I Lived Here Once, Sorta: Thoughts on NOLA.

This colorful lovely is a house in New Orleans. For some months, over half a decade ago, it was a house that I called home. Fresh with a new paint coat of whatever colors you’d call those, the house looks as full of its character now as it did those years ago.

But this was the first time I’d seen the house since I left New Orleans in the summer of 2012.

My relationship with the house, like my relationship with New Orleans at large, is as undefined as it is positive; fuzzed of definition, bright with life. Perhaps the house, then, is a metaphor for the poignancy we all want, perhaps it’s just the type of perspective one gets from the lez bon temp roulez lifestyle of New Orleans.

I say the relationship is undefined because this might not have truly been a home, not for that long anyway. Or was it? I stayed in New Orleans for less than half of a year. Is that “living” somewhere? What’s the definition for that length of time, anyway? One month? Three? Eight? Years?

Revisiting New Orleans this month I am reminded that I know the city. I know places there—and I know streets, and restaurants, and where to go for this or that. I know more than someone who has just visited. Being there, I found myself wanting to explore what exactly what my relationship was to the place that I knew, but still felt like a visitor. Because spending time there again, I was flooded with love for the city; the special things only it has. And there are a lot.

What I decided was that my relationship in terms of living/passing through there didn’t matter as much as the positivity of what my memory had kept and the path the New Orleans brought me down.

Because when I decided to go to in late 2011, I had no idea what the city looked like. I hadn’t seen as much as a single map of it. So I certainly didn’t know what my future neighborhood, the Treme, was—or where it was. Or, perhaps more importantly, what it meant. Because in New Orleans, like some other cities of noble histories, neighborhoods are more than their names. They are stories themselves.

I definitely didn’t know how to pronounce ‘Ursulines’ either. I’m not even sure I do now.

But I found a post on Craigslist. It was a couple looking for a housemate or two. They had just found a house in the Treme. It was recently “fixed up”. They couldn’t afford the whole thing on their own to rent, but they wanted to move in the same day I was planning to come down. Most importantly, they were open to temporary arrangements. I was intrigued and that was before they really even sold me on the house itself. It had a backyard like you wouldn’t believe, with a patio surrounded by a tangled giant green garden. Beyond that backyard, just steps away, was a historically black church built in the 1840s.

I called. Things clicked. I was in.

In for something I had no idea about. What was a ‘shotgun’ house anyway?

But that didn’t matter. I was 22. I had just gotten back from South Korea and had no discernible plan but finding some kind of way to make money and continuing to travel. A friend was in New Orleans. He spoke highly of it, especially for someone looking to find something interesting.

I was dating a girl at the time as well. She was on the East Coast and I somehow convinced her to join me on the journey. We packed my car and drove from Chicago, right up to Ursuline Street where we’d find this house behind its purple shutter stacks.

I’m not sure if it sounds like the kind of barely-baked plan that it was. But it was certainly that. And I was proud of that, in a way—the way that a 22 year old should and could be proud of throwing his life in a car and driving to a city like New Orleans to figure some shit out.

But here’s the twist. Here’s what came back to me when looking at that house this last weekend: it all worked out.

The house was bare when we got there but soon it started getting filled. With furniture and things we brought, but also with music from the roommates who played several instruments. The ceilings were high, the garden grew in the warm February, the neighbors were all interesting. They played trumpet deep into the night. It echoed everywhere. It was a quintessential New Orleans house in some ways, without even knowing it.

The days filled in. I found work. We didn’t have wi-fi so it gave good reason to explore the various coffee shops of the city and really dive into virtual work. I made friends, explored the long avenues Uptown. The (unbelievably talented) roommates played house concerts, the Red Hot Chili Peppers filmed a music video on the corner, we met Quentin Tarantino in a  bar while he was in NOLA filming Django.

Drinks were had, nights went long. Mardi Gras was celebrated; as was French Quarter Fest, Jazz Fest, St. Patrick’s Day, Sunday Second line parades. The food was relished: gumbo, po-boys, red beans and rice, alligator sausage, crawfish, way more. Visitors came to see the city and I got to play host; at Commander’s Palace, at Le Bon Temps Roule, on Frenchmen Street.

The lists are dizzying because the days are so full of life there.

And that’s what my relationship comes back to me as; for the house on Ursulines Street and for the city. Life being packed in; crowded hours of joy. Little sleep, lots of laughs.

But what compels me to write is what it all means to me now. Because New Orleans was a start for me. A start of a nomadic, off-kilter way of living that I’ve kept in spurts since then. And sure, I went to South Korea first which started the whole travel vibe, but I knew I’d get a foreign-ized experience traveling so many thousands of miles away. And it was contained there; come for a year, teach, leave. NOLA was open, an experiment in living with a loose plan. And because it worked so well; because it showed me I could live beautifully by being groundless, it inspired in me a lifestyle which I am still crafting. Which has lived on now for the better part of a decade.

Some things have changed in New Orleans, some have not. The house is still there, though it looks fresh. (Another metaphor for life, who knows?). When I left New Orleans this time, my thought was one of relief. That New Orleans is still there. That the house is. That my plans are still loose and that, if I need to, the city would be there to return back to. Should I want to start again.

