Cordo{home}bese

Oh, my Lovers… I’m afraid I have some bad news for you. It would seem that for the first time, I have lied to you. Not intentionally, of course… I would never betray you like that. But I had previously promised posts on New Zealand and BA, and, well, my faithful, that is just not going to happen.

After my last post, a fellow Earhart reached out and told me it was a good read – and asked me if I knew why. I had an inkling, but I asked him to share just the same. This particular individual and I had previously discussed my disgust with some of my previous posts – they didn’t possess my usual energy, my style of reminisce, my passion for the the journey and the desire to share it with you. I got behind and felt obligated to rush it, to catch you up, at it was more of a chore than a labor of Love. Anywho, his reply to me was “Because you’re writing about what’s important to you and it shows, not just breezing through what happened to stay caught up”.

He’s 100% correct, and you deserve better. You’ll not get a post about New Zealand, my Lovers. I was already hesitant to write the post… NZ was such an epic journey, an experience of a lifetime, a journey into a new world, a two week adventure with some of my favorite souls….. I tortured myself for not wanting to write to you about it… but I want to keep NZ for me. I hold the trip so near and dear to my heart that I could never do it justice with words, and a half hearted, forced post would just diminish the most amazing two weeks of my life. So, I’m being stingy. NZ is mine. You can’t have it. Sorry, not sorry.

As for BA – arriving late, severe jet lag, a skydiving back injury, being away for my nephew’s birthday and the holidays all topped with the impending departure of my best mate Kis made BA a very tough month for me. The good moments of that month are limited to Slack jaw competitions on the rooftop, sunrise at a club that didn’t get hopping until 4am and a farewell go kart race for the ages. We spent Christmas in the parque, attended an epic drum concert, and I sacrificed a night of sleep to catch up with My Saving Grace on her way through to Cordoba. There was steak and Malbec… everywhere… and I even found a bar with Bulliet Bourbon (no rye though).

Cue Cordoba. As I’ve mentioned before, one of the glorious parts of this lifestyle is the fresh start you get every 4-5 weeks. I had convinced Kis to come spend NYE with us before jetting back to his honey empire, and My Saving Grace was awaiting my arrival so that we could begin and end 2017 together. It was a rocky start after aforementioned Bulliet contributed to a missed flight, but I arrived in the capital city of Argentina and kicked it off with a stroll around the university town with MSG. I had heard a lot about Cordoba, and most of it not good…. opt out, they said…. boring city, not much to do… our expectations coming from KL and BA had been prepped for a “sleepy town”….. but Cordoba stole my heart from second one with it’s tree line boulevards, expansive parques and friendly nature. I was in love – it felt a lot like Birmingham. A college town, big enough to have everything you need, but not so big it is overwhelming. The weather was pleasantly mild (this would change), and the people were as nice as they could be – especially considering my extremely limited Spanish. There were fountains. There were squares. Couples danced on corners. How could you not love this place?

The Earhart crew arrived a day after I did, and we set to preparing a NYE feast. After months of hot plates and microwaves (sometimes), we were treated to full kitchens in our spaces and we set to making use of them with an Italian NYE. The Remote Yogi made Vegan Pesto, Starbucks whipped up his carbonara, and I committed much more time than I anticipated to my dad’s famous meatballs and my lasagna – but it was all worth it to see the look on my fellow Harts faces as they lined up to devour the goods. Around 10pm, we started a round of toasts that went well past midnight – there wasn’t a soul that didn’t participate in one form or fashion, even if it was only to raise a glass, shed a tear, or utter a laugh as we all recounted the past 7 months and planned for the rest of our lives as a tramily. It was a moment you had to be in to truly understand, but hopefully you get the idea.

I spent the next day or so exploring with MSG, saying my see you later to Kis, and settling into the Cordobese lifestyle. It wasn’t the hustle and bustle of what we were used to. It was mornings of CrossFit.. dinners at home… days in a workspace with expansive windows displaying the cathedral Iglesias de Sagrado Corazon de Jesus… Tupperware club…. weekends at the river… the most normal of “normal” lifestyle I’ve experienced since leaving for Remote Year. In the realm of #newnormal, we mountain biked through the Sierras chicas and hiked to a waterfall fed swimming hole…. we learned how to make empanadas…. twice. We drank Fernet and Coke from plastic bottles with the neck cut off. The steak…. some of the best steak I’ve ever had in my life…. so tender, so juicy… from the corner market.. and costing less than $5 per portion. Oh, and it took me four attempts, but I mastered eyeballing homemade chocolate chip cookies.

While there isn’t much to report on the super exciting from from Cordoba, I can report that I am continuing to shock and amaze myself at my own potential – and in that same tone, the love and support from the community around me that facilitates this growth. I’ve accepted that I’m human and I have feelings, and I’ve accepted the fact that the possession of such feelings is not a weakness. I’ve made a move professionally that I never would have had the stones to make a year ago. All things made possible by the community of fantastic souls that I surround myself with on a daily basis. Amazing humans that push me to be better… or just to be the me that I’ve always been and never had the courage to embraced. A caring, brave soul… a bad ass professionally… a leader of my life if I would only get out of my own way. “Vincit qui se vincit” has always been one of my favorite quotes – the translation literally is “(S)He conquers twice who conquers him(her)self when he(she) is victorious – the popular interpretation is to stay humble in victory – don’t be arrogant, smug or cruel – I like to think of this as a broader theory that you are your biggest obstacle – or maybe more so your pride. Humility serves us all. Don’t believe me? Travel the world for eight months with 40 beautiful souls and I dare you to not have it change you for the better.

Specifically Yours,

SR

The Only Constant is Change

Hola mis Amantes!  Last weekend, I took a quick jaunt over to Mendoza to hang out with the ever so lovely ACs while they were on their South American Tour.  Determined not to repeat my Aerolinas Argentinas error from my departure from BA, I left my Còrdoba apartment with ample time to get to the airport…. but without my (forgotten) iPad, my usual method of entertainment on flights, even one as short as this one.  After a quick check-in misunderstanding clear up, I quickly realized my phone was my only method of distraction from the boringness that can be solo travel.  So I pulled out my notes app and typed up this gem for you.  Its not the epic adventures I usually portray, but instead a depiction of the journey between who I was when I left for RY and who I am now – a trip just as read-worthy as the rest imho.

