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

 

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.

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.

Hanging with manatees in Crystal River

In forth grade, I discovered coelacanths.  At the time, coelacanths were thought to be extinct, and I became fascinated with extinct and endangered species… especially water animals.  I had just given up my astronaut dreams for marine biologist dreams–trading the wild blue wonder for the deep blue. Manatees were endangered; coelacanths were extinct [since my time in 4th grade, coelacanths have been rediscovered in the Indian Ocean].  I made it my 4th grade passion to learn everything possible about these two animals, and since this is about manatees, not coelacanths, here are my 4th grade reasons for falling in love with these critters.

  • Manatees are called ‘sea cows’, and they are just as cute as land cows
  • Manatees are herbivores and spend their waking hours eating
  • Manatees breath about once every 3 minutes… up to once every 5-6 minutes when they are sleeping [fascinating fact for someone who used to be all about how people breathe]
  •  Manatees can live in both fresh water and salt water, but can’t pressurize their ears so you’ll always see them on the surface or just below.
  • Manatees are related to elephants and still have little nails on their flippers
  • Manatees prefer to move at slow pace but can swim up to 25 miles per hour in short burst if they need to get away–quick!
  • Manatees can live to be 60 years old.
  • Manatees have no natural predators… meaning they are naturally curious and humans can be their worst enemy.
  • Manatees prefer their water to be >70 degrees, but can tolerate temperatures down to about 60.
  • Early explorers thought manatees were mermaids.

 

See. All perfectly good reasons to love these gentle giants.  But gentle giant babies.  I can’t even.  Like most babies and toddlers [or kittens, puppies or whatever] baby manatees are very curious.  I say baby, but it certainly isn’t like a kitten. This little guy make 300 pounds look awful adorable. The little guy would come right up to me and nibble at the wet suit.  It’s quite an odd feeling to have this 300 pound baby nibbling and mouthing at you like it’s going to eat you alive.  But these creatures are vegetarians so my meat carcass was totally safe.  The little guy either a) thought I was it’s mommy and could produce food or b) like the feel and textures of the wet suit material.  And just like a baby kitten, the little guy often like to nibble on my toes as well.  Here’s the thing about my feet:  they are so super sensitive and ticklish that the lightest touch makes me move them about.  Cats love to attack my toes in the middle of the night but given the choice, I’d take the 300 manatee-baby nibbling on my toes with it plant-eating gums than my little 6 pound house panther on nightly patrol for anything that moves.  I got lucky and spent nearly 20 minutes playing with the little guy.  And we [the baby and I] were away from the crowd so it was just the two of us.  Hanging out like old friends…

While manatees prefer a comfortable 72 degree water temperature, this water baby likes it about 10 degrees warmer and despite the 5mm neoprene suit on my body, after an hour or so, I was a frozen Popsicle.  So back on board it was for me.  And hot chocolate and dry clothes were waiting for me.  Once the wet suit was off, and I was back in normal clothes the 75 degree air temperature felt just fine.

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.

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.

Grateful for the 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.

Scared of these guys yes

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.

Thanks to all the strangers who have helped me travel the world. Sometimes strangers become friends

 

Wanderlust

Wanderlust

I do not think that means what you think it means… Inigo Montoya, The Princess Bride.

 

The English word “wanderlust” already existed in German dating as far back as High Middle German. The first documented use of the term in  English occurred in 1902 as a reflection of what was then seen as a characteristically German predilection for wandering that may be traced back to the  German system of apprenticeship, as well as the adolescent custom of the ‘Wanderbird’ seeking unity with Nature.

 

The term originates from the German words wandern (to hike) and Lust (desire). The term wandern, frequently misused as a false cognate does in fact not mean “to wander”, but “to hike.” Placing the two words together, translated: “enjoyment of hiking”, although it is commonly described as an enjoyment of strolling, roaming about or wandering.

 

I am a wanderer… both in the historic sense of the word and the modern.

 

I grew up an introvert, sensitive, an only child, and a bookworm with a keen desire to explore beyond my boundaries.  Pictures exist of me, I could not have been more than three years-old, packing a bag and leaving home. Of course, at three, I never really went anywhere. I saved the real adventure until I was five. [but that’s a story for another day].  I was athletic and sporty;  I lived for summer basketball and soccer camp.  Then later, volleyball and softball camp. I loved being away from home, hanging out on college campuses, and imagining when I would finally be able to leave my small town for good. I was 8 and already imaging life at 18.

