Jungle Dest: Reprise

I’ve been struggling with how I was going to write this, and when it would be appropriate and accurate to say that I really am back in it. Today marks one month that I’ve been back in this insanely beautiful, though beautifully insane, country. I think one month is a good amount of time to go off of.

If any of you reading this has somehow happened to exist under a rock and out of my life in general since the end of May, surprise! I moved to Latin America. The organization that I interned for last fall hired me full-time, so I’m currently working as the Assistant Director of Admissions and Communications at Kalu Yala. No, I didn’t think this through; no, I haven’t graduated school yet; yes, I will graduate — eventually; and yes, I am so, so happy.

Despite leaving a lot of loose ends blowing in the wind as my plane lifted off of the ground in Detroit on July 3rd, I’m desperately trying to keep my life together and my relationships stable. Of course, this isn’t exactly a simple task when I’m also managing new relationships with a nearly brand new set of coworkers and acclimating once more to a very, for lack of a better word, unconventional work environment and lifestyle that I jumped back into on July 4th. I would be a shameless liar if I said it was all palm leaves and sunshine all of the time (especially since we’re coming up on Rainy Season). Life, while amazing and colorful and everything that I hoped for, is still difficult, stressful, gross, and dangerous. I have a hard enough time just walking down a street at home; here, I’m also maneuvering over jagged rocks, getting snagged on barbed wire, collecting nips from machetes, and living with the constant fear of waking up to a wandering spider or a scorpion in my boot. This life is not for the faint at heart.

With that being said, I’m so grateful. Unbelievably grateful. I am back in this amazing country, getting paid to do something that I love, developing further personally, and gaining valuable knowledge of programs, skills, and strategies that will help me in huge ways throughout my professional career. While I miss many wonderful humans in Michigan, I vehemently remind myself each day to be where my feet are and focus on what is happening in my current reality. Accepting and loving where I am is key, spiders and all.

On another note — I will be visiting Michigan for a bit in mid-October. If you feel like hanging out with me and don’t mind if I smell a little weird, October 17-25 will be the time to chill! Mark your calendars, friends.

Live from Panama, this is Jungle Dest signing off. xx

Smooth Sailing – in the Canals of Amsterdam

Would like to note that the reason that I haven’t really been posting so much is because my power converter for my USA chargers broke! The only reason I have any charge on my laptop still is because I’ve been borrowing the chargers of other people in my hostels while they aren’t there… you gotta do what you gotta do. So yeah, limited power = limited posts.

Okay! So we left off on a very unfortunate day coming into London. I would now like the record to show that London was indescribably fantastic. I have never been to a more lively, exciting, and diverse place in my life. Even out in Oxfordshire, it was just gorgeous. Most of the people that I met were so wonderful and helpful, and I’ve already made a lot of friends along the way. I also last-minute was able to attend the Hero Round Table leadership conference in London, thanks to some friends who are involved in the organization of it. I also met some very interesting people there and was able to network a little with individuals of similar interests. All in all, London was beautiful and alive and amazing and I’m already looking forward to spending more time there.

From London, I flew to Denmark, and then got a text from a friend studying in Sweden, so instead of taking a train to Copenhagen, I hopped onto a train to Sweden. My weekend in Sweden was filled with biking, beer, viking castles, dancing, good pals, and tons of sunshine. I really lucked out. I wish I had planned better, because I honestly would have loved to just stay longer there, but I foolishly had already bought a return ticket. Sunday night, I took a train back to Copenhagen. Copenhagen was a very old, very wealthy city that I was only able to spend 48 hours in, but during that time, I saw a lot of really interesting things, such as Christiania, the rogue civilization that basically just does whatever they want. I also somehow met a couple people that just graduated from Michigan State University and are moving to Ann Arbor in the fall, incredibly close to me. I spent most of my time hanging with them, and I’m definitely looking forward to hanging with them when we’re all back in the states. It really is a small world.

I arrived in Amsterdam on Tuesday night, and this city does not disappoint. Again, lots of new pals. Feeling the personal growth and getting out of my social comfort zone is so good. Went out for a few drinks with a German girl and a Russian girl the first night, and it was honestly so funny and cool to all come from such different backgrounds but be having an awesome time together, drinking Abuelo rum (Yes, KY pals, I found it in AMSTERDAM) and hanging with a few Dutch dudes on the patio until the place closed. Then, when I splurged and went on the Heineken Experience VIP tour, it was just me and a huge group from Florida together. There were eight of them, all family and significant others, and we all immediately got along. This family was hilarious and dynamic and totally out of control in the most fantastic, enjoyable way. They invited me to dinner, and then to breakfast and a canal cruise with them the next morning. I am still blown away by their generosity.

