I’ve got a couple of exciting travel announcements to make today! Although August has been a mostly travel-free month, the same cannot be said for the rest of the year. I guess I just can’t sit still for very long! Now, if you follow me on Instagram, you may have seen my post from Tuesday announcing a trip I have coming up in September. Drum roll, please…
I will be headed to the beautiful island of Nevis from September 8-11 to participate in and cover the events of the Nevis Marathon! Nevis is part of the twin-island nation of St. Kitts and Nevis and is located in the eastern Caribbean. It’s pretty tiny and features a big volcano right in the center, beautiful lush landscapes, and of course, gorgeous beaches and crystal clear water!
Now, where exactly is Nevis? It’s time for my favorite thing – a geography lesson! The islands of St Kitts and Nevis are actually located very close to Antigua and Barbuda, where I visited in May for the Run in Paradise Half Marathon (PS – I’m going back in 2017 and you need to come with me! Visit their website to learn more!) In fact, you can see the islands from Antigua on a clear day!
I’ll be participating in the 5k on Thursday, September 8 and the half marathon on September 10, plus a host of other fun and adventurous activities in between! I’m so excited to explore Nevis and learn more about this beautiful island. I remember flying over it on the way to Antigua and marveling over how beautiful it was, so I’m grateful for this opportunity. I’ll be traveling and experiencing the island thanks to Nevis Naturally and the Nevis Marathon and looking forward to sharing my adventures (and pictures!) with you here on the blog!
Now, you also know that I’m going to Nepal in October for my dream trip, but that’s a trip I’m taking with a couple of friends. So AJ and I wanted to go somewhere together before the year was out, too! He started a new job a few months ago, and unfortunately, he doesn’t get much vacation time. However, his company closes for the week between Christmas and New Year’s, so we decided to take advantage of that and go on a trip! The name of the game was finding somewhere we could visit for a very cheap flight, that wouldn’t take too long to travel to, and that would be a fun place to visit on New Year’s. Although we thought that might be the Caribbean or somewhere warm, we ended up deciding on Vienna…and Bratislava…and Budapest!
We got direct flights to Vienna, Austria using frequent flyer miles for the day after Christmas, and upon arrival, we are heading straight to Bratislava, Slovakia to spend a day exploring the city. It’s only an hour away from Vienna by train, so we wanted to head there since that’s not an opportunity we’ll have often! Plus, it will give us some insight into a previous communist bloc country, which we have never visited before.
We will be staying in Airbnbs and hostels on our trip, so we should get a pretty interesting local experience as compared to staying in hotels, as well as saving a ton of money. After Bratislava, we head to Budapest, Hungary by train – again, just a couple hours away. Gotta love the European train system! I have heard amazing things about Budapest and am really looking forward to exploring the city and checking out the winter markets.
After Budapest, it will be back to Vienna to explore there and then ring in 2017! We are pretty pumped about experiencing a New Year’s celebration in another country and it should be a lot of fun. We haven’t spent too much time in Europe yet, so we’re excited to explore what central Europe has to offer – even if just for a week!
LEAVE A COMMENT: What are your travel plans for the rest of the year?
Things are slowwwwwly starting to come together in my little universe. I think that acknowledging my feelings and mourning the end of my trip to Nicaragua has been a really important step for me, even if it has felt a little (a lot) whiny and overly dramatic at times, even to me. While I’ve mostly pushed ahead with normal life and continued to get my work done as usual, I had to give myself room to slide on a few things, like running and writing. I don’t think that slide is necessarily over just yet, but I can feel myself coming out of the funk just a little bit. It has happened in the most unexpected of ways.
But first, a quick Jamaica update! I spoke with Coach Parchment of Rhodes Hall High School in Hanover, Jamaica this week, and the team is back to practice! They are absolutely loving all of the shoes and clothes that were sent down there, and as you can see in the picture below – they’re using them! I’ve got another barrel that I’m sending down there in September, too. So I just wanted to say thank you to all of you who donated – it is making a huge difference!
