more of this, somewhere else

Our first date was nearly 13 years ago. He took me to a beloved breakfast joint in Portland, Genie’s, that tried, unsuccessfully, to break onto the dinner scene in 2004. He was kind, open, communicative and intriguing. This was a real person. Someone who had a clear sense of who he was and what he wanted from life. I hadn't met many people like him, authentic and wholehearted. Oh, and mighty good-lookin'! 

At some point during the night, I had a flash of this stranger across from me as a very familiar old man. It was the kind of flash that can't be ignored. A prophetic kind of thing.  

We talked long after the last drop of wine was sipped. Until we were the last table and the waitress said it was closing time.

It was near midnight when he asked me, “What would you like to do now?” I replied with, “More of this, somewhere else.”

Today is the 4th anniversary of our wedding and we celebrate by waking up in Santa Cruz, Bolivia. Not the typical place people travel to spend romantic anniversaries—but perfect for us. 

John is a remarkable human and the kind of partner that makes me tear up in gratitude any time I contemplate him. If you've met him, you know exactly what I mean. He has oodles of integrity. He is committed to a life of joy and authenticity. He is wholehearted, patient and hilarious. He is generous with me and he chooses me every day (stinky breath, ugly robe and all). And I choose him. Even on our crappiest days when we're grumpy, exhausted and on the edge of losing our connection—he grows even more stable, keeping his part of the foundation from cracking, drawing me in closer at a tenuous moment when it would be far too easy to fracture. He lets me in and I let him in, to the tender vulnerable places most people protect with shame, denial or bravado. He is quick to compliment, celebrate and cheerlead. He makes a home for me in his arms, which on long and weary travel days is a priceless gift. 

Thank you John, for choosing this ride with me.

Don’t walk behind me; I may not lead. Don’t walk in front of me; I may not follow. Just walk beside me and be my friend.
— Albert Camus

peeling layers

This shell mandala lasted only a few hours as high tide came in to reclaim it. 

This shell mandala lasted only a few hours as high tide came in to reclaim it. 

Planning this journey as it unfolds has had many benefits. We leapt into the unknown without the comfort of a plan as our net and we've made up a journey full of meaning and memories along the way. Being able to untether from timelines, itineraries and commitments has been liberating. We've been free in nearly every sense, at least from the stories of our lives as Americans. A kind of freedom we cannot explore back home, burdened by society and rooted with jobs, a mortgage and all the attachments of life, the joyful and the obligatory. 

Nearly a year ago, I set an intention to gain a deeper sense of the idea of untethering during this journey. Could it be done? Would I like the feeling of living with heaping servings of uncertainty? Would I grow or shrink? 

“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.” 
— Marcel Proust

I've succeeded in untethering in a way that enriches me but it never comes easy. I’ve written about this in previous blog entries. Enrichment from untethering rarely looks like what I expect it to (the irony tickles me). For instance, I never thought I'd drastically alter my relationship with nourishment (food) on this journey, but the journey demanded it of me. And two months since making the shift, I continue to feel better and less burdened, body, heart and spirit. By untethering from the way I was eating out of ease and familiarity—I shed some sort of layer I didn't realize was present (but certainly felt it) which was making it difficult for me to hear my body. Today I have a compassionate relationship with my body after a lifetime of an adversarial one, and I finally understand what nourishment means for me. 

I've also had the time and space and to soul-search without interruption, and I've untangled and untethered from previously unconscious or subconscious stories that impeded my ability to access joy. While I certainly don't believe a person needs to plant themselves more than 6,500 miles from home for three almost-maddening quiet months to gain self-awareness, I recognize how the extended stillness has made it impossible for me to slink away from the heart-work I want to do. There is little of the familiar to distract me from getting to the root of ideas and stories planted in my mind—allowing me to pluck the weeds that do not serve me and nurture the flowers that do. 

Of course, all the while these unexpected personal shifts are happening, we’re dancing through new worlds, new cultures and new norms. The lack of familiarity is a gift because it requires stretching and demands, if we want to be happy (and we do!), that we relinquish ethnocentrism, nationalism and any other isms. Isms make people unhappy. They are teeny tiny boxes we push other people, cultures, countries, etc. into because we have been programmed to think they threaten “our way of life," either personally, culturally or both. What we don’t realize is that the isms we drag around about other people, imprison and stereotype us too. One cannot travel well and lug around isms. People certainly try but they are not traveling well, they are traveling in a bubble carrying a ton of baggage all in an effort to prevent the world from touching their fragile sense of reality. Fewer bags and no walls has served us well along this journey. 