I come from a long line of homebodies, inwardly jealous of friends and classmates who went to ‘the beach’ every summer. Or Disney World. Or anywhere really.  My dad’s idea of a vacation was a weekend trip to Atlanta to watch the Braves or a fall Saturday to Clemson or Columbia to watch college football. Week-long or even multiple week vacations were unheard of in my family.  My fondest junior high memory was of being left behind at Martin Luther King center in downtown Atlanta.  Upon returning from the restroom, my entire class was no where to be found. Cell phones were in their infancy; no one I knew had one. But I knew the city well enough, or at least how to get to the ballpark.  I was 13, and on my own in the big city (at least for a while). It. Was. Fucking. Awesome. Right then and there I knew I’d been bitten by the travel bug.

 

There’s a word in Korean that means the inability to get over one’s addiction to travel, a perpetual case of wanderlust. Once the travel bug has bitten, it indicates, there is no cure.

 The fixation with traveling that began with memorizing world capitals and drawing country flags on notebooks took on a life of its own. At 14, I managed to sneak away from home for two days, take the train to Baltimore, watch a baseball game, and get back home without my absence being noticed.  And once I’d gotten my driver’s license, the back roads and hiking trails of South Carolina, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Georgia became intimately familiar.  I was determined to go everywhere… working on a bucket list that didn’t yet have a name.

Chichen Itza

I’ve never been one to advocate for quitting one’s job in order to see the world. Yes, I have worked in jobs I hated and for companies I hated even more. I’ve worked in jobs or positions that I absolutely knew was just a paycheck.  But I knew that this was temporary. I was waiting for one or two thing to happen and then I was out of there.  I’ve always known that working these jobs would allow me to pursue my dreams.  I worked PRN-status for 10 years so that I’d be able to create my own schedule and take time off when I wanted to.  Everything I’ve done has contributed to my seemingly disparate goals of 1: seeing as much of the world as possible and 2: becoming a nurse practitioner.  One is not mutually exclusive of the other.

I got my first real job, other than the odd thing here and there, when I was 18.  It was working in a home improvement store where I learned to mix paint, use a commercial saw, and do basic electrical things.  I also had to count nuts and bolts by hand during inventory. I was by far the youngest person working there although there were a few guys that worked there on their college break. For most of my co-workers, this was there career.  They were satisfied with their two weeks’ vacation and only being closed three days a year.  I made nearly $5000 that first year; I had to file taxes and thought I’d amassed a fortune.  I made another $4000 working in a factory spring semester of my freshman year.  Oh God, how I hated that job. I sat there, loading parts on a machine, conjugating French, German, or  Spanish verbs in my head, thinking ‘this is why I’m in college…’

The ultimate goal was to earn enough money to spend my junior year of college studying abroad in some as-of-yet-undetermined major.[Spoiler alert: that never happened]

At 19, I had the chance to go to England for two weeks; I jumped at the opportunity.  When things didn’t go as planned, instead of coming home and working at the factory yet again, I stayed three months. I still have the journal I wrote it when I left Atlanta. It’s funny now… and telling.

“I’m on a plane to London via Amsterdam. I AM ON A PLANE.”

“I JUST ORDERED A BLOODY MARY FOR DINNER.  AND THEY BROUGHT IT. I HAVE ARRIVED*”

“TRAVELING IS AMAZING”

A series of travel mishaps later, I end up at the flat of a friend of a friend of a friend. The flat was empty. The landlord came and asked how I knew of this place. I told my story. No, I’d never met the previous tenant. Yes, I was only visiting. No, I didn’t want to rent it, but then, I was offered the deal of a lifetime–200 pounds/month for June, July and August for a 1 bedroom/1 bath in Stafford, England. My dorm room cost more than that. I said yes and after some international finagling of funds, I had $5000 transferred to me** and that is what I lived on that summer.

It’s not a gothic cathedral without stunning stained glass

That summer, I traveled. To Wales. To Scotland. To Ireland. And around England. I ate and drank in pubs. I learn to play darts. And cricket. And drink whisky. I met up with different people every week.  It was the life I’d always wanted. The day before I was to come back, I was in the pub with the friends I’d made this summer when I saw a guy I’d never seen before. He was scruffy and despite drinking a pint of Guinness, was clearly out of place of the regulars.  I went over, dart in hand, and said “hey, wanna play?”

