Feelin’ It in San Andres

Oh my Lovers… today I’m treating you to a special post, a recent memory accounting of an island adventure, something I haven’t provided for months. You’ve been subjected to past adventures, hustled through previous experiences, and denied recounts all together. But today I’ll provide all access in real time. Adventures as they happen. My steam of consciousness, as live as it gets.

Back in Medellin, Sarabear and I arrived at city preview, late, sweaty and out of breath – but just in time to hear Juan pitch his Feelin experience in San Andres, a Colombian island adventure that drew my attention from the get. After some mental debating, a fat commission check and a need to do something for myself, I booked a spot and a flight, and was headed to and island I’d never heard of with people I had never met for the experience of a lifetime (sounds like RY, right?).

I arrived at the airport with minimal time to spare, an experience I had designed over my many early morning airport trips over the past year. An extra 15 minutes of sleep, or a cushion to grab a coffee and a croissant? I’ll take the sleep any day. Not by design was my check-in bag, something I desperately tried to avoid on side trips, but these budget airlines and their stingy overhead space…..

When it was my turn, I stepped up to the counter, flashed my biggest por-favor-discuple-mi-mal-espanol smile and handed her my passport. Everything was going as per usual until she asked me for a return flight, something I had been waiting to get to the island to decide on. She made my decision for me when she told me I had to have confirmation of departure from the island if I wanted to go to the island. Thank god for cell phone technology. I stepped out of line, and within a few moments had booked my flight back to Bogota for Tuesday the next week. Now we were cooking with gas. Or so I thought…

I hit the ATM before going through security, and I was still left with a few moments before boarding, just enough time to get that passport insta-post in {“Island bound bitches!!!”}. They called my flight, and I watched as the line dwindled to a manageable length before jumping in – only to be denied because I didn’t have a customs form. Customs forms? Wasn’t San Andres Colombia? Was I not in Colombia? I was sent to the back of a much longer line, where I waited to get my form – and pay my island fee. Another item I hadn’t factored into my travels. Good thing I hit that ATM. Also, mental note to do more research on reaching my intended destinations.

A quick hour later, we’re touching down in San Andres. After a short stop for airplane crossing (these tarmac flights tho), I find myself in an actual customs line… talking to a customs agent. In the same country I flew from. But as far as customs experiences go this one is relatively painless, so I’m spit out on the other side to wait for that damned check-in bag. Now, I’ve stood at 20+ luggage belts over the past year, but I am not above the panic that sets in the longer it takes for my bag to peep its purple head out on the belt. My only solace is that several other passengers from my flight are standing around with the exact same look. After 20 minutes, a fresh set of luggage emerges, including my trusty duffel, still adorned with the Tigger given to me by JDC prior to my States departure. Another long line for customs X-ray and I catch sight of Juan on the other side (after being asked 7 times if I needed a taxi – gotta love the hustle these drivers put out).

After a stop at our <AIR CONDITIONED!> accoms for a quick change, Cata, Juan and I hop in the back of scooters and are off to our first adventure, a lunch spot directly on a beach that’s as empty as it is gorgeous. I dig my toes into the soft sand as I gaze out over the waves crashing in, and I can see at least 4 shades of breathtaking blue. To my right is a small rowboat with an ancient trolley motor bobbing in the waves. Off to the left is Johnny Cay, an island covered in palm trees, and just in front of it is the remains of a shipwreck that has been abandoned, a relic that help sets the tone of this scene. If Norman Rockwell painted the perfect beach, this would be it.

With Aguila Lights in hand, Juan recounts the history and politics of the island to me while we soak up the sun. San Andres is closer to Nicaragua than Colombia by far, and the Colombian government has considered it an afterthought for far too long, causing a difficult economic strain on the island. Once a tax haven, put out of business when Colombia opened its customs border, the island turned to fishing until the Nicaraguan government commandeered the waters they depended on. Left with little to work with, narco traffic became the big business of the island as cartels took advantage of its proximity to Miami. As I look around at the beauty of the island, dotted with obvious signs of poverty, Juan confirms the thought I am having that tourism, done right, could have a much needed positive impact on the island.