I don’t know if I’ve mentioned it in previous posts but I am typically a homebody. I do not consider myself adventurous. I realize that probably sounds ridiculous. But, it’s true. My idea of the best day ever involves a secret garden of my own somewhere in Oregon; a comfy, and probably very ugly, robe; a couple cats; a good book and my favorite people popping in once in a while for a cup of tea or a glass of wine. I suspect that I am a hermit at heart, which can be deeply enriching, but, it can also lead to depression. Taking a trip like this, or even trips in the past, like living with a Tibetan family in India for six weeks, is one of the ways I challenge myself to seek balance, and not sink into any reclusive mind- or mood-set for too long. 

I keep going especially when I'd rather quit and run back to the familiar. I’d never give up on this journey. For all of its discomfort, the rewards are significant. I travel because it is uncomfortable. Because it tests my mind, heart and intellect and it dramatically expands my sense of self, culture, country and purpose in the world. So, in a very real sense, every day on this journey I have to untether from my deep desire to hide away in my secret garden. In large part, because that is rarely an option. Somedays, I interact with the world around me from the sidelines—observing (and taking notes). Other days, we get right in the messy, beautiful middle of it all. And every day presents some sort of essential, rewarding shift.

It is hard not to compare myself, as traveler who keeps a blog with other travelers who blog. Am I doing it right? I have to keep untethering from the idea that there is a right way to travel or a right way to record it in a blog. This is a relentless insecurity for me … am I doing this right? Ugh! 

The answer is yes, even if I feel uncertain that is so. We are traveling our way. That is all that matters. And I write when I am inspired, the way that is natural for me. That, too, is all that matters. 

My intention of untethering is one that is serving me well. I suppose it would have happened regardless of setting such an intention, but it has been curious to see the myriad of ways I can apply the idea to my life. The internal, essential growth that is taking place in me is undeniable and thanks to taking a leap of faith into a journey of the unknown, uncertain and uncomfortable I will return home a happier, healthier person.

We've crossed our midway point and are making some changes for the months ahead. A few tweaks that will ensure we don't come home with any sense of having missed something because we were too relaxed and unscheduled. Of course, the world is much too big to conquer in one year. We won't even make it to Asia this time out! But, from here on out, as we step into what we consider "phase 3," we will untether from the familiar way we've been traveling and venture into a new way of relating to the world as "travelers." 

Our two best friends, Bike and Ike.

Our two best friends, Bike and Ike.

today's to-dos

We’ve found the place where our daily to-do list is only a few lines long—exactly how we like it. It only took us 6,771 miles to find it. On my list today is: laundry, meditation and biking around aimlessly.
 

1. Laundry

Laundry is time consuming, though, also meditative. We only have a few pieces of clothing, so washing occurs somewhat regularly and it requires a basin of some sort, soap, ringing out of each piece and hanging it on the line. There is a laundromat here but the soap they use is potent and makes us itch.

We’ve only been traveling this recent stretch (since visiting the US in March) for a little over two months and most of our clothes are already wearing out. We did some trading out of clothing when we were in the U.S. after four months of travel and getting a clear sense of what worked and what we were merely lugging around for no reason. I had four new pairs of paints two and a half months ago. Two pairs from Columbia and two pairs of leggings. The Columbia pants are now, mostly PJs as they have formed little beaded balls all over them and unless they are under a dress or something, they’re pretty embarrassing to wear outside of the house. One of my two (expensive) pairs of leggings somehow split nowhere near a seem about a month into our trip. As such, I really have only one pair of leggings to wear out of the house, every day. At some point soon I will attempt to sew the split leggings but I have little hope the repair will hold for very long. [Update: I successfully sewed my leggings so I can wear them. Of course, I now have a 4-inch blue and orange crozzstitch across my bum, but at least I can use them again!]

Uruguay has a lot to offer, certainly plenty of tranquility, great olive oil, delicious wine and apparently some of the best beef* in the world, but not much else. They don’t manufacture anything else so most items needed for living are imported from China and are cheaply made even though, very expensive to buy. 

Including clothes.

We hand wash what we have with mild soap and hope to make the clothes last as long as possible while reminiscing of our time in Colombia where they manufacture all of their own stuff and everything (clothes) is reasonably priced. If we look like we are wearing the same clothes in every photo—it is because we are wearing the same clothes, every single day. :)

Six months ago, hand-washing our clothes was a Pinterst-like novelty, now, it is plain ol’ work. It requires a lot of bending, squatting, pushing and squeezing. It is a kind of daily work I feel good about with near-immediate rewards. It requires presence, attention and mindfulness about the weather, timing of the day and some planning ahead—since sunshine is not a guarantee.

