en route: another world.

there is a tinge of cigarette smoke in the air. almost thick enough to taste with every labored breath through my sunflower mandated mask. it is so rare these days. to be indoors and trapped with that hint of nicotine. but large neon letters spell out a welcome place to inhale and exhale. right next to my gate.

a constant hum of chatter is interrupted with animated electric beats and jackpot dings and bings and rings. the bright colors flash and spin enticing me to sit down and zone out for a minute, or ten. i resist.

this is another world. 

even before you step outside the airport and into the seething desert summer heat, you are engulfed in the chaos. 

i go to the bathroom twice in the first thirty minutes of wandering around in search of a decent meal to take with me on my long journey across the pacific. not because i really have to pee, but because the overwhelm of the stimulation is unnerving. in the stall, i feel safe. invisible. protected.

i am tired from two weeks of traveling. staying up too late feeding my latest screen addictions. waking up too early trying to squeeze in more love sessions with my favorite people. 

but i am so energized. soaking in the feelgoods that come along with trips down memory lane. sinking into the nostalgia and letting feelings of sheer gratitude ooze out of my every pore. cherished memories of people and places that have made me this girl. this woman. a reminder that i still am this person.

i sit on the end of a row with outlets to recharge. too close to the slot machines, but prime location for people watching.

good old las vegas. 

this is just a layover, but i cannot help but get lost in the glitz. and gloom. it is hard to describe this bubble. its reputation telling its own story before i layer on my own. 

i have been here many times before. as a child, for dance competitions. as a young adult, for amusement. lately, for climbing. but today feels different. i do not remember the airport feeling so… much.

over the past year, i have traveled more than most. despite the pandemic, i found a way to feel responsible and safe. but, here, right now, i am flabbergasted. wide-eyed and staring as hoards of people dance past me in rhythm to the sea of artificial sounds. 

do they know they are part of this performance? 

they dress the part. brightly colored ensembles. escalating movement and frantic meandering. there is a scene from across the universe where a new york sidewalk crowded with pedestrians navigate the chaos to the beatles’ come together. it has always been one of my favorite pieces from that film. 

today i am jojo. slowly and consciously strolling amidst the crowds. taking it all in. watching my thoughts react. and release. and come together, right now, over me.

and then, there is an eerie silence that takes hold of the las vegas airport. all the slot machines are quiet. all the people are quiet. only a faint beeping of a cart cruising past alerting travelers to step aside. 

mmmm. the juxtaposition is unexpected, and so noticeable.

a line is forming in front of me. it is time to get ready. pre-clearance for entrance to maui. proving we are healthy. just like when i fly to australia, i stare at the faces. can i tell who is just visiting and who calls the island home? i imagine what they will do when they land. go to costco to stock up? jump in the ocean? stand in awe of the west mauis and haleakala?

i smile knowing exactly what i will be doing… embracing two of my favorite beings, grateful to be home.

the electronic bass of the nearest money making machine fires back up, and they are at it again. 

settled into unsettled.

publishing four months after writing… i promise one day i’ll get better at posting in the present moment. but airplane internet usually keeps me from sharing my airplane writing immediately. 🙂

—–

my definition of home was pretty concrete growing up. i lived in the same house for 12 years, built by my grandpa’s hands. the big green house on old kirk road. for the majority of the time, i had the same bedroom with the one slanted wall and the weird closet door that led to a hole looking down into the utility/laundry room. i knew everyone on the block and all the places to steal a good view of the minor league baseball stadium’s friday night fireworks display. 

until about 12-years-old, i was settled. 

at which point, my parents got divorced. my childhood home became my part-time home. and i moved six times in the six years following that first move. 

six different spaces to call home. a few apartments, a townhouse, and a couple single family homes. as my mom settled into a beautiful tudor style house for several years, my dad sold our childhood home and moved to a neighboring town with his new significant other. every ounce of childhood consistency associated with a specific physical location evaporated. 

and my cycle of constant movement continued full steam ahead… 

i headed to the university of michigan and lived in a different dorm or apartment each year. four new places (in four years) to call my home away from home. 

after graduation came a new city and three new homes. i was officially an adult (or something resembling one). i planted my roots. i was in love with michigan, in love with grand rapids. finding joy in my work. joy in my hobbies. joy in my community. 

and so i left. 

because, why not?

i packed up my blue chevy cavalier and headed west to portland. four more roofs over my head in the span of two years. my work shifted, and i became fully self-employed. able to complete my work from anywhere with halfway decent internet. so settled into being unsettled that i subconsciously crafted a career that would allow me to continue my rootless journey. 

a journey that led me to my match. 

after being without an official address for a year, i met a man who seemed to be equally, if not more, transient than me. 

it was the end of his year long holiday in north america. we headed back to the middle of nowhere australia and took up a temporary residence in a house he owned. i flew back and forth from the u.s. to australia for two years. sending all my mail to my dad’s house. staying with friends and bouncing around the country with no plan of settling down in sight.

tired yet?

i was. i was almost 30 and starting to think about what it might look like if i stopped moving. what would it feel like? could we do it? would we be content?

we tried it…? in hawaii. for two years. in three different houses on oahu. and then six months on maui. and then three months on kauai. 

during all our island living, i was still regularly flying to and from portland for work. when an opportunity came up to move back to the pacific northwest and create a home on a 675 acre mountain, i thought, okay, this must be it. this must be where we are meant to plant some roots. 

we fueled our travel bug and lived in our ryan-custom-built camper van for six months and then prepared to park her and dig into our new home. our forever home?

but, even there, neighbors to rural families who had lived there for generations, we were unsettled. living out of boxes in a construction zone for a year and finally unpacking into a beautifully ryan-remodeled basement apartment just in time for the covid lockdown. 

months and months of forced stillness. we bought plants. we hung artwork. and just as the leaves began to fall in rainbows on the earth, we packed up yet again. three more months in the camper van adventuring, visiting my mom’s new home in palm springs with her significant other, and seeing the rest of the family in the chicagoland area.

and now we are back on maui. 

and now i am tired.

and now i see the pattern. the habit. the lifestyle.

if you’ve read this far, i applaud you. truly. what a wild ride…

when i opened up this blank document, i did not know what words would reveal themselves. since i’m on a flight from maui back to chicago for my sister’s 40th birthday, my brain was engulfed in the nostalgia of home and family. as i veered towards the topic of home, i did not realize the rabbit hole that was ahead of me. 

that i have been in a constant state of motion for the past 22 years.

and now i am left wondering… will we ever “settle” down?

rambling on returning, in february.

unintentionally we complete our own cycles. always around the lunar new year it seems.

in early february… 

2016, ryan and i decided to move to hawaii and live together (not long distance) for the first time in our relationship. 

