reflection

THE RIGHT ONE

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Most of us know the fundamental difference between right and wrong. As someone who definitely prefers, stubbornly, to learn from my own mistakes rather than follow what people say to do (most of the time), I’m simultaneously very influenced by others opinions and actively seek advice. Deep down, there is a sense of knowing it will all work out, and even if the decision is impulsive - at least it’s a decision.

And when it comes time to face the consequences, if any, be grateful for the support system that surrounds me. But what about when things aren’t clear at first and take a painstakingly long time to figure it out if it’s right? I’m also beginning to think right and wrong is subjective, and ultimately, if you can learn from the wrong it can hopefully transform into a right.

the wrong one

“Thank God we can't tell the future, we could never get out of bed.” - August: Osage County

In a rush out the door to the airport for my flight to Rome, I quickly grabbed my passport. I’d be turning the big 35 somewhere in Europe in the coming week and would either be in Prague, Amsterdam, or Berlin – or all of them at some point.

But the first stop was Rome, where I’d scheduled a round trip from last year after coming home from an 8-month stint abroad. Not knowing with whom, where, or what this trip would entail when I purchased it last year was exciting and sitting in the airport enjoying a glass of wine before boarding I was looking forward to an adventure – despite unsettling events leading up to the my departure.

As I handed my passport to the attendant at the counter to get my boarding pass, I realized it was my old one as I’d recently renewed it for this trip. Not yet expired, but it had 2 punch holes in the front cover. But there were no problems getting my boarding pass and onto the plane, so I thought everything was OK.

Ten hours later, exhausted yet excited to be in my favorite country again, I stood in front of the customs guy with a smile as he looked up and down from my holey passport back to me with raised eyebrows.

When another agent came to further inspect my passport, still smiling and nodding, I thought it was going to be an easy explanation. Oops, silly me, grabbed the wrong one!

Not so fast. Second agent man was there to take me back behind the scenes, the back room where you’re greeted with stern faces and glaring eyes. After being asked several times by different officers as they vigorously shook my passport, “what is this?!” I tried to calmly explain the easy mistake, and that I had a valid passport at home.

Therein steps the police chief, a tough woman that would take no pity on me or offer any understanding, her words stung and I could feel all the blood rush out of my face; “You have to go back to the US – this is not a valid passport – you will not get into Italy with this!”

Dizzily I pleaded with her, and took off my jacket as I broke into a sweat. Surely there is something I can do, someone who can help, call the embassy? Going back is not an option (!)

Or so I thought.

“No. You’re going back now.” (insert Italian animated hand gesture here, once considered charming, now cringe worthy as they all laughed and gestured in unison about the dumb American with her invalid passport).

Luckily I had a phone and could communicate with my friend who was on the other side waiting and wondering what the hell was going on. He connected me with the US embassy and still hopeful I spoke with a nice person there who didn’t have much hope for me. Unless I could physically make it to the embassy.

I was shuttled upstairs and told to stand outside of a room where I could apparently use the internet to connect to the embassy, even though I had the contact info already. After 20 minutes standing there, alone, watching the airport personal and travelers whiz by, I had a momentary breach of movie-inspiration/insanity.

Jason Borne style. I started to walk away from my post, wandered into a store and asked the clerk how do I get out of the airport. How do I escape? I had seen a glimpse of my door to freedom when I was led upstairs, and now was determined to find my way back there. On the phone with my friend I said, I’m walking, I’m walking away, OMG.

Not making it very far I came up against a security checkpoint. Of course they wouldn’t leave me alone with a chance to get away. And what was I thinking?!

Sheepishly walking back to where I had been standing, I was intercepted by a frantic US Airways manager and another police officer. He was pissed. “How did you get through the US customs with this passport?!” US Airways guy yelled, “We now have to pay a very big fine for this, and you’re going back to San Francisco in 20 minutes”

Ouch. Reality was hitting. But I still begged for him to let me go the embassy, to please not put me back on that plane.

