The Return

<from September 2014>

I feel like I’m on my third or fourth life of this dream as I’m arriving back in Argentina once again to make a go at writing my book here. Each time I’ve been able to come back I’ve learned so much in the process and have had new challenges and surprises awaiting me…what will it be this time?

I walk out of the airport to find my friend Jose waiting there for me with a cab and it feels more like home every time I come back. We talk excitedly, firing questions back and forth, filling each other in on what’s been going on in our lives lately. We’ve both been navigating a transition from Corporate America to trying to start new careers around our passions. I have this satisfied feeling in me, a deep longing has been quenched, to be back to my passion project.

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Carolina, Jose’s roommate, practically knocks me over with a hug and smiles and I feel a connection as if we’ve already had the inspiring conversations we proceed to have over the next week, the three of us holed up in the tiny kitchen, sitting on the counters, passing around maté and sharing stories and ideas about living a meaningful life. It feels good, no, priceless to have a tiny community of like-minded people to interact with and exchange support.

I quickly get to know the people at the fruit and vegetable shop around the corner and can never resist going into the bakery next door to get some hot chipá (little balls of chewy cheesy bread, made from tapioca flour and naturally gluten free). I love shopping for food in this way, each little shop specializing in their one thing; the conversations and relationships formed with the locals; everything whole, fresh, in season and homemade.

We turned the living room into a board room (a very cute boardroom), having brainstorming sessions and building websites. The brainstorming…I love, ping ponging questions and ideas back and forth and I’m reminded of my skill set and the parts of consulting that I loved. It feels so energizing to generate ideas and get creative, to help someone get clearer on their vision and be one step closer to manifesting it. The hardest part of building a personal business for me though is the business and technology part…hoping the challenge and frustrations will pay off if I can stick to it. Pretty soon my 5 year old nephew will likely be better at this than I am.

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We take a break to meet up with Lucho and head over to the feria de matadores…a traditional market where you are a minority as a tourist. I stand out with my blond hair and light skin, but I feel at home with the melodic castellano being spoken around me, the scents of choripan (a chorizo sausage and chimichurri sandwich) and locals strolling around the art stalls with their thermos of agua caliente (hot water) tucked under their arms.

We follow the crowds to the main stage where folkloric music is being played and everyone is dancing. Couples are circling each other, hands in the air, snapping their fingers to the rhythm of the music. Lucho and I try to join in which provides a great laugh to each other and everyone around us as we do.

photo credit - Jose Gastaldi
photo credit – Jose Gastaldi

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I get waves of feeling like we had been at the market a while, feeling it is surely time to leave, until I’m reminded of a quality I love about Argentina…busy-ness and rushing about just isn’t glorified in the least. It is the exact opposite. We won’t eat dinner till midnight anyway, we have loads of time. We end up staying for hours watching as the dance progressed to one where they twirl scarves about and caress each other with them.

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I stand there watching and smiling and feeling in my whole body that it was the right decision to come back to Argentina. It just feels so right to be here and I feel energized and motivated to accomplish what I came here to do.

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Celebrating Life in Paradise

I left Taganga. Eventually when we had locals escort us to the police to tell them about being robbed, they said they had no way of knowing if it actually happened. Uh huh. So that’s how it is.

I moved on 6 hours via bus up the coast to the colorful Cartagena that looks like it inspired many a fairytale with its charming facades and flowering trees framing the thresholds of shops and guesthouses. It is an old, colonial city on the sea and it still has its stone wall wrapped around it that now serves less for defense and more for history and holding its gem of a town the way a child holds the glow of a lightening bug in her hands at dusk. It could be a quite inspiring place to write if the words hadn’t been scared so far out of me when my life was threatened in Taganga. I ached for my camera like a missing limb.

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I was physically safe and knew I’d be able to get through the emotional trauma after my highly sensitive self had time to process it. I was walking around feeling bitter that this awful thing had happened to us and begrudging the happy people smiling and laughing and loving on Colombia in the streets. Didn’t they know what I had just been through? I know this is unrealistic. I was just in a bad place.

I had a ticket home to the USA in a month’s time and decided that I wanted to be even more remote until then.

It was time to celebrate life. One way to do that…go to tropical island you’ve never heard of, breathe in the salty air, bury your feet in the perfect white sand, play in the turquoise waters, chill out with the sunsets and have a birthday.