2018, we decided to elope and then move back to the mainland to live in a van.

2019, we settled in the pacific northwest to try our hand at life on a 700 acre mountain.

2020, we returned from our australian wedding celebration and entered the crazy covid lockdown phase.

and now, in early february 2021, we are returning to hawaii. (this time with a pup.)

it is crazy how every major life change has happened for us in early february. a time ripe for newness and change. we board a plane and our world shifts. our address changes. our clothing changes. heck, sometimes even our names change (or mine anyways). 

and yet, this shift feels like a return home. an escape back to the known. a place where the sun is warm, where the rain is warm, where the ocean is warm. 

ryan and i have continuously been stuck between choosing the mountains or the ocean. the forest or the beach. we feel at home in both. however, my childhood home was always the forest and his the beach. we bounce back and forth trying to find the perfect recipe of ingredients to satisfy our wanderlust. 

how do you combine two youthful nostalgias into one? how do you redefine what feels like home? 

after seven years of trying to navigate this question, i do not have an answer. but, it feels like we might be on the verge. on the verge of finding what fits for us. for our lives. for our futures.

it is always an interesting feeling to return to something. whether to a place or a job or a relationship. the notion of going back to something can feel like a cop out, like a step backward instead of forward.

it can also feel oh so good. like returning to a routine or an unfinished project or a forgotten hobby. picking up where you left off can be welcoming and comforting. a reminder that perhaps you were supposed to be here all along. perhaps you only left so that you could remember why you must return.

the eternal cycle of departing and arriving. 

so today, we departed. we said goodbye to a beautiful and magical mountain in the wet, mossy, fern-filled forests of battle ground, washington. we reluctantly bid farewell to a community of neighbors who truly are like family to us. and we boarded a plane.

and in a few hours, we will arrive. we will say aloha to the sound of waves crashing on the shore. we will inhale the sweet smell of plumeria (or frangipani if you’re aussie). we will joyfully greet the friends and family we left behind. and we will have arrived.

a new chapter to this crazy story we’re writing… 

our australian wedding (anniversary).

a year ago today, i married my best friend for the third time on our second anniversary. 

let that sink in. 

it has become a running joke… the fact that we had three weddings, one per year for the past three years (2018, 2019, 2020). and now, as 2021 begins, the first year without a wedding, i can’t help but desire a fourth… and a fifth and sixth and so on forever. i think annual weddings should definitely be a thing.

but instead, i’ll let myself sink back into the sweet memories of february 1, 2020. our australian wedding…

what a blessing it was to have my immediate family and a few close friends fly a million hours across the ocean to experience ryan’s home and share in our wedding day. wow. i am still filled with complete and utter gratitude for the commitment and gesture to join us so far away. 

the week leading up to our australian wedding day was unforgettable to say the least. ryan was on cloud nine showing off his country, his culture, and his favorite home town spots. his childlike joy was palpable, and our foreign friends and family were eating it up. indulging his extreme enthusiasm. 

we toured up the coast to airlie beach and the whitsundays with my sister, two childhood besties, and their partners. although it was the rainy season, we still managed to find fun around every corner. and geckos. and frogs. and jellyfish. and stingrays. and magical silica white sand. because… australia.

the classically charming aussie flight attendant force fed them vegemite on the flight back down to the gold coast (ryan’s home), and the weeks of endless laughter and smiles began. 

an intense cold also began for me.

the days leading up to our wedding day were filled with mucus and endless snotty tissues for me. my head was on the verge of combustion for days. but, i put on my big girl pants and tried to be the best hostess i could be. surely i would be well by saturday; it was only wednesday…

more and more guests arrived from america and other parts of australia. we visited the venue – the pacific beach surf club, a staple of ryan’s childhood – and finalized all the details. 

it was slightly difficult to plan a wedding from 7,000 miles away, but with the help of ryan’s family and my extreme love for planning, it was nothing short of amazing. 

on friday night, ryan’s dad hosted all the usual suspects at his house for a barbecue. like the american wedding, my heart exploded to see such love and laughter fill a space. our two worlds colliding. our two families connecting. ryan’s childhood friends meeting some of mine. and through it all, i was laid out on various couches, near death.

was it this new thing on the news called covid-19? dr. don assured me no. he arrived at the party for our late night emergency call (a longtime family friend and doctor). he took me aside with his stethoscope, assured me i’d be fine, and wrote a prescription for some codeine. and just like that… i was healed!

on that miraculous night, we also gained an epic groomsmen. ryan found out last minute that one of his groomsmen was not going to be able to fly in for the wedding, but luckily, friday night shenanigans were able to produce an outstanding alternative and a hilarious tale that will definitely stand the test of time. 

the beers flowed all night, as they usual do at gordie’s house. some intense pool volleyball (or some water sport) went down in the backyard. and although i took my sick butt to bed before midnight, ryan stumbled back to the beachside apartment (that our friend’s so graciously lent us for a couple days) well after that.

but he was happy. oh so happy to be home. 

and then the day was here. technically our two year wedding anniversary. (yes, we secretly eloped at a honolulu courthouse in 2018, but that’s another story.)

when we awoke, i could breathe! it was a wedding miracle! and thank goodness because wedding days are long and full of excitement. i knew, i already had done this before…

we ran a few last minute venue errands, then i met all the women at my sister-in-law’s house. ryan met all the men at his dad’s house. and we did the things… again. 

