Mi Libertad

Nostalgia.  I feel as if I am constantly living a life of nostalgia.  I think I have always felt that way.  Whether I was waiting until the annual Pensacola, Florida vacation where my family and family friends spent two weeks together.  Or maybe I was waiting to visit my dad in Santa Monica, maybe I was waiting to run like a wild child with my cousins at our grandparents farm.

I have always had a sense of a place just like a memory that I can carry with me.  And when it is needed, I can pull out that nostalgia and revel in it for however long is needed.

So my idea of Brazil.  My Holy Grail.  My samba, Jobim, Chico Buarque, Caentano Veloso, beach, Woman on Top, City of Men, and Brazilian Portuguese are a little buried under the surface due to my every day practice of living in the moment.  And the past 2 and a half months of moments have been in Spanish speaking countries.  Meaning that the cultures are very, very different.

So I want to talk about music.  I want to talk about the primary reason for going to Brazil.  Every traveler I have come across has responded with the same curiosity,

“Oh you are going to Brazil from here? But it’s so expensive.”

If I hear this one more time, I’ll just simply take out my iPhone and play “Aguas de Marco” or “Samba de Orfeo.”  Because that is all I need for my nostalgia to set in of a country I have never even been to…yet.

At the moment though, I am struggling to rekindle that curiosity of Brazil.  I met some amazing people through out Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru.  I learned about some AMAZING music.  I fell in love.  I ate $2 ceviche from the beach everyday.  I spent at least 2 hours a day in a hammock.  I saw dolphins at 6am.  I danced all night and made some amazing memories with some extraordinary people.

So what makes it the most nostalgic?  What takes me back to the exact moment of deep conversation, laughing, and vivid memories?

THE MUSIC.

What I have found traveling overland from Colombia to Bolivia, is that the music is shared.  A playlist I made with a friend in Colombia has been my right of passage with the locals I’ve met in Ecuador and Peru!!!

It is fairly simple.  I mean all of the USA knows all the same songs.  So all of Central and South America share the music because they share the language.  I haven’t seen a certain pride or exclusivity to a specific country’s music.  Meaning that all of my Peruvian friends listen to music from all over Latin America.  My Spanish and Ecuadorean friends do the same.

My best friend, Omar, introduced me to the music he grew up with, what his mother listens to.  And who would that be?  But of course the Fania All Stars whose songs filled the halls of Booker T. Washington, my high school, when the Latin Ensemble would play.

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Not only does Omar, and every other native Spanish speaker I’ve met, know all of the words to all of these classic songs but once the music plays everyone, I mean EVERYONE, moves.

It’s like by now I should anticipate it but every time is like the first.  A song ends, the dance is done, everyone seems to be resting or so you think…

A new song begins and I see the ecstasy in my native friends faces and their arms go back to their sides moving in circles, and their feet are stepping forwards and backwards, and their hips are swirling, and their chins are lifted up and a smile….the smile.

Everyone does this.  Everyone MOVES to the music.  Everyone has a face like this song, and many other songs, takes them to a place I can only imagine is the hub of nostalgia and ecstasy.

This spiritual act has mesmerized me.  To me, it is a spiritual act because I have never witnessed anything as natural as how this music makes everyone move.

Yes, I am infatuated, I am in love, I am under a spell, and I am moving away from all of it?!  To muster up similar feelings I have/had about Brazil?

Well exactly…because even though I am experiencing these “nostalgia pains” by moving away from what I love, I know…I am SO aware….that a comparable nostalgia will be created again.  And once I SEE my beloved samba and bossa nova the way I’ve seen salsa, cumbia, reggaeton, rumba, and bomba I will be inspired once again.

These were several of my thoughts during my time in Machu Picchu.  My friend, Ingrid, and I hiked up to the entrance at 5:30am.  It was truly amazing. In the sense that both Ingrid and I are kindred spirits.  It was physically difficult but all you could hear from both of us was a wave of “ooohhs” and “ahhhhs” and “Oh my gosh, it’s so beautiful.”

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Once we made it to the top, Ingrid continued to find her tour guide and I looked for a place to take a nap.

I cannot express what a beautiful thing sleeping in the grass is.  I guess I hadn’t done it in a while but that simple act in that magical place overwhelmed me with gratitude, thoughts, ideas, and love.

 

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I mean I seriously almost started crying when I heard an older American couple walk by and with the same elation I was feeling say,

“Oh honey. Isn’t that just beautiful!”

Maybe I’m homesick.  Maybe it made me proud.  Maybe I’m tired of hearing or learning about horrible things that are happening in the world and how there are some evil people out there, that when I hear someone verbally acknowledge a beauty that is NOT theirs, it makes me so happy.  They are so grateful and excited to be here.

I don’t know.  I think I heard Grossmama and Grandaddy, my grandparents, in those words and those accents but some strong emotion was triggered.

So, I love you all.  I love everyone who has welcomed me in unknown countries and immediately made me family.  You know who you are.

I love my family who are continually supportive of my choices now matter how crazy they sound in the beginning!

I love all of the amazing people I have met on this adventure and thank you for….well everything!

