reflection after a year

Last November, my husband and I had packed up all our belongings into 7 suitcases. We said goodbye to friends over coffee, wine and gin-tonics. Then we left our newlywed life in Madrid, Spain to follow an opportunity that opened up in NYC.

It is hard to believe that this was a little over a year ago. In that amount of time, our entire life shifted in a way that makes our old life almost unrecognizable. There were many things with the move that was a welcome change. Though we have moments when we wish to have spent a little longer abroad. A negative consequence that we noticed immediately (and continue to feel) was the higher cost of living here. Even after a year, it still hurts at the first of the month when we have to fork over rent that was twice the amount that we paid for an apartment near the heart of Madrid.

Then again, I certainly cannot regret where life has taken us this past year. Now, we have an adorable little newborn. Had we stayed longer, we wouldn’t have our little one. I knew that I didn’t want to be pregnant and give birth in a foreign country where my language skills was only intermediate and there was no family around to help. Another thing I’m grateful for is having my skin back to normal. Madrid was so dry that I suffered a terrible case of eczema the whole time I was there. It didn’t help that I found myself allergic to Spanish wine, of all things!

There are a few Madrid habits that have hung around our household. Late lunches and dinners are still the norm. It doesn’t help that my husband comes home late from work. We also have gotten pickier with what we consider good bread and olive oil. It’s pretty hard to find a decent one without spending a fortune (or at least it feels like a fortune in comparison to what we used to spend).

If you told me last year that my life would be the way it is now, I would not have believed you. Has it already been a year already?

4am looks different these days

A familiar feeling hits me as I sleepily walk to the kitchen at 4am for my customary post-breastfeeding glass of water. No, it’s not the one of pure exhaustion that only a newly-minted parent can understand. This is a more nostalgic, slightly giddy feeling that was a norm for me just last year.
A year ago, I was still living my complete other life in Madrid, Spain. Waking at 4am used to  mean something different. It meant that I was about to have a day of adventure and travel. A 4am wake-up call meant excitement.  Of course, my love for sleep could only be overridden by a reason such as this.
Maybe it is this new state of tired delirium that right now I can almost hear my alarm go off for a  4am wake-up call. (I insist that we can make it to the station by 6 with 30 minutes extra sleep, but my husband wants to be safe). I am groggy but the anticipation for a new place to explore brings energy was I go through a final item check and last-minute packing of toiletries.
In an hour or so, I step out into a still sleeping barrio (cuz, honestly, who wakes up early on a weekend when Spaniards don’t start partying till 2am), then hop the metro for the train station. On the ride over, you can see folks headed home from a night/early morning out with friends. There are also others who have the same eagerness in their eyes, riding the metro with their bags packed. We all make or exodus out of the subway car when we get to the train station, ready for whatever adventure the weekend brings.
Those days are now over. That chapter in my life was brief. It feels like the hint of a dream from long ago. Who could have predicted 11 months ago when we decided to move to NYC that those moments would be replaced by these types of 4ams? Instead of walking around my apartment for a final check before locking the door, I now have a newborn child cradled in my arms for a night feeding. It’s a different sentiment. Another type of excitement. It is also far more uncharted and uncertain than any travel could ever bring to me.

out with the old (hat)

This new year has crept up too fast! I feel barely ready for it. The last time I had a good grasp on what was happening in 2015, my husband accepted a job offer in the U.S. From that point, we had one month to close out a life in Spain, find an apartment the month after and yet another month to set up a new home.

Whew! It is exhausting me again to think about what ensued to reach this point.

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Goodbye old neighborhood! (Madrid)

So here I am, back in the country where I grew up. Even more, I am back to the metropolitan area that closely resembles “home”. After over a year of life in Madrid – feeling like I’m on perpetual blind dates in search of new friends, having cafe con leche and vino on terrazas when I actually found amazing friends, kissing everyone on the cheek twice (even if I didn’t like them), maneuvering Spanish bureaucracy and other challenges and joys of being an expat – that chapter is closed (for the moment).