it is rare you get to relive your wedding day. do your hair differently. do your makeup differently. wear a different dress if you want (i didn’t want). remember to take it all in because the day goes so fast. and it was such a blessing. 

the wedding dj i had hired referred me to a makeup/hair stylist who was on point. her team was amazing. we skipped the professional “getting ready” photos this time around, but my bridesmaids and mothers all looked amazing. we were ready for this beautiful beach wedding.

and i was ready for my grand entrance. driving up onto the beach in ryan’s dad’s beautiful old fb classic car. my father escorting me out of it and down the aisle. sunflowers in my hand. my husband already awaiting me at the other end. a live rendition of nick cave’s “into my arms” filling the air.

wow. we are so lucky. all of our australian friends and family surrounding us with their smiles and joy.

as i said in my post about our american wedding, this is why i had a wedding. (or three.)

there is no other time when all the people from your life will gather in one room (except your funeral). no other time that you can look out over the crowd and share a special bond with every set of eyes you meet. no other time when every one you love is loving you right back at the exact same moment.

and again as i said in my other wedding post…

as we approached the altar, i melted into overwhelming gratitude. my big brother ready to marry me to the love of my life. my mother and father to give me away. my sister, best friends, and sister-in-laws standing by my side. both of our families lining the front rows with pure happiness. what a blessing.

although we followed a similar ceremony, nothing felt like a repeat. this day was its own day. this wedding was its own wedding. reading and hearing our vows for a second time only deepened their meaning, only strengthen our commitment. i was choosing this man, for the third time, and he was choosing me. 

swoon.

now onto the photos! a complete juxtaposition to our american woodsy wedding. we strolled the beach barefoot and kicked up sand. we ran from the waves and felt the wind in our hair. 

meanwhile, our guests moseyed on upstairs to our surf club reception. as the dj announced the wedding party, i was excited for the fun to continue!

although the venue does not allow live bands (and neither did our second wedding budget), i found a way to make do on the dance floor. i’m not quite sure if i actually left the dance floor at all that night. and as my champagne glass was emptied and refilled and emptied and refilled, i tried harder and harder to force people to join me in my dancing endeavors. once a dancer, always a dancer…

contrary to typical australian weddings which tend to be casual when it comes to traditions, i insisted we stay traditionally. we joyfully repeated the father/daughter and mother/son dances. we listened intently to our family’s toasts and speeches. and i would do it again if i had the chance.

ryan’s dad had used his social “mayor” of gold coast connections to secure us a fabulous chef to provide an assortment of seafood, skewers, and other delicious samplings to keep our bellies full. ryan’s childhood climbing friend happens to be a stellar baker and thankfully agreed to offer us her impeccable desserts. 

by the end of the night, i was reliving those same emotion i had felt in september…

it is so hard to do it all in one night. there were so many people that i barely got to hug. so many friends that i wanted to talk to more. so many family members that i wanted to laugh with more. so many dances left to be had. so many drinks left to be drank. (well, maybe not that last one. our final bar tab was pretty impressive.)

and now, a year later, this post lets me (and all of us) relive it. every moment of sheer joy. every lyric of our impromptu american dance floor singing showcase of “home among the gumtrees.” every scavenger hunt item requested by our crazy dj. every moment of core-crippling laughter.

oh what a night. the perfect addition to our love story.

over seven years of togetherness, and now, today, three years of marriage. 

i’ll let you know when to save the date for our fourth wedding! 🙂

(all professional images by wallflower weddings)

our american wedding.

six months later, i finally found the time to reflect on september 28, 2019. our american wedding…

(all images in this blog post by the fabulous kirsten ellis of beaux arts photographie)

as a little girl, and then as a teenage girl, and then as a young woman, i was surrounded by love stories. books about love at first sight. movies about happily ever after. songs about forever. despite my tendencies to fight against the stereotype, i have dreamt of this day since richard geer fell for julia roberts.

in a college creative writing class, i even wrote an entire essay examining this contradiction. entitled “cynically in love,” my 20-year-old self waxed and waned on the intricacies of love and marriage. finding my way through the different ways love can look. questioning the notion of a soulmate. noting the flaws of forever.

but we did it. i found the perfect white dress. he wrote the perfect vows. and instead of a cake, we cut a perfect homemade pumpkin pie. and it was better than i could have ever imagined.

after six years of loving ryan, it was so easy to stand by his side, in front of 130 friends and family (mainly from our american adventures), and promise a lifetime of memorable moments.

the weekend started with rain. close family and friends came together to help us set up the venue, river bend nature center.

a beautiful 80-acre nature center in racine, wisconsin on the root river, just ten minutes from lake michigan. the ground was muddy, and the air was misty, but i was on cloud nine.

as the lights were strung from the rafters and the sunflowers filled my grandmother’s vases, a smile conquered my chubby cheeks and did not let loose for the next 48 hours. we transformed a dingy little taxidermy-filled lodge into my dream wedding getaway.

friends and family from all over the world began to arrive. as we hugged each and every one of them, my smile grew bigger. my heart on the verge of combustion. a quiet pub in racine bursting with laughter and light. (and this was only friday night.)

although i had drafted a detailed itinerary for the weekend, i plowed straight through our 10pm listed bedtime and basked in the beauty of the life we’ve created.

this is why i had a wedding.

there is no other time when all the people from your life will gather in one room (except your funeral). no other time that you can look out over the crowd and share a special bond with every set of eyes you meet. no other time when every one you love is loving you right back at the exact same moment.

saturday morning we awoke. tired, but ready. excited, but relaxed.

the weather predictions said the sun would come out by 4pm, but rain or shine, there was literally nothing that could ruin my high.

the groom and his ridiculous crew of groomsmen reluctantly got ready in their lakefront airbnb.

my bridesmaids, mothers, and i spent four hours at the local salon repeatedly telling the hair and makeup artists to keep it natural, none of us really wear makeup or do our hair.

around 2pm, slightly behind schedule, my mother and sister helped me into my BHLDN dress.

