Month: June 2016

The Expat Ending

Last year when I came back through the United States I knew I had a series of wrap-up blog posts to write – photo projects, how my planning worked out, how it felt to be done with that trip and moving forward, highlights of places I visited. The list was long and comprehensive.

This year I feel like I should do the same, but I don’t have a list. I don’t really know how to neatly wrap things up like I did before. Going through some pictures the other night I was reminded that my Central America adventure started much like my round the world trip, hopping from place to place seeing the sights of a new region. But in December that got derailed when I decided to stay in Antigua for an unknown amount of time. Over the next six months I built a life there, and that’s what has defined this part of my Travel Abrodge. I became an expat.

And I couldn’t imagine any better way to end this adventure.

One thing that I craved when I set out again in September was to get stuck somewhere. I’d encountered places in my first year that were tempting but I was so set on my moving itinerary that it wouldn’t have been possible to really enjoy stopping. This time though that wasn’t the case. I was intrigued by what it meant to be an expat, to get to know a place on a deeper level. Antigua became that place.

Antigua, the expat haven. It’s not a unique choice for this kind of experience, but maybe that’s also why it was appealing. I entered a place where expats were a huge part of the community. For better or for worse, I wasn’t alone.

I straddled a line between expat community – Cafe No Se – and Guatemalans and backpackers – Lucky Rabbit – in a way that made me feel like I got a pretty well-rounded experience of what living in Antigua was like. And on top of that, I had a more grounded life than I had maybe ever had before. I had a house, I had a relationship, I was caring for two dogs, I started to know people in town, was invited to parties in the city, became a person people would come visit at the bar, and couldn’t walk around without running into someone I knew. For the first time in a long time I felt like I had a real home and it was in Guatemala. A little bubble of Guatemala called Antigua. But it still had the market and the water issues and the language and the characteristics of being a town in Guatemala.

It was everything I didn’t know I was looking for, and even though it came to an end somewhat abruptly, I will forever be happy I experienced that life. My first year away was world exploration, constant movement, the backpacker life. My second year was dominated by this expat life. It’s the best combination that really made me feel like I’ve done it all now. Of course it’s not possible to have “done it all,” it never will be, but without that expat time I would not feel like I could come back to the States. Come back to a job. Come back to a life I never knew I would want to return to. It’s because of Antigua that I realized I did want to return to it.

Thank you to Antigua – to everyone there for making me feel so welcomed, so at home, and to the town itself for being the picture perfect place to stay.

Over the next couple of months I will probably write a handful of posts on concluding thoughts from the past two years. I don’t know what form they will take yet or where they will lead me. I just know that I can wholeheartedly say that I have just lived some of the best years of my life. It is bittersweet saying that it’s over, but if I’ve learned anything from it all, something wonderful still lies ahead. It always does.

I Can’t Keep Quiet About the Brexit Vote

I usually stay away from politics. It causes heated arguments that never seem to reach a conclusion, in fact they seem to do more damage than good. Plus I am admittedly less informed than those who want to fight about it so why enter into a conversation I don’t think I’m fully qualified to discuss in depth.

Today though, I don’t care. Because today I’m worried about the world.

As everyone knows by now, the U.K. has voted to leave the European Union. More specifically, the rural upper class in England have voted to leave the EU. This decision has serious consequences for my friends in the UK and across Europe, as well as millions of people I don’t know in those areas and around the world. I can’t even begin to fathom the economic impact, other than knowing my trip to London in October just got significantly more affordable. Silver lining?

The part that worries me most? Felix Salmon said it best:

“The result is that we are now entering a world in retreat from progress, a world of atavistic nationalisms and mutual distrust, a world in which we demonize foreigners and prefer walls to bridges.”

Demonize foreigners. Walls to bridges. Xenophobia. A misunderstanding of the world.

As a person who just spent two years of her life dedicated to exploring and better understanding the world, this is heartbreaking. How can two countries – now I am including the United States, whose upcoming presidential election terrifyingly mirrors this Brexit vote – who pretend to be so progressive, such leaders of the free world, be in favor of shutting their minds and their borders to the unfamiliar?