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September: Korea & Hanoi

At the end of August 2011, I flew from South Korea back to the United States. I had spent a full year living near Seoul and a full year not being in the United States. It was, and still is, the longest sustained travel/living abroad experience of my life.

And at the end of August 2018, seven years later, I flew back to Seoul. This time I came from Vientiane. It wasn’t my first time back in Korea (that would be just eight weeks earlier, this July); but it did mark a bit of an anniversary. Seven years since I left; eight years since I first arrived there.

In July I spent five days in Korea, this time I spent 19. They were wonderful; Korea has been, and will continue to be, one of my favorite places to visit in the world. Why? Well it helps that I know the country and culture a bit (even some of the language). It makes it easier to navigate; physically and conversationally. I know how to get what I need to there. But it’s also most certainly the country itself; weird, (surprisingly) geographically diverse, traditional but also cutting edge. It’s full of interesting and unique people and others who work had to blend in. It’s also safe, modern, clean, etc….Those all help too.

This time around, I wasn’t entirely in Seoul. Thanks to an more ambitious-planning friend; this time we hiked in a Korean national park, went to another metropolis that wasn’t Seoul or Busan, and even went to Jeju Island; Korea’s “Hawaii” (but also kind of its “Scotland”? It’s in the featured picture of this post.

I wrote almost every day in Korea, which is good. But I didn’t feel like I wrote all that particularly well. In a journal I’ve been keeping, I said that I never felt like I wrote well there (even in 2010-2011), though of course this is just my subjective judgement. And there seems to be no good reason for it. I wrote that perhaps it’s just in my desire to be out, mixed into the culture, observing instead of creating (words/stories, etc…). So perhaps that’s it. Still, I had a great time there and am so glad I swung back for the extra weeks in Korea.

Because now I am in Hanoi, Vietnam. And while there are some really interesting things on on here, it hasn’t been my favorite city. It’s different, in many ways, to Seoul and where I’ve spent my last few months. It’s loud, busy, and full of motorbikes. The last one wouldn’t be a problem except the motorbikes do very little to obey any sort of traffic conventions, so a pedestrian is constantly dodging them. Constantly.

But while I reflected that I wasn’t writing well in Seoul, that’s changed in Hanoi. And for that I’m highly appreciative. Most days here I duck into a coffee shop (of which there are an infinite supply it seems) and write. And read and then write some more when I go back to my Airbnb later. When I first got here I said I wanted to finish my first draft (not entirely sure how much more I had to go) within my first 10 days here; and I finished it in 5. Mostly thanks to a coffee-fueled four hour writing session on a Friday night. But I got it done. My first draft came in at 161,000 words and took my about 12 weeks to write (the last week of which saw the highest contribution even when not considering the final sprint toward the finish line).

Here’s the screenshot I put up on social media of the first draft numbers:

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In this way, I’m thankful for the chaos of Hanoi—for pushing me to write and keeping me awake and alert with your honks and busyness.

More pictures from September here. Next up is Thailand!

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Goodbye Chicago, Hello To All Of That

Greetings from Indonesia. It’s been 10 days since I left the U.S and it’s already felt like a whirlwind—returning to Asia, bouncing around places familiar and un-.

I wanted to post some thoughts on leaving Chicago before I did actually leave, but I didn’t get a chance to. So I’ll post what I had written (you’ll see it’s still not finished) and give some updates after that.

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I’m going to be leaving Chicago. Fairly soon.

I’ve been here for 33 months. Pippen’s number. Maybe that means something, though likely not. What 33 months does mean, though, is the most I’ve been in one place since college. My Pilsen apartment here the most I’ve lived in one place since my parents’ house. This has been a home. That was already a home. That will always be home, even when it’s not.

And so I wanted to write a bit on leaving and remembering and home.

I’ll start with coming back. I called it my “Ithaca”. I have a soft spot for Odysseus and though there was no Penelope, there was some sort of fighting off sirens and plotters led me back here. I just don’t know what those things are or were.

When I got back, I felt lost. I had been a nomad for over 5 years. I wasn’t one anymore. I got a place. I got some life essentials I didn’t have. A garbage bin. Forks. A bed.

I read this wonderful letter fifty times. I posted a quote from it on Instagram with the first picture of my Pilsen apartment—where I was for 24 of those 33 months.

I was looking for something. An answer to why I came back. Why I had sort of lost the desire to be a nomad. I wrote this. I wrote a lot more that’s in some notebook somewhere.

I met a girl. I had my Ryan Adams ‘Dear Chicago’ moment on Friday after work.

I had a job I liked. I worked hard at it. It helped me adjust, it gave me new friends, new experiences, and a cache of good memories.

I saw my friends. I hadn’t seen some in years. I saw them a lot and it was tremendously comfortable—full of laugher, life. Wholehearted goodness.

I saw my family. I had only gotten to see them sporadically, and always on my schedule (when I’d be returning). I got to see my baby sister grow up, my other sister live her dream and succeed. I got to spend more time with my parents and take from them more important lessons on being an adult. More pictures, more smiles, more of them in my life.