So anyway, last weekend while I was busy hosting my own pity party, there were lots of things I should have been doing. I should have been studying for the professional exam I have coming up, cleaned the house, gotten ahead on my freelance, or done any number of things. Instead? I did arts and crafts. I printed out pictures from this trip and some of the trips from this year and framed them. I made a shadow box from my trip to the Azores and Lisbon and bought supplies to make one for Nicaragua. I hung up some of the artwork the kids in Nicaragua made me. And I felt just a little bit better.
My long-brewing hatred for our 70’s stone fireplace for some reason also reared its ugly head last week, so I focused my sadness on that and found a solution: a reclaimed wood mantle that I bought off Craigslist and had installed. Then, I painted the walls around the fireplace, and shockingly, I actually really love how it looks now! Hideous 70s fireplace is looking a whole lot better these days.
We also finally finished installing our wooden stairs after ripping the awful beat-up carpet away. Seriously, we started this project in JANUARY and have just been too unmotivated to totally finish it until now. It’s harder than it looks but also just sort of tedious and time consuming, and generally, the last thing I want to do on a free weekend is install wooden stairs. That said, they are now finally complete and we LOVE them! I’d like to say it was time well spent, but honestly, these definitely should have been done like 7 months ago.
On the running front, I finally did run! I have been battling a really nasty cough and it makes it pretty tough to breathe, but my friend Bobbi came up to Greenville to run a 6-hour ultra and requested the honor of my presence there. It was hot, but running with her was great incentive to get me back out there. It was only 3 miles, but I felt better than I thought I would and had a lot of fun. I want to try and run a few more times this week for just some easy miles as long as I feel ok, but I’m definitely feeling more optimistic and more motivated.
Oh, and probably the biggest thing? I got a new tattoo. I haven’t gotten a new one in about 3 years, but something about this trip just felt like it merited one. As soon as I thought of the idea, I started feeling more at peace and almost immediately better. After talking to AJ (he’s not the biggest tattoo fan, but he is the most relentlessly supportive husband), I settled on a design and placement and went to go get it on Friday after work. To say I love it is an understatement.
Here is the actual conversation that took place between me and the tattoo artist.
Him: Have you been to Nicaragua?
Me: Yes, I just got back. This would be kinda weird if I hadn’t been there, right?
Him: …You’d be surprised.
Anyway, things are on the upswing here, however slight. Thank you for all your kind words and encouragement over the past few weeks – they mean more than I can ever properly express.
Have you ever undertaken a DIY project for which you were woefully unprepared?
You may have noticed that I haven’t written a training recap post in awhile. You may have noticed I haven’t written much of anything in awhile. I hate to say it, but neither of those things are terribly likely to change anytime soon. I’d like to say that I am on the struggle bus, but that would imply that I am going somewhere and doing something, which I am not.
It seems to have been one thing after another since I got home from Nicaragua. First, I got horribly sick from accidentally eating gluten at a new restaurant that we visited. By the time I recovered from that about a week later, I had 3 days of feeling ok before my back randomly and suddenly went out on me. Literally – I woke up in the morning one day and could barely stand for no apparent reason. Such is life with a bad back. That eventually started feeling better and now I have some gunk in my chest that makes it hard to breathe and even harder to be motivated to do much of anything. So while I have run and even done some speed work since I’ve been home, I haven’t run in over a week.
To be honest, the runs that I did do when I got back were mostly forced. I was running because I needed to run in order to train for Pocatello and get back on my plan, but I had no desire to actually do so. I still don’t, really, but I think that might change when I feel better. For now, I’m just laid up on my couch watching the Olympics and I’m ok with that. I’ll be ready to run when I’m ready to run.
I have struggled a lot with feeling extremely disconnected, disinterested, and generally not being in a good place over the past few weeks. I am doubting myself in a major way and questioning literally everything, and I don’t really like this side of myself. I haven’t talked to many people about it because I really don’t know what to say, and I tend not to be the type to talk through stuff like this – I like to decide for myself. Besides, there is nothing to report.
