India – Check out Ahmad dancing in the last video!

We were only together for three weeks but I loved that first group of 18 kids to the point of tearing up the last few nights before they left. I’d go so far as to say that they even made me start to question my preference about not having kids. It probably helped that I seemed to bond with those who would have been the troublemakers, the boys and those who had a more challenging time. Also, I’m sure, because they saw Chris and Jessica as such monsters which made it a lot easier to run to me.
The boy I bonded with the most was a jock who openly admitted to, and even bragged about, not being interested in most people unless he was manipulating them to get something he wanted. Finding it especially curious considering what a strong interest he seemed to have taken in hanging with and confiding in me about what was going on out of eyesight with the other kids, I asked him what he wanted from me. Puzzled for a minute his eventual response was “I don’t know…knowledge?”
Me. The wild and eccentric one who was used to the people in my life all to often telling me that who I was was wrong and that I needed to be different. He really did see me as a mentor. Those kids looked up to me. The adults (minus Chris and Jessica) even seemed to. I was used to living a type of life common to those with similar personalities where my free spirit and way of going about things was frowned upon as irresponsible, unrealistic and needing to change. Those things along with the way I loved were what made these kids and other adults think To them I, what I was doing and what I was all about was amazing. I had waited my entire life for a moment like that.
The young lady I was most proud of in the program was a 15 years old slightly awkward, shy, nervous and anti-social gal who had never been to a foreign country and yet had chosen to go to India for three weeks. Even though proud and impressed, I wasn’t at at all surprised when she started struggling with wanting to go home within the first day or two. During one of our first “working” days with the local kids the two of us stayed back when the rest of our group headed out to those placements and I took her to a place I liked called McLlo Restaurant for lunch. I was determined to remember, relate, look at it through her shoes and be as patient and compassionate as I could (“examples of basic psychological needs are: Belonging, Freedom, Respect and Fun”. As those efforts slowly seemed to make an impact, even if only giving a nudge toward her to find her own way, it felt amazing being able to get through to this smart young lady who so obviously didn’t let people in easily. It also came with an even bigger wow moment when I received a message from headquarters after they relayed a message from her parents that I had probably saved her from leaving. *tear*
There were so many kids I was in awe of. One of the young ladies, absolutely beautiful on the inside and out, hadn’t let her diabetes or having almost died from a mystery health scare within the previous year stop her. Another little lass came from a family of severe situations and mental health challenges that was shocking enough to cause me to struggle to hide a surprised and concerned expression when she confided about it to me and a few of the girls. One of our boys had Aspergers, which caused even more challenging situations for him as it wasn’t disclosed to the other kids. One of the other boys, a sweetheart of a young man, took him under his wing. I’ve never seen such a kind and strong care-giving personality in a fella so young.

All of those kids were so amazingly special and I love, love, loved them within days. Being able to see more of them, both through their records and what they confided in me, gave me a real-life example of how much we really aren’t alone in our struggles and pain. Also how much we really do need each other. One example being how many of the kids had recent suicide attempts. I don’t know if the program had somehow been marketed in a way that made parents think it could be utilized as a therapy program but I definitely found myself surrounded with kids who had much more immediate needs than I (or the company) had been made aware of.
The kids weren’t the only ones who filled my heart. Our local team (which included two twenty year old young men named Ahmad and Lalit) was amazing. Ahmad was an attractive Seek man with beautiful eyes and a shy disposition, though boy could he dance. Lalit was also attractive though had an opposite disposition in that he was outgoing, charismatic and funny. While young, he was already a natural leader and was sharp to pick up a bit on potential problems with the crushes the girls were developing. Ahmad had been more naive to it which sadly lead to his not working with the next group. A casualty of war, I suspect, because of all the hot water the company ended up in thanks to Chris and Jessica. Both boys, though especially Lit (his nickname), were all smiles and added to my own on the daily. Lit was also one hell of a support when the rest of the team came in short. I still smile when thinking of his calling me by the nickname he loved for me: Robbo Robbo.
Another fun aspect was the King of Kangra and his royal family who we were staying with at his home and property. Something I learned had become common was for royal families to use their properties as hotels. He was a jovial old man who loved drinks, women and socializing. Something proven by the servants that were sent on a constant basis to summon us for drinks, often causing me amused frustration as it was done around the kids when we were leading activities. So yeah, I was hangin for cocktail hour (after the kids went to bed) with a king on a normal normal basis. Oh yeah – and he loved my rhinestone cat ears as well as calling me kitty-cat since the first time we met when I had been wearing them.
His close friend Alexandra, a fiery expat from the Netherlands, was often there and we also developed a friendship. I think the strong smell of the Raat Ki Rani flowers that filled the air with the fireflies at night will always remind me of her. Also the impact of her knowing smile and comments about how I had the body of a mother along with comments of “yes you are, look at you!” when I claimed to not be a kid person. Those kind of constant remarks from her had an influence on my next step toward becoming an overseas ESL teacher. I can still hear the way she pronounced the name of those flowers.


