Sabbatical: Push

I spoke to a friend tonight who, after 8 years of desperately wanting to leave, finally put in her two weeks notice at work. She confessed that she was waiting to be fired or laid off. The proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back, was a situation that exposed the extent to which her contributions and work ethic were not valued, and that was just the push she needed. This reminded me of a moment I had written about while on sabbatical.

September 26, 2013:
No matter how badly you want to leave where you are, sometimes, you have to be pushed, literally. I went zip lining yesterday and at one point we did a “Tarzan Swing.” Looking out over the beautiful expansive forest I could only think of one thing — this is high, I am afraid. The staff on either side of me assured me that I was secure and to squat a little, place my hands on the rope and…jump? No. I planted my feet and did not move. That’s when I felt a knee in my back and I was gently, but firmly, shoved off of the platform. My scream quickly morphed into laughter as I began to oscillate back and forth over the Monte Verde Cloud Forest. I was having fun. I would have stayed on that platform forever, paralyzed by fear if left to my own devices. Then I watched as, one by one, everyone who came after me experienced the same thing. They had to push everyone! The self preservation instinct to stay where it was safe had stymied everyone, even the strong guys.

Being pushed from the platform in Monteverde

The sabbatical lesson? Jump. In my life I am striving to jump. I don’t want to wait to be pushed, but rather (I want) to have the confidence, the faith, that if I take the leap, not only will I be secure, but I just might have the time of my life doing it.


Sabbatical: Strange places, familiar faces

It turns out that it is a small world after all.

I don’t believe in coincidence and so when I run into someone multiple times, I take note and make certain to exchange information, because I believe there is some significance in the meeting. I expect that I will encounter people that I know in my home town, the last thing that I would have expected was for this to be a common occurrence while vacationing. Here are a collection of stories that illustrate just how comforting it is to reconnect with familiar faces, in unfamiliar places.

The first night I arrived in San Jose, Costa Rica, I met Patrick, a jokester from Germany who liked to tease me incessantly about the Walmart loving, burger eating, gun-loving, truck driving Americans. We were both beginning our journeys. On our last night in San Jose before striking out for other areas of the country, Costa Rica won entrance into the World Cup. To say that they were excited, would be the understatement of the century. The entire Country celebrated, and we just so happened to be positioned a few short blocks from the mayhem. It started with an eruption of cheers and before we knew it, the street in front of the hostel had been transformed into an impromptu parade, complete with drummers, vendors selling paraphernalia and vuvuzelas. Together, Patrick and I decided to join in the revelry. Traffic had come to a standstill, and no one seemed to care. The street was filled with people high fiving, hugging and jogging around the traffic circle chanting “Ole ole ole ole…Tico, Tico!” This continued for hours. I have never seen anything like it.

Patrick and I at the traffic circle in San Jose after the World Cup berth

That same night when I returned, a few new people had come to the hostel. Ana, also from Germany, had arrived and was chatting with a few other travelers on the couch in the common room. Each of her sentences was punctuated with an animated gesture and a bubbly smile, I liked her immediately. We ended up chatting until 2:00AM about where we intended to go and what we would like to do while in the country. I gave Ana my email address and told her to send me a message so I could let her know what activities or experiences I encountered that I liked, since she had arrived without a plan. When I left the next morning to travel to Arenal, I said a brief goodbye to Annette, a hostel employee from Boston whose parents were originally from Portugal.

Upon arriving in Arenal, I met a couple from Texas who twice provided a much appreciated ride in their rental. We bid each  other a fond farewell after a couple of days and I proceeded to the next leg of my trip, Cartago, where I would spend the weekend with my good friend, Irene. She introduced me to her bestie; a Biologist with a penchant for humor, spectacular spectacles and a rapier wit, Maca. Together we explored the Irazu Volcano and Tapanti National Park

Exploradores: Myself, Irene and Maca at Tapanti

From Cartago, I headed to Manuel Antonio and a new hostel, Vista Serena, I met my roommate a German by the name of Anja. I smiled and told my new acquaintance the story of the first German Ana. I wondered what she was up to, since I had never received an email. Here, I also met a pair of friends, one of whom was Dave, an Englander who had survived cancer and was on a two year round the world trip, blogging to inspire other survivors to live their dreams. The next day, Anja and I visited the National Park and enjoyed a lunch by an ocean side cafe. As I sat gazing contentedly out at the sea, devouring my coconut ice cream, I saw them, the couple from Arenal! I called out and we laughed at the likelihood of having run into one another. They decided to have lunch at the same cafe.

