Thursday, December 19, 2013

Plotting

My office closes between Christmas and New Years. This year, due to having ankle surgery smack dab in the middle of this holiday (as well as just having no money in general due to having JUST moved) I can't take advantage of this gift of time. But... I plot.

My last job also gave me this precious time off. And the first time I ever traveled internationally was done using those 9 days. I went to Dresden, Germany and Paris, France. It was perfect.

I can only imagine what other places I might be able to visit in this amount of time. So that's what I am going to do over my break. I am going to play with researching what I could do with this break some other year. A year when I am not broken (nor broke).

Then I will come back, and share my ideas. It'll be fun.

Best wishes. And I hope everyone enjoys the time coming upon them - with the Solstice, Christmas, and New Years. It is my favorite time of year.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

A year later - a world of difference

In roughly two weeks - it will have been a year since I got back from my insane 3-month trip to India.

When I came home from India, I had no idea what to do with my life. It was a question I had been worrying like crazy over before the trip - but a friend smartly told me to cut it out because the person leaving for India would not be the person coming back, and I should just let her deal with that shit. Well, he was right. But the person coming back from India was just as clueless and lost as the person who left. She was also a lot more optimistic about the kindness of others, and optimistic about her own ability to make it through anything that came at her.

I came home from India with no immediate job prospects, no place to live, little to no money, but not too much baggage. Everything I owned pretty much fit into a couple of suitcases (for the literally not too much baggage!). I was healthy. And while I did suffer the occasional bout of post-travel depression I was doing well emotionally.

I also came home to the best friends in the whole world. Friends who let me stay in their spare rooms. Friends who helped me when I needed help. Friends who reminded me day in and day out how happy I was to have come home to Boston.

And then I broke my leg. And that is when I became so grateful for the person I became due to my time in India. That trip taught me I could ask for help, and that I had people in my life who could and would stand up and help me. That trip taught me I could handle isolation (and believe me - the first two months after breaking my leg, even though living in the city I call home and having a lot of friends around... I still felt really fucking isolated because I was STUCK and couldn't get around on my own and I had to rely on myself even while leaning so often on my friends). India taught me to hope for the best, and even when things looked like they were going to suck (and even on days when things *did* suck) things *WERE* going to get better.

I have no doubt... none whatsoever... that I would not have handled the experience of breaking my leg and the resultant surgery and months of recovery as well as I did if it had not been for my travel experiences. For the person I became because of travel. For the lessons I learned.

It has been almost a year. I have a job now. One I love. One that will give me opportunities to explore my interests - artistically and scholastically - and find the path I need to follow in order to pursue my long-term goals. And most importantly - one where I can be myself every day.

It has been almost a year. I found an apartment. I move in on December 1. It's been so long since I've had a place of my own (more or less - I'll have 3 or 4 roommates in this new place) - I moved out of my last place at the end of January 2012 - that it's going to feel so strange at first really being able to spread out and have MY THINGS around me again. I won't be as free to up and bounce off, as I have been, but I'll have a home again. And that is important to me. More important than I think I ever knew before.

India took so much out of me. And it has taken me more or less a year to recover entirely. But I don't regret it for a second, because who I am today... I would not be if it hadn't been for that experience.

I am glad though to finally be putting down roots again. Roots are nice.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Dream Destination - Ireland

Lush greens. Deep blues. Grey and white stone. Overcast skies. Beer in hand. Voices surrounding me. History and Literature living together with Culture. Rocky cliffs. Sheep grazing. Music everywhere. Sexy sexy accents. Friendly people. I close my eyes and that is what I imagine when I think of Ireland.

Ireland has been a dream of mine for as long as I can remember. It, along with India, has been that place I have read about in books or seen in movies since I was a little kid and just KNEW that I had to visit some day. There isn't any one place I want to visit over another. Like in India, I want to go to experience whatever comes my way and get swept up in the adventure. Like my dream destination of New Orleans I don't want to go with any sort of PLAN in mind. But to take it as it comes.

The only thing I do know is that I want to see Dublin, and wander the streets aimlessly. Get lost and duck into the nearest pub and just soak in the energy of the people surrounding me. I want to sketch. I want to write. I want to sit still and be absorbed by life there.

I mostly want to travel across or around the island. Visiting whatever places appeal to me. Stopping for a lovely view to sketch, take photos, or just enjoy. Exploring the unknown. Meeting people and talking to total strangers as comes so naturally for me.

Ireland is a place I can do in as long or as short a trip as I feel like at the time. I don't feel like it would be a "once in a lifetime" adventure the way my trip to India was that required a very large chunk of time devoted to it. If I only have a long weekend, so be it. If I have more than that, awesome. It is a place I envision being flexible and as quiet or adventurous as I feel like at the time.

My love of people, of architecture, and of exploration just tells me that Ireland is a place where I can indulge all of those loves.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

My favorite kind of adventure

Yesterday found me on the best kind of adventure. A relatively spontaneous trip to a relatively unimportant destination for the sole purpose of having an adventure.

My friend and I wanted to check out the changing autumn leaves, and we picked Burlington Vermont as our destination. It's a place far enough away to make it a journey while being close enough it could be a day trip. I knew nothing about the place otherwise. And it ended up being quite the fun day, with stunning scenery along the way. So the adventure was most assuredly a success.

This reminded me of the year I lived in Pennsylvania. My boyfriend at the time and I had access to a car, and just about every weekend we'd look at my map of the state and one of us would say "we haven't been there. Let's go that direction." We'd take off, not really caring WHERE we were headed, but happy to explore some place new and enjoy the time together. Half the time we didn't even make it to our stated destination, because we'd see a road along the way we just had to turn down or find something that caught our attention somewhere else. But that was okay, because the adventure was point, not the destination.

I have a map of the US that usually lives on my bedroom wall. On it I've marked down every road trip I have been on, every flight I have taken. Looking at that map and seeing the emptiness that is my exploration of New England makes me very very sad.

You see, I moved to Boston seven years ago, and yet yesterday was the first time I made it to Vermont. As someone who dragged her boyfriend around more of Pennsylvania in one year than he had seen his whole life I'm not normally the sort to side idly by when there is unexplored territory anywhere near me.

So why? 

One reason I picked Boston when it was time to leave Alaska was so I would no longer need to maintain the stress and frustrations and costs of owning a car. And unfortunately, not owning a car here in Boston limits my regional adventuring. I don't ride a bicycle, and even before I broke my leg I had ankle problems. So even if I were to go somewhere along the Commuter Rail I'd still end up stuck. And feeling stuck is a feeling I abhor. So when I want to go on these sorts of random adventures I need to convince friends to go on them with me. And too few of my friends (as much as I love them) understand (or have time for) my passion for purposeless adventuring. So the adventures I do get to go on have been few and far between.

I miss being able to wake up on a Saturday or Sunday morning and just go for a drive. If I ever do decide to buy a car again, that is really the only reason I would be getting one.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Dream Destination - New Orleans, Louisiana

New Orleans. A city where "mysteries abound, some real, many imagined." That is how the book that first captured my imagination about this city described it. Anne Rice's The Witching Hour. I read it back when I was around ten or so (I was precocious) shortly after it came out. And while I had liked her vampire books, this one reached into my soul and made me YEARN to see the city it took place in.

Her voice, describing the great houses, the old oak trees, the gardens, the wrought iron fences and sounds and smells of the city... New Orleans came to life for me. And it remained a place I wanted to visit. Even my dream house is strongly based on many of the pictures and descriptions of the plantation manors I have read about in New Orleans (it's actually a combination of New Orleans plantation and New England Victorian).

After Katrina hit in 2005, I was devastated that I'd never had a chance to see New Orleans as it had been. I knew the city would recover, long and hard as that may be. But I knew it would be different. And I am more determined that I will go there some day... soon, hopefully.

If I hadn't broken my leg back in April I would be in the midst of planning a trip there right now. I had "planned" to take a long weekend in the fall and just explore and sit and sketch and eat and drink and talk to total strangers. I wanted to drink an oyster shooter (raw oyster covered in tabasco sauce, followed by a shot of bourbon) just to say I have. I don't actually know anything about what to "do" or "see" in New Orleans. And I don't want to know. I want it to sweep me off my feet and take me where it wants me to go. I think that's the best way to do it.

