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San Miguel de Allende came to us like a wish come true. For a bit over a year, David and I had felt the swell of population, the pressurization of inflated prices, the unsettling political demise. My four year return to life in the United States confirmed a lot of things for me:

  1. The Bay Area had lost a bit of charm for me.
  2. Life didn’t have to be this hard.
  3. I thrive seeing the world from new places.

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blackbird in copenhagenThe record player spins on a well worn mid century modern dresser, akin to the cafe’s chairs and orb chandeliers. It’s all intentionally unpretentious with framed Hendrix posters and bathroom graffiti. These are pieces from Danish homes, second hand finds found on every other block. The Beatles serenade this 8AM morning, perfect melodies suitable for the melancholic gray outside, the romantic candlelight inside.

This pure artistry of a place, this mingling of quiet conversations in a foreign language with background latte making, this cozy nook where I write…this will forever, I believe, spoil future cafe moments.

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Here in your alone, you will find yourself, a person you may have never thought you were. A person who is capable of so many things you may have never thought possible. The answer always lies within you; your happiness, bliss, joy and nirvana are within you naturally.

-The Difference Between Lonely and Alone.

Behind the counter, the Aegean attendant smiled at my request to check in two bags.

“Are you traveling in Greece alone?”

“Yes, sir!” I beamed with some pride.

“Wow! That’s brave. I don’t think I could do that!” he shared.

In that moment, I squirmed a little; I wondered if he knew something I didn’t. Was it particularly dangerous for a lone woman to travel through Greece? Was I more of a target for theft? Should I heighten my guard?

Given that I had experienced two weeks already on and off with friends as travel companions, I was sure that was not it. From what I could tell, Greece is like walking into a large family reunion celebrated by tables and tables of delicious home-cooked food in a stunning setting. I felt comfortable, welcomed, and appreciated.

Maybe what he was doing was revealing a moment of raw honesty: that traveling alone is scary because it can be lonely.

This lonely vs. alone comparison has come up for me a lot here. I will be the first to admit that I’ve always struggled with being alone. I consistently surround myself with people, have an active social life, have had a history of always having a roommate (until recently). I don’t see this as a flaw per se, but I have wondered if there’s a reason this is my go-to.

This trip has helped shed light on the matter. There has been a correlation for me between being alone and the questions that emerge.

Am I comfortable in my skin?
Can I be with the quiet?
Do I like myself?
Does it matter what others think of me?

The most challenging moments would come up around dinner. Walking along restaurant lined paths, lit candles on the tables, incredible sunset sinking in the Med, hands being held, sessions of dreamy eye-gazing, the evenings were truly the most romantic times in Greece. At first, sitting across from no one was hard for me. I’d lose myself in my iphone just to cope, texting, uploading photos to be seemingly entertained.

But then, something shifted.

Although there were certainly moments I felt lonely, I began to embrace my alone. I enjoyed the world I was framing in my way as I snapped photos. I rested in my breaths as I rediscovered my yoga practice. I treasured serendipitous encounters with others who shared themselves with me. I sat easily. I smiled often. I liked being with me.

It may seem silly that it took a journey of many miles and days to come to this discovery. But, man, was it ever worth it.

Screen Shot 2014-06-03 at 8.52.11 PMWhere you come from now is much less important than where you’re going.
-Pico Iyer

It’s been three months since I’ve established “home” in Berkeley. People have kindly asked how the re-entry has been. The phases of cultural transition are still the same. I’ve felt all of this before. In America, it’s about getting used to the fact that there are an obscene numbers of cereal rows to consider, that having an app for practically everything really can simplify life, and that knowing what Miley Cyrus is up to is common knowledge.

I won’t lie. I kinda freaked out.

The idea of just sliding back into North American life proved silly. I thought I’d have that ah-ha moment; something like: finally, coming full circle to land in the place I’ve left loving and still love. Finally, home.

Yet, it has not been that simple. I was naive to think so. I’ve questioned over and wondered about and ached a bit for my overseas life. Twelve years is twelve years, after all.

The turning point, however, happened with this easy realization: no place is perfect.

From then on (which has been about four weeks now), I’ve embraced this place. Or, maybe it’s more than the place. Maybe I’ve come to embrace where I am in life and what’s ahead.

I watched this TED talk a little while back. With grace, charm, and introspection, Pico Iyer delves into the relevant question: What is home?

Is it the cul du sac you and your sister rode bicycles in? Is it the city your parents still live in? Is it the place you pay rent or the location with your fondest memories?

According to Iyer, it’s something much, much more.

 

Luang Prabang is a set for so many fascinating story lines. There are people of all walks of life passing through, staying for a time, settling in. There are dreamers, adventurers, lost souls and truth seekers. There are artists, do-gooders, partiers, and floaters. There are entrepreneurs, free spirits, escape artists, and risk-takers. Some kept to themselves. Many congregated in small but vivacious spaces to share in the experience of being right then, right there.