The 2nd Anja and I in Manuel Antonio

Anja and I returned to the hostel so she could catch her shuttle to Monteverde and I sat down to enjoy the afternoon showers with a spectacular panoramic view from the hostel balcony. September in Costa Rica is part of what is marketed as “The Green Season,” a gimmicky name for rainy. True to form, each afternoon around 3:00PM, the showers would begin and last well into the evening. It was during the rainstorm that a few new guests arrived. There was an Indian man by the name of Dhaval (who went by Dave for us Westerners) who was living in New York and decided to take a last minute trip to Costa Rica…on whim. As “Dave” and I discussed our experiences and plans, a second newbie arrived. I turned to say hello and immediately both of us let out peals of laughter, it was Ana, from Hostel Urbano! After she and I greeted one another she turned to Dave and laughed again, “You!!!” she exclaimed. Apparently, they had crossed paths earlier in their journey as well. “Your email bounced back, I must have typed it incorrectly” Ana explained, I smiled and replied “I guess we were meant to reconnect,” and we once again shared an evening of laughter as the rain continued to pour.

Both Ana and Irene had told me of a river, Rio Celeste, that had the most unearthly blue water and was just outside of La Fortuna. My first time visiting, La Fortuna, it rained heavily and I assumed that the water would be muddy and thus, not worth visiting, so I skipped it. I had also bypassed the hot springs and was chastised by every person I spoke for not having soaked in the naturally heated waters. With my time in Costa Rica winding down, I was determined to see that river and since I would be in La Fortuna anyway, I supposed I would soak in the springs. I left from Monteverde determined to make it to Rio Celeste, and on the ride over, the rains started. I arrived in La Fortuna and checked into a new hostel, Arenal Hostel Resort, which really, was quite like a little oasis and a steal at $12 per night. Upon check in, I inquired about visiting Rio Celeste, I was told (what I already knew) that it was not recommended given the rains. As I exited the front office I heard someone call out “Hey! Were you at Hostel Urbano?” and there was Annette walking toward me, we decided to go on the Volcano Hike the next morning.

Annette and I at my farewell lunch
For my final evening in Costa Rica, I decided to go full circle and end where I began, at Hostel Urbano. Upon checkin, I turned to see the travel companion of Dave the Survivor and she told me he had set out for Nicaragua, she would be returning to England in the morning. I set out for the ballet and returned that evening, tired and ready for a good night’s sleep. On my final day in Costa Rica, Irene and I went to breakfast and she told me that Maca would have joined us, but he had company in town. We enjoyed our food and I recounted the many tales of reconnecting with people throughout my trip. She told me that Maca would be in San Jose later that day if we were able to meet up. After breakfast, walked over to the University and through the library before returning to the hostel. When I did, I was told someone had called for me, darn! I had missed connecting with Maca. I decided to walk into San Jose to photograph the graffiti murals, and 20 minutes into my walk, as I neared the city center, I heard someone call out my name. I turned to see Maca and his friend walking toward me smiling broadly, we spent the afternoon together at the museums. 
Maca and I in San Jose

When I returned to the hostel for my final evening, Annette had returned from La Fortuna and the hostel was abuzz with new activity. I could only shake my head and laugh when Patrick, the German from my first night in Costa Rica, appeared and began to tease me about Americans and our Football. It would only seem right to end my trip where it began, and to find that it is always a comfort to encounter a familiar face in a strange  place and that a place, once unfamiliar, can become like a lighthouse –welcoming you back like an old friend.

Patrick and I leaving to our next destinations at San Jose Airport

Sabbatical: Lessons from the backpackers

I have been traveling now for five weeks, a pittance compared to some of the people I have met, but the longest trip I have ever taken. When all is said and done, I will have been on the road, away from home, for six weeks. In that time, I have visited four countries, and several cities within each country. I couldn’t decide how to share the stories I have captured to date: Topical? By country? I started with what I put in my bag, I could (and I will) talk about the places I’ve visited, but the more profound lessons for me, have been from the people I met along the way.