Now, a new challenge is in front of me. It’s no longer about integrating into a new culture and new country… at least not that much. I’m still having lunch at 2pm, dinner at 9:30pm and hanging out at “night” starting 6pm, sounds odd. But that aside… knowing that I’m back for a couple of years, there must be a way to merge wandering tendencies with finding peace and contentment back in my old haunts.

So, how can one look at an old place with new lenses? Guess that’s what I will find out. After all, wandering never really ends no matter where you live. There is always something to explore.

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Hello new neighborhood! (Jersey City)

Here’s looking forward to a 2016 full of new discoveries and friendships! Happy New Year!

What are you looking forward to this year?

The toughest thing about travel…

is the part where you have to go back.

People greet you with a sarcastic, “Welcome back to reality!” I actually resent this remark. For short vacations where you spend the week at a beach resort, sipping margaritas or touring the countryside, I would let that slip. Living in hotels and having no responsibilities could definitely count as non-reality. But my recent adventure, that was real. It was reality. This summer, I actually had a chance to live in Peru. I had a rhythm, a routine. I had friends and a family. I had work and responsibilities. I spoke the language, mas o menos. Each day, as my friend eloquently put it, we worked to survive… watched our backs so we don’t get mugged, hit by a crazy driver, cheated by the guy at the market or fall off a mountain. That’s the part that seems to get lost on people.

It has been 3 full months since I’ve gotten back. Still, I find my mind wondering off to those days. As much as I love traveling and doing spontaneous things, I always take a while to adjust to change. Returning to America after Peru, definitely a change. It feels the way it did when I returned to the mainland after 2 years in Hawai’i. Though my stay in Peru was exactly 8 weeks, it was a whole lifetime. I went through things that touched and changed me so deeply that I have a hard time living life exactly the way I always had before I even left.

Anyway, I’m done with this random rant that has no real purpose. Next summer, I have a couple of trips that I do look forward to… the Dominican Republic, Alaska, Texas… but I know it’s not the same… and I know it will be a long time before I have an experience like that again.

Just a quick peek at the Pisac Ruins from the highest point…

Never get lost in a mountain after dark

Last night was the first time I thought I would die… or at least hurt myself rather badly.  It was probably the most frightened that I have ever felt.  It all began when my friends and I decided to climb the mountain by the school.  We had set off at a decent time, 2:30pm, aiming to hit a rock that we could see from the bottom.

the mountain by our school

Already, the path was tough and most of the time, we were creating our own trails through grass that were taller than me as well as some nice prickly surprises.  In addition, it was mostly a steep uphill climb.  We finally made it to an area here thre was some wheat being farm.  It was pretty amazing to see someone´s farm that high up and on the side of a mountain.  At that point, my friend, Missy, decided to hang out there and journal since her foot was hurting a bit.  Creighton and I continued on with a mission to reach that top of the mountain.  It became even tougher as we hit an area with a mudslide and we had to do some rock climbing on some precariously stuck together mud.  There was a moment when I was stuck at an area for a good few minutes since I did not know where to go and I tried a step somewhere and ended up sliding down a little before finally getting out of it.  After more of that type of ordeal, we made it to a relatively flat area where we sat, took pictures and enjoyed the few.  Sadly, we could only sit there for a few minutes as we realized that the sun would set in an hour and we still had to figure out a way down.

When we finally started down, we saw a path below and made our way there.  The thing with running into a trail midway is that you have a choice, go left or go right.  To the right, we saw the rock that we originally meant to be on.  However, we thought that the trail ended there and we would end up doing what we did climbing up, except going down.  Therefore, to be on the ¨safe¨ side, we headed left.  The logic was that the trail on the left, longer though it may be, is likely to head straight to town and therefore may be a safer way down than attempting to climb down the way we came.

