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 😉

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.

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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?

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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 🙂