One of these places is the Ikon Club.

I feel lucky to have frequented this place and shared a friendship with it’s owner, Lisa. Watching her creative video of the genesis and character of Ikon makes me smile and wish I was sitting on a stool there right now.

photo 5the shores are still speckled with tiny shells, just like thirty years ago, when collecting those looking like “beach butterflies” were the best souvenirs to carry gingerly home. on weekends caravans park on the sand, vallenatos booming from open trunks, small gatherings of joy under brightly colored tarps, while the waves become everyone’s playground.

high pitched ringing bells and short taps on horns announce the arrival of cool palletas or the presence of a taxi ride into el centro. there, palenqueras adorned in flowing skirts and colorful head scarves call you “mi cielo” as you walk away with a cup full of fresh mango. the plazas host all types of activity, from continuous cathedral weddings to trios playing live music for a night’s wage. one can feast on thick arepas con queso grilling at a corner and take a shot of sweet tintico for an afternoon caffeine kick.

looking up is always a good idea in the old city.colonial style balconies cascade with bougainvillea and the tops of church copulas adorn the sky. the colors loudly  separate one building from another: a striking blue next to a golden yellow next to a deep pink; this vibrancy seeps into the energy inside. with personalities of their own, hotels, boutiques, restaurants, bars draw people in: tourists and cruise visitors, locals and expats enjoying their choice of a fruit juice, a rum & coke, an aguila beer, a happy hour mojito.

magic moments take place, when the ocean breeze cools the tropical heat. lovers slowly stroll on the historical city wall, some tucked in dark corners sharing stolen kisses. lights glow romantically from windows and the sound of horse drawn carriages evokes tranquility.

above, the moon hangs nearly as long as the last rumbero walking home along the beach, shoes trickling sand in one hand, humming the last song played.

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Screen Shot 2014-01-15 at 9.13.03 PMJanuary 12, 2014 at 3:21pm

Today I tromped alongside a river with a young, spry Swede who looked a little like Viggo Mortesen, 25 years ago. Before we made it to the falls, we stopped at a place where hot springs spill into the cold lake, making warm little pockets in the afternoon sunshine.

I must be traveling.

Today the weather didn’t agree with me, and I couldn’t hike, so I went sailing instead. And as I laid on the deck, chasing the sunlight from side to side, I greeted the Chinese couple from Brazil, “bon dia.”

I must be traveling.

Today when I arrived at my creepy hostel, the Indian man working the front desk at my hostel was puzzled when I said I was from the Untied States. “You don’t look American,” he stated matter of factly. My dismay at the moldy bathroom and grimy kitchen were consoled by my Egyptian roommate, who told me stories of being the only Egyptian in Christchurch; we belly laughed & laughed together, when I sniffed the sheets.

I must be traveling.

Today I sat on the covered patio of a new Maori friend, listening to the sound of the pouring rain, drinking tea and being called “miss”, as I stared out at the breathtaking view of the bay – a view that he called “normal.” We discussed his culture and traditions, wrote poetry, and then explored the lush green hills he knew as his backyard.

I must be traveling.

I arrived late in town, and hostel was already closed up. Abby, the owner, didn’t answer when I rang, but the lady at the nearby pub assured me Abby wouldn’t mind if I made myself at home. So I returned, and after a short chat with the couple from Finland, found a room, and climbed into bed and fell asleep to the sound of the couple next door chatting in a language I couldn’t distinguish through the walls.

I must be traveling.

Today when I tired of the vying attentions of two lanky lads – a Kiwi and a German – I instead made friends with a good looking Argentine surgeon who lives in Sydney. After convincing him he must jump in the sparkling, crystal waters of the cove we had hiked to, we climbed the hill back up, exchanging stories of our immense love of the sweaty elation that is Bikram yoga. I may have a coffee with him when I pass through Sydney.

I must be traveling.

After I shower, I reach for yesterday’s clothes, because yesterday’s dirty clothes somehow seem cleaner than today’s.

I must be traveling

I recently realized that my ploy to save money by not buying lunch is being thwarted by the cider I drink with my protein bar and the afternoon ice cream I have, just because.

I must be traveling.

I’ve eaten gluten free pizza three days in a row.

I must be traveling.

I wore flip flops into a decent, sit down restaurant, because they are a nicer option to my hiking boots.

I must be traveling.

I tend to use a pillow, not under my head, but under my body, in order to disguise the realities of mattresses with gullies.

I got a sandal tan in January.

I must be traveling.

I have salt water in my hair from the top of the country, many days after arriving at the bottom of the country.

I must be traveling.

Yesterday, I found myself hiking up a mountain with two Ironman, one from Chicago and the other from London. As I huffed at the end, they decided to race to the top.

I must be traveling.

I almost got in a bar fight. We got kicked out. (I’m blaming this one on traveling too.)

I must be traveling.

Written by Marina Nieves Flores.

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