spend more time in the places I traveled, and then I’d see more of the country.  But that’s a cop out – so I would wear sunscreen!!  I hadn’t burned all trip.  Then on my last day in Sydney, I went to the beach.  It was beautiful.  I was excited to clean up some tanlines before I went home.  Instead, I fried my back which then ALL peeled and looked like a skin disorder while scuba diving #classy

Look, I’m at the beach getting rid of my tanlines, living blissfully unaware.  Then I scuba dive and then I finally get to Japan and check out my work at my airbnb and DAMN.  PS sorry, these could be used as really sad sexting teasers.  I’m not trying to sext tease.  Unless you like it?  JK.  Look at that peeling!!

Blah blah blah: I’ve wanted to visit the Land Down Under since I had this video as a little kid, where these kids traveled around the world.  I don’t remember the other countries, but I loved the kookaburra song, the koalas, the kangaroos and the accents from Australia.  But as an adult, damn, it’s far away.  I started in Sydney.  When you ask people about their favorite places in Australia, Sydney doesn’t seem to be number 1, but it’s in the top 5.  I went to a performance at the opera house, which was just amazing.  Like the trees in New Zealand, words don’t do it justice.  It sounds SO corny, but the beauty of art and nature has just started to resonate with me.  It’s amazing.  It’s transcendent.  My experience at the opera house was magical 😊  Before I start, I looked for tickets because a friend I used to play basketball with when I was little, replied to one of my facebook posts that going to the opera house was a great experience for her.  Again, it’s so cool how connected we can all be.  The performance when I was in town wasn’t an opera, it was the Sydney Symphony Orchestra performing the music from La La Land, conducted by the Oscar winning composer Justin Hurwitz.  Basically, the movie played on a big screen and the orchestra played the music.  It was so cool.  I think it was even more special to me, because I had seen La La Land once, in the theater.  I was driving home after coaching a basketball game when I lived in Boston, and the roads were super gross and snowy.  It was at the time when I had started seeing my therapist out in Boston, but I hadn’t come anywhere close to getting a handle on my grief let alone my mental health.  So it was cold and snowy and I was in a bad head space, and I went to La La Land and was just charmed.  It’s so whimsical and charming, while also being sad and regretful.  Like life.  You can see what you did wrong and what’s doing you wrong, or you can the beauty and take the opportunity that the present is giving you.  So fast forward about a year to Sydney, the day before my mom’s birthday… and I get to go on this beautiful La La journey with the heightened experience of the music live by some of the best musicians in the world.  Just amazing. The rest of Sydney and Melbourne (my next stop) were great.  I loved it.  I would move to either, which is the point I’m poorly leading to – they were interesting and beautiful but also felt familiar.  The cities are easy to get around.  There is good coffee, lots of great cuisines at the restaurants, beautiful parks.  The cities are big, but clean and easy to get around.  There is sunshine and parks.  The yoga classes I went to felt great.  It also helped the cities causes that my connections to home ran deep.  I had dinner with a great friend from high school that I hadn’t seen in years.   I had lunch and explored the city with old coworkers.  I went to a comedy show that my old coworker’s high school friend was headlining.  It’s a small world.  It felt awesome to experience something new and foreign and connect with old friends and see friends from the Midwest, who had similar life experiences with me at one point in time, thriving on the other side of the world.

Then after Sydney and Melbourne, I went to Cairns to scuba dive.  So if the Sydney Opera House is a one of a kind performance venue, the Great Barrier Reef is definitely a one of a kind diving experience.  I was already smitten with diving from Koh Tao, Thailand.  It’s like a alternative universe.  Explaining it is like speaking a different language because most of what we experience on land is different than what we experience under water.  I knew that in my head, but I didn’t really understand it until the Great Barrier Reef.  So yeah, I went on a liveaboard, which is where you take a boat out to the dive area and float around and basically eat, sleep, and dive.  I read that the Great Barrier Reef is the only living thing that can be seen from outer space, and now I get it.  The reefs – which are the landforms are just so big, and there are so many of them.  Everywhere you look there is something amazing and cool to see.  I loved it.  I just want to keep diving and learning about what makes up this alternative universe.  The Earth really is an amazing place.

