Gili Air, Lombok, Inonesia

Indonesia: Nothing like a Trip to the Island ‘Hospital’

 

Gili Air, Lombok, Indonesia
The best place for some solitude.

Of course, when you jump on a plane on a whim to the other side of the world, then you still have to deal with what is going on inside of you. And, no matter how many Balinese massages that I got, those feelings kept arising. My time was very introspective. It was the only month abroad where I repelled away potential new friends. But sometimes, I suppose, that is ok. It is ok to listen to your body and to your soul. My soul desperately wanted to be alone and to process everything that happened, how it happened and what I can do differently next time.

Gili Meno, Lombok, Indonesia
Such a cliche 😉

The day that I decided to turn things around, to start a routine with running, writing and planning for my future, was the first day of my new life. I was so excited to get going and made a list of everything to start doing the next day. Anna and I created charts and set the stage for our futures. I went to bed with less anxiety than my other days (even though all of my days in Indonesia were filled with sun, beaches and swimming so not the worst place for breakup/life change anxiety).

But then, when I woke up, something terrible happened. I couldn’t move. It was like when Gregor Samsa woke up as a giant cockroach one morning in The Metamorphasis and couldn’t figure out how to get out of bed. I awoke on my back, unable to move my arms or legs and my first (clearly hallucinogenic) thought was,

OH fuck. I have turned into a giant insect.

I flopped around on my back, trying not to wake up Anna who was sleeping next to me, and then realized that the pounding in my head had paralyzed my entire body as waves of nausea passed over me.

Do giant cockroaches feel nausea? I pondered as I pried open one eye with all my might to find out my fate. I lifted my head ever so slightly to find that I was still human. I saw both my arms and legs, yet they still wouldn’t move. My head ached as I lifted it so I set it back down on the pillow, squeezing my eye back shut as another wave of nausea hit. My head hurt so bad, my nausea was so bad, and it was all I could do to not shit my pants since my body, for some reason, still couldn’t move.

I’m going to die, I reasoned with myself for several hours of inexplicable trauma before Anna forced me to the island hospital. By that point, still channeling Gregor’s strength for getting out of bed as a cockroach, I had made it to the end of the bed and gotten one leg off before resting for another hour. My head was mushed into a towel at the end of the bed and I was sobbing in pain from my illness. The electricity had gone out at some point in the morning and I was lying in my own sweat for hours without the aid of a fan.

“Joy, you need to go to the doctor,” she said. “This doesn’t seem as it will heal on its own.”

Forcing myself to stand up, I shuffled down the dirt path past our bungalow, past the burning leaves and chickens running around me and blindly followed Anna. At first, I thought I couldn’t see due to the illness but halfway there, I realized that I wasn’t wearing my glasses or contacts.

Gili Air, Lombok, Inonesia
My new home…

The ‘island hospital’ was boiling hot inside as the electricity was still out on the entire island. It consisted of a room with a desk and a few men standing around. They looked very, very young. But again, I couldn’t really see so they were a blur of smiles and poor English as they tried to ask me questions. Anna had already met them to get me some medicine but they all thought it was better if I just came in myself. I had been experiencing extreme diarrhea for about a week and very extreme diarrhea for the past several days. My dehydration level was very high and I hadn’t even attempted to eat in the past 24 hours. I remembered trying to take a sip of water around 12 hours before the hospital visit.

“You are the one who is sick?” the doctor asked as I started crying. It hurt to talk, to stand so he had me lay on the gurney that was by the door. It was a hot, plastic table with a plastic pillow. I was still sweating profusely as lines of sweat began running down the plastic on the pillow. The doctor poked my stomach a few times and took my temperature. He checked my blood pressure,

“Oh, very very low,” he said. “You have low pressure, very low.”

“She needs an IV,” Anna told them. “She is very dehydrated and can’t keep anything down.”

“We give her injection, injection first. Then antibiotic. Then infusion.” The doctor replied.

“No, no, no,” Anna said. “She needs an IV first. She is very dehydrated. You can’t give her antibiotics without doing any tests.”

“Very inflamed,” he replied. “Bad stomach. Big intestines, too big for stomach pain. We give her injection, then antiobiotic, then injection.”

This arguing went on for a while before they finally conceded to giving me an ‘infusion’ first, which turned out to be an IV. They gave me my first ‘injection’ during the first bag of fluids, claiming that it would stop my nausea. I started vomiting profusely by my second bag of fluids and six more times during my third bag of fluids. I was lying on the hot plastic pillow sobbing with vomit dripping down the steps below me. The bag that they had given me had a hole in it and the doctor walked away, seeming angry that I was still vomiting.

A girl ran into the ‘island hospital’, frantic,

“My boyfriend, my boyfriend!” she cried. “He is very injured. You must come. It is an emergency.”

“We can no leave,” one of the men said. “You come here.”

“He cannot move! He is much hurt!” she cried in broken English with a heavy European accent. “He is much, much pain. You come with me!”

“No, no,” the doctor said. “He come here.”

Gili Air, Lombok, Indonesia

After much arguing, the girl managed to get one of the men from the room to go with her. After a while, they came back in. Her boyfriend was slightly limping but didn’t appear to be dying at all.

“What happened?” the doctor asked as they sat in the two chairs about four feet from where I was lying and occasionally vomiting with an IV stuck to my arm.

“A sea urchin!” The girl cried. “Is it poisonous, is he ok?”

Anna had come back by this point and was assessing the situation. There was no electricity on the island, no power or internet to look anything up on Google so after a lot of back and forth from the doctor and the couple over the very expensive medicine, Anna interjected and said,

“You aren’t getting anywhere right now. Go and try to find a way to call your insurance and see what you should do.”

Gili Meno, Lombok, Indonesia
Anna and I during happier days 😉

The arguing stopped and they left. Anna left to find some food and to get out of the sweaty gross clinic that now carried the putrid smell of my vomit. After some time, the couple came back in, purchased the expensive sea urchin medicine and left.

Some time later, an older Danish man calmly walked in.

“My son was hit by a sea urchin,” he said. “Can you remove the spines? There are maybe five or six.”

“Yes, yes,” said the doctor.

Later, the Danish man brought in his son, 19, who sounded jolly and not in pain at all. They examined him and found not 5 but 15 of the spines stuck in his foot. He laughed as they removed them, gave him his medicine and as they sat to pay, I started vomiting again.

“I’m sorry,” I muttered as I puked in a bag right next to them, unable to move with my third bag of IV fluids dripping into my veins. I couldn’t see what they looked like but I kept imagining Steve Urwin and what his super child would’ve looked like if this had happened to them. They ignored my vomiting as they laughed with the doctor and talked the bill down to half the price.

Once everyone was gone, the doctor looked at me in dismay. I was far worse than when I had come in and he seemed disappointed with me every time that I vomited. One of his helpers would pat me on the back, whispering kind words when I vomited and the doctor wouldn’t even bring me a tissue.

“I give you another injection,” he said.

“But your injections aren’t helping,” I said. “I don’t know what they are!”

But I let him give me another one anyways because I didn’t know what else to do. He gave me some medicine, hydration packets and instructed that I go to the hospital on another island the following morning. When the fourth IV bag ran out, I asked,

“Can you take out the IV please?”

“You pay first,” he replied.

“Yes, yes, we will pay,” Anna said, who had come back to get me. “Just take out her IV.”

“No, you pay first then I remove IV,” he said.

“You won’t take out her IV until we pay you?” she asked as I threw up again. We paid, he took out my IV and we very slowly walked back to our bungalow.

Gili T, Lombok, Indonesia
Island life 🙂

The following day, I was still sick but on the mend as I wasn’t throwing up profusely anymore. I had purchased a flight that was departing in two days and I found out that none of the boats were running anymore.

Gili T, Lombok, Indonesia
Were these waves from the earthquakes?!

“There have been many earthquakes,” an Australian girl told me at a café that I was trying to finish a writing job at while also fighting waves of extreme nausea. “They don’t want the tourists to know as they might not come anymore.”

She showed me the map of earthquakes that her local, Balinese friend had texted her. 56 earthquakes in the past seven days!

Gili T, Lombok, IndonesiaTourists usually come to the Gili islands, which were the three islands that Anna and I had been camped at for weeks on end, via fast boats from Bali. The trip usually takes about an hour and a half. Since all of the fast boats had ceased to run the week before, which I didn’t know about, due to the earthquakes, the only option to get to the Bali airport was to take the public ferry from the neighboring island of Lombok or to take a flight from Lombok.

Lombok, Indonesia
Look at that engine! The odometer never even moved!

Since I found all of this out two days before my flight, all of the flights from Lombok were booked (and too expensive) so I had to take the public ferry.

Lombok, Indonesia
To the right is a gaping hole that you can’t see very well 😉
Lombok, Indonesia
Vans just don’t get any better than this!