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Tonight I go to Uyuni to see the salt flats.  I’m really excited and I am in a bit of a shock with the fact that I have made it this far.

But when I listen to “Mi Libertad” and see my friend Chipy dancing and singing a comfort settles in me and I know everything is going to be amazing.

Brazil is next….and then who knows?

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Remembering Zorba

At the time, I wasn’t ready to leave Ecuador and I considered spending more time there.  However, 10 days later in Peru, everything is continuing to happen at the right time.

Well, who’da thought??

For the five years I’ve continued traveling, these are the reoccurring things I find:

Amazing people

Beautiful places

Serendipity

Spontaneity

Surprises

Louisiana Hot Sauce (NO JOKE)

I guess those are all typical to life, right?  For me, these experiences are heightened when I witness them all outside of my home and with people from around the world.

The bus from Quito to Paracas took a little over 48 hours.  The direct bus was sold out and so I took the cheaper, longer, and more difficult route.  The second bus from the border of Ecuador and Peru got stuck in the sand about 3 hours into the trip.  It took another two hours and two trucks to pull us out.

It really wasn’t that bad.  I honestly like riding buses even after my close to death experience in Mongolia (where I took a 3 days bus to the border of Kazakhstan and Mongolia in December….it was -42 degrees.)  The buses here are a little claustrophobic but at least they are warm!

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I enjoy seeing the change of scenery and especially on this continent where at one moment you can be riding through lush, green jungles and the next hour, after snoozing, wake up to the desert.

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So, Paracas.  I came to Paracas specifically because I found a Workaway job working in the bar at Kokopelli Hostel.  I thought, well it should be nice to have two weeks in one place.  I work 5 days a week for free room, breakfast, and discounts for drinks.

As beach towns go, there is a lot of partying, relaxing, and swimming.  It is the strong proof that being by the sea is good for everyone’s well being.  This is the retreat town for all the people in Lima who are tired of the city and want a weekend getaway.

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Again (and again and again) I have discovered a place of beauty in my surroundings and in the people that come with it.  I knew this was going to be a great stop for me.  I would have two weeks where I could recharge and prepare for crossing this continent through Bolivia to Sao Paulo.

When I arrived, the stories of everyone were very similar,

“I was supposed to stay two weeks and I’ve been here for 6.”

Almost EVERYONE has said this.  In the beginning it made me nervous because Brazil is still in the forefront of my mind.  It is the GOAL.  It is the Holy Grail.  A month and a half into this journey my timing has been pretty spot on and if I wanted to continue to have good timing, there was no way I could allow myself to get wrapped up in Paracas and stay longer.

So, I turned on my defense and attempted to be withdrawn as to establish my focus on Brazil.  That plan has been thrown out the window and the past 4 mornings I have caught the sunrise with my coworkers here.

I can only disengage so much until I remember that this is my life.  This is what I write about here, this is what I preach, this is ZORBA.  Living in the moment, loving, laughing, talking, and discovering more and more of yourself and the world.

A unifying factor of all the relationships and friendships I have made in traveling is “openness.”  There is no time for small talk and trust is almost readily available for everyone.  These sunrise ventures have been filled with deep stories, secrets, and life beliefs.  This is how we all become so close in such a short period of time.  It is a genuine and beautiful thing and constantly gives me a sense of gratitude and amazement of humanity.

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With all of this love around me, there was no way I was going to attempt solitude for inner work.  There will be time for that….someday.  Most likely when I least expect it.

Another opportunity I have taken advantage of is kite surfing.  The three-day course is more than 50% off for me because I am a volunteer with the hostel.  How could I pass that up?

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This has become my new favorite sport.  I don’t know if it is because I can revert back to childhood memories of flying kites or just the simple fun of it.  But I LOVE it.  The manipulation of the wind is an overwhelming feeling of freedom.  The other day I was picked up out of the water and was flying!  It was truly incredible.

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So, what I have found in my 10 days in Paracas is the reminder that Zorba is my mascot.  The existence of the future is unknown and all I have is right now.  Every time I give into this realization, amazing things seem to immediately happen.

Perfect example, my crush just invited me to go kayaking.  Let’s GO!

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Vivir Mi Vida

After I crossed the border into Ecuador, I took a bus to Quito.  I have HIGLY underestimated the amount of time I would spend riding on buses.  Yes, this is a vast continent but more so there is not a proper infrastructure for all the exports/imports happening.

Several hours are added to the trip due mostly to traffic and bad roads.  There are no other options for truck drivers, other buses, and all ground transportation.

However, I have surprisingly been on “schedule” and now have my Brazilian Visa in hand.

So, Ecuador.  Ecuador was all sorts of beautiful.

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I was especially lucky because I stayed with Alvaro and Pablo.  Alvaro is a friend of Manus (Manus, I met in Mongolia and is from New Orleans…..small world right?!) and Pablo is Alvaro’s roommate from Seville.

These guys could not have been any better suited to become my really good friends.  Every night, when Pablo would get home from work, we would all sit in the living room and discuss every topic under the sun.  From travel experiences, to the cultures of Ecuador and Spain, and how we wanted to be more “human.”  I would play my ukulele, Pablo his guitar, and we would sing Marc Anthony and Juanes songs…ok more like whole heartedly belt out these songs.  It was wonderful.