We’ve had some interesting options over the last seven months for places to wash our clothes. Mostly sinks, once we had a washer (such luxury!), sometimes we have access to plastic tubs and on occasion, we have a washing sink and stone in the yard. Oh how the locals laugh watching us try to figure washing stones out. They eventually jump in and show us the way. We’ve used clear water and silt-filled river water. And very likely, our clothes are never actually clean. But they feel clean and that is all that matters.
 

2. Meditation

Next on my list, meditation. Anytime and anywhere, really. I suppose that is true any place on the planet. But here, there are few distractions before dusk, when the mosquitos come out. One of my goals for these three months in Uruguay is to instill a number of practices that I can carry forward into the rest of my life, a daily mediation practice is one of the top items on my new habits list.

I’ve been pro-meditation for years. And, I’ve even have stints with it being an actual practice, but more often than not, I’d let distraction or antsy-ness override my mind and time. I know from firsthand experience how profound meditation has been in my life and yet, making a practice out of it seems elusive. This is the time in my life when I cannot make any reasonable excuses for avoiding meditation.

One might think a journey like this and a measly to-do list would mean a clear and peaceful mind. It might for some people, but not me. My mind goes at the same rate here, where there is no noise, as it did when I was working full-time, fixing up our house to sell and tending to our dying dog. The epiphany for me is to understand that environment isn’t what creates peace-of-mind, persistence in a daily stillness practice is what creates peace-of-mind.

The main difference in my thinking now verses a year ago is that I don’t have to feel like I am not being productive enough as I sift through thoughts and daydreams. I feel lucky not to have that weight of productivity on my shoulders. But I still have a monkey mind. So, every day I sit still with myself to untangle whatever mental noise I’ve wound up from surfing social media, the news or pulling up unresolved stuff from yesteryear, and I make time to let it unwind, on its own, through intentional stillness. I feel grateful for the time, space and lacking worldly expectations to dive fully into my philosopher mind and write down what unfolds. 
 

3. Biking around aimlessly

My third to-do today: biking around aimlessly. My absolute favorite thing to do here. We’re rebellious in not wearing helmets but, since there are probably only about five moving cars in the entire town, the only issue is getting stuck in sand and tipping over, not getting hit. Of course, in cities, like Buenos Aires and Portland, we’re staunch helmet wearers, but not here. It isn’t necessary.

Another thing that is not necessary here, locking up our bikes. Holy freakin’ cow! I can’t describe how amazing it is to be in a place where bikes are everywhere and when they are not in use, they lean against any number of things: a tree, a step, a building—with NO lock!

We get around mostly by bike. Of course we can walk, but biking is way more fun and takes less time. John impresses me daily as he bikes from surf break to surf break with his board under his arm. Surfing is the primary item on John’s daily to-do list.

When I was in Portland, biking felt like necessity but rarely did it feel fun for me. I wasn’t in as good a shape as I am now, so that played a role, but tangling with cars, pedestrians and buses required a good deal of seriousness. At least for me. I still preferred it over driving, but not because it felt fun, rather, because it was the best way to travel. I think city life wound me up. Actually, I know it did. As a result, my relationship with biking in Portland was tight and rigid, mirroring how I felt moving through an ever-increasingly busy city. La Paloma (our current home) is the place I get to reconnect to my inner kid who loved biking around my sleepy childhood countryside town with no goal other than joy and, without a helmet—it was the 80s after all.

Here, I get to meander, which is always my preference. I can stop to pet cats, dogs or marvel at the commonplace parrots that blanket the trees. I feel downright joyful when I bike. I have nowhere to be and I feel truly free. Somedays, I travel from one side of town to the other, trying to find where John is surfing. Other days, I just get on and go—without a plan.

I hope to bring this sense of joy with me when I ride in cities and bigger towns. Less rigid and serious—even though I have to contend with traffic and a schedule—I hope to remain curious and wonder-filled.

After seven months traveling, eight away from Portland and almost 11 without a job, (13 months since John closed his business), I’m finally getting it. Why we took this trip and the variety of gifts and purposes it offers, how it is reshaping us for the better and the myriad of ways it will continue to serve us long after we’ve replanted ourselves in Oregon with a mortgage, pets, jobs and a longer list of daily to-dos.