This consisted of a public boat to Lombok, a two hour ride in a very old van (I sat on a very worn out seat over the motor which became boiling hot within 20 minutes as the engine kept stalling, with holes by my feet, trying to keep my flip flops from falling down the hole where the brake pedal was at) then a ferry ride where we sat on the boat for two hours before it departed, five hours at sea, and then another two hours near the Bali port, waiting for room to dock.

Gili islands, Indonesia
Bye bye island life!

My ticket was supposed to involve a driver on the other side dropping me directly at my hotel several hours away, but things don’t work that way in Bali. I sat in the front seat next to the driver in a van full of other travelers in case I needed to vomit. The young male tattooed driver drove fast and recklessly, which would’ve been to my delight if it meant we would arrive at the hotel sooner. But instead, there was dead stopped traffic every other minute, so he would swerve around slower vehicles, narrowly missing the families passing by on motorbikes and swerve back onto the road while slamming on his brakes in order to not slam into the stopped car in front of us…all while trying to light his cigarette. Several hours later, he stopped in dark alley, opened my door and said,

“This is your stop.”

“No, no, take me to my hotel,” I said, showing him my hotel on my map.

“No, no, one stop,” he said. “You stop here.”

“It is night and this is a dark alley,” I said, getting angry (which you are never ever supposed to do in Asia). “There are no taxis around.”

“NO,” he said. “Only stop.”

We argued as the other travelers looked on. They were all going further north so after getting mad, I just grabbed my backpack out of the back of the van and he sped off. I looked around, trying to figure out what to do when a motorbike drove up.

“Taxi?” he asked.

Kuta, Bali, Indonesia
The best splurge ever.

After bartering my way onto a random motorbike in a random alley, we piled my things onto his bike and rode off into the night. I had to direct him to my hotel while balancing my things and my phone without falling off the bike. Once I checked in, I set my things in my fancy and beautiful $30 splurge of a room and headed off for a massage before making my very first new friend, Wayung. She was a beautiful Balinese hostess who walked up to me as I finally sat down to eat for the first time of the day around 10 pm and said,

“You have the strongest most beautiful arms!”

“Hahahaha,” I said, glancing at my glistening arms from the oils from my massage. “Thank you! It is my sick and starvation diet!”

We laughed and then I taught her how to exercise in the restaurant (literally, showed her YouTube videos and everything) before heading off for bed. The next day, I laughed with more people before heading off to the airport, finally feeling like myself again.

The illness was only at its worst for a few days but really, those toxins needed to come out. The bad energy that I was carrying around and the victim mentality had to go, and it came out both physically as well as emotionally.

Gili islands, Indonesia
Bye bye island life 😦

I love the healing nature of traveling. And traveling altogether. I love even the moments when I am sick, alone and arguing with a young, tattooed Indonesian shuttle driver who leaves me on a dark alley in the middle of nowhere. It sure does beat a cubicle!

Till next year, Indonesia!

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Gili islands, lombok, Indonesia

Indonesia: A time for tears, processing and a lot of sun

Indonesia

While I was trying so hard to make it work in the USA, I finally broke down and went to see a therapist. I went to figure out why I couldn’t stay at home and why I was so miserable.

“This is supposed to be my home,” I told him. “But every day is so, so hard. It doesn’t feel good. It doesn’t feel right.”

“Home is what you make it to be, Joy,” he replied. “Home is whatever you want to see.”

I always wanted to make sure that I wasn’t running away, but really, each time I was running home.

Oh, Hello World.

>>>>>>

I flew to Indonesia on a whim to clear my head, recover from my USA life and to meet my friend Anna.

Anna is a quirky girl. She is tiny, adorable and completely antisocial and social at the same time. She was the only person that I wanted to travel with during this time of disbelief with how quickly my life turned.

We met in Vietnam. A friend of another travel friend, she was, perhaps the only person in my life who offered to come and retrieve me at an airport in a foreign country, and she hadn’t even met me yet. We bonded quickly as she forced me to step in front of a busy Hanoi highway and walk across, with motorcycles, cars, trucks and buses coming straight at us in full force.

“Don’t change your pace, don’t stop walking,” she said as she guided me and my heavy backpack across the bustling highway. There were no crosswalks, no lights to wait for. Rather, you just start walking and watch incredulously as a large truck comes zooming straight for you, only to swerve out of the way last minute in a simple flowing motion. She showed me the best cafes and where to sit on tiny plastic stools to drink cheap beer or gin and people watch. After that trip, I stopped in to see her several more times and we kept in touch on a daily or weekly basis.

So, when I lost my boyfriend, home, and job on the same day, and had just come back from visiting my family, my grief too strong to process on the steps of my best friend’s house in Denver… Anna said,

“Come to me!” as she was recovering from a sudden illness in a Burmese hospital. “Let’s go to Bangladesh or Bhutan! We can meet in Bangkok.”

Since she seemed to only choose places that started with a ‘B’, I scoured my sad little brain for a place that would be good for recovery and planning for the future. Bangladesh just didn’t seem like the place for that.

“Bali?!” I suggested as I sat looking up flights for Europe or Asia for the following days. I had several flights picked out for several different countries before she replied,

“YES! YES! Bali!”

>>>>

As soon as I stepped on the plane bound for Asia and heard the melodious sounds of languages that I couldn’t understand, I felt happier. There is nothing more glorious than being in a room (or plane) full of people and not being able to understand a single word. Sort of like you were gifted a song, a tune for life that is always in the background of your thoughts but never on the forefront of your mind.

Ubud, Bali
Free breakfast in the garden!

Indonesia is the perfect place to recover from a breakup and a bad job. With bountiful amounts of healthy restaurants and cheap oil massages, it almost feels fake. Then, you hit up the smaller islands where the locals all want to know your name and hang out, juice shakes run rampant and the sun is hot, beaches not full at all… why would you go anywhere else?

Every time I felt sad or mad during that first week when I arrived in Ubud, I walked downstairs into the beautiful Balinese garden of our guesthouse and got a massage or a scrub. In fact, I could get a mani/pedi and 60-minute Balinese massage for under $13.

I ran into my friend Kasia, a beautiful girl from Poland with an even more beautiful spirit. We had nearly died together in a Thai flood back in 2011, and I have always considered her a lifelong friend even though we are always on different sides of the world.

Gili Air, LombokShe was traveling with her boyfriend, David, whom I met for the first time. They are perhaps the most wonderful couple – she is completely and unashamedly herself as is he and they just work. If or when I choose to date again, I hope to find someone that fits with me as well as they fit with each other.

Gili Islands, Lombok, Indonesia
Ahhhhh!

After sadly saying goodbye to Kasia and David, Anna and I made our way to the islands in order to continue on our quest for relaxation, happiness and healing. Anna, who had been sick for weeks since landing in the Burmese hospital, was cured on our first night in Gili Air by our guesthouse host using reflexology and massage. I was healing simply by time, energy clearing and the joy of planning for my international future again.

Gili islands, lombok, IndonesiaWith the sun shining brightly every day and smiling locals pronouncing their love, it was the only place that I wanted to be and the best place to gather my energy again. It gave me the structure that I needed to plan out my next move. And boy, is it going to be a good one 😉

>>>>

 

Bali, Indonesia
The exact spot of this talk.

The beard and I had that final talk, that last break from what was already over and broken, while I was hiking through a Balinese jungle. When I hung up, the anger was still there, with layers of fear and disappointment hidden beneath it. Perhaps, those feelings will hang with me for a while. I don’t alter my life very often for another person and when I do, it’s because I truly believe that they will hold a special place in it. But this dude turned out to be a huge disappointment and I will continue to learn from these heartbreaking moments. I spent more time looking at the future through his eyes rather than my own. Someday, if someone really wants to come in, then they will choose to look through my eyes for once and see me for exactly who I am.

“Yeah, sorry, I’m hiking through a Balinese jungle right now,” I told him during our last phone call, when the sounds of the birds and parrots squawking through the phone became too loud.

Bali, Indonesia
Goddamn it feels good to be back.

“Wait, what??” he said. “Where are you?! You are in Bali??”

“Yes, yes,” I said.

“What will you do next?” he asked.

“Oh, I don’t know, probably pop on over to Europe to visit some friends, maybe Spain, France. Maybe hiking through Slovenia, then maybe…”

“Who are you?!” he asked.

Exactly.

I just followed my heart back home.

Colorado

USA: The worst day of them all.

Colorado, USA
Pondering my next move last fall…

Intuition is a tricky beast. If you are super aware of yours, like I am, then you pretty much always know when you are following it and when you aren’t. The universe also throws in little clues. When I’m on the right path, then I have extraordinary good luck – like walking into a room full of bacon and beards every single day. But, when I’m on the wrong path, even when I know it is the wrong path, the universe really gives me a shove.