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After I got all my stuff in order for the Brazilian Visa, the three of us went to Esmeraldas, a beach town where Alvaro’s mother lives.

I think getting the VISA in Quito was a much better idea than my original plan of doing it in Lima.  Quito is a big city yes, but the layout makes it really easy to get around.  I took the bus every day (.25) and Ecuador uses USD so I didn’t have to exchange money for the VISA fee.

Here is a list of the things to have/to do before going to the embassy…

1.  Fill out the VISA application online and print it out

-There were a few websites I found with the application.  Go through the official Brazilian embassy website.  I saw one that asked for a credit card number and I do not think it was legit.  The application only asks the basic questions, passport number, length of stay, etc.

2.  Bank Statement for the past three months

-Make sure you have a good amount as your current balance.  A minimum of $50 a day is expected.

3.  Photo copy of your credit card

4.  $160 to deposit at the bank down the street

5.  An itinerary of your trip

-Now this process completely proved my point about how it always depends on the official that is working with you.  The first time I went to the embassy, the woman who helped me did not ask any questions referring to my itinerary, that I typed up as a word document only siting dates, cities, and the date I would be flying out.  I didn’t have any proof of this flight but she did not question it.

When I came back a second time, I was called to another window with another woman who told me in Spanish that I had to have proof of a return ticket.  I said, well, what if I’m taking a bus out of the country?  She argued that I had to fly out of Brazil back to my own country.  I said, but what if I am teaching in Bolivia and I have to return there?  The first woman I talked to earlier came over to the window to help with translation.  The woman who was telling me I needed the proof of leaving Brazil gave my papers to the other woman who told me, Oh yes, I’m sorry I forgot to ask you about that earlier but let me go talk to the people in the back and see if you really need proof.

I moved back to the window of the first woman who helped me and waited for her to return.  When she came back she told me that the officials said there was no problem and that I did not need a return ticket if I was taking a bus out of the country.

That was that.

With everything in order, we escaped to Esmeraldas where Alvaro had to go to vote for the elections.  No absentee options in Ecuador.  Also, for the entire weekend of the elections it is illegal to buy alcohol.  I guess they just want to make sure there is no impaired judgment when choosing a leader.

Even though the bars were closed, we still found fun things to do.

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One day we went to the beach with boogie board in hand.  It was one of those perfect days of wonderful company, perfect waves, and beautiful surroundings.  I had so much fun with those boys and will never ever forget the awesome week we had.

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A reoccurring theme in this blog is about all the amazing people I meet all over the world.  Before I came to South America I had some anxiety knowing that I would again meet incredible friends and again have to leave them.  Saying goodbye is a difficult thing but it has been proven over and over to never say never.

Manus is a perfect example because we have been able to spend time together in 3 countries in the last 2 years!   He is not the only friend I’ve been able to reunite with in unexpected places.  There were all the people who came to visit in Greece this summer, my cousins in Bogota, etc.

This is certainly not a small world in many ways but having the ability to communicate so quickly makes it easier to keep these friendships alive.  I just hope that someday, I can create an event on some little island somewhere where all of these beautiful people can be all together at the same time!

And definitely this ceviche will be involved too…

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Colombia to Ecuador

After Guatape, I made my way to Bogota where my cousins, Mike and Evan, are teaching English with a program called SENA.

Bogota is an incredible city full of street art, musicians, and a very strong bohemian culture.  Evan and I spent every night with a six-pack of beer in the square, Cazoleta del Chorro de Quevedo, that was directly outside of my hostel.  It was a perfect place to catch up, people watch, and hear live music.

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My last night I stayed with Mike and his host family who treated me with such overwhelming kindness.  My little Spanish came in handy especially over coffee the next morning, when Mike’s host mom and I spent several hours discussing politics, family, and life.

It was such a treat seeing the boys and getting to know them better as adults.  It was a wonderful realization for me to know that no matter how much time passes, family is family and there is something that will always connect us.

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The next evening, I took a bus from Bogota to Ipiales.  It was about 23 hours and was 95,000 COP.  I have to stress that it could have been cheaper if I had bought the ticket earlier.  I’ve learned that with the long distance buses, it is cheaper if you can plan ahead of time and buy a ticket a couple of days before you want to leave.

This was my first over night bus through Colombia and everything I had read was pushing for caution.   I was a little nervous but prepared all the tricks; putting money in different pockets, putting my passport in a secret place, and things like that.

However, a lot of my trepidations vanished when I saw that more than 2/3rds of the passengers were a group of young nuns who had evidently been on some sort of trip to Bogota.  Surely this cannot be full proof of some sort of omnipresent protection but then the girl next to me made the sign of the cross about 10 times during the night and I thought,

Well, with this amount of human consciousness there’s gotta be some protective vibrations created!

In every bus I’ve taken, there will be several peddlers who will come onto the bus and sell everything from water to bowls of chicken and rice.  My favorite thing on this long bus was seeing the expressions of these sellers once they came onto the bus.

Initially prepared for the usual speech,

“Agua! Arroz con pollo! Jugos!  Carmelos!”