After lunch, we’re whisked into the center of the island to the national park that houses Big Pond Lagoon, a fresh water lake that sits in front of a compound of houses inhabited by native islanders – Rastas. We start our walk around the lake by feeding the alligators that live in the pond, and as we circle, our guide tells us about each plant, each tree, and how they use them – cedar wood for furniture, gourds for plates, medicinal plants for anxiety, cholesterol, gastritis, diabetes, cancer – there’s mango tress, guava trees, cottonwood. His family has been on this land for generations. I learn that while this area of San Andres sits between two mountains, the bedrock is coral reef, not volcanic, and the coral filters the water from the sea, making the lake a source of “sweet water” as they call it – a “mystic place” he calls it in his heavy Caribbean accent. The natives here speak Criolla, an island English adapted back in slave times – there are forms of this all over the Caribbean – here in San Andres it is derived from English, Jamaican having a more French influence, and the Dominican Republic heavy in Spanish.

Seeing that this is the “Native Experience” portion of the trip, our guide and his family are preparing Rondon, a traditional island stew in which fish, conch, pork, plantains, yucca and local potatoes (all locally grown) are all cooked down in coconut milk {which itself is made from coconuts macheted open, grated and soaked in water}. As the stew cooked down, we once again wander in the the jungle, and it occurs to me that I’m following a machete wielding Rasta into the San Andres nowhere, something that when my step mother reads this will give her a heart attack, but this is my #newnormal, and fear is merely excitement at the adventures ahead.

Our return from the jungle trek, where we find more trees and plants used for shampoo, rope, ties, ship masts and more, is greeted by the delectable aroma of the Rondon, almost ready for us to eat. Truth time: I am FAMISHED, but leery of the hodgepodge stew – 1) I’m not a huge fan of dishes where everything is thrown together – I usually deconstruct burgers, I don’t assemble my fajitas, and bread is a side dish, not a vessel for whatever was meant to go on it. *side note, I make exceptions for pho – load it up with the goods. 2) As my father, step mother, and most recently Marky, will tell you, I’m a grazer. Big meals are not my forte, and I’m aptly served up with a HEAPING plate of this stew. But it smells heavenly, so here goes nothing.

To say it was delicious gives it no justice. If I call it delectable, mouthwatering, savory, or any other food related adjective that I can think of, I’m not even coming CLOSE to accurately describing how amazing this dish tastes. Knowing that even in my ravenous state I don’t have the capacity to eat this entire dish, I quickly isolate the components that will be the focus of my attack – 1) The conch. Dear Key West – please STOP frying this. Yes, your signature fritters are good, but sans deep frying, conch is one of the best creatures from the sea I’ve ever had. 2) The fish. A local fish, white and flaky that falls from the skeleton (sans bones, gracias) in the most delicious fashion. 3) The pork – fall off the bone, flavorful – only to be eaten with hands, gnawing at it to get every last bit *interesting aside, the islanders only eat pork from the States – they aren’t fans of the Colombian swine. 4) Everything else – the plantain and yucca make the top of the list, and there is a dumpling that I want to eat all of, but strategy dictates that carbs will inhibit my goal to eat as much of this as my tiny tummy will handle. Just when I think it can’t get any better, I’m asked if I like spicy (YES) and handed a pepper sauce that ups the ante to mind blowing. I made myself absolutely MISERABLE trying to eat as much of this as I could. Although I wasn’t able to finish it, I’d still say my dad and Marky would have been proud that all that remained was half a dumpling and two Irish potatoes.

Satiated and sun worn, we headed back to the accoms for showers and a wardrobe change. I have a lengthy convo with Latam after a survey of the local wifi proved to be insufficient for a Monday client meeting. Once my flight is rebooked, we head to the main beach walk. As we walked along, I found myself with a sense of deja vu. My surrounding reminded me of my time spent with Ariela in Koh Samui. Or with Duff in Gili. Kiwi in Krabi. Even back to my pre RY days in Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, and St. Croix. I began to wonder if this cookie cutter island experience was by design. Had someone scripted what a beach feel was, patented the color scheme, filled it with white plastic chairs, stuck some palm trees in the ground (always at least one sideways) and sold it to every tourist destination? A fully functioning island experience, just insert your own music! Whatever the implementation method, this place is vibrant and beautiful, and as we walk the promenade, a warm Caribbean breeze blows in from the sea giving my lions mane an island wind blown look that I’m not opposed to. We settle in for a beer and talk about travel. Juan asks for advice, as someone who would like to see the world. My only advice to give: Do it.

