Pills, poop, and parasites…oh my

Disclaimer #1:  I am not a doctor, but I do work in a hospital in the USA [at my real job] and have volunteered/visited  several health clinics in my travels.  I DO consider myself an expert on all things related to green snot.

Disclaimer #2:   I do not advocate unyielding doctor avoidance or rampant self-medication. Sometimes,  there can be something seriously wrong that you can’t fix on your own, but quite often, there are simple ways to treat what ails you without spending piles cash on tons of medicine either at home or abroad.

Without further ado:  an around-the-world traveler’s guide to poop, parasites, pulmonary related issues , pokes, motion sickness, headaches, birth control and women’s health, cuts, breaks, sprains, scrapes, burns, and all things snot related.

At home, I am a healthy, but clumsy individual.  I attribute it to all the time spent around snot-nosed kids who happen to be sick and in the hospital.  My immune system is in overdrive.  All the time.  Flu-schmu.  I almost never get sick beyond a simple sore throat and cough.  But when I travel, it’s a difficult story.

Evidence #1:  Every time I change environments, this guy sets up in my chest [or more accurately, my nose].  I don’t freak out, run to the nearest pharmacy, or do anything out of the ordinary.  He just has to run his course.

Evidence #2:  While living in a low-malarial risk area [and on prophylaxis]  I inexplicably caught malaria.  Even though mosquitoes rarely bother me at home.  I thought I might die.  It was really that bad.

Evidence #3:  This little guy must live on my passport.  He always follows me out of the country.  Even to Canada.  Even though I carry a supply of metronidazole with me at all times.

[a member of the Giradia family]

Evidence #4:  I have had stitches and broken bones in five separate countries [USA included]

Evidence #5:  A particularly nasty little bout of diarrhea acquired in Mexico in that robbed me of my will to live.

All of these incidents occurred outside the friendly confines of my home state.  So I know a thing or two about travel related maladies.  For #5, I called my boss [who was a Mexican doctor] and he called a friend of his who lived in the city I was visiting who brought me some oral rehydration solution.  That saved my ass — quite literally.  It’s no fun pooping mucus.  Take it from someone who knows.

So after you have traveled all over creation, battled a few bugs, completed two health care degrees, got accepted into a health graduate program, worked in a hospital for a few years, worked and volunteered in hospitals and clinics all over creation, you come to know a few things. Or at least you think you do.   Or at least your friends and family think you do.  And they ask questions.

So here goes–a list of common travel illness scenarios, where they are likely to occur based on my limited experience, how you might want to treat what is going on, and some secrets on how to acquire drugs inexpensively.

Problem #1:  My snot is lime-jello green.

green snot

 

  • What it is:  More than likely it is a sinus infection.
  • Where it often happens:    In public places, touching stuff and not washing hands afterward.  In large, heavily polluted cities.  Anywhere air quality is poor.
  • What to do: After 7-10 days with no improvement, go for a round of an antibiotic like Amoxicillin. Amoxicillin [for sinus infection] is currently out of fashion in the US, but it is cheap and easy to get in most of the world.

My disclaimer about antibiotics: I try to avoid taking antibiotics if at all possible because they kill all the bacteria in your body [not just the bad bugs]. Additionally, over-prescription of antibiotics in recent years has helped lead to drug-resistant strains of bacteria such as MRSA and VRE.

Problem #2.  I’m pooping all the time! (and it brings its friend–vomit)

  • What it is:  More than likely it is traveler’s diarrhea. [or vomiting]
  • Where it comes from:  Most cases come from an intestinal bacteria or viral infection.  It could come from food, water, dirty glasses, pretty much anything.
  • Where and when it happens: Countries throughout Latin America, South America, Asia, and Africa.
  • What to do: Avoid getting sick, but if you do get sick, try the following:  Treat the emergent: You are about to board a night bus for _____.  You have a queasy tummy.  You know bathroom breaks will be few and far between.  Take loperamide [Immodium] or diphenoxylate/atropine [Lomotil].  But not both.  Or your intestines will turn to cement.  Crisis averted for the next few hours.
  • Address the cause: If you have bad traveler’s diarrhea doesn’t go away in a day or two, it’s likely you’ve got a bacterial or viral infection.   I always carry a supply of Ciprofloxacin (Cipro) — an antibiotic easily found almost anywhere in the world cheaply — as my first line of treatment. Often, you’ll see your body recovering in 24-36 hours. However, once you begin taking an antibiotic, you MUST take the full course. Never stop after you feel good.  This also contributes the the multi-drug resistant bacteria  surge.
  • If you can’t keep anything down, including medications–hydrate, hydrate, hydrate:  Don’t drink plain [bottled or boiled] water, but find yourself some packets of hydration salts, make your own using this formula, or buy some Gatorade and cut it with water. This will help replenish your system with salts, sugar, and minerals that your body has violently kicked out.  It’s all too easy to end up in the hospital from dehydration.  [I would have–twice–if I didn’t know how to start my own IV and carry a saline bag with me.  Not always, just to remote places]
  • If you have a virus, antibiotics will not help you. Period. If it lasts more than a couple of days without improvement, suck it up and go see a doctor.  They are almost always cheaper than in the US.  Especially if you have travel insurance.

Problem # 3  My burps smell/taste like rotten eggs.