So why leave?

Well, that’s a complicated question but one I’ve answered several times for people. The short of it is two-fold:

(1) I love travel and recognize that life events will shape my opporunities to do so: and

(2) I’ve wanted to write a novel since I was 15 years old and I have a sort of window to do so now that I wanted to take.

So I march on—to Asia and into my soul to extract whatever writing talent I have in there to draw out onto the proverbial page.

On leaving Chicago, though, few thoughts stick with me.

Do you know the now-infamous David Foster Wallace speech on “water”? If you don’t, check here.

What the water here refers to is the mundanity of everyday life. The check-out counter at the grocery store. The trifling through of email. The plans made, cancelled, rain-checked, etc…The day in, day out stuff.

He goes further into what that means, and since it was done as a commencement speech, proceeds to give graduates advice on what watter means to them.

For me, in these particular thoughts, what I come to is that Chicago is the most water. Or the place of most water? The deepest pool? I don’t know how to articulate it (change)

Can something be that? Are there levels of water? No, but there are levels of society, of everyday-ness, and this place is the most for me. And that’s not a bad thing. Sometimes, on crushing days of brokenness, this is the most splendid of all things, to be held in comfort and in what I know. The alternative? Well, travel has almost no comfort to step into. It is life constantly thrust at you. And that gets me down, but not as much as it pumps me full of energy, of vitality. And it makes me forget about water, which I have not yet learned how to swim through. I see these commuters and ask, “what spirit is getting them home?” and what I’m doing is really asking myself.

Big cities amaze me. So many people. Everywhere I go there are people. Who are they? What do they think when they see me—that I’m just another person in this metropolitan wallpaper. Chicago has this. Others do too, but since I call Chicago home, it has a more sincere oddness that so many others make this their habitat, and that they move. And some own boats. And some are working three jobs. Some get off at four in the morning when no one is around and I am fast asleep. Where do they eat? Shop? Is anyone in this city of 3 million thinking of me? See last four lines.

My sister asked me what I’ll miss the most about Chicago aside from friends and family? I had to think about it. Chicago has a lot. Some things I don’t like. Nothing I ever missed so badly I needed to see it when I got back. Away from here, it was easy to criticize Chicago. The sports bar city. The big four firm city. The segregated city.

But I’ll miss it. Even those things.

What I said was nostalgia and sentimentality. The streets here can provide that like no other city can. Memories written into glass, dunked in potholes. I know the Ogden exit is close to the United Center from being a kid. I know how the John Hancock stands proudly at the end of Lake Shore coming down, like you’ll drive right into it. And I always love these things, even if they’re drowned in the water that we’ll never get out of it.

Because no place else is home.

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Okay, so that was my post. I wrote that about two weeks ago, maybe three. And to read it now is nice. I do miss Chicago. I always did miss Chicago, but the world is so big and full of everything that I wasn’t ready to stay?

What happens later? To come home or not? I haven’t the slightest ideas.

For now, I can tell you this. I just had a brief but oh-so-wonderful foray back to South Korea with some great friends. The memories and laughter were overwhelmingly postive and brought me back to a sentimental happiness from and for my time there.

And now? I am sitting inside my “villa” in Lombok, Indonesia. Yesterday I surfed in the morning and laid on one of the most beautiful beaches I’ve ever seen (the one pictured). And I’ve resumed my writing.

I am still adjusted to whatever this is—travel, lifestyle, whatever—but I’m not too worried. I have words and maps ahead of me. And those that know, know those things sit at the foot of wherever I go.

Ciao for now. Thanks for everything to those back home. More updates somewhere further up along the road.

Reflecting on my Ecuador-ing

It’s my last day in Ecuador — on what’s been a 5 week journey through this little west-coast, eastern-time-zone country. I came to Ecuador with few expectations and even less planning. I had heard good things about Cuenca (which was right), Baños (which I never made it to), and the Galapagos of course (which will have to wait).

All in all, Ecuador turned out to be a blast — a great winter getaway that included solo time, friends, plane rides, bus rides, and a whole lot of dollar coins. Folks, this is where all of these went. It’s truly all you need to get by here.

I’ll break my journey into 5 parts, for each of the 5 towns I went through.

Solo in Quito

20150123_105957I started my trip alone. I hadn’t been alone in a long time — since my travels in the months previous had all been to see friends, familiar places, family, etc… I wrote a note to myself on day in Austin back in December that said, “I’ve gotten used to having my personal time in other people’s spaces.” It’s not something that comes easy, and when I talk about the un-perks of my lifestyle this is one.

But I came to Quito alone, posted up in a Airbnb near the city’s most famous park, and enjoyed some solace.

Each day, I’d take a walk around the city — sometimes in the heated sun, 20150117_120627sometimes in the cooled darkness, and often getting a little bit of rain. I didn’t have anywhere to go — but found adventures along the way.

I checked out the Mariscal, Old Town, the Guayasamin Museum (which quickly climbed the ranks of favorite museums) and a ton of restaurants and coffee shops. And Parque La Carolina of course.