And while I do really enjoy traveling solo, on this trip I wanted to be accompanied by a particular friend I dated briefly last year and who has settled in to becoming one of my best friends. We figured we could have an awful lot of fun together in a city like New Orleans. So once my leg (and now also my ankle) is all healed and I've got the rest of the shit in my life put together, we'll still go. It's top of my list. And it'll be magical.


Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Dream Destination - Black Rock City

Burning Man

I want to go someday.

This was on my "maybe someday if all the stars align" list, until I went to India and got a much stronger sense of how much I love insane festivals full of light and love and kindness and strangers and being in the middle of something intense. That's when Burning Man skyrocketed closer to the top of my wish list of places I want to visit some day.

I've got friends who go to Burning Man. Friends as part of a theme camp, and friends who go on their own. I have friends who have been going for years, and friends who went for the first time only recently (and among them some have continued to go back while others were all NEVER AGAIN).

A travel blogger I enjoy wrote about his experiences at his first Burning Man this year. It's in 3 parts, and if you've never been but are curious about it from a first-timer's perspective (or if you're a veteran and just love reading about new people) , this is a great place to start reading! (He has a previous post as well about the preparations for his trip that is also fascinating reading.)

http://www.theboutiquetraveler.com/burning-man-from-a-first-timers-perspective-part-1/

My ex-boyfriend goes to Burning Man. And he has encouraged me to keep this dream alive. When I mentioned it to him recently, about what it takes to go... his response was simple. "Time and money."

Time and money. The banes of my travel-addicted existence!

I've been thinking about Burning Man a lot recently. And wondering exactly how much planning would need to go into making it happen. I emailed my best friend in the entire world, to see if going to Burning Man would be something she'd be interested in. I think the two of us together would be a mighty force at an event like that.

I'm not saying that I'll be going to Burning Man next year, or even the following year. But the thought of going is something that never fades from my radar, and is something I expect will be an incredible experience once I do finally manage to go.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Travel inspirations

What got me interested in travel? Who were my inspirations as a kid? What as an adult prompted me to finally throw away job and security to take off and do what I'd always dreamed of doing?

Childhood inspirations...

I saw a piece over on Huffington Post about 5 women who changed the way we look at travel. Their number five spot was occupied by a woman who truly did help jump start my interest. Carmen Sandiego. This fictional thief had a game and a TV show that I was obsessed with when I was a kid. I used to dig through the atlas to find answers to questions that would help me find her. I learned about currency and flags. I learned about world capitals and places of interest. My world completely opened up because of "Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?". The HuffPost piece says that Carmen Sandiego taught us that the "world is beautiful and traveling is one big adventure." I would agree with that.

But even before Carmen there was my dad.

God, at an extremely early age my dad inspired me! Stories of his college adventures down in Mexico. His trip to Florida after graduation. His dreams of one day owning a sailboat and taking his family on a trip around the world. That never happened, but his enthusiasm infected at least one of his kids. I share his love of meeting new people. I share his love of maps and curiosity about the world. He encouraged me to read everything I could get my hands on, which only spurred my desire to see everything. I never tired of asking him to repeat his stories, and at night I'd close my eyes and dream of tossing some stuff in a backpack and going off on adventures of my own.

Another major inspiration to me as a kid was Indiana Jones. I was only a baby when the first movie came out in 1981, so the first one I saw in the theater was the third (out in 1989). But my parents had already introduced us to Raiders and Temple by that point and I was hooked. The big maps with dots showing where Indy was going (I have maps on my walls at home with red lines showing everywhere I've been, as homage to the maps from Indiana Jones). The amazing locations, exotic and full of interesting food and people and things to look at! As a kid I wanted nothing more than to grow up to be Indiana Jones. No, not to fight Nazis or be an archeologist. But to travel! To meet fascinating people, see exotic places, and have adventures. And yeah, to look awesome in leather jacket and fedora while doing so. *Grins* 

And finally, another real-life inspiration in a deeply personal way was my cousin Lesley. *Smiles* I remember her so vividly. I was 12 and she was 24 when I really got to know her. Fresh from backpacking through Europe after university and at loose ends she moved to Alaska from California to try something new. Lesley was everything I wanted to be when I grew up. Smart, and fun, and full of life. Full also of stories and adventures. Willing to try new things and willing to fail. She was outgoing and able to make friends with anybody and everybody, it seemed. (Yes, this trait does run in my family!) Lesley lived in Anchorage only for a few years before she took off again. To hike the Appalachian Trail. Then settled in Seattle, where she continues to live today. 

She just seemed to me so confident and sure of herself. I remember at 12 I was nothing like that and with that memory of her as my role model Lesley helped me become the person I am today. Someone willing to follow passions and dreams. Or even randomly occurring fantasies. :)

So there you have it. When you combine natural curiosity with real and fictional people who inspire you... there really is nothing you can do about it. Travel was something I knew I had to do with my life.

Adult promptings...

Turning 30. That's what did it. Realizing that while I'd seen so much of the United States I still had never traveled out of the country. I'd let fear keep me from doing something I'd always wanted to do. I'd let myself keep saying "you can't afford that" or "you can't do that by yourself." And I finally said "fuck that." Life is not infinite. And you only get one shot at it. I guess I had my mid-life crisis a little early. *Laughs* But there few better ways to handle it than going off and seeing the world. :)





Thursday, July 11, 2013

A letter to my nieces and nephews... (And their parents)

To Emily, Elsie, Hugh, Gayatri, Lavanya, Hailey, Charley, Quincy, and Jatindra...

As you're probably aware (or will be once you're old enough to become aware of these things), your Aunt Lori is a bit of a travel nut. I started getting interested in travel when I was only six years old. Grandpa Mike introduced me to maps. And told me stories of HIS adventures. And allowed me to be part of our family's move from Arizona to Alaska by discussing the trip with me every step of the way and going over the maps and working out where we'd be going. He let me ask questions and he always had the atlas out to help me find whatever answers I needed to find. 

I used to spin our globe and close my eyes and stick my finger randomly on the spinning ball to find new and exciting places to look up in the atlas. I also read every book I could get my hands on.

And I dreamed. I dreamed CONSTANTLY! Of far away places. Of places in this country and of places on the other side of the world. Of placed I'd read about in books or seen in movies or places I found by randomly poking at the globe.

The Indiana Jones movies came out when I was a kid, and I dreamed of growing up to BE Indiana Jones. No, I didn't want to be an archeologist, or fight Nazis. I wanted to travel the world and have fascinating adventures and meet interesting people. I wanted a big map of the world and I wanted to draw lines all over the world showing where I had been. And push in pins to indicate all the places I wanted to go.

Travel, in my mind, is essential to being human. It allows you to see and experience how other people live. It opens you to cultures and languages very different from your own. You learn so much and what you learn can be helpful to any career or goal you set for yourself. It teaches you how to adapt to any given situation. It teaches you the values of patience and how to be resilient in the face of adversity. It is also simply quite a lot of fun!

I was 30 the first time I traveled out of the United States. Despite all of those dreams as a child, travel frightened me. I thought, I can't afford this. I thought, I can't do this on my own and no one can go with me. I thought, I'm bipolar with major anxiety disorder... travel is something I can't do.

Well kids... travel is something I can do. It is something anyone can do. And it is something I very much hope you will be given the opportunities to do. And I want to help you do it. I want to help you all know that travel IS something you don't have to just dream about but can accomplish in reality.

With your parents' permission, I want to take you traveling (at some point within a few years after you turn 16). But this isn't a free ride. I expect something in return for this adventure I'll be taking you on.

You will pick where you want to go. If your parents and I decide it is feasible for us, you'll write me an essay on why you want to go there. It doesn't have to be a GOOD reason, but there needs to be something that has inspired you. Hugh told me recently he wants to go to Rome (I too would love to visit Rome, so I'm excited about this if he still wants to go when he's older!). He's 10, and he saw Rome through the game Assassin's Creed and it inspired him. That's a reason! I still want to know what about Rome through the eyes of that game caught his attention, so keep that in mind.

Next... You'll be doing budget research. How much is the trip going to cost? Plane tickets, cost of lodging, cost of transportation while there, meals (spending money will be up to you), etc. To find that stuff out you'll have to dig up guide books and travel websites. I am not made of money so we will be on smaller budgets and won't be staying in fancy hotels, so do your research well. I'll be doing my own research and when we are both done we'll compare notes and figure out the best budget for our trip. 