  • What it is: When you’ve got a case of burps that smell and taste like rotten eggs or sulfur, there’s a good chance you are dealing with a water-borne protozoa like giardia.
  • Where and when it happens: Latin America/South America, Asia, Africa–any where that can’t purify the water system.
  • What to do: Take a full dose of  Metronidazole or Tinidazole (4 tablets at the same time). If you have this particular parasite, the burps will go away and you’ll feel better pretty quickly. If they don’t, get yourself to a doctor.  As a bonus, Metronidazole can be used to treat bacterial infections in the genitals. [should you need treatment for that sort of thing]

Problem #4  I can’t poop! [or my poop is really hard]

  • What it is: Constipation
  • Where and when it happens: USA/Canada…Pasta belt in Europe…Dumpling Belt of Central/Eastern Europe…anywhere where there is heavy food
  • What to do: Back off the pasta, dumplings, bread, and cheese. Eat as much fruit, greens, and water as you possibly can. If that doesn’t work, bring out the big guns and eat a bag of prunes (with another few liters of water).

Problem #5  Jackhammers are being used inside my skull.  

jackhammer

 

  • What it is: Depending upon the intensity and location of said jackhammer, you could be experiencing a garden-variety headache or a migraine.
  • Where and when it happens: After a series of overnight buses with blaring music and jerky stops. Sleeping in cheap hotels with giant pillows. People yelling outside your room ALL. NIGHT. LONG.
  • What to do: For regular headaches, Tylenol or Advil will usually do the trick.  For tension headache/migraines, try Tylenol with caffeine.   And quiet.  And darkness.  And not moving.

Problem #6  I don’t want to get malaria.

  • What it is:   A parasitic disease transmitted by the bites of infected mosquitoes
  • Where it happens: Africa, parts of Asia, select parts of Latin America, the Caribbean
  • What to do: Once you have an itinerary, consult the CDC malaria map to determine malaria risk for the regions where you are traveling. Two things will matter most: where you are going and in what season.  Not all malaria is created equal, so you’ll need different medication for different parts of the world.  [I contracted P. vivax  malaria in the Amazon even with Chloroquine–so take this advice with a grain of salt]
  • Doxycycline: Insanely cheap when purchased locally and fairly cheap in the USA. Two things to note: doxycycline tends to make people more sun-sensitive. It can also conflict with some birth control pills.
  • Malarone: It’s insanely expensive, but its chemistry supposedly messes with your mind and body less than larium or mefloquin.
  • Chloroquine:   Not really cheap. Chloroquine tablets have an unpleasant metallic taste.
  • On the cutting edge of malaria remedies is the Chinese artemisia plant (or qing hao, “sweet wormwood” or “sweet annie”).  It appears to be commercially available from Novartis as the drug Coartem (Artemether 20 mg, lumefantrine 120 mg). It’s now on the WHO essential medical list.

Problem #7 I don’t want to catch Dengue fever/Typhoid fever.

  • What it is:  A viral infection transmitted by A. aegypti mosquito [dengue] or a bacterial infection caused by Salmonella typhi [typhoid].
  • Where it often occurs:  sub-tropic regions such as  Indonesian archipelago into northeastern Australia, South and Central America, Southeast Asia, Sub-Saharan Africa, and parts of the Caribbean [dengue] Most of the world except USA/Canada/Australia/ Western Europe. [typhoid]
  • What to do:  There is no prophylactic medicine for dengue. The best thing you can do is avoid being bitten.  These are the ones that come out during the day.  There is a vaccine available for typhoid, and it can be treated with good old Ciprofloxician. And wash your hands. Frequently.  Like become OCD obsessed with it.

Problem #8  I’m going to vomit on this bus/boat/plane/donkey cart/ect.

  • What it is: Motion sickness
  • Where and when it happens: On windy buses in the mountains of Ecuador, Bolivia, Peru.  In a donkey cart in Guatemala. On a research boat headed to the Galapagos Islands in a storm.
  • What to do:  Option #1– If you’re prone to motion sickness, keep a stash of Dramamine or my personal favorite Bonine  (aka Antivert, Meclizine) handy and take it 30 minutes before departure. If you take it once you’re on the road, it’s too late. As a side benefit, Dramamine will usually knock you out so you don’t have to watch the death defying acts of the bus driver.
  • Option #2:  Purchase a pair of pressure point wrist bands (usually go by the name of Sea Bands). Not sure if their effect is psychosomatic or real, but some people swear by them.

Problem #9 . I’ve gone too high. My head is going to explode.

  • What it is: Altitude sickness.
  • When and where it happens: Hiking or walking anywhere above 2500 meters, particularly if you’ve just arrived by air, train, or bus. The worst I have ever experienced was taking a bus from sea level in Ecuador up to Quito. I felt as if my head was going to blow right off.  La Paz, Bolivia and Bogota, Colombia were no picnic either.
  • What to do: If you can, take altitude slowly, acclimatize. Outside of that, try local remedies like coca leaves (recommended in the Andes, chewed or in served in coca tea) before resorting to traditional altitude sickness drugs like Diamox [which is a diuretic].

 Problem #10 .  I’ve got blood spurting from somewhere it shouldn’t.

  • What it is: Scrape, cut, gash, road rash.
  • Where it happens: Being smashed into rocks when trying to learn to surf in Peru.  Falling off the sand board in Chile.  Getting too close to the reef in the Caribbean.  Running into trees while skiing. Ect.
  • What to do: I always carry an assortment of band-aids, bio-occlusive dressings, gauze, steri-strips [for wound closing], ACE bandages, hydrogen peroxide, neosporin, saline, and iodine. And Cortisone cream–for rashes and bites.  I may be going overboard, but then again, I am pretty clumsy.

Problem #11. I don’t want to get pregnant and/or a souvenir I can’t get rid of…

  • What it is and where it happens: Me hopes you should be able to figure this one out on your own.  But beaches, booze, and bathing suits are a heady combination.
  • What to do: Contraception options are many, but if you choose to take birth control pills, here’s some advice:  Before you leave home, ask your doctor to put you on a pill with a hormone formula that is more universally known.  Drugs are known by different names around the world, so write down the commercial name of the drug as well as its chemical and hormone structure.  Condoms are available [can be expensive], but especially if you need the non-latex variety, bring some from home.