The person would stop and furrow the brow a bit while registering all the little ladies in the front rows with their brown and white habits.  Then a wonderful grin would appear from the seller, and all the young nuns would giggle.  It was great.

I arrived in Ipiales and walked to a hotel I had heard of called Hotel Belmont.  15,000 COP for a single room and the owners are amazing.

Ipiales was such an interesting place.  Definitely not as quaint and beautiful as my beloved Guatape, but had a great vibe (during the day) too.

I went to see the Iglesia de Lajas and it was really quite amazing.  Sitting in the valley of this undeveloped town is this eccentric cathedral.  I went on a Sunday that proved to be especially interesting and crowded.

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For a while now I have so many mixed feelings about visiting churches.  Especially these elaborate ones where the surrounding towns are so basic and the way of life is poor.  I walk into a place like that and all I can think of is the money that was put into making this grand building.  Then I think about the people who were enlisted in the building of these places and that the workers were all the poor people in the surrounding areas….

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I’ll just say this place was really beautiful and spectacular and I would definitely suggest seeing it if in the area.  The museum, on the other hand, is only $1 but that $1 is way better spent on an ice cream on the walk back up to the main road.

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On the ride back to town, I saw some really interesting things.  In this part of Colombia and bordering Ecuador, it is very common to eat guinea pigs!  I cannot not think about the South Park episode about the Peruvian flute bands and the giant monster guinea pigs that attempt to destroy mankind.

Almost every shop has the little guys skewered and turning them over a low fire.  A little passed this, I saw three women, one with guitar and playing.  The other two were by her side and they were walking and singing.  Horses and cattle stood in the roads of the busy city and appeared to be unattended.

What has been very rewarding to me so far has been witnessing the beautiful landscapes.  Colombia is beautiful!  Ecuador too!  And there are small but distinct differences in the scenery.  I rode through jungles, forests, over mountains, around lakes, and in valleys.

It is all simply breathtaking.

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So, now I am in Quito and I am staying with two of the coolest guys who are friends of my friend Manus…THAT I met in MONGOLIA!  This small, amazing, unexpected world is so magical!

Anyways, these hosts of mine have made it to my favorite people list.  After a week of long nights of fascinating and refreshing conversations and an awesome trip to the beach town, Esmeraldas, I am feeling fulfilled and certainly more human.

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Hey Hey! Guatapé! (Part 2)

The rock aka El Peñón de Guatapé

If you are in Medellin or traveling through Colombia, here is how you can get to Guatape… From Medellin, you can get a bus to Guatape from the Terminal de Norte (Metro stop Caribe.)   There are several bus companies that go to Guatape and the average price for one-way is 12,000 COP.  There are buses every hour from 6am to 6/7pm and the trip takes about 2 hours.  The bus will take you all the way to the edge of the town and drop you off at one street that leads directly into the center plaza of Guatape.  There are several inexpensive hostels to stay with the cheapest rooms being from 17,000-20,000 COP per night. There are so many great activities in Guatape.  From waterfalls to boat rentals, hiking and fishing, one could easily spend more than a weekend in the town. One of the most popular things to do is the hike to El Peñón de Guatapé that is that big rock in the picture below. DSC_0599 It is easy to walk to the rock from anywhere in the town.  If you take the same road that the bus brought you to Guatape, that will lead you to the rock.  There is a walking path off of the road for about half of the hike, but then you will have to continue on the main road for the rest of the walk. Once you have crossed the bridge on the main road, take a left at the gas station, and that will take you up the hill to the entrance of El Peñón de Guatapé.  The entire walk to the entrance takes about 30-40 minutes.  Or you can take a Tuk Tuk (if you have enough people) for about 2,000-4,000 COP per person.  However, the walk is nice and is a good prep for the hike up the rock. DSC_0604 To climb the stairs (740 steps to the very top) it cost 10,000 COP and it is entirely worth it.  It is the only place where you can see the lake and its winding islets. DSC_0611 DSC_0631 Taking a Tuk Tuk back to town is a great end to the day. DSC_0633 If you are interested in a boat ride, costs will vary with how willing you are to bargain.  Our Captain Ivan, who you can find near Lake View Hostel, is a great guy and speaks English.  There were 6 of us on the boat for about 5 hours and it costs 18,000 COP per person.  He took us around the lake to look at all the houses and cabanas on the islands and then took us to an incredible and private swimming cove. Lake View Hostel is across the bridge down the malecon in Guatape.  If you ask there, they should be able to help you find Ivan. He looks like this…. DSC_0511

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Hey Hey! Guatapé! (Part 1)

As per usual, several hesitations went through my mind before arriving in Medellin, Colombia.  What am I doing?  Where am I going?  Who will I meet?  Will I end up in a ditch somewhere?

I fantasized some very dark scenarios (probably brought on by True Detectives and Sherlock) where I would create a resolve where I kicked some ass and got away from the perpetrator.  These stories were exhausting but I was entering The Unknown!  Ah, my love/hate relationship with The Unknown.  I am coming to terms with the fact that The Unknown, like relationships, will always be something to work on.