You'll also be looking up things you'd like to do or see while we're there. We may see everything, we may see none of it, we will likely be somewhere in the middle. But doing the research ahead of time prepares you for whatever may pop up while we're there.

Why am I asking you to do all of this for a trip *I* will be taking *you* on? Ok, the first item is just my own damn curiosity. And also because I want to show you that even the smallest kernel of interest can blossom into something pretty amazing if you let it. But the rest is so you know how to do it yourself when the time comes for you to travel on your own. So you know that this is something you CAN do on your own. And I sincerely hope you will.

It sounds hard. But once you start doing it you really get the hang of it. So practice, even before this trip. Pretend you're going to go on a trip somewhere and plan the trip. I used to, all over the world I visited in my imagination. The Internet is a wonderful thing in helping you do this. Make a list of every place you might possibly want to visit and go read about them. WikiTravel is an awesome resource for a basic introduction to a wide variety of places. Go to the library and check out travel books. Find inspiration any way you can, and hold onto that.

Why am I doing this? Because I can. Because I love you all so much it fires me up and makes me want to help in this small way. I'm not a parent. I'm never going to have kids of my own. This is my choice. I love being your aunt so much. I love being an adult you can always talk to and come to if you need non-parental adult advice. 

Right this second no, I can't afford to be doing this. But I expect by the time you all start coming of age my world will have been back on its feet long enough for me to do this. And so I wanted you to be aware of it in advance, because I want you to dream. I want you to think and wonder where we might go. I want you to open your minds and your curiosity about the world around you. I think it is important.

To my siblings... Hi!


Monday, July 8, 2013

Traveling solo

I was at a party yesterday and got to talking to a lovely young lady. She was 21, and as we talked she mentioned feeling very uncomfortable about traveling solo. She told me a story about having once gone to St. Petersburg as part of an 8-week intensive language course and feeling lonely and homesick the entire time because she just didn't know how to go about meeting people to spend time with while traveling. The whole trip was miserable for her and she wished she had known how to have a good time there by herself.

Since all of my trips have been solo, I thought about what it is that a) makes me enjoy traveling solo and b) what someone could do to perhaps make it easier for them to do something similar. I'm pretty sure this is a topic I've brought up before, but it is worth revisiting, I think.

I'd love it if people chimed in with their opinions here as well. *Smiles* Just remember, these are my opinions based on my experiences and I am an extrovert who truly loves being around people. So I totally understand that in some cases what one person can do or would enjoy another person very strongly cannot or would not.

Why do I enjoy traveling solo?

I have a whole lot more reasons, but I thought for this I'd just cover the big three...

1. Freedom. Freedom to sleep at your own schedule, do activities at your own schedule, go where YOU want to go, and adjust things with no notice at all. Focus on your interests, and your desires. Traveling solo allows you to be selfish. *Smiles* 

2. Random social. In my experiences I have had more opportunities to meet really cool new people when alone than when with a friend or group. Because when alone, I find myself a) more eager to interact with other human beings, and b) better able to just slip into conversation with a total stranger (or strangers) and then let my first point take over with regards to plans.

3. Time to just be in my own head. This is hugely important to me. Because despite being an extrovert, I am also bipolar and I require time to just let go and be in my own head without anyone around to pull me away from what I'm doing. You don't have to be bipolar to need this. It's actually pretty common, from what I have heard from friends. And traveling or doing something solo, I have found, can often be the perfect way to let go of things and just BE in the moment.

Advice for traveling solo:

1. Learn to really enjoy your own company. Eat out at restaurants by yourself. Go to a movie by yourself. If extrovert me is in charge of my brain I watch the people around me when out and about by myself. I eavesdrop on conversations at the table next to me or the people standing in front of me in line. If I need quiet brain time I read or I write in my journal or sketch. 

2. Talk to the staff at your hotel (or guest house, or hostel). They are there to help you and are often very eager and able to do so. If, for instance, you're feeling homesick or lonely and need to be around other people who might understand how you're feeling, ask the hotel for suggestions on where the tourists tend to enjoy congregating. Because yeah, sometimes you just need that break from what you're doing and need a small taste of the familiar. Or find a Starbucks. *Laughs* 

3. Develop a routine, if you're going to be somewhere for more than a day or two. There a café near where you're staying? Stop in every morning on your way to your day's activities. Say hello to the people working there and if they aren't swamped maybe strike up a brief conversation. Smile at other patrons. Make yourself memorable somehow.  

4. Smile. Smiling goes a very long way to not only tricking yourself into feeling better if you're not, but also into opening yourself up to others. Say hello with a smile and you'll often get a smile back in return.  

5. Don't be afraid to or feel embarrassed about talking to strangers. Seriously. Many of my favorite travel memories came about because I opened my mouth and started talking to someone new.

6. Do pay attention to body language, though. If the people at the table next to you are sitting back in their chairs, arms gesticulating wildly, and smiling at or laughing with each other... there is a high likelihood that you interrupting their conversation with a comment based on something you heard them just say is going to be accepted and you might even be welcomed to join in on more of the conversation. If they are leaning in, talking quietly or intently, and not glancing around the room... best to leave them be. 

7. The same goes if you are out walking around and need to ask a stranger for help. Don't stop the person with small children he or she is trying to keep an eye on or the person waiting impatiently at a traffic light or moving briskly down the sidewalk unless it really is an emergency and you need to ask the first person you see. Look around you. See someone waiting for a bus? Or perhaps someone who has stepped outside to smoke a cigarette? Or duck into a nearby hotel or bank. They are good options. And if you are in a country where English is not readily spoken, keep in mind that younger people worldwide are often taught English in school so they might be more able to communicate with you if you don't speak the native language very well (or at all). But always keep in mind my next point!

8. Learn at least some of the native language. For very basic stuff I've found that when I'm traveling solo (hell, this is good advice for travel in general, solo or not!) being able to say hello in the native language often gets a very positive response and helps me feel not quite so alone. As does being able to say thank you. Learning the numbers helps when shopping, or needing to take busses or trains. I also like to learn how to tell someone I think their country or city is very beautiful. If you have allergies (like I do!), definitely learn how to say ALLERGY and either learn the local words for them or get them written down for you so you can show the paper to someone to help them understand! That's hugely important.

9. Definitely have a way to communicate with friends and family back home. Because yes, you will get lonely at times and homesick and sometimes the only way to feel better is to talk to the folks back home.

10. Allow yourself to feel your emotions. It is okay to get sad, or lonely, or frustrated. Just as it is okay to feel exhilarated and freeing that you're off on this adventure on your own having the time of your life. You don't need to feel angry or guilty for feeling any of those things.

11. Lastly... figure out what YOU like. What YOU are interested in. Not what the guide books or your friends tell you you should do, but what you actually want to do or see. And do them. There is nobody there to tell you you need to do anything else. Enjoy yourself. And you'll enjoy your trip.

Monday, July 1, 2013

My favorite travel memories

 After three months of doing nothing of note (excepting the various small victories that come after one has broken their leg!) I am itching for some travel. It is bugging me more than I can say to be doing nothing this summer. Going on no adventures. Seeing nothing new. Particularly since I had hoped for a trip to Montreal that now won't happen. So, I reminisce. I close my eyes and I take myself back to the various trips I have taken and remember a few of my favorite experiences.

I have so many more experiences that I'll never forget. But these are the ones that always jump to the forefront of my brain when I think about my various travels.

1. Sketching Paris

Paris was pure magic. A lot of my favorite memories come from there, but this is the one that always comes to mind first. I had been walking all day and was on my way the Musée d'Orsay. I'm not a big museum person and that is the one I'd decided I'd visit so I wouldn't leave Paris without having visited a single museum. But it was a beautiful day. Late December and it was the first truly beautiful day I'd had on my trip. Warm enough I even had to take off my coat. I remember crossing Pont Neuf and walking and noticing just how beautiful the city was. Then I crossed Pont des Arts and noticed all the benches.

I finally made it to the Museum and I just stood there. I looked at the line to enter, I thought about how much I would likely find the experience worthwhile. But then I thought about how nice a day it was. So I turned around and walked back to the footbridge to sit down and sketch Paris.