At the apartment, I’d cook dinner, work-out, meditate, read. The internet would come in and out and sometimes leave me alone reading my old writing and taking trips down memory lane. I got to write my review of 2014 and other posts — some of the projects I had put aside for months and months. It was good to be alone in a new place, with no obligations and no one to meet. Don’t think I can do it for too long, ever the extrovert, but it was a refreshing change for sure.

Montañita

If Quito was an adventure into the self surrounded by the mountains and city, jonahs montanita picsMontañita was a return back into indulgence. This little “sleepy” hippie beach town really wakes up at night and thousands of backpackers gather on the street for drinks, music, and anything else. Literally, anything else. One mantra of the town, as told by the cab driver on the way in is that “anything goes”. Was lucky enough to be joined by two friends on this excursion, who made the most of out of their days whiled I worked, but we made sure to have a little fun at night.

If you’re a fan of beach towns, stepping out of the real world for a few days, and places where beautiful Argentinian girls are the majority, then this place might be just for you. I don’t know how anyone could make it there longer than a week though — the town, the sun, and everything else tend to wear you out a bit.

From our mansion up on the hill, it was les bon temps rouler in Montanita for sure — a foray back into the backpacker nightlife that I’ve been through in different places and continents by now. Good to see an old face, as always.

La Entrada & Guayaquil

20150129_183608In Montañita, our Airbnb host happened to be a sort-of real estate mogul for the area (or as close to that as you can get). She was as committed to making sure we had a good time as any host I’ve ever had. After Montanita, I told her I was looking for some R&R and she really hooked it up.

Rocio, our host, brought me to a town called La Entrada — down two beaches away Montanita thought it might as well have been two countries away. La Entrada was truly a sleepy town, with no more than 50 people there and no cars allowed on its one street. The town was beach, a few houses, and a shack that sold fresh fish fry lunches for $2.

The other thing in town was a large mansion ON the water (over it) which belonged to my host. For most of the time, I was the only inhabitant of a 20-room house. And I spent the entire weekend in a hammock. It was the first place I’d ever been where the tide affected the wi-fi — the winds from the tide (3-5 feet from my hammock) messed with the signal too much to work.

From La Entrada, I got a ride with two folks I met to Guayaquil, Ecuador’s biggest city. There I met another friend who came down to work and travel in Ecuador. We stayed for three days in Guayaquil, mostly walking around our neighborhood, and checking out the boardwalk and old neighborhood (Las Peñas), before getting out of dodge (Guayaquil isn’t exactly a draw for anyone not from there).

Cuenca

cuenca window picThere’s really not enough good things I can say about Cuenca. The city is old, but clean — Europe in the mountains of South America. It has ex-pats and locals seemingly living in harmony, and is a city dedicated to its own safety. All of this plus a huge coffee shop scene, great parks, and four rivers that rumble through it.

I was in Cuenca for about ten days. The days were sunny, open, and free. Work was busy but I made the most of the experience by getting out in the mornings,  coffee shopping in the afternoons and being lucky enough to stay at an Airbnb with a great cafe nearby. I also had a great weekend excursion to Cajas National Park that took a few wild turns along the way.

Cuenca ranked quite highly on the cities I’ve been to in the world. It certainly doesn’t have the size of some others, but its quaintness and ease of life are spectacular. Its churches, squares, parks make it a place of immense public beauty, and the price ain’t bad either!

Ambato

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Mark got foamed

Ambato was my last stop before heading back to Quito for a last few days before flying home. Ambato isn’t normally a destination for foreigners, that title usually belongs to the nearby Baños – but we were rolling through at Carnaval time and Ambato has the country’s biggest festival — The Festival of Flowers & Fruits. Both, I can assure you, were in full force. The event has a hoard of street vendors, parades with floats made out of…(guess), flower shops, and, unfortunately, little kids with foam cans spraying everyone.

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I’ve had a recurring oddity happen to me over the last few months or so. I keep having flashes of memory, not wholly unlike deja vu, but I can tell it’s not a repetition, just a reminder. It’s nice, these flashes are all memories of travel and foreign places and times and doings, but the strange part is in I can’t place, for the life of me, where some of them happened. I see a flash of me standing outside an old mansion and I don’t know if it was in Indonesia or Argentina. San Diego or Prague. I put some effort into tearing the scene apart to recognize location-specific items, but my brain will not allow it. The world, it seems, has meshed itself into one indistinct place. I suppose that’s what I’ve always wanted.

Ecuador, you lovely little beauty, thanks for what you’ve given me. I wish I could give you the promise of eternal and distinct memory, but alas, soon you’ll become part of the whole — the nonspecific parts that make up my whole.

Sometimes on a Saturday — Adventures in Ecuador

Sometimes you half-ass plan a Saturday.

And you somehow string together a ride for you and a friend to go to the National Park the next day. Early. You heard they limit the number of people they let in.

You hike. For 5 hours. Up and down. You slip on rocks, go ankle deep in mud, land on your ass. Eat nuts for breakfast and lunch. Take pictures. See trees you’ve never seen before. Get sunburned because you’re 14,000 feet in the air and the sun doesn’t need to beat down to turn you beet red.