We don’t want this experience to be something we point to as having happened in the past. We’re fiercely serious about bringing the simplicity and freedom we’re uncovering home with us—to enjoy ourselves and to share our simplicity with others. The lessons about human connection; a beautiful, misrepresented world and life measured by joys, relationships and meaning rather than productivity, approval and status.

*Beef: We've tried it and it is fine. We're not big beef people. It tends to land like a thud in the belly so we stick with poultry and fish. 

what's the plan?

Update as of 6/29/17: We're going to skip Asia this time and finish out this journey somewhere between Ecuador and Northern Mexico before heading back to the U.S. No end date set, likely around Christmas. 

To the people who paid attention to our rough outline of six months in South America and six months in Asia, since we’re nearing the middle of our seventh month in South America and we’re in no rush—it’s time to offer an update.

First, thank you for taking note of the things we’ve said. That’s really cool of you.

We can’t offer a set itinerary but we can offer what we’re thinking which may change at any moment and at any time—and what I am thinking as compared to what John is thinking we still have to reconcile. This is my version of our loose plan moving forward.

We love South America and we’re not in a rush to leave. We’re getting in a groove, beyond the culture shock and wanting for comforts back home and we deeply enjoy it. So after three slow, calm months in Uruguay, we’re going to head north. We may step into Chile but for certain, we will spend some time in Bolivia, Peru and, again, Ecuador—where we didn’t travel south of Quito or west of the Intag Valley, in the mountains.

While this will bring us to the year mark, we are fully aware that once we land back in Oregon and plant roots, getting out for a journey like this again will be unlikely—at least any time soon. So, if all is well and we still have some change in our travel budget, we will head east to explore India, Vietnam and Thailand, each for a month. Then head home. A little more than a year. A toe or two into 2018.

We have a few things on our list that will require reservations, so we will only be able to meander as long as we are certain to make our reservations.

This is the super loose, don’t write it on your calendar in pen, itinerary.

Being non-committal is a sheer pleasure and we’re not ready to give it up

unpacking in uruguay

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After two weeks in Buenos Aries and five weeks in Uruguay (so far), we’ve found a town on the coast of Uruguay to call home for the next two months. As our families and friends are welcoming in the wonder and warmth of summer in the Northern Hemisphere, we’re heading back into winter. Our plans for an endless summer, foiled. And while it is chilly here, it is like winter in San Diego, California. We get rain and clouds, but plenty of sun. So we can’t complain. Or, more accurately, I can’t complain. John is fine wearing a tee-shirt in snow while I need a parka in 70 degrees.

We jumped down to this part of the world because the coasts of Ecuador and Peru, which we have every intention of getting to know well, were flooded with unusually harsh and destructive storms when we were in that part of the world. So, we popped down here and will work our way back up to Ecuador (which we saw very little of) between August and November. June and July will be spent in this quiet, nearly closed coastal town, surfing, reading, writing, biking and any other joys we can find to do.

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We have no Internet and must rely on data for brief stints to communicate, surf the web or post blog entries. It’s a gift to be forced to mind our time online. We can’t get a robust data plan without getting a contract and we can’t get a contract without an Uruguayan bank account. So we get by on less web time and more in-the-present time. I’ve read a number of books and John finally gets to surf. We thought he’d be surfing months ago. He’s been remarkably patient. 

We’re doing some tethering while we’re here. The house we’re renting is solely a high season rental, not set up for people during the cold season. High (warm) season here is December-April. It’s also not set up for people staying more than a week—so we’ve made a deal with the owner to pay minimal rent (and he covers utilities) and whatever we buy to stock, clean or improve the house is part of a trade. Even though we’re having to buy some things like towels, sheets, pillows, etc., these two months will be our cheapest yet since. We’ve found a couple used bikes and we’re adding a wetsuit and a surfboard to the family, which we’ll sell before we leave.
 

transformation inspired by travel

I’d like to share something I consider BIG …. Almost a month ago I had to make some radical changes to my diet. As I mentioned in a previous post, I’d gotten terribly sick while visiting the U.S. Sinus and gut issues I’d had for three years, before we left for the trip in November, came rushing back and pummeled me while we were visiting. I know dairy and wheat play a large part in my stomach and sinus issues, but since I’d felt fine in Colombia and Ecuador eating what ever I wanted, I hoped that it had more to do with U.S. dairy and wheat and that once we were back in South America, I’d feel fine again.

Well, no such luck.