How has Remote Year changed me?

This isn’t the deep stuff or the monumental growth – both personal and professional – that I’ve achieved on this trip.  Its not the life changing moments I’ve had, or the self realizations that have made me a better version of myself.  This is the superficial stuff. The day to day.  The shit that you might not give two flying fucks about, but hey, its my blog and I’ll write what I want.

Schedule

What’s changed

So far on this trip I’ve been fortunate enough to live in the future from my friends, family and co workers, and the only time it really bit me in the ass was New Zealand when I was 21 hours ahead and therefore starting my days at 4am and working “weekend” days.  Overnights in Asia were rough too, but Europe and South America are kinda my jam, where I am/was 3-6 hours ahead of the curve. This means that the girl who used to routinely rise for 530 am Iron Tribe classes now doesn’t dare rise before 9am, which is beneficial because here in Argentina, nothing starts before 10pm. Dinner party? Show up at 930 and you’re early. Empanadas are served at midnight and goodbyes are said in the wee hours of the morn. We showed up to a club in BA at 2am one time and it was devoid of souls besides us and about 15 others… within an hour you couldn’t move in the place…. and by sunrise, it was a madhouse with no signs of slowing down.  Europe wasn’t much different.  It seems the US is the only place where ‘early’ is a thing.

What hasn’t changed

No alarm weekends.  I cherish at least one day a week when I don’t have to be risen by the bleating chirps of my phone. Tomorrow is one of those days, and I can’t begin to tell you how excited I am to get to sleep and not be woken until I’m ready.  Do not disturb is your friend, especially when a good portion of your friends live in worldwide timezones and text you at all hours of the day and night.

Workouts

What’s changed

Your girl was a beast when she left on this journey – everyone said exercise routines would be the hardest routine to keep up with, and despite locating Crossfit gyms in each city I traveled to before even leaving AND running TWO separate fitness challenges (Lisbon and Thailand), I only find myself back in a regular gym routine here in month 8, where I’ve found a box that I really like and there are 6-8 of us going a day and shaming each other for not making it to class.  To be semi-fair, I injured my shoulder in Lisbon, and without access to my favorite orthos and PTs, it was more of a self-med sitch, and we all know I’m not the best at ‘laying off’…. but it has really been more of the side tripping, partying, and general exploring that’s contributed to the demise of my former cut AF physique.  My return to the barbell has been humbling to say the least, and not just because I’m nursing a back injury that I can only trace back to skydiving… or sleeping in a camper van for a week.  Having a core group that pushes each other helps, but even then I still find myself hitting snooze on the workouts sometimes…. and the rule is if you don’t Crossfit, you can’t talk about Crossfit…..

What hasn’t changed

I still have desire and the will and the want to participate in physical activity. It is still my best form of stress relief, so I swam the Adriatic in Split, ran the sights in Prague, trekked the river in Lisbon, traversed the parks in BA, snatched axels in Thailand (ok, it was just that once), and gotten in what I can where I can.

Water

What’s changed

I used to be the biggest water snob in the world. If it wasn’t Smartwater or Evian, I turned my nose up at it. At the very least, it had to be filtered from the fridge. Now, when I get to a country, my first question is whether or not the tap water is safe to drink, and I’m usually ecstatic when it is. I have no problems filling my water bottle up in an airport bathroom sink, something that I would have found appalling before. Water is an important thing to all of us, and knowing the boundaries of that staple in each country is imperative. Just ask Duffs about Bali Belly.

I also used to load my water down with ice.  Tons of it.  I spent the first two weeks of Croatia looking for ice.  Turns out there, they make it in plastic bags.  In Budapest, we had *an* ice tray for three of us… by Lisbon, ice was a thing of the past.  Here in month 8, I realized I had an ice bin and three ice trays… and didn’t even use them until two weeks later after the ACs gifted me with a fun size pack of Heaven Hill whiskeys.

What hasn’t changed

My love for water.  Cold water.  In lieu of my ice failures, I still attempt to keep my water as cold as possible while chasing summer.

Beauty

What’s changed

Because we are chasing summer, embracing the flip flop lifestyle has been one of my favorite parts of this trip.  Top that with walking almost everywhere, and you can get some rough soles.  When I lived in the states, I wouldn’t dare bare my feet without biweekly pedicures, and if I was treating myself, a nice shellac mani. It’s month 8 and I’m pretty sure the last pedicure I had was month 3 (despite wearing flip flops every day) and even then I was scolded for the status of the skin on my feet.

Additionally, my level of give a fuck about the status of my mane has dropped dramatically.  Although I do have my favorite shampoo and conditioner muled in from the states, my general attitude about the tameness of my curls has decreased immensely.  Most days I don’t wash my hair and just throw a little water on it and hope for the best.  Managing this mop in a myriad of climates had generally produced what Marky refers to as my lion’s mane – a heap of golden curls that are messy and tangled a far cry from the carefully crafted ringlets I strove so hard to achieve while living stateside.  Oh, and anything but curls?  Forget it…. my straightener died with a pop that blew out a fuse in Thailand and my curling iron decided to stop heating up in BA… I’m left with my travel hair dryer, but most days I don’t consider it even close to worth the effort.  So lion’s mane it is.  Roar.

Make-up…. ugh make-up, shmakeup… what’s the point? I throw on some eyeliner and mascara if I want to feel pretty, but it’s mostly reserved for nights out. In this heat it mostly just melts off, so, like I said earlier –  what’s the point?

What hasn’t changed

I’m still a product loyalist.  Ever since Birchbox sent me my first sample of Beauty Protector, the only time another shampoo and conditioner has touched my hair is when I’m in the salon and don’t get to choose.  I’ve had friends restock me and even risked Vietnamese customs to have my signature product in my possession, not to mention the precious suitcase space and KGs I’ve sacrificed for that delectable scent.  Don’t get me wrong, I tried in Split to use something I could find on the road, but some things are with the hassle, and BP is one.

Another item worth it, my Forever After Lotion.  I’ve been using this product for over 15 years, and as long as I can still get it shipped from Amazon and muled to my location, I’ll pay a decent price for the comfort of my favorite skin product at my disposal.