And after you hike, you decide to get lunch. There are two places. One is a new restaurant right alongside the road. The other is a restaurant in an actual house 50 meter down from the road. You decide on the latter.

You eat. It’s good food. The house is nice. Spacious. Home-y. Comfortable. The old lady who cooked your food is kind and smiles. She tells you how to get back to your city.

Then she starts talking about something called “temescal“. You don’t know what that is. She mentions something about “cultura” and lists names of other countries. She says it’s nearby and she thinks you and your friend would like to check it out. You kind of brush it off and smile.

You go to pay the bill. You thank the woman. She asks if you want to see the temesecal. Quieres ver? She asks. OK, you say. Why not see something happening.

It’s out back behind the house. You’re introduced to an American girl who has moved to Ecuador. She’s from your college town. She’s enthused about temesecal which she explains is a sweat lodge — a personal purification ceremony that’s popular with the native people and tribes of your country.

They are performing a ceremony here — in the background of the restaurant you just ate lunch at. She asks if you’d like to join. You and a friend think about it and decide it’s unpassupable. We’ll do it, you say.

You wait sometime. You learn more about the ceremony. You meet the leader of it, the man who is running the fire (where he burns 28 volcanic rocks which will be used later in a tee-pee like tent (called “the womb”) to heat it (and trap that heat) to a temperature your body surely is not used to) and some other participants.

When it’s time to begin, you strip to your boxers. You enter the womb with 15 other people. The ceremony begins. It’s all in Spanish. It’s absolute black inside — no light. You are asked if you want “medicina” which you oblige to. It is San Pedro. You’ve just taken a natural hallucinogenic while put into a tent where you can only move a few inches side to side with other mostly-naked people.

The ceremony goes for 2 hours. It is mixed with songs, chants, prayers, and heat so hot it feels like your face will melt. You sweat, and sweat, and find new places to sweat from and cannot even rub sweat out from your eyes because all else — fingers, palms, arms — are wet too.

The ceremony has four sessions (or puertas as they’re called). You smile, sweat, and breathe in the rocks as water is poured over them. you learn the spanish words for lemongrass, for rosemary, for amber.

When it’s over, you’re offered a ride back to your apartment from two people you just sweat with for two hours.

You’re wet with sweat, tired from the hike, burnt, and a bit broken — and yet that seems so unimportant. Experiences reign supreme.

Sometimes you half-ass plan a Saturday…..and wonderful happens.

When Traveling Kicks Your Ass

Depending on how you want to look at it, I’ve been traveling for over 3.5 years now.

In that time, I’ve traveled through Asia, North American, South America — and did several trips across Europe before that.

Travel gives me a rush and perspective that nothing else does. It’s a way of life as much as a passion, interest or hobby. I’m lucky enough to have a job that lets me travel the world — much like this guy.

In all of those years, my travel has mostly been seamless. Sure there’s been canceled trains, nights spend in dingy hotels, and dark roads I wished I had decided not to walk down.

Yet, I’ve never been mugged. Never been stuck in a place without a bed, or without money. Never been sick abroad (well once in Rome — but I recovered with some over the counter meds).

(There’s no wood around me in this Colombian hotel, but I’ll knock on the wicker chair I’m sitting in.)

One of the biggest things too — I’d never lost my passport before.

Until this week. Let me go into my Wednesday a bit.

I woke in the morning in the beautiful Tayrona Park. I had slept in a hammock there since that’s one of your few options. To get back to Santa Marta in time for my flight, I had to leave at 6:30am (and drag my fellow travelers with me, thankfully they were willing…).

We trekked for 2 hours. We were supposed to find a bus there but didn’t. We trekked for 45 more minutes until we flagged down a pick-up that drove us 10 minutes to the park exit.

Wolfed down some breakfast. Caught a bus. It’s 95 degres in humidity in Santa Marta.

Get back to Taganga (after taking a cab) where my friend lived and go to pick up the laundry I dropped off before I left. The guy is hanging it up outside to dry. He just finished the wash.

SO, wet laundry. I have no other clothes except the rotten and sweaty ones on my back. (The back mind you that’s aching from two straight nights sleeping in a hammock). Ass-kicking #1.

Oh, and I have 132 unread work messages to catch up on.

Take that same cab to the airport in Santa Marta. Airport is beautiful. It’s ON the beach. I try to read my emails on the cab ride there but get carsick from that.

Go to check in. Passport isn’t in usual spot. Hmm.

Go through computer bag. No passport here. Rip out everything. Coins from nine countries. Cell phone from Costa Rica. Kindle. Plugs. Tickets from Pearl Jam show in Oakland in November. Crap. Papers. Pens. Lots of Pens. No passport still.

My big bag. Rife through it. Take out everything. Wet laundry. Smells horrible. I have a corner of the airport to myself and my disorganization. No passport.

Did I mention it’s 95 degrees with humidity. Sweating already. Sweating more now.

Nothing. Shit.

Go through stuff again.