high neck and cap sleeves. open back and beautiful lace. proudly purchased online on cyber monday for over 50% off (gotta love a good deal).

and then… the hair, the makeup, the dress, i was almost ready. three small wildflowers picked from the land and tucked into my curls. carpe the fuck out of this diem socks and leather lace up boots. transformation complete.

breaking tradition, we did the modern “first look” photos. ryan stood awaiting his bride. i felt his eyes see straight through me as he turned and stole a glance. with the camera and crowd on either side, i felt his shyness shine, but i felt his love shine brighter.

the sun had broken through the clouds. it was chilly, but the rain had retreated. we hiked around through the woods for a couple hours fake laughing to make ourselves actually laugh. trying to look natural, so that we could relive this day eternally. a smile still plastered on my chubby cheeks.

as a classic yellow school bus shuttled guests from the hotel to the venue, i casually waited back in the bridal cabin. without an ounce of stress, i sipped a glass of white wine and reapplied my lipstick. it was time.

each bridesmaid strolled down the aisle arm-in-arm with each groomsmen. a best friend’s old time string band fiddling a waltz. as the last couple took their place at the altar, the music shifted. the band began to play nick cave’s “into my arms.” our song. a surprise for the groom.

waiting in the wings, my father pointed out a honey bee who had made his home on my bouquet of sunflowers, white roses, and eucalyptus. i carefully found him a new home and began the short stroll to my husband.

this is the moment. a daughter being walked down the aisle by her daddy. i am so lucky to have such an amazing man to call my father.

and as we approached the altar, i melted into overwhelming gratitude. my big brother ready to marry me to the love of my life. my mother and father to give me away. my sister standing by my side. both of our families lining the front rows with pure happiness. what a blessing.

we listened to my brother dan’s wise words.

we asked our community for support. we exchanged personalized vows.

we exchanged custom made rings.

we kissed too many times (before we were supposed to). 

and we became wife and husband. but most importantly, we laughed. all of us. together.

there was an unbounded joy that filled the pavilion. an outpouring of optimism that we will work to cultivate the rest of our lives. it was not the beginning of our love story, and it is far from the end, but this chapter will be bookmarked for years to come. so thank you for helping us write the perfect addition to our happily ever after.

more photos, followed by food and drinks and dessert. barramundi, chicken skewers, and sweet potatoes served through a milwaukee food truck window. beer, wine, and whiteclaws chilled and ready for sipping (despite three boxes of misplaced collector edition “better together” wine glasses featuring a kangaroo that looked like a rabbit and an eagle that looked like a chicken, if you still want one or two or ten, let me know). freshly baked mini pies flying off the table, key lime a family fave.

ryan and i sat down outside at a picnic table in the center of it all. old time tunes filling the air, delicious food filling our bellies, and love filling our souls. the perfection continued.

inside the dancing was about to begin. as my brother announced the wedding party, we entered a room transformed by its contents.

we cut a homemade pumpkin pie baked by my stepbrother and his daughter.

we danced our first dance to a jimmy barne’s cover of “higher and higher.” a perfect compromise, an american classic sung by an australian legend.

we laughed and cried through well thought out and not so well thought out toasts and speeches. (in case you were curious about my dad’s blog reference, you can find gratitude day 5, #5 here.)

i danced with my father to tim mcgraw’s “my little girl,” and ryan danced with his mother to elton john’s “can you feel the love tonight?”

all my little girl hopes and dreams came true.

and then, the dancing began.

the rest of the evening is a blur of happiness and glee, but i do believe i was a dancing queen.

even broke the zipper on one of my boots. it is impossible not to tear up a dance floor with a killer saxophone laying down motown classics.

 

and my sister rapping with the band to “bust a move.” (don’t worry, there is video.) and my aunt dancing with the lead singer during set breaks.

apparently, with all the dancing i did, i missed our late night chicago style hot dog bar and s’mores by the campfire. as well as an ape index measuring session happening out in the lobby.

but it is so hard to do it all in one night. there were so many people that i barely got to hug. so many friends that i wanted to talk to more. so many family members that i wanted to laugh with more. so many dances left to be had. so many drinks left to be drank.

as the clock struck midnight, the music stopped. the lights came down. the tables and chairs were broken down. and the last school bus of guests pulled away.

we sat by the campfire in the silence. sweat dried down by back, dirt coating the lace rim of my dress, and a smile still stuck to my face.

oh what a night. the perfect addition to our love story.

and we get to do it all again. down under…

beauty and a broken bum.

and the last forgotten post. written six months ago…

since the beginning of our relationship, i have heard about the alpaca farm ryan’s friend had in southern chile. how he had lived there for a few months and helped with the alpaca and the fly fishing lodge. how it was the most beautiful place on earth. how he would muster horses through creeks and mountains. how lucky…

five years later, i am also lucky to experience el saltamontes lodge. the gorroño family’s property in the aysén region of southern chile (about an hour from coyhuique) is stunning. a picture perfect mountain getaway. i am so grateful that we could include a visit to the farm/lodge a part of this trip.

 

ryan’s friend and his girlfriend drove five hours to scoop us up from argentina and drive us five hours back to his farm in chile. we went through the border crossing (a small shack on a dirt road with one guard) with ease and continued on our way into our third country on this whirlwind world tour. 

as we left the high desert of argentina and continued towards the coast, the mountains grew taller and the temperature grew colder, but the sun was still shining bright (apparently not the norm in this area). the barren roads surrounded by nature started to be spotted with tiny farms and adorable mountain homes. my understanding of spanish lessened as the chilean accent strengthened. 

and then, we arrived. ryan jumped out to open gate after gate as we slowly drove by cows and horses and alpaca. a hidden gem. ryan’s stories were right. this was a pretty spectacular slice of this wonderful world. the mountains all around. crystal clear rivers and lakes. 5,000 acres of beauty to explore. 

it was christmas eve, and the rest of lucas’ family and friends greeted us with open arms. they had not seen ryan in ten years. two friends from south africa were down from santiago. they had cooked one of their home dishes, bobotie. we set the table and basked in the christmas cheer, and red wine. 