Eye surgery, Denver, CO
Getting that possibly cancerous eye mole removed..

Not much has gone my way since choosing to stay in the USA. In a single (very cold) week, I lost heat and water in the house that I was housesitting and ran over and killed a dog while working 12 hours a day. Another day, I had a migraine that caused me to vomit so I went to the clinic. To fix the headache and my vomiting-induced dehydration, they gave me an IV. The nurse missed capping the catheter and blood spurted out all over my clothes, soaking my expensive puffy jacket in the process. I walked into Safeway to get my prescription filled looking like a murder victim.

Other ways the universe was trying to tell me something:

Oh you know, just another day!

I sliced open my hand causing it to bleed for three days, a ketchup bottle exploded on me at a restaurant in Vail, I injured my knee, threw out my neck for a week, severely hurt or broke a bone in my foot, sprained my finger, and then a dentist ruined my mouth. I went in for a routine checkup, ended up getting a filling for a receding gum line and wound up with the dentist performing a ‘routine filling treatment’ by realigning my bite. He shaved my teeth, which I later found out isn’t so ‘routine’ but is more ‘controversial’ and I still can’t close my mouth together, teeth in constant pain and knocking into one another.

When something goes wrong every single day, then you know the universe is shouting,

“GO…GO…GO!!!!”

Colorado, USA
Every single day felt like this ledge…

But, I continued to ignore it, even after I’d saved up some money, paid off all my bills and dreamt of running away. I just couldn’t go until one day, I finally cracked.

“I’m going to have to leave soon,” I told my bearded, bacon-loving boyfriend after some sort of stupid work stress. “I’m just not happy here.”

A few days later, he drove out to where I was staying and said,

“I want to come with you.”

Unchartered territory. I froze, unable to let my excitement out for fear that it wasn’t real. Finally! A hot rugged mountain man that I had been dating for many months that wanted to drop his real life and pave a new path with me…

Colorado
Oh, the early days of van life…

Our new path turned into him buying a campervan. We planned on living in it together so he could fulfill his dreams of playing music and I could write to my heart’s content. But, several weeks later, after the initial excitement wore off, I struggled with my role in the endeavor – Groupie? Booking agent? Trying to find enough internet in the van to continue teaching and my writing job while working on a book?

Something didn’t feel right or fit with my internal desire to go overseas again but I ignored my gut instinct because I was so excited to see where this relationship would go.

With our departure date several months away from when we decided to embark on this path together, over time, his “I can’t find anything wrong with you” turned into “why are you wearing a puffy jacket inside” and “I don’t like how you breathe.” Then, there was the fateful fight where my bearded sweetheart turned into a huge bearded dick, revealing everything that I already knew deep down but didn’t want to hear:

He wasn’t ready for me.

Whatever torment that someone else had caused him or whatever he was holding back during our trip planning came out in one fateful blow. As I listened to him criticize how often I laughed, I realized that his issues may have nothing to do with me, rather he has some deeper wounds that need to heal before he will properly let anyone in. Or, maybe he just really didn’t like me. But, I sat there, tears streaming down my face, trying to defend my laugh, my cooking, myself, while listening to everything that annoyed him about me and everything that I couldn’t do right.

The next morning, I packed up and moved on out of his house – Denver-bound to pack for a work trip to Seattle. My job had grown even more intolerable then it had started. My caring give-a-shit level had dropped to mediocre at best as my boss ran the company in a bipolar gossipy drunk kind of way. It was the worst office environment that I had ever worked in as several of the nine employees expected they were getting fired on a weekly basis. Whenever I spent time in the office, I thought I was suffering from a combination of tourrettes and a stroke. I would check my face in the bathroom mirror every 30 minutes to see if my face was, indeed, drooping on one side.

After spending approximately 28 hours in Seattle for the work trip, I arrived back in Denver around 2:30 am. Around 9:00 am, I received a text from my boss:

“We need to talk.”

I checked my work email and realized that it had been shut off. I made some coffee and called my boss,

“I’m so saaaaad,” she whined.

“Why are you sad?” I asked.

“We have to let you go,” she replied.

Fired.

Later that day, after leaving my home office with FedEx, I got a call from my beard.

“I don’t want to live in a van with you,” he said, which was a mutually reciprocated feeling at the moment but it still hurt to hear it.

I sat on the steps of a closed Montessori school crying hysterically when I finally realized what was happening. Fired and dumped on the same day? By a job I hated and a dude that suddenly seemed to hate me?

Siesta Key, Florida
My mom flew me right on out of my agony for a week.

The universe was giving me the ultimate blow – ripping out the only two things that were still keeping me around. Without the beard and the (pitiful amount of) money from my main job, I realized I would’ve left a long time before. I sadly said goodbye to the beard, sad that it was over but more sad that I believed it would work out. He is a wonderful man and I loved him, even though I never had the courage to say it out loud. But, sometimes in life, you just have to let someone go, especially when they aren’t letting you in (or pushing you away in a really mean and angry way).

After much grief over the past eight months, which were a constant struggle for me to find my place in the wrong place – which I knew the entire time, while dreaming of building a future with this dude and being whisked away into the sunset in our (his) Dodge ProMaster van, I said my goodbye. The goodbye the universe was shouting at me to say…

USA
🙂

“Goodbye USA,” I said as I stepped on a plane with a one-way international flight and …

 

** Thanks Mom and my family for flying me out to their Florida vacation and taking care of me the day after all of this happened (with margaritas and standup paddleboards). I have the best family in the world and love them very much.

USA: When in Doubt, Leave Town… Part 3 (The End!)

paria canyon, utah
Fueling for the day!

Waking up exhausted and sore on the third day of our backpacking trip through Buckskin Gulch and Paria Canyon, I calculated our mileage – 32.1 miles in the first two days, which was not easy as nearly all of it was hiking through slippery mud, pools of water and the river.Paria canyon, arizona

Luckily, Day 3 started out with another mushroom breakfast for all of us. As we trekked out of camp, my sore feet and legs immediately felt the burn as we slogged through the mud, muck and river. The sun was shining bright and we were no longer in a tight canyon. Rather, the walls opened up and we could feel the warm rays on us for most of the day. The landscape changed vastly and we soon felt the effects of our breakfast kicking in.

Vermillion Cliffs Wilderness As I walked along, the colors grew brighter and the desert starting to speak to me. Now, these mushrooms are so mild that I can go about a normal day on them so this transformation with my soul wasn’t due to the mere effect of microdosing. Instead it was the magic of the outdoors…the isolation and the wonderment of the towering canyon around us as it opened up into towering cliffs and mountains engulfing the tiny river bed that was snaking its way through the wilderness.

“Slow down,” the desert said. “Listen to the universe.”

I slowed down. I stopped and rubbed mud all over my body again. Then, I listened to the universe.

“You know what you need to do,” the universe said as the mud hardened quickly from the sun’s beautify beams of light. “Go back to being you.”

Buckskin Gulch, Paria CanyonI got back into the river, splashing icy cold water all over my muddy arms and face and looked up to the sky with glee,

“Hehehehe,” I giggled happily as I began to feel at peace with myself, with the outdoors, with everything that I have been hating doing and with what I needed to do next.

>>>

Paria River Canyon -Vermillion Cliffs WildernessSoon, we started crossing the river only every 10 minutes rather than with every other step. The trails grew higher and snaked their way across flat rocks and you could choose your own adventure.

Izaac started going higher and higher before he finally yelled,

“Guys! Come see what I found!”

Paria River Canyon -Vermillion Cliffs WildernessHigh on one of the cliffs, he had spotted the most amazing panel of petroglyphs that I had ever seen. He stood there staring in awe alongside Mary as Alex and I caught up to them. We dropped our packs and climbed up to where they were standing. The panels told a story that we could not understand as I stood staring at the alien figures, animals and arrowheads.

Paria River Canyon -Vermillion Cliffs WildernessWe trekked on in a blissful state and ate a mushroom lunch. Eventually, as all of the drugs wore off, we began climbing higher and higher and found ourselves on a trail very far from the river. It rose drastically and fell just as drastically. There was a spot where we had to slide in front of a rock, over a cliff of tumbling rocks to stay on the trail. Then, we began a steep descent.

….Back in 2013, I got myself caught up in competitive racing up and down 14’ers. This means that I would compete for time on mountains that were 14,000 feet and higher. Now, the stupidity of this is self-explanatory but what’s even more dumb is that I wasn’t competing with anyone other than myself.

One fateful day, halfway down a very steep and way too fast run down the side of the mountain, I wiped out. Hard. The couple that witnessed the accident thought that I broke both my knee and my neck at the same time. However, as I stood up, dazed and in pain, I realized that neither of the two were broken and that I could still walk.