Saturday morning I wake up to a feeling… an odd one only to be described as my skin BEGGING for a day not exposed to the Caribbean rays, but day two is White Wata, or as I like to call it, BOAT DAY! I concede to the adornment of sunscreen, a usual afterthought in my life, and despite the protests of my dermis, we head out. After some breakfast at a local cafe where I horribly mispronounce “revultos” {scrambled} we’re picked up on island time {read, 45 minutes after planned} and head to the marina. Our vessel properly loaded with sub wings, snorkels, and {of course} whiskey and beer, we head out into the Caribbean blue. History first, we cruise by San Andres’s only port before heading to the mangroves. On our way, we pass a graveyard of shipwrecked boats, just sitting in the water, no one caring to remove them. It’s eerily majestic, and Juan tells us that they are narco boats that the government has left to deteriorate on their own. Into the mangroves we go, and Juancho recounts their importance for the eco system and the economy, as the fish and shellfish feed on the algae that grows on the roots. We grab our snorkels and head in search of sea life – I’m looking for lobsters {er, dinner}, but they must know my intentions, because we can’t seem to find any. Lobsters – 1 Pino – 0. I’ll get you next time…..

Onto the White Wata {Criolla}, a breathtaking area of the ocean where the coral reef produced an island of white sand about three feet into the water that reflects the clearest aqua water you can imagine. It’s sub wing time, but my shoulder is still nagging from Lisbon-New Zealand-Cordoba and most recently attempted pull up at Casa en el Agua, so I pass on this adventure and play photog for Cata and Juan. As we’re slowly treading through the water, I look over and there’s this random guy swimming through the ocean – no boat in sight, and we are pretty far off shore. Juancho tells me he’s conch hunting, and his crazy ass had absolutely swam in from shore, with nothing but a snorkel and mask. He tosses one up to the boat, and overshoots his landing – before I can say go, Juan Pablo has dived off the boat after it, surfacing a few moments later with a victorious grab.

After everyone has had their dolphin like experience, we park the boat and hop in for some snorkeling. I dive off the boat sans snorkel, so I swim back to the boat so Juan can toss me a setup. These waters are intense, but I consider myself a strong person, and I’ve faced rough seas a few times this year. Note about a snorkeling mask – put it on before getting in the water. Note about snorkeling in rough waters – use flippers. I’m getting pounded by waves at I try to get set up, and Juan Pablo swims over to help me – something even my stubborn self accepts. Once I’m ready to go, I start swimming towards calmer waters, but I’m already out of breath from my adorning adventure. I tell myself it’s ok, just swim slowly and take some deep breaths, but the waves are crashing over my snorkel, making this difficult. I consider its time to go back to the boat, but I have a destination in mind, and well, like I said, I’m stubborn. It’s not long before I briefly consider the possibility that I might drown out here, as I’m terribly winded and making no progress. About that time, all three Juans are waving Cata and I in, with Juan Pablo sticking close by as we head back to the boat. Yep, those waters were rougher than any of us suspected, which makes me feel better about my own struggle. And let’s be honest, it was easy to push the bounds of my limits knowing full well I was never in any real danger with the boat and boys nearby. Although I have probably once again scared my stepmother. Sorry Bettejo.

It’s time for another island meal, so we pull up to Johnny Cay, anchor off and wade to shore. Lunch is served up at a Rasta run hut, and I have immediate order envy – my shrimp rice was delicious, but the island fish the boys were tearing into looked so much better. We’d been watching the storm clouds roll in for a bit now, and the sky opened up halfway through lunch. We trudged back to the boat, and slowly headed out in the rough waters to yet another abandoned ship – this one a tanker sitting on a reef that divided the rough seas from the calmer waters inside the reef. A quick jaunt over to Rose Cay, but when the sky opens up this time, it’s dumping buckets, so once it lets up, we call it a day and head to shore.

After and absurdly long sun nap (seriously why does this orb take so much outta me?), Juan, Cata and I head to La Regatta for dinner, a restaurant perched on the dock beside the marina. I’m beside myself with wine joy when I see a Sancerre on the menu, and it pairs beautifully with the fish I ordered. *Happy girl*. On our walk home, we run into the boys headed out for the night, so we decide to join and end up at Coco Loco, one of the three or four clubs on the island. Everyone told me the music in Latin America was an acquired taste and it has taken this moment to to make me realize its true. A bottle of whiskey is ordered and we dance to the Latin beats… but I know I’m at home when the beat slows and a remix of Sweet Dreams vibrates across the crowd.

The next morning my alarm blares way too early and I can feel the night before pulsating in my temples. I rouse from my super soft bed with super soft sheets to throw my bag together for our departure. We’re scheduled to fly out at 11:11, and by way of island time, we arrive at the airport at 10:35, and still make it to our flight with a few moments to spare despite Juan being placed on the standby list.

I’m not ready for Bogota… the cold, the rain… but I land in manageable temperatures, albiet without data. Thank goodness or my developed taxi skills, and its not long before I’m headed back to my Harts.