For those who don’t know me, I am something of a planner. I have always had a calendar, be it paper, or now Google, but scheduling is second nature to me. When I say “hold on, let me check my calendar” I don’t mean to be pretentious, I honestly do have to check because without my appointments saved, I would never know where I am supposed to be, or when. This is both a blessing and a curse. Once, when I was still analog, I lost my planner and had a sickening sense of anxiety until I found it. I was definitely not what could be considered a “free spirit” in the way of just seeing where the day could take me.  For my sabbatical, I wanted to escape the tyranny of a schedule. That all started with the one bag, the agility to easily pack up and go, but I was in for a big lesson on what it means to truly be a free spirited traveler.

Let me start by introducing Hostel Urbano, the place where my journey begins. I’d never stayed in a hostel before, in fact, my only exposure was by hearsay from Hollywood horror movies, so needless to say, I was skeptical at best. On the recommendation of a trusted friend, I chose this as my first stop in Costa Rica. It set the tone for my entire trip, in so many ways.

The dining room table in Hostel Urbano

The second I walked through the door, I was greeted like an old friend. As new people arrived, I had the pleasure of meeting one amazing individual after the next, all on a journey of discovery in some regard; The bubbly German woman I met my last night who had arrived without a plan, the Canadian writer who was working on his science fiction novel, the cook turned dive instructor, the two Americans who had decided to move to Costa Rica for a couple of months and work at the hostel in exchange for room and board. What is it about travel that makes us feel that we will somehow be transformed? I think it is the removal from our daily routine. It is inevitable that when we leave our comfort zones, we will have to learn something about who we are, and make decisions about what we really want.

Not knowing what came next used to cause me a great deal of anxiety, but in meeting so many people who were willing to improvise their vacations, I began to “see the light.” Backpackers are some of the most agile people I’ve ever met. By not having a set plan, they easily adapt to the moment. If loving where they are, they stay another day, hating where they are? They hop on a bus and get on with life. Sometimes we stay when we should go because it was “part of the plan.” We stay in unhealthy relationships long past their expiration date, we continue working jobs that make us sick, we are so tied to the comfort of the known we allow it to dictate our path. As my vacation progressed, I found myself looking forward to arriving somewhere new, and free-styling.

I am not advocating that you leave everything in life to chance, some things you actually need to reserve in advance, but leave enough freedom to adapt. In life, as we all know, the unexpected happens. You cannot control the circumstances, only your response to them. I have seen many different responses…stressed out people at wits end on the verge of missing flights (you will make or miss the flight, regardless of how stressed out you are, so chill!), angry people trying to turn a situation in their favor (speaking more loudly in threatening manner will not endear service people to you, be kind, it gets you further in life), but my favorite are those who take stock of the situation and make the most of it. I will end this with an application of my lessons from the backpackers:

  1. Be agile: Be open to change and ready to make the necessary adjustments
  2. Make the most of the moment: You cannot change what has already happened, so, when life gives you lemons, make a souffle! 

An excerpt from my journal on Sept 11, 2013:

I couldn’t be further removed from the chaos that marked this day in 2001…Today, as I walked around wondering what I would do, and how I would get there, I stopped myself and said ‘Enjoy the journey.’ Life is as much about the ‘in between’ the ‘meantime’ as it is the end goal and destination. The dive instructor that I met at the hostel said he had always wanted to find a way to to combine his love of water and cooking and that now, he was doing something he really enjoyed, but he said “What next?” What happens when you have reached the goals you set, when you are content with life? I think every person has a hunger. An insatiable hunger to strive for more. Whether it be more knowledge, greater spiritual ascension, better physical fitness, it is a never ending chase. But instead of more, why is it so hard to be? To be present, in the moment, to enjoy what is happening right now, because the now is not something you get back. I got caught in the rain today and I didn’t mind because I had on my rain gear. I set out for what I thought was the entrance to the Arenal Volcano Park. I came to find out, after walking for 20 minutes, that I was very far from where I wanted to be. So, I turned around and I walked. I walked back to where I was and as I did, I ran into a couple who told me that I had to see La Fortuna Waterfalls. I saw a sign for it and followed it. That turned out to be another hour walk, but I made it and I arrived at the falls to have my breath completely taken away. I must say, it was one of the more beautiful falls I’ve seen.

La Catarata de La Fortutna

 Enjoy the moments. Peace and blessings.