Travel 

What’s changed

I used to despise traveling, and god forbid there was a bump in the road concerning my travel plans. Delayed flights, forgotten items, and crying babies used to send me into a travel tizzy. 8 months in, nothing really phases me anymore. I just left an airport where my reservation had been cancelled because the airlines domestic site had not accepted my foreign credit card despite sending me a confirmation. NBD, head downstairs and re-book the flight. Volcano erupted and stuck in Bali? Ok, book another flight and contact your travel insurance. Flight delayed 8 hours? Leave the airport, find a bar and taste the local brews. Got drunk the night before and missed your flight?  There’s another one in a few hours. Pay your stupid tax, grab a hangover nap and try again (this has happened to me twice now – whiskey is the devil).  Didn’t get the window seat you wanted on a 13 hour flight? Take a whole xanax instead of a half and sleep that sucker out.

Grabbing a taxi to my destination from the airport (or anywhere at all for that matter) used to make my heart race, but now I walk out with ease, locate the taxi line, negotiate the rate and hop in. Uber isn’t always a thing and taxis will try to rip you off, so of I want that extra empanada or glass of wine, I have to be able to show the local chariots I can’t be pushed around. It’s helpful to know flat rates to and from airports, and ALWAYS have the meter running otherwise.

I’ve begun to work as many travel hacks as possible too. How to sneak your overweight carry-on onto any flight.  Most airlines only allow 7kgs of carry-on, and my tech alone weighs that.  When not traveling alone, leave your carry-on with a friend and check in without it.  The alternative is getting caught by Air Asia in Osaka and getting smacked with fees for bags you now have to check. How soon do you really need to be there beforehand? You’ll learn more from the fails on that one. Figuring out if said airport has food and/or drinks once you pass security – not always a thing. Best packing job to have the items you want accessible. I’ve also abandoned the use of my Apple Wallet for boarding passes too. It’s much easier just to have the paper pass. Travel pants – complete with pockets for phone and passport so I always know where those are. Displaying said passport in key moments to convey I may or may not speak the local language. Always have a pen handy for customs forms. Always – ALWAYS – be nice to customs agents, even when the scold you for not speaking Spanish after aforementioned 13 hour flight in a middle seat after being delayed a total of almost 10 hours (I’m learning, damnit).

What hasn’t changed

I still carry my script of low dose Xanax for two reasons: hangover anxiety and travel.  I don’t care how used to the travel mishaps I am, airports are still stressful places.  Judge me if you want, but it is in everyone’s best interest and enhances travel experiences for all for me to down that half of a little blue pill that brings me back to zero from a seven or eight. I’m not the only one taking advantage either… I’ve facilitated a much more enjoyable flight experience for more than a few of my fellow Earharts by prescribing to the sharing is caring method (see what I did there?).  Also, my travel essentials: a bottle of water, a bag of Sour Patch Kids and noise cancelling headphones.

Reliance on technology

What’s changed

Sometimes you land in a country and for whatever reason, your phone doesn’t work.  Most airports have wifi, but having a game plan in place regardless is a fantastic idea.  T Mobile had a worldwide outage last weekend while I was roaming Mendoza with the ACs.  We grabbed a map and did it old school.  Worldwide data is great, but 2G speeds are bullshit.  I have recently cut ties with my US based SIM to go the international route VIA Google Voice, Hangouts, porting and local SIMs… I’m not exactly sure what this means for my text messages yet (even though Johnny Boy has tested it and explained it numerous times), so to be safe, if you need me, hit me on WhatsApp.  Its how the rest of the world sends text messages.

That said, when landing in a foreign country that’s not on the itinerary, grab a local SIM, find an ATM and get moving because there is limited time and lots to see.  Always.

What hasn’t changed

My need to rely on technology.  I am a digital nomad after all.

There you are my Lovers, a little insight into the changes in your SR that aren’t really important, but fill up the space of a short flight to Mendoza (plus a bit extra for editing).  Stay tuned for more adventures along the way – Abuela’s empanadas, mountain biking the Sierras, Asado and more…. all in the next episode.

 

Until then, as always
Randomly Yours,

SR

Easy Peasy Japaneasy

Kon’nichiwa lovers! Due to a five week stay in a country with a 30 day visa restriction, I found myself in need of a visa run while residing in Thailand. Many Earharts went about this different ways – some when to Cambodia to take in the culture of Angkor Wat – others took to Laos to visit breathtaking temples – one crew even went to Disneyland in Hong Kong. After touching base with a flyboy from back home who was being stationed outside of Hiroshima and a fellow Remote festival goer I met at Tomorrowland currently living in Kyoto, I decided my government mandated break from Thailand would be facilitated with a 10 day trip to Japan.

I really need to stop booking early morning travel, at least for the rest of my time here in Asia. My trip was not off to a good start after a late night work sesh followed up with some bourbon imbibing had me miss my flight to Kuala Lumpur. Luckily there are about 30 Air Asia flights a day from CM to KL, so I paid my stupid tax and hopped on a later afternoon flight. My layover in KL was still pretty hefty, and I unknowingly entered the “cheap” air international transfer terminal – which is a desolate wasteland of nothingness – too early and was stuck, bored off my ass, for HOURS waiting on my overnight flight to Osaka. My rocky start continued when I arrived in Osaka, fell asleep on my train and missed my intended stop. Disoriented, frustrated, and stuck in the rain, I booked the nearest hotel to Namba station that I could find – which just happened to be a sex hotel, complete with tie ups, a “mini-bar” of sex toys, mood lighting, and of course, in-room karaoke. I can’t make this shit up. I’m surprised I didn’t have to pay by the hour. Kink aside, I have to say it was a good spot, which was lucky for me because not only had I landed with a yacht week level cold (see Choose the Positive) but Typhoon Lan was LITERALLY raining on my parade. I spent the next couple days catching up on some writing, catching up on some Netflix, and wandering the streets of Umbo-Namba eating all of the street foods.

