Year In Review – 2016

The last several years of my life have not been particularly happy ones. I was unhappy in my job and my personal relationship. I vowed that I would change that. I ended the relationship and eventually gave myself a deadline to change my situation. In early February 2016, I went into a sensory deprivation tank with thoughts of a solo vacation to escape the job I hated, at least for a little while. When I left there, I had already decided to quit that job and travel alone for an extended period of time. Over the next several weeks, I researched and ultimately decided on three months in Ecuador. I would spend this time detoxing from an office environment that felt toxic and focusing on improving myself and ubelongthe lives of those around me. I found a beautiful yoga ashram outside of Quito where I will live for a month and get my teaching certification. During my time at Casa Kiliku, I will also eat an organic vegetarian diet (which will be an enormous challenge for a veggie hater like me), practice daily meditation and get back into things that once brought me joy like reading, writing and photography. Then I found a great volunteer organization called Ubelong. Through them, I will spend three weeks getting back to my science roots while volunteering in the Galapagos. Having the opportunity to participate in conservation efforts in such an incredible place is a dream come true for me! The rest of my time in Ecuador will be spent exploring the amazingly diverse country.

I was in the early planning stages when I met a man. He seemed to be the man of my dreams. Everything I had ever wanted in a partner. He was tall and handsome. He was loving and attentive. He was a science minded archaeologist, my very own Indiana Jones. He was perfect. I told him on our first date that I was planning this three month trip. He was very supportive. Giving me advice and telling stories from his own archaeological exploits in South America. He even gave me some gear that he thought I would need. Everything was perfect…too perfect. The little voice in the back of my mind kept telling me to brace myself. It was all too right. Something had to be wrong. After about five me-jon-cavernsmonths of blissful happiness, reality set in. He was not perfect, because nothing and no one ever is. He was not the man of my dreams. He was a liar. To what extent, I’ll never know but I do know I could never trust someone who lies about insignificant things. It is only a precursor for the bigger lies to come. There were many red flags. I overlooked them of course, as we all do when things seem to be going great. In retrospect, the warning signs were everywhere but I turned my blinders on for a while. In the end, he showed his true cowardly spinelessness and I couldn’t be blind to it. I have no respect for fake people. People who feel the need to put on airs because they know deep down they aren’t good enough.

The ending of that relationship was devastating but luckily, I had not altered any of my plans. I still had the adventure of a lifetime to look forward to. I continued to plan and book accommodations, trying to pay down as much as possible while I was still employed. During this time, the Presidential election was looming over our heads. How had our country come to this? The con man and the most despised women in the West. Beloved celebrities began to die off left and right. It was also as if they sensed the end of creative freedom on the horizon and couldn’t bear to see it. Then it happened. It actually happened. The thing we all thought would never really happen. It’s hard to see the silver lining in situations like this. You can only hope that this is rock bottom and the only place to go from here is up. 2016 has been a tumultuous year, not just for me personally but for the entire world. This year has been one of huge transitions with far reaching consequences that we can’t possibly understand.

2016 will forever be remembered as the year the world changed, probably not for the better. I fear that future generations will look back and view this time much like we look back on the rise of Nazi Germany, and wonder how the world allowed such atrocities to occur right before our eyes. Today, we are actors in the same tragedy. To be better as a species, we have to be better individually. We have to stand up and demand better treatment while also taking responsibility for our own lives and happiness. That is what 2016 has really been about for me. I decided that I could not blame my unhappiness on things that I had the power to change. I am in charge of my own happiness and I will do the things that make me happy. As I prepare to embark on my journey, I wonder what kind of home I’ll return to. I’m anxious to see what 2017 has in store but I’m also hopeful that the goodness in people will overcome the fear and insecurities of others. So, let’s celebrate the end of 2016, it could not come soon enough! Here’s to a 2017 filled with happiness, love and adventures!

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A Day in Croatia

During a trip to Italy, I had the opportunity to spend a day in beautiful Croatia. My friends and I were staying with a lovely family in Muggia, Italy. After a night of laughs, delicious homemade cuisine and the strongest mojitos I have ever had, I woke up hung over and exhausted. I didn’t feel great. I struggled to get up and get dressed. The Italians laughed at me for being a lightweight. They all drank way more than I did and were totally fine, while I looked like death. Eventually we loaded up into two cars. I rode with the Italian couple we were staying with and their daughter and my two friends rode with the sister of our host and her boyfriend. Slovenia is just a stone’s throw away from Muggia. We stopped in Slovenia to get gas and I bought a large bottle of water that I promptly chugged. I felt a lot better immediately. I thought I was just dehydrated and that the worst was behind me. We got back into our cars and got back on the road.