To quote my beloved Dre, home is where the Harts are, and I’m home. San Andres was an incredible adventure, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything, but I can’t contain the joy at being back where I belong, with my tram by my side. <Insert sappy ending….or don’t>

Specifically yours,

SR

Want to Feel It for yourself? Get in touch with my man Juan here.  Tell him I sent you 🙂

Conceding to the Universe

Hola mi amantes! I’m coming to you today as I soar high in the sky above the Caribbean on my way to San Andres island. This is the third weekend in a row that I’ve jetted off to Caribbean destinations in Colombia – first it was a house in the middle of the ocean, and then a beach hidden deep in the jungle – now its time to live the island life for a few days before heading back to Bogota. But with some time to kill, I thought I’d check in with you with my latest personal discovery in yet another brain dump post.

I used to believe that in order to love my Harts, I needed time away from them _cue solo side trip_. See, in a past life, I was the kind of person who would sacrifice my own well being to make sure that the people I cared about were happy. After being taken advantage of in this respect time and time again, I started to view this as a weakness, and attempted to reinvent myself as someone who didn’t give a fuck about anything but what she wanted. Ahem, this doesn’t work for me {insert Starbucks “toasty marshmallow” reference}. I’m not saying people aren’t capable of change, but once a caring soul, always a caring soul. What I did learn as the number of people that I cared about in my life grew, is that in order to love and care for those around me, I need time away to love me. Surrounded by the group, I allow myself to be swallowed up by the pursuit of their happiness ~individually and collectively ~ and I’m not complaining, I love every minute of it, and it is a much more fulfilling way of life when those around me are constantly recognizing and appreciating me for who I am. What I didn’t realize until I landed in Cartagena is how draining it can still be on me if I let it, and that my happiness {while still mainly derived from the joy of others} requires effort on my part to focus on me and recharge that spirit of giving. So, in order to love my Harts, I need time away to love me.

I’m not big on faith. I have a hard time accepting that there’s a grand master plan out there, or a celestial being is guiding my life, or that my mood is dependent on where Mars is in orbit {cough, control freak, cough}. That said, sometimes the Universe speaks so loudly, I can’t help but give it a little nod and an “ok, ok”. When planning my flight to Cartagena, the launching point for a weekend at Casa en el Agua, I decided to take a few days on the front end for myself ~ a funny notion, considering this was the consensus of at least half the Harts.

When we landed in Bogota, it was gloomy. I was sick. It was cold. Sure, cold is relative, but when my suitcase is loaded for endless summer, 50 degrees and rainy is a bit uncomfortable. It was fine, I told myself, only a few days until I was coastal bound. When making my usual initial grocery run [er, Rappi delivery], I hesitated on a few items I would normally get for the month {mainly the makings of a PBnJ}. I also heavily researched gyms, and hesitantly held off on signing for the month. When I packed for Cartagena, I WAY over packed, a severe deviation from my usual minimalist travel style. All of the above mentioned out of character moves made complete sense the moment we landed in Cartagena. I stepped off the plane, the Caribbean breeze hit my skin, and I knew I > was > home. Month 11 wasn’t meant for me to spend in the mountains of Bogota {which I’m sure is a lovely place rich in experiences}, but rather on the Caribbean coast of Colombia, gazing out at the sparkling waters and recharging my so{u}l<ar> batteries. That’s why I couldn’t bring myself to buy a jar of PB. I see you universe.

Cartagena is a beautiful mix of Miami and New Orleans. I had booked a swanky top floor condo in the Miami-esque area of Bocagrande, a peninsula of high rises that overlooked the bright blue waters of the Caribbean. A mere 5 minutes cab ride away is Old City, a walled maze of brightly colored buildings, energetic activity, and a distinct New Orleans vibe, if you replace the jazz with salsa. Less than 24 hours into my trip, I booked my AirBNB for another 10 days.

I didn’t spend the whole time alone. As I previously mentioned, there were other Harts with the same idea I had, so I hung at the pool with Duffs, had lunch dates with Mel, birthday dinners with the crew, a week of the Marky and Noir show featuring jungle treks, beaches, hammocks and _boulders_, and of course, the tramily gathering at Casa en el Agua. But when I was alone, I was never lonely. I slept. I ate clean. I drank lots of water. I took myself out to dinner. I ordered food in and binged on trash TV. I laid by the pool. Caught up with friends. I wrote. I read. I watched every sunset. I worked, long days, that I didn’t mind because I was slaying. I woke up every morning to the sound of the waves crashing and a view of the ocean that put a smile on my face. I started to feel rejuvenated and refreshed, felt my confidence return and my mind start to ease. I missed my Harts, but I knew I was exactly where I needed to be. Ok Universe, I get it.