First things first, Medellin is a beautiful city.  Most of everything I read before arriving to Colombia discussed past years of violence and hardships but that the country had bounced back.  However, there was not very much detail about how much cities like Medellin had actually ‘bounced back.’

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Not only is Medellin obviously developing quickly in infrastructure but also in all cultural aspects.  There are museums, Universities, Community Centers, and more.  I will say it reminds me of San Francisco.  If you had no idea about Medellin’s brutal past you might see the city as a typical metropolis.

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Sigh…The tenacious determination of humanity!

For those of you who do not know about Medellin and its past, I’ll just say it was the hometown of Pablo Escobar.  Medellin was once known as the most violent city in the world.  The statistics and murder rates are mind-boggling; in 2009, there was an average of 9 murders a day.

So, now that you have a picture of the immediate information about Medellin, you can see why I had previous hesitations.  Of course, like any other big city, there is still crime but in comparison to the recent past, Medellin has totally ‘bounced back’ and it is because of the people.  Amazing!

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Speaking of amazing people, I met some just the other day!  I decided to stay at a hostel that is owned by a Greek named Spiros for the obvious reasons; I love Greece and I know at least 5 Greeks named Spiros.  I thought it was a sign and ultimately it became one.

As hostel life goes, groups are created, adoptions are made of other travelers, or you adopt yourself into other groups.  Initially, I felt a little unprepared for the other hostel formalities that include drinking, drinking games, and more drinking.  The partying made me feel a little old and I decided that I would try to go through Couchsurfing in the future.

Oh, but oh!  You Unknown you!

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The next day, after some incredible explorations of this magnificent city and some alone time for deep thought, I came back to the hostel to meet Ben, Gabe, Clive, and Michelle.  These were to be my travel companions to Guatape, a small town about an hour and half east of Medellin, where we would see beautiful and crazy things.

What do the majority of worldly people have?  Patience, gratitude, curiosity, kindness, passion, and, of course, a great sense of humor.

What I had forgotten, living in the land of the “settled,” was that there are people, like me, exploring the world and The Unknown!  They know all about it!  They have incredible stories and photos and, at the same time, are able to be present with all that experience!  And they are able to take in MORE.  More friends, more connections, more stories, and more photos.  These kinds of commonalities create a strong bond in a very short amount of time.  As if you have known these others for much longer than one day.

So, once again, I lucked out and found these amazing people who invited me to Guatape.  We all left for the bus station early in the morning, and the ride was beautiful.  Food stalls, farmers, and livestock took place of the soccer fields, apartment buildings, and traffic.  The bus climbed the mountain that surrounds Medellin and an incredible view of the city sitting in its valley was visible from the window.

Guatape sits on a lake.  We arrived in a fit of excitement from being out of the busy city and even more so for my travel companions who were reuniting with friends they had met at the hostel a week before.

Tomaz and Beppie, who we were meeting, had already arranged a boat rental with a captain named Ivan.  After settling in, we began all the preparations for the usual boat trip; beer, rum, water, chips, and bananas.

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Ivan took us out on the boat and around different islands and islets, where cabanas and vacation homes were built or being built.  Event though it was cloudy, the consensus was to swim, and Ivan found a beautiful cove just for that.  Only after a short while, and swimming in the magnificently clear waters, the sun came out.

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At some point, before we launched, we had adopted one of the village dogs who jumped on the boat before we departed.  This proved to be a bad idea once we were ready to leave our swimming hole when Zoro, the dog, refused to come back to the boat for over 20 minutes while we called and waited for her.  The most annoying part was that we could hear her barking happily away and chasing the vultures.

However, Zoro came back and we all headed back to shore.

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Other uneventful events happened before dinner and later in the night we ended up at a dance club.  Colombian music burst from speakers that were strategically placed so that every corner of the club made you vibrate in your seat.

Dancing began, rain started to fall, and as we sat on the bar stools near the open window, we noticed some locals who were riding a horse that was still in the process of being broken in.  I don’t know a lot about horses, but it was not difficult to tell that this horse was still in training.

The rider tied the white beauty to the tree outside and from where we were sitting and we could see the animal pull and tug at its rope.  Ben and I began to question what would happen if we set the horse free.  Deciding against doing anything to upset what we discovered was a very drunk caballero we continued dancing.

I was reaching in my purse when all of the sudden Ben grabbed my shoulder, shaking me, and yelling,

“LOOK!!!”

I looked to where he was pointing, and saw our white beauty trotting away down the malecón.  The horse looked back as he was jogging away as if it knew it was making its getaway.  It was about another hour until someone else returned with the creature.

I was so excited in the moment of the escape that I will never be able to think about it without laughing.  Like so many times, it was as if I manifested something I wanted to happen.  The horse had its moment of liberation and it was enough to satisfy our previous desire of setting the animal free.

Soon after, a glass broke, the lights went up, and it was time to leave.  A fight had broken out on the other side of the club.  We went outside to say good-bye to our brave friend, white beauty, when more drama ensued.

The drunken caballero was attempting to get on the horse while it moved in unending circles.  Other spectators got involved and one woman in particular was smacking the horse’s ass.  Ben and I moved calmly away before the horse got too wild.  However, we were not away from the drama just yet.