2. Quarterfinals of the 2010 South American Cup - Quito, Ecuador

I had just come back from Baños when Remy, the friend I'd made who worked at the hostel in Quito came up to me. "What are you doing Thursday night?" He asks, excitement radiating from him. "I'm going to be in Canoa, why?" "No! You need to be back here. Liga has made it to the South American Cup Quarterfinal and they're playing the first game here in Quito!"

Liga is one of Quito's soccer clubs. I had seen them play my first day in Ecuador and the experience had been so exciting that I agreed immediately to return to Quito a day early in order to attend this game. Only, I never made it out of Quito that week so it ended up not being an issue at all. And the day f the game, word spread throughout the hostel that a group was going to the game. 17 people ended up going, so we rented a bus to take us. 

The game was amazing. Brilliant soccer. In a stadium that holds around 40 or 50 thousand people there were probably 60 or 70 thousand people there. So the energy was pulsing. When Liga scored with 30 seconds left in the game, the stadium erupted. Drums and singing. Fires breaking out. Military on stand by in case of a riot. It was spectacular. And definitely a highlight of that trip.



3. A worldwide rivalry - Palolem, Goa (India)

While in Goa last year I spent a lot of time at Cocktails & Dreams, one of the restaurants along Palolem Beach. Since the season hasn't really kicked into full gear it was also one of the few restaurants along the beach that was a popular spot to chill in the evenings. There were a couple of pool tables in the back and a tiny TV in the back corner. But for the most part people came to eat, drink, smoke, and chill with friends.

Except for the night Barcelona and Real Madrid played each other and the game aired on that little teeny television.

Now, take into consideration that I live in Boston. And I am a New York Yankees fan. In the US this is huge. The rivalry between the Yankees and Red Sox is legendary in this country. But oh holy gods... baseball rivalries in America are NOTHING compared to soccer rivalries around the world! And least of all the worldwide rivalry between Barcelona and Real Madrid.

Just about every person packed into the bar that night was crowded around that small television set, glued to the game. Everybody had interest in one of the teams (I am personally a big Barcelona fan), and huge interest in the two star players. (Again, personally, between Messi and Ronaldo I think Lionel Messi is the greatest player currently on this planet.) Watching this game on TV was unlike any other experience I have ever had watching a game on TV. It was just as memorable as seeing the game live in Quito, though completely different.  And like that game, this is one I will never forget. 

(PS: Barcelona won.)

4. The kindness of a stranger - New York City

You always hear that New Yorkers are rude, unhelpful, and just generally awful. I love New York. And never once have I encountered those stereotypes in the people I've encountered in all my trips to that city.

In fact, my most memorable experience with regards to the kindness of a stranger happened in New York. It was my first solo trip to the city, and I got lost. Yes, you can get lost in New York, no matter what people tell you about how grid patterned cities make that impossible. I got seriously lost. Wandered and wandered and walked for ages trying to find something that would help me get my bearings. My feet were blistered, and it got dark, and I finally broke down. Sat on the curb alone in the street lit dark and cried and cried as panic completely overwhelmed me.

An elderly black man passing by came up to me and asked me what was wrong. I explained through my tears that it was my birthday and I was lost. He sat down beside me despite his very nice clothes and patted my hand and said he could help get me back to where I needed to go. He asked where I was staying, and I told him Harlem.

At that point he decided he didn't want to just send me alone up there with just directions to guide me. So not only did he walk me to the subway but he rode the subway with me from the Lower East Side all the way up to 125th St in Harlem. Then, he WALKED WITH ME straight to the front door of where I was staying, to make sure I got back safely.

Never in my life had I encountered such kindness. He took so much time out of his night to help a total stranger in distress. It was awesome. I loved New York prior to that night. But that night I fell in love with New Yorkers. I've had similar kindness from New Yorkers since then. And Parisians. And New Delhi-ans. So I know it wasn't just a random once in a lifetime experience. That experience taught me that kindness is everywhere. That you just open yourself up to it and people will no longer surprise you with kindness because it is something you know is there to begin with.

5. Coffee and a chocolate croissant - Paris

Right around the corner from the hostel I stayed at in Paris was a tiny and delightful little bakery. Every morning I would stop in at the start of my day and get a coffee and chocolate croissant. I speak essentially no French, just the few words and phrases I'd taught myself before I arrived so I wouldn't be totally at odds with what I might need to communicate. The old woman who owned the bakery spoke no English. But every day we greeted each other and smiled and showed through expressions and gestures how happy we were to see one another.

I was only in Paris for five days, and on my final day I asked the old woman what time they opened in the morning. 8, she replied. My expression dropped, and she asked what was wrong. I told her, badly and haltingly, that I was leaving the next day and my flight was in the morning so I needed to leave at 7:30 to head out to the airport.

"No problem. I open early!" She smiled hugely and patted my hand (what is it with being patted on the hand?)

And sure enough, the next morning I came in hauling my bags and she had my coffee and chocolate croissant ready for me when I arrived at 7:30. It was such a delicious way to end my stay in Paris.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

I have the best friends in the world

Part Three

Two months it has been since I broke my leg. And I keep wondering... what on earth would I have done if this had happened to me anywhere else? Not just talking about possibilities of this happening in another country while on an adventure, but what if I had been living in any other place than where I happen to live?

Here in Boston I was able to quickly get health insurance that will pay for this whole mess. I had the best doctor in the country taking care of me. And I've got an amazing community of friends who have been willing and able to step forward and be incredibly generous. I've had friends letting me stay on their couches and in spare rooms, giving me safe places to stay while I recuperate. Being unable to cook or take care of my own meals I've had friends bringing me meals, bringing me groceries that I don't need to prepare, or sending me credit to the restaurant delivery website FOODLER so I could order delivery. Once I started physical therapy I had friends drive me to my appointments twice a week.

I had friends witness my huge achievements (going up stairs for the first time, getting to put on my own shoes, going up stairs while on crutches, taking my first limited steps again!) and others simply cheering me on as I pushed forward. Keeping me positive even during times I felt pain and frustration at my limitations.

For the last two months I never once felt alone or abandoned by those in my life. They rallied around me, and I am more grateful than I can express. It is humbling, to bear witness to such visible proof of the love and kindness I have in my life. I joke that it is Karma catching up to me. But, you know, I do try to be the best friend I can be to the people in my life. This is proof that trying to be a good person does result in good things in return, when it counts.

Both Dr. Smith and Ned, my adorable physical therapist, tell me I am making huge amounts of progress. I look at what I have accomplished, and they are things I didn't think would be possible this soon two months ago. I have gone, in just two months' time, from being almost thoroughly bedridden, requiring a walker and shuffling slowly and painfully even the shortest of distances... To being on crutches and getting around (relatively easily) finally all on my own. I am partially weight bearing and the prognosis is that I'll be off the crutches altogether in just one more month. It's incredible.

My little brother told me that he knows the reason I did this. He said it was just so I'd have a scar I could compare to the ones our dad has (who does indeed have some doozies!). I have decided that the reason is so I could become part cyborg, so that when the robot army uprises I will be in position to take control and thus eventually gain domination over the entire world. *Smiles* I just know that no matter how or why it all began, I finally see an end to this mess. 

Going to India last year taught me how to persevere through some rather intense emotional shit. Succeeding showed me I could handle anything that comes at me. Making it through this has taught me I can persevere through intense physical shit, as well. Both things also taught me the same lesson... ask for help when I need it. I am not alone, and I have a lot of people who love me. That knowledge is powerful. And something I'll never forget or take for granted.



Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Saga of the Broken Leg - In the hospital

Part Two: Mass General Hospital

The nurses I had at Mass General were truly awesome. They thought I was a wonderful patient as well. Not demanding, patient, and friendly. They loved me. :) As Pasta would put it, it was a room. (He has this theory, it's a thing.)

I had friends come visit every day, which really helped keep my spirits up. Two came to visit every day. One day I had so many visitors that I began to get overwhelmed by the amount of people in my teeny little hospital room and suddenly ran out of cope. I had to tell the crowd, "too many people! Half of you leave." It was actually a really nice problem to have had.

My hospital room was as comfortable as we could make it. I had my iPad, my iPhone, my Kindle. Bouquets of flowers... though one friend sent me beautiful flowers and a cute little bear and then forgot to sign the card. I did find out who it was (Shazza!) and enjoy teasing her.  Pasta brought me a little bear from his apartment to keep me company. My friend Ron Newman brought me a really awesome teddy bear. Perfect in every way. I named it Paul Newman. (And no, it is not Paul. I refer to it always by its full name.)