Within 3 hours of landing in Rome, I was deported and on a flight home. (free of charge, thank you US Airways)

On my layover in Charlotte, NC a woman was complaining that she couldn’t get on a flight and had to wait a couple hours. I leaned over, interrupting her conversation, and said, “You wanna hear a crazy story? I was just in Rome this morning…” That shut her up.

Clearly, the passport was the ‘wrong one’ and it led to negative consequences (HIDE YOUR OLD PASSPORT FROM YOURSELF!). But in our lives, relationships, and decisions it may be best to avoid judging them as either black or white. Knowing what’s right and wrong for yourself is ultimately your decision – what works and what doesn’t for your life - and sometimes you miss the punched holes the first time around and need to learn to take a closer look.

PS. Determined and taking this as only a small bump in the road, I jumped on a plane the following day and completed my trip to Europe with a damn good story to boot.

RECYCLED

Leopardpants
Leopardpants

Packing light is essential. Either a weekend getaway or year long round the world trip, cutting down on the content in your suitcase will make your life much easier. I learned this tip somewhat early with a 6-week trip to Thailand, only bringing a small backpack. Two pairs of underwear, shorts, tank tops, and a bathing suit.  This was a huge shift in my usual packing habit where I’d consistently overstuff XL suitcases and end up wearing half of what I brought, and paying the airline for the extra weight.

It allowed for such an effortless trip in regards to schlepping around, and brought envy from fellow travelers lugging massive backpacks.

Two sides to every coin. On the latest trek to nine countries, I packed fairly light with a carry on roller bag. And with the variations in weather and venue in each location, it was a challenge to pack for every occasion. Buying jackets, shoes, and borrowing things were necessary.

I also became slightly self-conscious thinking, “I’ve literally worn these leopard print pants in every photo, what will people think?” They’re most likely NOT thinking about it, so get over it.

But let’s just say by then end of the trip I wanted to set fire to all my clothes, they’d been recycled one too many times.

Flip the coin again. If you want to feel like you have just shopped for an entirely new wardrobe in your size, go away for almost a year and then come back home. Open your closet, and an entire new set of clothes, shoes, and accessories that have taken years to accumulate awaits you. And you had forgotten all about them.

It’s a great feeling and fun to reconnect with those ‘new’ items!

Travel Tip: TRAVEL LIGHT. ALWAYS. YOU WON’T REGRET IT.

SLOW DOWN

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willow car pic

One month ago it all came to a screeching halt - because of a stamp. I was looking forward to the final leg of my four-month trip, ready for some solace and girl time in the Greek Isles. In the airport boarding the plane, I’m sent back through security because I didn’t read the fine print to get a stupid stamp on my boarding pass. I curse you Ryanair! Missed my flights and with the not-healing-so-great back injury, made the rash decision to fly to SF.  In a blink I was back home. Definitely classified as a really bad day for obvious reasons, but also had my first panic attack – or something closely resembling one. With some clarity during the fiasco or ‘freak out,’ I thought if I’m reacting like this and feeling like a crazy person, what can I really handle?

But deep down I knew, this too shall pass. A good reminder in moments when it all feels overwhelming.

Major perk of my ticket home, it was actually cheaper to buy a round trip back to Barcelona. Days before, I was researching and found a one-month program at the London School of Journalism in August. Which also fit perfectly into place before the third and final September wedding in Italy. I hastily threw out a date a few days before it started, and felt excited about the idea of returning to Europe.

Now home my objective was (is) to focus on healing, and once better keep it that way. Obviously not easy when traveling, and so I’m thankful to have had a space and the time and it’s summer thank God! Days are filled with icing, baths, stretching, chiropractic, swimming (aqua therapy kicks ass), reading, writing, piano lessons(!) and of course socializing. The alone time, which was an objective of the trip, is now happening at home. Albeit isolating, I feel lucky in so many ways to have this time to literally chill.

Occasional pity parties, yes, but thankfully I have people around who keep reinforcing and support the “SLOW DOWN” mantra. I can be unaware of ways I do things and how I fill my time, how it’s not necessarily moving me forward in the healing process. And honestly, no one else is living in this body so it’s up to me to take care of it. I’m starting to sound kind of mature, wow.