IMG_4583

I’d had my fill of Osaka, so I headed to the train station, procured my Japan Rail Pass and boarded my first Shinkansen bound for Tokyo. My favorite part of the Shin is getting to see the gorgeous Japanese countryside. This place is epically beautiful. I even managed to snag a sunset view of Mt. Fuji. Upon arrival, I navigated the Tokyo subway system on my way to my Air BNB in Shibuya. I step out the the station and am greeted with a Times Square like view, complete with the NYCesque energy and vibe – liking Tokyo already. Momma Joe is also here, so I grab a bowl of duck ramen at a spot right around the corner from my digs that had a very Waffle House feel before meeting up with him and his friends to catch the show at the Robot Restaurant. As promised, the show is unlike anything I have ever seen before, and Momma Joe and I agree that there are no pictures or words that can even come close to describing the experience. Do yourself a favor and check it out if you ever find yourself in Tokyo – and report back to me on just how many times you think/say WTF. After the show, we grab a few drinks at Scramble (diner by day, club by night) where some locals bravely proposition our table for kisses and end the night at some back alley bar where I have some of the best pizza I’ve had since being on this trip.

A coworker from my new firm also happens to be in Tokyo, so the next day I have my first in person meeting from HPC as he and his hubs take me to their favorite Japanese curry spot – Japanese curry, btdubs, very different from Thai curry, but delicious in it’s own right. Once again, my ignorance when it comes to the metric system bites me in the ass and I over order – can’t wait to tell Starbucks about my repeat of the this – he’s already made fun of me for it in his latest post. After curry, we grab dessert, take selfies to make the rest of the HPC crew jealous, and then I head off to work for the evening. The food at the aforementioned Waffle House raman shop was so good that I went back, set up my digital douche office and worked alongside a bowl of pork raman with a side of gyoza.

Waking up to a dreary and rainy day in Tokyo was my cue to catch the Shin to Kyoto and hang out with RY group Kaizen for a couple of days. After a solid evening of society contributing, I’m invited to join the crew at World for drinks, dancing and debauchery with an Aussie band that one of the Kaizens knows from home. After some Jack, some Jose, (and one drunken Jack with Jose), we hit a McDonalds that does not serve burgers before calling it a night, er, morning. I spend the next day exploring, eating all the foods, creeping on all the people in Kimonos, and relishing in how romantic Kyoto feels. That evening, I join the some of the city team and some Kaizen for dinner at Mizuiro Club, a super quaint art cafe that you would never be able to find on your own. We order the menu (which only contains about 6 items), and discuss everything from tattoos to the Yakuza to childbirth while sipping sochu and tasting all this place has to offer, my favorite of which was the Japanese curry. The night before my departure is debauchery round 2. Kaizen’s level of boozing and boogying is right on par with Earhart, and since we are all in KL next month, I have some fears for our livers. Good thing I am stocked up on Drinkwel.

My last weekend in Japan is reserved for catching up with my flyboy in Hiroshima, so another day, another bullet train. Hangover brain strikes me hard, and after taking the train from Kyoto to Osaka where I need to switch, I hop on the wrong train and go right back to Kyoto. Face palm. Back again, and this time I’m in no mood to wait for the next train my rail pass lets me on, so I take the advice of a fellow remote, sneak on the Nozomi, and pretend I’m asleep when the ticket agent walks by. After checking into my hotel, the flyboy and I roam the streets of Hiroshima in the rain looking for a bite to eat before hitting the karaoke joints (because when in Japan) and drinking all the Japanese whiskey.

I want to breifly mention that finding a bar to drink at wasn’t as easy as it sounds. If you read this blog, you most likely know me, or have at least seen pictures of me. As a white female, racial discrimination is not something that I have ever experienced until that night in Hiroshima. The flyboy had warned me, but it wasn’t until we were denied entrance to a couple places and straight up asked to leave another that I realized he wasn’t kidding about certain establishments not serving white people. It was an odd feeling, but I shook it off and we found an amazing joint run by two women from the Philippines who were so accommodating, it erased the bitter taste in my mouth from being denied based on race.

My hangover brain is even worse the next morning, but I get my shit together enough to visit the Hiroshima War Memorial and Museum, and for a second I almost understand why we were asked to leave. It was humbling to sit and hear the survivors recount that day in 1946 – it reminded me of my walk through the 9/11 Memorial – only this time we were the dicks that caused the pain. I make a mental note that war sucks and I catch the tram to Hiroshima station and my Shin back to Osaka for my flight home.

Fun fact about Osaka – it is home to two airports – and they are not close. Hangover brain strikes again landing me at the wrong airport, and I’m thankful I decided to head to there early, because now I have to take an hour bus ride to get to the CORRECT airport. Ah well, up until this point I had ridden the the bullet trains, regular trains, the monorail, subways and trams, but no busses – so I was merely rounding out my Japanese mass transit profile. I’m busted at check in with an overweight carry-on and get my first taste of in-airport baggage fees – the stupid taxes here are really adding up, but I booked a seat in the quiet zone and I *had* the row all to myself until this woman decided she didn’t like her seat….. she apologized when she caught me giving her the stink eye, so I chose not to hold it against her.  When I landed in KL, Momma Joe was there as we were on the same flight back to Chiang Mai.  We grab some overpriced beers and chat about this crazy life before boarding our flight back to our Thailand home.

I ended up loving Japan a lot more than I had anticipated. When it wasn’t raining, the weather was a perfect high 60s/low 70s, so it was a nice escape from the oppressive heat that was Vietnam and is Thailand. The public transportation is surprisingly easy to navigate, and runs like a well oiled machine – much like everything else in Japan – the whole place is so neat and orderly. The majority of the people were super friendly, the landscapes were majestic, and the food was everything I hoped it would be and more, placing Japan on the short list of places I’ll return to.  Outside of Japan, it’s food and the Japanese themselves, Kaizen made me feel right at home, fortifying my faith even further that the Remote Nation is a unique society of those of us who really understand what life out here is like, and how we make the most out of every second while still trying to exist as human beings who need to eat, sleep, and contribute to society through our work.  I won’t go down that rabbit hole here, but IT’s latest post delves deeper in if you want a good read –  you can also get a taste of Angkor Wat, another spot I intend to return to this part of the world to see.

My faithful Lovers, I know I’m behind on the adventure.  Despite being surrounded by beauty, Thailand has brought a good bit of writer’s block to me – and not so much the inability to articulate the experience, but rather a lack of initiative and desire to devote the time to it.  That said, I won’t leave you hanging.  There are posts in the works, so stay tuned for island adventures, all that is Chiang Mai, and the upcoming lantern festival.