So one evening when Bill shows up and gives me this great purple monkey, I look around my room at the three bears and immediately christen the monkey Goldilocks. To me it made perfect sense. And was totally hysterical. My friends didn't quite get it. One wanted to give the money a wig. That would have made it less funny! I'm still not sure if she agreed with me in the end because she finally did agree with me or if she just thought I was high. *Laughs* I did have great drugs. Even if they didn't make me goofy brained.



This was my first stay in a hospital. So there were things that sucked ass. First among them was being woken up every 2-3 hours at night to check vitals. (After a few days when I went off the IV drugs and onto the pill pain meds it was also to give me medication.) Also majorly sucktastic were the night orderlies you had to call to help with various things you can't do for yourself. They were usually loud, and sometimes lazy. I could definitely tell the ones who were annoyed that you'd pushed the call button.

Another thing that sucked was the afternoon I started having a major panic attack in my room. I frantically push the call button to ask the nurse for an Ativan. Ativan is the anti-anxiety medication that I take. Only the idiot who answered the call (not a nurse) just assumed I wanted my pain meds (despite the specification of me saying I needed an Ativan), and when she looked at my chart and saw it wasn't time for my pain meds yet she ignored my call. When my nurse did get to my room while making her rounds I was still in panic mode. Sobbing and agitated and very angry. She was furious with the person who had ignored my call. I wish I could have been there when she ripped that person a new one.

One thing that crossed my mind during my hospital stay was how glad it didn't happen while I was in another country. Another country where I don't speak the language. That incident above demonstrates that even when we're speaking the same language, misunderstandings happen. My imagination enjoyed forcing scenarios on my brain about what would have happened if this had happened last fall in India. Or the previous year, in Ecuador. Yes, there were medical professionals I dealt with in both countries who spoke perfect English. But only the doctors. Often, the nurses and staff only spoke the local language. And guess what? I only saw a doctor twice after my surgery. I dealt day in and day out with nurses and staff. I'm so fucking grateful this happened here. Even with the horrible situation of the American health insurance system and my lacking any.

At least until the hospital sent me someone from Patient Financial Services. 

Hospitals LIKE being paid. Astonishing, no? So they will actually help a person get health insurance if it is an option. Which, in Massachusetts, it is. In fact, it is technically required by law here. I was skating under that law the past two years because I have not made enough money to afford it, and because for much of that I was getting unemployment I didn't qualify for the State run programs. Turns out I qualify now. And the hospital person helped me with the forms and she sent it all in for me. I didn't know this, but apparently when you apply for Mass Health the insurance is retroactive ten days from the date you submit the application. I submitted on April 10. So as soon as my health insurance was approved, I gained coverage dating back to April 1. The entire broken leg was covered by insurance! Hallelujah! Enormous weight... suddenly off my shoulders.

Another thing the hospital provided was a physical therapist. It was her job to get me ready to leave the hospital safely. They provided me with a walker, and Evil Lena taught me how to use it. I refer to her as Evil Lena because this was just two days after major surgery and she was forcing my body to do things is really did not want to do! Like move. The slightest activity exhausted me. I think I went five feet once and was ready to collapse. I'd never felt so helpless in my entire life. I only had four sessions with Lena, but in those four sessions she taught me some exercises for my leg that would help with range of motion, and she taught me how to deal with stairs. I could handle down using crutches. But up was not possible. My upper body strength just couldn't do it. So I learned how to go up stairs bumping up sitting on my butt. And needing a chair or stool at the top of the stairs.

The final test before she signed off on my safety was (using the walker) to walk from my room at the end of the hall all the way to the nurses station and back. I only had to stop twice. :) I had the promise of two additional home PT visits for the following week when I finally got discharged. And by this point Friend 1 (ex-boyfriend Curt) had arrived to help by picking up my prescriptions from the pharmacy and packing up the stuff from my room. Then, when Friend 2 arrived (yay Persis!) with the car big enough for me to sit lengthwise across the back seat, I said goodbye to everyone and Curt wheeled me downstairs, myself and my wheelchair loaded down with a walker, a pair of crutches, bags of stuff, a grabber, and an extra brace for my leg. We forgot the flowers. :(

After manhandling me into the car, on the way to Pasta's place (where I'd would spend my first week of recuperation), I asked them if they wanted to see the spot of my accident. Curt took photos of the dastardly location for me. Then we went on to Pasta's place, where I promptly failed at stairs and lucked out that Curt is a guy who was able to hoist me up the steps so I didn't have to just camp out in the driveway.

That was April 13. 

To be continued...

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Why I've been radio silent here for two months - Saga of the Broken Leg

PART ONE

On April 9th I was out for a walk. It was one of the first really perfect spring days of the year and I needed some air and a chance to clear my mind because I had been horribly depressed so my friend Pasta suggested I go for a walk. I was distracted, and walking at a brisker pace than normal and ended up tripping on a piece of sidewalk that had cracked up and I fell. As I fell, and particularly when I landed, I felt more pain than I have ever felt before in my life. I'm talking like a 15 on a scale of 10.

Since the pain was originating around my right knee I knew immediately that something was Very Wrong. I rolled instantly to my left side and just laid there on the sidewalk, dazed. Then panicked. I didn't have health insurance, and I had no idea what to do. I knew that if I called 911 I'd be taken to the hospital and likely end up in debt so far past my eyeballs I'd never get out of it. But oh gods the pain!

I was nearly right around the corner from where a friend lives. Yet I searched my phone and didn't have her phone number, so I couldn't call her for help. So I did the next best thing. I called my closest friend. And it went to voice mail. I don't remember if I left a message, because so much of this is just foggy in my memory. But he texted me back, saying he was In a Meeting. And asked what was up.

At this point help finally stopped to render assistance. A bicyclist at first, then a woman coming out of her home, then two drivers passing by. I was crying so hard from the pain it was hard to communicate. Plus I was trying to text Pasta and remain coherent there and splitting my focus was frustrating me. So was knowing that the woman from the house had called 911. Paramedics (and lifelong debt) was on its way. But I also knew I needed to go. The pain told me that much.

I managed to convey in text to Pasta that I thought I'd broken my knee, that I was waiting for the paramedics, and that I wanted him at the hospital. (Though I did have to tell him no, I didn't know what hospital yet as I was still waiting for the paramedics.)

The whole time this is going on, the woman is staying on the phone with 911 and the bicyclist is sitting on the sidewalk beside me, holding the hand not holding my cell phone, offering me comfort the best he could. I really do love people.

Fire truck arrived first. I had to very sternly tell them no to a neck brace. I had not hit my head, there was no pain or stiffness, all pain was in my leg, and I am extremely claustrophobic and no they would not be allowed to put me in a neck brace. The pain was still a 15 when the paramedics (a pair of women) finally arrived. So being rolled onto a back board, and then hoisted none too gently onto the stretcher, then bounced into the back of the ambulance, was horrible.

They asked what hospital I wanted to go to. I've lived here for six years now and I should know the good hospitals vs the bad hospitals. But at that moment I just wanted pain relief as fast as possible. So I gave them the name of the nearest hospital... NOT one of the good hospitals... and I think they hit every pot hole and bump between my accident site and the ER.

My first thought when wheeled into Imaging for my x-rays was that the last time I'd had x-rays taken was in Pushkar, India. And the differences were more than enormous. For one thing, that doctor's visit cost me $1.38. This would be significantly more. For another, I got real help this time. I wasn't manhandled. I was cared for. They took great pains to try to be gentle with my leg as they forced me into more and different painful positions in order to get the angles they needed.

When I got back to my room, Pasta showed up, and I cried. I was in just so much pain. They gave me morphine, but it wasn't strong enough. I don't remember if Lawrence Memorial or MGH bumped me up to Dilaudid, but praise them!

We finally get told that it was my tibia that broke, not my knee. That I would likely need surgery, and they were transferring me to Mass General Hospital. Currently ranked the best hospital not only in Boston but in the entire United States (according to the 2012-13 U.S. News & World Report “America’s Best Hospitals” list). I knew MGH was better than Lawrence, so I didn't argue this decision.