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The couple I was riding with consisted of an Italian woman and a Slovenian man. He was driving, I was sitting in the passenger seat and she was sitting in the back with their young daughter. Despite the language barriers, we were having a fun lively conversation when all of a sudden, I felt the urge to throw up. We were coming up to the border checkpoint in Dragonja when I realized I wasn’t going to be able to keep it together. I didn’t know how to say that I was going to throw up in Italian so instead I told them in Spanish and hoped they understood. “Necesitio vomitar!” She yelled something to him in what I assumed was Slovene and he quickly cut across two lanes! I thought we were going to hit the car next to us. It was terrifying! If I hadn’t already needed to throw up, I would have needed to after that.

We screeched to a halt next to a grassy partition and I flung the door open. I hardly had the time to lean out when cold water came gushing out. “Oh, is only water,” she laughed from the backseat. They seemed to think it was hilarious and not a big deal but I was so embarrassed. We went through the checkpoint and I received another stamp on my me-croatia-signpassport. I was starting to feel better. We met up with the other car near a welcome to Croatia sign. When we parked and got out, they were all discussing the fact that I had just thrown up. The couple in the other car had our lunch with them and they gave me some bread and told me, “Mangiare!” I ate some bread and the feeling of nausea was slowly subsiding. We took turns taking pictures in front of the Croatia sign and then got back in the cars to find the beach.

We ended up in Umag. The Croatian beach was unlike any other beach I have ever visited. The first thing that struck me as odd was that there wasn’t much sand. There were some sandy patches but most of the area was concrete, all the way to the water. People were laying directly on the concrete. Children were running around and playing on the concrete. Then I started to notice the Speedos. So many Speedos! Unfortunately, the men wearing the Speedos were generally very overweight and unattractive. Over the course of my two week trip to Europe, I saw just how comfortable Europeans are with their bodies. They aren’t bashful at all. For the most part, I’m happy with my body but I will probably never know the confidence that European women, and men, have.

We claimed our space on the concrete and set up our stuff. We swam in the Adriatic Sea but the water was way too cold for me so I spent the majority of the time getting baked on the concrete. The sun was brutal. Even with sunscreen, I felt my skin cooking as soon as I sat down. We spend several hours there and throughout that time, I kept reapplying sunscreen but I still got burnt! The Italians brought an impressive spread for lunch. I have never eaten so much at the beach before. There was even pasta!

After we had had enough of the beach, we walked around the town a little bit. We stopped at a place called Spritz Bar where I ordered some kind of coconut drink. It was interesting. Not my favorite but it was nice and cold. We had a great day in Croatia but when it was time to head back to Italy, I couldn’t wait to get showered and into bed! I hope to go back to Croatia one day and really explore!

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My First St. Paddy’s Day in Austin, Texas

During my first year in Austin, my friend and her new boyfriend came to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day on 6th Street. A friend picked me up and we went to another friend’s house downtown. From there, the three of us got on a party bus driven by a guy that was trying to date me. It was too early in the night and not much was going on. The guy was kind of creepy and made us feel awkward so we finished our drinks and headed off on foot.

Several other people joined our group and we went to meet my friend and her boyfriend at a bar. Things started out well. We bar hopped. The drinks were flowing and everyone was having a great time…

The next thing I knew, I woke up to my alarm clock blaring. I felt disoriented. Not hungover, still drunk. I had to get dressed and go to work. I somehow pulled myself out of bed and staggered toward the door. There was a strange aroma in the air. I couldn’t figure out what it was. I went to the bathroom and showered. I still felt horrible. My friend and her boyfriend were asleep in my living room so I crept back to my room to get dressed. Ugh…what is that smell?! I was starting to feel nauseous. I threw on some clothes and started putting on my makeup. When I was done, I went to get the lip gloss I had used the previous night from my purse. When I opened my pink purse, the smell of shitty street food was overwhelming. I looked in and saw a white paper plate with orange grease stains folded up inside. I opened the plate to find a slice of half eaten pepperoni pizza. I was really confused. Why was this in there? Who put it in there?

I finished getting dressed and walked into the living room. By this time, my friend and her boyfriend were awake. They saw the folded paper plate in my hand and started laughing. “What happened last night,” I asked. They were both cracking up and she said, “I told you not to put that in there!” She explained that I got completely trashed (obviously)
and said that I wanted pizza. So they followed my drunk ass around blurdowntown Austin to Roppolo’s Pizza. Once I purchased the pizza, I took two bites and then tried to pawn it off on another friend. They already had their own so I decided it would be a good idea to save it for later, despite my friend’s urging to throw it away and not put that greasy mess in my purse. I’m stubborn, probably even more so when I’m drunk, so into my purse it went.