Some Great Barrier Reef pics.  They don’t do the magic justice, but hey, I actually have pics from underwater?! 

Tokyo, Japan

In one line: A beautifully unique clash of a very developed and sophisticated country and culture that is soooo different than what I know.

High: The food.  Nearly every meal was a guess.  The English on the menus or that the people at the restaurants used was not descriptive.  But all the meals I had were SO good.  Sushi and ramen, but then just these other mystery dishes that were so rich and flavorful!!  And at my wonderful cooking class, I went to learn to make gyoza (potstickers/dumplings) cos, um, I LOVE THEM, but I also learned how to make okinayamaki which was this savory pancake thing?  SO GOOD.  And the food wasn’t really expensive.  It was cheaper than going out for meals in the United States.  Just go to Japan and eat.  You’ll be happy!

Food experience pictures, clockwise – making okinaymakayi in cooking class – finished product – fun classmates and teacher.  These “vending machines” were in some restaurants and the menus in English weren’t helpful.  So I pushed a button, it prints out a slip that you give to the cook and the bowl under me cooking is what I got! Then, this cute little counter where I got a delicious mystery noodle dish, miso soup, a raw egg and gyoza.  I mixed the noodles, soup and raw egg together.  It was good.  I’m still alive.  Finally, the sushi from some fixed menu that I could choose from but I didn’t understand.  It was good though?

Low: I went to the wrong subway station to go to my Airbnb and then obviously got lost (because I was at the wrong station) but my screen froze, so I was literally out in the cold, lost and lugging my luggage like a chump.  But I went to Starbucks, pulled up my laptop, figured out how to reset my phone, and wrote very explicit directions to get to my Airbnb and how to get in, and two hours later, everything was ok 😊

If I could do it all again: Yes, of course.  More time.  More places.  I’ve heard so many cool things about Osaka and Kyoto.  Mt. Fuji.  Just so much more to see.  But what would I do that I didn’t do?  Stay in a hotel one night instead of an airbnb just so I could have the complete Japanese breakfast.  I heard it’s cool and I do love a good fancy hotel breakfast 🙂  Multiple people said I should try Japanese breakfast, but I would just go to coffee shops, and let’s be honest, every meal I really rolled the dice, so I don’t know if I could order Japanese breakfast if I tried! 🙂

Blah blah blah: If you’ve talked to me about my trip, I’ve probably said – ugh, I hate the terminology “first world” and “third world” countries.  And even if I think about my liberal arts background and use “developing” nations, it still just seems so dismissive and biased from my Western upbringing.  Thailand has a rich cultural heritage, so calling it third world or developing just seems wrong.  I don’t think Thailand “aspires” to “develop” to be like Minnesota.  Nor are they inferior.  But alas these words seem to a bit of the image I’m trying to draw on which is that in Koh Tao, the streets are intermittently paved and not marked.  There aren’t addresses that I could see.  You can’t drink the water from the tap.  There is garbage on the side of the road.  It’s just different than how I’ve lived.  And China, our Great Red Panda World Super Power, you can’t call an uber.  You can’t just go to an ATM and get money.  You can’t navigate the roads.  So I just felt intimated by Asia in that I felt it was SO different that what I am comfortable with and how I grew up and what I knew.  I loved Thailand in the end, but I struggled a bit in the beginning.  I didn’t have a chance to settle into China or Taiwan and I just felt like an outsider.  So I was worried that Japan would be the same.  I would just feel lost in the 4 days I was there.  But I didn’t!!  Yes, Japanese is NOTHING like English.  I can’t look at a road sign and be like, yup, that’s my street!  Or oh yeah, that’s the Japanese word for chicken, I’ll have that.  The building are tall, the spaces are small, and there’s a lot of people.  But google maps work.  I could understand the hand gestures.  It’s clean.  There are parks.  I felt comfortable and safe, but just so intrigued by it all.  I definitely want to go back.  I want to see more than Tokyo.  I really really really liked Japan 😊