Tag Archives: Travel

Greetings from the Rainforest

There is a song I used to love by an artist whose name I can’t remember. She sang,

“Home is a house you build with your bones.”

In my mind I hear the melody while walking barefoot across the concrete from my bedroom to the porch, to sit beneath string lights and gaze over the hillside. In awe I watch the clouds, breathe deeply and feel very much like myself. IMG_0991

For a woman who tends to define herself by her home and relationships, leaving and feeling secure is always a challenge, but a worthy one. I am realizing, or maybe remembering, truths that have been clouded for a while. Home is a house you build with your bones.

The air is warm and the rain has just stopped. Large green leaves are glistening as I walk past them. The chirps of the jungle are loud, as they always are when the sky grows dark.

I wonder if jungle creatures make noise all night just to make sure they still exist when it is too dark see themselves. Surely we do the same. Surely I have done the same.

It has been almost two weeks since arriving here in Puerto Rico, and I feel settled, at home in my bones, and happy.

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The night I arrived, I let my exhaustion and nerves drive me into hysteria.

My new roommate and now dear friend Wynn peered up from the book she was reading in bed and asked calmly, “You never went to summer camp as a kid, did you?” She could feel my energy as I eyed the small, basic room that we were now to share, indignant over the lack of shelves and wondering where the hell I was going to put all my stuff, and why I brought so damn much.

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That night I messaged a friend in Rincon and plotted my escape. I was petrified by the uncertainty of my new situation.

Over the next few days, with my hands in the soil and the sun on my neck, I shed my panic like old skin. On Tuesday I pulled stray ferns out of a vermillion plant. On Wednesday night Wynn and I wandered through old San Juan, stepping into cafes, chatting over Medalla Lights and getting to know each other. On Thursday I tended to a breezeway filled with orchids and tree ferns. On Thursday night our host bought more shelves for our bedroom, and I finally unpacked. On Friday we took the ferry to Culebra to swim in the turquoise sea of Flamenco Beach and mingle with island regulars. All the pieces nestled into perspective so incredibly, and I became more and more certain…traveling here on a work exchange is exactly where I need to be right now.IMG_0922

The climate is medicinal and the company is truly great. There is plenty of time to read and write. I wake up early in the morning and go to sleep pretty early in the evening, a routine that feels unsurprisingly…amazing. I am grateful to have been able to choose this on a whim.

A few words on a work exchange. It is an inexpensive way to travel and learn. If those are your priorities, you really do not need much else. In exchange for five hours of work five days a week, I receive meals and my room. The meals are healthy and delicious and my room, I have come to see, is perfect.

Earning my keep is not easy, but it is totally reasonable and rewarding. Today Wynn and I dug up a ginger tree to replant in a different spot. Picture two relatively small women hacking away with all their might, shovels and pick axes swinging. When the rain began we took a break for lattes and reading. In the evening we made dinner in the beautiful open air kitchen, to the sound of good music and falling drops.

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Earlier this week I read a particularly striking line from a book I borrowed from the inn.

“Uncertainty, on the other hand, is the fertile ground of pure creativity and freedom…In your willingness to step into the unknown, you will have the wisdom of uncertainty factored in.” -Deepak Chopra

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Traveling to Puerto Rico alone to work in the rainforest was definitely a step into the unknown, and uncertainty and I have become quite close. Having landed on the fertile ground of freedom and creativity, far from the familiarities of home, I am feeling closer to myself. For the next few weeks you may find me here, working on the home of my bones, focusing on patience and grace.

Unapologetic and open.

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Wynn before we begin a day’s work

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A few pieces of the salvaged ginger plant

IMG_1236The sea from Culebrita Island

IMG_1181Greetings from here

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The time I flew away

When I left for a semester studying in Barcelona, Spain in January 2013, I was in love. We began dating the previous April, and I was enamored all spring and summer long. We spent nearly every day learning about each other, enjoying meals with each others’ families, taking long drives and day trips, swimming in the ocean, introducing each other to friends, enjoying every piece of the newness of being together. I was 20 and found parts of myself that I was previously blind to. I learned what I want in a partnership, and how it feels to care so deeply about another person.

This is not a post about my last relationship, however. This is a post about the first time I left home by myself, and the first time I left the country for an extended period of time. It was a time when one journey collided with another.

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Castellers

I boarded the flight (only the third flight of my life) clutching my passport and boarding pass, obsessively checking the zipper of my backpack to make sure it was closed, and peeking in my purse to make sure I had not forgotten anything. (If I did would it have mattered?) I was petrified. Armed with nothing but a Benadryl hoping for sleep, I found my seat beside a young couple who spoke sexy French. The next eight hours seemed like they were going to last my whole life, and I wondered where the hell I was going. What if I hated Spain? Why was I leaving all of the people I loved to go somewhere that I knew nothing about? The answer of course was that it had been my dream all my life to study in Spain, and eventually reach fluency in Spanish, but in my panic, I flooded myself with panicked thoughts.