In Buenos Aires I began having an acute pain in my gut when we walked. A pain I’d never had before. It felt like a runner’s stitch but spanned the entire upper half of my abdomen. I considered going to the doctor but the pain wasn’t constant and didn’t have alarming signals. And it happened only when I walked. As well, my sinuses were terribly compromised and I had an itch in my throat that resulted in a relentless, and not very helpful, cough that kept us up at night and made being in public embarrassing. Referencing my history, I immediately stopped eating dairy and cut out bread and pasta.

The issues continued as we headed into Uruguay. The stitch in my gut, throat tickle and cough. Though, now I was also horribly phlegmy. Sorry, its gross, I know. Every meal was a battle no matter how delicious or seemingly healthy. I felt horrible all the time and food just made me feel worse. After consulting Doctor Google and reading up on stories from other people who’d unsuccessfully been from doctor to doctor with symptoms similar to mine, I started to piece it all together. I knew my sinus and digestive issues were connected even though a number of doctors I’d gone to over the years blew off my suggesting so.

One unremarkable day, as I stood in the dimly lit interior bathroom of a somewhat dismal apartment in Montevideo, looking in the mirror with tears streaming down my face, something suddenly clicked.

I immediately removed eggs and butter, corn, all grains (yes, all grains), potatoes and any food that is gooey or sticky (mucous forming) like bananas, oatmeal, etc. Within 24 hours I felt better. Within a week, the pain in my gut was gone as were my throat tickle and cough. And within a couple weeks, my congestion and excessive phlegm was gone. Oh, and the redness that had tinted my eyes for years—gone!

I am now coming up on a month and I feel better than I have in a decade—maybe even since I was a kid. My diet consists of heaping amounts of veggies and fruit, some poultry and fish and some quinoa (I was happy to learn quinoa is a seed, not a grain). I took out what caused me to suffer and left the rest to enjoy. I have no plan to ever give up this new eating style even though I know I will meet with many obstacles on this journey and in social settings for years to come.

The truth of the matter is, right before I made this rapid shift, I felt like I was dying. I felt like if I didn’t make an immediate change, I would die. Maybe not tomorrow or this year, maybe not for many years to come. But I’ve been living a sluggish existence and even if I lived, eating grains and dairy, until I turn 100, to feel like shit the whole time, it simply would not be worth it. I want to feel alive while I am alive!

Feeling as though I was dying was significant and not something to ignore. It was a crisis point. A suffering I had to either accept for the long haul or say goodbye to right then and there. In that damp bathroom on an otherwise unremarkable day, I chose to say goodbye.

And the thing is, I ate pretty well. Without a doubt, I ate better than the average American and certainly, healthier than Colombians and Ecuadorians—who have French fries with nearly every meal. For the last few years, I’ve toggled back and forth with removing dairy and gluten, but while my issues weren’t as bad during those phases, they never cleared up. I also felt uncomfortable making special requests or explaining my dietary needs in social settings. While many friends have been remarkably awesome, accommodating and never judgey (THANK YOU), some people have acted as saboteurs or they've dismissed my journey, my journey, as a pop-culture “fad.” I expect more of the same when we return home. And that is okay. I won’t ever expect people to change a menu for me and I won't spend time convincing anyone of anything. This is my process. The point isn't to make a statement, the point is to feel good and be healthy. 

It is a pretty wild change to make while traveling. It increases dinning out complications exponentially. But, mainly because of the language barrier. People are happy to leave off the bread crumbs and cheese. I just have to ask. Sometimes they don’t understand and John gets an extra serving while I enjoy whatever I can. But I generally leave the house full-bellied, so the blood sugar drop doesn't drive my choices when a menu is limited in healthy options.

This has been a huge thing for me. HUGE. After almost a month, I no longer have headaches or aches that feel like premature arthritis. I feel good. I can’t remember a time when I could honestly say, I FEEL GOOD! I’d given up thinking I’d ever actually feel good. Pretty sad to consider. I accepted life as physically painful. And I lived from that place of chronic pain. Invisible to others, chronic pain. Chronic headaches. Chronic digestion issues. Chronic sinus issues. Chronic aches and pains all over. Waking up feeling terrible every morning. Doctors dumbfounded and drug-prescribing.

I never, ever felt good.

As you might imagine, feeling good lends itself to an infinite host of other benefits and I am grateful to be in this quiet, beautiful place as I discover each new life-affirming delight.

Not so much a post about travel. Few of my posts are solely about travel, now that I think of it. The places we inhabit for hours or months are the muses we rely on as we unfurl ourselves. Each place, each new being we encounter, coaxes us out of the stories we’ve embodied for so long and invites us to do a little internal housekeeping. This journey into the world, but more so into ourselves, is working out beautifully. Bumps and all. 