Specifically Yours,

SR

 

Good night Vietnam

Xin Chào Lovers. It is that time again, when I pack my life back into one single suitcase and one backpack, leave my current city of habitation behind and embark on a new adventure.  I spent my evening making a donation pile, rolling my clothes, once again debating my need for two laptops before eventually giving up to compose my latest Love Letter, which will actually be a composition of the drafts I started and never finished. Apologies Lovers… I blame the humidity.

Sapa

9/16

Oh, Lovers… I’m feeling especially romantic as I write you this Love Letter… and it has nothing to do with any actual love interest, but everything to do with the fact that I am sitting in a coffee shop nestled down an alley in the Old Quarter of Hanoi, surrounded by two story high bookshelves, sipping coconut coffee while John fills my ears, soul and heart with every stroke of the keys on the Yamaha piano situated in the corner of our chosen afternoon spot.  I couldn’t have designed a more perfect venue to tell you about my latest adventure, a two day trek through the rice fields of Sapa.  Without further ado, as John tickles the ivories, let me strike my keys and attempt give you your taste of one of the most beautiful walks I’ve ever taken in my life.

The day started with a 6am bus ride, so sleeping after my night shift wasn’t really a thing. I thought the 4 hour bus ride would grant me a good nap, but the back of the bus and Vietnam roads don’t exactly mesh for great sleeping conditions. Some members of my tram have started to wonder if I would bleed if they cut me, or if it would just expose the wires underneath and prove I am the machine they believe me to be.

I’m at a loss for word to describe the immeasurable beauty of this place.  Guided by women from the village and their children, we descend into the valley between the tiered hills of rice fields that is Sapa, each turn more breathtaking than the last.  The hike is no joke, and on my limited sleep, balance isn’t something I’m excelling at, so I hit my ass more than a few times, but we make it to our homestay in one piece.  Our gracious hosts prepare us a feast of local fare, I chow down and hit the hay.

 

Sleep eludes me, so as it comes times for the sun to rise, I wander the streets of this valley village before it awakens for the day.  The rest of my fellow trekkers rise, we have another delicious meal at our homestay and take off to climb the rice fields back out of this hidden gem at the foot of the hills of Sapa. Muddy doesn’t begin to describe the trek, and we deem our hike “mud skiing” because you just have to embrace the slide.  All the near bust ass moves are worth it though as we reach the top of a waterfall that me, Pidg, and Prince Kib decide to crawl out on.  Not to have an adventure without blood, I proceed to slip my feet out from under me after rinsing the mud off my shoes in the cascading water and landing directly on an elbow.  Not to be outdone, another member of our crew slides into a metal roof and cuts his head open to the point of needing stitches, so we hike out of the valley and take him to get sewed up.  A local meal, a hot shower, and we’re headed home.

Ha Long Bay

9/24

I have mixed feelings about my trip to Ha Long Bay.  While it is one of the most indescribably beautiful places I’ve ever been (sensing a theme yet?), I would not recommend doing the bay in the fashion I did.  Too little sleep, too much alcohol and a poor mental state caused me to have just as many bad moments as good ones…. but everything here is growth, so I’ll chose to use my poor decisions to make better ones in the future, and keep this post to the fun moments.

We kayaked the villages on the river, where children never get educated in anything but fishing.  We toured the oyster farms and I made a (stupid) daring flip flop rescue in a marina.  We hit the beach where volleyball was played and songs were sung.  We swam with jellyfish, played chicken, trekked into caves, saw epic sunsets and enjoyed local fare. We played my new favorite game, odds, where I didn’t lose a tattoo and gained a kiss. We sang our hearts out to 90s boy bad karaoke and made dad jokes a new group theme.  All in all, the trip was a net win.

Hoi An

9/26

I witnessed an argument once where one participant claimed Thailand had the most beautiful beaches in the world, and the other rebutted that it was Vietnam.  When I saw both were on my itinerary, I vowed to see for myself, but I found myself in my last week in Vietnam and the only beaches I’d seen were on Ha Long Bay.  Despite just arriving back hours ago, after a quick text exchange with Uncle Rems and his Russian Beauty, I booked a flight out the next morning for a quick trip to see them and the beaches.

I came for the beaches, but the canals took my breath away.  I’ve never been to Venice, but I imagine if you put a Vietnamese spin on the romantic Italian town, you’d get Hoi An.  Striating the city are multiple canals, lined with palm trees and rice fields.  After a black heart filling dinner with Uncle and his Beauty, I posted up at a coffee shop on one of these canals on the edge of Ancient Town and started my shift for the evening.  A lighting storm in the background, traditional drums in the distance, and an iced egg coffee made for a truly amazing experience. Needing to take an internal call, I make my way back to my charming one room homestay and take my first ever under-a-mosquito-net conference call.  I think it was a first for my firm as well.

The next day I started at Cua Dai, walked along the water to Hidden Beach where I grabbed some lunch before continuing on to An Bang.  There’s something about the beach… the sand, the sun, the salt water…. Maybe it’s just me, but it has the power to shift my perspective, refresh my soul… something I truly needed after a difficult evening with a friend from back home.  And don’t let me forget to tell you ….. how absolutely gorgeous it was with the mountains of Cua Lao Cham as a breathtaking backdrop.

After I recharged my solar batteries, I headed to Ancient town to refresh my wardrobe with some cheap and breezy made in Vietnam gear.  I discovered my love for haggling, and didn’t pay full price for anything except my banana crepe.  An Uber to the airport in Da Nang, where the streets are lit with neon and the bridges pulsate light, two flight delays later, and I’m back home in Hanoi.

Hanoi

9/27

As I grab my helmet from my UberMoto driver and swing it onto my fresh-from-Monkey-Boxing sweat-soaked head, I only pause for a moment at the thought of how many other heads in the same condition inhabited this helmet.  I swing my legs over the bike, Led Zeppelin’s Immigrant Song comes pouring into my headphones, and my driver takes off for my Hanoi home.  I’m fresh back from my quick trip to Hoi An, and I’m soaking in every last bit of this city that I can.  Some of my tram is exhausted with Hanoi… the air is dirty, the streets are crowded, it’s noisy and bustling, but the same things that tire my travel mates invigorates me.  It has a buzz that energizes me, and as my moto ducks and dodges through traffic, ignoring all traffic laws, I breathe in the polluted air and stare at the shops whizzing by, taking in the lights and sounds.