In my experience, many countries outside of North America and Europe (and I assume Australia) will sell birth control pills without a prescription. Along your journey drop into pharmacies and ask if they carry your particular pill. Birth control pills are rather expensive (especially by local standards) and choices are limited in many Central and South American countries. However, they were relatively inexpensive and easy to find in Argentina. So, when you find yourself in a country that carries what you need for a good price, stock up.

How do you get all these drugs on the road?
Most pharmacies outside Europe, North America and Australia will sell you whatever you need without a prescription and at a much lower cost than you’ll find at home. My advice: if you’re going on a long journey, travel first to a country where prescriptions are not required for basic medications.

  • Prescriptions: not necessary.
  • Prices: much cheaper than back home
  • Medicines (at least based on my experience): the real deal

I have only had to buy medicine in countries where I speak the language, but knowing the generic name for a drug will help immensely.   Write down the chemicals (and percentages if you can find it) that go into the medication you need instead of just the commercial or generic name of it. The chemical names translate roughly the same in all languages even if the medication is called by another name in that country.

There it is.  My best advice for staying healthy on the road.  Take it or leave it, but it has kept me alive and mostly healthy.

Forgiveness

Forgiveness is a gift you give yourself.

I’ve been doing a lot of hiking lately some local, some a little further away, and hiking, especially alone, is always introspective for me. I’d gotten away from it lately, but having covered nearly 30 miles on foot over the last week on the Pacific Crest Trail in Oregon and the Wales Coast Path, I’ve realized that it’s as essential to my well-being as a good night’s sleep.

I haven’t been hiking much lately because I lost my main hiking partner last May, and as much as I like traveling by myself, I don’t love backpacking by myself.  Maybe it’s because all the quiet and solitude gives one ample time to think and with ample time things you’d rather not think about come bubbling to the surface.

It’s been nearly a year; I should have forgiven him by now. People make choices in their lives and those choices sometimes affect other people.  And his choice profoundly affected me.  In ways I hadn’t noticed until quite recently.  Until I was sitting on top of that huge granite slab looking out over the beautiful aquamarine lake.


I can hold a grudge like a champ and in some cases have been doing so for years.  Some things are my fault, and those things  I have to take responsibility for; however, some things are not my fault and I need to recognize that too. I’ve been thinking a lot about forgiveness lately. I suck at forgiveness. I want people to know that they hurt me and to be sorry, and like most people I have a hard to admitting when I have hurt someone. I’ve been going back through situations where I have felt slighted – situations where I was sure that I was the innocent one – with a new perspective and often times seeing that I am not completely blameless.

So while I’m back to hiking solo, and backpacking solo, I do it with a clean conscience.  I’ll probably never know the real reason this person dropped out of my life.  This person will probably never know how much pain they caused me, but that’s OK.  We recently met for lunch and that helped provide closure.  He was still oblivious to the pain he’d caused and I realized that he always probably would be.

I have forgiven this person.  We lead different lives now and I have moved on. If I did see the person again, and most likely our paths will cross since we live a mere 7 miles from each other and have mutual friends in common,  I don’t want to dive head first into the muck of the past but instead I’d like to start fresh… even if we could never get back to where we once were as friends. I’ve learned a lot of lesson from that friendship, some were painful but necessary.

So, why did this failed friendship trouble me so much? I think it’s because I had not forgiven myself.  Only recently did I realize this and I have been able to scoop myself up like a loved one and remember that just because this friendship didn’t work out doesn’t mean I’m incapable of having real friends… that just because this situation has brought up a lot of negative feelings doesn’t mean I am not a good person. I am human. I make mistakes. It is how we grow.

The only way I have been able to move on is through forgiveness. .. forgiveness of self and of others. Forgiveness is a powerful tool and I am using it in other relationships that gnaw at me.

Forgiveness of self doesn’t need to be saved for big things like the end of relationship but we should practice in all aspects of life. It is OK to forgive ourselves when we forget the keys, eat the extra bowl of ice cream, or spend a little too much on an evening out.

As humans, we will never not make mistakes. That is  part of our design. Yet, we’ve been given this great gift of forgiveness so that we can see our mistakes as blessings. It’s remarkable when we forgive others but it is astonishing when we can forgive ourselves. It’s the glorious acceptance of who we are and that who we are is enough.

Hiking on the PCT… Mt Hood in the background

Peace Corps Interview

Interviews are not my favorite thing. Now coming from someone who has blogged for 10+ years this next statement may seem a bit out of context.  I don’t really like talking about myself.  I don’t like tooting my own horn, and I really don’t like talking about ‘failures’.

Any interview can be daunting, but getting ready for my Peace Corps interview [something I really, really want] can be down right scary. Here’s my secret confession:  this was my second Peace Corps interview.  The first one, for Lesotho, did not go very well. Part of it was because I was dead tired –coming off a 24-hour call shift where I’d worked 16 of those hours, and leaving for a trip only a couple hours later.  I was barely coherent, and I’m sure that came across as disinterest [which to some degree was true].  Part of it was deep down, I knew that I did not want to go to Lesotho to serve as a healthy youth volunteer. So of course I was disappointed when I didn’t receive an invitation to Lesotho, but I was also relieved. I knew that I would try again so when I received that email that said I had not been selected I set about applying again… the very same day.

In my second application I was a lot more selective. I chose a specific sector–health– and three specific countries–Madagascar, Guyana, and Tanzania [I think]. On my previous application I’d selected go anywhere and do anything. I learned that I really wouldn’t go anywhere and do anything.

