A Reunion in Haiti – vol. 1

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140 days past.  Countless memories.  Countless people.  Countless blessings.  It’s pretty incredible up to this point that I haven’t lost anything…or worse.  My mind is everywhere.  Riding a taxi to the airport after a nice final morning walking the streets of Santiago with a friend brought so many thoughts to the fold.  My final hours in this new world, now a very familiar world, were waning down and I was trying to suck up each moment, each sight, each person I met with the absorbency of a thick dry sponge.

Funny enough, that’s how I felt before long in the dusty hot weather of Haiti as I touched down in the airport of Port-au-Prince.  I was the first member of the team to arrive and so me and Alexa, the Haiti Connections Director of the Wings of Refuge childrens’ home.  We went to a brand new cafe that has become a central meeting place for volunteers since I last visited this poverty stricken country.

After running a few errands, we returned to the airport to pick up the rest of the team.  I knew our team leader through some limited meetings, but everyone else was new!  Nothing new for me as I’d been in a similar situation the last 4 1/2 months, but there were plenty of differences in this final week of the trip.

This place, as opposed to all the others I had seen on my trip, was home.   When I returned to the childrens home I felt a coziness that I hadn’t felt since I first embarked to Peru to kick off this adventure.  Walking into the home, a few things had changed but the feeling was the same.  I saw the kids and there were mumblings.  I had doubts.  I wondered if any of them would remember my name or who I was.  How could I doubt.

As we went around the room and all introduced ourselves, I readied myself for my turn to speak.  But as I was about to say my name, I heard it around the room followed by whispers and giggles.  They remembered!  As we all socialized with the kids, I ended up running and playing tag with some of the younger boys before talking with Sarah and nabbing a picture with this young sweetheart.

For those who don’t know, this was the girl who stole my heart by giving me a birthday card on my 22nd birthday during my first trip to Haiti.  It was the precursor to my return for a second trip and the inspiration for this 3rd trip after a 4 year hiatus.  Being surrounded by all the kids on the first day was a dream come true.

Over the course of the next few days, we settled into our new home for the week and also helped a friend living there to move into his own apartment!  It was a big moment for him and we were all so thrilled to be a part of it.  We painted a large room in the childrens’ home and spent more time with the kids.  Running around you in circles laughing and screaming, they make you forget about everyone and everything else.

As we drove around the city those first few days, I noticed less rubble.  Less garbage.  A few more paved roads.  Just a few.  For a country that has been among the most impoverished in the world for many years, progress comes slow.  But progress seemingly does still come, especially with organizations working together to bring benefit to the people.

We met many of these organizations as one of the biggest pushes the childrens’ home has made since I last visited is to partner with other charities to bring greater awareness to various causes.  We visited jewelers who would make beads out of cereal boxes, old glass bottles, and clay.  Ingenious reuse of otherwise indiscernible trash.  We even got to make our own bracelet with a hammer, brass fastener, and some leather.  Far flung from my days of calculating numbers on spreadsheets.

It was a memorable start to an endlessly thought filled ending of the grand adventure that began a short 5 months earlier.  Only a few days remain, but in my mind, it feels like an eternity until I can finally return home!  More on those days in the final post of the trip!

Also, check out this post I wrote for the Wings of Refuge website and some more insights into my trip back to this wonderful world!

Wild Galapagos part two

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Beyond the vastly different lifestyle the Galapagos afforded me, I also saw so much great wildlife and incredible views. On weekends, all of the volunteers would share a taxi to the main city on the island, Puerto Baquerizo. You don’t need to go far to see plenty of moaning and groaning sea lions. It’s quite an orchestra really. They’re everywhere and they can take over beaches and boardwalks. Less frequent but still not difficult to spot are marine iguanas. These ones were really amazing to see for me because I had an iguana named Greeny when I was a kid!  Before you make fun of my lack of creativity in pet names, just recall that I’m an accountant. Though these guys are trying to change that perception.

Anyway, back to the wildlife. There is a small rocky bluff of an island just off the western coast of the island where I was staying. The name of this bluff is Kicker Rock, though it’s known as Leon Dormido (sleeping lion, which it resembles) to locals. But that’s not the special part of this rock. It’s the marine life just below and around it. I did a snorkeling trip there and swam 30 feet above hammer head and Galapagos sharks!  Also, there were sea turtles, more sea lions, marine iguanas, and many fish. But I think the best part of that excursion was the part we didn’t pay for. As we were beginning to leave the rock, a HUGE pod of dolphins started swimming past us. We followed them and they ended up jumping out of the water all around us. It was an amazing experience to be among those incredibly smart and gorgeous animals.

