Adios a la Forma de Tico

Travel

Goodbye to the tico way…


As my time in Costa Rica is coming to a close, it´s hard to believe I´m already saying goodbye to my first country. To quote Robert Frost, ¨But I have promises to keep, And miles to go before I sleep, And miles to go before I sleep.¨ and I have been trying to set my sights on my next…well…sites. Bocas del Toro, Boquete, and Lost and Found Hostel in Panama for November. Then Panama City, where I´m chartering a sailboat to take me to Cartagena, Colombia and onto Medellin, Colombia for the month of December.

Punta Uva

But there´s still the matter of reflecting on my time in Costa Rica and what I want to take away from the 6 weeks I´ve spent here in the Carribean. My wonderful soul sister sent me this aptly timed article about the various deaths that occur over our lifetime in the form of our ever-changing identity. It spoke to something I´ll be inevitably dealing with from country to country on my journey – the leaving of one identity in country and the adoption of a new persona in each place.

¨The death of an identity is like the shedding of armor, which exposes the soft, tender, vulnerable places and opens the heart in ways we couldn’t have imagined without the loss.¨

My legs are covered in more bruises and bug bites than I thought possible on one person. My understanding of clean and dirty are completely relative now. The minute differences between needing, wanting, and craving a shower. Sand will most likely accompany me for the remainder of my trip, smuggling its way into the nooks and crannies of my now musty smelling backpack and its ramshackle contents. My patience has grown (in addition to my leg hair) and with it comes a better understanding for the tico way of life, where 10 minutes mean an hour or mañana means a week.

I´ve been able to experience a life that people only dream of. Yesterday, the small family I´ve grown to love here hiked to a gorgeous lookout point at Punta Uva. While sitting along the rocky point, the waves crashing along the sides, the sun setting on the water before us, reflecting back all of its soul pumping sunshine onto us, someone began strumming a ukulele from the ledge above us. I´m not kidding. This was real life. This was my life.

But saying goodbye is part of the life of a traveler. Saying goodbye to paradise and the many forms I´m sure it will manifest itself in throughout my trip will become as second nature to me as throwing toilet paper in the trash can. It´s time to say goodbye to Costa Rica and the woman I was here. Which parts of her do I want to take with me? Which parts do I leave behind for the sea to reclaim like a piece of driftwood?

The oh-so-appropriate water blur on this photo is hilarious to me.

The oh-so-appropriate water blur on this photo is hilarious to me.

The person I was here was timid, believe it or not. I was scared, afraid of sticking out too much or sounding stupid when speaking the broken and littered Spanish I know. I apologized for the space I took up in the world, being a tall and large girl, and I regretfully informed people where that space hailed from – the dreaded America. In moving on, there is little I can do to change how I look and where I come from. These are pieces of me, pieces that make me who I am and I refuse to apologize for them any longer. So let the sea wash away these pieces, but leave the person behind who is able to find comfort in solitude. ¨Cool¨has become such a complicated word – each country having its own understanding of what it means – that it´s impossible for me to embody such a word. So better to focus on expressing who I truly am. With that comes my sense of style, something I abandoned in favor of clothes that were basic and functional. This was an idiotic oversight on my part. A woman whose main form of self-expression has been style cannot have her individually ripped from her hands in a moment where she is clamoring to anything familiar that she can find. I miss my brightly colored clothes, fitted and flirty dresses, and the feeling of feeling pretty. It´s a small thing that becomes magnified as time travels on.

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One of the biggest takeaways is the level of control I have over my own happiness. Happiness is not relative, like cleanliness. Happiness is right there in your backpocket next to your colones and your fuego. There was also a long adjustment period here. It took me a couple weeks to finally let everything sink in, from the language, food, culture, new surroundings, climate, people, and work, everything took some level of understanding to get to place where comfort was at least in relative reach. Moving forward, I know I have control over how long it takes me to feel comfortable, and the longer I take feeling like an outsider, the longer I will remain one.