Sabbatical: One Bag

What do you put into a suitcase for six weeks of travel? I have never been on a trip that lasted longer than two weeks, let alone with just one bag. One carry on bag. I suppose I should back up a few steps. Every seven years, the company I work for grants it’s salaried employees eight weeks of additional paid vacation. You can use this time however you choose, and this magical time is known as sabbatical.

sabbatical noun: a period of time during which someone does not work at his or her regular job and is able to rest, travel, do research, etc.

One bag.
The worst possible thing that can happen when you are traveling is lost luggage. My first course of action was to identify a single travel bag that would be versatile, functional, and easily fit into the overhead compartment of a standard airplane. After researching several different sites and bags, I settled on the Deuter Transit 50 for its versatility, durability and zip-off daypack. Great for the single traveler hopping on and off of buses, doing day hikes, and without need for all of the extraneous add-ons of typical backpacking packs. I picked it up for $143.00 on Moosejaw.

So, now, I had the bag and we are back to the original question: What do you put into a suitcase for six weeks of travel?

I suppose that depends on where you are traveling, and what you intend to do. I was planning to travel to Costa Rica (3 weeks), Peru (1 week), Argentina (1 week), and Colombia (1 week). This presented a bit of a challenge because I would be doing a mixture of adventure and urban travel. I wanted to snorkel, hike, zipline, tango, attend my first professional soccer match and learn how to surf–among other things. The range in temperature: 40-85 Fahrenheit.

What’s in my bag?

  1. Journal and pen
  2. White long-sleeved cotton shirt
  3. Black Danskin long sleeve mock turtleneck
  4. Black Prana convertible pants — Best. Pants. Ever.
  5. Black stretchy pants
  6. 2 multicolored print scarves
  7. 2 maxi convertible tube dresses which double as skirts (one black, one animal print)
  8. 1 black sweater
  9. 1 cream knitted hoodie (Roxy– love it!)
  10. 1 sports bra
  11. 1 cream colored hemp material long skirt
  12. 1 pair of board shorts
  13. 1 regular bra
  14. 1 athletic bikini
  15. 1 one-piece black halter swimsuit
  16. Rashguard (this I could have left at home, the surf instructor provided one)
  17. 1 pair of waterproof socks
  18. 1 white cotton t-shirt
  19. 1 black cami
  20. 1 white cami
  21. 1 tan cami
  22. 1 gray cami
  23. 1 animal print 1/2 t-shirt
  24. 1 pair mid-calf jean shorts
  25. 1 pair of cotton long socks
  26. 1 pair black yoga pants
  27. 1 island print cotton halter dress
  28. 1 long sleeve embroidered hemp-material “hippie” shirt.
  29. 7 pair of underwear
  30. 1 pair of black gloves
  31. 1 Orange knit hat
  32. 1 army green baseball cap
  33. 1 black Marmot waterproof jacket
  34. 1 pair Teva TIRRA hiking sandals
  35. 1 pair Born Elsa sandals
  36. 1 pair of “fashion” boots
  37. 1 hobo bag for a more fashionable alternative to the day pack when in an urban setting 🙂
  38. Norwex towel and washcloth
  39. 1 Argentinian futbol jersey 🙂
  40. 2 pair of earplugs
  41. Electronics: Canon PowerShot D20 waterproof camera, Samsung ATIV 500 Tablet, iPod, 500GB external hard drive (for backing up pics), USB mouse, lightweight Bluetooth keyboard, Droid Bionic, Casio Tough Solar waterproof watch, USB rechargeable flashlight
  42. Toiletries: Lush body butter (take THAT TSA), Soapwalla Deodorant cream, contact solution, arm & hammer toothpaste, scalp olive oil, shampoo
  43. Feminine products — I wanted to just take a DivaCup, but, I hadn’t tested it out yet, so I opted for conventional products on this trip.
  44. Reading (ebooks): Girl Who Played with Fire, Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest, Half the Sky, World War Z, Bossy Pants (audio), Behind the Beautiful Forevers (audio), The New Yorker
  45. Accessories: Wooden jewelry, sunglasses
  46. Makeup: 1 mascara, 1 neutral (brown), palette eyeshadow, brow pencil, lip gloss, black eyeliner
  47. Travel Pharmacy (various medications for traveling, I won’t inventory this, but suffice it to say I am amply prepared for Montezuma’s revenge or any other common disease that besets travelers).
  48. Outlet adapter, I need to add a 3 prong adapter in this, as presently I only have 2 prongs.
  49. Water bottle
  50. Water bladder from my camelback, which I have not used at all!
  51. Plastic baggies
  52. Snacks! Lifesavers on long bus rides. I had Lara bars, I have since replaced them with local snacks.
One bag to rule them all: Deuter Transit 50
That may not be an all-inclusive list, but it pretty much captures everything that is in my bag (so far as I can recall). I didn’t have to bring any styling products for my hair because I am sporting braids, circa 1993 Poetic Justice style! To anyone who will be traveling for an extended period of time, I would recommend the theme song “Bag Lady,” as you will definitely need to “pack light.”