As my trip began to come to a close, I said goodbye to my fellow volunteers whom I’d been living so closely with for so long. To finish things up, I decided to take an overnight trip to the next island, Santa Cruz. But here’s the twist. My largest bag holding most of my clothes and a few other things was left in the first island right on the pier. I realized as I arrived in Santa Cruz that my bag wasn’t there and put it together. I began to freak out in my mind a bit, but then I thought about it. I had my passport, laptop, phone, and all other valuables. I would be seeing my girlfriend, Nessie, in just a few days and I could ask her to get me additional clothes for me before she left. The biggest issue would be getting a new bag, which would merely set my budget back a bit. Not life altering. So I made a decision. I was going to forget about this for 24 hours until I returned to the island and enjoy Santa Cruz as much as possible. So I did just that.

I saw the Charles Darwin research station where lots of exhibits of current projects were on display. The islands are working very hard to become totally self sustaining, not an easy task. I also saw lava tunnels, giant tortoises (a few of which were trying to show off baby-making skills), and a beautiful beach know as one of the nicest in all of Ecuador. It was a great time. Thankfully, when I returned to San Cristobal there was a police officer waiting for me. No no, not because I was caught breaking any laws. They had found my bag and searched it for security reasons and found out I was returning on the boat that morning, so they brought me to the station and gave me a bag. But not before taking a picture to memorialize the moment they got to interact with a real life gringo!

And so I made my way back to mainland Ecuador in Quito for a quick one night reunion with the wonderful family that housed me on my way into the islands. Ecuador was a beautiful place with kind people and incredible wildlife. I didn’t get to see very much of the mainland but I cannot complain about any of the experiences I had there. I could only bask in them and look forward to more great times in Colombia!  Stay tuned for the next post on what I consider my favorite stop on the trip!

Goals

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Well, being that its New Year’s Eve, I think this is a better time than ever to talk about goals, especially because they’ve been on my mind for some time now. 

Goals are a hot topic. They are the reason for success both individually and as a human race. Without goals, our determination and direction in life would probably wane. There are a few things that go a long way in being able to achieve goals and I’d like to share some tidbits I’ve found come to find as quite useful.
1. Sit down and write a list of goals. Start with short term goals and work your way out in time (1, 3, 5 years). Isolate it down to 1-3 bigger goals and a few smaller ones so that you can appropriately focus on them.

2. Research your goal. Has anyone else ever done this before or is there a community that has a common goal with you? Social pressure can work in your favor.

3. Visualize your goal being achieved. This doesn’t just need to be in your mind. For example, if your goal is to travel throughout South America for 6 months, travel there for a shorter period of time and give yourself a tease of the benefits of achieving the goal.

4. Remember that it doesn’t matter what others think of your goal. Don’t be distracted by dogma. If it is your goal, it is you who will enjoy the fruits of your hard work when you achieve it.

5. Map out steps over time that will allow you to see the progress you make. If you are saving money for a big goal, track your savings and progress to the final total.
These are some of the tools that I used to reach goals and will continue to use. Everyone is different but this may serve as a good starting point for you. Remember that the only person who is stopping you from achieving anything is you, despite how easy it may be to blame others for shortfalls. Hold yourself accountable and you will find yourself to be a much stronger person and your goals will find themselves much more frequently completed. Best of luck and I welcome any suggestions on good tips for checking off goals!  Good luck to all and enjoy the last hours of 2016!

Quitting

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It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly when a moment of eye-popping clarity comes about.  When it comes to my desire to travel, I could tell you that it was when I went to Haiti in 2012 to care for the most beautiful children.  I could also tell you it was when my parents came to the US to make a new life and sprouted the idea that home isn’t always just one place.  But perhaps more than any other reason, this idea to quit my job and travel started several years ago when I visited Thailand.  That was my first trip unassisted in a country that I did not know the language of.  It opened my eyes in ways that nothing else in this world could.

In a way, this idea to travel is a result of all these things and many more.  After all, quitting your job to travel isn’t the quickest and easiest decision to make, I can attest to that.  But then again, the best things in life are usually not easy and that theory is very applicable here.

While I was on that fateful trip in Thailand 2 years ago, a thought that was built up by my upbringing and by that trip to Haiti, started to permeate my mind and I decided at that moment that someday I would quit my job.  While I wanted that day to be as soon as possible, I knew that it would take some time and planning to make it happen.  To be exact, it would take precisely 2 years.

During those 2 years, I have savored over the process of saving, positioning myself, and planning for this trip, and while most of this process is enjoyable and exciting, there is always that elephant in the room.  He’s just sitting way too close to you invading your space, but at some point you just need to face him.  That elephant I’m referring to is the prospect of quitting.  In my case, I work(ed) as a CPA in a public accounting firm (Withum).  I’ve been there for over 4 years having started right out of school as a hungry staff accountant.  I’ve formed relationships with people throughout the firm whom I take great pride in calling my extended family.  While I am very thankful for these people, this also made the idea of quitting even more difficult.  How could I leave these people that I’d figuratively AND literally lived with for so long?  After all, I’d seen them more often than my own family during those years.