 “I’m fine, I’m fine,” I reassured the horrified couple as I walked away, fully aware of the fact that I couldn’t move any of my fingers or my wrists. I had to walk 4 more miles to my car and then drive down a steep, rough rode with two sprained wrists and several broken fingers. Ever since then, I have been terrified of downhills, both when I am trail running and hiking… 

Paria River Canyon -Vermillion Cliffs WildernessSo, as we hiked down a very steep grade with the Paria river snaking far below us, I gingerly placed my foot as carefully as I could on the slippery dirt slope. But, alas, the carefulness was likely my demise, as with one single step, my foot caught the downwind of several small pebbles and went flying. As I started falling, I threw my hands back, trekking poles and all, and grabbed onto something to break my fall.

“Oooooooooooooowwwwww,” I cried as I realized my hand was wrapped around a cactus. I sat up and examined my hand. There were at least 10 clumps of thousands of tiny little needles engulfed in my right hand with several larger spikes sticking out of it. I couldn’t touch any part of my hand without cactus needles going further into it.

“Oh my! Are you ok?” My dear friend Mary asked as her and Alex approached me.

I wiped tears off my face, held out my hand and said,

“Can you take my picture?” as if documenting my pain would make it better.

Paria River Canyon -Vermillion Cliffs WildernessMary got out tweezers and started tweezing away as I flinched in pain. After what seemed like an eternity but really probably 20 minutes, we gave up, stood up and continued down the slope. I brushed my hand, breaking all of the remaining thousands of tiny miniscule needles into my hand so that I could continue down.

Paria River Canyon -Vermillion Cliffs WildernessEventually, as the sun was setting, we found somewhere high on the mountainside that was flat enough to camp. Exhausted, we set up camp, made dinner and relaxed as the beauty of the night settled in.

Paria River Canyon -Vermillion Cliffs WildernessOur last day was mushroom free yet the beauty and the magic of the desert continued to work its spell on Alex and I. We lingered back, walking as slowly as we could and breaking as often as possible as neither of us wanted the trip to end. I didn’t want to reenter the real world nor did I want to deal with the repercussions of ignoring what the universe was telling me since I had to go back to all three of my jobs for at least a few more months.

Paria River Canyon -Vermillion Cliffs WildernessYet, eventually, even the slowest walker would have to face the end of the road. Approximately 53 miles later, we finished our four-day trek through the Paria Canyon – Vermillion Cliff Wilderness.

>>>>

When I got back, feeling happy and free, I no longer felt needy or sad, and I no longer let trivial things get me so down or mad. Once your balance is restored, then you can just be.

I drove straight out of the desert (with what felt like a broken foot and cactus needles embedded all throughout my right hand) and back into the arms of my big crush. As we hugged, I could feel the change, the change within, where I wasn’t looking at him to make me happy but instead I was finally ready to just share my joy instead.

Paria River Canyon -Vermillion Cliffs WildernessUnfortunately, when you’ve had a life revelation but can’t yet change anything right away, the joy starts to dissipate and the apathy comes back. After a few weeks, I started feeling like I was dying on the inside, my spirit destroyed by the stresses of the everyday life that I wasn’t sure why I was still doing. With the desert still lingering in my mind, I knew what I had to do, no more excuses, no more waiting around.

It wasn’t the man, rather it was me. My freedom, myself. And I knew how to get it. He can join my path or hell, we can even pave a new path together, or I can walk alone. But I got to get moving again. I immediately called him,

“I have to be honest with you,” I said. “I am miserable. I have had the hardest and worst past months of my life. I’m going to have to move on now. I’m going to have to leave.”

And with that, I hung up the phone and knew exactly what I was going to do next. Till next time 😉

 

 

USA: When in doubt, leave town….Part Two

Buckskin Gulch, Paria Canyon
Just sharing some jerky at the campsite 😉

I woke up sore from the first day of trekking through Buckskin Gulch. Walking nearly 17 miles throughout the day, with a majority of it being through water and mud, was more taxing then my cocky hiking mind was prepared for. Coming from the cold canyon slog and waking up inside the tall, looming walls, I wondered if the entire hike would be this way – cold, dark, hard and adventurous. Yet, day two took a surprising turn very early on:

Buckskin Gulch, Paria Canyon
LIGHT!!

“Would you like to have a mushroom breakfast?” asked Alex, the Guatemalan/American with an infectious smile. A professional photographer, he had quit his life to move to the desert and live in a yurt. He was currently building a house on his desert property and decided to take a break to go on this much needed trip. As the other two in our group seemed to be in a rush for most of the trip, Alex and I bonded over our lax and easygoing trekking style. I usually hike quite fast too, but after leaving the stresses of my life behind me, all I wanted to do was mozy on through this canyon and enjoy every free second that I had.

Buckskin Gulch, Paria Canyon
Slogging through the mud and water!

“Hmmmmm,” I said. “I don’t know.” But then took one anyways. The microdose was so small that I wasn’t going to trip out and the capsule was packed full of ginger and turmeric, making it a healthy choice. Microdosing psilocybin can be a vehicle for self-awareness. In fact, they are currently being used around the world as treatments for anxiety, depression and cultivating a more meaningful insight on life. I really wanted to try anything that would reframe my mindset back to my happy place – being free and exploring, rather than worrying about how to analyze a spreadsheet for something that I could care less about.

Buckskin Gulch, Paria Canyon
Alex is heading into the light!

We packed up and trudged out of camp through the slick, green and brown shiny mud that permeated every step. As we walked along, I realized that day two would bring an entirely new set of challenges… We hiked along the river, crossing it every ten steps. I placed my foot in a slippery green mud patch…and it was quickly swallowed by the puddle. All the way up my leg!

“AUUUUUUGHHHH,” I yelled. “Quicksand!” I yanked my leg out and lurched forward, bracing myself on my handy dandy Helinox trekking poles. I quickly pressed on a few more steps to get back into the slick and muddy river so that I could wash off my muddy leg.

Buckskin Gulch, Paria Canyon
SUNSHINE!!!

Alex and I saw our first ray of sunshine right as the mushrooms began to kick in. After being in a cold, dark canyon for the past 28 hours, we started hurrying through the dark turns and stopping whenever we could see the bright rays of the sunlight striking the river and canyon walls. The walls grew brighter and more profound with each step.

“A shark!” I yelled, pointing to one particular wall as the shark swam into an elephant whose trunk was hugging the nose of an Indian!

“Look at that face!” exclaimed Alex as he pointed to another wall.

Buckskin Gulch, Paria Canyon
The magical green/brown sludge!

Oh this became magical, I thought as all of the hardships of the day before dissipated into pockets of sunshine. It was then that we noticed the green sludge. The beautiful, glistening green mud. The color of mint, it shimmered under the sunlight.

We rounded another long bend into the darkness, but with each long bend of cold, dark canyon walls brought another bend full of warmth and sunshine. Finally, we could resist no more. We reached down and picked up the glistening green slime mud and began rubbing it all over our faces.

Buckskin Gulch, Paria Canyon
Oh joy, oh happy day!

“OOOohhhhhhhhhhh,” I said. “We have found the fountain of youth!” as I continued to slather it all over my face.

“This feels sooooo good,” Alex said as we made sure that our faces were fully covered and continued on with our trek.

Buckskin Gulch, Paria Canyon
The fountain of youth 😉

We gave it time to settle before finding that perfect bend filled with sunshine where we dropped our packs and bounded into the water with glee. Splashing the icy water on my mud ridden face mask felt nothing less than full and utter pleasure. Once the mud was cleared away, my face felt softer than the first time I visited the Jjimjilbang. It felt fresh and full and ….

Buckskin Gulch, Paria Canyon
Pure joy.

I had found my joy. I couldn’t tell if it was the microdosing or just the utter bliss of seeing sunshine after a completely dark day and being free to run and laugh and play. Working 10-14 hour days was long forgotten and I realized that it wasn’t everything that I had been doing that was getting me so down, but rather, the lack of time that I had to do what I loved – explore and feel free. Here I was, in the wilderness, stomping around through mud and muck with my new friend Alex. I was back to traveling, adventuring, and meeting new folks who got me, understood me.

Buckskin Gulch, Paria Canyon This wasn’t just any ole trip for me. This reopened my eyes to what I was missing. Granted, I was doing the things that were bringing me down for a reason. When you have $18 in your bank account (I had more money when I was 8) then you set goals and get yourself out of it. By remaining homeless for a few months and continuing to work three jobs, I was able to get myself out of the financial hole that I had been in…within two months, I had paid off my credit card, stacked up my savings and paid all of my taxes. It wasn’t easy, nor was it much fun but part of my desert awakening was to realize that it was all necessary for me to do and to do as quickly as possible.

But, goddamn. In the desert, nothing really mattered. None of that shit mattered. I felt alive again for the first time in a while.