We stood for a minute watching the fiasco when all the sudden a man wobbling next to Ben did his best to pick up a rock the size of a watermelon and chuck it at, well, who knows who (not us just to clarify!)  The drunken man had a companion who was trying to stop the rock from being hurled across the street.  The result ended with the rock thrower slipping in the grass and the rock being tossed behind him only a foot away from Ben.

“It’s time to go.”

We turned our heels and briskly walked laughing the entire way home.

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Caiu A Ficha

The coin has dropped.

Originally an idiom from the UK translated to Brazilian Portuguese, a ficha caiu, that means that you have realized something that you were unaware of before.

Think about a slot machine or a payphone where you have to deposit a coin.  There is a moment in between where the coin has to travel to its destination so that you are able to make the call, or play on the machine.  So you are waiting, maybe not consciously for the coin to drop, but when it does you become aware that the journey has begun.

Ultimately, I feel like that happens to me all the time and somehow I am always surprised.  When I am waiting for my realization, I usually worry about the same things.  For example, will I make enough money for an adventure, can I find a way of serving the world, should I settle, or the daily question, “am I doing the right thing?”

Once a ficha caiu, and I am reminded of this exceptional life and all the gratitude I have for the people who are a part of it, a relief of substantial form settles within me.

Before I started living this “travelers life” I remember saying to myself,

There are so many places in the world I want to see.  I don’t think I’ll have enough time to see all the places I want.  So, right here and now, I’m going to give up South East Asia.

Well, who knew I would travel to South East Asia and completely fall in love with it. There hasn’t been a day where I do not think about the people, food, and places I discovered there two years ago.

South America, especially Brazil, was put on the back burner and I was obsessed with the desire to revisit SE Asia.  However, as usual, things change.

I cannot really explain why or how this new plan came about.  Again, as usual.

So, for all of you who are still following these journeys, right now I am in Nicaragua, where my mom and I are visiting my college friend, Ali, who is here working in the Peace Corps.  After a week of bliss with these wonderful ladies, I fly to Miami and then the next day to Medellin, Colombia where I will then make my way overland to Brazil.

Brasil! La la la la la la la laaaa!  You know the song….

Ever since a Brazilian Music class I took at the University of Texas in Austin, when I had to attend there for one semester due to Hurricane Katrina, I have been fascinated with the country and the culture.

For some reason, I had this idea in my mind of ‘saving’ Brazil…for last?  That Brazil would be so incredible that I might never be able to leave and therefore have to complete my travel list before going to the country.  Then a dear friend told me,

“We have to be in Brazil while we are young!  And we can dance!”

It was as simple as that.  I decided that this was the year I needed to go to Brazil.

But I mean, I can’t just go straight to Brazil right?

Why don’t I make an adventure out of it?  Why don’t I make it another epic journey?

The excitement of the possibility of another big adventure saturated my entire being.  I kept thinking of the way I’ve always planned these trips in the sense that the answer to all the questions was,

Why not?

Ok, so now I am in Nicaragua.  And what can I say?  The flora, the fauna, the faces, the food!  I’m in love!  Well, until we went exploring around Granada and some hecklers bothered me.  I mean, dude I’m walking with my mom here!  Please don’t mutter dirty things under your breath and stare at my ass!

I have experienced these catcallers all over the world.  I understand that there is a machismo mentally down here, but I’ve also heard some pretty shocking things when I’ve gotten gas at the Ideal Market in New Orleans.

And I can’t forget about Morocco.  Whenever I would venture out to the Medina alone, my best friend and host, Karim, would ask me each time I came home,

“Did anyone bother you?”

It is just something that happens.  All advice given to me has been to ignore it therefore not encouraging any further interactions.  I’m ok with that.

Now that I’ve been able to process the day and remember that it is what it is, and things are what they are, I can relax.  Travel is full of discomforts that, for me, have made me grow in ways I didn’t believe were possible.

My coin has dropped and I am awake to all the possibilities in this amazing world.  I can only be grateful.

And I could not have stumbled upon a better sign on my first day other than this….

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Medora, Look Something…

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“When I told people back home I was going to Greece, they said, Aren’t they having a crisis over there?

“Medora, look something, the sun he does not have the crisis.  The sea, he does not have the crisis. The tree, the mountain, no crisis.”  Then wiping his hands as if brushing off imaginary dirt,  “This, is so.”

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I have heard some incredible explanations the past three weeks about life, politics, Greece, love, and friendship.  Everyone is a teacher here and I learn a new lesson every day.  Whether it be in words or actions, my friends on Corfu teach me more than they’ll ever know.

This time on Corfu, things are different.  Many businesses are closed for the winter season, few tourists are about, and everyone is bored.  Of course there is also some anxiousness because no one really has a stable job.  Everyone takes what they can get and the majority of the time the work is temporary.  Obviously this is a stressor due to lack of income but even more so for the personal well being of my friends here.

“Medora, look something, if you don’t have job, you feel nothing.”