after dinner, we sat by the fire and opened a few gifts. ryan and i were graciously given a chilean staple, boinas. the hat necessary for true gauchos. we were ready to wrangle the horses!

since the fly fishing season started a bit late this year due to the river, our hosts set us up in a phenomenal riverside lodge with giant windows and quite the view. sure, we’ll test it out for you before this year’s guests arrive… a little bit of an upgrade from the sleeping pads we had been on the past few nights. 

on christmas day, we slept in late. we are really getting used to the south american way… stay up really late, sleep in kind of late. we walked back to the main house breathing in the clear air and feeling the sunshine upon our skin. i’m starting to get used to this whole christmas in summer thing.

cafe and desayuno. slowly we came to life. helping prep the lodge for a christmas dinner with other friends and extended family. and then, taking a break from our chores to enjoy a little christmas day trail ride. 

i grew up around horses. my mom rode horses. my sister rode horses. i rode horses. we love horses.

i was so excited to be back in the saddle. back around these majestic creatures. their gentle gazes and soft noses. horses feel like home. the smells. the sounds. the connection. 

the lead gaucho saddled up a few of the favorites, and we climbed aboard. my horse was a short white one named pelusa. she was the mother of many other horses on the land, and her belly definitely still showed it. 

we walked through the afternoon without a care in the world. this is exactly how i want to spend every christmas. horseback riding through patagonia in the sunshine. i wished my mom and sister could have been there by my side. i knew they would have loved it.

throughout the ride, i kept feeling the saddle sliding to the right, so i would stand up and put weight in the left stirrup to bring it back into balance. exhibit a…

there was a little voice in my head saying that i should probably stop and tighten the girth, but i ignored it. i was sure we’d stop eventually, and we were just on a leisurely stroll at the moment. 

and then the stroll turned into a gallop. 

and then the saddle slipped to the right. 

and then the saddle slipped even more to the right. 

and then i opened my eyes in the fetal position on the ground…

oops. 

you should always listen to the little voices in your head. 

my head and tailbone smacked the ground and poor pelusa went galloping away with a sideways saddle. as a trained lifeguard, my head was filled with flashes of “what to do if you suspect a spinal injury.” i laid curled up on the grass afraid to try to move. would i be able to move? of course i would, i thought. i am fine. 

and slowly, slowly, i was fine. 

lucas called his dad, and he came to my rescue. after a quick utv ride back to our cabin, i crawled into bed and was even more grateful for the million dollar view from our windows. this is where i would spend the rest of christmas. 

i googled how to treat a broken bum and after learning that all i could really do is ice it, heat it, and rest it. i settled into a pattern of ice pack and hot tub. trying to not miss a thing!

there was no way in hell i was going to let a fall off one of my favorite animals ruin my time in this magical place. 

the next day, i hobbled my way through a picnic with everyone by the river. i had to take the truck with the baby instead of the boat, but i still made it!

and the day after that, i hobbled my way through a boat ride on lago norte and lunch in a glass house in the middle of nowhere.

every new place lucas took us to was better than the last. whenever i need to escape the world, i know where to go now. 

after a few days exploring el saltamontes lodge (and letting my tailbone heal), we drove an hour into coyhuique. the town was a lot bigger than i had expected. 

we filled our bellies at the cafe run by the mennonites in the area. french toast, eggs, and coffee. we walked through the market stalls in the main plaza. we browsed sporting goods stores. we went grocery shopping. we ran errands. we soaked in the “city life”. 

we were leaving the next day. 

lucas made sure ryan got one more dose of adventure as they went mountain biking through a local nature reserve. up, up, up and then down, down, down. i’m not sure i would have made it even without a broken bum, so i’m glad i had an excuse to exclude myself this time around.

we went out to pizza and drinks in town with some friends. our last night in chile. such an amazing time catching up with lucas and sinja, and meeting new friends.

thank you gorroño family and friends for sharing this landscape with us (and taking care of me).

and now…

we fly 9 hours to atlanta. 2 hours to detroit. 13 hours to tokyo. 

hopefully my tailbone can handle all the sitting. not quite the souvenir i had hoped to bring back from south america, but oh well. it could have been worse. 🙂

getting witchy in el bolson.

another leg of our december journey, six months later…

it looks and feels the same. like slipping into your favorite pair of jeans. like hugging an old friend. the memories come flooding back.

argentina was the first country i chose to travel to on my own. the first place i lived outside of the united states for an extended period of time. i was twenty-one. i was infatuated with the language, the poetry, the beauty, the lifestyle.

it was interesting returning to a place that ryan and i had experienced separately. a chance to share his memories. a chance to share my memories. 

we only had a layover in buenos aires. we chose to sacrifice a trip to the city for more days with our friends in other locations. but, even at the airport, i could feel the culture immediately. i was in argentina. i could speak the language.

although my spanish helped, portuguese is not the same. but, now i was back in a space where i could say whatever i needed. even though, my spanish is a bit rusty, it felt so good to slip back into a world where i could communicate. i could joke. i could learn. i could connect.

after we landed in bariloche, we did a quick stroll around the town to pick up some sleeping pads and some chocolate. because you always have to buy chocolate when in bariloche. 

when i lived in buenos aires, i spent a week in this town with some friends in a cabin overlooking the lake. we rafted. we hiked. we ate chocolate. 

this time, we boarded a bus and headed two hours south to el bolson, a small laid back town surrounded by stunning mountains. the views along the way, ahhh…

my friend cathy moved to el bolson several years ago after i returned from living in argentina and showed her photos of my travels. she uprooted her family and created a magical new life in the mountains. 

from the bus, we took a taxi to her house. there was no address to give the driver. the directions were something like… turn on this one street, then when you get to this hotel turn again, then after you see this certain homestead, look for a pile of sand on the right. gotta love south america!

we arrived. we hugged. we hugged some more. we met her fiance. we hugged again. we laughed. we laughed louder. we had not seen each other in eight years. 

but, my friendships are like that. i don’t talk or see anyone every day or even every month, and yet, my love for them runs so strong. so strong that i will travel from portland to el bolson to see them get married.