It’s funny, but at the moment, everything in my life feels totally overwhelming – even travel. I have a lot of great trips coming up but rather than being excited about them, I’m just feeling really stressed out about how I will manage everything associated with them. It’s not like me at all, and that is how I know I’m really not in a good place mentally.
I have thought many times over the past year that my life is finally starting to reflect my vision for my future and that I have everything I could want, and largely, that is true. I made sure, in those great times, to really think about how fortunate I am and how happy I have been, because I know my whole life hasn’t been like that and it won’t always continue to be. We all have our highs and lows, and the good times are made sweeter by the bad times. In this moment, which is feeling strongly like one of the “lows,” I’m comforted to know that it won’t last forever. I will find my way again and will find my motivation and drive and zest for adventure, and I have no doubt about that at all. It just might be a while, and I might not have much to say until I do. But I’m a firm believer that the ride is worth the fall, so now it’s just a matter of getting back on the horse again.
This is the post about Nicaragua that I’ve been dreading writing, in a way. This is the one that forces me to confront the fact that it’s really over. But it’s also the one that gives me hope and a clearer vision for what my future might look like and how it might change.
Can I be totally honest about this trip, for a second? When I applied, of course I wanted to help people. Of course I wanted to make a difference. But also? I wanted to travel to another country and have most of it paid for (my company was extremely generous and sponsored most of our travel expenses). I wanted to get extra time off work and experience a new place, because we all know travel is my passion. I can’t say that my motivations were entirely unselfish. I’m not that good of a person.
And maybe that’s why this trip hit me so hard and affected me so deeply. Perhaps that’s why I was so humbled by the experience, and why leaving was so hard on me and why I continue to struggle with the fact that I’m not still there. The experience was honestly totally different than I could possibly have anticipated. Here’s what I learned:
1. Kids aren’t so bad.
If you’ve been reading my blog for more than about a month, you probably know that my attitude towards children is one of general unease. I don’t feel comfortable around kids. I don’t know how to interact with them or what to say or do with them. The younger the kids are, the more terrified I am of them. Babies? Forget it. Literally, I felt my pulse increase as I even wrote the word “babies.” That’s the level we’re talking about here.
So imagine my surprise when I realized that I was not only tolerating the kids in Nicaragua, I was actually looking forward to spending time with them. No, they weren’t babies – most were about 5 – 11 years old – but playing with those kids turned out to be one of the best parts of every day. It turns out, kids are curious! They are funny! They are smart! And they’re really cute and cuddly in a way that isn’t weird, but is actually just very nice and makes you feel like you’re doing something right. I suppose I have never really had the opportunity to interact with kids like that on such a prolonged basis, but I enjoyed every second. OK, maybe I didn’t love the parts where they fought over the ball or would incessantly scream “DANIELA! DANIELA! DANIELA!” outside my tent at 6 am. But other than that, they were adorable.
I am 30 years old, and I have long been resistant and even actively terrified of having kids. To be clear, I am still very ambivalent about physically giving birth to a child, or interacting with one that is too young to speak. But I can honestly say now that I do get some of the appeal that kids have. I loved teaching them new things and watching their eyes light up when they learned a new word or caught a ball for the first time. I loved experiencing the construction of the bridge through their eyes.
I cried as we left El Zarzal, in large part because I didn’t get to say goodbye to the little boy I had grown the closest with during my time there, and also because I knew I won’t be able to see him grow up and know the person that he is going to become. I hope those kids will remember me, because I’ll never forget them.
2. Money isn’t everything.
Ah, privileged white young professional goes on a humanitarian trip to a poor country and comes away with a newfound appreciation for everything she has. How touching! How cliché. Eh…not exactly. That’s not really what happened. See, in case you haven’t noticed, I work my ass off. My life is spent constantly trying to earn more money, but not necessarily so I can buy more stuff; I’m primarily concerned with doing more things (and visiting more places). As embarrassing as it sometimes is to admit, my personal definition of success is a monetary one, although I don’t define other people’s lives that way.