Unfortunately, choosing that path led to the scariest situation I´ve ever been in, and yet, I guess the best and most adventurous story I could tell, though I do no justice in this retelling.  Also, trying to relieve those moments still frighten me and therefore will try to be as succint as possible.  Basically, we followed that road, crossing over some parts that have crumbled down.  However, no matter how fast we attempted to quickly walk down the trail, it continued on for a long while, winding up or flat, with few downs, around one mountain to the next.  At that point, the sun had set and the moon was starting to be the only one to light our path.  Still we continued to follow the road until we heard rushing water. We crossed a mini stream and realized that the path had stopped.  It was too dark to search for another and at that point, we basically decided that going straight down the mountain as much as we possibly could would be the best since it would be faster and because we don´t know what else to do at the point.  There were so many possibilities that went through my mind, from being found by wild animals or wild people to sleeping on the mountain for the night to falling off a cliff.  Basically, just to end this already long story, we ended up at a couple of dead ends, one being at a cliff with a 15 foot drop and us debating whether or not to climb down the tree beside it. In fact, because of this, I ended up holding on to a rock for the next time we reach a cliff which I ended up bleeding all over at one point from sliding down through the brambles.  I think I´m gonna bring this rock home.

Finally, we found a semi aqueduct that we slowly slid down (in case it ended in a cliff).  It was quite steep and we definitely fell on our butt as well as hit and grabbed and landed on spiky plants.  Finally, after about 3.5 hours stuck on that mountain in the dark, we made it on flat land.  I could barely believe it.  Even walking to the Plaza de Armas in Pisaq felt like a dream!

behind me is the area of the mountain where we finally made it down

All in all, I am sooooo glad to have made it safely down and the first thing I did was tell my family how much I loved them.  You really do realize what matters most after situations like that.  I think I´m pretty good on adventures at this point.  No more craziness for a while. 🙂

Ciao.

And here comes the weekend…

It has been officially 8 days since I´ve arrived in Peru.  I still trips me out when I think about where I am, but I have gotten accustomed to certain things.  It also helps that I have met a great bunch of people to share new adventures with.  =)  One of our bigger bonding sessions was during our salsa class on Friday evening.  Watching everyone learn to salsa, most especially the guys was fun.  Then the instructors handed us their cards including a club where they teach every night.   So, after eating at an Indian buffet, which made me nostalgic for my appendage and her people., we ended up at Zazu.  For a Friday night, it was pretty dead.  After seeing the empty place, we figured we´d just go in for cervezas and watch the few people dance.  However, since our instructors remembered us, we weren´t getting off easy.  We joined in for their lesson which involved dancing in a circle and switching partners every few beats or so.  Since I was still getting used to the altitude and I had some beer, I was a little winded.  At the end of the lesson, I sat down for a bit before the instuctor came back and asked me to dance.  Little did I know what I was in for.  We danced for an entire song (which was pretty long) and he put me through the paces with twists and turns.  Though I was really tired at the end, it was a lot of fun.  I felt bad thugh cuz after, another guy asked me to dance and I had to turn him down cuz I needed a rest.  Apparently I held my own very well, wich was good to know that Filipino debut dancing paid off. lol.

the trio @ Zazu for salsa

Over all, that was good times.  Unfortunately, we didn´t end upo sleeping til late and we had planned a hike the next day.  SO when Saturday morning rolled around, we were not in the mood for much movement, particularly me.  After a night of dancing and a beer, climbing steep uphills is a challenge.  But, I was with a group of cool people and luckily we found a guy who offered to take us horseback riding to the places we wanted to visit.  All we had to do was endure the long hike into their ranch by Sacsayhuaman.  🙂  As tough as the walk was, the view was gorgeous.  It was also a perfect day to ride because the sly was blue and the sun was shining brightly.

After visiting the Temple of the Sun and monkeys, we headed to see Cristo Blanco and admire the beautiful view of Cusco from above.

Then, we went back down to visit the Temple of the Sun and admired the architecture and design of the Incans, whose walls still stood at the temple.  We also got a preview of the Inti Raymi celebrations as the performers practiced on the lawn and in the Temple.

ANyway, that´s it for now.  I´m in Pisac and the internet is annoying me, so I´ll end it here.   🙂

In one of the longest days ever…

Actually, maybe this is only second to my 2004 visit to the Philippines (23 hours of travel + 4 hrs for a family reunion immediately after).  Neverthless, on June 6, I was in the air at 12:00am EST and did not return to my homestay until 11:30pm, Cuzco time.