Chris, and on a lesser note Jessica, had reasoned that it was better for me to stay behind to make and hang banners along with other menial BS while they went to pick up the kids in New Delhi. It was great to have a break from them but also meant missing out on part of the program and getting around to a little more of India than just (the amazing town of) Dharmashala. A little bummed but more relieved for the coveted peace I got during that time, what was even better was having the king’s youngest fur-baby Teddy all to myself. It was then that I made the executive decision that he with his cute overbite was to be our new mascot. All of the king’s Jack Russell’s reminded me of my Layla. Something I was both thankful and saddened by. Oh how I missed her…
It was the middle of the night when they all arrived at Clouds End Villa. Excited and proudly standing there in my EEK! staff shirt, they were too tired to notice me or anything else for that matter. I wasn’t though. Chris walked up those three flights of long stairs of flattened-boulders wearing the hat that he had taken advantage of his position to grab from the swag provided for what I had been under the impression was to be given to the local staff. He had done it right in front of Jessica and I without any shame or asking if we wanted one. Lame but not a big deal if it was a one-off but it was a behavior that had already started to show it’s ugly face as the norm. Flashback to my days in the subprime mortgage industry when my lover-turned-boss had, right in front of me, taken the laptop bag our corporate office had sent me as a reward for the kick-ass job I had been doing. Great leadership skills, huh?
Throughout, and even more so after my experience in India, I remember thinking about how in my twenties everything had seemed to meld together into one big experience. The idea of compartmentalizing was so foreign that I had no idea where to even begin trying. Funny how age and experience take us 180 around so many things, my experience in India being an extreme version of one of them. I knew from the moment Anna told me about EEK! that it was something that could provide the kind of experience that I had been looking for since I had started volunteering in my younger twenties. Even with the hardships the experience did prove to be true. In no small part, I’m sure, because I was too inexperienced to get frustrated and/or pissed at times when others would have. The situations instead just felt strange. When they did feel wrong I often found myself thinking that there must be components I was unaware of or that I was at the bottom of the totem poll and it wasn’t my place to take too much initiative by stepping on toes fix them.
Chris, Jessica and the other not great stuff that presented itself couldn’t hold a candle to how much the good stuff brought to my heart and soul. Dharmashala for sure, I’d love to go back there on a spiritual quest, but being a part of those most foundational years of the kid’s lives was something that has been one the most meaningful experiences I’ve ever had. Well, next to Burning Man. Naturally. )'(
One of the things that did manage to bother me pretty quickly was how the terrible two, especially Chris once again, would pull answers to questions the kids would ask out of their asses. None of us had more than the couple weeks experience in that town. I believed doing so to be irresponsible, arrogant and dangerous. It also triggered my agitated memory of the training Chris and I had been at back in the US where he had told me that there wouldn’t be mosquitoes when I was contemplating if it would be OK to skip my second $300+ Japanese Encephalitis shot. Well there definitely was and I got bit a bunch.
The first day to be way too intense. Poor kids…and poor me. Our local team grew up there and were right on par with billy goats getting around on that mountain terrain. They never looked back to see how the group was doing with keeping up as we made our way around the entire town stopping at the placements where we were going to be working with local kids. Everything was “five minutes” and when asked about difficulty level it was all easy no matter how excessively off the response. Great guys whose friendship I was thankful for but they hadn’t been anywhere to know any better and it was a problem. Personally it wasn’t great for my vertigo, knees or physical ability though I was at least happy to find out a few days later that my struggles and the short breaks to catch my breath that came with had helped those kids having a hard time with the terrain but too embarrassed to say anything. A painful reminder of how humiliating everything seemed to be as a teenager and what hell that age was. The five-millionth reason I’m relieved those years are over and cringe at the idea of reliving them.
Adding to the fun of the trek that actually did make it a great intro to the program was a scavenger hunt where we were to munch on some of the only good food I was to eat while there (Tibetan vegetarian momos = yum) thanks to only one day (but not night) off and there being way too many kiddos under my watch for me to be able to get away with sneaking off for an hour or two. In addition to the placements and scavenger hunt, we also made it to the local and harder to take Kotwali Bazar with all it’s trash, honking horns and hot pavement. Understanding why it would be too much for our kids on that first day, I was confused why the local staff would take us there, especially on that first day, until realizing too late that it had been when the kids were to buy local clothes and take them to a tailor. As was to become the norm with the actions of our local guys as well as Chris and Jessica, I took on a feeling of responsibility though I was proud of the laughs and lessons we turned it into about learning to go with the flow. An important must of travel. Still, having that traditional clothing made was to be such a big and fun part of their experience and it upset me that most of our kids ended up missing out on it. However, what they did get was to see the Dalai Lama and his entourage driving by. I missed it due to hitting my limit and taken a taxi back home just minutes before though I did get to live vicarionsly. Especially through one of the more serious girls who was so excited about his making eye contact and waving directly to her that she came back manically rambling about what had happened before even managing to sit down. Super cute but hard to follow as I was feeling pretty woozy from pushing myself too far past the limit of my physical abilities thanks to the local team’s “easy five minutes” and Chris believing that the well-being of the staff wasn’t his problem (as he told me many times). I was so out of it, in fact, that my head was bobbing as I tried to stay coherent during a Hindi lesson put on by our local guy (who was supposed to be running the local side under Raja but rarely there), Kapil, and had to sneak out to go lay down. I hadn’t thought it necessary to tell Chris since I wasn’t a part of the lesson and had been sitting in the back of the room (he was sitting in the middle of the group) and was too dazed to think about texting him. All things considered, it had seemed less disruptive to sneak out. That was until he showed up to my door so angry that he was shaking. Queue flashbacks of my violent PTSD marine vet brother. Take orders, get violent, don’t ask questions. Peas in a pod.
Back to compartmentalizing and the little things of that fascinating place I was so so happy to be experiencing. No matter how many countries I’ve been to it’s still seems so easy to forget what an impact the little things have. Bugs weren’t scared like in the US and would fly right into our heads, often going straight for the eyes. Locals didn’t turn off their cars when getting petrol, spiders were hand-sized, seat belts were discouraged as a nuisance and metal straws were used in the Illiterati coffee shop we frequented. Reality checks were everywhere. The straws being one of good vibes regarding how we can make an effort to help our environment Rougher ones included the garbage that had been tossed down the beautiful hills and how it sparked thoughts of how, just because we were spoiled by having it taken away by others in our countries, it didn’t stop the reality of landfills. Also how lucky we were to be born in places that were so much more clean and sanitary.While a less than appealing culture in regard to so many ways women were treated, the dazzling smiles of the men and beauty of how affectionate they were to each other put a light on how hard men in the American culture have it in regard to expressing their emotions. We were all both excited and sadden by the street dogs, though I found it interesting to see the difference in perspective between the kids and I as those dogs were in much better shape than what I had seen in other places. Something I was to find out during an outing (that I put a lot of work into making happen) was due to people like my kind of hero: Deb at the Dharamsala Animal Rescue.
Taking it back to Chris and Jessica as it will over the next post or two, yes, there were an over-all horrible experience, but I think it important not to bust out the pitch-forks just yet and to mention that we did manage to have some nice moments before everything turned to shit. When originally finding my way through the New Delhi airport, Chris and I had been texting back and forth with jokes about the bidet guns that I call butt blasters and love so much. His response had been to call them bum guns, ass splashers and pooper pistols. Another little moment I remember fondly was when Jessica, myself and our cook cracked up after staring at each other in confusion when he brought ketchup for French toast instead of the syrup we had asked for. Yeah, it had been super rocky, but have managed to do OK reminding myself that we’re all both heroes and villains depending on when we’re caught. I’m sure I have plenty to own up to that they could point out. Three sides to every story and such. Anyway, I never did luck out in finding much of the hero within either of them, and it was about to get a whole lot uglier, but I did manage to let my love of the kids and the place win. The storm then, though, was-a-brewin and wouldn’t totally hit until after Jessica got out of the hospital due to a bad stomach bug that was to take hold a couple days later. Just you wait…

Entering India

It was finally time to put all that studying for the organization I was about to start working for into action (we’ll call the company EEK! for the Experience & Education the Kids would be getting) though in reality I wouldn’t end up using most of it as the job seemed to require more instinct and experience than book knowledge once there. Either way, it was once again time to hit the road. This time I was to fly out of LAX which meant either a 2 1/2 road road trip or 4 hours of Lyft trips and a train for around $80 all-told. As luck would have it, my mama was due for an overnight visit to check on my grandma’s secret garden in Glendale (an area of Los Angeles) with it’s vibrant red, pink and yellow flowers that smelled of spring and lots of different shades of green plant life to show just how much it had been loved over the years. A visit that provided an opportunity for the cheaper option as well as a warm overnight goodbye and reminder of the roots from which I came.
Hitting the airport after our mamma-daughter breakfast the next day, I grumbled as I made my way toward the China Eastern Airlines counter. Less than two years before I had sworn I would never fly that airline or through China again, though I had already known amidst that internal temper-tantrum (I get it from my daddy) even back then that my budget may prove otherwise.
Pleasantly surprised once in route, the two flights and one long layover didn’t end up being as bad as I had feared. I didn’t know it then but the rough stuff was apparently being saved up for the ride back a couple months later.
Arriving in New Delhi a couple of days later exhausted, disoriented and jet-lagged, there was one more puddle-jumper to Kangra that I would be taking with the other mentor I was about to start working with. Recalling my mention from the last post about already seeing flags regarding the director I was to be working with, I instantly saw the beginning of her own set the moment I walked up. An American expat living in Mexico, she seemed a little off: manic, immature and drunk. All of which I hoped was due to the large amount of travel we had been doing, lack of sleep and her having been drinking for hours, I was guessed, based on the copious amount of wine radiating from her pores that and that almost double knocked me out every time she opened her mouth. I like having drinks just as much as the next gal but I don’t think I’d ever want to show up drunk and smelling like booze when meeting a new colleague. Especially when we were going to be taking care of a bunch of teenagers in India together. Just saying.
Trying to make light of the warning signs and, in the spirit of bonding, we stopped to grab some Indian whiskey along the beautifully expansive and cloud-filled (though carsick-triggering) mountain views on the tiny Himalayan road that was taking us via a taxi that had been sent to pick us up. Clouds End Villa, our home for the next six weeks and a highlight of my time there (minus the always moldy everything), was a royal estate-turned-hotel. Something we were to find out out had become a normal source of income among royal properties in India.
I originally thought our boozy purchase would be used for an initial celebration only (I already sure knew we all liked to drink) but would soon regret it as Chris (no last names), our local director, and Jessica were to drink all day every day, pressuribg me to do so as well, while we were in “training” with his excuse being that we needed to get it out of our systems before the kids got there. A flimsy validation that I knew was a load of BS and made me worry about the potential problems in relation to how it was going to affect the program. Dun, dun, dun…