If I were home, in my previous life, I’d not have been presented with a crisis exactly like the one that precipitated this change. I’d probably have gone back on the no dairy/no gluten path and would have only felt 35% better. Again. Then I would have fallen off that wagon because of feeling tempted by the office potluck, people making a solid case for comfort food being a primary joy in life or not wanting to be the high maintenance dinner guest.

I’ve learned to make magic in the kitchen as a result of this change. And I delight in everything I eat. It doesn’t just taste delicious; it makes me FEEL GOOD. For so long, meals, even the organic, local, gluten-free ones, left me feeling terrible.

I think the case for consuming foods that make us feel terrible is co-dependent. It’s like making a case for a relationship that is only enjoyable 10% of the time while 90% of the time, we feel exhausted by it. The temporary delight of my taste buds is vastly less important to me now than the delight of living in a body that feels vibrant and healthy. And, my taste buds aren’t suffering. Not in the least.

There will be times during our journey when being polite or feeling ridiculously hungry on a miserably long day of travel will mean I need to make exceptions in what I eat. That’s okay. I’ll treat those cases like I would a night out in my twenties and tend to the subsequent hangover with care. I figure if I can manage this kind of massive dietary change while traveling, it will be a breeze when we get home. Maybe not a breeze, but less challenging for sure. Plus, by then I’ll have some really witty comebacks for the well-meaning saboteurs.

So, the next time we share a meal together, please don’t be put off by my way of eating, celebrate it with me because it means I am not going to die from slowly poisoning myself with foods that are harmful to my health.  

One last thought . . . . Some doctors call what I am doing a “no” diet ("diet" in a medical sense, not in a losing weight sense). Referring to a free from known allergens diet as a “no diet” not only sets it up for patient to fail before they start, it’s backwards. Eating for wellness and to feel good is something to say YES to. I feel no loss about anything I’ve stopped eating. And when I feel habitual comfort food tempting my taste buds at a restaurant or market, I say it out loud, “I feel vulnerable about making healthy food choices.” And because I am fortunate to be married to my biggest champion, John replies with something like, “I hear you, I feel tempted too. I celebrate how the healthy choices you make leave you feeling better than you have in years.” And just like that, the temptation passes. I suspect if I didn’t say it out loud and I pushed it down—I’d probably pile some mashed potatoes and ice cream on top of it. 

All this to say, we’re happy, healthy and life is simple and rich. And, if you feel so inclined, we have a couple extra beds should you find yourself in Uruguay between now and August. If you do come to visit, we have a list of things for you to bring to us like coffee and shampoo.

Collecting wood for the fireplace (aka heater) by bike. 

Collecting wood for the fireplace (aka heater) by bike. 

great article on conscious travel

Article relevant to how John and I manage our impact and influence as we travel. I remember being in India in 2009, witnessing tourists haggle with locals on the price of something that if they paid full price, would pay $3USD for a beautiful handmade this or that when in the US it would cost $150. I never haggled. It felt counter to my desire to connect and walk lightly through the worlds of others.

We don't haggle now either, especially in situations where the artist or providers of service are local. We want our money to stay in the hands of the people who welcome us.

After seeing how some folks in the US treat foreigners with disdain and fear, we're grateful that the vast majority of people we've come across in South America welcome us with open arms (or at least, warm smiles).

It is our goal to do right by locals and the beautiful Earth they inhabit.

Click the photo to read full story from Pachamama.org. 

Click the photo to read full story from Pachamama.org. 

who is lola?

It recently dawned on me that some of these posts or media I share on Facebook and Instagram refer to "Lola." And probably, very few people would make the assumption that I am Lola. Well, I am Lola. So if you see "Lola" on a post of mine, I am referring to myself. 

Lola is a nickname for Dolores, my middle name. I decided to use Lola for a trip through latin America because it would be a simple name for people to understand. It has ended up being a conversation starter as people inquire why an European-American would be called Dolores or Lola. The story is a little too confusing to explain in Spanish, but in English... my maternal grandmother was born Dorthy and decided to change her name to Dolores. I don't know for certain why, though I suspect she wanted to be a little different. I'm honored to be Dolores, especially since she chose the name herself. 

Some people have tried to convince me that I need to use my first name. That I should be proud of it and correct people when they get it wrong. I recognize the empowerment in that, but being named Blythe has meant a lifetime of correcting people including English speakers. No one understands me when I say, "My name is Blythe." Sometimes I have to go around and around 3 or 4 times but more often, I just let them think my name is what ever they said: Blierth, Mike, Blight, Life, Beth. I've even been called Blarhg. 