As we begin our descent into San Andres, I have to regrettably say that the time allotted for this brain dump is up. I’m off to more Caribbean adventures and can’t be bothered divulging my inner workings anymore. Until next time Lovers…

Randomly Yours,

SR

Sad you didn’t get any adventure updates? Guess what… pics are UTD

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This is not a small thing we are doing.  We made a choice.  For some it was easy.  Others agonized over every detail – either way, we ended up at the same conclusion. Some were excited, some were scared, but most were a mixture of the two. We packed up life as we know it, and said our see-you-laters.  We boarded flights to destinations, both known and unknown.  We began a journey that has taken us further than we could have ever imagined.

We chose. To live an unconventional life.  To leave loved ones behind and abandon our creature comforts.  We warped our sense of home, to the point where some of us don’t know how to answer that question anymore.  We changed our perception of family.  We opened our hearts and our minds to the world, agreed to weather whatever it threw at us.  We prepared to do it alone, and quickly realized we didn’t have to.

We climb mountains.  Crawl through caves.  Swim in oceans, seas, rivers, lakes, pools. Hike to lakes, hot springs and epic views – through jungles and rice fields to hidden villages – to waterfalls we scale up and rappel down.  We seek sunsets and sunrises – sometimes we miss both. We camp. There is bungee jumping, cliff jumping, wake boarding, skydiving, skateboarding, sand boarding, paragliding, surfing, volleyball, soccer games, rugby pickup, disc golf (that last of which I suck at).

We work.  All hours of the day and night.  We prop our laptops up in airports, cafes, workspaces – in homestays, hostels, hotels and AirBNBs.  We take calls in the desert, on docks, outside clubs, on boats, at breakfast/lunch/dinner, in the wee hours of the morning and the darkest hours of night. We hunt wifi and power.. outlets and passwords are our survival tools.

We dance in the rain – and in airports, on beaches, in workspaces, apartments, elevators, on planes, trains and automobiles. In the occasional club.

We set goals. We grow. We fail. We succeed.  We fall in love, and have our hearts broken –  we break hearts along the way.  We fight… with ourselves and each other. We celebrate, ourselves and each other.

We explore – near and far.  We take early morning flights and overnight buses – ferries, rails, and bullet trains – we rent Pandas and load into BlahBlah cars, hop on scooters (sometimes with strangers), all to reach the furthest corners of the world that we are capable of seeing.

We face tragedy. We get sick, and hurt, and lonely and sad. We struggle. We miss our family and friends.  We feel guilt at not missing them enough sometimes. We fear we may never be able to return to our previous lives.  We process the reality that we may not want to.  We accept the fact that we are forever changed, and consider that our loved ones will never understand.

We sleep… sometimes very little, and mostly whenever and wherever we can.

We get Bali Belly and the Peruvian Plague – between porcelain palace trips we run down the sushi/ceviche/street meat/not-properly-boiled-water we ingested that could have put us in this predicament.

We face language barriers – we learn hello, goodbye, please, thank you, and I’m sorry (mostly for not being able to communicate).

We live everyday life.  We do laundry and grocery shop, get haircuts, manicures, pedicures.  We pay bills and balance our budgets, with the added pressure of FOMO and side trips.  We order Dominos in Peru, eat mac and cheese in Malaysia, visit Hooters in Colombia, make stuffing out of pancakes in Bali –  we Netflix and chill, have girls nights in. We try to eat healthy (amidst a sea of delicious cuisine), and we hit the gym – Crossfit, Monkey Boxing, Muay Thai, Zumba, Pole dancing (yes) – we go for runs, power walks, lift heavy things, practice yoga.

We lose tramily members along the way – to personal, family and professional obligations. We know that a piece of us goes with them, and a piece of them stays with us. We make new friends as well – at Nation Houses, Island Takeovers, New Years, Carnival, Lantern Festivals.

We share our adventures. Through Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat, blogs and journals. We recount stories over FaceTime, Skype, WhatsApp, FB Messenger, however we can reach you. We share the world, our world, with those that we love, so they can live vicariously and have a sense of our joy for themselves.

We inspire you. We confuse you. We scare you (mostly our parents). You’re envious of our adventures, proud of our bravery, fearful for our safety, grateful you don’t face the struggles we do. You’re happy for us, but you miss us. You want us to come home, but know we are where we need to be.