There are so many assumptions the world makes about the Greeks during this economic crisis.  From my face-to-face experience here, I can tell you, there is no other choice but to live day to day.  I try to imagine if I was in Dallas and went everywhere I could and no one had money and no one could offer me a job.  I try and imagine owning my own house and land and after decades of being passed down through my family, the government, out of nowhere, claim that taxes need to be paid on what my grandparents and before them have paid off.

What would I do?  What would anyone do?

One thing the Greeks do not do is fret over it too much.  I mean, maybe they don’t want to worry me, I’m not really sure, but it seems that after the legitimate rant or speech about the crisis and injustices happening in this country the usual conclusion is hopeful.

“Freedom is the hope I wait to come.”

Even with all this hardship and all the stress for the future, there is still laughter.  I’ve never heard so much laughter!

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One night I came home late to Giannis.  Everyone was outside while he closed the bar and we all went up together to his house where his wonderful mother, Elena, had prepared a feast of pasta.  Giannis, Spyros, Cristos, Fotis, Elena, Giannis father, Akileas, and I sat around the table to eat.  EVERYONE WAS LAUGHING.  Everyone was talking at the same time.  Even though I could not understand what was being said, the laughter was contagious.  A neighbor yelled something for everyone to be quiet and the response, a wave of giggles.

“Ela Medora.  We drank 3 tons of wine that night!”

A few nights ago, was one of the best nights of my life.  It was the pinnacle of all the reasons I had to come back to Corfu.

It was so natural that I’m not really sure how it all started.  A friend was buying me tsipouro, the local raki, then everyone started drinking it.  A few were dancing to the repetitive club music some one was playing and then Spyros took over the computer and began to play Greek music.  This set everyone off in a sing-along one could hear across the sea in Italy.  One man began to hit the table with such force that it knocked over all the glasses.  Tsipouro spilt everywhere but no one seemed to care and our glasses were quickly refilled.

“Opa!”

“Malaka!”

They continued singing with all their hearts and souls words I didn’t understand.  I didn’t have to.   The energy was powerful and overwhelming.

“Giannis!  Tsipouro!  Ya mas!”

Everyone clinked glasses.  Some one jumped on the bar and started dancing.  Another took off his shirt and began clapping.  Everyone began clapping for the dancing man on the downbeat, slowly but with distinct precision.

The music got faster and suddenly everyone was shirtless.  They moved the tables and began dancing in circles in the middle of the bar.

“Ela Medora!”

Some one grabbed my hand and led me in the circle.

“12 steps.  1,2,3, 1,2,3, 1,2,3, 1,2,3!”

It was an incredible night.  I will never ever forget it.

However, this was not to be the last of amazing events.

Last night, Akileas had a BBQ for me.

“Medora, look something, all the guys, they want to do something for you.  So, Akileas prepare the BBQ for Medora UNICEF.”

“Medora UNICEF?” I asked.

“Medora, look something, the people love you because you are friendly.  The village calls you, Medora UNICEF.  In the summer, many people came to you from all over the world and we could see that we are not so different from each other.  And this is good.”

The BBQ was a huge success.  Akileas hosted it at his restaurant right outside the village.  All the food was fresh, all the vegetables were from his garden.

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Every thing was piled in heaps and plated on several plates down the table.  Tomato and pepper salad, chips, and fresh meat from the grill covered the table.  Oh and wine.  TONS of wine.

Within a few minutes after the feast, Akileas, without a lot of convincing, went to the piano.  This began the next two hours of singing, dancing, and drinking.  I looked down the table and was over come with a sense of well being and happiness.  My eyes began to water and I felt so much love for these friends.

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I almost had a heart attack when Akileas began a medley of “Mack the Knife” and “When the Saints Go Marching In.”  Both songs have a distinct presence in my life, from my grandmother’s annual performance of “Mack the Knife” at all Christmas gatherings, to my beloved New Orleans Saints.  It was a “me” moment and no one else could fully understand the relevance of those songs.

During my time here I have been taken to secret beaches, where not even a telephone pole was in sight.  I swam naked under a thousand stars and in a sea full of phosphorescence glowing whenever I made the slightest move.  I’ve ridden on the back of motorcycles through rolling green hills and views of the ancient Ionian Sea.  I have had late night conversations of philosophy and Greek mythology.

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This island is magical and so why not stay another two weeks?

“Medora look something, the Greek program, is no program.”

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Why Not?

I didn’t make as much money as I expected so I’m going back to Greece, Rome, and taking a trip to Lisbon because I heard it was cool.  Then I’ll come home and work until Christmas and then make a new plan.  I don’t know what I’m doing.

“Yes you do.  You are working, saving, and traveling.”

Oh…right!

There are many people I am grateful to for the continuing support in my travels.

Dad, thank you for always keeping your door open and my room available for me to stay.  It makes me happy that we are able to spend this time together.

Sophia, thank you for being my best friend, lazy companion, and confidante extraordinaire.

Mom and Ken, thank you for everything you do for me.  Including the never-ending encouragement, acts of kindness, and emotional support.  I love you guys!

Libertine Bar (plus Bottle Shop and entire Lower Greenville Ave Crew), thank you for welcoming me home with a job!  That is a true blessing these days.   Not only do I feel so lucky for my awesome job but also the gracious, fun, and crazy group of friends that comes with it.