I've tried to annunciate more clearly and still, people don't get it. Those who do tend to respond with, "Oh, like Blythe Danner?!" And forget it, if I am trying to announce myself on the phone. No one ever understands what I am saying. 

I tend to think "a rose by any other name would smell as sweet," so I don't feel insulted when people don't understand my name or weary about offering an easier nickname for introductions. [Shakesphere] Its a relief for me, in fact. To have a nickname that is short and sweet and nearly impossible to misunderstand. 

All this to say, I am Lola. I am Blythe. Interchangeable now. 

regular updates on instagram

After five months on the road, trying to use older technology like a flip-phone and digital camera to keep family and friends looped into our whereabouts, we've concluded that the value of a smartphone is enormous for travelers in a tech world. From taking photos I can post regularly online to apps that make our travels flow more smoothly. We simply can't deny its value any longer. 

We tried the non-smartphone route and wanted it to work for us. We wanted to have a journey that was untethered from the brainless impulsivity that smart-technology inspires. But, we've discovered that so much of the world now, especially tourism, is only accessible via the web or smartphone apps. 

And after months of feeling particularly lonely because I couldn't communicate easily with people I love, having a smartphone will allow us to sustain our weekly connections with loved ones back home as well as tell very short stories via Instagram. Snapshots of our adventure...

This was a big deal for me. I see how smart-technology betters our lives but also, how it drastically disrupts human connection and one's own processing skills. Smart-technology automates people (even the hippiest among us) and invites us to think less and react more. We've become an output society, bordering on narcissistic, with little emphasis on genuine, conscious reception.

Technology is great for keeping people who are thousands of miles apart, connected. But, it has its limitations when it comes to daily heart-to-heart interactions with people who are sitting right next to us. Checking out of the present moment is far too easy with technology.  It is in the present moment where we fulfill our lives.

Its a balancing act to enjoy the benefits and steer clear of the pitfalls. 

We've set up rules to make sure we're conscious about using technology on this trip and that it doesn't cause us to miss out on unique moments or each other. 

All of that said, you can now see what we're up to more often by following my Instagram feed. I've linked it to my website (see the word "Instagram" in the upper right hand corner of this site).

I will continue to post blog entries as I am able and inspired. 

Love,

Us

sleeping through the revolution

We had the conversation a few times. John’s dad was turning 80 and his mom 75 and he expressed feeling regret for not being near them to celebrate these milestone birthdays. Listening to our hearts, we decided to take a detour from our South American travels and head back to the U.S. for a couple weeks.

The journey home began abruptly. Not because we planned with little time but because we thought we had one more day in Ecuador than we did. Our first flight out of Quito was on March 14th at 11:59 and the remaining two were on the 15th. For some reason we had it in our heads that we were leaving on the 15th and nearly missed the flight. Luckily, we checked on our flights with enough time to adjust our plans to ensure we’d arrive on time. All in all, our travel time from Apuela, Ecuador to Rochester, New York was about 36 hours with three exhausting flights, arriving around 2AM to John’s happy, but tired parents and a ton of snow on the ground. We’d just missed the unexpected down pour of snow a day earlier and we were not prepared for the shift in weather. But we managed the cold thanks to John’s parents bringing a variety of hats, shoes, coats and gloves.

Frozen lake, frigid Blythe.

It was a gift to be present for George’s birthday, my father-in-law and to bring Marilyn, my mother-in-law, a couple handmade gifts from Colombia and Ecuador for her belated 75th, which happened in February. For George’s birthday, the four of us went to a delicious restaurant in the town village and delighted in the moment—one well worth traveling more than 3,000 miles for.

Celebrating George's 80th. 

It was strange to be surrounded by snow in upstate New York after our time in lush green, permanent spring-like places. It was remarkable and humbling to see the damage done by a windstorm a week earlier that brought 85 MPH gusts and uprooted trees all over the city, especially in my in-laws neighborhood which is close to Lake Ontairo and tends to get bitterer weather than other parts of town.

From New York we went to Los Angeles. We figured we were on the continent, why not see my dad too? So, after 13 more hours of travel (usually 6) and we were in Los Angeles at 4AM, at my dad's around 5:30Am. I’ve never taken a red-eye East to West before. Not a fan of them in any direction.