His name was Nick or Mick. Or maybe it was Mark.  I don’t remember. He was from Australia. Or New Zealand. Those details are fuzzy now.  But he was well-traveled. Meeting up with a cousin before heading back home. Or something like that.  He was tanned in a way you can’t get in England and spoke of places like Chaing Mai, Siam Reep, and Angor Wat. I was mesmerized. And impressed. “Wow, you travel a lot.” He took a long swallow of his Guinness before answering me, foam still on his lips.

“Trying to. The world is an awfully big place and there’s always more to see.”

“That’s true.  Well, do you play or not.” I was trying not be be impressed by the late 20 something sexy stranger.

“Why not?”

“Good. You can be on my team.”

He told me about his running with the bulls in Spain and working on a farm in France. How he worked his way through Thailand and Vietnam. He told me about the spice markets in Istanbul and Marrakesh.  And about eating guinea pigs in Ecuador and piranhas in Brazil. I had never met anybody like him.  I had never met anyone who was doing what I wanted to do. I was spellbound.  Amid pints and double old fashions, he  grabbed me around my waist and pulled me away from everyone, kissed me hard on the mouth. At that moment, my world stopped. Mesmerized by those green eyes and mop of black hair. I had one throw left, and it was almost too perfect that I hit the bullseye to win.

I spent the rest of the night nuzzled in the pub, making out with the cute boy from far away, listening to his enticing travel tales telling myself that one day I’d be the one telling those tales. The details of that night have faded, but the feelings of knowing a life of adventures were waiting for me if only I had the courage to see it through has never left me.

 
*My very first alcoholic drink was at 30,000 feet flying over the Atlantic Ocean.  I have never felt more adult… more cool in my life than when I ordered and subsequently drank that first alcoholic drink

**International banking was a lot more complicated in the 2000’s than it is now.  I had $5000 wired to me and stashed the cash in a secret place in the flat. The secret place is the same secret place I stash cash in my current apartment.

Remembering to remember

Today is Veterans Day in the USA.  In the UK it’s known as Armistice Day as it is the day that WWI ended–on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month of 1918 the guns fell silent. It is a day to remember our soldiers, from the Revolutionary War to the latest conflict.  Remembering the sacrifices these men and women made allow me to pursue the life I do.  I don’t have to fulfill traditional gender roles if I choose not to.  I can speak my mind because of free speech.  I have the right to own, carry, and use, if necessary, my .40 caliber handgun.

I’ve seen a lot in my travels but one of the more haunting rememberes was the Ceremic Poppy Installation at the Tower Bridge in London in 2014 (the 100th anniversary of the beginning of WWI).

tower bridge ceremic poppies 2

The poppies represent the blood spilt during the Great War, and when complete on 11/11 there will be 888,246 poppies in the moat surrounding the Tower Bridge.  I visited in October for the specifc reason of seeing the poppy installation.  And it was amzing.  It was moving.  To think that many young men lost their lives in a single conflict is incredible.  Humans are very visual people and to see this loss of life represented so visually was breathtaking.

tower bridge ceremic poppies 3
Freedom is never free and sometimes, we, in the USA forget that.  There hasn’t been a conflict on our soil in nearly 100 years. [OK, if you want to be technical, some of WWII happened  in American territories–Hawaii, Alaska, and Philippians].  If you haven’t seen up close and personal the devastation war causes, it’s hard to imagine its consequences.

So in an effort to remember to remember, I visited three Revolutionary War battlefields over the last few weeks.  Without the sacrifices these brave men [and a few even braver women], the USA would never have become the USA.

cowpens battlefield
Cowpens battlefield circa 1780

cowpens battlefiled 2
A group of South Carolina militia along with a few army regulars under the command of Daniel Morgan beat the British at Cowpens. The victory kept the British from expanding westward.

Kings mountain

kingsmountain re enactors
They were doing some reenacting at King’s Mountain this weekend.

Ninety six cannon
A 3lb British cannon hanging out inside Star Fort at Ninety Six

DSCF1079
My feet, just slightly smaller than the average revolutionary war soldier. I wear a US women’s size 8 and at 5’9, I’m a few inches taller than the average Revolutionary War soldier.