At no point in my travels did anyone in a foreign country tell me I wasn’t welcome there. Quite the opposite. Colombians yelled “Bienvenidos!” to us on the streets, people in Myanmar gave me the thumbs up when they greeted me with “Obama!”, and when I moved to Guatemala I was not questioned as to my purpose of being there or hounded for taking a job, I was admitted into the community with nothing but smiles and “Buen Provecho”s all the time.

The world has its terrible people and places, I will never deny that. But get out from behind your TV set, leave your comfortable rocking chair, and you will see that those people are not the majority. They are the exceptions that get the attention, as most exceptions to the rule do. The reality is that the world is full of kind, good-hearted people. If only that was the message that was broadcast around the world instead.

I know I can do nothing to change what has happened, and come November I will be like my friends in the UK – my fellow travelers who are saddened and angered by this outcome – and vote to stop the xenophobia from taking over. I can only hope that enough of us turn up to the polls to tip it in our favor. But outside of official elections, I will continue to do whatever it is I can do in my own little sphere of existence to spread the good news of the world, to share the stories of kindness I have received abroad, and to keep in mind that though today may seem bleak yesterday and tomorrow do not have to be.

It’s June 21 Again

How has it been 2 years already? 2 years to the day since I got on that plane to Brazil, since I left the world I knew behind and set out to discover the vast world I did not know.

One year ago today I wrote a reflective post about how I had spent the previous year living the trip of my dreams, and how, even though I was currently in Vermont to work, I was going to continue traveling in the coming fall. It was a pause, a shift of focus, an end to one phase and the beginning of the next.

Today I find myself somewhere I never expected I would be on this day: in Vermont. Again. Another end to a phase, another time to wrap things up and refocus, another summer in the mountains to clear my head and figure out my next move.

Vermont has become the place where I transition. Even as I write this now I realize that my trajectory will be similar – last year I took off in September for Central America, this year I plan to leave in September for a month or so in Europe – but the end goals are vastly different. Last year I came back with the intention to continue my backpacking life for at least another 6 months. This time I came back with the intention to go back to what many people call “the real world.”

So I guess now, on this 2 year anniversary of my departure, I can officially say that my journey around the world has come to an end. When I set out 2 years ago with a one way flight plan ending halfway across the world I did not know that I would end up with a one way flight back to the United States. I didn’t know where I would end up, truthfully. I definitely did not plan on living in Guatemala for six months, and then leaving such an established life behind to return to my home country.

When I left I felt like I had the world at my fingertips. Anything could and would happen. I was excited to see what that meant, to live freely, and solo. It was me and the world and nothing or no one could stop us.

Now that I’ve returned I feel oddly similar to how I felt then. Sure, I will experience a range of emotions that have already begun – denial at being back, confusion about the future, happiness at having achieved my travel goals, excitement for the possibilities of what comes next, serenity at where I am in life – but I am still excited to see what me and the world will do. Because for most of my 20’s I had a plan: work in architecture, live in New York City, live in San Francisco, leave to do my trip of a lifetime around the world. And now I can confidently say that, by the age of 29, I have achieved my life goals.

So now what? The world is still my oyster. And where I end up now will not be overshadowed by anything – no longstanding dream of travel, no need to save up for that goal or always live temporarily knowing I would one day depart. Now, I can really dig into life somewhere. Or not. Anything is possible.

Leaving Antigua

Where to begin?

I am leaving Antigua. The place that has become my home, that I have found a community, friends, family, that I have cared for puppies, that I have lived with a boyfriend, that I have talked up as a bartender and become a presence in as a manager, that I have lived abroad. It’s not an easy choice to leave such a place, but I knew one day it would come.

I didn’t know the circumstances under which it would happen. Simultaneously making the choice easy and difficult on the level of leaving San Francisco, there were clear factors that led me here.