So this is what went down: (Apologies in advance if some things don’t make sense since I am running on little sleep).

When I arrived in Lima, I went through the usual immigration procedures.  Running on 4 hours of sleep on the plane, I accidentally told the officer that I would be in Peru for 8 months (ocho meses) instead of 8 weeks (ocho semanas).  When he told me, in Spanish, that I could only stay 6 months without a visa, I was really confused.  Thankfully, he was very understanding of the blunder and simply smiled when I corrected myself.  The rest of my layover was interesting. I attempted to bring my check-in up to the gates, ended up buying agua con gas which exploded on my pants, got a whiff of some awful fish stench (Lima is by the ocean) and  met 3 girls who were also traveling alone and going to Cuzco to volunteer.  Unfortunately none of them were in my school, but it was nice to know that I wasn´t alone.

arriving at the airport in Cusco

Arriving in Cuzco was thankfully painless.  There was a porter who helped with my bags and we were able to immediately find my ride.  Unfortunately, my ride was waiting for other people and I was waiting in a car for an hour and a half with the driver who only spoke Spanish, but nevertheless entertained me with Peruvian music.  Finally, 2 more passengers from England arrived who were very nice. We chatted until we were dropped off at our home stay in different parts of town.

My host family extremely friendly and welcoming.  They speak very little English and encourage using Spanish at the house.  I met their other homestay person who is from Germany and had been in the house for 3 weeks.  My homestay mama had me drink mate de coca immediately and fed me a delicious meal of egg soup, a special Cuzquenan dish with potatos and cheese, chicken with an unknown sauce and carros, beets and platanos all doused with lime.  After that, I took a cold shower (misunderstood directions on how to get hot water) and went to sleep with wet hair (my blowdryer didn´t fit the adaptor).

I woke up to the sound of a guy, who kind of sounded like my sister´s boyfriend, which threw me off.  He was a third homestay-er and from Utah.  It was good that he was around because my homestay mama was able to send us into an unofficial taxi without fearing for my life.  Since it´s only 3 soles to get to the main plaza (a little over a dollar), we went there and trudged up the hill for a block and a half to get to school.  Let me tell you, 10,500 ft is no joking matter on your first day on an uphill hike.  But.. I managed without too much huffing and puffing and arried at the school where we met many different people from other countries (though many seemed from Holland and the U.S.).

They sent us out on a walking tour with a guide.  Why they have us walking so much on the first day in high altitude is beyond me.  Though, it was nice to see and hear more about our city and chat with the others along the way.  Cuzco is such a beautiful beautiful town. I mean, I heard this before. However, I didn´t realize just how much until I came here.  Halfway through our tour, my housemate managed to smell churros and had it in the brain for the rest of the tour.  So of course, when the tour was done, we rounded up some other classmates and went on a quest to find the churro stand.  We finally found after a very roundabout way and only had to pay .50 soles which is approx 20 cents.  It was amazing.  After, we had the others in the group lead and we ended up towards the more artsy district and had some drinks at El Nomade.  By that time, it was past 8.  We waved goodbye to the group but since my housemate hadn´t spoken to his family in ages, we decided to find an internet cafe.  We stayed for an hour or so and only spent 4 soles (just under 2 dollars)!  I´m really loving the prices in this town!

After, we decided to find food and returned to the churro stand in search of a burger.  Sadly, it closed, but there was a nearby pizzeria.  I tried Inca Kola for the first time. It was not too sweet and definitely tasted like sweet fruity chewing gums do, but it was enjoyable.  We took our pizza and sat in front of the cathedral… chatting about politics, which was happily a painless conversation.  We finally decided to leave because it was getting cold!

Overall, I think a lack of sleep is a small price to pay for fun times with good people.  Now, I am just waiting for my Spanish class to begin.  It isn’t until the afternoon.  Boo hiss.. but whatever.  I will find something to do. 🙂

Ciao.