So when I found out I’d been selected for an interview for Madagascar, I gave myself 36 hours to prepare. Too long, and I’d stress out. It had only been six months since my original application and two months since the resubmitted one. So in Peace Corps’ world, not long at all. The key to any interview is preparation, and while I’m far from an interview expert, I know that following certain steps will make your interview go smoother. I think it also helped that I had just finished my leadership and management class where a large chunk of our grade was interviewing for a fictional leadership job via webcam. That experience, while harrowing at the time, was invaluable practice for me feeling somewhat more comfortable interview and talking via webcam. I didn’t have that experience on the first go round, and while I don’t think the outcome would have been different, and know absolutely that I was 100% more comfortable the second go round.

So  here’s is what I’ve determined…

Practise is important

Not just knowing your answers to potential questions, but really practicing interviewing on a webcam. Grab a friend, google ‘peace corps interview questions’, have friend ask you said questions, and record yourself answering them on a webcam. Then watch it.  It may be painful, but the feedback is invaluable. I would not have known this had not for that assignment for class where I had to record an actual interview.

I took a screenshot of me before the interview so that I’d know how I’d look on webcam. Was lighting adequate? Did I look presentable?

Display professionalism

From the moment you create a Peace Corps account to the moment you receive an invitation, be nothing but professional Every time I contacted someone within the Peace Corps, I was polite and ready. For my interview, I chose a nice jacket in a bright color–something I’d call business casual ; it’s an outfit that I’d worn to an actual work meeting.  I had on pants [you know, in case the laptop fell, or someone came to the door, or the cat started acting up and I needed to open the patio door]. I dressed like I was attending a professional meeting.  My theory, treating the interview like a face to face meeting signals the brain to act like its a face-to-face meeting.  Being over-prepared is much better than being under prepared.

When I got the request for invitation, I opened my laptop and replied to avoid the unprofessional reply-from-a-cell-phone-email.  

Research the country

The application process gives applicants the opportunity to choose a country BEFORE the invitation [queue groans from old school RPCV] so use that time to gather info. You can choose three countries so research them all. Unless you are the ‘I’ll go anywhere’ person, you should research the countries you’ve selected. Google the country. Look up the current events. Find recent blogs from current and past volunteers and read the entire blogs from start to finish. Try to discover what there is to like about the country, what challenges you may face, and why you want to go there. Even if you want to risk it and not do those things, at least read the assignment description so that you’ll be doing. Know something about the county, its climate, infrastructure, and culture. During my interview, I mentioned that I was excited to go to Madagascar because of its incredible biodiversity. I mentioned the plant and animal life. I wanted the interviewer to know that I am not all about malaria and health care… The more you can show that you like the country, the more likely they will feel that you would be a good fit and be able to complete your service.

Know Your Assignment

My assignment was community health volunteer. I had to throw it out there that I would know my role and not try to practice nursing. I know that my role would be educating people about health topics instead of actually being a nurse. Read the assignment description and get it in your brain what skills that you have that will make you a great volunteer. For me that was assuring the interviewer that I could be hands-off medically yet hands-on in other ways. That I’d be willing to not only teach people about respiratory disease and how to prevent it, but also how to build stoves that vent to the outside or burn cleaner than burning trash. Want to teach English to kids? Tell them about how you volunteered reading to kids. Want to work in a health center? [even if you are not a nurse] Tell them about how you helped volunteered at the medical tent for a 5k. Something. Anything. Wanna work in community economic development?  Spin that time you sold candy or cookies into something amazing.

While you are looking for blogs to read, try to find some in which the volunteers are doing the same job as what you will be doing. It’s a lot easier to see yourself there doing that job, and key point: do not be afraid to display confidence. I am an introvert and do not like talking about myself, but for that interview, I was as confident as a Texas hold ’em champ. My goal was to make them feel like not nominating me would be their mistake. Be confident. Don’t say ‘I think’ or ‘I’d try.’ Say ‘I know’ or ‘I can,’ but, please, don’t be overconfident.  Then you’ll come across as a condescending asshole. No one wants an asshole on their team.

Print out your resume and aspiration statement

Yes, you wrote it. Yes, you were honest and  did everything on it, but nothing is worse than forgetting what you did in the past and being stuck with having to trot out the ubiquitous group project to answer “How are you a good leader?”  or “Tell me about a time something did not go as planned.”  On your printed copies highlight the events that you want to showcase. Make an outline so you can see it everything at once. Be sure you can relate to either how these skills are transferable to Peace Corps service or  how they will well prepare you for service. Make sure you know why you want to be a volunteer, and if you want to add something speak now or forever hold your piece. Seriously. Right now go and sit down and think about why you want to dedicate 2+ years to something very few people will do.

Pray. Meditate.

Pray. Meditate. Do yoga. Run. Pray. Sleep. Do whatever you need to do to be physically, spiritually and emotionally centered. I woke up a whole hour before my interview, ate breakfast, got dressed, set-up the computer, and got on my knees and prayed for mental clarity and calmness. I knew this was it; it’s a huge opportunity and for me, a second chance.  I definitely did not want to be “out of it” this time, or let my nerves to get the best of me.

“Do you have any questions for me?”

Of course you do. Write them down so that  when your are asked, you will remember them. Scenario: The interview went well. You feel great. You’re on a high. You’ve knock all the questions out of the park, but when then they ask that question [and they will], you don’t want to draw a blank and end up asking “How did you like your service?”

Interviewer are almost always RCPVs and they get asked that question All.The.Time. You don’t want to be generic; you want to be memorable! Be prepared with questions before-hand and make them honest questions. I asked two questions: 1. I know that Madagascar has two official languages, Malagasy and French.  How often is French used in the day-to-day conversations? I asked this because I don’t speak French. I have a background in Spanish, and have picked up a traveler’s vocabulary in Italian, Romanian, and German, but French pronunciation is still a mystery to me. I learned that I really need to know my numbers because prices and such are generally quoted in French. [Who knew?] and my second question was “What challenges did you face during your service?” Generic yes, but it did give me a little insight to the struggles volunteers face. Other good questions:  If you could do anything differently, what would it be? What was you best [or favorite, funniest, happiest, saddest, or hardest experience?]