I chose. To live an unconventional life.

I have been holding onto this post for a while.  Tweaking it, adding to it – thinking of a good title, a play on words – trying to wrap it up with a neat little bow, something catchy, witty, something that will have you coming back for the next post.  I regret to say I’ve come up empty, so until next time Lovers….

Randomly 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

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

 

Remote {Emotional} Reality

Bom Dia my Lovers. I know it has been a while since I have written you, but I promise you've never been far from my thoughts or my heart.  Arrival in Lisbon has meant a shift in more than one of my day to day activities – I'm ramping up at a new job, running a fitness challenge in the group (selfish motivation is my own lack of fitness these past two months), hosting friends, and basically trying to find a new balance between all of those things while still taking side trips and exploring a new city.  Don't worry, I'm well aware that I owe you posts on Lisbon, Porto, the Goddess of Love's visit and, soon to come, Lagos… and probably Sintra.  But I felt this post was what I needed right now, and let's be honest – it's really all about me.

After our arrival day in Split, we were subjected to a day long presentation about what to expect out of Remote Year – the good, the bad, the ugly – and despite being epically jet lagged and most every one of us hungover from our meet up the night before, we sat on edge and took in all we could.  This month, I'm finding one part particularly useful, and I'm not the only one.  RY's Experience Leader, Travis, a guy who has the most positive energy I've ever experienced in my life, reviewed the four stages we would go through, each on an individual and group level over a year.  Of course there is the honeymoon period, where life is fun and we all love each other.  After that comes a dip, where we start to settle into who we were, who we are, and where we fit.  This is a tough phase for an individual, and a difficult one as a group.  Ours started this month, and so many of my tramliy have been brave and outspoken about their struggles, so here I am, doing the same.

Those that know me the best know that baring my soul is my least favorite thing to do. Shit gets too real and I shut down, walk away, end the conversation, never talk about it again.  Healthy, I know, but up until now my strategy has served me well enough. It helps to be surrounded by an army of people who like you, and circle of those who love you, and an even tighter knit group of those who love you unconditionally – relationships that were forged over months and years of interactions, both positive and negative.  The thing about RY is, you're forced to press the reset button on all of those timelines for the people you interact with on a day to day level and you are starting fresh with 50 (give or take) people.  50 amazing people.  50 brave souls.  50 uniquely individual human beings that by the end of this year will have a bond that doesn't exist outside outside of this experience – but for now, we are struggling.

Disclaimer: in no way am I insinuating I speak for everyone in the group. For purposes of this post, I am generalizing from those who have spoken up.  My usage of the word "we" is solely for simplicity of writing.

We miss home.  We miss our families, our friends, the long forged bonds that facilitated the unconditional manner of support and love.  Our relationships with those we left behind are changing and we are dealing with their hurt and pain along with our own.  We're getting to know each other on a deeper level, figure out what we need (and don't need) from each others.  We cry, we hug, we fight – and hopefully make up. We reach out when we can, shut away when we need to.  Most importantly, we support each other.

I can only speak for others with what they have shared, but if I'm brave enough, I can keep typing and ultimately hit publish and let you into my personal emotional journey this month.  And you can choose to keep reading, or wait for the next post, where I promise to lighten it back up and open the window back up to the fun stuff.  Freedom is a powerful things my Lovers.

My month got off on to a rocky start from day one with an argument from a loved one at home that spanned the majority of a 15 hour already stressful travel day – I didn't cope with the manner in the most adult manner, behaved quite embarrassingly, and worst of all, caused a fellow Earhart pain that a sober me would never impart on anyone.  The aftermath of my behavior caused a lot of anxiety, but I resolved to use the experience as motivation to grow and be a better version of me, both for myself and those around me.  The fallout from the airport caused some (much deserved) setbacks in this resolve, and I was emotionally raw to some of the interactions after it, causing misinterpretations, misunderstandings, and in one case, acceptance that making amends was out of my hands.  None of this boded well for my spirit, and I spent a emotionally charged morning dipping in and out of the conference rooms at the workspace crying because I didn't trust myself to be able to make it home without breaking down.

I consider myself extremely lucky that there are already several people on this group that I feel really care about me…. maybe not unconditionally yet, but they are definitely dedicated enough to recognize when I'm struggling and take the time to help me through it.  I hope there are those in this group that feel that way about me, if not now, then by the end of this post, this day, week, month or year.