Our brains have us live in accordance to the non-existent dimension of time called the ‘future.’ It’s good to constantly be moving forward towards setting and accomplishing goals, as it can give us a sense of purpose. But if you have the luxury to actually slow down and get in touch with what you really want and enjoy (without the guilt factor), it can be healing overall. Lately it has been the basic things like getting solid sleep that I’m grateful for. Also rediscovering loves from the past, like swimming and piano, which have also made me happy.

With my departure date quickly approaching next week, I’ve been reflecting on my favorite John Lennon lyric, “life happens when you’re busy making other plans.” Just because you may have a plane ticket for the Greek islands, it doesn’t guarantee you a seat.

For me the key is to acknowledge, when this is all a distant memory, that it did get to this point and there are many factors at play. But ultimately to be more conscious about how I move through the world, both physically and figuratively.

How can you slow down in your life and reassess?

PERSPECTIVE

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So we made it to the sand dunes, the long awaited part of our journey to the Sahara Desert. Funny because when tour guides try and convince you to shorten your stay, it's usually a sign they're onto something and less concerned about making a sale. A three-day trek on camels throughout the desert from one nomad camp to another sounded completely surreal. But when multiple outfits suggested at the most two nights, we gave in and went for the one night desert camp out and two nights elsewhere along the way to various other attractions, to round out a three day tour. We were determined to see it all. Now enter our colorful and outspoken driver and guide, Driss. Upon first meeting we of course late in our departure and his irritation (American's and their lagging), it began with a haggle about pricing, days and itinerary. I was a little turned off, as it felt like we were paying the same for two nights as for three, and we were confused on what exactly we were doing. Silly me, guess I relapsed on the fact that everything in Morocco is negotiable, from spa treatments to a loaf of bread, so it's merely a formality to bargain and meet around the middle. Needless to say after we relaxed into our comfortable mini-van listening to an Arabic version of "Gangnam Style," stopping regularly for espresso and bathroom breaks, we all got along famously.

Probably somewhere on most people's "bucket list" is to ride a camel into the sunset to some vast desert landscape. At least it was lodged somewhere on mine, not really knowing when, where, or how exactly but it was on there. Mounting the camel and slowly meandering into the sweltering heat - at 7pm - was a feeling like nothing else. Almost as if on a movie set for a cheesy Arabian film, an image i've only seen onscreen or in other people's photos from trips to the Pyramids. Couldn't stop taking pictures of all the classic shots; camel shadows stretched along the dunes, the #selfie (instagram reference) like hey! i'm on a camel! The views were beyond stunning, and with the golden sunset it was dreamlike.

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Lucky for us it was a full moon. Never have i seen a moon rise over a sand dune, and it actually looked more like the sun - it was unbelievable! After our typical Moroccan meal (couldn't even look at another 'tagine' after awhile), drum, singing, and shisha session we hoofed it up the ridge to get a closer look. Not until well after midnight did we retire to sleep outside under the *full moon.* Sunrise came early, and again we hiked up the dune to experience yet another unique encounter with the sun. Barely 8:30am, luckily we were almost back to our starting point at the edge of the desert, and it was scorching. How people live in that climate I have no idea, and no wonder one night is recommended. So all of you wanting to check this experience off your list, I urge you to do a single night and it will be more than satisfying.

Unfortunately the rest of the tour wasn't too memorable, for me anyway. Coupled with mild food poisoning and the back pain, i was horizontal in the van a good portion of the time hoping for a cool breeze and the headache to go away. The saving grace was Driss, who has a keen sense of humor and did everything he could to help ease our woes as we each were struck with the queasy unsettling bouts of an unsettled stomach. Surely par for the course in Morocco, but what a drag. We did have some great times and Driss posted pics on Facebook, but I could sense his relief as he dumped us off in Marrakech after four long days on the road.