At the end of the interview be sure to ask about your application and if there is anything you can do to make yourself a stronger candidate. I asked her if there were any concerns that she had with me as an applicant and was told that I was a strong applicant. The interview is your last chance to make a good impression. At the end of the interview, make sure you thank them for the opportunity.

Once the interview is over, be done. Decompress. Do what ever it is you do to decompress. I took a nap. [Hey, I love my sleep]. Watch your favorite show.  Go to a movie.  Breathe easy. You put yourself out there. You made your best effort. If you don’t get it then, oh well. No regrets, but if you DO get the invite, by all means CELEBRATE!!! You are going to the Peace Corps! … then sit down and get ready for the mountain of paperwork  and clearances that you have to complete.

Welcome to the Peace Corps!

Dear MICHELLE,
Congratulations! You have been selected to serve as a Peace Corps Volunteer, pending medical and legal clearance. This letter is your formal invitation to serve as a/an Community Health Advisor in Madagascar departing February 25, 2018By accepting this invitation, you are taking the next step toward joining hundreds of thousands of Americans who have answered the call to service and made sustainable change in communities around the world.
Congratulations again on receiving an invitation to serve. We look forward to hearing from you soon.

Photos to make you want to move to Wales

To date there are 195 different countries in the world and I have visited roughly 1/3 [65] of them. To some that’s simply an amazing accomplishment; to others, it’s a drop in the bucket.  When I think that I’ve yet to visit anywhere in Africa, Oceania, or Asia, there’s still a lot of the world left for me to see.

Even though there is still a lot of the world left for me to visit, there are a few corners of the world that I find myself returning to again and again.  Within the US [and to a lesser extent, Canada], I find myself drawn to the Pacific North West.  PNW is almost as foreign in every way to South Carolina as say Berlin. We speak the same language, but that’s about all we have in common. I love this region so much, that I’ll probably live there at some point in my life.

I’ve also been to Mexico several times, even living there for a year. Germany, especially Berlin, feels like home, and surprisingly so does Budapest and St Petersburg. I’d love to return to Mendoza, and I’ve set foot in some part of the United Kingdom every year since 2012. London is amazing, but the area of the UK that has totally won my heart is the often overlooked western part, the wild and rugged Wales.

There are so many things to love about Wales, from the UK’s smallest capital, Cardiff, to the  incredible Wales Coast Path. North Wales boasts of the Isle of Anglesey and the incredible Snowdon National Park. Sheep and cats rule the countryside, and  the Welsh language is difficult beyond measure, but sounds amazing when spoken by a native. The Welsh accented English is my favorite English dialect. The best part of Wales is how relatively few tourists go there, and how sparsely populated the country is

I freaking LOVE Wales [although I do admit, Scotland is a close second].

And to convert you to #TeamWales, here are some of my favorite photos from one of my favorite places in the world.

[A word of caution: These photos may indeed make you want to pack your bags and move to Wales ASAP. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.]

 

cottage-by-the-sea-pembrokeshire

cats-love-fish1

snowdon-sunset

 

 


018601-02

The-White-Arch irish sea anglesey wales

 

Rainy days and Mondays…

Today is a rainy day; it’s also a Monday, the first Monday I’ve had off work since October.  The calendar reads April, and the temperatures are in the 70s… even with the rain. Today is the kind of day that calls for curling up with a cat while reading books, cooking homemade soup, or taking a short hike. The rain is not torrential… just the perfect kind for splashing in puddles or sliding in mud puddles.  I used to do that a lot as a kid. And as a teenager… not so much as an adult.  Perhaps what they say about rain is true:  “Some people walk in the rain, others just get wet…”I love walking in the rain. Rain is such a blessing. The water falling from the sky. Creating growth, creating beauty and yes, even at times creating destruction… Have you ever slowed down enough to see the beauty that the rain creates all around? From the drops on the window, to the drips off a plant. Or the sound of rain in the silence of the evening? Maybe the beauty is from the drips hitting a puddle, in the way it ripples across the puddle, [or lake, or ocean…]

Urban hiking is what I call strolling around the city.  Looking at the sights. Or not.  Watching the people scurry about their day. I had packed my rain jacket with me, but even if I had not, it would not have mattered.  It was a slow, steady rain on a warm day.  It felt… refreshing.  I watched as people ran to and from their cars, shaking off like wet cats as they darted into Starbucks. The same Starbucks that is currently serving as my temporary office. How many people will see the colors that come out when it rains. The colors that the rain creates… that the sky creates. The lighting, soft and at times… mysterious.

Usually there is a lot of rain in the spring and spring is a time for renewal, for rejuvenation:  physically, spiritually and mentally.  There are so many new things on the horizon, so many books to read, so many adventures to have, so many plans waiting to unfold.  In more ways than one, spring has sprung.  Bring on the rainy days.

The Next Step?

It was just another Saturday afternoon where I was procrastinating writing a paper on some topic in health policy by watching my beloved Volunteers stomp the Gators and surfing the net when I clicked on over to the Peace Corps website.  I thought why the hell not?

It’s now or never, right?

I can already hear what you are saying…

“The Peace Corps? Really,  but aren’t you’re already a nurse.”

Yes. Yes I am. I am already a nurse, but let’s rewind just a bit– Spring 2013.

I was all set to go to medical school. I studied hard, kicked the MCAT’s ass, and been accepted to the medical school only 35 minutes from where I was living. I was as ready as one can be to start such a grueling undertaking as medical school, and then, well, life, as it has a tendency to do, got in the way.