>>>>

Buckskin Gulch, Paria Canyon
Sunshine…

After our mud masks, Alex and I eventually found the rest of our group – Izaac and Mary and the four of us hiked together for a while admiring the contrasts of the towering canyon walls. We walked through and along the winding river as every other bend continued to bring rays of sunshine along with it.

Buckskin Gulch, Paria Canyon
I mean, who wouldn’t want this?!

Alex and I eventually got greedy. The fountain of youth, aka bright green, slimy sludge, seemed to beckon us around every bend. We fell behind and then fell prey to the call of the mud. We gleefully smeared mud all over our faces again and kept on hiking. After removing it for the second time, which didn’t feel as glorious, we stopped to break for a coffee.

“There’s a good spot,” Alex pointed as we climbed out of the river and set our packs down on the hard sandstone riverbank leaning against a towering canyon wall.

As we sat on the hard sand bank, on the sandstone steps that led us out of the wind and into a teeny tiny cul-de-sac, to boil the water for our coffee, I noticed the ‘hard steps’ were starting to get wet. After a few more minutes, the hard steps that we were sitting on began to break down and water began forming under us!

We jumped up and moved closer to the river, out of our decaying cul-de-sac as the entire area started waving and rippling, like cement during a severe earthquake. We were making coffee on some type of hardened quicksand!

Buckskin Gulch, Paria Canyon The day turned long as the very mild psychedelic effects wore off and the pain in my feet became evident. I wondered with each step if I had perhaps broken a small bone in my foot or damaged a ligament from getting it stuck in between two rocks the day before. Each step turned into a severe twinge of pain and I began balancing on my trekking poles and silently cursing the other two for being so far ahead of us. We couldn’t stop, camp and enjoy the rest of the day until we found them.

We trudged through the muddy bends, sliding through mud and wading through the river.

I don’t want to do this hike fast, I thought. I want to slow down, for once, and enjoy the views while setting up camp early.  

Buckskin Gulch, Paria Canyon
I was probably trying not to cry in pain here! haha.

After what seemed like an eternity after we wanted to stop and camp, we finally found the rest of the crew. Several miles later, we decided on a place to camp for the night. 15.2 miles was a lot harder through the mud, green slime and river wading then I thought it would be. I couldn’t bear another step by the time we set up camp and sat down exhausted to enjoy the full moon, good company with my crew and gluten-free mac n cheese to get ready for another day….

More to come from Day 3!

 

 

USA: When it doubt, leave town.

Paria Canyon, Utah
On the way to the desert!

When I realized just how miserable I was working 12 hour days to live the USA lifestyle that I didn’t really care to live, I did what I always do… I skipped on out of town in order to clear my head. But this time, it was a pre-planned week of vacation – a four day 52-mile backpacking adventure through the world’s longest slot canyon.

As I drove out towards the desert, I began to feel an immense weight lifting off my shoulders. All of the pressures of all my jobs and having no money began to dissipate as I sang,

“And I said, Whooooo hooooo”

“And she said, Whooooo hooooo”

As I yodeled along with the song, I realized there was something that I needed to do before this trip could start. The song was written by the guy that I’m dating and I had one nagging thought that needed resolved before I ran free in the desert. I was nearing the turnoff for his house and suddenly swerved my car in his direction.

He was standing in his driveway sanding down a tree knot to make into a bowl. I walked up to him and inhaled the smell of sweat and woodchips as his beard glistened in the sunlight. I ran my hands along the smooth surface of the sanded tree knot and nearly bailed out, not wanting to have to make this apology. But finally, some time later, the time was right. I sat down with him outside,

“I’m sorry that I have been oozing neediness,” I said. “It just isn’t me and I’ve realized that I’m not happy with this ‘USA’ life that I have been living for the past several months.”

As I said it, I realized that it wasn’t necessarily a bad thing to want to be around the person that makes you laugh the most, but it isn’t the best thing if they are the only thing making you happy either. It wasn’t a breakup nor was it meant to solidify our relationship. Rather, I knew that I needed to apologize to clear my head and energy in order to really figure out what I needed to do next. So, I continued on my journey the next morning to the desert. I mentally let him go because I knew the most important thing was to find myself again and to be happy first and foremost.

But, also, I really hoped he would be there when I got back.

>>>>

The Desert.

Buckskin Gulch, Paria Canyon
At the Wire Pass trailhead

It started out cold. There were only four of us and we had woken up at our campsite to frozen tent poles and icicles on the tent. We were about to embark on a 50+ mile backpacking trip through the Paria River Canyon, which runs through Northern Arizona and Southern Utah.

Right before leaving on the trip, we shuttled our cars and stopped at the ranger station to find out about the water levels inside Buckskin Gulch, one of the country’s longest and deepest slot canyons. There were rumors that it was neck deep in places and that we may have to swim through the icy cold pools of water throughout the trek.

Wire Pass, Buckskin Gulch, Paria Canyon
In the beginning…

“Should we bring wetsuits?” we asked nearly everyone, from rangers to random trekking companies that we called. But no one had any clue about the water levels inside as it is so rarely trekked. In fact, there are only 20 permits allowed per day throughout the entire route. We ended up scavenging around town for wetsuits and decided to make the call at the trailhead, since it had rained heavily within the past few days.

As we drove past the trailhead to the Utah/Arizona border campsite, we saw a few state troopers and rescue patrol standing around. We pulled up to them,

“How are the water levels inside the canyon?” we asked. “We are going through it tomorrow.”

The police officer shrugged.

“Who knows,” he said. “We did a rescue on a family the other day and it was neck deep in some places.”

The rescue patrol chimed in,

“You will want to start really early! It is not an easy day before you get to the first places to camp.”

So, we decided to bring the wetsuits and start earlier than planned. We were planning on a 10-12 mile day but hadn’t factored in the time that it would take to sludge through slimy mud, pools of water, log jams and climbing over boulder dams.

Buckskin Gulch, Wire Pass
Squeezing through!

The next morning, still frozen from a very cold night’s sleep, we started the journey in layers of puffy jackets, wool hats, and gloves. We started into the dark canyon, saying goodbye to the early morning rays of sunlight with each step.

Inside was a cold, dark and narrow world of cascading walls of rock on either side of us. We hiked along, single file as the ground turned to sludge and the air grew cold. Eventually, we came to pools of water and suited up. It was a struggle to get my super tight and heavy wetsuit on, but the warmth of having a 5mm wetsuit (made to withstand icy cold water) instantly grew in worth as I remained less than shivering for the rest of the day.

Each step through the narrow canyon required caution. As I walked through the cold, murky water, I never knew what to expect or what my foot would hit. At one point, my foot got stuck between two rocks under water and twisted. I bit my lip in pain, pulled it out, and trudged along.

We passed a group of cold, shivering boy scouts armed only in basketball shorts and running shoes. Their miserable expressions made me love my wetsuit even more. Each step that I took was a slide in the mud or a careful step between rocks as the freezing water increased and the walls narrowed.

Buckskin Gulch, Wire Pass
Buckskin Gulch

At first, the freezing pools were waist-deep and then chest deep and then, at one point, I couldn’t touch the bottom for a few (swimming) steps. Each step was floundering around for the muddy, sandy and rocky ground that seemed to have vanished.  We arrived at a log jam. A twisted pile of logs, sticks and branches that required some technique to get around, especially since we were all wearing our big backpacks full of camping gear and food. I waited patiently in knee deep soupy oatmeal water for my turn to hoist myself, my poles and my backpack over and through the tall log jam while trying to contemplate how to land in the water on the other side.

After a while, we hit a boulder dam. A series of enormous boulders blocking the path. I watched as the boy scouts all scoured the area, trying to figure out a way around it. Mary, the tiny badass firefighting Korean friend that has accompanied me on many trips (see Peru), was standing on the highest rock, peering down…indicating that it was a long, steep drop on the other side.

“We have rope,” offered the boy scout’s leader who seemed neither equipped to do this hike himself nor with a team of poor teenagers who looked miserable, cold and exhausted with not enough clothing, food or water on them. Mary ignored them and continued to peer over the ledge as her boyfriend Izaac disappeared down a hole. I watched as he navigated his way through the hole to see where it came out.

“Joy, Mary!” he yelled. “Let’s go this way.”

Buckskin Gulch, Wire pass, Paria canyon
Pre-wet suits!

He disappeared to check out the exit route from under the rocks as we began to prep our backpacks for descent. I started pushing our large backpacks through the tiny opening as he caught them and set them aside. Then, we began lowering ourselves through the hole and underneath the pile of boulders. I put my pack on and tried to crab crawl underneath the rocks, which was really hard with such limited space and a large pack.