Where is it?

Shit. Nothing.

What to do? Is there anything worse than Airport Panic?

Go to the airport’s information stand. Guy pays no attention. No tengo mi passaporte, I say. Perdido!

He doesn’t move. He starts speaking. Not just quick Spanish but under his heavy breath. All I hear is Policia Nacional and he points to the end of the wall.

I go there.

Open the door. Four Colombia policemen sitting in an office watching the Disney Channel.

I repeat my Spanish sentences. Perdí mi documento, I say again.

They start going off in Spanish. I give them my driver’s license. I give them my passport #.

This goes on for an hour. They ask my questions and I don’t understand. They draw pictures on their police notepads. Finally, they print out a document with my name and some info on it.

I ask, “puedo viajar con esto?”

Yes, they say.

I email my mom with the cafeteria wi-fi. My flight boards in 8 minutes. I buy a muffin.

They let me on the plane.

But, my passport is gone. No idea where it could be. I have my IL drivers license which Colombians can make much sense of and a printou from the police that I can’t read. Ass-kicking #2.

Make it to Medellin on the flight. Grab my bag. Grab a cab. Supposed to meet a friend at 4:15pm. Cab driver tries to rip me off. Does actually but for not as much as he asked for. We wait in 30 minutes of dead-stop traffic because of road construction. I;m late to meet my friend. I start to panic on what to do.  I’ve already had a day of it. I hope this doesn’t make things worse.

Do meet my friend, thank god. Hotel has wi-fi but doesn’t work in my room. I stay up working in the lobby of a Colombia love motel until 2am.

Wednesday is over and it kicked my ass.

On Thursday, the full effect of a lost passport took place.

Find an assistant at Zirtual that speaks fluent Spanish to call a bunch of places that my passport might be. Have to find flight numbers, have to remember cab companies that I took but can’t. Have her call the hostel I got dropped off at but didn’t stay at to see if somehow they have it.

No one does. Find out that US passports can go for $10k on the black market. Find out I 100% need a passport to fly to the US.

The only US embassy in Colombia is in Bogota. Have to go there. Have to hope they’ll give me a temp. passport or else I’m staying in Colombia past my flight back to the US. Have to get my documents in order.

Have to fill out the forms. Get pictures. Prove my identity with 2 forms of identification. Stay in Bogota for the day. Not that big of a deal but these are never easy things when traveling and living out of a bag.

What’s more. The AirBnB that my travelers and I (who already in Medellin) had booked cancelled on us. Just like that. We have nowhere to stay.

We try to find different places in Medellin for 3 people wiht good internet. Easier said than done. Every AirBnb listing is really just lead generation for apartment renters who have other sites and other emails and want to work something else on the side. Nothing seems to be working out.

Among all of this, the housing situation in Medellin cancelled. It’s not easy to find accommodations for our group on short notice. Ass-kicking #3.

I’m not even sure I’m going to be in Medellin that long. So that adds confusion to our booking. If I can’t get the temp passport I’ll be in Bogota for the 10 business days it takes to get new passport. I’ll miss my planned weekend in NYC and most of the conference I’m attending in Boston.

That, all of that, is how traveling can absolutely just kick your ass sometimes. 

And that brings me to now. Sitting in that Colombian hotel.

We found housing in Medellin. I’m going tomorrow morning.

The hotel saw all my wet clothes on the floor and offered to dry them for free. They smell great and the hotel folded them all so nicely.

I have a flight to Bogota on Tuesday and the embassy says as long as I have all the right documentation I can get that temp. passport. My awesome ZA Jillian is on top of the documentation I need so I should be good. Have to find a place in Medellin to take my picture and print some documents, but that’s easy.

The lost passport will probably end up costing me about $400-500 but that’s okay. It’s just money. I’m safe. I get to see Bogota. I should get home on time.

I got to see friends in Colombia. Got to see Tayrona. The beautiful little hillside town of El Carmen de Viboral. I’ll see Medellin tomorrow and meet my friends again there.

While walking around the beautiful junglebeach mix of Tayrona, I had a conversation with two fellow travelers about what traveling does for you.

It’s a favorite conversation among jetsetters and backpackers alike. We do this because it brings something beyond so much — words, currency, pictures. It brings the wonder of experience.

This all, too, is an experience. And one that challenged me. At home, the days when I feel dejected and beat down are days with traffic jams or broken phones or arguments. These are small things.

My story isn’t huge. Again I wasn’t mugged or beaten. I didn’t get sick. All will be good. But it just shows that with traveling the stakes are higher. The highs are high, the lows can be really low. But we thrive on that; the adrenaline runs through our bodies as they ache for a shower or a good bed or warm laundry.

And even on the low days, the rewards are so grand. So wondrous. So available only to the brave that wander with their legs and minds. The world isn’t open for anyone, and sometimes to see it all you gotta get your ass kicked from time to time. It’s what keeps out anyone without the courage to take the ass-kicking.

tayrona beach

What I Bookmarked in 2013

I don’t bookmark too many sites. For articles, I try to throw them into Pocket. Other sites will get a note in the notebook or an email to a friend. For some reason, though, I don’t hit that star in Chrome too often.