Pasta said he would meet me there, he wanted to run home first. Since I hadn't brought my beloved iPad on the walk with me, I asked him to pick that and a few random items up for me while he was home. Then I went with a new (and much more careful drivers) paramedics and was on my way to the next hospital of the day! I called my parents from the back of the ambulance. "Happy birthday, dad! I broke my leg!" *Laughs* Yes, it was my dad's birthday. It's why I'll never forget the date all this went down.

MGH wanted their own x-rays taken. Apparently Lawrence Memorial hadn't done too good a job. Argh! More painful positioning of my leg! But when back in my room, I handed my phone to Pasta and asked him to take photos for me. I wanted to see my leg. 


Yep! Not the knee! Also? Owwwwwww!!!

I was informed that yes, I would indeed be needing surgery. But since they still didn't know if it would be that night or the next morning I was still not allowed to eat or drink. It was past 4pm at this point. I hadn't eaten at all that day, and hasn't had anything to drink since that morning and was wicked dehydrated. They couldn't even give me an IV for fluids. It sucked, mightily.

I did get to meet my surgeon. Dr. R. Malcolm Smith. He is now one of my many imaginary future husbands. Chief of orthopedic trauma at Mass General. I got the top guy at the top hospital doing my surgery. I totally drew the lucky straw (as it was) that day! Anyway, I think I remember that my leg had been covered, and Dr. Smith said something about wishing he could have seen it. And I was all, "oh! I have pictures!" And showed him the photos Pasta had taken with my iPhone. *Grins* I win! 

Dr. Smith showed me the x-ray of my broken leg and explained things, but between pain and awesome drugs I didn't understand very well. But he did tell me that the amount and kind of damage I did was more in line with a high speed/high impact car accident, not a fall on the sidewalk. Everyone who has seen the x-rays and heard what happened has been astounded by how I managed to do it.

 

Ok, this is NOT a bad drawing of a face over an x-ray of a leg. It's my poor job of showing all the damage done. You can compare things to the second x-ray, taken after my surgery.

The horizontal and vertical lines near the corner there are the two fractures. I also twisted the tibia, knocking it out of place. The three circles are showing where the gap are between the tibia and the femur. Some of the gaps are almost nonexistent, and the gap in the middle is huge. What I didn't mark down is on the side by the fibula. The tibia and femur are supposed to line up. You can see in this x-ray that they clearly don't. The arrow pointing down above the fractures is to show how that whole section of bone impacted down when I fell.

I ended up with a plate, 8 pins, and 44 staples. The staples came out, but the rest of that hardware will be setting off metal detectors for the rest of my life! 

So anyway, back to my story. Nurses cut my pants off me (first time I'd worn them, too!) and got me into a gown. I'd pretty much end up wearing it for the next few days, so I'm glad it fit. :)  Two more friends ended up joining Pasta that evening, keeping me company and keeping my fear at bay in the ER while we waited for me to get a room in orthopedics and to hear when my surgery would be. Bill even brought me flowers. *Smiles*

I finally got to eat around 10, when we got word that surgery was scheduled for 7:30am. Then around midnight or so I got a room, said bye to my friends, and got settled into my home of the next five days. Bill had promised to come back in the morning so I wouldn't be alone prior to and after my surgery.

But when they woke me up extra early and I didn't know timing of anything I told Bill to not come after all. That was a mistake! Because holy fucking shit was I terrified. I'd only ever had my wisdom teeth out before, this was bigger. I didn't know what to expect, I was all alone, and I was powerless to do ANYTHING. When the nurse came in the have me take off all my jewelry, I balked at taking out my less than a month old earrings. No way was I going to let those close up! Especially since the nurse could give me no good reason for why I had to take them out. She finally just said we'd talk to the anesthesiologist. Who, btw, was insanely... majorly hot! Yes, I notice these things even through my panic.

He told me that the reason they wanted to take out my earrings was in case they got caught on something. No one wanted them to get yanked out. I was arguing the likelihood of that when Dr. Smith walked in. He immediately recognized I was trying to remain in control over something. Said to the nurse to just put tape over my ears and be done with it. Then went on to 100% make me not scared by being super calm and massively in charge and explained what was going to happen and joked with me and I fell in love with him.

They wheeled me into the operating room, which I wish I had a picture of because my last conscious thought was that it was like I'd just been wheeled onto the set of a science fiction movie. It was all gleaming and silver and white and unlike India, where the machines were likely older than me, these were obviously brand spanking new. 

It was so cool. 

Waking up, drugged and alone and in ungodly pain... Not so cool.

To be continued... 



Thursday, March 7, 2013

Travel Q&A

One of the travel blogs I read asked the following questions of his readers, and I thought it'd be fun to answer some of them over here on my own blog. I'm tossing a few more in just because I got on a roll and answering questions is fun!

Why did I start traveling?

Because I hate feeling stuck. I hate the feeling of being without living, which is how I felt until I started to travel more. Like the world was passing me by, and I wasn't out there experiencing it with everything I had. So there I was, 30 years old, and I had never left the US. I had some time I could use for a trip, and I decided I would take advantage of it and do something. That was my trip to Germany and France. And the start of my adventuring.

What is my greatest travel memory?

That is still the day I chose to not go to the Musée d'Orsay in Paris and instead walked back to the Pont des Arts and sat down on a bench with my sketchbook and sketched Pont Neuf over the Seine with Paris in the background. That was me taking advantage of the moment, and doing what made me happiest vs what I thought I *should* do with my time in Paris.


What's the one item I can't travel without?

My Kindle touch. I spend a lot of time alone, partly because I like to travel solo and also because I do tend to just NEED time alone to unwind and let anxieties calm down - and reading is very relaxing for me. And since I read so blastedly fast being able to carry around 1500-2000 books on me wherever I go is pretty damn handy. Saves me space in my pack, for sure! Plus, the battery lasts a stupidly long time. Which is why the Kindle beat out my iPad for usefulness. There were a couple of times in India when power would go out and I was unable to recharge my iPad, but I can go a week or longer using my Kindle on a daily basis before I need to recharge.

What's the worst thing that has happened to me?

 Being robbed on the train from Amritsar to Delhi. I lost a lot of money, but more importantly I lost a lot of confidence. Took a while to shake that off. On the plus side, though, it galvanized me into reaching out and asking for help. And that changed the entire trip for the better.

What advice would I give to new travelers?

 Smile, and be willing to ask for help. No matter where you go, people are willing to be kind and helpful if you simply show them a friendly smile and believe in the kindness of others. Yeah, this is definitely my optimism showing. But I have experienced this first hand even in places known for brusqueness. Smile, and think for a moment before reaching out. Like... if you need directions, don't go to the sharply dressed person in a hurry to get somewhere else. Ask the young person or elderly person waiting patiently at a bus stop.

What is my greatest regret? 

 I don't know the answer to this one. I don't tend to regret a whole lot of big stuff. I don't even regret letting fears and insecurities stop me from traveling back when I was still in my 20s. Because I needed the experience life gave me to figure out how to handle my bipolar before I could live life the way I do now.

Do I ever lie when I travel?

I picked this question to answer because it amuses me. Yes, I lie when I travel. In places like India where asking very personal questions is common, I would lie to deflect attention or to end the questioning as quickly as I could. Like - I'd get asked where I was from a lot, and a bunch of times I'd answer ESTONIA, because I knew the people asking wouldn't know where that was and it would shut up their questioning so they'd leave me alone. Sometimes I'd say I was married, and my husband couldn't get the time off from work or he didn't like to travel or he was in the country on business and we were going to meet up in a few days. To anybody I actually want to pursue a possible friendship with? No. I prefer being myself. I like being myself.

What languages do I speak?

Fluently? Only English, unfortunately. I do know enough Spanish to get by in a Spanish speaking country, though. And I would not be uncomfortable going to Italy or spending more time in France, because those languages and Spanish share enough basics that I believe I'd be able to pick things up fairly quickly. A guy I slept with years ago back in college taught me a bunch of Norwegian that I actually still do remember.

I tried really hard to try learning Hindi for my trip to India. But oh fucking A that language just completely eluded me! I was there for three months and came home with just a handful of words beyond the handful I knew when I arrived.

Where do I want to go most, now that I have been to India?

