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!!