Without going into too much detail, I withdrew my spot in the class of 2018, and looked for other options to pursue my goal of providing medical care to those who need it most.  I enrolled in the local nursing school and graduated in the fall of 2015.  I passed NCLEX, started to work on my BSN, and promptly got a job at a local hospital.

Which I hated.

To say I was stuck in a rut is an understatement. I started feeling lost and wasn’t sure what my next move would be; did I want to move? [Not really] Start a new job? [Probably, but I was more than burnt out after working in hospitals for the last 10 years, and could not fathom what I’d want to do] Run off and travel for a year? [No, I’d already done that when I spent 16 months traveling in South America] I knew there was something else for me but I had no idea what it was.

I’m not sure exactly how the Peace Corps came up, but once it did, it turned into a nagging thought in the back of my head.  Of course, I’d heard of the Peace Corps. I’ve even done international volunteer work before. I even casually mentioned it to a few friends in the way of “So if I joined the Peace Corps, would you come visit me?”

More time passed until that September Saturday where I was looking for motivation to write a paper for school, and upon finding none I started looking into the revamped application process, open programs, and countries they were currently sending volunteers to. Health was an obvious choice, but I also opened up my application to agriculture and environment, and community development.  What I know about community development can fit into a thimble, but I’d feel as if I were cheating if all I do is end up teaching English.

So I applied. When it came time to pick countries, I wish there had been an option to exclude certain places.  I’m fairly open to most countries and would really like an adventure, but I know without a doubt, that the South Pacific Islands are not for me.  Equally, I’d prefer to not go to Western Africa.  So I choose Kyrgyz Republic [I’d really love to learn Russian and travel the area of the Silk Road], Mozambique [south-east Africa on the Indian Ocean has a certain appeal also near a few countries I’d like to visit], or Guyana [a South America country on the Caribbean that I’ve only passed through]

I’ve lived in a thatched hut in the middle of the Amazon with a compost toilet before. I’ve had my own apartment in Peru and Mexico where electricity was sporadic. I camp and hike a bit so indoor plumbing, running water, and electricity while certainly nice are all things I know I could do without.  A least for a predetermined time.

So it is now or never.  I’ve only told one person that I’ve submitted the application.  I have an interview Friday. We shall see how it goes. Stay tuned on how this new adventure shakes out.

I’ll always love this view

Update:

On January 4, I had an interview for Peace Corps| Lesotho. I was less than enthusiastic about this interview for several reasons:  1. I do not want to go to Lesotho for several reasons. 2. The program was youth development. That was not one of my choices I put down as an interest and when I asked about that I was told the health and youth programs were combined. I was less than thrilled. 3. One of my reference writers didn’t get the reference in until 3 days before the deadline 4. I had just worked 16 hours the night before; my interview was at 8:30am, and I was most likely barely coherent.  It was a bad interview that ended after 50 minutes (I think most of them last 90 minutes) and it was to no one’s (meaning me) surprise, when on March 1, I got the email that said I had not be selected for Lesotho.

And I was relieved.

But not deterred. I submitted my application yet again mentioning health as my only choice and choosing Madagascar, Guyana, and  Ethiopia as choices and lo and behold, two days after submission, I was ‘under consideration’ for PC | Madagascar.   And I’m excited.  Of course,  it will be an eternity until I find out anything; the program stops accepting applications in July. I’m already doing things differently; I’m learning French. I’m learning more about Madagascar. And I’m excited. Let’s only hope that I am offered the chance to interview for this program.

These kids are happier I’m sticking around a little bit longer.

Happy New Year 2017

A long December and there’s reason to believe

Maybe this year will be better than the last

– Counting Crows

That’s one of my favorite songs from the Counting Crows.

I am ever hopeful that 2017 will be better than 2016.  2016 was rough. In some ways, it seemed as if the black cloud that appeared in May 2015 carried over until May 2016.  So while the first half of the year kinda sucked, the second half seemed to be improving. My health is finally on the right track [even if not as fast as I would like].  I’m working to finish school in order to change my career [even if it’s not the one I originally thought I’d be in].  Other areas of life are getting on track too [turns out dealing with issues is a lot better than sweeping them under the rug]. I’m finding out who my real friends are and who doesn’t deserve to be counted in that group.

Winter flowers in bloom are my favorites… especially the white ones.

I’m employed.  I’m in school. I’m currently sitting in a hammock overlooking the South Carolina marsh.  It may be 35 degrees at night [which in all fairness, is not too bad for January], but I’m away, exploring new parts of my home state… [little tiny coastal communities plus a couple of  the state parks I missed out on back in October due to Hurricane Matthew.]  I’m dating a person I love and who loves me back [and who is spending the weekend with me in this beautiful house].

My AirBnB rental for the long weekend in Rockville, SC… A small coastal community about 30 minutes south of Charleston.

 

My cats are only minimally psychotic; life is good.

Today was a good day in the animal kingdom… They are getting along instead of chasing each other around the house like the wild animals they think they are.

Reflections from 2016

As per usual, I’m late….especially when it come to reflections about the past. I’ve spent the first few days of 2017 reflecting on 2016 and projecting about 2017 and beyond.  I am always surprised when it gets to the end of the calendar year. I am yet am not ready to leave 2016 behind. As much as I look forward to the future, I’ve always been one of those people who struggles to let things go… in all aspects of my life good, bad, and ugly.

2016 was the year I was wanted to do this and that. Some of which I accomplished, some of which I totally forgot about, some of which was denied to me due to things beyond my control, and some I just put off until later. Sigh, some things never change, and my ability to procrastinate is one of them.

As much as I try to have goals and make them happen, I don’t like to feel structured or worse, feel like I’ve failed at something. I like to keep things positive. I also don’t like to measure out my year in countries, photos, numbers, or ticking things off a bucket list. Travel means more to me than that.  It’s my sanity…my escape, and how I stay sane.  I believe in the power of travel to transform a person or at least their outlook on life.  Travel can shape you; it can make you a better person.