I hopped a plane to San Andres, which technically is still Colombia, but closer to Nicaragua with a distinct Caribbean feel. I cannot even tell you what language they speak…some sort of mix mon, of Spanish, English, and Creole, ya mon, ya ya yaaaaaa, sometimes even in the same sentence. (My written accent is clearly as bad as my spoken accent mimicry.)

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But I wanted to be even more remote and there was another island nearby.

I tell you who is most likely not celebrating life…the poor guy on the catamaran that goes to Isla Providencia, whose job it is to collect puke bags and mop up after seasick passengers for the 3 hour passage. It felt more like an extended mechanical bull ride than a fluid journey over water. Insert headphones, blast music, stare at horizon and try not to count the minutes.

You have to earn this trip to paradise. I was one of the few survivors.

This was one of the more untouched places I have been…and by that I mean no gringo/expat businesses. This made for some interesting interactions. When disembarking, there were two guys writing details from your passport by hand, getting half of the information wrong. I can’t imagine where they are storing the paperwork. Need a ride? Just flag down a passing truck or hop on back of a moto.

Complete contradictions were often given during a single conversation…all with the intention of being agreeable and the path to least resistance. There’s probably a mathematical equation to compare the relationship of the heat of the sun to the laziness of the people, but math isn’t exactly the strong suit here…while sitting in a plastic chair in the sun is much more so.

A group of us from the hostel took a boat ride around the island doing a snorkel version of a drift dive and stopping at an archipelago national park. We headed to the national park early to avoid paying fees, we were told. It wasn’t early enough and we were told it would be an additional 12,000 pesos each. We calmly communicated that we didn’t have money as we had not been told about the fee when negotiating the price of the trip. Some more conversation occurred as we waited and time ticked away. Finally I was told we could pay 12,000 total. Perfect. Someone pulled out a 10,000 peso bill and I presented this to them, emphasizing this was all we had. I was told to wait while they got me 2,000 pesos in change. I love math in the Caribbean!

The snorkeling was wonderful and worth the 12,000…er, 8,000 pesos. I saw a sting ray seconds after diving into the water, then a turtle and a beautiful shark. Then I saw the most interesting fish I’ve ever seen diving. It looked like a thin flag fluttering in the wind, but in slow motion and more fluid as its edges rippled with the water. It had tentacles coming out the back that I didn’t notice until it gave a little flutter kick. Cool!! I thought it was a squid, but was later told it was a cuttlefish. I was mesmerized and followed it along and as it moved from the white sand to swim over some seaweed it changed colors before my eyes. Seriously cool, I shrieked through my snorkel and snorted a bit of salt water. Then I realized I had been following the baby and there was a whole school of them. I could’ve stayed for hours.

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Luckily I didn’t though because there was a party to be had and Roland was having it. Roland is a strung out, rasta man hippy, who, when not hungover, is very enthusiastic about driving his truck around the island and bringing people to his place. His place, creatively named Roland’s Beach Bar, is everything you want a Caribbean beach bar to be. It’s right on the water, with a rope swing into the sea if you care to take a late night dip. There are some hammocks, in fact the bar tender chills in one when not serving you. Thatched roof huts cover tables, other tables are built in beached, wooden sail boats, the perfect chilled out sound track plays, the gorgeous Colombian women who can move their bodies in ways that I can’t even do in my dreams and a fire pit crackles away in the center of it all.

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Paradise turned out to be quite the dose of dreamy. It was wonderful and yet made it quite cruel to board a flight back to the United States, parting ways with my dear friend who was a part of the better portion of my experiences and head home…well, to one of my homes. That word has become quite confusing. And that is how I felt…drained and confused.

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Let’s Go on an Adventure!

The year is coming to a close and a new one will start shortly… It is a time of year where I like to do a bit of reflecting about what has happened this year…who I’ve met, places I’ve experienced, things that I have learned. I also like to start setting intentions for the upcoming year…what am I working on? Where am I going? Where do I want to be going?

This year, one thing is clear: I will publish my books in 2015. I’m really excited to announce my Kickstarter campaign that I’ve launched to help me reach this goal and I’d be eternally grateful if you check out the link, back my campaign, and share it if you’re inspired. The campaign is a for writing and publishing a book about my transformative adventure from Corporate America to Patagonia, including an interactive guidebook for pursuing your passions. 

Continue reading Let’s Go on an Adventure!