Still, I struggle with that definition and always have. I have constantly gone back and forth between spending my time doing something more “meaningful” or spending it advancing my career and financial goals. As a consultant, it can sometimes be hard to feel connected with the work you do – at least, it is for me sometimes. This trip provided real, tangible evidence about how work can be meaningful and how it can make a difference.
Does that mean I’m considering quitting my job and starting a non-profit or making a career change? No. But what it does mean is that I’m looking at my life and trying to figure out where I can “trim the fat,” so to speak. I’m trying to figure out what the best uses of my time are and what helps me feel fulfilled. I don’t have those answers yet, and I don’t think they’ll arrive in a day or a week. But I can’t ignore the fact that I want to feel like I’m making a bigger impact on the world, and I want it to be tangible. So, as a start, I decided to volunteer to mentor an at-risk child at a local elementary school once a week. I figure my little niños back in Nicaragua would be proud. I don’t know where else this will lead, but it’s not an aspect of my life I’m going to continue to ignore.
3. You get what you give.
This trip, more than any other, showed me that what goes around really does come back around, and that you and you alone are in control of the richness of your experience and your relationships. The highlight of my experience was the relationships I built with the people in El Zarzal, but those relationships didn’t come for free. They meant struggling to speak Spanish even when I was tired and didn’t think my brain could possibly translate another sentence. They meant getting up early to play with the kids before we went to work and putting off a shower for a few more hours at the end of the day so I could throw the ball around. They meant dancing when I felt totally ridiculous, going out of my way to be patient, kind, and understanding even when I didn’t want to be, and forcing myself not to let my own selfishness or exhaustion steal a single second away from that trip and those people.
At some point during the two weeks, I found myself asking why I only act like this when I travel. Why don’t I say “yes” to more experiences when I’m at home? Why do I have less patience with the people around me? Why do I worry less about being kind and more about myself? I started wondering what my life would look like if I treated the people back home the way I treat people when I’m abroad. While I recognize that it’s impractical to give 100% of yourself all the time, there’s always room for more love, respect, patience, and kindness. Nine times out of ten, I will probably be ok if I make myself a little less comfortable in order to make someone else a little more comfortable and a little more happy. In fact, I’ll probably find more happiness myself.
4. It’s ok to be really, really sad when a trip is over.
I have been home for a little over two weeks as I write this. I have had an incredibly difficult time adjusting to being home, and I know that I have not been myself or been easy to be around. I am completely broken-hearted that this experience is over. I have never really had this experience after a trip, and it isn’t because they weren’t amazing or life changing or wonderful in their own ways. I think that this one has been harder because I know, realistically, that it can’t be recreated. It’s not really possible to go back. For any of my other trips, it’s more or less as simple as just booking a plane ticket to go back to the same city. While obviously the experience wouldn’t be exactly the same, I don’t really have the option of doing that this time. What am I going to do – book a flight to Managua, drive myself 3 hours and just show up at the village unannounced and say “Hey guys! The gringa is back! Is it ok if I sleep on your floor?” Since I’ve been home, I’ve really mourned for the end of the experience, but I’ve learned I’m not alone. Not only is post-travel depression apparently rather common, it’s also something that almost the entire rest of our team is experiencing, too.
If you ask me, that’s a blessing. I love that this trip and this experience meant so much to me that I’m mourning it like a death. As someone who has a hard time connecting with people and things a lot of times, it is truly an awakening to really feel and experience something this way. It’s been profoundly powerful, and I am beyond grateful. As they say, it is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all. You know what? They’re right.
“And if travel is like love, it is, in the end, mostly because it’s a heightened state of awareness, in which we are mindful, receptive, undimmed by familiarity, and ready to be transformed. That is why the best trips, like the best love affairs, never really end.” – Pico Iyer
LEAVE A COMMENT: What have you learned from travel?
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