Besides alcohol seeming to fuel Jessica’s tendency to lecture me, it turned out to be the least of my problems during that first week as they both (especially Chris) cut off and shut down just about everything I tried to contribute. Making it even more miserable, they would expect me to participate in random breaks for stupid shit like watching unrelated YouTube videos that I didn’t find funny, held all training in Jessica and my shared room (though she had taken to sleeping with Chris by the second night) while Jess chain-smoked (I admit to participating when boozing) and both had a tendency to peacock about how much they had done, seen and how great they were. In reaction, I tried to stay humble and supportive (in opposition to my occasionaly defensive posturing when being shut down), but they took it as agitating weakness and an insecurity (their favorite word to throw at me) of mine that triggered them to act even nastier to me.
Fueling to it further was my habit to second-guess myself. A behavior based on that failed attempt to stay humble and open-minded due to lack of experience. While they did try at first, Chris longer than Jess, the seeds of contempt, disrespect and bullying had been starting to grow since day one and were to eventually consume them to the point of being one of the reasons they were sent packing a few weeks later. Thank God I grew up learning how to cope with bullying and had learned to find the strength to get through it.
The first group of kids hadn’t even gotten there and I was already questioning if I had been all wrong about the company, my fit within and if I was failing before I began. Still, the enchantment of Darmasala, that small pradesh in the clouds that was literally built into the side of a mountain, and what I would be doing with our teens brought enough magic to keep my hope alive. Even though it’s hills and stairs were already kicking my bad knees and out-of-shape ass.
Chris couldn’t have given two shits about my well-being when pushing us to walk our way around the entire town to check out the things we would be doing. When I protested in part because of the above problems, he went so far as to make defensive comments about how it wasn’t his responsibility and insisted that I had to pay for any taxis that I ended up taking when I couldn’t handle any more.
It just didn’t match up. How could I be so upside-down about what EEK! was all about and how they ran things? Or maybe it was just these two. The jury was out and I wasn’t anywhere near ready to close the case.
Walking around town on that trial run to the spots where we were going to place our teens was a lot of fun regardless of how much those hills and stairs sent me spinning. The balwadis (Indian daycares), some that were little more than deteriorating closet-sized shacks by American standards, excited my imagination with thoughts of how our kids would be impacted by teaching and playing with the local littles while also beautifying which locations they could. The structures provided one of a kind reality checks that can only be experienced through being there, regardless of how many times hearing about it, and I was finally doing just that. Us Westerners expect as much from India but even pictures still don’t stop that initial shock, regardless of how much we know it’s coming. In contrast to dilapidation and financial poverty being the first details to make an impact (and remembering that not to be anywhere near all that makes the culture what it is), beauty in ways such as when we walked through the tea gardens is what stuck out and proved how resplendent the peace and grace of nature can be, even in the form of farming. Also the Norbulingka Institute, which gave us our first real touch into the magnificense of the Tibetan culture both literally and figuratively. Within its alluring buildings visitors can watch Tibetans hand-craft art pieces, paint and more. It was not only an experience that made me appreciate the handcrafting of art to a level I hadn’t in the past but also to form a deeper respect of the culture within. That particular institute was making a conscious effort to keep Tibetan tradition, cultures and family values alive while also supporting education and employment; something not particularly easy for refugees. Venturing on, we might not have known it then, but hitting McLeod Ganj market was to give us the grand finale of our scouting when presenting what was to be the kid’s favorite spot to hang as well as where I would find some reprieve from the mostly disgusting and repetitive food the program was to provide (thanks to be what is speculated to be some of the funds aloted for better quality being pocketed by the local lead mentioned below) when chowing down on pizza and enjoying time to write on my one (until dinner) day off.
Labooze was a restaurant that turned into a loud and obnoxious club (not my thing) full of strobe lights in the evening with the odd twist of babies and families getting down who had stayed after that transition. It was where we met with the man, Raja, who was the head of the team we partnered with. An odd place to match the odd experience of him resentfully telling us how he was over working with EEK! and was stepping out after our program ended. Another thing that added to the flags piling up that I had lost track of.
There was so much wonderful with the place, connections and kids to come but if I had only known the full extent of the challenges those first few not so great experiences were foreshadowing, maybe I still would have ran like the roadrunner. Maybe but I’m not a quitter so maybe not. Either way, thank God I didn’t. At least for the kid’s sake…

Living Like a Traveler at Home – Mucho Video & Picture Edition

Finally home and falling right back into the category of “no rest for the wicked” , I flew into San Francisco and went straight back to putting in a couple hours behind the wheel Lyfting on my way to the casa of Aaron and Brigit, my burner pals, (and a second home of sorts for me) in the Santa Cruz Mountains. San Diego would have to wait, though the excitment of finally being able to check out the idea I’d had for years of flying back and forth every week or two did help to fight off too much homesickness. A new goal achieved that almost instantly proved too exhausting and expensive to keep up with once at it.

Between driving for rideshare and studying for the work I was to do with teens in India over the summer, I didn’t have much free time. Even so, Brigit, Aaron and I managed to find some fun to get into during the small windows I managed to carve out while there. Pedicures, our coveted hottub coctail hour of skinny-dipping under the stars, St. Patty’s Day, a dinner party, my favorite Felton log cabbin bar and Pedelyte to help recover from it all.

Once back in San Diego, I was excited to move into the new place I had found for (what ended up only being) the next month at home in OB. A spot that would end up costing me $450 more than I had budgeted, half-week’s pay (ouch), but worth it in order to avoid the confusion of figuring out an unstable daily back and forth amount. The roomie was also super flexible and chill which was appreciated. Plus she had doggos for me to love on.

Still forever trying to catch up with my writing, I was back in full school mode while still studying for my new gig. Visiting my favorite cafes along with dog and housesitting helped to get some quiet time for those things but my social and family life, along with catching up with that beach town that I loved so much, still (poor me) consumed an ansorbinant amount of my time.
So did falling in love.
Stephane and I were magic. We both swept each other off our feet to a place that brought old black-and-white romance movies to colorful and vibrant life. Our kind of chemistry put those around us in a whimspical state of euphoria. Minus the subpar sex life (but at least he tried), it was as close to perfect as I’d ever had. He not only admired me, the lifestyle I was leading and my dreams/goals but also supported them. He was also just as busy with his multiple companies, tennis and properties as I was with my stuff, which meant that we didn’t have the constant issues I’d in the past of lovers suffocating me.
So yeah. I went from the person who never falls in love to a level teenage girls dream of.
As mentioned, I was exhausted from the commute back and forth between San Diego and San Francisco within a couple trips. I’d imagine that to be, in large part, because of lack of routine and needing to figure out last minute when it made sense to go. A detail that made travel expenses jump from an expected $200 to double that per tri0. Ouch x 2. To triple it, I found out that I needed $1,000 in vaccines that the company I was to be working for would not cover. At least if I wanted to follow the reccommendations of the main immunization and travel clinic of San Francisco. Something my new regional director, concentually, hinted at me to not get in order to avoid overhead. Direction that still bothers me two months later. I’m 40 years old and don’t know my tits from my ass in regard to diseases in India and which vaccines to get in order to protect myself. Sorry dude but I’m trusting the professionals. Extra cash to buy another sari or two ain’t worth risking my health. And I know you mean well but I resent defending high overhead by reccommending otherwise.

Flying back to the old SDizzle again, I headed directly to my homie Bradley’s boat to hang with him and his girlfriend (who so happens to be one of my favorite gals) Juliette. It was fun watching the rideshare driver be surprised at how close it was (the airport is along the water downtown) and that there was a large sailboat pulling up to get me. Score for putting a smile on a random person’s face. Daily goal met.
Back to the Bay once again (head spinning yet?) where I managed to catch a comedy show by one of my favorite comedians (Kathleen Madigan) in Napa and then SD again, Big Red took me out for a Brothel & Bar history crawl in the Gaslamp quarter. I also got the chance to hang for one of Nikki & Brent’s son’s birthday parties and cheer Nik on for a thriathalon she rocked. Something she was to do a repeat performance of a couple weeks later. Kick-ass crazy woman.