My most difficult struggle has been finding a way to fit into the group while still being the unapologetic me I've always been.  Here are some things I know: I come in hot.  I'm loud. I have a tendency to overdo a lot of things in life, including drinking.  I'm a guys girl, always have been.  If you don't know me, those things can be….. annoying.  Intimidating.  Eye roll worthy.  Misconstrued. You don't know that I laugh loudly because I spent too much time not laughing enough. I'm boisterous because I spent years fitting myself into a box someone else built for me. I'm one of the boys because I was raised by a single father who knew nothing about girls: I didn't even know how to blow dry my hair until I was 17. And my excess indulgence is a product of my love of whiskey. These things make up who I am, and as I said before, I will not apologize for them, or change them to fit into a world that's clearly not meant for me. One of my favorite quotes inthe world is from Dina Von Teese: she said “You can be the ripest, juiciest peach in the world, and there's still going to be somebody who hates peaches.” I have to continue to accept that not everyone loves peaches. Or Pinos for that matter.

Today, I'll prepare balance sheets and do capital reconciliations through tears as an uncontrollable wave of homesickness grips me. I blame the Goddess's departure for this. Tomorrow I will embark on a journey of the west coast with Starbucks and fill my soul with the beauty of Portugal.  Next week, I'll get ready to move to Asia (with a short stop in Dubai), and I'm hoping to leave behind the loneliness I've felt here, be it self-imposed or real. Over this next year, I will work to get to know each member of my tramily on a level that allows me to miss their quirks and ticks and demeanors for the rest of my life. Beyond that, I hope I can take these experiences and continue to become a better version of myself, molded by the beautiful souls that surround me every day.

Emotional post over.

Specifically yours,

SR

P.S.  After an outpouring of concern (and love) from home within minutes of posting, I do want to let you know that I am still fantastically happy, and yes, everything is ok.  But feel free to keep sending the love.  There can never be too much in this world.

Tomorrowland

Oh, my Lovers, are you in for a treat. I knew my Tomorrowland post would be one of epic proportions, but even in my wildest of Random imaginations, I never would have considered what an A D V E N T U R E Tomorrowland would actually be. There was bike drama (lots of it). I was an entourage. We got in a fight with a taxi driver. I got hit by a car. I’m battered, bloody, bruised, and flying home to Budapest on a delayed flight with a throbbing head and a black eye that’s growing by the moment, and somewhere between all of that I attended the most epic music festival in the world, danced to my hearts content (in the rain more than once) and forged more life long friendships. Let’s first answer the question that is burning in all of your Loving minds. Did I partake in mind altering substances to enhance my Tomorrowland experience? I hope I don’t lose any of your Love when I tell you that I did not, and instead fueled my weekend with double shots of Jameson and more sugar free Red Bull than any one human should consume, and as the events of the weekend unfolded, this further proved to be the correct decision. Brace yourselves for the Randomness that was: Tomorrowland.

For two weekends each July, nearly 180,000 people descend on the quaint town of Boom, Belgium to unite over music at one of the greatest festivals worldwide. This year, my first decision after joining Remote Year was to be one of those 180,000. As mentioned before, I’m travel weary from overloading (overloving?) my plate this month, and the night before we leave for the festival the crew gets together to celebrate the Russian Beauty that is Milana on her birthday in another dance filled late night eve that includes me running through an open fire hydrant and ruining the hair I had straightened just a few hours before. Despite the late, whiskey laden evening, I’m up bright eyed and bushy tailed in time to shower and make breakfast before our two hour flight to Brussels. Once we land, our overly gracious AirBNB host scoops us up at the airport and we join the crew that is already settled in. Hair, makeup (because, as Jen once told me, festivals are all about the makeup), then festival. Our host as provided us with bikes so we can get to the festival in about 10 minutes. The Princess Meilz, J Lee and I take off to dive into the madness headfirst. The festival itself is a gorgeous setting of circus themed stages placed throughout a massive park with trees, lakes and bridges. J Lee is a hit and made me get in every pic that was requested of her, so I have strong urges to scour Instagram #tomorrowland to see if I can actually find any of the entourage pics.We kick it off with Cederic Gervais at The House of Books, hit Alison Wonderland at The Garden of Madness, get some Mainstage on with Marshmello and Tiesto before hitting the other end of the festival for Paul Van Dyke on The Freedom Stage and, my personal fav, Seven Lions at The Rose Garden, where the #PIC saw me twirling my little heart out on the live feed.