cathy lives on a beautiful property in a one room natural materials home with her kids and her new hubby. they are building a new huge home next door. so far, the framing and walls are up. we strung up a tepee/tent in one of the rooms and set up our home for the next few days. cheap sleeping pads on a dusty wooden floor and lots of wool blankets. 

and then, we prepped. i didn’t really know what i would be walking into, but my event planning skills immediately came in handy. although it was a very small laidback wedding, there was still a lot to do. and in true argentine fashion, everything seemed to be going wrong…

her custom wedding dress ended up not being done and the seamstress stopped responding to messages/calls. the goat they had reserved for an asada had been sold to someone else. but, nothing stopped our dream team. we transformed the woods into a magical fairy wonderland complete with endless lupines and glitter galore.

it was perfect. a summer solstice celebration with lamb asada, smores, and lots of love.

and so was the rest of the week…

we spent the next day (my birthday) hanging out by the rio azul. lounging in hammocks and getting up the courage to jump into the ice cold water. 

we spent the next day rafting down the rio azul. ryan got to be cool and kayak. he had a childish grin on his face the whole time. even when he was practicing rolling in the ice cold water… (that man hates cold water.)

late nights. endless conversation. wild adventures. everything i would expect from a visit to cathy. love that lady and her family. three children who over the years have become beautiful adults.

and then, before we knew it, it was time to head a bit further south. we packed up once more and boarded a bus to gobernador costa, a tiny town five hours south. ryan’s good friend lucas and his girlfriend sinja were going to meet us there. in the middle of nowhere. in southern argentina. 

i love our life.

twenty-four hours in rio.

six months later…
i am posting a blog i wrote back in december about our quick trip to rio…

i don’t know which city is supposed to be more dangerous, but as we stepped off of the bus in rio de janeiro at night, it was a bit sketchier feeling than sao paulo. of course, all bus stations and airports are always on the outskirts of town, so you always arrive to a new city in an area totally unrepresentative of the actual city. what if chicago was just what surrounded o’hare?

we paid fifty cents to use the bus station bathroom then tried to follow uber’s instructions to the pickup location. our uber driver was so sweet. he tried to message me in portuguese to move to an easier pickup location. i responded that i didn’t speak portuguese, and he told me to sit tight. we waited for ten minutes anxiously staring at the moving car on my phone’s uber app. and then, we connected.

it was late. the bus was late. we sat in standstill traffic for two hours entering rio on the bus. i had hoped to get to the hostel before dark, but oh well.

we drove in the dark, intensely aware of every time the uber driver pressed the lock button repeatedly in certain areas. he pointed out landmarks in the dark, and we haphazardly tried to communicate in spanish/english/portuguese. he could not believe that we were only in rio for one day.

24 hours.

our hostel, pura vida, was at the foot of a favela, a brazilian shanty town. our uber driver was very unsure of the location. we entered from a side street and got a full night tour of the favela action. he warned us to be careful.

we found the hostel entrance and hiked up several flights of stairs. a cute space transformed into your typical backpacker mecca. an outdoor bar, several flyers for upcoming parties, and a girl vomiting at 4am in the room above us. it was simple but perfect for our one night.

after dropping off our bags, we set out for dinner. it was 9pm, and we were starving. we wandered a block away from our hostel and instantly the neighborhood went from favela to copacabana. we found our way into one of the best things about brazil… all you can eat buffets where you pay by the kilo. i usually lose when it comes to buffets because my belly can never actually tolerate more than one plate. but, by the kilo? yes please. maybe this is where whole foods got the idea from… 

after dinner, we walked another block down to the main beach drag of copacabana. it was 11pm on a monday, but the sidewalks were full. full of tourists, bars, vendors, crafts, sandcastles, strangers, and that rio energy that you hear so much about. the night was just beginning. people were still hanging out on the beach, which was completely lit with irritatingly bright flood lights. 

with “at the copa, copacabana” playing on repeat in my head, i embraced the moment and ordered a classic brazilian caipirinha, so full of sugar, you could not even taste the strong alcohol. after only a few sips, i could see how they could be dangerous. (must have been what happened to the poor drunk girl above our room.)

with only one day to take in the city, we headed back to our hostel to get some sleep…

there is always something magical about arriving to a new place in the dark. when you wake up the next day, it is like being in a time machine. you’ve been transported to this new place and have no idea how you got there. nothing looks familiar. 

copacabana is just as busy during the day. the iconic sidewalks holding the footprints of millions of visitors. “her name was lola. she was a dancer.” 

we strolled along the beach and over to ipanema, a close by beach with cleaner water and a more chill vibe (plus an epic mountain backdrop). we found a small corner cafe and indulged in some croissants and cafes con leche. ipanema is adorable. full of shops and trendy restaurants. a great way to start the day.

after breakfast, we walked around the lake until the sun was burning my skin. a beautiful little lake in the middle of the city, just a few blocks from the beach. it was slightly odd (since the ocean was so close) and didn’t look very used, but it was well maintained with a great walking path surrounding it as well as several little restaurants. 

and then, onto the main attraction…

we popped into an uber and headed up to christ the redeemer. sure, it’s touristy, but the view is worth it. and, the statue is a phenomenal feat. wow. rio is absolutely stunning.

mountains, rivers, lakes, ocean, skyscrapers, all intertwined. it is a city with history and character and beauty. it is real, authentic, full of life.

if you’re ever in rio, take the train up to the top. snap your selfie with jesus and soak in the view.

with the hours dwindling, we ubered across town to lapa, the party district, just to walk around (and see the arches of course). we hiked all the way up the famous stairs to santa teresa, a cute artsy neighborhood up in the hills.

it was beautiful from up there. quiet and quaint. cafes and shops hiding in every doorway. 

you can take a san francisco-esque trolley up and down, but since we were running short on time, we hopped in another uber and headed back to copacabana for some dinner before our series of flights to argentina. 