This morning the tram did our New Occasional and caught sunrise from Long Bien bridge.  Not only did I cross this rickety ass bridge and not die, I got to see one of the most unique sunrises I’ve ever seen in my life…. the colors distorted by the haze that the humidity and pollution hung over the city, the best word I can use to describe it is creepy…. beautiful, but creepiest beauty I think I ever will see.

Farewell Junction

9/28

I’m sleep deprived, emotionally drained, and completely unable to perform even the simplest of tasks, but I wouldn’t trade any of that for the experience I had today. Two beautiful member of my tram led a collective on failure this month, and the culmination of it was a retreat into the hills of Vietnam to escape the chaos and the smog and come together on a level deeper than I ever imagined.  The day was slated to include meditation, trust exercises, open forums, and a fire ceremony…. all with a 7am start, meaning I powered through my night shift (again) hoping to catch some snoozes where I could.  The bus ride was a good 45 minute start, but the meditation exercise proved that it wasn’t enough, because I was out like a light by the third exercise. After an amazing lunch prepared by the staff of Maison De Tet Decor, I found a hammock on a porch that overlooked the hills and zonked out for a good three hours as the breeze rocked me into oblivion.

After my rejuvenating nap, we gathered in a room where shoes weren’t allowed and most of us sat on the floor to open up about when we had fucked up in our lives, felt like failures, and just plain couldn’t deal.  I listened intently as my family opened up about their perceived failures, a lump rising in my throat, my heart racing, and my stomach turning to knots.  I knew I had to speak up about my struggles… a friend from home had recently text me that I didn’t need a rock, because I was learning to be my own, but my realization was that I didn’t have to go learn that on my own… I’m surrounded by 46 other beautiful souls, each willing to help me along this journey…. but first I had to open up.  I had to tell them.  I had to admit that I was drowning in my emotional failures.  And I needed help.  Something I’ve never done in my life.  But this year is about facing my fears, so I dove in headfirst and bared my soul.  Outside of going on Remote Year, this is one of the best decisions I’ve ever made in my life.  Humbling doesn’t even begin to describe the outpouring of support I received.  As one member of my tram told me, trust begets trust.  If I trust them with my darkest side, they can trust me with theirs.. and that’s just the beginning of a beautiful relationship.

Hanoi

9/30

I’ve never been one for nostalgia.. call it a product of my inability to emotionally attach to things (.. people… places), but as I walk the tree lined street back to my Hanoi apartment for the last time, favorite chicken fried rice in my hand, I can’t help but appreciate that I’m going to miss this place.  Today was one of the best day I’ve had in a while.  On the heels of the above mentioned emotional farewell junction, my soul feels lighter and I’m ready to start over again in a new city, a luxury Remote Year affords me… the chance to improve, start over, and be a better version of myself every 28-35 days.  Sure, these changes can be made without a change of venue, but a new city somehow makes a fresh start even fresher.  Speaking of fresh, I got my new ink today, and I have to say it is one of my favorites.

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We lost a few of the family tonight… to solo travels and visa issues, so my heart is a little heavier, but I know that they will rejoin us, and absence makes the heart grow fonder… or so I’m told.

Let’s see… what did I miss?  THE FOOD! Bun cha and Dim Sum and Pho, oh my! On every corner, for $4 or less…. I will miss the food most of all….  Then there is Ninh Binh.  Never made it there, but The Remote Yogi did and she can tell you all about it here.

Vietnam is so strikingly gorgeous I have run out of superlatives and adjectives (is that redundant?) to describe it.  I’m personally continuing on an emotional journey to be a better version of the Random girl you all Love.  I’m sad to leave Vietnam, but I’m equally excited for what Thailand will bring.  Hopefully with less humidity.

Until next time my Lovers,

Always Randomly Yours,

SR

Hanoi(ingly late)

Greetings from SE Asia my Lovers. Yesterday marked one week in my new home of Hanoi, and while I have spent the majority of my time either working or sleeping, I still have plenty to report on the Random front. I am truly in a different world, in every sense of the word. Europe was beautiful and romantic, not drastically different from home, and you could almost always find someone who spoke English, or you could at least fumble your way through the language. Hanoi does not afford us any of these luxuries – even if you can find “western” food, goods and influence on almost every corner.

Marky, DL, Ktunes and I all arrived in Hanoi on a 7 hour overnight flight from Dubai. I sat between the boys while they slept, unable to zonk out myself despite the copious amounts of free Jack Daniels Emirates provided. Customs was a breeze, contradictory to the horror stories we had been prepped with, but I was tired and cranky and a whiny little girl. They keys to my home (and my eventual sleep) were at the workspace (Toong) with Pigeon, so DL and I ubered/napped there to gain my access to my home and also my data – Vietnam is the one place that T-Mobile is not a thing. Our first introduction to the language barriers was arguing with our Uber driver who was supposed to carry us on, but it didn’t work out and we were left on the sidewalk with our baggage in hand. DL had a call, so we ducked into Cowboy Jack’s, a restaurant downstairs from Toong that can best be described as a Vietnamese Hooters. One business call, two plates of chicken cartilage, and a few beers later, we start our search for our Hanoi homes. The address provided to us is NOT accurate, so we spend the next HOUR dragging ourselves up and down the street, dripping with sweat, trying to find our air conditioned apartments for the month. Skeen to the rescue, we each find our destinations, I unpack a bit and go down for a much needed nap before my first taste of the night shift.

The next evening has me missing some faces, so I venture out to , my new favorite cocktail bar, to meet some fellow Earharts and have my first flaming Pho cocktail – which is every bit as delicious as it sounds. We leave Nê and wander to the corner for some actual pho, served on the sidewalk while sitting 6 inches from the ground on a plastic stool.  After lighting ourselves up with chili sauce, we move to Xofa for some iced coconut coffee to cool off in the monstrous heat and humidity.  The crew eventually breaks off, but Phil the Thrill, Bonina and I aren’t ready to turn it in, so we catch on Uber to the Old Quarter, follow some nice young expats into a ruin type bar that is entered to through a scooter rental shop, meet some english teachers (seriously, everyone here teaches english) who then take us to another corner where we drink Vietnamese beer and chat amongst our group of 20 or so until the sun comes up – sitting a corner on plastic stools 6 inches from the ground.