Dizzy from whiskey and dancing, we head back to the bikes for a whimsical ride back to our Boom digs. We uncouple our bikes, mount up to go, and J Lee’s bike doesn’t move – she’s got a tire lock on her bike and it has somehow gotten engaged – and the key is nowhere to be found. We look. And look. And L O O K. That sucker was G O N E. Meilz heads home ahead and I stay back with J Lee to walk the problem bike home. I have to pee before we go though, so I pop a squat, where I proceed to lose my ID – for the first time. Recovered in the most unsanitary of fashions, we proceed with my driver’s license in pocket, and I quickly realize this >2 mile walk will go much quicker if I clean this sucker up to my shoulders and carry it in a manner that all of my weightlifting coaching has prepped me for. This bike is heavy, and we are stopping nearly every five minutes so that I can rest and switch shoulders. After a good mile and a half, several switches, a scary detour into a park that is NOT as happy as Tomorrowland, we stop to rest and I realize my ID has once again escaped the confines of my person. This time we aren’t so lucky, so after J Lee retraces our steps without any success, we forge on just the two of us until Julian arrives like a knight in shining armor to help us with the last half mile. Lovers, usually I tell knights to ride the fuck on because I have my own white horse, but I was quite grateful in this instance. I’m just as grateful for the Jameson I bought at the duty free on the way in.

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Day two starts with a family breakfast, hair, makeup, trampoline jumping and pregaming with champagne before grabbing a cab to the festival because fuck those bikes. Upon arrival we revisit the lost key area from the evening before and find said key in less than 90 seconds. Into the belly of the beast, it’s The Garden of Madness for Valentino Khan before Mainstaging it for Nervo, then down to The Freedom Stage for Sebastian Ingrosso – who I confused for Ferry Corsten – and the best set of the whole weekend. He killed it. We shoot over to The Arch for some Brennan Hart before Mainstaging Armin Van Buren and attempting to find the real Ferry Corsten. We eventually abandon our quest and head for the taxi line where we grab the only cab from a cashless festival that doesn’t take credit cards, a fact we don’t realize until he takes us to the wrong address for a second time. Once we finally manages to get us to the correct address, J Lee and I throw 20 Euro at him and bolt for the house as he screams at us from the street. Grateful again for the Jameo.

Day three we decide to give the bikes another shot after waiting out the rain, and we don’t get a block before I have to pull out my childhood bike mechanic skills and get J Lee’s chain back on. After washing my grease covered hands – I still have bike grease under my fingernails – we head for the Mainstage and dance in the rain to Yellow Claw and Oliver Helden. The next stop is the Freedom Stage for Nicky Romero, which is the only indoor stage and is extra packed due to the rain, but I don’t care about any of that as some overly excited (and rather short) guy behind us lifts me up on his shoulders for my favorite song “I Could Be The One”. Our escape from the overcrowded stage leads us to the Rose Garden, where I remain for the rest of the day with Jonas Blue, Feder, Robin Schultz and Klingande. This is also where I spend the most time with the non-Earhart Remotes that are at the festival and feel part of an even bigger family, The Remote Nation. Some of these guys have finished and are re-uniting. Some are in month 11, some month 4. We give each other pro-tips on cities and group dynamics between dance sessions and rain storms and bond over the mutual crazy that brought us not only to Tomorrowland, but also on this unbelievable journey.

Leaving the festival, I get separated from the group and end up having to bike home alone. On a bike that’s too big for me. With no light. In the dark. And the rain. I’m hugging the curb when a car comes up beside me and swipes me just enough to throw me off course. The bike hits the curb and stops – I keep going – until the right side of my body makes contact with the sidewalk and my head smacks the ground with the most sickening crack I’ve ever heard in my life. I still attest that the driver had no idea, because they kept going and I would like to believe in the goodness of people – luckily my faith was restored by the car behind that did stop. I tried to assure them that I was ok, but when I turned into their headlights and the guy’s face went white, I confirmed with them that I was not actually ok. Luckily it was all scrapes and bruises and one knock to the skull with no concussion symptoms, so we locked the devil bike to a tree and they drove me back to the BNB where my fellow Earharts patched me up while – you guessed it – I calmed my nerves with some Jameson.

So there you go my Lovers. That’s your Specifically Random rundown of my weekend at Tomorrowland. I am battered and bruised and I have one hell of a shiner from my abrupt pavement encounter, but I wouldn’t trade one second of the shit how that was leaving Tomorrowland for any second of being in there. I have never smiled, laughed, and danced to my heart’s content so much in my life. Tomorrowland was my happy place, and all the things that happened when I left only served to tell me one thing: next year, I’m camping.

Randomly Yours,

SR

Guess what?  Pictures have been updated! Budapest, Prague, Tomorrowland and MORE!

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