Somewhere in there it was May. The month of my parent’s and sister’s birthdays as well as the anniversary of when I had lost my fur-baby in 2015 and four people the year before. Relieved that the losses (that will probably forever haunt me) didn’t take over the celebration, we had a great time at the pool at Harrah’s Resort & Cassino, starting with just Wendy and I so we could get our grown-up time in (AKA: coctails) and then were joined by our parents and my niece’s a few hours later.
One of my weeks in So Cal was consumed completely by an intensive WAFA (Wilderness and First Aid) certification course. It was the first time I met the man who was to become my local director and he instaintly rubbed me wrong. My instincts had me on alert but I told myself that it may just be because I had an aversion to Marines (he was a vet). Reasoning that, based on past experience, I would be able to be tolerant, compassionate and professional regardless of what was to come, I also tried to tell myself that polar-opposites have different strengths to offer which can create a kick-ass team as a whole.
Another flag was how obvious it was when he talked about the other mentor that he, at the very least, had a big crush from when they had crossed paths the summer before. I wouldn’t have been all that surprised to even find out they had even already danced the horizontal hokie pokie, minus the details that he was physically unattractive and socially awkward by traditional standards.
I hoped for the best and even reached out to give him rides along with going out to an awkward dinner with him and one more colleague for the sake of team building. What could I do? I tried and I tried and I tried but holy shit did it turn out to be worse than I ever expected. Just wait until that blog post of horror comes out…
Things with Stephane and I were ramping up. He and two of his closest friends headed down from Orange County (where they lived) to go with me to Brent’s birthday a week or two before leaving for India. A ton of my closest friends from our twenties and also my family (as far as he knew) were going to be there.Thank God they (my family) pulled out thanks to my mother being uptight about his being separated as opposed to divorced and sister not wanting to go after I got upset about her bringing Sean into my safety circle.
Drinking champagne before heading over, one of Stephane’s friends raved about how good we were together and what a good guy he was. A good time and good vibes that were to continue until a couple hours into the party. Drinks kept flowing, friends were made and the laughter amped up. Somewhere soon after, my world crumbled. As the minds of most women work, at least in my experience, I don’t just shrug and let it go if something seems to have even a little stink of fishiness. Instead, walls stay at least a little up while I bide my time, keeping myself in a “we’ll see” mode.
I had been in that “we’ll see” mode about the details of his separation since first finding out about it. His daughter, being an Olympic-hopeful for volleyball (according to him) and the kind of man he was, I could see how he could still be supporting his supposedly-separated-wife as she played manager to their daughter, but also knew that I was giving significant trust and was taking a big risk.
Stephane, once drunk at the party, said something that put me on alert at a time when I saw the door open to get a more honest answer. So I asked straight out in that moment of seeing an opportunity to finally get the whole story. And he responded.
Yes, he was still married.
Instaintly breaking down in alcohol-fueled tears, I refused to let him say anything more as I demanded he gather his friends and leave. Juliette showed up soon after, unknowing to what had happened, but was the one to sweep me off the floor, even without the details. Most of those people who used to be my closest friends didn’t even check on me as it happened to see if I was OK, let alone send me a text the day after. Another harsh reminder about what happens when not around to nurture relationships. C’est la vie.
Wendy had been through a lot with the type of guys she had dated and surrounded herself with. It had hardened her to men and made her defensive toward any sign of risk. Sister-syndrome likely making it worse, she had been against Stephane and my putting myself out on such a long limb since the beginning. With a question the day after the big reveal that was so obviously leading toward the opposite answer, she asked me if I regretted it. No. I did not. I would risk myself over and over again for something so wonderful. Even if only for a moment and even if not totally real. Sometimes, in a world that can be so cruel, it can be easy to forget that the best and most beautiful things are just as big abd worth it all. The look on her face made me think that maybe I had reminded her of that. And that started the strings of my heart to already start pulling back together again.

My mind has always shut out the most traumatic experiences for a few months before having enough distance to process. It gave me those last couple weeks to hang in OB with loved ones (including the mermaid who was up for a few sweet weeks), hiking in La Jolla, cheering Wendy on with billboards I had made of her face while she ran the Rock and Roll Marathon, dinner at Cafe Sevilla with Big Red that was followed by salsa lessons (in which Mom and Kate joined us later), wine tasting and a very satisfying afternoon of organizing my storage unit. The closest thing I had to a stable and constant space of my own, it gave me a great sense of peace and getting my affairs sorted right before leaving again. Even more, when my heart needed sorting as well.
That was it. Once again, it was time for this free Robin to fly.

Puerto Viejo – The Rest of My Time in Costa Rica

Saying a temporary goodbye to that sweet new litter of kittens in the quaint, royal blue hostel I was unexpectedly to call home over the next couple of weeks, I walked around the small town of vibrant nights and quiet mornings with sweat already dripping from my brow, surprised that so few places were still closed after 8 AM. Life of Pura Vida I suppose.
Finally finding a spot for breakfast on that, my first morning in Puerto Viejo, I was shocked when seeing prices on restaurant menus displaying California-level prices along the streets of Rastafarian vibes there at the ocean. Seeing the pricing trend continue the next day when grocery shopping, I was hit with the rude awakening that Costa Rica had become more on par with the expenses of home than the low cost of most of Central and South Americian countries. Lord knows why it hadn’t dawned on me before that things may have changed from the days of stoked-surfer comments about low cost had been what must had come no less than ten years before.
The reggae vibe brought over from the Carribbean people who had stayed in Puerto Viejo after building a railroad added an extra flavor to mix the two cultures. In addition to that, what I also loved was how many of the men I found physically attractive and how many of them also seemed to feel the same about me. Even down to my thick thighs; an area of my body I was used to being less than favorable in the US. What wasn’t so great was the first guy hitting on me, a thin but muscular Latin man with bright green eyes, going for one of my pet-peeves when giving me the back-handed compliment of telling me how most people say Americans are assholes but I’m cool. Uh…thanks?

There was an upsetting amount of cleaning that first day of “volunteering” in the two-story hostel and it was to continue every day. Also an infuriating moment when Hector, the hostel owner, came down on me for getting two check-ins with the same name mixed up. It was my first day with next to no training and I had been brought in under false pretenses. Dock it from my pay, dude.
I was also grouchy at the lack of bathroom butt blasters and instead, only super thin TP that couldn’t even be flushed down the toilet. Oh how I missed Thailand in those moments. Now, months later, I wonder why it hadn’t dawned on me to buy my own. *Scratching head*
The whole experience gave me a newfound respect and love for our protection in the US in regard to being exploited. Still, I liked Hector and even more so his tico (local) wife, Mary. It also became apparent by the end of my time there that their ethics when expecting next to free labor was not so likely a sign of who they were but more about falling into the “everyone’s doing it” category of their culture. Something I’m sure I’m ignorantly obliviously to in my own as well.
Mary, calm and cute with her long dark hair and one of the purest smiles I have ever seen, had an exciting history. The stories of who she was along with the way she thought and the life choices she had made showed her to be a kindred spirit among the crowd. A native Costa Rican, one would never have guessed she had so much worldly and career experience and had chosen that over being taken care of by men who adored her. Her laid back and humble way of living Pura Vida was an inspiration to show how we can have it all, as was her character that shown bright in moments such as when seeing me biking down the tropical streets full of tall lush green on both sides, whether from a car or a bar, and she was quick to call out a hello with that big smile and a wave or an invitation to join her and Hector. She was also quick to give reccommendations of places to go of which I was soon to follow.
It wasn’t the first time in another country, nor would I imagine it to be the last, before I quickly started being told that I talk too fast. Something I’ve noticed in Big Red (sister/Wendy) and I for years and have always been curious about given that our parents don’t and that we were raised in a multi-cultural place with many languages. If anything, I’d think that would create an environment that would teach us to talk slower. Or at least cling onto other Americans who can understand us better like a girl from Pacific Beach that checked into the hostel, the beach neighborhood right next to my own at home is San Diego, but nope. Most of the time I run from other Americans when travel. In fact, ans oddly enough, most of the friends I’ve been making the last couple of years have been French.

Sitting on the beach and staring out at a large, half-sunken sailboat during sunsets, I reflected new thoughts and revelations about all the things that were happening. How I enjoyed souvenir shopping for the first time, that I was getting to the next step in being ready to focus more on other areas in my travels beyond just beach location (good thing India was next on the list) and that I was at the end of my rope as far as traveling as a backpacker with no money. Also that I was ready to start taking tours at the beginning of my travels to show me more of the countries I go to before planting in one area. Still my preference but it was time to start focusing on getting around.
I love the things I learn about the communities and cultures I visit, not to mention the chance to establish relationships when staying long enough to make it happen. For instance, people would just leave their cars running, volcanic black sand is magnetic and the interesting fuachia fruit with it’s tentacles meant to be peeled before eating looked and tasted like lychee but was actually a fruit by the name of rambutan. While Puerto Rico was still in the lead for Mojitos, hanging at a chill beach bar while enjoying a two for one deal as I overlooked that same sunken ship from a different angle and listened to a Rastafari man selling souvaneers (as well as weed as announced by his larger-than-life shoutouts with the Alto voice of an opera singer) was pretty high up there.
My favorite experience while there had to be going to the Jaguar Rescue Center(please donate). A small and locally owned animal sanctuary that took in injured animals and set them free after nursing them back to health. Sorry to disappoint but there weren’t any actual jaguars there. The name had come from an injured cat that had been brought to the founders for help but had died due to their lack of knowledge. That loss was their inspiration for more education, resources and the small sanctuary. So cool.