The next week is mainly me trying to manage the jet lag, a new work schedule (8pm-2am seems to be my jam), and one hell of a sinus infection. Its not until the end of the week that I really start to hit my groove, but a forced 10am wake up one day for Town Hall allows me to explore in the daylight, grab lunch and catch up with an Australian beauty, hit the grocery store, and stumble upon the cutest little park with a lake just a few blocks from Toong. Naps a plenty, grabbing 90 minutes here and there, I finally start to feel human enough to interact with the world, only my world now is limited to my fellow creatures of the night – those of us bound either loosely or tightly to US hours. We inhabit Toong until the wee hours of the morning, pack it in and head over to Puku, the late night joint that hosts us until sun up when we depart for our blackout shaded rooms for our 8 (or 10) hours of slumber.

The streets of Hanoi are filled with scooters and motorbikes – and the sidewalks, and the alleys, and, well, pretty much everywhere – you even see them inside.  Crossing the street was best described by Becks as a delicate game of frogger – although basic strategy dictates picking a moment, picking a speed and just going for it.  Which brings me to one of my favorite things about Hanoi: Uber. Moto. When you think about it, UberMoto makes perfect sense in the organized chaos that is the streets of Hanoi – and when you factor in that each ride only costs $.44 (read that right, forty-four cents), its a no brainer. Riding an UberMoto makes you feel like you are a part of the elite Hanoi scooter gang -each red light a new chance to be in a sea of motorbikes all revving at the same time to take off and ignore all proper traffic laws – lanes, lights, one ways – anything goes.

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Saturday night is ladies night, and we all get dressed up in our sexy best (much better than your Sunday best) and head to The Rooftop – a swanky joint on the 19th floor of the Saigon Hotel with expansive views of the Hanoi skyline. A girl DJ and drinks named “The Hot Lady” have us turning the joint into a dance club, because Earharts can start a dance party anywhere. Once we’ve exhausted our welcome there, we descend down to the lobby (with one daring rescue of a damsel in douchebag distress) and walk more than a few blocks in the drizzling rain to our next destination – The Toilet.  Despite it’s name, the club itself is quite swank, but the vibe is weird and we leave after not being about to dance the weirdness away.  Back to Puku, where there’s always Earharts to be found, a little sheisha, a little whiskey, and I’m home to pack for my 6am departure to Sapa (see Sleep When I’m Dead for overnighter status continued).

Week 1 recap: Hanoi is hot and humid and I mostly see it under cloak of night.  I moto as often as I can, eat food from street corners while sitting on cheap plastic stools and I questions anything that costs more than $4.  Side trips often require all nighters, and sleep is gotten where I can get it.  There’s more to come, so stick around Lovers; the Asian Random has just begun.

Specifically Yours,

SR

P.S. I know, this post is late – upon posting I only have two weeks left in Hanoi – but don’t fret, all will be revealed – I would never abandon your Love.  Kisses.

Lisboa

Dearest Lovers of Random – I promised a post about my latest city of habitation, Lisbon Portugal.  As referenced in my past post, Lisbon has been a different feel for me.  I’m an employed woman now and I am throughly enjoying being an accounting badass again.  I’m running a fitness challenge and have started a new weightlifting program, so I’m enjoying slinging weights again (thanks Dustin!). Budapest may have felt like home, but Lisbon feels much like my old life…. with a European twist, of course.

What can I tell you about Lisbon? Well, for starters, its dirty. In the midst of an economic rebound, there is construction everywhere, which means there is dust everywhere. Also, most of the drinking is done in the streets. So is the male relief of the by-product of that alcohol. Speaking of the drinking in the streets, Lisbon is also loud. At least my home is. Situated between the two bar districts in town, Barrio Alto and Pink Street, and having a few lively places of our own, there is always a chorus of drunken madness wafting it’s way up to my windows. Also directly beneath my window, a tram rail and a bus stop. Both run frequently. The sidewalks are narrow. The locals hate tourists. In the dead of summer, every day is hot and there are hills everywhere. But all of this is just as much a part of the unique charm of Lisbon as the tile buildings, towering staircases, stone walkways and street art filled walls. I’ve learned that Lisbon is a lot like me…. you love it for what it is, or you move on. It does not apologize for what it is.

In most cases, this dedication to culture is heartwarming and satisfying in the form of decorated plazas, delightful local dishes (I recommend the duck rice at Castro), and a wine culture that rivals any I have ever seen. Seriously, two buck chuck has nothing on the bottles you can get here for 3 euro. Some if it is better than a $50 bottle at home. There is a craft cocktail bar – 4 Caravelas – where I can walk through the door and order a Bulliet rye, and the Australian expat who owns the place automatically puts the dash of bitters that I enjoy so much and only had to ask for once. We can talk about the subtleties and differences of rye, bourbon and scotch while I sip my cocktail and it reminds me of HBG at home, because my glass is never really empty. There’s Helio, the local who runs the aforementioned Castro’s, a quaint bar and eatery offering open air seating in vintage upholstery served with a side of conversation about local culture. There’s Red Frog, a speakeasy that reminds me of Death & Co in NYC, although the door guy is a midget instead of a towering ape in a tux. There is Foxtrot, with it’s open courtyard and smoky old fashions. And one of my personal favorites, Baguettes & Cornets, a French corner bakery with the best baked treats and the friendliest staff in Europe.

But Lisbon also has a dark side, and it is ugly. I never personally experienced it, so I don’t feel I have the right to write about it, but you can read my tramily’s takes on the events of one horrible evening here and here. I have no respect for those who fuck with the people that I love, and I love my fellow Earharts deeply, so Lisbon will always carry a scar on my heart. But if I were to lump all of Lisbon in with the few neanderthals that perpetuated the events of that night, I would be no better than them.

