Place of Dreams

Within five minutes of being in the Defender, Ronnie pipes up to tell me that the truck is running on oil from all those fried milanesas that are near and dear to the tastebuds of Argentinos. A local restaurant serving minutas (fast food) would serve as our “gas” station and we made a small detour to get a barrel of the used oil.

He hands me a rock as he jumps out of the car. Upon returning he tells me that it is from a meteor that hit the earth in Moldova and that it changed his fortune over night when he came in contact with it. I close my fingers around it, smiling at the idea and thinking, “Porqué no? why not? …could work just as much as anything” and I hope for fortune to melt out of it into my palm.

By the time we’re bumping along the road and flying through the turns around Lago Gutierrez, we are trading stories about the healthy and healing powers of plants. He pulls over to the side of the road to pick a tiny, bitter branch for me to taste, supposedly it helps with digestion or something.

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The final few miles took us down a gritty side road and into Nahuel Huapi National Park. We drove through the wooden gate, through a corridor of trees and into a panoramic view of my new home. Horses wandered around freely, chased by the border collies. A wall of mountains with a skirt of trees that sprouted a waterfall stood guard over the glacial lake.

No explanation was needed for how this place got its name, Peuma Hue (pey-oo-mah, wey), Mapuche for Place of Dreams.

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Having looked through the webpages of this high end, rustic resort before coming, I had been hypnotized by the views, the luxurious log cabins, the descriptions of the healthy organic food and the focus on yoga, mindfulness and magic that immersion in nature brings.

For the guests, yes, the reality is this fairytale. But for me, this would be different. I was coming here as a cultural exchange…swapping work in the gardens and kitchen in return for food and a shared room in the staff house.

As I was introduced to the reality of what this would be like, the perfect panorama I had driven into began to unravel. Anxiety and fear stirred inside of me. My chest tightened and the heat of the emotions boiled up through my body, rising to my face and creating a frenzy of activity in my rattled brain.

I worried about my health, which is always a struggle for me. Would they give us healthy food? Argentina and vegetables…especially of the green variety…don’t always tango together.

What would the other people be like? Nine of us in a tiny house? How would I balance myself among being social, the expected workload and writing my book?

Would I be able to write my book? Would I have the time and space to do that?

What if it didn’t work out? What were my other options? I didn’t have time or money to look for something new.

The uneasy feelings churned inside me as I realized how far we were from town and the nearest place to buy a bottle of wine, which I was wanting right about then. I then took a deep breath and walked in on myself having this reaction. I knew I needed to get some time alone outside in nature to wander, write and work through this.

I spent the afternoon exploring, walking along the rocky shores of the immaculate lake and through the gardens that were still asleep for the winter. I gazed up at the mountains, adorned with snow and stood there admiring their rugged beauty. I walked along the gravel path that wound through the property around the log cabins, crossing the fallen tree bridge over the creek and to the stone temple on the hill.

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I had been independent for a year and a half, answering to no one but the call to adventure. I would now be at the mercy of my new circumstances, losing my autonomy. I would be accountable to someone else’s dream and expectations. I would now have to write in between my work shifts, hoping inspiration and energy would meet me on demand.

I hadn’t thought about this and felt blindsided by it. It was like watching the movie of a book you have read and loved, only to find out that they had gotten it all wrong when translating it for the screen.

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I sat on the steps of the temple and journaled…about what I was feeling, about what I wanted for my time there. I realized that this was a familiar reaction to being thrown into unknowns, fear that it won’t work out. I’ve learned that the best thing to do is to notice what you can control and take positive action towards that, let go of expectations, seek to learn and be surprised. I listed my intentions and started a list of ideas for falling deeply into my life there and committed myself to doing just that.

The negativity and fear wilted away. My heart was now exploding with gratitude for having this opportunity arise for me, allowing me to continue my journey. I felt full of peace, grace, awe and devotion for the wilderness around me, as if these mountains had been calling me and I had finally found them.

This is the serendipity that I had hoped for when setting out to show up in the world and see what happens. I was living in the mountains for the first time and would be there for six months.

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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.

**If you enjoyed this blog, please consider making a donation that will go directly towards helping me finish writing and publishing my book. Also, check out my website for writing, photography and transformation practices. Muchas gracias!**

I’ve arrived

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I arrived back in the United States earlier than planned and felt devastated by this. Before leaving for Argentina the first time in December 2012, I had worked with my fears by trying to picture the worst case scenario for my journey so that I could consider how I would react. My “worst case scenario” had included being robbed and failure to discover my passions or finish my book.