Good question! I still want to make it to all the continents, and Africa is hopefully going to be next on my list for Major Adventures. But that's part of a greater goal. For just pure, "I want to go there!" I'd have to say Ireland (no one place in particular, just the country in general). It has been on my dream list for so long. Don't know when I will finally make it. I have plans for a couple of places nationally, but if somehow I spot a deal I can't resist then I'll definitely hit Ireland without blinking.

Where is my favorite place I have been?

For peace and quiet - the Golden Temple in Amritsar. For antics - Tie between Baños, Ecuador and Arambol, Goa (India). Country in general - Ecuador. For awe that I was there - Paris.

But above all, New York City is my favorite city. It is just not a place I can handle for more than a few days at a time, though, because my bipolar gets too agitated and I need to escape back to where I can be quiet.

What about places I just don't like at all?

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. I realize I didn't see it the way people who live there see it, but it was the first city I came across in Pennsylvania after coming from Alaska. And I found it flat and dirty and without even beautiful architecture (that I saw in my one day there) to make it interesting. I have realized I am not a fan of the "industrial" look.

Jodhpur, Rajashthan - India. Mostly because I had a really bad introduction to the place thanks to an asshole group of men at the train station and it turned me off completely.

What useful toys do I take when I travel?

Yay electronics! I know I actually carry more electronic items than some people are comfortable taking to some of the places I've been. But I really REALLY used all of these items during my India trip and I'd recommend any and/or all of them for future adventures.

Ok - I don't need any SERIOUS photography stuff, so I use the nice yet simple Cannon PowerShot point and shoot I got back in 2009. This is a newer version than what I have, but I highly recommend this camera. Mine has really stood up over the years, and can take awesome photos even when I lost my glasses and had to trust the camera's autofocus. I've taken my camera on every trip I have been on over the last 3 years and it has never let me down.

I also highly recommend e-readers. I myself love love love love love my Kindle touch. But I don't seem to be able to find it on Amazon anymore. They do have now what is called the Kindle Paperwhite, which seems to be an upgrade to the original Kindle touch.

Before my trip to India I contemplated getting either a netbook or a tablet to take on the long adventure. I ended up with the Apple iPad 2 and cannot be more excited about how perfect it has been for me when I travel. Since getting the iPad I rarely use my actual laptop even at home anymore. That is how much I use the tablet. I have a 16 gig version, which means I can hold a shit ton of photos, not a lot of music (that's what the next device is for), and games that keep me entertained when I am alone or have a few people who are interested in playing SET (my favorite travel game because it's easy to explain, easy to play, and the iPad version means I don't have to carry the extra deck of cards around with me anymore.)

Lastly, I also have a 32 gig iPod that was a gift from a friend ages ago that has stood the test of time.

*** It could be argued that because I have a tablet I could eliminate both the e-reader and the iPod. But I don't always want to flash around my iPad. And the Kindle really is convenient and light and easier to read books on than the iPad. And I prefer saving the space on my iPad for backing up photos than hauling around a lot of music. But your mileage may vary. This is simply my own preferences. ***

What about other preferences, like for gear?

I love love love my Keen sandals. I got them before my trip to Ecuador and my feet have thanked me ever since. I have one issue with these, in that they are in no way actually nice looking (the comfort level outweighed my desire to have my feet look pretty, though). So if you end up in a situation where you want to dress up a little - these shoes will stand out badly. I'm actually looking for a good pair of foldable ballet flats. If you have a brand you'd recommend, I am all ears!

For places where I would want something sturdier than a pair of sandals (like you're traveling some place where you're going to run into cold/wet weather and want the extra support), I have my Merrell's.  These boots are AMAZINGLY comfy. My only word of warning is, they're heavy. So if you're traveling lightly, you may need to take that into consideration. I brought them to Ecuador and ended up never wearing them (thinking I'd want hiking boots when I ended up wearing my Keens all the time instead.). However, I have been wearing them around Boston just about every day since I got back from India and they have become indispensable to me for cold/wet footwear. If I ever do any winter travel I will definitely pack these shoes.

I didn't buy my pack, it was a gift from my parents. And since I'm at work I don't know off the top of my head what brand it is. But while I really liked it, I think there are definitely things that I would prefer were different if I had gotten my own bag. One that is not purely top loading would be the first thing. Access from the side would have been immensely helpful and will probably be something I will require when I get around to purchasing a pack of my own when this one eventually falls apart on me. I really liked the size, though. It was only around 30 Liters. Pretty small, considering I was on a long adventure. But it really worked to help me stay more mobile. It was easy to move, took up less space in crowded trains or rickshaws (auto or cycle), and it encouraged me to NOT go on shopping sprees because I simply had nowhere to put all the goodies I may have purchased otherwise.

Something like this  - This being a narrow canvas thing you tighten around the body of your Nalgene water bottle to hook a carabiner onto so you don't pull on the plastic loop that is there and cause damage to the bottle. I borrowed one of these doohickeys from a friend and it was seriously invaluable! It allowed my water bottle to actually survive an entire three months, when usually I lose them within a week! It also enabled me to always carry my water bottle with me (I'd refill from filtered water where I could or just empty bought bottled water into my water bottle to make it easier to carry.) and so I remembered to drink the amount of water I needed to be drinking.

I mentioned games... what are my favorite travel games?

SET is awesome. It's a pattern game, and it's fun to play alone as a solitaire game or with others as a competitive game. But you need the deck for it. I have the iPad version, but it is a card game you can buy if you don't have an iPad or prefer cards to electronic games.

For normal card games I love playing gin and rummy when there are a few people. I love playing a game I learned down in Ecuador called Shithead. It's very popular among backpackers, as I also found plenty of people to play it with while in Puerto Rico and also in India.


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Ok, that's it for today for random travel questions. Feel free to ask any questions you might have. I'll gather them up for the next time I decide to post a Q&A!


Thursday, February 7, 2013

Travel plans 2013

I have decided on skipping major international adventures this year and the next couple of years. Get myself together, get my finances in order, stabilize my life. Take care of some of the other stuff that requires my attention and money. *grins*

But my wanderlust is still raging, and I need to be able to satisfy those cravings. So I decided I'll go on some shorter adventures closer to home over the next few years. Visit cities I've been wanting to visit. Take a long weekend and explore. Do it in ways that won't require me to take vacation time from work that can be done on a much smaller budget than traveling internationally.

Yesterday I went on TripAdvisor and placed tracking alerts for flights from Boston to New Orleans and San Francisco. Right now, based on responses from my friends and family and what I am gathering on my own regarding where I should visit first... NOLA has the lead in capturing my interest right away and it also has the cheapest plane ticket prices for the times I'm looking at. It would be an autumn trip, as there is no way I am heading south in the summer, and since that would also be the time to go to Chicago I'll postpone Chicago to another year. I believe New Orleans will be easier for me to explore in a single weekend, and there is just a lot more there that I've always wanted to see. So please, if you've been to New Orleans, let me know if there are places you think I should DEFINITELY visit, things I should do, people I should look up, etc.

Next... San Francisco would be lovely no matter when I visit. So if TripAdvisor manages to find me a more inexpensive flight there as early as 4th of July or Labor Day weekends (remember folks, I grew up in Alaska. I *LIKE* cool summer days!)... I'll take it! So as with NOLA, please comment with helpful suggestions and things to do, places to make sure I try to visit, etc. I know of at least 5 people I KNOW who live out in the Bay Area. So a place to sleep will be no problem and I won't need to post to http://couchsurfing.org for a place to crash. I desperately want to see The Magic Flute in San Francisco, but it's not on this year's season. So if I do go this year I'll be a lot less restricted by time and activities pre-planned. *smiles*

Since Montreal is also not necessarily seasonally restricted (ok, except for winter) and is also pretty damn close I could look into bus or car options to get there on even a normal weekend. Road tripping with friends would very much depend on how well we are able to spend cooped up in a car together. I may love a person dearly but would want to inflict bodily harm on them after 20 minutes in that small a space. *grins* So will keep that in mind.

So to sum up:

Summer - Possibly bus or car to Montreal on a random weekend? Possibly San Francisco over either 4th of July or Labor Day weekends.

Autumn - Possibly New Orleans over Columbus Day weekend.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Somewhat more rational planning

Ok... when I last checked in I was still doing the post-trip ups and downs that come from major changes in my life. I was buzzing from the adventure and wanting quite desperately (despite how happy I was to be home!) to go back and have more adventures RIGHT NOW!  It's the same thing that happens whenever I am manic and feel myself sliding down. I find myself thinking I'd do anything to get back to that high, even if it's not practical, safe, or remotely possible. Then when those hopes fall apart I follow suit. So I needed to wait until my brain calmed down more before I could sit down and figure out plans that will put me back in line with my future goals.