The boy scouts likely followed our path but we slogged on as soon as our group made it through as we had been traveling thru this dark, cold, muddy canyon all day and desperately wanted to find the confluence. We needed to rest our aching feet, fill up on water, and get out of our wetsuits.

Paria Canyon, Utah
Finally! Camping 🙂

The murky water began turning clear in spots and I knew we were close. Mary and I rounded a corner and saw the river. Finally! I could barely lift my legs another step as we searched for a campsite. Exhausted and strangely sore in weird places from fighting mud and water all day for 16.9 (according to my GPS) miles, we set up camp, ate dinner and all passed out by 8 pm.

I wouldn’t say that I found my joy during Day 1 of this hike, but I certainly forgot that I was looking for it through the perils of the day! However, by Day 2, when we saw that first glimmer of sunshine through the canyon walls….

More from hiking Paria Canyon… (and finding my joy again!)

The USA: It was the worst of times

Traveling brings out a side of vulnerability that you will never experience until you do it. This doesn’t mean ‘vacationing’ but full on traveling. The type of vulnerability that comes along with walking into a tiny foreign restaurant alone, staring at a language of symbols and no one to help you out. It comes in the form of trying to act out ‘roasted chicken’ to a chicken stand while an entire street of people laugh at you. It also comes from crying on a train when lost only to have an old woman come to your rescue.

Ohrid, MacedoniaTraveling vulnerability comes in many forms, and you never know how you will feel and how you will react to any situation. You may find yourself laughing off a vulnerable moment one day and crying over a similar situation the next day. It brings many different emotions that hit you on all levels. Even though it is exhausting, you eventually get used to this kind of vulnerability. It makes you stronger, and it helps you grow.

Yet, staying home is actually a much, much harder thing to do. I arrived in the USA for a quick visit back in September. I planned to see my family and friends, hike a few mountains and book it on out of here. But, something happened. By October, when I was supposed to continue on continuing in Asia, I didn’t want to go. And I had no idea why. There was no refund for it, no explanation for the feeling, even a friendship lost apparently because of the decision but I simply couldn’t get on the plane. Five minutes before I was supposed to leave for my flight, I hadn’t even packed yet. Instead, I just sat, staring catatonically at the wall.

Yet, being home is a beast. There is no ‘home’ but rather a state full of mountains and a few friends scattered around. I felt as though no one understood me and latched onto the only person who did until I scared him off in a very uncharacteristic display of neediness. It wasn’t until that moment, that very moment of trying to hold onto someone so tight, only to realize what I was trying to do. I wasn’t being vulnerable anymore…I was trying to hold onto him so I wouldn’t have to face what was really going on with myself.

I just wasn’t happy.

I don’t know if it is the stress of working three jobs, 12 hours a day in order to get myself out of the financial burden that I found myself in only after staying in the expensive USA. Or if it came from working only 15-20 hours a week for most of the past 27 traveling months to working over 60 hours a week.

I don’t know if it was that or the fact that I have been ‘homeless’ the entire time that I have been here. Or the fact that I was wandering so much before, that I have been pretty much homeless since June 2015, give or take a few months. It could also be from the fact that I haven’t had time or the desire to write in the entire seven months that I have been back or the fact that I don’t have time to run or workout very often anymore either.

It could be because each week is progressively getting worse and worse. I thought I hit bottom when I had a mere $18 in my bank account in January, no savings left and a credit card full of debt from being in the USA. But then, each week continued to bring new challenges and hardships.

It wasn’t until the week that I was housesitting in Denver that I really hit a new low. I had all three jobs to work all week, 12 hours a day with no time to spare. The furnace in this big, old and beautiful house broke on the coldest day. The next day, the basement flooded from a broken water heater. The furnace broke yet again and I had no water or heat. I left to shower at a friend’s house and hit and killed a dog on my way back. And so on and so on.

Perhaps over time, it is the fact of not knowing where you will sleep each night while trying to juggle all your new jobs and bills and shit. Or that you find yourself looking at your friends as a place to stay rather than to just hang out. Over time, the stress builds and builds, internally before you finally just can’t take it anymore.

One day, while juggling a heavy bag full of toiletries, two work computers, a suitcase, a purse and another large bag while walking to my car on a windy day to move yet again, a strong gust of wind blew my guitar off my back.

Thud. I heard it hit the ground. I couldn’t even feel that it wasn’t on my back because I was also wearing a backpack, three of my jackets, and a grocery bag around my right arm. I was turning into a bona fide homeless person (with three jobs and a car). Still in my pajama pants that I had been wearing for days, the same hat to cover up my ratty hair. I couldn’t remember the last time I showered. I made a mental note to shower as I scooped up my new guitar, hoping it hadn’t cracked. Right at that moment, I felt a sharp pain in my stomach.

I started crying when the pain moved to my chest and I dropped another bag. I finally made it to my car, which was parked on the street a few blocks away and threw my stuff inside. I sobbed as I drove to another good friend’s house to stay the night. I was sure I had busted one of my stitches as I could feel the bandaids soaking in blood. That was another breaking point, wondering if I had broken the six stitches scattered around my body while upheaving all of my shit yet again, day after day.

But the real kicker was realizing that I had been emotionally latching onto one of the only people still making me laugh. But realizing that it wasn’t him that I needed, but myself. I needed myself back. This isn’t the life I want to be living. No one else can meet your needs if you aren’t meeting them yourself. I don’t know what went wrong and how I lost myself so incredibly much this time.

Du Gia, Vietnam

Hanoi: Part Two: The Mountains are Calling

I would like to say that I gave living in Hanoi a real shot. I would also like to say that I gave dating someone exclusively a real shot. For the first time, in a long time, I had the chance to try something with someone that I really wanted to date. In the past, it was either a traveling relationship, brief and fun but bound for failure, or one of the many times where one person felt more strongly than the other and wasn’t meant to be anything more than a friendship in the end.

This lad was different. We met by accident, as I had reactivated my Tinder account only to show a friend how fun it can be (while we were drunk and bored at 3 am). I reinstalled Tinder on my phone and handed it over to her. After about 20 minutes, I realized she was just mindlessly swiping ‘left’ to everyone she saw.

“No, no,” I said. “It doesn’t work like that.” She stared at me blankly and kept swiping left until I looked over and saw a dreamy bearded lad. I grabbed my phone back and read his profile…into books, running and music.

“This is how it is done,” I said to my friend as I swiped right.

I decided to meet this bearded lad even though I was at the height of my travel weariness, completely antisocial and not feeling like myself at all. This was also the point where I was randomly crying on the streets of Hanoi… (See Blog: Traveling Through Love, Loss and Knowing when to Stop). But why not try and have some fun?

He was adorable…bearded, tattooed and my exact physical type. He immediately had a calming presence on my unsettled mind. We clicked in a way that felt easy and right in a long-term kind of way. I was debating my next move as I had to leave Vietnam because my visa expired. Because of this, I wasn’t sure if or when we would see each other again but sometimes, you don’t know if people come into your life for a reason, a season, or to stay.

>>>>>>>

However, I decided to come back to Vietnam with a new visa a few weeks later. I knew that I would stay wherever I dropped my bags out of pure travel weariness, and I needed to get a job. I went to Hanoi because I wanted to see this lad, not really intending on making it my final destination. I stayed at his place for a week while looking for jobs (in both Saigon and Hanoi). When he left for a visa run, I packed my bags and headed to a hostel. My instincts were screaming to leave smoggy, chaotic Hanoi and continue onto Hoi An, my calm spot in Vietnam, while I tried to get an online teaching job. An oasis of amazing food, ocean and rice paddies. Hoi An then Saigon and then move on.

Tay Ho, Hanoi, Vietnam.
My street in Tay Ho! I did love my alley!

But I ignored the feeling, the instinct, and decided to give Hanoi a shot. Perhaps I would enjoy the bustling polluted city over time, I thought.

I got an apartment. I accepted jobs, quit jobs and got more jobs. I consistently had a new job offer or interview or training. I trained for a job and quit. I started a job and quit. I got offered another job and kept putting off accepting it until the absolute deadline. My writing job hadn’t paid me in months and my financial situation had grown bleak.

There was this growing discontent the entire time. An inward panicky feeling that had started at some point in my travels in March and had grown intolerable weeks later when I wound up in Hanoi. I couldn’t find an outlet in this smoggy city, besides this lad and job hunting. I wasn’t trying to make new friends and I couldn’t make myself exercise. You can barely walk down the streets of Hanoi, much less run on them. The city was too hectic for my mind. I couldn’t escape my own thoughts, but didn’t have the space to listen to them either.

Tay Ho, Hanoi
My street 🙂

I appreciate the city and how it operates but that doesn’t mean that it was the right place for me to be. I didn’t realize any of this until I had a talk with the sweet lad about what we were doing together. He was my reprieve in a city of chaos. However, even when you have a strong connection with someone, you can’t expect them to fix you or make you feel better if you are already in a state of discontent, which I didn’t realize I was doing until I woke up one day and knew I had to leave.