So much gratitude for my Se Ua family

So much gratitude for my Se Ua family. My time in Costa Rica would not have been the same!

The First Week (No Clever Title Needed)

Travel

So I´m into my first week in Costa Rica and so far….it´s utterly amazing. Truly. Like every single one of my dreams from the last year is coming true. Every moment I sat at my cubicle wishing for a different life, desiring a different daily than the one I had been granted, wishing desperately for change and adventure.

Every moment igniting a passion for the life I´m now chasing. And I can actually taste it because I´m in it, every day now. My daily life consists of waking up at whatever time I choose. I don´t go out very often here because truly I don´t feel very safe yet, being on my own, but that will subside with time, my level of comfort directly proportional to how much Spanish I currently know.

Which is still un poco. Muy pequeno.

But I´m trying to learn and I want to learn, that´s for damn sure. Because it´s not really fun to constantly be out of the loop. And it´s not even just Spanish, the amount of English I hear is minimal, at best. I hear German more than I hear English, truthfully. Spanish will be a challenge to learn, a challenge for my mind that I welcome with open arms. Like the books I´ve been devouring and the journaling I´ve been doing – all of it adding back nutrients to my malnourished soul.

Yes thats a tad dramatic. Yes thats a tad necessary though.

I hope everyone is watching my posts, drooling over my pictures, reading my words with a fervor that inspires them. Because I want everyone to do this. To follow their dream. To make this happen for them. To create the life you want, instead of the one you´ve settled for. I understand that things like marriage, kids, debt, money, time, or careers can all get in the way, but there is no excuse not to take a vacation you´ve dreamed about or quitting a job you can´t stand to do something you actually enjoy. Life is too short, our bodies too fragile, and our mind too powerful to ignore what we truly want.

Here is a synopsis of what I´ve done so far in my week: I´ve gone hiking along Volcano Brava, I´ve gone swimming in a waterfall, I´ve biked over 20 miles in a day, I´ve done yoga on the beach and in hostel gardens and alongside mountains, I´ve made friends with Costa Ricans, Frenchmen, and Argentines. I´ve slept in a hammock against the shoreline of the ocean, I´ve swam in waves with such force that it literally knocked me over, I´ve made strangers into unforgettable friends, I´ve driven miles over gorgeous hillsides covered in so much green I´ve actually forgotten what the brown flatlands of Texas look like. I´ve been happy, lonely, sad, ecstatic, and fulfilled in a way I haven´t felt in too long.

And that´s just one week.

ONE. WEEK.

There have been hardships already as well. Struggles, stress, nervousness, anxiety, cash issues, bus confusion, disastrous laundry mishaps and all the other annoyances that accompany travel as well. And there is fear (¨Which is born to an extent of a story we tell ourselves¨) but all of that is taken in stride and in comparison to what I have. Solitude, freedom, and a better attitude than I´ve had in the past year – possibly ever. So I suppose it´s a trade worth making. I can´t wait to see what other swaps are in my future. Stay tuned, maes (dudes).

Gringa Goals

Travel

I’m now less than a week away from my departure date and time is creeping while simultaneously flying. Every day feels like an inch towards the eventual mile-long leap I’m about to take. When I get on my flight I’ll be leaving everything I know in search of something spectacularly new – but what exactly am I looking for?

Every person has asked me why I’m going to South America and why I’m going alone. Truth be told I find traveling alone to be less stressful and more fulfilling. Although loneliness is something I’ll have to deal with regularly – it forces you to branch out of your comfort zone and pushes you to interact with those around you. I also don’t have to compromise my plans for someone else’s, be on anyone’s time schedule but my own, and will be able to fully immerse myself in a moment without wondering how my travel partner is faring.

However I do have several goals for my trip that I hope to accomplish. Being alone will give me the time, solstice, solitude, and sheer boredom to hopefully address these throughout my journey.