a grilled spread of meats, french fries, and a couple of beers overlooking the beach. sometimes it’s simply sitting that gives you the best perspective of your travels. people watching and enjoying your surroundings. 

we’ll be back to rio someday. there is so much rock climbing right in the city. so much left to see. 

but, for now, our 24 hours in rio had come to an end. we grabbed our suitcase from the hostel and sat in two hours of traffic to get to the airport. and then, a ridiculous lineup of flights to get to our next destination: rio de janeiro > sao paulo > santiago > buenos aires > bariloche and then a bus to el bolson.

the things we do to save a little money…

now, onto a friend’s wedding in one of my favorite places on earth.

two days in ubatuba.

back on a bus. ubatuba to rio de janeiro this time. it is windy through the hills, and i think my ability to stare at my computer in vehicles without getting queasy is starting to wear off as i get older. but, i’ll push through…

we arrived in ubatuba after a “three hour” bus ride (which actually took five) from sao paulo. two nights in an airbnb by praia grande, the most popular beach on a long stretch of beautiful coastline.

our airbnb host had been very helpful (and slightly overboard) leading up to our arrival, providing endless details, travel advice, and constant communication. however, due to that, we were able to jump off the bus at the exact right stop and walk 50 yards to her home.

the apartment was straight out of the 50s and definitely could have been lived in by the same woman since way back then. it had that old smell and questionable charm. the gas stove had some dodgy piping, but the view was unbeatable for $50/night. beach in front, jungle in back.

after dropping our suitcases off in our temporary home, we quickly changed into our swimsuits and settled into some serious relaxation. and by that, i of course mean burgers and beers by the beach. now, we might have preferred something else to eat, but it was pretty easy to pick those two items on the portuguese menu and since we were starving from our delayed bus ride, we went with easy.

praia grande was crowded. it was the weekend, but it also turns out that i accidentally picked the high season to visit. lots of local tourists flock to ubatuba in decemeber and january, when the temperatures are hot and the rains are rare.

we walked the long white sand beach soaking in the scenery. kids playing soccer and volleyball. groups of friends drinking too much and causing a commotion. couples holding hands and kissing in the waves. vendors selling drinks and snacks and ice cream and clothes.

as the sun started to set, we wandered back across the street to our apartment, where ryan proceeded to immediately fall asleep. a few beers and a little sunshine always manage to steal your energy. i thought he’d wake up in time for dinner again, but he just kept on sleeping. i guess he still needed to catch up on some zzzz…

as he slumbered, i strolled down to the local shop and picked up some pasta for dinner. i ate some food, did some work, and retired early. music blaring over loud speakers occasionally streamed in through our open windows reminding us of the party we were missing outside.

the next morning, i unexpectedly woke up just in time to catch the sun rising over the ocean. day two in ubatuba…

we boarded a city bus into the center of town, about a 20 minute bus ride that costs $1/person. ubatuba proper is a cute, decent sized town. there are plenty of stores and restaurants to explore. lots of places to sample brazil’s delicious “pastel,” a pastry filled with whatever you want basically. 

we walked through town and ended up back on the coast. the beach on the edge of the city center is pretty barren. there are no vendors, no umbrellas, no bikinis. but, there are something like 100 beaches along this stretch of brazil’s coastline, so we continued walking the coast exploring as many beaches as we could. 

after enjoying one other beach, we headed back out to the main highway and called an uber to transport us out to the infamous itamambuca beach, known by many surfers. about seven miles down the road.

itamambuca is beautiful. it reminded me of nosara, costa rica. dirt roads lined with elegant homes and understated beach shacks, all leading to the beach. small snack shops and surf stands ready to help visitors enjoy the ocean to the fullest. 

the ocean meets up with the itamambuca river here. the fresh water combines with the salty sea. it was less chaotic than the other beaches near town. there were still beach bars and vendors, but there were way less people. however, the water was much dirtier. perhaps the river’s fault?

we set up shop at a table on the beach, and with our toes in the hot sand and a “stupidly cold” (brazilian saying) beer in our hand, we watched the waves roll in and out.

unfortunately, the waves were not quite up to my aussie surfer’s standards. although the beach is known to have some good breaks, the waves were not cooperating for us this trip. but that’s how it goes when you only have a day or two. not enough time to patiently await the swell. oh well. we’ll have plenty of time to surf in australia next month. 

after we were sufficiently sunned, we shuffled back to the main highway on the dirt roads surrounded by jungle greenery. the bus took an hour to come by. but we waited. because we had nowhere else to be. nothing else to do. no plans. 

when the bus pulled back through the city center, we jumped off and walked the opposite direction along the coast. back towards praia grande via itagua, a hip little neighborhood full of restaurants and bars. 

and then we saw this…

yes, that is someone bungee jumping from a crane. and hang gliding from a crane. and free falling into a net from a crane. 

this was just randomly set up on the side of the street. there was not a fair or anything else going on around it. just long lines to defy death one more day. only in brazil i suppose? we were totally game to try one of them, but our desire not to wait in line won instead.

for dinner, we found a cute little health food restaurant, banana brazil. a welcomed break from the fried pastries and cheese filled everything that we’d been snacking on. so far, beyond the meat, brazil has not necessarily offered us any oh-my-gosh-that-was-fucking-delicious moments.

i remember experiencing this when i lived in argentina. sure, you can find a great meal here and there, but in general, the palette is a bit bland for my tastebuds (surprising i know, with all the white foods i tend to eat). it just doesn’t excite my tongue like japanese or italian or thai or indian or mexican… to each their own though. 

and then, you’ll never guess what we did… we went to sleep. clearly, we both really needed some vacation time…

and today, we travel. 