So I did some thinking. I talked to the people closest to me. I looked at what I had done right and what I had done wrong in preparing for the before, during, and afters of my India trip. And I began making plans.



 
Short range plan - I was broke and this was starting to create some major issues in my brain. I needed an immediate source of income. Temp agency came through for me. I'm in a situation where for the next eight weeks I can approach my next plan from a bit more safety.

Mid-range plan - I am not done traveling. I am still filled with crazy wanderlust. So rather than throw myself around like a child's bouncy ball in a racquet ball court I am going to draw on one of the primary lessons learned in India. I will be patient. So... I have decided to stick around Boston a bit more semi-permanently for the next two to three years. I am going to look for a job - in a field I could see myself wanting to work in more permanently eventually (travel industry) - where I can gain experience for several years before I take off to travel some more and cross off another continent or two. I'll save money from my temping and find an apartment once I get a real job lined up.

To satisfy my travel cravings I will partake in shorter or smaller adventures. From somewhat local-ish adventures (will be posting more frequently asking if folks might be up for random road trips... I desperately want to visit Cooperstown, for instance!) to slightly longer road trips (Montreal? I've never been there!) to trips to places I've never been but have always wanted to visit that would be simple to arrange (San Francisco and New Orleans come to mind!).

I will save my money, and when I am ready to tackle my next big adventure I hope I'll have a better plan in place for the before/during/after than what ended up happening with India.

Long-range plan - What do I actually want to do with myself once I'm done adventuring? I am tired of working for universities. I do NOT want to be stuck working in administration for the rest of my life. I'm working on my book about traveling with bipolar. I hope to have it finished this year. But I'm so not disciplined enough to be a full time writer. *laughs* So I will need to find a job. However...I am pretty particular and if I don't outright love what I am doing I am going to be miserable and why the hell should I be miserable? So what do I love? If I find work in the travel industry for the next few years and discover that it is something I enjoy being around I can look into what I may need to do in order to get the jobs OUTSIDE of administration so I can start doing other things. That's an option. But in reality, I don't actually need to start thinking about any of this quite yet. It's just sort of on the distant horizon, and I wanted to put it out there so I can take off down a road that may lead me this direction. I may hit a roadblock or a detour. I may hop on a plane and go somewhere completely different. But at least I have a direction to start off in, and that's what matters.

And it boils down to...

TL:DR - I'll be around for the next few years. After that, who knows? But for the next few months I'll be looking for a permanent job in the travel industry while I continue temping. And I'll be aiming to find an apartment by April or May. Any ideas or pointers, please let me know!

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Health care received in India

So while I never did come down with Delhi Belly, I did get sick while in India. If you followed my blog or were the recipients of my terrified emails you'll know that I worried particularly about coming down with Malaria. But what did end up happening was due to all the pollution and my body not having the strength to fight off infection due to lack of proper nutrition and rest I managed to come down with a nasty nasty nasty throat infection.

I remember being alone in my hotel room in Jaipur, completely delirious with fever. I used one of my toss-away thermometers to take my temperature and it was something around 104.5. SCARY! I remember stumbling my way down the street. Having to hold onto walls to stay upright. My unfocused eyes scanning every direction seeking out the red cross symbol that denoted medicine.

The doctor I saw helped calm me down. Between the fever and the fear of being alone I was in a full blown panic attack. He diagnosed me with a throat infection, and prescribed me two medications to make it all better. (I had brought two different types of antibiotics with me... but the Penicillin ended up being only a temporary fix and I got too sick too fast to then take the other medicine.) All in all, I think I paid the doctor 40 rupees, and the pharmacy another 60. *blink* And I was feeling better very soon, so it was all worth it!

The doctor was wonderful. Calming, knowledgeable, and he spoke perfectly unaccented English. If I had been less delirious I would have asked him where he studied. Cause on the plane to Kashmir I'd met another doctor, who had studied in the States and then came back to India to practice. You see that a lot in India.

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Oh! I also want to say that I got my pre-Rabies vaccine in India rather than in the US. In the US, the vaccine would have cost me over $1000. I spent 150 rupees in India ($2.72). For the EXACT SAME VACCINE! Ok, that rant is over.

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The final experience I had with Indian health care came at the end of November, shortly before leaving Pushkar to head back to Delhi. My ankle had been sprained two weeks prior and while I hadn't bothered to see a doctor when I first injured it I figured that after walking on it for two weeks (possibly damaging it further) and having it still being wretchedly painful warranted a stop at the hospital.  One reason I had resisted going to begin with though was money. I was low on funds, and was trying to save money where I could. And all I could think was, "It's just a damn sprain. Sprains heal on their own given time." But after two weeks I figured I'd better get it checked out after all. And Mavi, wonderful wonderful guy from my hotel, told me how to get to the hospital and he said it shouldn't cost more than 150 rupees for the X-ray.

So the morning I checked out of my hotel, before heading to catch a tuk tuk to the train station I gimped my way to the hospital. Somebody directed me to "registration" and it was just a plain room with a woman behind a desk and another woman sitting on the bench. The woman at the desk asked what was the problem, and I told her. She said 5 rupees. I blinked again, and handed over a 5 rupee coin. The other woman was the doctor. She had me take off my shoe and sock and she examined the ankle. Told me to go to Imaging for an x-ray and wrote me out a sheet to give to them.

So I gimped my way around the hospital, poking my nose around til I found Imaging. Again, door open and people just hanging out. I handed over the sheet the doctor had given me, and the woman there said "70 rupees." *BLINK* 70 rupees for an x-ray? Much less than Mavi had guessed for me, I was thrilled. I handed over the money and she directed me to sit up on the table and then manhandled my ankle into the position she wants it in.

She and the two guys with her both went behind the screen. I didn't even get the apron that protects against radiation. She came back, manhandled me again and then went back behind her screen.  Comes back out and tells me to come back in half an hour. Then disappears.

What?

I've spent a lot of time in US hospitals. This was my first time in a foreign one and it had to be in India. And wow the differences! There are no comfortable waiting areas. No nurses or staff showing you where to go. The room to see the doctor filled with people crowding to be seen. Doctor-patient privilege, not so much an issue here.

No wonder things cost so little!

Half an hour later I limped my way back to Imaging, where the woman tucked my X-ray into an envelope and handed it to me with instructions to go back to see the doctor again. The number of people to see the doctor had risen so she had been shuffled off to a bigger room across the hall from registration. And it was packed with people. Yet as soon as the crowd saw me limping in, they immediately parted for me and pulled out a chair right next to the doctor, indicating I should be seen next.  Yes, people in India (even when sick or injured!) are kind to strangers.

The doctor reassured me that my ankle was NOT fractured, it was in fact just a severe sprain (not the mild one I had assumed). She told me to stay off it, but I sort of laughed. It's hard to stay off a sprained ankle when you're traveling through India! She did prescribe two medications. One, a Percocet like pain drug. And the other, a wonderful numbing cream to rub on my ankle every day before wrapping it up. I waited for my final bill as the boy she sent off to the pharmacy ran to get my prescriptions. But she just turned to her next patient and I was forgotten.

I never did receive a final bill. The 5 rupees I had paid when I first arrived covered the full doctor exam both pre and post x-ray. AND the two prescriptions.

OMG!

I saw a doctor, got an X-ray, and two medications. For 75 rupees. According to the conversion app on my iPad that is the equivalent of $1.36.

It is no wonder Medical Tourism is growing by leaps and bounds in that part of the world!

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I know that not everyone has solid experiences like I did when sick or injured when traveling. I won't say I got lucky because dude, I got both sick AND injured while traveling! I also came prepared. Because I am allergic to Latex I brought with me a supply of non-latex gloves, non-latex bandaids, non-latex medical tape, and pretty much anything else I could think of. I had doctors who spoke perfect English. And nothing too terrifying that would lead me to hospitalization, the way things happened to a friend I met during my trip.

So all in all, I am very grateful to the experiences I had there. It definitely made me less afraid to seek medical help the next time I go on one of my adventures and manage to break myself again. *laughs*