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Hustle- bustle, crazy, hectic, chaos - these are just a few ways to describe the city of Marrakech. It's amazing. Oh, and tourists - so many of them! I kept imagining stepping off the plane and right into this maniac of a city, thinking this is what all of Morocco is like. Luckily for us our jaunt began in the quaint 'blue city' far far away from this place and we were thankful to have ended here rather than began. Imagine a giant plaza with snake charmers, guys with diaper wearing monkey's doing tricks, drum circles, ladies (chasing you) with henna, restaurants with fierce salesmen out front, relentless merchants (yelling at you), orange juice carts everywhere with the same product for the same price, and massive fruit and nut displays. Add thousands of people going in all directions any time of day and oppressive heat, there you have a basic sketch of Marrakech.

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Hundreds of venders lined the plaza and went on forever twisting around in narrow corridors, never-ending and selling everything you can imagine. Getting lost is what you do there, for fun. Good luck buying something and finding that shop again for a return or a fix. My most exciting moments were in discovering a new section of the medina, like the dying quarters where all wool, fabric, scarves, etc. are hand dyed with natural pigments. Men with permanently dyed red arms and hands stood above boiling liquid and posed for pictures. And then the leather tannery. You need a "Moroccan" gas mask for your nose (aka mint leaves) just to breathe for the stench of the ingredients used to treat the animal skins is overwhelmingly pungent and burns your eyes. The metal workers section, welders hovered over their works of art in tiny dark spaces were covered in dirt and grease. Scariest and most 'twilight zone' of them all, was the section that sold animals. Curious as to what the smell was and why the eery feeling as we stumbled through the 'gates,' we saw dead and live animals for sale. Men here were covered in blood from head to toe, shoved and sharing a a small stall with a hundred live chickens, and several rabbits and pigeons in cages. Other men in stalls were de-feathering chickens using a horrible machine, it's one of those places where you swear off eating meat all together. On an upside, these animals are fairly 'free range' and this system seems more farm to table style in comparison to gross scale of factory farming. All how you put it in perspective, i guess.

Lots has transpired in the last weeks in Morocco until now, as I'm sitting in a beautiful apartment in the heart of Barcelona, Spain. (thank you new friends, Shayne and Kristen!) The week here has been a bit relaxing, as I'm still in healing mode but trying to get out and about to take in the sights - most importantly the beach. What a fantastic city! Even if it's covered with Gaudi architecture :)

Something terrible has also happened recently, my young and vibrant aunt Erin is in the ICU for bleeding in her brain and was in a coma for several days. Yesterday she opened her eyes. Heavily drugged and sedated, doctors still aren't clear on what's happening but she is responding and making progress. We're all in shock, and i feel really far away. On that note it's approaching the five month marker, and I've recently been planning my trip home for the end of June.

Nothing like a sudden and serious health scare to put your own life in perspective. Again a reminder of how fragile and fleeting life is, but also how incredibly powerful we are to create the life we want. Which brings me to the question, how do i incorporate travel (taking pictures, video, writing and telling stories) and get paid?

BTW, my comp is totally dead and for real this time. Not a terrible thing overall (may be last blog entry for awhile), but now having to lug the useless metal corpse around it could affect my luggage weight limit, damn these budget European airlines.

Tomorrow I fly solo to my (possible) final destination - Crete, Greece.

Random Travel Tip: For the first time ever I didn't have a flight scheduled out of Marrakech until the day before. As freeing and exciting as it can feel, prices and options literally change and go up in a matter of seconds. I recently was introduced to this highly addictive and amazing app, Skyscanner. Late on the game i'm sure, but it gives you cheap flights to "everywhere" instantly. Planning ahead can take up a ridiculous amount of time, but just getting an idea of available flights and prices a little early on, can save you a lot of time and money. I wish it were the opposite and prices went down as you waited, until the very last possible minute. For all us spontaneously bad planning folks out there.