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Lara, Katherine and I atop Tibidabo at sunset.

In an effort not to freak out further, I browsed through the films that Delta offers to passengers to watch. Immediately upon seeing Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom on the queue, I began to quiver and cry. Sentimental, sleep deprived, (oh and hung over, this flight was on January 1st my friends…) I remembered seeing this movie at the theater in Red Bank one rainy night the past summer, with my boyfriend, it was the first movie we went to together.

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Barcelona from Montjuïc on a sunny day

For some reason his card didn’t work at the box office, so I paid for our tickets, which I loved to tease him about because he was obsessive about paying for everything all the time. I remember sitting in the theater wondering if he liked it, because I did not yet know his taste in movies at all, and breathing relief when he said he did during closing credits. So in the plane, leaving him, leaving New Jersey rain, leaving home, seeing that, I lost it, and still I had to watch it. So I watched and sobbed throughout.

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Learning to make paella

My mother had stuffed tissues in the pockets of my sweater before I boarded and I went through nearly all of them before the French woman next to me asked timidly if I was ok. I couldn’t tell if I was. I asked the flight attendant for more tissues.

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Hiking Tibidabo in Barcelona a few days after I arrived

Thankfully I cried myself to sleep and woke up somewhere somewhere above the Atlantic Ocean. I needed to watch something more distanced from myself, as the airplane carried my body away from everything and everyone it was ever surrounded by.

 

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Gypsy village in Granada, Spain

I chose to next watch Breakfast at Tiffany’s, a movie that I knew was a classic but for whatever reason I’d never seen it. Watching it calmed me down, and I was inspired and excited by Holly Golightly’s independence, attitude toward men, and beauty. I quit being a weepy American girl and thought excitedly about what the next few months would bring: independence, new friends, a new language, a new home, everything I wanted.

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Small streets, something I wanted

Well, the semester was nothing short of incredible. I spoke a lot of Spanish, traveled to different cities and countries, met people from all over the world, took chances, trusted myself, everything anyone will tell you about a semester in another country.

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The library at Universidad Pompeu Fabra.

At times when I was not with friends or in class, I strolled the windy streets of the gothic quarter by myself, sharing small talk in Spanish with strangers, snapping photos of architectural corners, stopping for a café solo in pretty coffee shops. I stayed out late at night with the girls in my classes and we met lots of people, other travelers, Spanish and Catalan citizens. I learned balance, in a place where it was possible and almost expected to act totally recklessness. Passing Poesia Hispanica class was most difficult academic endeavor I have ever faced, it was a poetry class taught entirely in Spanish.

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Hexagon windows

It has been over a year since those months in Europe came and went. Since then, I ended my relationship, graduated from Rutgers, moved home, and began thinking through my next move. A significant part of me is yearning for travel again. I am saving every penny I can from the restaurant where I work, and I want to plan a trip to central America or across the country very soon.

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Friends one night at the port

Before I went to Spain people told me there is nothing like the first time you travel by yourself. The first time I left I was so nervous that at times I thought I was making a mistake. The next time, I do not expect to feel so. I anticipate readiness to explore, and enthusiasm for the unknown. I want to feel that space of uncomfortable magic that I felt in Spain. I want to feel the adventure, but this time, without doubt and fear, because I proved to myself that I can.

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Lara and I in Granada

I enjoyed the stretches of experience that come from crafting a life for yourself away from home. I thrived making connections with new people and finding similarities when there seemed to be none. I loved stumbling into a situation that felt so impossibly perfect. The first time I left, I did not know such an experience was possible. Now that I do, I crave it.

 

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A piece of the map

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A picture I snapped while hiking The Footpath of Gods along the Amalfi Coast in Italy.

 

 

A Piece of the Map

 

Silver skies allow
green edges
of distant trees
to be seen sharply
as if stenciled-
one world displayed
against another.
It rained all three days that
we explored Positano.

You expressed
admiration for the
synchronized grace
of Italian rain clouds,
as if they too were
preparing an evening
meal with herbs and
dough and olive oil,
cooking together
with ease.
Overcome with
indulgent guilt I
apologized to
my pizza.
The silver skies
laughed with sea-
side cliffs because
silver skies exposed
how out of place
we were. Blue would
have been a disguise
like a camera, but
we were stenciled
rather than freely
drawn, or artfully
sewn, we carried
one world into
another.

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