A version of my heaven, there were animals roaming around everywhere amongst the green trees and accompanying small bodies of water. Monkeys and sloths with their babies, owels, crockodiles, other kinds of exotic cats and even a one year old color peccary by the name of Gentida that just strolled along with us for a bit. For once I was actually able to pay attention to the guide (hello ADD) and learn cool stuff. Did you know that howler monkeys are the loudest animal in the world? Or that they have been used for sounds in movies such as dinosaurs in the original Jurassic Park and dragons in GOT? Neither did I. What about how the holes in a sloth’s coats are meant to collect algae in order to turn them green and make them smell like the forrest for cammoflogue. Also that sloth moths lay eggs in their coats which allow larva to climb in and out, also helping them to cammoflogue. One more cool little tidbit was that their coat grows down so rain can run off since their body doesn’t produce enough energy to regulate temperature. A side effect from all the leaves they eat all day only providing around 800 calories. Also makes sense why they’re so slow. No calories = no energy. !Muy interesante!
Given the old and worn out rental bikes from the hostel “voluteers” were allowed to use for free, it never took long for something to go wrong. Case-in-point, a chain coming off or my yoni going numb after the first half an hour of riding. That combined with a daily work shift after the preserve meant that I didn’t make it to the twice as far Manzanillo beach as I had originally hoped to do after the rescue. What I did manage was to enjoy the more chill beach across from the preserve and another day later at that farther beach. A ride that would have killed me had that old rickety bike betrayed me on the longest and most intimidating of the downward slopes. Managing to survive that, I met a laid back local tico surfer dude with a cute little hut on the beach on my ride back. His chill energy was a relaxing change after all the hot but aggressive guys constantly hitting on all of us ladies. Especially considering that we were going out every night dancing until 3 AM to wherever lady’s night was going down. The only thing that was going on at night, really, given what a small town it was. My little Brazillian pal Andressa’s joke about those nights was how the bars were herding all of us ladies in to get us drunk before the guys pounce. Especially comedically ironic when we were out for Women’s Day.

In all honesty, I probably would have been a bit more naughty if the guys had chilled out. Well, and if it wasn’t such a small town for gossip to spread. Instead, I ended up in a brief backpacker-style fling with that guy I had met on my way home (who had mentioned noticing me in town before that, BTW) after one fun and impromptu double-date night (of sorts) with a lovely British bloke I met at a bar and two of the new French pals I had made at our casa as we sat around a rickety umbrella table in the yard while getting bit by fire ants.
The fling with the tico was sweet and romantic though the grand finale more that of comedy when it included getting devoured by Purrujas (sand gnats) while laying on the beach under a palm tree as we watched the sunset. Bites, mind you, that don’t show with their insane itchyness until the next day. After the yet-to-be-known bites that night, I was also faced with a long bike ride home though the jungle with my headlamp going dead and then becoming spastically nervous that an animal was going to get me. Wouldn’t be me if there wasn’t a factor of hot mess, now would it.
Spending time with my temporary sweetheart, the Latin side of the culture and the similarities in beaches made me feel at times like I was in Mexico. That was until the reality of how expensive it was slapped me in the face again. Something that made me chuckle with thoughts about how I may have to start living on dates in order to eat. Like most travel, and I suppose most of life, I could be lonely at times, even despite the amazing romances and pals, but travel moments such as those was a big part of what was giving my life meaning, good moments and bad.
Other random moments of contemplation seem to pop up at the most unexpected times. Say when plans to go out to get some coveted free mojitos for lady’s night turned into staying in, sitting in the dark and listening to the rain while hanging with the kittens (thanks to friends crashing out once a bad storm had hit and I had run a wee bit too tardy for the party). The things that become clear during those moments are fascinating. In that particular instance, that I don’t always enjoy what I’m doing in my travels but I need them. Learning, loving, adventure, growing and turning dreams into reality. Especially because I didn’t do it at the younger age of most, even though my dreams had never changed (much) and I had wanted it even back then.
As is such with the irony of life, one of the things that seemed to create the most growth had been working through rough stuff like wanting to leave so bad after Envision and then almost crying in thankful relief for getting past it and staying. Real travel ain’t for the faint of heart. Another revelation that had been creeping up was the thought (and hope) that it was time to move on into more moments of rest, relaxation and experiences purely about enjoying myself during my travels. Also that I couldn’t believe how much I was starting to crave being around people my own age. A need for diversity probably also played a large roll in that one given that there weren’t too many of my age-related peers around.
Finally time to leave, I wondered why I had bothered to wash anything given how it all smelled like travel/mold. Something that was becoming a constant in the humid places I was visiting. Once having traveled back to San Jose with one of my new pals who was to room with me, I said no to a last night out as I was exhausted and the devistation of leaving Puerto Viejo had set in. A sadness that didn’t start to fade until getting on the plane the next day in my yoga clothes, socks, earbuds and had my charger hooked up below the TV on the seat in front of me.
Managing to enjoy the two meals served between attempts at snoozing (adding to my weirdo = I like airplane food), I began to feel relaxed and like way more of a pro with the last thought before finally dozing off being about how my bag had been so fucking heavy but I had used every single thing in it.
As I settled in, wrapped up in a blanket in that row I had lucked out in getting to myself, the sadness had all but completely faded as the next adventure took hold. I was on my way home to get ready for India.

Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica – Finally a Favorite

With 5% battery left on my phone, it was surprising how relaxed I was given that I hadn’t realized during the 6+ hour bus ride to Puerto Viejo that I didn’t know where I was going upon arrival. A bit of a “whoopsie” moment though it turned out to be nice as I quickly found my smile during that extra time sitting there once pulling into town and waiting at the Rasta-themed bar/bus station next to the ocean. Soaking in the sounds of the surrounding palm trees rustling in the light breeze and taking in the smell of the blue water a few feet from me, I reveled in the sunshine of about 80° with mild humidity and knew as soon as I had taken note of all the stray dogs who not only looked as if in impressive health but also as if smiling that I had found my kind of place.
It was a nice couple hours though I was ready to leave once finally reaching one of the hostel owners where I was to be volunteering via a traveler networking website called Workaway. Fifteen minutes later, with my phone at 1%, a sweetheart of a man from Spain, on the smaller side and with a head full of black hair that reminded me of the slightly longer styles surfers wore back home, drove up flashing a dazzling smile and charming wide-eyed expression. A feature that I was to quickly find out always made it seem as though he was excited and paying attention, though the reality was that a lot of the time he was more caught up in his own intensity and thoughts. I instantly liked Hector and soon would also his darling and much more laid back (though worldly and experienced) tico wife, Mary.