UPS DOWNS AND ALL AROUND

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17 May : As I write this from a beautiful Moroccan hotel room set in the storybook village of Chefchaouen or “blue city,” drinking mint tea and running a hot bath, I can’t help but focus on the ‘downs.’ It’s been over a week of nagging and at times unbearable pain in my leg and lower back; pain way too familiar has reared its ugly head again.

Before I left in February signs of sciatica started to manifest, partly due to an intense yoga practice and stubbornness about being diligent with self-help techniques to prevent it. Thinking I was free and clear of any recurrences of the back pain that had me bed ridden and on pain pills years ago, carelessness took over in the health department, and I willed myself to do all the physical things I love, in full capacity. Weird because most people do yoga to rid themselves of ailments, but something I’m doing is helping to create them. Nevertheless it’s an injury that lives on after the initial pain gradually slips away and I’ll have to learn to find balance again.

As they say, timing is everything and right now it’s all-wrong. But maybe, it isn’t? Not that there is an ideal timing for anything unpleasant like a back injury that leaves you crawling on the floor to the bathroom, but in a way there is. Having responsibilities of a family or job, things like that. Right now the focus is on getting better, and am trying to look on the bright side. My already impatient self is growing even more intolerant as my symptoms persist – and I’m completely exhausted. Admittedly this is a dramatic version of my current status, which is heightened by the last couple days of a horizontal existence, missed outdoor activities, and lost sleep.

Poor Rama and my friend Jasmine who we’ve recently met up with, now having a gimp on their hands. I’ve had a hard time not thinking ‘why now … not again,’ and feeling guilty for holding them up in a way – not being my usual active and hike-for-hours self. On top of that we’ve landed in a place with beautiful and endless hiking terrain with countless trails leading to majestic waterfalls and vistas. Thankfully it’s a place neither of them wants to leave too quickly, and seem content on hunkering down for a bit.

18 May : Yesterday, I slipped. Not the kind that sends you to the ground in a half second, but the kind that causes your whole body to cease up from the slightest movement to regain stability. It had been raining all day, and with the entire village lined in tiny cobblestones it was a slicker than ice.  I had been feeling a little better that morning and despite the weather, was eager to get outside to feel like a normal human again. The dramatics mentioned earlier are no longer an overstatement. I feel broken in half.

No stranger to foreign doctors offices and communicating through hand gestures; this fiasco is bringing back memories of my countless trips alone to a hospital in Nairobi, Kenya for an MRI four years ago. One good thing about healthcare abroad, is the cost. Today’s excursion and homeopathic massage was a whopping $43.

Doctor visit + steroid shot = $15, 4 prescriptions = $18, homeopathy + in room massage = $10.  Majority of the people here speak Spanish on top of French and Arabic, and luckily we had a necessary warm-up in the Dominican Republic and Spain, so carrying on has been fairly effective. Kind of interesting and fun to choose from “hola,” “bonjour,” “salam alaikom, “or a combination of all three in one sentence.

Now, the ‘ups.’ Things that I’m more than thankful for in this not-so-great situation. The moments where you think of nothing else and are grateful for the experience and adventure of it all. Fortunately, there have been many of those in the past 3 ½ months. I acknowledge often how lucky i am for the time and freedom to see the world, something I’ve always wanted to do and am determined to make the best of it. The ways you look back on and remember fondly the people and places, and can laugh at the times that weren’t so enjoyable.  I’m hoping this is a bump in the road, that will soon be a distant memory.

Our incredibly comfortable hotel room complete with a plush Moroccan lounge, has become a healing haven and perfect for hosting “shisha” (hookah) sessions and dinners with our friends we’ve acquired in the week here. A local college student we call “Newman” has been more than helpful, and has taken a liking to our threesome, especially Jasmine. We’ve been welcomed into his home and shared meals, stories, and photo albums with his family. Then there’s Neil, a funny English bloke traveling alone who smokes more hash than I thought humanly possible. Quite a motley crew.

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It’s been an ideal reprieve from our stint in Spain – vibrant nightlife until 3am, bottomless sangria, tapas for every meal, and the consistent moving from city to city. I really love Spain and the warm social nature of the culture, although for many reasons I’m thankful we’ve been sucked into the vortex of bohemian Chefchauen, for rest and recuperation.