On that note, instead of recapping where I went, what I did, ect, I thought I’d delve a little deeper and share some of the more personal things that occurred during 2015 and what I’ve learned over the last year or so.

1.  Some things are beyond your control.

In 2013, I was diagnosed with a rare blood disorder.  Some days I slept 18 hours.  Traveling anywhere except the physician’s office and hospital was more than I could do.  I had trips planned to Cali, Colombia, and Yakima, Washington.  Neither happened.  After a rough 18 months of tracking my blood counts like a statistician, I was cleared for airplane travel on December 02, 2014.  I was in London, England on December 6th. I had managed to have a few weekends away from home during the year, but nothing like December.

In April 2015, I tripped while trail running on a local hiking trail.  I broke my left wrist and right ankle.  I was down for the count for a good five months.  I could hardly walk. My balance was totally off.  I couldn’t type, and life in general was 100X harder than it is with two functioning limbs.

Whether or not I stay healthy is largely outside my realm of control.  How I deal with the situation in 100% under my control.

I spent a large chunk of 2013-14 looking like this and a large chunk of 2015 in casts.  Thankfully 2016 had me looking somewhat normal.

2.  I’m not getting any younger.

I am five years behind the goals I made for myself in 2006 when I was travel through Italy.  That’s what travel will do for you.  I don’t regret any of it because I am a much more interesting person for having traveled like I have and being exposed to all that I have seen and been able to do. BUT I’m not getting any younger and if I want to achieve all my medical-related goals, I need to get my ass in gear.  That being said I *should* complete my BSN in July, and that will open up a whole different set of doors.   Being in school full-time is not only a financial commitment, but it’s a huge time commitment.  I feel lucky that I’ve been able to travel as much as I have this year.

3.  My travel style is ever changing.

I used to be OK with with sleeping on buses for a few days at a time. Or in airports. Or bus stations. Or on strangers’ couches.  Or anywhere that was free or really cheap.  And then I wasn’t.  Then I was OK with sharing rooms with strangers in hostels.  But now, if I had my preference, I’d rather rent an apartment and stay somewhere a few weeks at a time, or at minimum stay in a room all by myself.

I used to not care where I stayed, but now I really need my own space when travelling because sometimes I end up do yoga in my room.

Travel is exhausting. I don’t want to be on the go 24/7.  I prefer doing a region at a time, and s-l-o-w travel is much more preferable to seeing 24 countries in 9 days.  I still enjoy getting off the tourist trail and challenging myself, but I’m starting to enjoy the area that surrounds me too.  The southeastern USA is amazing…historically and photogenically.

Fall in the Great Smoky Mountains is amazing.

People often ask me where my favorite place of the places I’ve been or what’s the coolest thing I’ve ever done.  I am usually silent because I’ve done a lot of cool shit and I’ve been to a lot of cool places, but my favorite depends on the mood I’m in or what they are looking for?  I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve had this conversation in the last week.  So, Michelle, what was your favorite part of your trip? [I don’t know…I’m still processing it]  What city did you like the best?  [Ummm. Berlin was really cool, but I think I enjoyed my serendipitous layover in St Petersburg more than anything]  How does this compare to previous trips? [It doesn’t; the purpose was completely different].  I know I sound like a tool when I don’t want to talk about my travels, but who stays in a castle.  Or hikes in the wilderness alone.  Or goes swimming with sharks. I hate that I can’t just say this was the coolest things I’ve ever done off the top of my head. I feel like I’ve gotten to do so many cool things I can’t even remember them all! I mean who has a life like that?!


Wandering around German Christmas market was the cure for 2 year hiatus from international travel. It was cultural, fun, beautiful, and amazing on so many levels.

I want my future trips to be special…not just doing them because I can.  I want them to have meaning.  I’d like to do some sort of  volunteer healthcare experience at some point in the next few years as part of my masters program, but where, when, or in which fashion is still unknown.


Montenegro is one of those cool, off-beat places.

4.  I’m stronger than I thought I was

For me, 2016 was a year of facing my demons, pushing my boundaries, stepping out of my comfort zone, and overcoming specific fears.

So many times I found myself saying god, I don’t want to do this… but I sucked it up and did it anyway.

This year I spoke in public for the first time, traveled somewhere where I didn’t speak the language, went actual backpacking BY MYSELF for the first time, delivered a baby, worked in an alcohol/drug treatment center, and did pediatric clinicals in a non-English speaking area. I moved in to a living space of my very own sans roommates for the first time since 2005.

That joy that comes from accomplishing something you weren’t sure you were capable of doing is my new drug of choice. It’s awesome, and I want to keep striving for moments like that in the future.

5. I can’t do it all. I can’t do it all by myself.  It’s OK that I can’t do it all.

I definitely stretched myself too thin in 2016; I felt like I was constantly pulled in a million different directions which made focusing on things I really wanted to accomplish really hard. I said yes to too many things and that is when I get into trouble.

In December 2013, I accepted my first full-time time job since 2007, and in 2014 I started an accelerated program to become a registered nurse.  My full-time job was hospital based and between work and school I got burnt out. But I soldiered on and in 2015, I became a RN, and got a job in a different hospital. The change of scenery did not help, and I left the hospital for good in June 2016.

These were tough lessons to learn but I have decided I am going to really sit down and only do the things that I really want to do.

Maybe 2017 will be the year I finally decide to enter the grown up world.

Then again, maybe not.

When in Cork…

Encounters with Blarney

I am not above being a cheesy tourist.