And when I do, there are a variety of folders that things go into. Writing, sites of Zirtual interest, education material, etc…..For everything else, there’s been a folder simply called ‘2013’.

At the end of the year, here’s the randomness that made my bookmarks.

Find The Conversation Concept Map — perhaps still the best designed website I’ve come across. A great database of articles on various topics, but an even better aesthetic.

Reddit ‘what are the best websites for NOT wasting your time’ thread — self-explanatory

Letters of Note — great blog of correspondences through the years. Lots of famous back-and-forths here for the literary minds & historians.

Pixar’s 22 Rules of Storytelling — self-explanatory

GetInspired365 — new inspiration for each day

37 mind-expanding subreddits — for the Redditor in me.

The Complete Guide to Interval Training — early seeds of a healthy year. workouts on the go.

The Sad, Beautiful Fact That We’re Going to Miss Almost Everything — great NPR article on living in the age where anything can be in your hands in minutes. Daunting, mystifying, yet wonderful.

Maggie Appleton — great artist I discovered. Love her sketches with quotation additions.

Jason Collins is the Envy of Straight Men Everywhere — a good reminder of the first openly gay professional athlete. Big step for sports in 2013. This is author Sherman Alexie at his finest — shoving our own presumptions and cultural norms in our face.

The Big Dot — more people live inside this circle than outside of it

Radical Openness — video on new paradigm. Dig it.

How Do You Define Yourself? — Alan Watts asking the important question. He was good at this.

Mindful in May — a month of mindfulness. Good links to be found here.

What? You Didn’t Fall in Love with Rome? — great little sentimentality trip here. I know not everyone loves the eternal city. But their wrong. Simple.

Ernest Hemingway’s Reading List for a Young Writer — self-explanatory. and how.

Reddit’s r/malefashionadvice The Basic Wardrobe — good for dressing on the road. plan to follow this more in 2014.

The Dark Side of the Digital Nomad — blogger Mark Manson on some things you lose out by living on the road.

The Inside Story of the Moto X — goes into the phone Google released this year, and some of the reasons for its acquisition of Motorola. Good read.

100 Alternatives to ‘So whaddya do?’ — good list of interesting questions to spark a conversation other than, well, the standard.

Vancouver pic — this is nice to look at it. Can’t wait to make it back to all the glass.

Milesimizer — helps determine whether to use miles or $ when booking plane tickets

Note to Selfie — great article on why using social media doesn’t take people ‘out’ of the moment. A truly potent analysis of the world we live in today.

 

And that’s all. 23 sites. Not the best or the worst  I’ve found. Just the ones that found their way to the 2013 folder.

Matt Kepnes’ 18 Life Lessons Learned From Traveling The World

Source: http://thoughtcatalog.com/matthew-kepnes/2013/09/18-life-lessons-learned-from-travel-the-world/

I never thought I would still be nomadic. My original round-the-world trip was only supposed to last one year before I went back home, found a “real” job, settled down, and by now, be married, have a house, 2.5 children, and complain about my retirement fund to my friends.

Yet life took a decidedly different turn and here I am, seven years later, writing this from an overnight train to Copenhagen with the same desire to explore the world and no sign of stopping soon.

After so many years on the road, there are a few life lessons I’ve learned from travel that I never would have learned otherwise and I wanted to share with you today.

1. It’s not that hard.

Every day, people get up, go out the door to travel the world, and survive and thrive. Kids as young as 18 make their way around the world without any problems. All that worrying and fear I had before my trip was for naught – this traveling thing is a lot easier than people make it out to be. You’re not the first person to do it and there is a well-worn trail that makes it easy for first times to find their way. If an 18 year can do it, so can you.

2. You learn a lot of life skills.

People who travel are better adjusted and less socially anxious people and traveling around the world has taught me to how to be more social, be adept and more flexible, and, most importantly, understand non-verbal communication a lot better. It has made me more independent, more open, and, overall, just a better person. There’s no reason to be scared that you might not have “it” in you. You’d be surprised how often you’ll surprise yourself.

3. You are never alone.

It may seem scary just throwing yourself out there and talking to strangers, but we are all strangers in a strange land. At the end of the day, everyone is very friendly. It took me a while to get used to just saying “hello” to strangers, but now it seems like second nature. Everyone is just like you – they are alone in a strange place and are looking for others to be with. People travel to meet other people and that means you. Don’t be afraid to approach other travelers and locals. You’ll find that when you travel alone, you’ll never really be alone.

4. You meet some of your closest friends traveling.

Whether it was in a restaurant in Vietnam, on a boat in Thailand, or walking into a hostel in Spain, when I least expected (or wanted) to meet people was when I met the best and developed the longest lasting relationships. And even though you may not see them for years, you still end up at their wedding, Christmas dinner, or family celebration. Distance and time cannot break the bond you formed.