In the spirit of open mindedness, I climbed the hills of Lisbon and watched sunrises and sunsets. I peered down it’s picturesque alleys and enjoy local wine in it’s parks. I ran along the river and watched the rising sun sparkle across it. I boarded a sailboat with friends old and new to see sunset from the Tagus and eat homemade stew between bouts of uncontrollable laughter. I wandered Pink Street and Barrio Alto after late night shifts. The Goddess visited and we sipped sangria with DL on top of a parking deck while watching the sunset over a bridge that resembles the Golden Gate. She and I swank it up at the Palácio do Governador with pool time, spa visits and girl talk in hotel rooms. I enjoy meals and drinks and late night deep chats with the 11 other souls living in my building. I do my best to make the most out of my time in Lisbon. That said, I’m not disappointed to leave.

My European adventure has come to an end. I’ll spend a few days in the Middle East before starting my life in Southeast Asia, and I don’t even have a clue what to expect, so I’m ready for anything. Stay tuned for the Random adventures: Vietnam addition.

Specifically Yours,

SR

 

Sintra in 4 hours (or less)

Boa tarde meus Amantes.  In an attempt to keep you up to date on the adventures, I’m doing something I’ve never done before: writing about a side trip the moment I’ve returned from it.  You would think that this is the most logical step: the events and sights of the day fresh in my mind, thoughts and words just ready to tumble out with precision…. but considering I haven’t even started my post on Porto yet (that trip was nearly three weeks ago), consider yourselves lucky that I found a few free moments to address you, my ever so faithful Lovers.

As my time in Lisbon is winding down (very quickly, I might add), I find myself with a laundry list of things I wanted to do while here that have not been checked off the list yet, and Sintra was one of them.  Sunrise is another, so after missing yesterday’s monthly sunrise hike with the crew (snooze and stop are too close together on my alarm), I rounded up Marky and Isaac (who also failed the initial trip) and we drug ourselves out of bed and up the hill this morning to watch the sunrise over Lisbon.  You can read more about this in my Lisbon post, but after the big ball of fire was adequately high in the sky, I made my way through the streets of Alfama to the Santa Apolina station to catch the 7:45 train to Sintra.  It is an hour train ride, and I have to be back at 2pm to knock out some work before tonight’s farewell junction, so when the train hits the station in Sintra, I’m off to the races to fit everything in before catching the 12:36 back to Lisbon.  Throw in me getting off at the wrong stop initially, and I’m down to less than 4 hours….

My first piece of advice for doing Sintra in 4 hours or less: don’t be that asshole.  Sintra deserves so much more, and I am kicking myself in the ass for not giving this castle and garden laden city it’s proper due…. alas, I vowed to do the best I could, and stubbornly did it all on foot.  From the train station, I set out and began the 1,477ft ascent to the Pena Palace, ducking into the woods at my first chance to hike the majority of the way through woods so quiet, I felt my labored breathing was disrupting the serene environment.  It is still early when I arrive at Pena, but the ticket lines are already long and a Remote Citizen who visited the day before has told me she didn’t think it was worth the wait, so I duck around the corner and make my way up to Castle of the Moors instead.  I don’t regret this decision at all, and I’m like a kid at Christmas climbing all over this castle, along the walls and up the watch towers to see all of Sintra from above.  The view is fantastic and the castle has expansive walls and nooks and crannies a plenty –  I want to stay there all day, but I’m a dick and I only have 2.5 hours to go, so it’s down the hill into the city center I go.

My previously mentioned amazing city team member Tomás (who happens to be from Sintra) has provided me with some must dos, should dos, and if-you-have-the-time dos.  I obvi only have time for the must dos, and one of those is hitting Piriquita to sample the local pastries, travesserio and queijada.  After my insane trek up the mountain and rather fun walk {hop/skip} back down, I’m famished and order one of each and an iced coffee.  Here’s the thing about Portugal: you never know what you are going to get when you order an iced coffee…. sometimes you get an iced coffee.  Sometimes you get hot coffee with ice.  Today, I got a hot cup of coffee and a glass of ice beside it… but it all works out, and the pastries are delicious.  If I didn’t have more walking to do, I would not have hesitated to order an entire box of travesserios and brought them back…. to share of course….. But I have castles to see and gardens to walk and only 1.5 hours left, so I pay the check and move on.

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I’ve been previously warned about how crowded Sintra is, but I’m still pretty amazed at the sheer number of people all going to do the same thing.  The next stop on my list is Quinta da Regaleira, and it is absolutely mobbed with people, even though it is just coming up on 11am.  I’m still high from my castle adventures earlier in the morning, so not even the line gets me down, but it does eat into my allotted time, so once I get through it, I kick it into high gear again so I can cover as much ground as possible.  I open the map and quickly realize that even at my fastest pace, I can only afford to hit about 10% of this place, so I steer away from the main (read: crowded) attractions and spend my time dipping through the gardens in hidden staircases and off the path trails.  The gardens are intricate and expansive, with waterfalls, lakes, grottos, caves and everything in between.  The statues are especially breathtaking, and include a hall of the gods, and my particular fave, the lion {who does not concern himself with the opinion of the sheep}.  Sadly, my time here in Sintra is fast approaching it’s end, so I exit stage {garden} left and head back the the train station via the National Palace of Sintra and whatever this place is:

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Back safely on the train, I attempt to grab some shut eye, but a woman and her two young boys post up next to me and the younger one is still learning spacial relations, so I abandon hope at a nap, open the blinds for him and switch seats so he can plaster his face against the window.  Once I hit the Oriente station, I plunge underground to take the metro the rest of the way home, because let’s face it… you haven’t mastered a city until you’ve conquered the subway.  I navigated my two line ride back to Cais de Sorde and slid into my home office chair taking only 14 extra minutes over my planned return – leaving just a few moments for my current Love Letter to you.

As far as Sintra goes, if you come to Portugal, do as I say and not as I do.  Make time for Sintra.  I’d say 4 days.  Visit the castles early to beat the crowds.  Take Tomás’ recommendations and besides Pena and Mouros, hit Palácio de SeteaisChalet do Condessa, and Palácio de Monserrate.  Spend your afternoons on the coast at Praia da Ursa, Praia da Adraga and Praia Grande.  Spend an ENTIRE day seeing every corner of  Regaleira.  Eat your weight in travesserios.  Every day.  Don’t be an asshole like me.  Give Sintra it’s due.

Randomly yours,

 

SR