  1. Reset my habits: As I mature into an adult there are certain childhood habits that have followed me around for some time now. I want to break cycles of chaotic clutter and try to maintain neatness and tidiness. I want to spend less time on unnecessary things like worrying. I want to choose to always be good to people, regardless of how my day may be going or who they may be. Focusing on the present moment, wherever it may be, is difficult for me as well. Simplify, simplify, simplify – use less, waste less. These and more are all things I hope to change and reestablish habits to return home with.
  2. Treat my body right: As I reset habits, I want to create new ones. I understand the importance of keeping a form of exercise in my daily routine and want to establish a stable yoga practice every day. I want to eat healthy and eat when I need to – as opposed to eating when I’m bored or because I have nothing better to do than stuff my face with pizza-flavored Goldfish and ice cream.
  3. Challenge myself mentally and physically: Ever since I’ve left school I feel like the workforce, specifically sitting in front of a computer, has slowly dumbed down my intelligence and made me extremely sedentary. A huge reason for this trip in general is escaping (what I feel to be) corporate prison and the dangerous side effects of that lifestyle. I want to spend my days learning to surf, climbing mountains, learning Spanish, learning new histories I’ve never read about in a textbook before, and exchanging ideas with new people in new places. Honestly, I’d never thought of myself as capable of any of the aforementioned things and the challenge to simply try them is enticing.
  4. Recharge my soul: While working I spent hours sitting behind a computer, isolated, alone, and stifled. I then commuted for an additional 3 hours (in total) of agonizing solitude in traffic that made me want to scream. On most days I did scream, actually, from the desire to just hear my voice. Every day. Every week. It seemed never-ending. I’m still shaking off the remnants of that lifestyle. I watch myself watching people instead of engaging with them. I have become introspective and critical almost to a fault. I see myself trying to reach for happiness but settling with mundane content for life – which for me is unacceptable. I still don’t feel like myself or like the person I want to strive to be.
  5. Disconnecting: Like most people in my generation – I’m far too guilty of spending far too much time on the internet, on Facebook, watching TV, and texting. I feel like I stare at a screen more than at a person’s face. Yet all this hyper-connectivity makes me equally hyper-aware. I’m stressed about Donald Trump becoming president. I’m scared for the refugees in Syria. I can’t believe that girl from my high school is preggers. I want that cute guy to think my profile picture is bangin’. I want everyone to think I’m cool based on my social media persona. By removing myself from the ability to be hyper-connected to every facet of society and my circles of influence I hope to truly find myself again. Not the self I want to portray to others – but that deep down, unfiltered soul that is being brushed to the side in favor of a filtered Instagram post.
  6. Reevaluate my skills and career path: Contrary to popular belief – I love working and genuinely enjoy spending my time efforts towards something that I value. This is a biggie because I’ve realized that graphic design (and the desk life that accompanies it) isn’t for me anymore. I love people and moving too much to spend my life being stagnant at work. Since I’m doing Workaway  throughout my trip I hope to experience a multitude of different jobs – from the mundane to the extraordinary. Farming to financials, scrubbing toilets, mushing grapes, greeting strangers, anything and everything in between – somewhere amongst these jobs I hope to find something that rings true to what I actually want to do – instead of what I had been told to do.
  7. Fall in love with words again: For along time I was journaling every morning, but as I became further and further removed from myself I stopped wanting to write because all I would spew was negativity and angst. Writing became something I approached with reluctance. Starting with this blog, clearly, but more importantly I want to journal again. I miss writing slam poetry. Being alone with my thoughts, a pen, and piece of paper are absolutely a priority.

So there you have it – this gringa’s goals before she goes! 

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City Girl → Caribbean Chick

Travel

As my countdown to leaving for South America continues to dwindle down (less than 75 days at the time of this post!) my planning is getting kicked into high gear. This week I finalized my first workaway in Costa Rica in the town of Manzanillo, in the Limon region of Costa Rica. It’s on the Caribbean side of Costa Rica and it’s literally the end of the road as it stops at the Gandoca-Manzanillo National Wildlife Refuge. But actually – the place I’ll be volunteering is literally IN the refuge.