Goooooooooooooooooooooooooal

World Cup fever was high in Colombia, with a notable commitment to sporting the yellow jersey…nearly everyone, every day. They even had jerseys specifically made for pregnant women, which there seemed to be a lot of. <Related tangent, they also make mannequins with bigger butts to accommodate for the extra ‘sexy’ gene the women seem to have received in Colombia.>

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Everyone who knows me well knows I have a World Cup “thing”. Celebrating my 30th birthday at the World Cup in South Africa eventually led to the dream I am pursuing/living right now. The party was amazing yes, but the overall experience of planning something for so long and making it happen, the singing and dancing and celebration, the people we met who will forever be in our lives…well, it changed my world. It was after the larger-than-life displays of passion that I knew I needed to go find my passions and I knew I could. (the infamous picture of us on tv below (terrible!) I can’t help but include it. I still love hearing the stories of people seeing us! Shout out to my incredible, passionate partners-in-crime: Katie and Jonathan!!)

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Here I was four years later, with the World Cup in none other than BRAZIL!!!, my next door neighbor, promising to be epic in all its fútbol madness glory…and I had tickets. Of course I had tickets. I swore I’d never miss a World Cup again. It was also a milestone marker for me, which I was reminded of when I received many a message asking me 1. if I was in Brazil and 2. did that mean I’d be coming home from South America afterwards. That had been the original plan.

Well, the original plan had changed and I guess I didn’t even realize it. How do you know when things are not working because what you’re pursuing is not right for you versus because you need to keep trying if you really want it? I could easily write a chapter if not a book on this, but I’ll try to keep my rationale short.

My wise friend Christen posed a question to me… “what if there were no wrong decisions?” Another wise friend Henrik tells me that “if you really really want to do something, you can almost always find a way to do it.” I agree completely and I did want to go to the World Cup in Brazil. The truth is that I could have gone and also that it wouldn’t have been a wrong decision. It was when I looked at the things that were making it difficult to go and what was making it feel like it might not be the best thing for me that I realized I had been making decisions towards a different, higher priority.

I had a goal to finish my book and create a life around my passions. I had a choice. Just as when I wrote a check for a loss when I sold my house, once again I was telling myself that the most important thing is this journey of self-discovery and transformation. If the World Cup was truly the most important goal, I would have made more decisions towards that than towards my life goal. Not to be dramatic, but how we spend our time, money and energy is an indication of our needs and our dreams. And in the spirit of that, “we are always doing exactly what we want to be doing, as part of a greater whole”…coming from another wise friend, Jose. At least we have choices to make, albeit not always easy ones.

The difficult outcome was that I would be watching the World Cup from afar, although I did get to take in the champions league final with some local Colombians as a fun consolation prize. The good news is that I know my current journey is the right one and so that is the journey that will work out if I put everything into it…thank you very much ‘law of attraction’. And really how fortunate am I that my choices are either going to Brazil for the World Cup or living in the Caribbean to write my book. “Gooooooooooooooooooooooooooooool!”

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Little Fatty and a Homemade Grill

A perfect little Colombian outing, I took a break from writing to meander down into town for some lunch, no plan, just looking for something simple to take care of my late afternoon hunger. I stop at a restaurant on the side of a dirt road that was offering, of course, a menu casero o menu del dia. This is so typical in Colombia and many countries in South America…you can order from the menu or you can just have “The menu”, which is a basic fixed price meal that often includes a sugary drink, a first course of soup (or perhaps ceviche if you’re in Peru), and a main course of your choice of meat, chicken, or fish accompanied by a side of rice, papas fritas, and maybe a few forkfuls of salad: iceberg lettuce, a tomato slice, maybe onion or carrots. A simple tradition and full stomach for about $4-5.

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So I’m sitting there at a wooden table in front, shoeing some flies away, sweating in the intense sun. Not far away there’s a local man with his t-shirt rolled up and resting on his belly like a shelf, airing out in the sweltering heat, as is so common and yet so unattractive. It’s not quite evening, but he’s already sipping on aguardiente, the cheapest way to get drunk here. It is tastes like anis, is so potent that it almost seems to vaporize in your mouth before you swallow and is often shared around in tiny plastic shot glasses that resemble the cups used for cough syrup.