So here I was in the early summer of Chicago, safe at home in my parents’ house having been robbed and not so much a published author yet. I felt like I was trapped at the bottom of a desolate well. How on earth did this fantastic journey of mine land me here? Now what will I do? I had this tremendous feeling of “I’m not supposed to be here” even though that is the opposite feeling being home always provokes for me. Everything felt upside down.

In my “worst case scenario” I had thought about how lucky I was that I did have supportive parents and a home to come to if I needed it. And here I was. Only, I hadn’t considered the emotional blow I’d take. I didn’t call friends or family (and I’m so sorry about that to everyone now!). I didn’t talk about the robbery at first. I was afraid to get an “I told ya so” reaction from anyone who hadn’t thought it the brightest idea to go traveling alone.

It actually was a bright idea, a brilliant one. I still felt that and knew I had to get back to it. So I started to dig into my journals and take long bike rides, looking for clues from what I had experienced and learned as to what to do next. I knew that my writing and time in nature were going to crucial in deciding my next steps. I also started to dream up big and little adventures that would not have occurred to me before I had gone traveling long term. I also knew to embrace what was good about this situation, getting bonus time with my family that I would never have had otherwise.

I flew out to LA to see my sister, brother-in-law and nephew. I watched the World Cup games with my brother. I got to connect with my Uncle Rich who I hadn’t seen in a long time and he told me so many new stories! I got to have 1:1 time with my aunts and to attend my cousin Caitlin’s engagement party. I took a road trip with my Dad and brother, crashing their annual camping trip. We backpacked through Porcupine National Park and it was so cool to experience Lake Superior and stunning nature on my home turf. My mom and I took a 4 day canoe trip, camping on sandbars, doing dream work, yoga and cooking over fire. These microadventures made me feel whole again, such special time and surprisingly close to home.

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These may seem like small things, but these are the things that I have missed out on living in another city. This introduced me to a new element in the life I am going after. I knew I wanted a flexible and unconventional life and realized that if I can succeed at that then I will get more moments like these, to be with family without having to give up my wanderlust.

I found a fantastic coffee shop in town that became my daily office. I have always loved working in coffee shops. The symbiotic comfort of sipping a cup of that dark goodness while slowly breathing in the aromas puts me at peace and also awakens my creativity. I love the watching the flow of people and the dynamics of those meeting up with each other or going solo, engrossed in some work. I’ve always had the romantic idea that people are focused on creating, doing of-the-soul kind of work when in cafes…engrossed in novels, meeting to discuss an idea, immersing in studies, launching a new business, writing a book.

I became a devotee to my writing and journaling. I researched all sorts of opportunities and possibilities for grants and scholarships, crowdfunding and artist residencies. I started to build a website, print business cards and work on a personal brand. I sat down to journal one day and was checking in with the intentions for my journey as I would do on occasion, asking myself “What would my ideal life look like?” And then I wrote down a full page of a life vision, including my passions and just enough detail to have something to work towards with enough room for it to manifest in ways I could only imagine. Oh. My.

I had done it. I had done what I set out to do and had not realized it until then. I had discovered what I was passionate about and I instantly wanted to go start it all. And I really wanted to write it all down in a book, the book that had been tip-toeing out of me this whole time.

When Argentina lost the World Cup final, I cried. Not that I have an over-stated attachment to sports, although I am known to get a bit competitive. It felt personal. Warning, this will sound ridiculous, but it almost felt as if I should never have left Argentina and in doing so I took away all the wonderful energy and lessons it had given me and cursed their chances of winning.

I realized that I was longing to be back in South America, to write my book where I had started it and where my journey had taken place. I was not done there and I would not be chased out by three desperate, sad thieves from Colombia.

I have found that when you take actions and put yourself out there, that energy goes to do some reconnaissance  for you, finds the right opportunity and makes its way back somehow. At this time, I received a message from a friend of a friend in Argentina who had read one of my blogs. She asked me where I was and what I was doing. I told her I was looking for a place in the mountains of Argentina to finish writing my book and that I was out of money. She told me her mother owns a place on a lake in northern Patagonia where I could volunteer while I write. It’s called Peuma Hue, meaning Place of Dreams.

I booked a plane ticket, packed my bags and arrived two weeks later, back to Argentina.

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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It’s a Great Day to be Alive

I like to explore a town by running through the streets and checking out places that way, but as much as I’ve described my writer’s haven as an ideal respite, not all was paradise in paradise. Taganga itself wasn’t the loveliest place I’ve been outside of my sweet writing villa.