Sadly, what happened from there in regard to the “volunteering” I was to do was upsettingly opposite of that first impression. As Hector gave me a quick rundown of what was expected of me, it became apparent that they had no interest in honoring the terms I came under in regard to food being provided and volunteering expectations set to be five hours a day, five days a week. Instead they expected six days a week, often for six hour shifts, and no food. Even worse, they had no interest in at at least meeting halfway when I pointed it out. I was instead told that they needed me to be happy and that if I wasn’t, they “understood” if I needed to move on. AKA: smile and take it or get out. No lube provided.
An unintentionally insulting comment from Hector about how there were plenty of volunteers who wanted the work was a lovely touch, as was the convenient ignoring of my comments about how I had already structured the rest of my trip around staying at that hostel and, as such, had already invested the time and money to get there, but did unfortunately prove to be true. Something I was quick to learn after asking around to other “volunteers” whose responses opened my eyes to how it really did seem to be a part of the lifestyle of how some backpackers traveled. Strange to find out given that the cost of a bed for the night was less than I’d make in an hour back home.
I did debate leaving. I had even gone to check out another cool-looking treehouse hostel down the street by the name of the Blue Butterfly Hotel with my tail between my legs. My bigger-picture goal of cultural immersion and to give back to the local community had been shattered. Reality at Kinkaju (and other hostels using free traveler labor) was that I was not only being taken advantage of but also taking much-needed work away from locals. Harsh reality check of my ignorance. Whoopsie.
I did end up staying there after all. The reasons being, besides the details I had mentioned to Hector above, that there was a new litter of kittens that had been born two weeks before. No surprise and nothing new that I’m a sucker for fur-babies. The second reason was friends I made starting with a wonderful French woman named Alexandra who was staying as a paying guest. Telling her I’d at least hang on as long as she was there, we soon made friends with many other Frenchies who randomly came to stay as well. I also bonded with a sweet little Brazilian chica named Andressa who was to come on as another volunteer a few days later to replace an Argentinian woman named Kinga whose hair was long and interestingly almost fully grey on top at 32 years old. A drawer and artist, on her last night we had the kind of refreshing chat over a bottle of wine (that is arguably my favorite part of travel) about the challenges in life of being an artist and traveler. Also about how she was supposed to leave a couple weeks earlier but aslo hadn’t wanted to take off on the mama kitty, Kinka, before the kittens were born and settled. Cute.
Reality from that point was that I just got comfortable.
Stepping back to that first day of my arrival, I had been exhausted and deliriously thankful when Hector had told me to take it easy before starting work the next day. A time I happily used to get out an (forever behind) blog post and to try to get a grip on groggy moments of sleep-deprived silliness such as momentary panic over incorrectly thinking I had lost all my makeup and sunscreen. A level of disorientation that made even more sense the morning after, as I had experienced a few of the strange episodes (focal seizures, anxiety attacks…who really knows what they are) in my sleep that always made me pretty fuzzy-brained the day before. An uncommon addition to those episodes was nightmares that included my dad taking over when I was trying to drive a motorhome and my sister taking the food I was trying to eat. Sister syndrome!
It wasn’t ideal but it was real. I was learning. And finally at a spot I could settle into for the next couple weeks. A time when I was to dance more, both metaphorically and physically, than I had in years. Especially after one of those happy stray pup’s crawled right up into my lap.

Costa Rica – the In Between

The hills of San Jose, Costa Rica reminded me of looking at Tijuana from home in San Diego County. For some reason they also made me miss Thailand and my pal there, Pariny. Though only having been there a couple times, it had come to feel familiar and had already grown in my heart as the symbolic start of that crazy life plunge I had taken and was finally deep in.

There was always so much to figure out and a new excitement when starting to notice how much I already had. Finding my way toward being more laid back, I was proud of myself for embracing the idea of doing the best I could with what I had in ways such as being happy to wash laundry in the sink while full-well knowing they wouldn’t get as clean as I wanted. Also for exchanging US dollars into colones at the airport with the knowledge that, while the conversion rate would suck, it would be worth it to cover a little time in order to get my bearings and fin a place with better rates.
I was also slowly learning how to embrace self-care moments (instead of falling into the past reaction of feeling guilty) in experiences such as enjoying a mental break when being around those who spoke the same first language and, even more importantly, understand each other’s sense of humor. One of my favorite lessons was how most of the people I was likely to become close to were going to be less locals, as I had first thought, and more other travelers. They were the ones more likely to be in the same state of exploring, openess and learning. Another aha moment was how that lead me to realize just how much my future travel was likely to be impacted by those new friends, whether traveling together or visiting each other in our homelands.

When first getting into the country, it had been a surprise to experience a step back in mindset in the way that I noticed myself get a wee bit miserable, impatient and frustrated before realizing what I was doing and changing back over to moving slower in order to think things through, giving myself plenty of time and have an “oh well” attitude in regard to going with the flow. Any traveler can tell you just how often things go wrong when traveling. It haden’t taken long to be reminded of that and just how little control I had.

We all have our strengths and weaknesses. One of the ways adjusting to a new country had proven to present a little extra challenge for me was in the not realizing how much I was spending before grasping the conversion rate. It was invigorating once starting to figure it out but that moment didn’t typically come until a week or two after spending what I’d imagine to be close to twice as much as I would after. Extra not fun when dealing with bank drama. Once again, always something with travel…
The family of the Airbnb we stayed at that first night when leaving the Envision Festival had been amazing. By the time I left, I felt like I had been adopted. Thank God given that there had been a major miscommunication with my friends that had lead to my being unintentionally ditched the next morning. A blunder that was about to cost me a day and more unexpected expense. Fun, fun.
While I wouldn’t have chosen it as so, it was nice to still be there to have my moldy laundry done for a minimal fee (that I offered) and enjoy their company as they insisted I stay for lunch while while sharing stories about their daughters, a professor and a teacher, living in the US. I even helped the wonderful woman hosting me to add a translation app that was soon to be my main translation tool from that point on as well. I’ve had many travelers tell me how the best moments almost always come when unexpected. Spending time with that family was one of those moments.

Nervous about time once finally prying myself away somewhere around 3 PM, I finally caught an hour and 20 min bus ride (OMG that bus hurt my boobs) that ran late and caused me to miss the next one. Well, the next one I thought I was supposed to take. Not a happy camper, and definitely not in the mood to socialize, I chose a chill hostel for the night across from another fun and social option I had been considering directly across in order to decompress and write. A great thought until reality consumed that time with taking care of other stressful work and responsibilities from back at home. While that didn’t help my mood, what did was the sweet kitty who had been giving me love until accidentally rolling off my lap and onto it’s back. Fur-babies can always save me.

It wasn’t the best night but I did end up having the entire dorm room to myself. Exciting until realizing that I was too grouchy and wound up to sleep until 4 AM.
The next day, I kept the hot mess of it all going when unknowingly getting myself to the wrong bus terminal (which, in a positive twist, did actually end up giving me the chance to see more of the city with all that UBERing) before making it to the right one. It was kind of nice in the nostalgic way of reminding me of so many of the other cities I had gotten stuck in when in Thailand. For some reason I had always found a little romance and magic in those hot-mess moments.

A few hours in once having finally taken off on the right bus, I was loving the change in scenery to the much more lush green of tropical rain forest as we neared the Caribbean side of the country. Besides getting a little nervous when my stomach started to hurt for a bit (not to mention it getting uncomfortably hot toward the end of the ride) I was finding my way back to a bit of homeostasis. Especially once reaching the Rhasta-themed bus terminal in Puerto Viejo. Looking around at stray but healthy-looking dogs that I swore were smiling, my smile was back again as well. I had made it to what was to be my temporary home in Costa Rica.