I’ll answer a few commonly asked questions with the most important response I learned during my time in Greece.

Why are you going back to Greece?

Why not?

Why are you going for four weeks?

Why not?

Why do you travel so much?

Why not?

When asked these questions the first time, I attempted to make some justified answers.  I think this was in hopes of warranting my decisions to myself but it wasn’t really working.  Ultimately, I was more stressed trying to give reasons for this trip and what I do in general.

So, I gave up.  I realized my whole life is full of “why nots?”  I should take advantage of those when I can.

I am going back to Greece because I want to see my neighbors, friends, and family I made this summer there.

I am going to Rome because I want to see my Italian family.

I am going to Lisbon because I want an adventure in a place I’ve never been.

As long as I live my life with respect towards others and the things I want do not hurt others, I’m going to do it.

Today, I found an old photo album of pictures from high school and a photo album from the time I lived Austin for Hurricane Katrina.  I thought about all the people who would love to see these pictures.  I thought about how nice it would be to have a home where these photos could be accessible for guests to look at, reminisce about, and enjoy.

I put the pictures away, turned around and looked at my bed.  On the mattress were my clothes and other belongings I am packing for my trip.

My thoughts went something like this…

Woah.  I’m still living my life and making these adventures happen.  I’m still choosing experience!  There will be plenty of time later for nostalgia.

So, today I am grateful to the above mentioned and to everyone who has encouraged me to keep traveling.

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It’s Something!

Procrastinate

: to put off intentionally and habitually.

Sound familiar?

This has been a recurring word when I think about the blog.  However, now that life has a bit more stability and regularity (AND I had my first full day off of work yesterday in just over 2 weeks) I have the time to catch up on some things.

So, Greece was obviously amazing.  When I think back on the hesitations I had before going there, I laugh.  The majority of my posts from Corfu are about how loving, kind, and incredible the people there are and I want to reiterate that fact.  Of course I anticipated making friends but I don’t think I ever could have imagined the quality of these friendships.  Time was an irrelevant element; a magic I believe the island itself manifests in several ways.

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Without force, without hesitations, without skepticism, and within literally hours, I made some of the greatest friends I have ever made in my life.  All of my assumptions of time being the only factor in cogent friendships was proven wrong.

I have a strong image of the way children meet each other.  There is a curiosity and awkward dance of sharing between children who meet for the first time.  There are no conversations to get ‘to know’ the stranger, and common ground is usually found through games, toys, or fantasy.  The break in shyness is so immediate that you would think they had known each other for a long time.

Corfu was our playground, toy, and fantasy.  The commonality was the fact that we all wanted to experience everything the island had to offer.  Maybe it was this shared love for our surrounding that made us immediately respect each other.

Two months later, I am still in awe of the genuineness of these friendships!  It makes it even more justified that for the past two months since I left Corfu, there has not been one day without a message or conversation from my fellow Window Talkers.

The way of acceptance, love, and anticipation that friends of many years possess are obtainable during the duration of our lives.  What an exciting realization!  This magical and rare experience I am forever grateful for.

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Right now I am back in Dallas, working two jobs and doing my thing; work, work, work, save, save, save, travel, travel, travel, and then repeat.  I guess it is obvious this is becoming a pattern.  There are still no plans, no assumptions, no idea of what exactly I want for the future but I like it that way.  I know what I want right now and that is all I can work towards.

Corfu has also been an easy excuse for me to procrastinate in other ways.  I long for my life in Corfu.  However, if I cannot be happy where I am, how could I be living in the wisdom Corfu gave me?  I have to constantly be ‘living,’ no matter where I am.  I have to constantly be curious of strangers, I have to constantly be in search of new adventures, I have to constantly be learning.  I have been pleasantly surprised to find that Dallas is filled with adventures and fun! IE Boatapolousa, Mexican night clubs, Bingo Halls, concerts, cocktail-y things, family nights, and late night/early morning amazing conversations.

This weekend I took my Corfu wisdom to full effect.  Yesterday was the wedding shower for my cousin Alex and his fiance, Becky, in Arkansas at Lake Ouachita.  Another treasured family haunt.  I had resigned to the fact I wouldn’t be able to take off work.  The usual excuses ran through my mind; I can’t afford it, I can’t take off work, and if I tried to take off work, it would be a long hassle getting my shifts covered.  However, Friday morning something came over me and I had an overwhelming desire to be with my family.  I scrambled, pulled strings, bribed people, and luckily worked everything out to be able to go.

It is important for me to maintain a balance of my priorities.  Absolutely I can work towards my goal and initiate a substantial life at the same time!  Right?!  Taking two days off to be able to come to this beautiful, heavenly place to be with my wild and crazy family, who I love more than anything, should be a given.

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The hard part is already over.  It’s not like this is the first time I’ve had to save money to travel.  Maybe I won’t be able to leave when I want to, maybe my destination will change.

Who knows?

I like staying open.  If something comes along and grabs me, I’m going to take it.  That is how I’ve always done it.  That is why it works for me.  That is why I always seem to find myself surrounded by exceptional people.

All I have is right now.  This moment.  And I’m going to make the most of it.

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