I knew that it would take some finesse to start down the path of my dreams while keeping strong relationships with these people.  I started by having a conversation with some of my closer co-workers while also keeping things hush so that rumors wouldn’t spread.  I spoke to them about the idea of traveling and what it would mean for my future career.  While I’m certain that many of them were disappointed, I felt talking early and honestly helped make a smoother transition.

One of the difficult things to manage at this time was gossip.  As with most offices, mine has its fair share.  It’s something that I cannot control so I didn’t concern myself with this too much, but I did want to be the first one to talk to 2 particular partners in charge of my office.  To do this, it took quite a bit of self-control to not blurt out my dream that had been building for 2 years to everyone in sight!  But I kindly asked each of the people that I spoke with to not go around talking about my plans, at least not until I had told those partners.  I’m once again very thankful to have good people that I work with because there were no leaks of my plans.

Admittedly, as much as it has been exciting to plan out this trip, the prospect of telling people that have employed me for 4 years that I will longer be working with them is still intimidating. When it finally came time to talk to those partners, something rather interesting happened.  Instead of fear and intimidation wrapping my mind, I instead had great clarity in what I was doing and where I was going.  That made it very easy to talk to each of them about my plans without fear of consequence.  Of course, I really had no reason to think that there would be a significant consequence to me reaching for my dreams, even if it did make their lives just slightly more difficult temporarily.

I think that is the most important thing to consider, that people will never really be upset at one another for reaching for their dreams, as long as you do it professionally and properly.  And if you do find yourself in the position of trying to convince your boss of why you are choosing your dream over working endless hours, then I think it is quite clear where you should and shouldn’t be.  Thankfully, I have the great fortune to be working in a great environment and one in which I hope to be welcomed back to in the future.

It may not always be the best time or easiest time to quit, but when it comes to reaching for your dream, reach all day.  There’s no other way to find happiness that can truly match that of arriving at your goal.  But don’t let that moment of arrival come without setting your sights on the next mountain to climb!

More on that next mountain coming soon.  Til next time! 🙂

Turning a New Leaf

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Hey all!

I have a big announcement!  Some big changes are coming, and they’ve been approaching quietly for some time.  Starting in just a few short weeks, I’m going to be traveling for 6 months throughout South America!  Ever since I had the amazing trip to Thailand in 2014, it’s been my unwavering dream to travel for an extended period of time.  I wasn’t sure when or where, but those details are now coming into focus.

On November 11, me and a buddy of mine will take off for Peru to start the trip by scaling the Inca Trail on the way to Machu Picchu!  Throughout the rest of this trip I’ll be going through Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Argentina, and Chile seeing mountains, rivers, beaches, and hopefully much much more.  The planning has been long and arduous, but certainly worthwhile.  It’s also been much easier with the support of many great people in my life including my family and friends.  And of course, the loving support of my girlfriend.  It wasn’t an easy decision but I am very thankful for her willingness to help me see through my dream to travel.

A big part of this planning has been notifying my coworkers. Maybe it’s corny, but they’ve come to be something of a second family to me.  Handling this announcement as well as possible with them has been very important to me and I appreciate all the patience they’ve all shown.

I’ll sorely miss all the people in my life during this trip but I know that we’ll be seeing each other sooner than we can imagine.  But with every new chapter, new challenges and experiences await and I’m looking forward to all that the road ahead has to offer!

While I’m away, follow my page to keep up with my travels and to get the latest tips on how to travel richly on a cheap budget!  You’ll be thankful you did!

Til next time 🙂

Taka

New Kid On The Block

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Hello there!

Welcome to the inaugural post on this somehow already world famous blog!  A little bit about myself, I’m a twenty something (24) stranger who loves people, new places, and doing things.  Ok, I’m a being a bit vague with that, this is my first go, give me a break!  I’m actually an accountant from New Jersey, which automatically makes my life shitty.  That’s a little something for those of you who’ve watched The Other Guys with Mark Wahlberg and Will Ferrell.  But surprisingly, life isn’t that bad!  Other than being an accountant, I’m also an avid traveler who would love to see every continent thoroughly by the time I’ve called it quits.  Lastly, I’m also a foolish runner who thinks he can actually finish a marathon in less than 2 hours.  That may have a slightly lower chance of happening, but that doesn’t mean I won’t try!

So at this point, you’re probably wondering why you’re reading a blog from this runner, accountant, traveler from New Jersey.  While I’d love to think it’s because you just love hearing my voice, I’m no fool.  I’m actually here to share tips on running, traveling, and money savviness that I’ve learned in my days.  I may not be able to shape you into a champion marathoner, expert world traveler, or Warren Buffet, but I will try my very hardest to do each of these things, whether you have any interest in becoming Warren Buffet or not (if not, I would like a long and thorough explanation WHY NOT).

That’s all I have to start out on this lovely extended Thanksgiving weekend, but there’s lots more to come with the next post being about my most recent trip to Thailand for two weeks.  Don’t miss it!

Stay happy!

TK