7am wake up and pack up
8am city bus to the major ubatuba bus terminal
8:30am walk a couple blocks with luggage because we got off a stop early
8:45am make ryan go get cash from an atm to buy bus tickets (sao paulo only took cash)
8:58am hope the bus we want is not sold out
9am ticket office opens, and it turns out they take credit (oops…)
9:30am drink coffee and eat deep fried something
11am bus scheduled to depart for rio de janeiro
11:45am extreme bus stop boredom sets in
12:15pm bus actually departs for rio de janeiro
5pm now, still on the road to rio 

here’s to our final two days in brazil!

p.s. sorry this post is boring. we needed a few days of boring.

one day in sao paulo.

the only way for me to capture an experience on paper is if i write it down immediately. many of my travels disappear into memories before the details make their way into words. a few photos get posted here and there to help jog my memory years later. 

but, it is the trips that include lots of bus time, flight time, and alone time that end up being best documented. this trip is one of those trips. first up? brazil!

we are on a bus heading from sao paulo to ubatuba. just reaching the peak of the serra do mar and heading down the hills to the beach. our quick trip to brazil is something of a city sandwich: sao paulo and rio de janeiro with some relaxing beach and surf time in ubatuba in between. 

after a five hour flight to atlanta and a nine hour redeye to sao paulo, ryan and i arrived in brazil absolutely exhausted. (the late night celebration in san francisco prior to our initial flight might have been part of the problem… thanks viv, ruth, and andrew…) we quickly skipped through customs and threw our one overstuffed suitcase into an uber. yep, an uber. ordered straight from the app with ease. ¡vamos a jardins village hostel por favor! 

oh wait, they don’t speak spanish in this south american country?! shit. 

i haven’t visited a country without a native speaker or being able to speak the language in a little while. it is sort of fun to be forced to learn some portuguese and create my own bastardized version of spanish, english, and random google translated portuguese words. turns out i can understand enough key words to get by. and the google translate app is like cheating really… with the photo hover translate feature?! i can’t wait to tell our children about the days when traveling to a foreign country was WAY harder.

we are in brazil for five days. we haven’t traveled like this in awhile either. quick stops in multiple places to see as much as we can before going onto the next country. we have had the privilege and luxury of spending weeks or even months in most of our travel destinations. time to shift the mindset. we’ll never see it all, just sample and take notes for next time.

and so, we spent our first 24 hours in brazil, walking around as much of sao paulo as possible. my feet have blisters and my shoulders are sunburnt, but my belly is full and my heart is too. 

sao paulo has a population of 12.11 million people. it is the most populous city in the southern and western hemispheres. it is the 11th most populous city on earth. 

and yet, it felt manageable.

of course, we didn’t have time to visit everywhere, but the neighborhoods we visited were clean, easy to navigate, and full of cheerful paulistanos (sao paulo locals). 

our hostel was in an area known as jardins, down a cute little alley.

it was a couple blocks off avenida paulista, one of the main bustling city streets crowded with men in suits, street vendors, and an endless variety of people. 

that was one of the main things we noticed right away. it is impossible to typify a brazilian. every time i thought i’d hear english or german or japanese come out of someone’s mouth, it was portuguese. every time i thought, “that person is for sure a tourist,” they’d prove me wrong. brazil should maybe steal the american title of “melting pot.”

and everyone is lovely. from the uber driver trying to point out attractions to us in broken spanish…
to the shaved head barista teaching us about the history behind the delicious “bread of cheese”…
to the old man helping us find a misplaced credit card at the empanada bar…
to the woman at the phone store directing me to a place where i could find an outlet converter…
to the waiter at the brazilian steakhouse explaining how to take advantage of all the tableside-carved meat.

every confusion caused by our lack of portuguese came along with a loving smile and a joyful willingness to help. 

we walked from our hostel in jardins all the way to vila madalena, an artsy district full of hip shops, galleries, and cafes. it was further of a walk than we expected, but it was a great way to take in our new surroundings. 

we toured beca de batman, an alley filled with amazing street art. all of sao paulo is covered in street art and graffiti. buildings, sidwalks, walls, cars, there is art everywhere. but, this specific alley is a famous spot to see a lot at once. 

after this, the effects of our redeye started to set in. we were both exhausted. like, barely keep our eyes open exhausted. we stopped to fill our bellies with empanadas and hoped it would give us a little energy boost. 

it didn’t. so instead of walking an hour to our next destination, we called up an uber. $4 for a 30 minute drive? yes please. ryan instantly fell asleep as we battled traffic to the central part of sao paulo or the old historic downtown. 

the calm, artsy vibe of vila madalena and the poshness of jardins disappeared. we were now back in what felt like a city. people everywhere. smells everywhere. an underground system of rails below us. the blazing afternoon sun above us. we let ourselves get lost. walking the streets taking in as much as we could.

throughout our travels to major cities, we inadvertently have started a tradition of going up to get a bird’s eye view of the city from its tallest building. usually it is overpriced and overcrowded, but it is always worth it. a chance for perspective. a chance for orientation. a chance for awe. 

the edificio italia has a 360 degree viewing terrace from their 42nd floor. it cost R30 (about $7.50 USD) and included a free glass of wine. a real steal compared to the $30-60 you usually spend getting to the top in places like hong kong, seattle, tokyo, chicago, etc.

sao paulo sprawls forever. in every direction. there is no one main clump of skyscrapers. it is a sea of skyscrapers. 

with my shoulders getting progressively more red and our lack of sleep getting progressively more impossible to ignore, we decided it was time for a little siesta. after realizing we were in an uber pickup hell (three drivers couldn’t find us and canceled even after we tried moving), we jumped into a taxi and fiercely fought our heavy eyelids. 

sure, we only had 24 hours to take in as much of the city as possible, but enjoying an afternoon siesta is definitely a classic way to experience south america. 

we passed out hard but woke up just in time for dinner. what kind of food did we want to eat? meat, of course! 

when in brazil, a churrascaria it is pretty much a must-do. an endless delicious variety of meats on a skewer brought to your table and hand carved onto your plate.

the restaurant we chose came complete with a beautiful buffet of sides as well (and the above photo on their website). not to mention a tasty flan for dessert. 

after we literally could not eat another bite without spewing, we strolled home in complete satisfaction. it was only 9:30pm, but we had to catch a bus early in the morning, so we settled in and drifted back to sleep. 

i know, we must be getting old… in a country known for its celebrations and not going out until the sun comes up… 

we’ll have to see what rio has in store. 🙂