Like…in the jungle. Surrounded by trees. With no hot water.

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So it’s hard for me to look at this photo and be scared. It’s hard for me to watch this video and be anything but excited because this place looks like untamed paradise. Secluded, away from civilization, smack in the middle of nature with not much else to do but swim, maybe learn to surf, hike, and lay in a hammock I can’t imagine anything I would really want to do more.

The hostel itself is run by two Costa Rican cousins who have built everything using recycled materials from the land. They have activities and tours they are trying to promote and need help with general maintenance and upkeep of the hostel.

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I’m booking my first hostels, arranging travel details, figuring out if a river tour down to Puerto Viejo would be better than taking a van throughout the country, seeing how it’s possible to see surfing towns, volcanos, cloudforests, and mountains all in my first week. My head is swirling with visions of Caribbean rice and beans, drowned with ideas about hiking and kayaking, and completely losing touch with my reality here in Texas.

I fall into deep holes of planning – losing my footing in planning things like Patagonia or hiking the Inca trail, finding myself resurfacing back at bus routes to Bolivia and finally realizing that THIS is about to BE my reality. I begin to wonder if I’m cut out for it all, if I’ll end up killing myself by climbing a tree and then plummeting to my death in the Amazon or if I’ll freeze high in the Andes determined to make it to Torres del Paine.

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Again, I resurface, taking a deep breath. Back tracking to Panama. Realizing I’m getting far too ahead of myself as I’ll have several countries and other crossing and obstacles to address before my fears ever get in the way. I think back to my first time camping on a tiny island in the middle of our lake in Wisconsin. I brought open food with me, I left the tent unzipped for lengths at a time, I was eaten alive by bugs, and when I got back to our warm, insulated, dry, and bug-free cottage my family gave me hell. I wasn’t cut out for it. I was a city girl – born and raised – and I wouldn’t be able to ever go camping again.

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I didn’t go camping again for almost 15 years until an ex-boyfriend suggested we go. Terrified beyond belief I agreed and the trip comprised of roasting peaches on an open flame, drinking wine and telling stories, and being shown how to pitch a tent and maintain a fire. Fast forward to camping in the Redwoods without anything to spark a flame – except lighting every single piece of paper in car on fire and hoping to hell it works. Now I’ve gone camping in Arkansas, parts of Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, and Arizona and I clearly don’t intend to stop anytime soon. The only thing stopping me before were my own insecurities, bred long ago by an incapable young girl – conquered by the strength of young woman’s determination.

Part of planning is preparation. But I think preparing for what is to come is proving to be the most difficult part. Letting go of all my belongings – selling all my furniture, clothing, and adopting a backpack for the next year. Leaving behind friendships that mean the world to me in favor of the actual world out there. Laying aside doubts. Lightening my load by paring down to bare essentials in every aspect of life. Listening to the voice in my head the keeps telling me how badly I want this . Locking out the voice that tells me I’m not cut out for this.

These are the things that are more difficult to plan for. There’s no vaccination for homesickness or any amount of waterproof wicking to whisk away all my doubts. But as each day closes and another one begins, I’m inching my way to an eventual plane ride away from everything I’ve ever known in my life. That unknown that I’ll be throttling towards can’t be planned for. There is no way to Google it. But it’s something that’s equally alluring because it can’t be understood until I’m right there in it – watching the life I’ve known fall away and the life I’m choosing coming into focus.

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I can’t wait.

Gringa Goes Global

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About a year ago I applied to teach English through the Chilean English Opens Doors Program. Unfortunately the program was already full – but it didn’t stop me from applying to the waitlist and researching Chile and the regions of South America with a fervor – devouring articles, photos, travel blogs, and yerba mate all in one fatal gulp. I was hooked on the idea of South America. The dancing, the music, the language, the cultures, the people, the nature, the adventure, the challenge.