It’s quite hilly and the “streets” are bumpy dirt roads, but not in a charming, untouched way…rather in a the-street-is-our-garbage-can sort of way. They also run out of water frequently. Stare at the ocean as long as you like while contemplating that one, the town is just out of water. The majority of our experiences were such that people seemed very eager to take our money and very irritated when they had to do something in order to make that happen. (That is not meant to be a stereotype, but was my true experience). There’s a strip with some restaurants and shops and you can walk along a trail over the ridge to get to another bay with another little beach. That’s about it.

There’s a trail you shouldn’t walk however, and I found that out the hard way…

You could see from town that it went up to the ridge at the top of the mountains overlooking the bay. A friend and I picked our way through the small town to take a break from writing and go for an afternoon hike. It was pretty rocky and steep, not necessarily beautiful, but a challenge. Some locals must have been more used to it then we were because they practically sprinted past us. I moved to the side to let them go and they stopped around us waiting for their chubby friend to bring up the rear, asking us where we were going. “Up to the top!” we said honestly and innocently.

I then felt a jerk from behind as my friend yanked me backwards in response to the guy to my right stepping towards me. Startled, I looked up to see that knives had been drawn. I took my camera strap from around my neck and gently handed it over, submitting to what was out of my control before it would be handled with force.

My friend was calmly talking to them while taking off his backpack. They weren’t too pleased with making conversation and hit him at the base of his neck. They yanked his shoes off, nearly knocking him to the ground before they forced him to the ground at knifepoint anyway. I took my shoes off and was told to get on the ground next to him. We lay there as they went through our stuff.

“Where are your cell phones?”

“Where is the rest of your money?”

“Don’t talk or we’ll kill you.”

“Don’t open your eyes or we’ll kill you.”

“Don’t go to the police or we’ll kill you.”

“Lay here for 15 minutes after we leave or we’ll kill you.”

I almost wish I hadn’t understood Spanish at that point.

We did as we were told, not wishing to call their bluff. I checked out and tried to visualize being back in a safe place as I felt hands at the back of my neck taking off my necklace and then digging in my pockets. (My necklace had the “Om” symbol on it. I can’t imagine it’s the best karma to steal that.) I trusted that all they wanted was our stuff and if we cooperated, we’d be safe.

This did turn out to be the case. My biggest fear was that they would hurt us, that they would take advantage of me or that my friend would get hurt or killed trying to protect me. After helping themselves to our cameras, shoes, cash, my watch and necklace, they took off and every breath after that felt like a gift.

After 15 or 20 minutes we started our descent down the rocky, thorny path in our socks. We saw another man approaching. I was terrified it was one of them coming back for us. As we came closer, we saw it was an older man with a machete. What could we do? We had nothing.

He said through his rotting teeth, “You shouldn’t be up here. It is dangerous.” “Um yeah, look at us. That would’ve been excellent information 45 minutes ago.”

So there are no pictures to go with this blog. That luxury was robbed from me, along with a sense of peace and happiness. Likely and sadly, I will be able to replace my camera before they will change their ways and earn money in honest ways.

It’s been a long process of fear and anger and discernment and forgiveness since then. I will not stereotype an entire country as unsafe. I would even like to return to Colombia some day.

As for the walk itself…in beautiful hindsight it still isn’t 100% clear if we should have taken it or not. Especially as a woman traveling alone, I take extra precaution to keep myself safe, although sometimes it really pisses me off when I want to do something and feel I can’t because of this. My best experiences have come from taking risks and understanding when the advice giver (Don’t go there! Don’t do that!) is being paranoid or if there is a genuine danger…often the former.

It is unfortunate this happened and it did change my course. I am still responding to what showed up that day. My hope is that some day, the sooner the better, the guys who did this will realize that it was wrong and seek to make their lives right. It is so sad to me that people feel so desperate and are so misguided and unsupported in their lives that they resort to violence and a lack of respect for human life. I am grateful for the life I was born into, my family, my morals, my circumstances and I hope to do a whole lot of good with the blessings in that.

I’m grateful that I was not alone in this particular experience and it did bring my friend and I closer together. It really does give you laser focus as to who and what you care about in life.

***Many thanks to those of you who have been following me with this journey. I’ll speed up the posts a bit to get caught up to present time. This event took place at the very end of May. It did change some things for me, but all is good.

If you like what you are reading here, please consider backing my kickstarter.com called: Let’s Go on an Adventure! and please share too. The campaign is focused on writing and publishing a book about my transformative adventure from Corporate America to a life designed around passions and also includes an interactive guidebook to help those wishing to make their own personal changes.

I have 3 days left in my campaign, all or nothing!

You can read more about my story at erinkmac.com and continue to receive this blogs by clicking the ‘follow’ button.

Thank so very much for coming along on this adventure.***

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!