I had a one way flight to New York in June. Going for a wedding, staying for a surgery that had an unknown timeline, I couldn’t predict how long I would need to be in my home country. My best guess was a month or two. With an impending trip like this it obviously made me take a closer look at my life, my priorities, my goals for the rest of the year. I haven’t been one to plan ahead too much in the past year but with ideas like Oktoberfest and the fact that I’ve been away from my profession for two years already I started to seriously think about some things.

Oktoberfest. The idea had come up to go with my best friends and, having wanted to experience this epic German festival most of my life, I couldn’t say no. Before I got locked into a lifestyle of limited vacation it seemed like the best way to blow the rest of my savings. And I’ve talked about visiting Europe for a year now to see if I wanted to live there. Oktoberfest could be the start of a research trip that would show me my next move.

I love bartending. I love Cafe No Se. I love the conversations and the people and the atmosphere. I love that my job is making sure people have a good night. I miss architecture. I miss working towards a project, pulling together something tangible, something that I’m proud of, winning a job. I left my career at a crossroads, when I was offered a manager position most people would kill for. I would have at one point. As my friends move into these roles I question where in the ranks I will have to reenter the architecture world. Will I have to start over again as I did at 22? How long can I rely on 5 years of experience? I’ve been away from it almost half as long as I was in it. But the realization that I want to go back to my former profession was enough to make me rethink my return to Antigua.

The people of Antigua made me stay here. The people of Antigua were making it nearly impossible to leave. Brayan has meant so much to me, from the time when we were just good friends wandering Mexico together to the deepest points of our relationship, and I am incredibly fortunate to have had him in my life. But as our relationship ran its course, I wondered if I could have a life in Antigua without him. My No Se family made me think it was possible. In the last two weeks before leaving I felt like I truly had found my people. They had me thinking about coming back when I’d already decided I wouldn’t. They have me thinking about coming back periodically over the years even after I have gone. But I have people at home, people I have missed dearly, that cannot be ignored. I do not take for granted how lucky I am to know so many terrific people that I feel pulled in so many directions.

I have loved being a nomad. The traveler life is one I took to instantly and lauded to any and everyone who would listen to me. Leaving to travel was the best decision I have ever made in my life. But there are things I have started to miss.

I miss winter. I miss cities. I miss walking on paved sidewalks in heeled boots. I miss sipping on a hot beverage because the air is brisk outside. I miss having my things in a place that I know I don’t have to leave. I miss sushi dinners with my friends. I miss the holidays with my family.

Trust me when I say this was a decision that haunted me for weeks before it came to fruition. I am positive I will have moments of doubt, I will look at flight prices, I will consider going back for just a month if I have it between surgery and Oktoberfest or Europe and a new job. And I am okay with that, because it is just further proof that Antigua was the right decision for me. That my time there meant the world to me. And that I will always consider it to be one of my homes.

(May 30, 2016)

200 Days Since I Arrived in Antigua

Antigua, how do I describe you?

Your first impression is among the best in the world. When first walking your streets your charm is undeniable. Your pretty colors, manicured parks, and commitment to cobblestones capture us. Our cameras snap at every glimpse of a wall half in ruins or a gated window holding a flower box. We hike to your Mirador, Cerro de la Cruz, and marvel at your tiny size dropped into the valley between three volcanoes. Your neighbors, the volcanoes, amaze us. We gape in awe at the erupting Fuego. We ascend Acatenango to watch the sun rise over you. We can’t get enough of your beauty.

Your people welcome us. They make us feel as if we belong, that we have found our new home, our island of misfit toys. They say hi to us on the streets after just one encounter. They offers us jobs, that lead to a family. They warn us that we are one of them now, that though we may try to leave we will always return to Antigua.

Your nightlife never ends. It carries us away with it – morning, noon or night – until we can’t remember the last time we didn’t have a drink. For better or for worse, it keeps us going.

Everyone loves you, Antigua. And everyone hates you. You bring out the best and the worst in us. But you make us feel like we’re in it together. You never judge us, you forgive us, you encourage us, and sometimes for good measure, you kick our asses.

Is this a love note or a hate note to Antigua? I don’t know either. All I know is that Antigua will be with me forever.