The Return: (North) ‘Merica

Standard

Well, it’s late July.  Not sure exactly how time travels so quickly but if we could monetize that speed none of us would need to work ever again.  In this short time, I realized a few things.  First, I kinda sorta needed a job.  Second, a shower and haircut were imminent.  And third, I was BACK.  But what was this strange new world, (North) America?  Whatever it was, it was very welcoming.  In case you haven’t already seen the video, here it is.

For the first few weeks, it was a surreal and very glossy view.  Nothing seemed to fit reality.  Half of my heart and mind sat here at home while the other sat wondering why his twin had left him in South America.  So many incredible memories still do sit down there.  In between jagged peaks and flowing valleys and rushing rivers.  I don’t think I was struggling to come to grips with the realities back home because I was afraid of anything, I was actually excited to start work again.

No, there’s something else.  There’s something about a place that can have such a big impact on who you are and become.  I lived among 6 countries in South America and the Caribbean for 5 months.  I spent 248 hours in some form of transportation.  I visited 27 cities, towns, and villages.  Over 200 miles of hiking trails, roadsides, and city streets were crept across by tired feet.  I took nearly 10,000 pictures and videos.  But does any of this mean anything?

This was always an interesting question I tried to answer, what happens after the trip? I’m still not quite sure how to answer it, but I think I’ve come along a bit further than where my thoughts were on April 9th.  More than ever, it’s about people and how I decide to interact.  Making the most of every moment.  Appreciating EVERYTHING you have.  Because you never know when you might drop everything and search for 5 months for those very things you missed so much right under your nose.  It’s about spending life with the people and things that mean more to you than anything else.  It’s a cliche, but for a good reason.  I knew the cliche before.  Now I feel it.

 

Riding North

Standard

An illustrious half week in Futaleufu filled with camping, rafting, and lots of outdoors led to some pangs of desire for urban life.  I had been in the lesser populated and incredibly beautiful nature I so desperately craved coming from the graveled earth of the NYC metro area.  But now, I wanted that city experience again.  In a small way, a taste of home.  It was a big secret, but I was just weeks away from home at this point.  Another 10 days in Chile and a long week in Haiti before my unforeseen return.

To get there, it took some more long bus rides and a few detours.  First, there was no bus connecting Chaiten and Puerto Montt, two of the connecting cities to get to the capital, Santiago.  I stayed in one of the only places open in the entire town in Chaiten, a lonely, dusty hostel.  It took some time to even find the place, but luckily it didn’t stop me from catching a group rate taxi to nearby celebrity, Chaiten Volcano.  This friendly peak was smoking ominously after a raucous eruption in 2008 evacuated the nearby town that I now inhabited.

Thankfully, there was no eruption on this day.  Instead, I had a crystal clear sunny day climbing to the outer rim of a bluff adjacent to the volcano.  It was a great experience and a beautiful day to be up close to a volcano that was still steaming at the top.

The next day, I rode a long set of buses and ferries along the Carretera Austral.  A famed country road stretching from the northern end of Patagonia up to Puerto Montt, where more traditional highways carried traffic up to Santiago and riding north to the furthest end of the Atacama desert.  It took nearly 12 hours, but I finally made it.  Well, sort of.  I had another 20 hour bus to Santiago.  But thankfully I could sleep on this bus as there were no transfers or ferries to wake me up along the way.

And so, I had finally made it to Santiago!  But I wasn’t finished.  I decided to take a stop in Pichilemu.  It was a famous surfing town in Chile and promised of relaxing days and vivid nights.  The vivid nights weren’t on display, however, as it was offseason.  It was a bit of a ghost town.  Making the most of my time there with lots of reading and writing and long walks on the beach, I spent three nights before making my way to Valparaiso.

I was particularly excited about Valparaiso.  Since I hadn’t really stopped in Santiago for more than a connecting bus, this was my first legitimate city in South America since Buenos Aires.  With the confluence of rising hills, deep blue water, pearl white sand, and color-blasted streets, this city had a character like no other city I’d ever seen.  Taking walking tours to view the sights and sounds of this quirky place, I fell in love immediately.  It quickly became my favorite city in all of South America.

Accompanying me in this city were a few adjusted locals originally hailing from Germany.  Along with some other fun people, we took the walking tour together and explored the beaches and nightlife deep into the morning.  Once again, people made the experience better.  No big surprise.

One of my favorite parts of the city was the famed home of historic poet and Chile’s proud Nobel Prize winner, Pablo Neruda.  It was such a unique home, taking the quirky qualities of the city surrounding it into its very architecture.  The top floor, just one room occupying the space, was a marvel for me.  I always imagined being able to write in a room at the top of a house overlooking the sea.  With this room it was a reality.  While I won’t be able to write like Neruda did in his esteemed life, it felt like a privilege just to be there.