Envision – The Rest of the Fest

Unsurprisingly after the festivities the night before we felt super rough when getting up. Thankfully not for long once getting our chocolate fix, alas, it wasn’t meant to last long as we had let our excitement (and my incorrect assumption that it would melt) turn to gluttony and ate twice what we should have. A not-so-smart move that lead to my throwing up in the ocean during the hours we spent bobbing around soon after. What turned out to be an all-day excursion that also lead to the not-so-fun experience of my being so burnt that I was to have water blisters all over my body within a day or two. That I saw coming, and made mention of, but let myself be all-too-easily swayed (shocker) when my part Syrian pals exclaimed that we should stick together. A good thought in general but there isn’t enough sunblock in the world for my kind of glow-in-the-dark.
Once finally heading back into the back entrance of the festival through a dirt walkway between the beach and rain forest that was lined with vendors, I grabbed some pineapple that was so sweet juicy that it soon made a welcomed mess all over me. They some veggie burgers that were destined to go uneaten, as I started to feel better but they weren’t quite there yet. Wandering off on my own to lay down in a drum circle underneath the huge tropical trees of deep green right in the heart of the festival, I continued to feel better and better until ready to head out for more food. Following the delicious aroma of grilling chicken among the local merchants on that path between the festival exit and beach, I squeezed onto a rickety old wooden bench table for that delicious meat, candied plantains and not-so-exciting white rice and black beans that seemed to come with just about everything (grumble). After filling my belly for the night, I made it to a fun and interactive self-affirming workshop (yay workshops!) that included, among other things, a circle of us participants holding hands and sharing about ourselves. From there I made a failed attempt at cleaning my smelly tent but found a different kind of sweet success soon after with a makeshift bucket shower that proved to provide more than a few nods and raised eyebrows of longing approval from the fellow festies who took notice. For those of you unfamiliar, the ability to cool off and freshen up in that kind of world is a form of hippy ecstasy.
Hobbling around thanks to bare feet I hadn’t realized were no longer calloused enough for an un-souled romp, I shared distracted smiled with those I passed while we tried to navigate our way around the muddy paths and I hunted for more workshops as well as exploring the yoga neighborhood closer to the main entrance (the main camping area we were in was closer to the middle). Returning to camp around 9 PM V was already asleep in her tent and the fellas planted on a make-shift area of a tarp hangout area between our tents. Joining them for only an hour or so of conversation, it didn’t take long for the rest of us soon followed suit.
Surprised to actually get a wee bit of sleep despite constantly waking up from the stifling smell of mold, a stinging sunburn and to change positions on the hard sodden ground only separated by the thin material of the tent, I woke up around 7 AM when the sun began to blaze down. After quickly rinsing off in the same manner as the evening before, I took off before my compadres had awoken with the need to hit the port-a-potties (I had lost my Go Girl at the SF Woman’s March) and to find some breakfast. After a quick stop back at the tent, to which I found the crew had already gone, I headed back to the yoga neighborhood to spread the communal white clay mud mask that I had noticed the day before over my entire sunburned body (with help from other participants) and then headed out to the ocean for a super quick rinse off (get away from me sun!) and some food. Determined to get some yoga in, I made my way right back to that neighborhood for vinyasa, though I only made it half way through the hour and a half. If those people are really partying, camping, getting no sleep and still managing to contort for hours…I’m convinced they’re yoga aliens. The way I participated the second half was a corpse pose next door in a camp that had been set up for such with its large trees, pillows, outdoor beds and different types of hammocks. Take that, yoga aliens.
Finally managing to find V & P when roaming back toward our camp, the day continued with hanging in that main area where I had been enjoying the drum circle the day before. An afternoon that included the amusement of being about twenty feet from famous life coach and internet comedian, JP Sears, who we had actually first spotted the day before on the beach. An entertaining and unexpected sighting to which V had encouraged my going to say hi and take a picture with for all of you. Alas, considering how much I assumed he was likely to already be being bombarded, I didn’t want to bother him. So instead I have these couple pictures of him from a few feet away that he was unaware of. A lot less invasive and creepy, right?
Even without chatting him up, just the idea that he was there and the memories of his funny videos added a positivity to the festival that was to stick with me throughout the rest of the festival.
After what had become our routine early evening hang in our own little center-camp we wandered around for an hour to check out art and cool camps and then proved ourselves to once again opt out of the joining the all-nigher crowd after an hour of separating to do our own thing before bed. Me wandering off with one of the boys to check out a really cool stage with fire dancers.
The next day started out as a repeat of experiences with another clay body mask on my crazy sunburn, quick dip in the ocean, empanadas that reminded me of American tamales, delicious meat skewers (my fave) and succulent pineapple. A couple new welcomed additions to the palate were a Coke (something I only like when hung over or in hot and humid conditions) and a heavenly double scoop of vegan coffee ice cream. The best ice cream I believed in the moment that I had ever tasted, though I chuckled at the idea that it was probably more the environment than anything.
Noting a few days in that I had gotten better at dealing with a constant state of being worn out and sleep deprived (something that comes from being a traveler, burner and recovering insomniac) I brought the thought from the back of my mind to the front about needing to start enjoying that festival more for its positives before I missed it. To that point I had seen more fault in it than good thanks to the unfortunate circumstance of feeling mislead by the admin of the festival when reaching out before buying my ticket to ensure there would be a variety of music (not just EDM, techno, etc), something that had proven to be false (minus Xavier Rudd), commercialism I wasn’t used to and the inevitable disappointment of the love and community of Burning Man being impossible to parallel. It made it hard to not be let down, though I could still see that it would have been amazing to me if I didn’t have those things blocking me. It was on the beach in the rain forest in Costa Rica for God sake. It was time I started appreciating it.
I actually did start recognizing the beauty and enjoyment of it more from there. Ironically, though, the wear of the weekend was starting to seep into our little group with disconnects such as when P once again insisted we stick together when I flat-out said I didn’t want to go on a trip the liquor store. An outing that caused us to unknowingly miss Xavier’s first performance. Something I was super bummed to find out about the next day considering that he had been the one musician I was into there. More than that because the performance had turned into the experience I had been most looking for when the spellbinding show had lead the people watching to join hands in a circle, singing his songs while he played. Magic.
“Woke up” the next morning (maybe slept an hour) to a friend climbing out of her tent understandably confused and hysterical about her boyfriend waking her up in the middle of the night livid and breaking up with her about a less-than-sober misunderstanding regarding a conversation the night before that had lead to his believing there was a conspiracy against him. Trying to comfort and help them work it out on and off throughout the day based on insight-though-experience that included guidance about how the situation was not real/due to intoxicants, exhaustion and over-stimulation, along with how they would think the situation silly later (but to be careful because the way they came at each other is what would last), I juggled it with my own financial frustration of only having a few bucks of available money left thanks to the fraud that had been flagged in my account right before I had flown out. Something I was to find out later was thanks to an error on UBER’s part. Not even a little surprising.
After paying $24 for a simple breakfast for that bud I had been walking around trying to talk down for an hour, $60 for an Airbnb to go to that night (once shit hit the fan and I had decided to leave early to support my gal pal) and $60 I had Venmoed to V toward the party a few days before, I was sweating it. The total amount was quite a bit more than my poor-ass would have spent on my own and well above what I had budgeted. Friendship sure can be expensive. Especially when you’re living like a twenty year old pauper while all your friends are living like real adults. Pick-pocketing, fraud, pick your poison. I always manage to find the hot mess when it comes to finances, regardless of whether it’s my fault of not.
It was a crazy day and I was bummed about leaving the festival a day early, especially once finding out that I would be missing Xavier Rudd AGAIN, but soon started to have the best day of the event when running into my long-time bud, Clif. Giving him shit right away about being there on his own and not for my b-day when I had invited him, we soon continued as if we had come together, the other bud taking off after a chuckle when hearing Clif’s nickname for me of Slobinon Malotsatits. I headed off on my own not too long later to make it to that same sound meditation workshop that had been my first great experience of the festival. It being too hot, and me too sunburned, to enjoy it the same as I had before, I soon found my way back to Clif. Once meeting up again, we went to a didgeridoo workshop where he introduced me to a cool musician and fellow local of Ocean Beach (from back home in San Diego) that he had met earlier in the festival. Very cool.
Probably not the best workshop for my fat burned lips but great fun and an awesome grand finale before packing up and heading out with a quick and chaotic goodbye to my Envision experience.
Packing up and surviving our bud fighting to stay awake at the wheel, we made it to the Airbnb a few hours later. Our time at the festival was over and soon the next leg of my Costa Rican adventure about to begin. Well, after the next unexpected 24 that was about to take place…

Envision Festival in Costa Rica – Day 1

“!Entrada!” I exclaimed to the taxi driver with an extended arm and pointed finger as we reached the sign at the festival entrance.
“!Si, entrada!” He exclaimed driving right on down that dirt road forged in the middle of tropical green. Uh…ok, so I was being dropped off down the street and walking back.

Annoyed already.

Finally in line for that festival I had worked so hard to get to, I expected to be ecstatic. Instead I was having a low moment of wary impatience, over-stimulation and everything getting to me. Aware of it and trying to switch out of grouchy traveler mode, I struggled to be in the moment when a guy in line started to sing while playing his guitar and an old hippie in a court jester style hat and tie-dye short started talking all kinds of random nonsense with an occasional tap on his tambourine.