And one of the more cheesy, more touristy things I have ever done occurred a few years ago when I spent a few weeks tooling around Ireland.  After taking the ferry over from Anglesey, Wales to Dublin and tooling around Dublin for a few days, I headed south out of the city towards Cork.  I’m not a bad driver, but I don’t do so well with the manual transmission or driving on the opposite side of the road than what I’m used to.  Let’s just say it was baptism by fire, and I probably shaved a few years off my life and perhaps some of the other drivers on the Dublin-Cork highway.

I am a small town kinda girl, and while Cork is a pretty big city, but it’s fairly navigable.  Cork has a fair amount of charm, but it main draw in the Blarney Stone and to a lesser extent–Blarney Castle.

So the question of the day is did I kiss the stone? Did I really put my lips on that wet slab of germ-infested rock where thousands…maybe millions of people have done the same thing before me? Did I actually DANGLE my body off the side of the castle and risk my life?!  People have actually DIED doing this.

Yes. Yes I did.

I mean, how can you not? It’s there; I’m there. A lot of other people were doing it, and while it may be cheesy and touristy… occasionally I’m cheesy and occasionally touristy.

The Blarney Stone is a block of Carboniferous limestone built into the battlements of Blarney Castle, Blarney, about 8 kilometres from Cork, Ireland. [Thank you Wikipedia] According to legend, kissing the stone endows the kisser with the gift of the gab (great eloquence or skill at flattery). The stone was set into a tower of the castle in 1446. The word blarney has come to mean “clever, flattering, or coaxing talk”. John O’Connor Power’s definition is succinct: ‘Blarney is something more than mere flattery. It is flattery sweetened by humour and flavoured by wit.

The Blarney Stone gets all the press, but the castle itself is actually rather interesting and the surrounding castle grounds are gorgeous. The tiny, winding staircases are not for the claustrophobic, but the sweeping views of lush green country and manicured gardens are worth the trip to the top.

Kissing the stone is not for the faint of heart -– you have to dangle yourself over the gaping hole in the castle floor, death-grip the handrails and the man assisting unceremoniously grabs two fist-fulls of your clothes and shoves you close enough to kiss the stone. A second later you’re hauled upright and sent on your way.

Tell me, would YOU have kissed the stone? Or do you now think my lips are now tainted for a lifetime. Leave a comment and let me know.

 

Kindness of strangers

I am trying to live my life in a state of gratitude. Some days are easier than others. And sometimes, when I think about the past, I realize how truly grateful I am.

No traveler lives completely in a vacuum when traveling.  I suppose it is possible to travel somewhere and so strictly follow a schedule that it is nearly impossible to get lost or need help, but that’s never happened to me.  I have had to ask for directions at minimum on every single trip I have ever taken.  Sometimes it has been much more involved than simple directions.

We hear all the time that the world is a dangerous, scary place.  In fact, the most common question I was asked is “Won’t you be scared/Weren’t you scared?”

No, I am not, and No, I wasn’t.

I may have been a little nervous at times, but I was never scared. Okay, maybe I was scared a little when I was kidnapped by two guys between the Peru/Ecuador border when they were trying to extort $250  from me.  Maybe I was scared a little when I was caught by rouge waves that held me under water when I was learning to surf.

But I was never scared of the people. Even amongst strangers, I [almost] never felt like I was in danger.

I kept my guard up in the beginning, but I soon realized that I needed to learn to trust the people I met along the way. I think that is just part of me.  I am used to being alone [only child and all] so I don’t always think about needing to rely on others.  I have learned how to do so many things for myself.  Time and time again, I needed to rely on the kindness of strangers to get me through.  So this Thanksgiving, I want to thank all of those strangers who went above and beyond to help me in my journeys – from people whose names I never knew or soon forgot to those who I am now happy to call my friends.

Thank you to Missa and Jamie who helped me celebrate my birthday in Rome with a bottle of Chianti, a plate of pasta, and a birthday cards and flowers from the market. It was so nice to not be alone on my birthday.

Thank you to the elderly lady on the train from Rome to Naples or at least I thought it was to Naples.  It was actually headed to the other side of Italy.  I would have figured it out eventually, but she saved me time and money.  I don’t speak Italian great [and even less in 2006] but I know Spanish and between my Spanish and her Italian, she got me pointed in the right direction and I made it to Sorrento during daylight hours.

Thank you to the women in at the Ecuadorian border.  After being kidnapped and missing my bus, two women in their 40’s asked me if I needed a ride somewhere.  They were headed to Guayaquil and offered to take me anywhere along the route.  I had a great time, met some amazing women, had an awesome lunch, and relaxed for the first time that day.  After seeing the ugly side of human nature, it was a blessing to see the good.

Thank you to Javier….the teenager who came and picked me up on his moped after I couldn’t get the bus driver to stop.  I ended up about 2 km past my intended destinations and carrying the 65L backpack plus the daypack loaded down with my tools for  jungle-work would have made a sucky end to a very long day.

Thank you to Massimo…who taught me to cook on a gas stove.  I have always either cooked on an electric range or a grill and gas tended to scare me a bit.  Thanks to Massimo, I didn’t starve during my weekends alone in the jungle lodge.

Thank you to the lady in Trujillo who made sure I didn’t get cheated by the taxi driver.

Thank you to all the people who have hosted me during my travels.  By not spending a ton of money for accommodations, I have gotten to visit so many more places, see how people really live–not just as a tourist, and spend time in places I would have never dreamed about staying.

Lynnley in Charleston, Corinna in San Francisco, Cameron in Seattle, Emily in Vermont, Jeanette in Florida, Angie in Chicago, Emilie in Chamonix, France, Marta in Bratislava, Slovakia, Tomas in Wroclaw, Poland, Alex in Mendoza, Argentina, Steve in Stafford, England, and Sophie in Kokkola, Finland. All strangers at one point; all friends at another.

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Thank you to everyone who has helped me in my travels.