>>>>>

I became really ill during a neighborhood power outage. As I sat in my 100-degree apartment in a fit of sweat, shit, and tears in the dark, I started to realize that maybe stopping in one place, the wrong place, wasn’t going to restore whatever had become of me. I had to find my inner joy again. About a week or two later, a friend asked me to accompany her on a trip to the mountains.

“It’s my last chance before I start work,” she said.

I was actually supposed to start work with her as it was the third job that I’d taken but kept forgetting to quit because it hadn’t started yet. We jumped on an overnight bus armed with valium, laughter and an entire backseat to ourselves.

Vietnam
Ahhhhhhh fresh air and beautiful scenery!

I woke up to the fresh crisp (rainy) night air of Ha Giang, a town that is the start of the popular Northern Vietnam motorbike loops. We slept in a hostel and woke up to see the beautiful town as I ran over to the bridge, snapped a few shots, scarfed down some spring rolls and jumped on the local van headed to Du Gia.

Du Gia, Vietnam
Best van ride EVER!

It was filled to the brim with beer, but luckily most of the seats were empty as Lizzy and I sprawled out and hung out the windows to snap pictures of the most beautiful scenery in the world.

Du Gia, Vietnam
I’m in love. With the outdoors.

As soon as we got to Du Gia and checked into our room at the hostel, roosters crowing and beautiful mountains abound, I knew that I wasn’t going back to Hanoi. During our hike to the waterfall the next day, I felt an overwhelming sense of joy.

Du Gia, Vietnam
Walking into joy.
Du Gia, Vietnam
The waterfall!!!

Walking through cornfields with rice paddies nearby and tall luminous mountains overhead, I couldn’t contain my excitement. Oh the mountains. The big, glorious, and beautiful mountains. And everyone in the town of Du Gia was so nice, accommodating and happy to see you.

Du Gia, Vietnam
Ahhhh paradise.
Ha Giang, Vietnam
Fresh air!!!!
Du Gia, Vietnam
On the hunt for the 120-year-old woman…

On the day that Lizzy and I went on a 20k mission to find an alleged 120-year-old woman in the mountains, my happiness was fully back. My joy present and I couldn’t stop smiling. I made poor Lizzy hike up and down mountains as we continued our hunt. All I wanted to do was keep going and never stop! With the city behind me, I felt alive and free again.

Once I was back in the city, I knew my Hanoi life wasn’t working. The city. The guy. Everything. It was time to pack it up and leave. It’s always the wrong time and place when it comes to dating for me, but I am more okay with that than I thought, especially when I need to focus on picking a place to call home (or at least a continent to call home!) And, if it is meant to be, then we will meet again.

Du Gia, Vietnam
I need this in my life!!!!

Within the week, I packed up and headed out of Hanoi.  Soon, after a few more adventures, I will be heading home to regroup, recharge and maybe even, stay for a while.

“Wanderlust isn’t about running away from it all, but it’s about experiencing the outside to discover what’s inside.” -Author unknown.

Du Gia, Vietnam
Paradise 🙂
Du Gia, Vietnam
Ahhhhhh life 🙂
Du Gia, Vietnam
The children of Du Gia! photo cred – Lizzy, who took all the pictures that I’m in 🙂
Du Gia, Vietnam
🙂
Du Gia, Vietnam
Bye bye Hanoi!!

 

Tay Ho, Hanoi, Vietnam

Vietnam: Hanoi: Part One: The Move

Hanoi, Vietnam
Hanoi 😉

Something has been inherently wrong with me since a death occurred back at home in March. Was it his death that directly affected these emotions? I don’t think so but it sparked the need and the desire to be around those that I love and love me. It made me want to end my travels, to go home, and be with the ones that I love, either in Berlin or in the United States.

But instead, I ignored it and kept going. I felt as if I was ‘giving up’ or couldn’t accept the fact that my inner soul was begging me to stop. I thought that if I moved to one place, one city, that would solve my problems. I picked Hanoi. The single most hectic, ridiculously unsettling city in the world for me. The only city where I have always felt enormous relief whenever I leave it, which has been several times since January.

>>>>

Bangkok, Thailand
My birthday in Bangkok 🙂
Bangkok, Thailand
My french husband and I had TOO much fun!

After partying in Bangkok with my delightful French gay husband for my birthday week (and visa run), I flew back to Vietnam during these times of self-doubt and need. I wanted to try it out. Give it one last shot. I was planning on going to Hoi An or Saigon for a few months in order to get an online teaching job and pave my way for future travels. I desperately wanted to shake the unsettled, sad feeling that followed me everywhere I went since I realized I was meant to go home. Hanoi was NOT my city of choice for living but it was the city that I chose as my point of reentry with a new visa…I had a crush there that I wanted to visit before moving down south.

>>>

So, I dropped my bag in Hanoi and one day, when I went to pick it up again, I found it was impossible to lift. I somehow hoisted it out of the bearded tattooed lad’s home that I was crashing with and managed to get it into a hostel room. But as soon as I plopped it down next to the sweaty man doing yoga in his underwear on the dirty hostel floor, I knew I was done. The weight too much to bear. I couldn’t even manage to get it on a plane. So, I picked it up, one last time, and hopped on a motorbike (balancing a 60lb backpack on a motorbike was not my greatest idea) and headed to a lovely little apartment for rent and signed my life away on a lease.

Tay Ho, Hanoi
A place to call home.

As soon as I unpacked and stowed the pack away, I realized my decision was rash. The city I chose wasn’t mine…it severely lacks a lot of what I need in life but it wasn’t my choice really. When you are done traveling, sometimes, you don’t choose the place to settle. It chooses you. I did know that I had a crush and the desire to find a steady income for a while. Whether or not those are good reasons to stay in one place are beyond me. My reasoning skills were at the point of no thought. I simply couldn’t lift my bag onto another train, bus, boat, or plane.

And, Hanoi rhymes with Joy. Which was why I flew to this bizarre big city in the first place last January.

>>>>

Tay Ho, Hanoi, Vietnam
Yep, this is my street 😉

Hanoi is a conglomerate of motorbikes, electrical wires and pollution. In fact, it is one of the most polluted cities in Southeast Asia and was ranked the second most polluted city in the world on October 5, 2016. It lacks most things I desire in a place to call home: mountains, sea, sunshine and fresh air. However, it also has its charm. Whereas Saigon is a bustling international city full of green, clean streets and motorbikes driving as they should, Hanoi hosts a slew of street stalls, food stands, and motorbikes driving in whichever direction they please.

Tay ho, Hanoi, Vietnam
My street 😉

I moved to an alley in Tay Ho, which is the popular area for expats to live. However, my apartment is along ‘wire street’ and is in the most non-expat area of Tay Ho, featuring mostly locals, cheap food and a shit ton of electrical wires. Within the past months of living here, I have had many, many ups and downs.

More to come from my time in Hanoi!

 

Cham islands, vietnam

Vietnam: Traveling through love, loss, and knowing when to stop

Hoi An, Vietnma
The sea buckets of Hoi An, Vietnam

Traveling for a long time is wearisome. You are constantly packing and moving and meeting people and saying goodbye. I love meeting new people, finding connections, making friends, and falling in brief bouts of infatuation, but after my last round with this, I realized it just gets harder and harder to let people go, to leave them behind or watch them walk away.

Then, you start over. Again. Find new connections, new friends, another love interest, blah blah blah. Then you find yourself saying goodbye only to rinse and repeat. Again and again. The day comes when you are finished. Just plain done. Tired of answering,

“Where are you from?”

“How long are you traveling?”

“Where have you been/going?”

Cham islands, Hoi An
The Cham Islands, Vietnam

And every now and again, just a handful of times, I find someone that I like a lot. That I want to kiss and hug and hold. But everything escalates quickly as it is the nature of a traveler. No one is ever in the same place for very long. So comes the day when you say your goodbyes. Yet again. And you start to think, Why bother? Why invest emotions and feelings into someone that I will never see again.

>>>>

When you realize that you have turned into a crotchety old bitch who is accidentally whining more than laughing, then it is really time to say,

“Travel, we need to have a talk. I think we should take a break.”

Sometimes, this comes from exhaustion. I have been going fairly nonstop for about 20 months now and when I say to people,

“I want to go home.”

Or,

“I need a break from this.”

They look at me like I am crazy. Like I need to have a dire need to go back home. Like something needs to have happened. A death in the family. An emergency situation at home. And when it does happen, as it did happen recently, you still have to explain yourself to people.

“I miss home,” I say when faced with the loss of someone that I knew, but more importantly, when faced with the dear friend who is grieving this loss. It is even harder to be away.

And yet, people still question you.