A rather large woman sits at a table nearby using her teeth to tear chicken from a bone that she’s picked out of her soup. She comments to my friend after trying 3 or 4 times to get his attention…

Continue reading Little Fatty and a Homemade Grill

Write Till You’re Wrong

When I followed him up the stairs and onto the terrace, I knew I had I found the perfect Caribbean writer’s haven before he even opened the door. It was up a hill with a balcony overlooking a tiny bay with mountains that held the blue sea in a sweet little embrace. It was dry season, so the hills were a rusty, brambly tangle of bare branches and tall cacti…not the tropical green I was expecting. From my vantage point, the tree tops hid the shabby town below and hosted big iguanas that would sometimes climb to the top branches. The place was small, open air with a beautiful view, and it was my retreat. It was so wonderfully situated that the sun set over the sea even when I imagined we were facing east. Magic! This is where I would write my book, in Taganga, Colombia.

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Continue reading Write Till You’re Wrong

Holy Mangos!

I had the brilliant idea of waiting until Good Friday to do the pilgrimage up to the little church on top of Montserrate, the backdrop mountain of Bogotá. And it was a brilliant idea if you like to participate in what the entire city is doing at once. It was holy week and people were eager to be holy. If they weren’t there, they were spilling out of the churches into the plazas or visiting the salt cathedral, which is 180m underneath the ground. I still feel holy from having been in Bogotá for holy week. I even scheduled my bus just on time to catch a procession going past my hostel with drums and incense, men and children in dark purple, silk robes, carrying huge statues of the stations of the cross. I watched them walk past by candlelight, saying prayers, and made it to the station just on time for a trip to the coast.

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I was headed for Palomino, a beach town on the Caribbean Sea near Venezuela that was written up in the book as a chilled out, long, dreamy stretch of beach with a strong current that backs up to the jungle. The current actually ended up being just the right strength for me to swim against, perfect for a daily workout if I didn’t mind the occasional salty wave in the face. “Town” was one street with casual, local restaurants, fruit shacks, and pool halls lining each side and a sandy road that leads you to the beach in fifteen minutes.

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Continue reading Holy Mangos!

Gaucho See, Gaucho Do – An Authentic Life

Don’t all spontaneous adventures start out with an invitation to road trip out to the desert to buy goat skins? Enter again, Lucas, the dapper gaucho who I had met at Estancia La Alejandra for the incredible experience on horseback. We’re sitting in a quintessential Argentino cafe in Mendoza, basking in the high sun and enjoying a bottle of white wine at lunch on a Tuesday, like ya do, when he mentions that he was going to head out to the desert where a guy who knows a guy who owns a roadside restaurant and raises goats, occasionally sells their skins for leather…great price. As a teenager, Lucas had headed out to the desert to live with the Huarpes people and apprentice to their particular style of leatherwork, developing quite the knack for this unique skill. This is what lunch is like with Lucas, casual mentions of indigenous art and errands to the desert as if he were talking about picking up the dry cleaning…chilled out, unconventional, and full of surprises. Ok, so maybe it wasn’t an invitation, but I immediately invited myself anyway.

Continue reading Gaucho See, Gaucho Do – An Authentic Life

Solo Luz, Solo Amor in this Mountain Community

I felt like I could just as sensibly be communicating by carrier pigeon as I told the guy at the bus terminal shop that I was looking for Emilio’s community and asked if he could kindly tell me how to get there. That was about the sum total of information that I had…that I needed to go see this man in the mountains and I should just ask for him at the bus station and go from there.

“Ah, si, si, la communidad del Milo. Bueno…” and he proceeded to tell me how to walk a few miles down the street and cut through some brush to the dirt road that would lead me there. It would be the first time I was showing up at a stranger’s house, unannounced, expecting to stay for 4 days; I suppose the walking would’ve brought welcomed time to think through my introduction. I opted for a taxi instead, albeit out of character for me, I felt nervous enough about the scenario ahead and didn’t want to start off by getting lost.

Continue reading Solo Luz, Solo Amor in this Mountain Community

Fruits of the Harvest

The first thing I do when I am getting ready to visit a new country is to research what festivals they have. There are so many festivals that I’d like to go to worldwide, and I’m sure there are many more that I just don’t even know about yet. It was quickly obvious that the cream of the crop festival in Argentina is Vendimia, the harvest festival in Mendoza. As is often my luck with timing, I had just missed it by a month last year when I first arrived in Mendoza. Now that I was living here I was determined to soak in everything ‘harvest’ this year, most definitely including the festival itself.

Continue reading Fruits of the Harvest