5. Relationships come and go on the road.

I’ve met lots of people on the road, including members of the opposite sex I’ve found attractive. But the nature of travel doesn’t always lend itself to long-term romantic relationships. It’s hard to make something last when everyone moves in different directions and holidays end. If you get too attached too often, you’ll have nothing but heartache as people come and go. But I’ve realized you need to simply enjoy your time together and live in the moment. Dwelling on the future will only keep you from making that leap.

6. But chase the ones you like.

Yet once in a while, you’ll find someone you really connect with. Meaningful romance on the road does happen. And when you have nowhere to be and no place to go other than where you want, sometimes there is no reason not to follow. Don’t force yourself to say another good-bye if you don’t have to. Pursue it even if the distance seems too vast and the circumstances not right, because you never know where it could lead or how long it might last because, once in a while you meet the one and when you do, you should do everything you can to stay with them.

7. It’s good to try new things.

I used to be a very rigid person, but traveling has helped me loosen up and expand my worldview. I’ve pushed myself to the limit, eaten new food, taken cooking classes, learned magic tricks, new languages, tried to conquer my fear of heights, and challenged my established views. Travel is all about breaking out of your comfort zone and enjoying all the world has to offer.

8. Be adventurous.

Doing the canyon swing was tough. So was jumping off the boat in the Galapagos. As was eating the maggots in Thailand and caterpillars in Africa. Then I got my butt kicked in Thai boxing. And, while I won’t do most of those ever again, I don’t regret trying new things. Scare yourself once in a while. It makes life less dull.

9. There is no such thing as a mistake.

No matter what happens on the road, it’s never a mistake. As was once said, “your choices are half chance, and so are everybody else’s.” When you go with the flow and let the road just unfold ahead of you, there’s no reason to have regrets or think you made a mistake. You make the best decisions you can and, in the end, the journey is the adventure.

10. Don’t be cheap.

When you travel on a budget and need to make your money last, it’s easy to be cheap. But why live like a pauper at home while you save so you can skip the food in Italy, the wine in France, or a sushi meal in Japan? While it is good to be frugal, it’s also important to splurge and not miss out on doing once-in-a-lifetime things. Who knows when you will get another chance to dive in Fiji?! Take every opportunity.

11. That being said, don’t be wasteful.

But remember you aren’t made of money, so don’t always feel like you need to party with your new friends every night or do every activity in a new place. Sometimes it’s OK just to sit around and relax or cook your own meal. Be frugal, but not cheap.

12. Drop the guidebook.

Don’t be so glued to a book. You can travel fine without it, especially with so many good alternatives on the Internet these days. You’ll buy it and hardly use it anyway. Just ask people for tips and information. That will be your best source of information, especially for those off-the-beaten track destinations and hole-in-the-wall restaurants that no one’s ever heard of but serve the best food you can imagine.

13. It’s never too late to change.

Even if you aren’t the traveler or person you want to be in your head, it’s never too late to change. Travel is all about change. The more you say “tomorrow,” the less likely it is that tomorrow will ever come. Traveling has shown me aspects of my personality I wish I didn’t have and also shown me I’m really lazy. I’ve always lived by the phrase “Carpe Diem” but sometimes I don’t really do it. It’s never too late though and realizing that has made being more pro-active a lot easier.

14. Relax.

Life is amazing. There’s no reason to worry. The universe unfolds as it should. Relax and just go with it. You can’t change the future – it hasn’t happened yet. Just make the best decisions you can today and enjoy the moment. Don’t get caught up trying to see all the “must sees.” There’s nothing wrong with spending a day playing games, reading a book, or lounging by the pool.

15. Learn more languages (seriously).

There’re some great benefits to not knowing the local language – like miming out “chicken” to let the lady know you want eggs for breakfast – but learning languages is very helpful when you travel, and works out great when you meet other travelers. There’s also nothing like surprising people by speaking their language. Moreover, knowing basic phrases will endear you to locals who will appreciate the fact you went the extra mile. You’ll find people will be much more helpful, even if you struggle to say hello.

16. Wear more sunscreen.

Seriously. Science has proven it helps, and with all that beach time you do when you travel, you could always use a little more. Being tan is great. Having skin cancer is not. SPF up.

17. People are good.

All over the world, I have encountered amazing people who have not only changed my life but have gone out of their way to help me. It’s taught me that the old saying is true – you can always depend on the kindness of strangers. My friend Greg taught me long ago not to be guarded against strangers. That experience when I first started traveling changed everything and when you travel with an open heart, unexpected goodness will happen. 99.9999% of the people in the world aren’t murders, rapists, or thieves. There’s no reason to assume someone is one. Sometimes people are just trying to be friendly.

18. There’s no such thing as must-see.

This is your trip. No one else’s. Everyone’s journey is their own. Do what you want, when you want, and for how long you want. Don’t let anyone tell you aren’t a real traveler for skipping the Louvre, avoiding some little town in Peru, or deciding to party in Thailand. This your journey. You owe no one an explanation.

I’ve learned more about the world and myself in the last seven years of travel than I had in the previous 25 years of my life. No matter what happens in the future, I know that travel has taught me life lessons I never would have learned had I stayed in my cubicle job.

Find a way to travel as often has you can to all the destinations you dream about.  They will change your life.