We snuck into my dad’s place, fell asleep for a few hours and greeted him the next morning. Our week in L.A. was stunted by a severe case of sinusitis I came down with. In Colombia and Ecuador I had no trouble eating dairy or wheat. None. Previously, though, in the U.S. I’d grown sensitive to both. I couldn’t easily digest wheat and and dairy led to terrible, painful, relentless sinus congestion and headaches—the kind of headaches that make you nutty as relief comes only when the sinuses drain (drugs don’t help). I'd continued eating dairy when we returned to the U.S. and learned, VERY QUICKLY, that was a bad idea. 

I felt pretty bummed about spending my time in L.A. under the weather—especially since the weather was wonderful. My dad was dealing with some leg pain himself, so staying low key worked for the both of us. Regardless of more naps and fewer conversations due to laringitis on my part, time with my dad is a gift I do not take for granted. And as John reminded me, we weren’t even planning this trip to the U.S. so the time we spent with our folks was bonus time. I was in L.A. for my 42nd birthday—we celebrated with brunch, my favorite meal and something impossible to find in Colombia and Ecuador. 

Me and my dad. 

The week flew by. On the day before we left, I pondered with my dad how one successfully fills up on the people they love, enough at least, to create distance with out sadness. We left my dad’s house at 11PM on the 3rd, heading to LAX for a 2:26AM flight to Bogotá. Our Uber driver was a character—I’d expect nothing less in L.A.—and he played various tunes from Willie Nelson and Johnny Cash along the way. Tunes that mirrored how I was feeling. Leaving, again. Leaving as a positive, yet tender thing.

LAX was a mess and there were some issues with our getting on the flight. Some airlines require proof of an exit ticket from the country they fly you into. We’ve planned for this in the past by having some sort of refundable tickets to show when checking in. We forgot. After waiting in a line that went out the door, we got in another line at 1AM at LAX (our flight boarding in a half hour) waiting to buy tickets we don’t need from Avianca just to be permitted on the flight we already paid for and, they knew we would order a refund as soon as we had WiFi. A stupid box they have to check, I guess. After spending nearly $2,000 on refundable tickets we didn’t need, they allowed us to check in. We ran for our gate and made it.

Our flight and layover in Bogotá was smooth. International airlines tend to be more polite and considerate than U.S. airlines with meals, wine and media at no charge. But there wasn’t much sleeping. We lifted off at 2:30AM and landed in Bogotá around 11:30AM (3 hours ahead of L.A.). We’d planned ahead and booked a hotel room to take a nap and a shower (we learned the value of this expense on the way to New York from Quito). By the time we got to the hotel, we only had a few hours to rest. Every time I’d fall asleep, something would bang or bark and I’d wake back up. At 7PM we were on our way back to the airport. We do love Bogotá and felt sad leaving so soon. 

At 11PM (an hour behind schedule) we boarded the plane to Buenos Aires. We landed at 7AM (1 hour ahead of EST and 4 ahead of PST) and this stretch I got no sleep at all. Arriving in Buenos Aires was less of a relief than we’d have liked because our AirBnB wasn’t ready until 1PM (we only learned the day before). At this point I was essentially working off 3 hours of sleep spread out over almost 40 hours. John is better able to sleep on planes so he was in charge of all decision-making. We stayed in the airport until we got the okay to come to the BnB. During the 5 hour wait, I made a bed for myself on a metal slatted bench after locking all our bags together. While I rested, John ran around getting SIM cards for our phones and money from the ATM. Amazingly, even though I didn’t sleep, I felt slightly recharged, enough to finish the final phase of our journey to the apartment.

Our taxi driver cheated us a bit on the cost but we were way too tired to negotiate or be diligent. All the more incentive to get better with our Spanish.

When we arrived our apartment host told us that the next day Buenos Aires was having a major strike and told us to stock up on food, money and wine before nightfall just in case everything was closed the following day. During our errands, we got a 5th wind and ended up exploring the neighborhood a bit, ate dinner and ventured home. We crawled into bed at 9PM and slept till noon the next day—and as it turns out, we slept right through the protests. By the time we came to, Buenos Aires was fully functioning and there were few indications that an important moment in the revolution had occurred. 

friends along the way

These three wickedly smart, brilliantly hilarious, deep, playful and wise women are some of our favorite beings. This photo was made on film with a Yashica TLR John is carrying with him. 

Sharing this special moment in spite of not feeling this is a flattering photo of myself. A dilemma for far too many people, especially women. Wanting to capture moments of life in photos but being far too critical of our appearance. A topic for a possible future post.