But then I began my ‘career’ which consisted of sitting in a car, in traffic, for over 2 hours a day, sitting at desk for 9 hours staring at a screen filled with ads for dentists and coupons for discounted Lasik procedures, and speaking to hardly a soul throughout a 12 hour day. My spirit was quietly being crushed, the life being sucked out with every start of the engine in the mornings. Depression creeped in from every corner of my day and it started to become a struggle just to force a smile for friends and family. The person I was and who I wanted to become was vanishing before my very eyes and I felt powerless, trapped in a cycle of paychecks, to change anything.

So for the past year I began to quietly save and research. Lunch hours spent consuming travel routes through Central America, instead of actual food. Photographs of natural wonders such as Angel Falls, Machu Picchu, and Torres Del Paine became the backgrounds of all my man-made electronics. My bed time reading became books about how to plan for Latin America because it’s all I could dream about. My soundtrack became Peruvian Afro-funk and other Latin-inspired music because it was the only thing that put a spring into my step. My shopping list consists of functionality rather than fashion first, like hiking boots, khaki skorts, and trying to figure out just how many sports bras I’ll actually need.

I had been preparing to leave for my trip in January 2016. But due to circumstances beyond purely my control – I’m leaving at the end of August 2015 to spend a year traveling and working across Latin America.

If I said I wasn’t scared, I would be lying. But if I said that it outweighed my hope or my excitement, I would be lying even more. The only thing I can say with complete conviction is that I may not be ready to leave at this exact moment or even by the time my flight departs – but I know at the bottom of my heart and by the will of my body and soul that I am ready to leave. I am ready to explore once again. I can’t wait to step off a plane into a new city and be unfamiliar with everything. I cherish the day when I get to work on a farm on the side of a mountain and I sit down at the end of day with blistered hands but a bolstered sense of self confidence because I’ll have actually made something to be proud of.

I feel as though my entire life was one big lie. I was told my only option was to go to college in order to get a job. After college I wasn’t encouraged to continue learning or striving to better myself – my only concerns from graduation on out were to climb the job ladder until I reached a position with enough income to sustain myself and my future family.

For the first time I’m making a choice that will fulfill me more than any job title, diploma, or salary could ever do. And for that I am proud. And for that – I know my soul is once again rooting for me.

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Pressure Points

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Acupuncture needles in African woman's back

A week ago I tried acupuncture for the first time. It had been something I was always interested in – something always featured in movies and television shows as equal parts terrifying and tranquil. Which honestly sums up the experience quite accurately, in some respects. The pins are all positioned strategically over pressure points throughout the body. You breathe deeply, trying to forget that you have chosen to have roughly 30 pins pricked ever-so-gently into your skin, and focus on relaxing. In our busy world where words travel miles per minute, Facebook posts travel the world in hours, and our brains move at the speed of light just to keep up with our day to day activities, when was the last time you chose to just sit for 45 minutes and think of relatively nothing?

Never. I don’t think I’ve ever done that in my life. Ever.

Well let me tell you – the mind races, leaps and bounds, around and around, circling over the same thoughts you’re trying to precisely escape from. The stress of every day life seeps back in. But then to bring yourself back to the present moment you just remember – I’ve got pins ALL over my body right now so maybe it’s not a big deal if my laundry isn’t done at this exact moment.

There are significant pressure points throughout our bodies – each one affecting us differently, with varying amounts of pressure producing varying degrees of sensitivity. Stimulated at different times and by different methods – we as humans almost are all ticking time bombs ourselves. When pushed, we do explode with an outpouring of tears or obscenities depending on the occasion (unless thats just me?) until we let go of said pressure and allow ourselves to feel a cascade of relief wash over us.

And this roundabout metaphor brings us to a recent pressure that finally lifted. I was laid off from my job this week – in a stunning, out of nowhere, kick-you-in-the-ass fashion. My first immediate reaction upon hearing our HR person utter to me that today would be my last at the company?

Relief.

The second? How much a flight to Costa Rica costs.

Third? How disappointed my parents would be. But how utterly excited I was.

This is only part one. Read part two here.

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