Meals now come with a side of anti-inflammatories, a muscle relaxer, and homeopathic remedy. I even dared try the infamous hash this town is known for and constantly trying to sell you. Just small puffs, but enough to bring on contagious laughter and a bit of solace. This is not a regular pastime, as someone who can’t stand (tobacco) smoke or anything related to the feeling of being stoned. But what the hell.

We have found our fun in playing ‘Uno’ on the terrace, enjoying the Muslim prayer call echo throughout the valley, drinking mint tea, and finding street food that we are consistently satisfied with. Not only the taste, variety, and cheap prices - but knowing where to go for the best avocado smoothie, samosa, or a visit to the ‘nut guy’ for the hugest bag of mixed nuts for practically pennies. Going out in seek of all the food assortments is still exciting, but now that I’m succumbed to the hotel room with minimal activity, I get to be on the receiving end of the findings and a play-by-play of the day.

Feels like we’ve been here for longer than a week, people know us on a first name basis and are extremely friendly. I’ll be out hobbling about town, people will stop and say “hammam” and point to their backs. That’s what you need they say - wham bam – wake up tomorrow, you’ll be fixed. A hammam is a Moroccan spa, the likes of a Turkish bath where a very strong man or woman gives a vigorous massage, then tosses hot and cold water on you after scrubbing off couple layers of skin. Think I might skip that for now.

Drinking isn’t technically illegal in Morocco, but being a predominantly Muslim culture it’s frowned upon by locals. As a tourist - or local but discreetly - you can buy beer at bars and some restaurants throughout the country (we’ve heard in the bigger cities it’s much easier to find and accepted), although in Chefchaeun only a a couple establishments hushly sell 8oz. beers and bottles of wine more expensive than a 5-course dinner for two. We’ve taken a liking to the local tea and freshly squeezed orange juice that you can buy on every corner.

Within the “medina” or old city walls, there are no cars so the streets are narrow and wind about lined with shops stuffed in every crevice, miniature doors lead to people’s homes and every bit of the city walls and buildings are painted the most vibrant shades of blue. Reasoning behind the blue came as a surprise, thinking it was more for an aesthetic or higher purpose, but is actually to keep away the mosquitoes and other pesky bugs. It also helps to create a ‘cool’ feeling in the summer heat. Either way it feels like a set for a Disney film, I half expect to see an ice princess emerge behind one of the mystical looking doors.

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I think the term ‘hole-in-the-wall’ was invented here. You’ll see a man tucked in a hole carved out of the concrete, diligently perfecting and debuting his craft; leather, jewelry, rugs, clothing, shoes, etc. The urge to shop is overwhelming and coupled with the ridiculous low prices, I can’t wait to get back out there to buy one of everything and send a huge box home.

Woman from the mountains, or “Berber” culture, sit on the streets selling their hand woven rugs and vibrantly colored straw hats, olives, goat cheese, figs, herbs, and dates. It feels like time hasn’t touched this village, and has been proudly preserved for hundreds of years. I’m secretly hoping to bump into a shaman that has just descended from those mountains, and get cured once and for all.

19 May : All around it’s been an ideal venue for this crucial rest time, surrounded by supportive and caring people to laugh with and keep me positive. In some ways I’ve forgotten about the world outside of this charming village set high in the Moroccan mountains, and am focused on emerging stronger and healthier.

Because without your health, what do you have?

Hoping the healing process will come swiftly, so we can continue writing the next leg of our journey throughout the country. More importantly, I’m determined to hop on a camel and ride into the Sahara desert...

Feeling better already.

After thought: Being here has really inspired travels to other Middle Eastern countries, which until now hadn’t been high on the list. Spending time with locals learning about their culture and hospitality has been a very rich experience, and by far the most rewarding. More reflection on this topic later, as we tackle other cities and destinations. So far we’ve only sampled a small but satisfying dose.

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