It was a nice surprise to meet a few guys at Neruda’s home who ended up being from my very own hostel without even realizing.  We all shared a delicious lunch before making our own ways out of the city.  And it was from there that I took my final bus back to Santiago.  In a trip full of bus rides and endless hours of jumbling in public transportation seats, it was a nice feeling.

I won’t lie, I wasn’t sure how this trip would end.  I was worried something bad would happen (lost wallet or passport, canceled flights, just feeling lonely, etc), but I realize I never should have been so concerned.  After a quiet night arriving in the capital, I took a walking tour the next morning.  I almost didn’t go as I was running late, but making it in the final minute before it started, I joined the English speaking group.  We meandered through the markets and streets of a city full of life and stories to tell.

Meeting several people throughout the group, it seemed that we all had a friendly connection and got along very well.  We enjoyed the rest of the tour including a particularly riveting speech by the young tour guide in the city cemetery as we basked in the shadow of former Chilean President Allende’s grave.  The sight of this tour’s conclusion was a foreshadowing of the colorful opinions and insights of a man living in the remnants of a terrifying time in Chile’s history.  Hearing his story was touching and worth mentioning.

After this, we all sprang from the somber topics discussed to come together for a favorite party drink in a nearby bar before enjoying lunch with some of the people I would spend my final few days with.  And oh what a lunch that was!  Our waiter was as charismatic as they come.  He gave us a few belly laughs in between gulps of delicious seafood stew and shellfish and soups.  Some pisco sours and a particularly minty drink on the house to round off the lunch left us all pretty happy.

After visiting an interesting Chilean cafe and going our own ways, I paid for what was a very long overdue haircut.  Feeling refreshed, I met the friendly mother-daughter duo traveling together and their newfound friend for dinner.  We joked and laughed for the long dinner about nearly everything that we could imagine.  After one too many pisco sours, we scrambled back to our respective “homes” and turned in another memorable night.

On this, my final full day in South America, I spent most of the day with a group of three friends from the US as we explored a somber museum detailing the rugged history of Chile and visited a fancy wine restaurant.  Picking up my last load of laundry on the road, I met up again with those girls and then with the mother-daughter combo as we ascended the view-laden peak of San Cristobal.  It’s a large greenery filled hill right in the center of the city.  The sights from atop that hillside were only outdone by the company I had.  And the sights were unbeatable.

Well, that’s it!  South America in a few words!  Ok, so maybe more than a few.  But thankfully there’s more.  Learn about the final chapter of this saga in the next post!

The Road Less Traveled

Standard

We began the next morning of our hike through Torres del Paine with a beautiful breakfast of eggs, toast, and fire glazed granite towers made possible by a glowing sunrise. We may not have had the picture perfect view of the Torres de Paine when we hiked to the viewpoint the day before, but we had an incredible view from further below on this morning. We patiently awaited the arrival of our guide and porter who would be accompanying us through the rest of the trip. 

It was a quick takeoff with an over abundance of food that filled our packs after the introduction. This was an easy day of hiking on generally flat trails towards our campsite for the night. It was a little cloudy but mostly mild weather that day. We arrived in the campsite around 3 and had plenty of time to take a nap which is exactly what I did before dinner. Dinner that night was stuffed peppers with a sunny side egg layered on top. 

During dinner we met a very kind South Korean artist who was mildly famous in her home country. She showed us some of her work which was incredible. We were blown away and she was here in Torres del Paine to work on some more pastel paintings. It was a cozy dinner in a tranquil valley on the more quiet side of the park. The road less traveled. 

It rained that night. I hurried to the bathrooms to brush my teeth before the drops really started falling. The next morning I noticed some leaks in my tent. Thankfully, none of my stuff got wet even with a pool of water that had collected on the roof. Breakfast was equally delicious as dinner the night before. It was a mix of rainy and cloudy weather all day. We had a mild climb and descent that day and spent plenty of time snapping pictures of the sloping valleys and climbing mountains that surrounded. 

The campsite that night was one of the more beautiful ones of the entire park. It included blue lakes curling around the flat land on one side of the valley with a pristine sun glistened glacier in the distance just beyond the lake. We would have our last night in a Refugio that night. 

During dinner we met others including a brother sister duo from China and San Francisco as well as a couple from Australia. We enjoyed warm conversation by a glowing fireplace in the cozy wood house. It was a friendly place and constantly reminded me of the reasons why I love traveling and more specifically hiking. The comraderie that develops between people who share difficult hikes is unmatched. 

Unfortunately, that night I forgot my pants outside where they had been drying along with my boots so they were a bit wet after some light rain. I dried my things as best I could as our little group prepped for another day of hiking, a very muddy one. The entire day was a mixture of slips and slides as messy as the dirt and water that mixed to create our precipitous hike. Rain continued to fall all day long as we took a few tumbles but we all fought through the hike bravely. 