Now that the mystery was solved, I headed off to work. When I got there, I checked my phone for the first time that morning. Another friend that had been with us the night before had texted to asked if I was ok. Before I responded, I read back through our recent messages. Apparently, she and another girl had gotten separated from our group when we went to find pizza. She texted me to ask where we had gone. My response read, “Pizza!!!” She asked where we were getting pizza. My response was the final text I sent that night. It read, “djghkshgflsdk,” or something to that effect. There were many more texts from her and several missed calls. Poor girl. She probably thought I was dead in a ditch somewhere. I texted her and let her know that I was ok. I told her about the pizza in my purse and she filled me in on other things I didn’t remember, which was pretty much the whole night!

My cherry vodka sours were strong and I’m a lightweight. Luckily, we were responsible and had arranged designated drivers before the night began. Austin, Texas is a great place to celebrate St. Paddy’s Day but prepare yourself for the throngs of drunkards and know your own limits before you become one of them! I sure learned mine that night and I clearly can’t handle my liquor like the Irish!

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Cherry vodka sour!!!

Pompeii, Italy

A few years ago, I took a trip to Italy with two friends. While planning, I had only one request. I didn’t care what else we did or where else we went, the one place in Italy I wanted to see most was Pompeii. We planned for a day at the end of our trip and I couldn’t wait!!

Every city we visited over our two weeks in Italy was amazing! The people were the most welcoming and hospitable people I have ever met. The food and wine were, of course, the most incredible food and wine I have ever tasted. We were having a great trip and I knew that Pompeii was going to be the perfect ending to our tour of Italy. The morning of, we got into our rental car and headed out of Rome to Naples where we stopped to have lunch. The pizza was delicious! Just as it had been in every pizzeria we tried on our trip. When we were full, we got back in the car and pressed on. By this time, I was antsy with excitement! We were so close!!

Finally, we see the sign stating Città Di Pompei! Here’s a fun fact! While researching, I discovered that Pompei with a single ‘i’ is the spelling for the modern city while the spelling for the ancient city is with two, Pompeii. We made our way to the entrance of the ancient city and walked down the long walkway that leads inside.

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The vastness of the ruins was startling. It was astonishing to see that not only had the people of ancient Pompeii achieved incredible architectural feats, but also that these structures have endured all this time. We wandered for a long while, taking in as much of the richness around us as we could. Every corner we turned held something amazing. The amphitheater that still stands today, the artwork that has survived the elements and the artifacts that still litter the ground.

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Everything was breathtaking, but after a few hours of walking, we still had not seen any of the bodies that seemed so prolific on my Google searches of Pompeii. By this time we were thirsty and began searching for the concession area. The June heat got to me and I couldn’t take it any more. I needed water. Eventually, we stumbled across a waterspout attached to a carved stone. The carving was a bit ominous. I hoped that the face was that of a sweet wild-haired man and not one of a horned demon waiting to curse me with Montezuma’s Revenge. As I put my lips to the water, I kept thinking to myself, “Please don’t get dysentery, please don’t get dysentery.” I expected the water to be hot and nasty tasting but instead it was cool and refreshing. It tasted very clean, if that’s a thing. I felt reenergized and impressed with myself for making such a risky move. Five minutes later, we found the concession area that I no longer needed!

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Then we started to see people crowding into a doorway. We walked over to see what they were looking at. It was a body encased in glass. I’ve never seen anything like it in my life. It gave me chills. I could see the skull of the man in the case. He looked like he was writhing in agony. We moved on. There were more cases. More bodies. Some cases just had bones scattered around.

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Eventually we made our way into an open area with several barred rooms containing more bodies and artifacts. A tour group was slowly walking ahead of us. They stopped in front of a room with the body of a man crouching down with his hands clamped to his face. A woman in the group exclaimed proudly, “He was praying to Jesus with his last breath!” The tour guide kindly replied, “Actually, he was probably covering his airways to reduce the amount of fumes and ash he inhaled.” The woman clearly didn’t like that, which I found amusing. She gave him an angry glare as my friend shot a picture of me, smirking next to the crouching man.

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We posed for our final pictures with Mount Vesuvius and the wreckage it caused as storm clouds loomed overhead. Mount Vesuvius is still an active volcano. It last erupted in 1944. Luckily, the damage was minimal and the casualties were few. But one has to wonder, when it erupts again, will modern day residents have enough warning to evacuate or will future generations look upon those ruins and see the same devastation we see from the AD 79 eruption? If you ever have the opportunity to visit Pompeii, take it! Pompeii is truly a marvel of the ancient world, an awe-inspiring sight to behold.

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