Looking around with irritated thoughts about how much of a challenge it was to tolerate the twenty-something festie types who came with what I perceived to be an inauthentic and entitled “we are the world but I know everything and should be catered to” attitude (see millennial memes), I wondered if I was just being a grouchy turd or had already passed the age of being able to enjoy the festival world. A sad thought given that I had just starting exploring it.
Finally making my way up the line in hot sun and sticky heat, a welcome turn came when I managed to head back toward a bit of zen soon after getting past the gates. It didn’t last long, unfortunately, thanks to a chick fitting the description above ironically tried to push her bottle under the spout for some Karma Tribe gifted ice-cold cucumber water before I could move out of the way. Awkwardly trying to screw on the water cap of my camelbak, you better believe I said scolded her. Proud in that moment for finally having a voice to stand up for myself after decades of being too easily walked on and insecure, I also simultaneously felt uneasy with the thought that I sounded like a mom. Ugh.

Begrudgingly continuing on as I began to set up camp in the harsh mid-day sun thanks to so few spots still available in open camping, I managed to find a little comfort in the memory it inspired of breaking down camp at Burning Man, only in an intense dry heat, a few months before. A difference that soon seemed to lead to my feeling not only a bit nauseous but also in my developing a slight headache. A bit dazed by the time I finished, I zombied around in circles despite knowing full well that I probably just needed a wee moment with less stimulation, rest and more agua. As to my feeling angry and full of shattered assumption, I was aware that part of the reason was thanks to my having high expectations (nowhere to go but down when starting from the top) and being too sensitive as to what a challenge it was going to be to find the burner vibe I was looking for among so much consumerism. A reaction that was soon to be seconded by Venesa once she arrived.

Wandering off after camp was finally set up, I managed to find a large and mostly empty palapa made of different-sized tree trunks and dried palms to lay down in. Thank God.
Half an hour or so after going limp, a bearded man about my age with a peaceful shamanic energy and smile that was just as big as his beard popped his face over mine to ask if it would be a bother to set up some stuff by me. Turned out he was about to lead a sound meditation workshop that ended up being just what I needed. Especially once the man laying next to me told me about a natural herb remedy tent he volunteered at by the medical station that could may be able to help with my symptoms. A recommendation that proved successful after getting through squeals, excitement and hugs once finally stumbling upon Venesa, her boyfriend (our first time meeting) and a man they had carpooled in with followed by showing them where to set up camp. The universe had finally given me a hand.

Finally taking a turn for the better from that point on, we excitedly threw up a cheers once settled in and the first celebratory drink continued on into many more through the wee hours. Adding on to that amusing ambiance, we even managed to buy some party favors from one of the people openly selling as they walked by every ten minutes. Something that gave me even more of a chuckle was when the guy allowed to send payment for my chocolate through Venmo.
Later that night, with what was to be the only big tropical storm of the weekend (my chance to channel Woodstock), a rainy downpour of a manic dance party broke out at the music stage we were at. One of those magical moments that ended up being my highlight of the festival. Even when we made it back to camp and realized that I had left my tent’s window open causing it to flood and all of my belongings to get soaked. A situation that, within 24 hours, was about to lead to everything in there smelling for the rest of the next few days to the point of my not being able to sleep during the few hours that I may have been able to otherwise.
Shout out to Venesa for helping me empty out the water when I was frozen in a drunken state of “oh nooooo” and thanks above for having paid to check important belongings like my laptop in a protected storage crate for $20.
Still, in contrast to the surly vibes I had a hard time shaking earlier that day, I found the humor in it. In no small part, thanks to remembering how nostalgia seemed to later pop up when thinking of those most challenging moments. Who knows why. Maybe because they tend to be when we most grow.

Costa Rica – The Beginning

Holy shit, Costa Rica has become as expensive as California! I was NOT prepared for that. What do you mean it’s no longer as dirt-cheap as all the surfers used to talk about years ago? Who had two thumbs and didn’t do enough current research? This gal.
Add to that my always seeming to forget how challenging it is to keep a budget. Especially considering, at least for me, how the beginning of new trips, places, situations and the emotions that come with tend to require more moola at first. At least for me.
Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know mentioned how expensive the country has become in the last post, but it’s worth a reminder. If for no other reason but to keep my sanity.
San Jose was my first stop and pretty much what I had heard. A place to get into the country and then out to destination areas stat. With iron security gates surrounding everything and a lack of nature, I knew it wasn’t for me. Looks like I now know twice over when asked if I “know the way to a San Jose” that my answer is a solid “unfortunately”. Still, I was super happy to be there, even that city, and am admittedly aware that I probably didn’t find the charms that it did have to offer. Reminder me of the way I think of L.A. *shrugs*
Once landing and getting past the confusion of my UBER driver continuously trying to chat it up with my limited Spanish and his limited English, I found my way though the never-ending iron gates to the cute and unassuming house-turned Airbnb I was to be staying at complete with the host’s live-in family. Getting settled into the private room that I had originally booked for myself, Venessa and her boyfriend so we could recover from jetlag before heading to the Envision Festival (I had their arrival date wrong), I soon wandered out to at the very least grab a bite. That was my first real experience finding out where the country’s prices were at when I ended up with a meal that consisted of $15 for nachos with pineapple (surprisingly not a bad addition) and a beer at a place that was one step above street food. Something I hoped was a fluke due to being super close to the Estadio Nacional de Costa Rica, Costa Rica’s national stadium, but quickly realized was not. I’d say that someone (me) is spoiled from Thailand prices.
Going to the grocery from there, I panicked and only bought a bottle of wine and avocado when trying to figure out some eats for the next couple days. Epic fail but at least I got a chuckle out of it.
Sleeping though what was to be the included breakfast the next morning I had made such a point to look for, something I was to find out the morning after that consisted of nothing more than toast and drinks, I was OK with the sacrifice for the much-needed ten hours of sleep I managed to get that first night. Having that private room did cost me a pretty penny above what I would have spent on just my own bed but quickly taught me that catching up on sleep proved just how much it was worth it regardless of whether friends were there to share it or not.

Though still always a pleasant surprise, it’s the little things that make the difference. This time it was the outlets around that fit two-pronged American plugs and a bathroom sign in a restaurant with legs that twisted together for a giggle as it reminded me of the challenges of now having a 40-year-old bladder. A gauntlet I like to tell myself is only due to my needing to have more sex. Always looking for an excuse…
In addition to those two little things putting a smile on my face, I had a quiet but pleasant day wandering around the neighborhood without really knowing what to do with myself. Finding a park, pub and local restaurant to hang in, I finished my day by writing (after getting away from a nice but annoying older American man at the hostel who wouldn’t stop yapping) and organizing a flight for my next trip (back to SE Asia and India) through the company I was be working for as a mentor to teens in a service and photojournalism program over the beginning of summer.
The next day I was finally on my way to Uvita for the festival. At least I thought I was until finding out once in line with a paid ticket for my bus at the station I had found through information provided on the website, asking my hosts and plugging in the info to my UBER app with fingers crossed, that the festival started the day after the ticket showed. Something that never would have legally flown in the US. It would appear that Eventbrite didn’t care about providing accurate info to participants this time though. Extra lovely considering that many of us were coming from overseas.
With only a few minutes of minimal panic before action, I managed to find a bed at a hostel right down the street from the festival. Something I was excited for as I had only stayed in a hostel once before in Ireland. Before getting there and after the first hour or two on the bus, a short stop introduced me to the popular street food of empanadas. Something I love in the U.S. but not so much there as the outer casing tasted much more like the masa tamales are made of than what I was used to and I don’t like tamales. I know. I’m that “one”.

The first travelers I befriended was at check-in at the hostel. They were a fun group of Canadians (which there seemed to be a lot of in that area) who were also on their way to Envision by way of another festival.
After hanging with them for a bit before going to grab a bite, I next met a sweetheart of an American woman named Carly (shout out!) who was walking with a surfboard bigger than her arms wanted to allow down the same dirt path as I toward the ocean. Turned out she had stayed in the country longer than expected after the man she was dating had to gone home to Los Angeles for work. A decision I much respected.
After hitting the beach together for her to surf and both of us to watch the sunset, we followed a recommendation for some great ceviche by confusedly finding our way through the rain forest via car on a bumpy rural road to an awesome 🐕 friendly surfer-style hostel restaurant by the name of Flutterby House that had been founded by two women from California. Go figure.
How I loved that place and wished I had a few more days to stay there. A great reminder of how unexpected the best moments in travel tend to be. Also my first true moments moments of pura vida.