I have been in Costa Rica for two and a half weeks now and I must say that my all-stars have been the convertible pants, hiking sandals, and rain jacket. There were things that I considered putting in my bag, but they just wouldn’t fit, these included: pair of flip flops, tennis shoes (chucks).  I will write about each country as I complete my journey there, but I wanted to start with what I put in my bag. Until next time!

Hippie shirt, jean shorts, and tevas

Stories from Italy: 1

I just got back from my first big international trip, that being one that required me to cross an ocean, to the beautiful country of Italy. While there, I visited Milan, Florence, Rome and Venice, of which I must say, Rome was my favorite. When I travel, I experience through sight seeing and eating. I love food and I love history and culture so my time is best spent roaming, observing and grabbing delectable little treasures to munch on along the way. For this, Italy was a perfect match. A country with 3,000 years of history is a sight seers dream and with some sort of eatery around every corner I sometimes ate just to taste things because they looked so good! Of course everything in Italy was not all beauty and romance, and it is out of this collection (the not so beautiful) that I bring you the first story from my travels.

Upon arriving in Italy I immediately noticed two things –the tights, and the graffiti. The women in Italy have a way of casually throwing together an outfit with the most intricately patterned tights and making it look effortless. In a city crafted by artisans, is it any wonder that the practice (of artful design) should extend to the clothing? I fell in love with the tights, they even have special stores, just for tights. So many things there are specialized. A shirt store for shirts, an entire store just for gloves, not once did I see a “one stop shop.” People are truly masters of their craft. As for the graffiti, it is everywhere. Sadly, most of it is not artistic, merely the equivalent of spitting on the street. It is strewn across beautiful stoic buildings indiscriminately in English words that often make no sense. I could not understand why, in a culture that cultivates an appreciation for it’s history one would have so little respect as to deface a 1,000 year old basilica, but to some it’s just a pile of rock.

While traveling I’d become accustomed to hearing the phrase “Ciao bella!” when greeted by the men in Italy. It made me smile. Prior to leaving the states, I was forewarned about the aggressive nature and crassness of Italian men, but I had yet to encounter anything of the sort. I had grown rather fond of them actually. My guard was down. One day my sister and I were walking through Florence where several street vendors attempted to sell us their wares, we responded with our most useful Italian phrase: “no, grazie.” In one such instance after respectfully declining to purchase a painting, one of the vendors called after me “Nice ass, I’d like to fuck!” And there it was. Never had anyone, stateside or otherwise, said anything so ugly. In that moment, I felt a kinship with those beautiful historic buildings, it was as though someone had just scrawled the senseless grafitti across my body.

When reading about Italy in preparation for the trip, I came accross the statistic that the unemployment rate for young people in Italy is around 30% and that a great majority of them live with their parents until well into their late twenties and early thirties. To put that in perspective, the current US unemployment rate is hovering around 8%. In desparate times, people resort to desparate measures to hold on to some sense of dignity, to feel that they are still relevant –still included in the story. In scrawling the graffiti, in hurling ugly words, perhaps it was a way of saying “You will not ignore me. You may have come to tour the buildings and see the sights, but I am still standing here, these cities were built centuries ago…but today, I am here, I am struggling, and I am frustrated.” I chose not to dignify the comment with a response, but I continued to notice the hideous grafitti everwhere. On my last night in Milan, while looking for postcards I took a wrong turn and looked up to find a beautifully grafittied doorway. I smiled and silently thanked God for reminding me that there is always beauty to be found amidst the rabble.