“Why stop?” they say. “Why not keep going?” Even my friends at home say this. But what is it that I am trying to achieve? I am not setting a record for traveling when weary. I am not trying to see how many times in my life I can lift my overweight backpack and carry it through a thunderstorm. I am not trying to achieve anything other than seeing new cultures and getting a better appreciation for myself and for the world.

I wasn’t meant to be traveling now. It started because I was looking for a place to call home. Somewhere to unpack my stuff for a month or three. Yet, three months later after leaving Korea, I am still going…constantly on the move. I even went as far as planning to travel the next two months while killing time to meet a friend. But, when you realize that your bank account is dwindling, your job hasn’t paid you in months, and you are just plain exhausted, then maybe it is time to stop for a while.

And if I do, or when I do, which will be soon, then I’m not going to explain myself. When people ask me ‘why, why are you coming home?’ or ‘why don’t you go to this country or that country or to an island for a while,’ then I will say,

“Just let me be.”

>>>>

Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
Just trying to get my voice back…

Of course, this rant only comes when I am utterly exhausted. Before the weariness and sadness hit, I flew back into Vietnam with the intention of finding a job. But upon losing my voice in Ho Chi Minh city for eight days, I had to cancel any interviews that I had set up. You can’t interview for a teaching job when you have no voice.

‘Call us when you get your voice back’, they would write. But it never came back. I couldn’t even utter a whisper on most days. I flew to Hoi An, the charming and quaint touristy town in the central coastal region of Vietnam. I stayed for three weeks. My voice came back and I made new friends.

Hoi An, Vietnam
I love my traveling friends!

But it’s the traveling lifestyle and everyone soon moved on. After sadly saying goodbye to someone special, all my other friends began trickling out as well. I started setting up interviews, getting to ‘a real life,’ when I ran into another backpacking friend that I had traveled with in Laos.

“Let’s go to Cham Islands,” my buddy said.

Cham islands, vietnam
Paradise

So we escaped from interviews, from tourists and from the traveling life (leaving our backpacks behind!) and headed out on a ferry with only a handful of backpackers, a bunch of locals, and a few chickens to the Cham Islands. It was a special place, that main island. We walked from one fishing village to the other while I suffered from another bout of food poisoning (violently pooping under a bridge while motorbikes whiz over your head are the moments that make traveling so special, especially when you realize, days later, that the boats of Chinese tourists that you saw while sh**ting under a bridge could see you too).

Cham islands, vietnam
The fishing village and temple
Cham islands, vietnam
‘papa’s’ boat

My buddy, Thibaud, and I traveled so easily together. Like brother and sister. Which was good because we soon found a homestay where our ‘mama’ insisted that we call them ‘mama’ and ‘papa’. Our little family was nice. ‘Mama’ cooked all our meals for us while ‘papa’ helped us from the sea bucket to the boat by giving brother Thibaud a gentle little boost in the bum with his hands.

Cham islands, vietnam
Just making a little jewelry art..
Cham islands, vietnam
‘Mama’ and her new necklace!

We swam, snorkeled, meditated on the beach and ate a lot of good food. After three days, we sadly hugged ‘mama’ and ‘papa’ goodbye and gave her our beach jewelry that we designed for her, like any good children.

She rewarded our efforts with a bracelet and a hug. We headed to the boat where a crochety old man tried to beat me with a stick and we waved goodbye to Cham Island.

Cham islands, vietnam
This old me tried to hit me with his stick!

>>>>

Upon returning to Hoi An, I should have stayed to do my interviews. Worked towards my future for the next few months. But instead, I decided to join Thibaud on the train going north. Why? Because I hadn’t been on a train yet in SE Asia and I wanted to see what it was all about. There were no seats together, so we were split up, in different cars. I walked onto a seat full of baby piss and a luggage rack that was too small for my oversize backpack.

“Hurry up!” people yelled as I stood there, trying to cram my enormous pack into the tiny overhead compartment and determine how exactly I would sit in a seat of baby piss. The baby was still toddling around with a wet bum and the parents seemed frantic. I stood there until the line grew so impatient that they pushed me into the pissy seat. Luckily, I caught my balance and maneuvered my way into the next seat without getting pissy myself. The train began blaring screeching music so loudly that people started screaming to try and drown it out.

It was my new personal hell.

Luckily, the scenery was magnificent and the ocean in full view with rolling green hills. We reached Hue with enough time to go on a food binge. I ran off on my own with a list of local treats to try and eventually found a Che Hue stand that a billion locals were sampling. I kept walking because I didn’t know what it was but eventually came across another so I decided to try it out. It was a food cart that had steel buckets full of sweet stuff in all different colors.

“What is this?” I asked the young guy working the counter. He looked at me. I motioned to all of the buckets. “What is it?” I asked making hand gestures. He looked at me. His mom walked up, clearly hating me from the start as she glared at me.

“You buy?” she said angrily.

“What is it?” I asked again. She stared at me.

“Okay, make me one. Whatever is your favorite,” I said as I nodded and waved my hands over the buckets.

Hue, Vietnam
The mean woman and her food stand

She shoved me (!) and walked away. I stood there dumbfounded and couldn’t make myself walk away. So, I pointed at what the table next to me had and they made me a sweet drink filled with fruit. Only after how she treated me, it tasted awful and I sat there wishing that I had just walked away. When I went to pay, the boy said, “10,000”. I only had a 50,000 note on me so I handed him that and his mom started yelling at him. He handed me 30,000 back. “You just told me 10,000,” I said. “I need 10,000 more.”

He shook his head as his mother glared at me. “No, for you 20,000.” I argued more but eventually wanted to cry and gave up. I was travel weary and I didn’t care about the money, only the principle.

UGH. After being in the south where people are nice to you, everyone up north seems to hate tourists and backpackers unless they can squeeze money out of you. I had first stopped at the market and tried to find a nice soup stand but an old woman literally grabbed my arm, squeezed it so hard I have bruises, and tried to shove me in her seat. Aggressive sales tactics? No thanks. Not when I am left with bruises!

We left Hue and headed into Ninh Binh on a 12-hour train ride where we did nothing but eat. We arrived feeling sluggish and weary, and it immediately started pouring rain and completely destroyed what was left of my travel excitement. Why did I leave sunny, peaceful Hoi An?

Ninh binh, Vietnam
What a wonderful decision! Thanks thibaud!

The following day, Thibaud somehow convinced me to go on a three-day mountain bike trip even though the weather forecast was bleak. We rented mountain bikes and soaked in a day of unexpected sunshine, touring around the local villages. We climbed some famous climb that overlooked the river. I snapped a few pictures for a group of Chinese tourists at the top. Once I was done taking their picture, I said,

Tam coc, vietnam
I nearly met my demise right on this slippery little seat.

“Can you take mine,” as I handed one lady my phone and jumped up onto the ledge…which was covered in a slimy moss and I slid backwards and nearly toppled down the steep cliff on the other side. I managed to catch the edge and hoist myself back up. Terrified, I forced a smile as she snapped my picture and the rest of the group looked horrified since they almost watched me plummet to the bottom.

Thibaud and I jumped back on the bicycles and headed down the highway to the dock to take a boat tour. As we got close to it, we were nearly decapitated several times by large tour busses filled with Chinese tourists. The boat dock had a very systematic way of unloading each bus where each tourist was forced to walk through a large arch of tourist stands before lining up and crowding into the dock area to try and take a boat tour. It looked miserable…waiting through throngs of people pushing and shoving to get on a boat.

Tam Coc, Vietnam
Rice fields everywhere!

We skipped the boat tour and made a hasty exit, leaving tourism behind. We biked through the villages, passing no more tourists or even backpackers and enjoyed the lush green rice fields and the clear beautiful (yet hot) day.

We found a lovely homestay at the end of the day where we had a delicious meal and settled into our beds. This was the moment that I found out a tragedy occurred at home. When something terrible happens to someone you know, it is hard to be away. But when it happens to a dear friend, then being away seems unbearable. You don’t want to just call or text a friend in need, you want to fly across the world and give her a real hug.

Sapa, Vietnam
The view while I contemplated my next move.

Since then, I have still been going. Trekked through a national park, spent another day on a mountain bike, trekked through villages in the north, spent more time on trains and busses…yet, something is off. Before, I was weary and tired. Tired of saying goodbyes and tired of starting over each time. After I found out the news, the weariness hit a new level. I find myself crying at random…in the middle of a 50km mountain bike journey through mud and villages…walking down the streets of Hanoi…through the rain and hail in Sapa….in a café overlooking the most beautiful scenery in the world…etc.

Sapa, Vietnam
The 19km village hike between the rain

I don’t know what is next for me or where I’m meant to be…home or away, working or wandering, but I do know that these past few weeks have made me even more unclear about what my future holds.

More from somewhere in the world…