Lunch was quick as we only stopped for enough time to stuff a tuna sandwich down our throats and continue the last few miles to our campsite after passing a glorious glacier falling down a staggering cliff into another cloudy blue lake. The views just never seemed to cease. 

The campsite was a gloomy place with cold rain and puddles surrounding us, but we were warmed by the hearts of the people with whom we shared the hike by nestling under a covered cooking area. It was filled with laundry lines and hanging clothes that made it look like a hazy maze with the steam of rice and pasta floating among us. I loved it! 

As everyone else was scrapping through every inch of their cooking pots, our little group was served gnocchi and fresh veggies with tomato sauce on a steaming plate. It made us immediate friends with some people we met that night as we shared in our elaborate meal. It was a great night with insightful conversations and a strengthening bond as we quickly neared the most difficult day of the entire trek. We went to bed with rain continuing all through the night just feeling lucky to have a pair of dry clothes to sleep in. 

We woke the next morning at 6am to a unique sight of bodies crammed into that same covered cooking area, this time prepping breakfast and packing our things to ready for the long day. It would be between 10-12 hours and over 12 miles of hiking over a pass that had over 1000m of incline and decline. 

And so we began. It was slow moving at first with some fierce mud occupying the trail including more than one occasion of stepping ankle deep into the chocolate sludge. After finishing that first piece, our second serving was climbing over rocky terrain glazed with sugary snowflakes dusting the trail more and more as we ascended to the top of the pass.

Reaching the top was a great feeling, but it wasn’t the difficult part. That was what immediately followed as a sharp descent tested our balance and dexterity with each step…or slide. At one point, I chose a poor step and slid down a part of the trail but thankfully swung around a fallen tree limb to catch myself before colliding with our guide. 

It took some time and patience but we made our way through the toughest descent without much more than some muddy boots and more greatly determined minds. We were roughly halfway through as we crossed paths on the trail with some of our friends from the campsite the night before and found a spot for lunch. It had an incredible view of glacier grey which had mostly evaded our sight with the clouds atop the pass that morning. It was massive. Spreading for multiple miles across and countless kilometers below the southern Patagonia ice field. The jagged and toothy cuts of ice being compressed atop the glacier still carve a beautiful image in my mind. 

It was around this point that I started pushing ahead quicker ahead of our group to go at my own pace with plenty of photo ops along the way. A challenge of crossing a hanging bridge that swung several hundred feet above a narrow gorge was among the more exhilarating experiences. Though I did flinch a few times as I held a GoPro in one hand and my pounding heart in another. 

Crossing through several of these bridges and a bridgeless river crossing and flooded trail areas amounted to some tired legs and exhausted shoulders. The sight of a sign marking the campsite area just a few hundred feet away felt like a cup of warm soup on a winter day. We had made it. 

It’s one of the more difficult days I’ve ever had but no doubt one of the best. After showering and getting a change of clothes, we awaited dinner in the warm and dry cafeteria. Just as we thought about where our doctor friends were as 7 o’clock arrived, they did too. Crazed looks of hunger preceded the story of a wrong turn down a trail in the opposite direction and trails turning to rivers. Apparently the rangers had even closed certain trails and had to pull some people across bridges that were becoming flooded. And we thought we had it bad…

We shared a well deserved dinner that night as we shared ghost stories after the hellacious day. We also spoke with some tour guides for ice trekking and glacier kayaking that we each had planned for the next day. It was a perfectly challenging day, the kind of day that makes for a ceaseless and peaceful night of sleep. And that is exactly what I had that final night of the trek. 

Okay, I’ve been dragging this along quite far enough so I’ll save the enjoyable conclusion for one final post on Torres del Paine. Keep posted!

15 Days

Standard

15. Be hungry. Don’t be satisfied and don’t accept the status quo just because. The world is because someone said so. It can be if you say otherwise.

Taking time off has been a great way to renew that hunger for me personally. Taking a vacation or just a weekend trip to decompress can be a great way to feed that hunger machine in you. It’ll feed many others in your life as well.

17 Days

Standard

17. Rely on others. Without them, you wouldn’t be able to achieve all that you have until now. Don’t be foolish enough to think you are better alone.

We live in such an individualistic society that it’s easy to take credit for most of our achievements or at the very least show a strong desire to not accept help even if we truly need it. Accepting help isn’t a way of saying that you cannot do something with help from another. It’s a way of saying that we are together in the big picture and can share in any goal or ambition.

Goals

Standard

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

Standard

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 2 years.

During those 2 years, I have savored 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.  I’d 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 that talking early and honestly helped make a smoother transition.

One of the difficult things to manage at this time was gossip.  It’s something that I can’t 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 temporarily difficult.

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 had the great fortune to work 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! 🙂