So today is Friday, and of course I’ve hit some art museums and just enjoyed this beautiful city. I will say that, as far as canal cities go, Amsterdam over Venice any day of the week. A slight bump did come up when I realized that I had lost my backup credit card in Sweden, just as my limit was approaching on the one I was already using for most things. I’m running out of money now due to that very silly mistake on my part, but seeing as I go home in less than a week (WHAT???), I think I should be okay. Not a huge deal; just have to eat most of my meals from grocery stores, rather than restaurants! Luckily, I prepaid for all of my hostels and transportation. Good work, Dest.

Anywho. I have a few days left in Amstie, and then I move on to my one day in Switzerland to visit an old friend! Very stoked. Very happy. Very chill.

Good vibes, my friends xx

Not Everything in the City of Lights is Bright

Let me begin by saying that I did love Paris. Paris was just beautiful, exciting, and brimming with all of the things that I love (art, bread, and coffee). Every Parisian that I met was lovely, and so many people demonstrated such kindness through helping me on the metro, showing me all of the places that they loved in Paris, and offering insight on just how to be a Parisian without actually being one. It made my time in Paris so much more worthwhile.

On the plane from Chicago to Paris, the woman sitting next to me was a fast friend. The plane hadn’t even taken off yet, and she had offered me half of her avocado sandwich (of course, I could not decline. It was avocado…) She was originally from Venezuela but moved to the Miami area in her teens, and was to enjoy some time in Paris before meeting up with her husband in Amsterdam the following week. She was such a peach, and we made dinner plans a few nights from then. Already off to a good start.

My week was filled with, I think it ended up being, seven different art museums, as well as strolling through the streets of Le Marais district, finding myself at the Eiffel Tower on more than one occasion, and exploring neighborhoods on the Paris Metro lines. I was even able to actually use my French for the first time ever. I also, of course, visited the Palace of Versailles; you’ll always find me where art and history meet. The palace was gorgeous, and I couldn’t believe that it was in that very palace that so many people that I spent years learning about in history classes had spent their days there. On the way, I had also listened to this podcast on Stuff You Missed in History Class about the OG Womens March that actually happened at Versailles a few hundred years ago. To be fair, it wasn’t about women’s rights — it was about bread. But hell, I would lead a march, too, if there was a bread shortage in Paris while the king was swimming in it.

I also had the opportunity to enjoy a wine tasting of different wines from around France with a French sommelier. We had five different wines as well as a type of champagne, all different on a scale from the lightest of white wines to the darkest of red wines. It was honestly quite similar to a coffee tasting. It was just with wine. I complain about neither. For some back story, I had happened across this on AirBNB while checking on room prices to make sure I was getting the literal cheapest place in Paris. What came up wasn’t rooms to sleep in, but experiences. AirBNB was testing out an Experiences feature that basically has locals of that specific city to offer interesting things to do that would be difficult for a traveler to be able to take part in or find on their own. I thought, What the hell! I can get down with some French wine. So I did, and it was wonderful. Thierry was very funny and extremely knowledgeable about aromas, flavor notes, and how to tell the alcohol content just by looking at the glass, among other things. It was very informational, as well as delicious. There were four others there, and I learned that three of them were actually developers working for AirBNB specifically on these experiences that they were selling. As we were all talking and laughing, the five of us decided to go out to dinner after the wine tasting, as it was two hours long, and we were in Latin Quarter, where a plethora of fantastic restaurants was. We settled on this little place a couple blocks over, and the food was so good. We talked about what we did and what we were all doing in Paris, and Thierry even dropped by for a glass of wine and chatted about the French election. Since we did talk about their work at AirBNB a little bit over dinner, they paid for dinner and wrote it off as a “business expense”, which was good for everyone. All in all, a fantastic evening.

Paris was lovely, but it was dirty. I actually have gotten a little sick (sniffs, coughs, being always completely parched, etc), and I think it was the germs from the metro. Honestly, I think it may rival the grime of the NYC subway lines. On my last night, I went out with a girl who was studying in Prague for dinner and to see the Eiffel Tower at night. The tower was so beautiful as it lit up and sparkled at midnight, but the incredible number of rats scurrying between all of the bushes was slightly distracting.

The real problems for me actually happened yesterday, upon arriving to the UK. Yesterday was just a pretty horrible day that was very discouraging and I just kind of wanted to go home (obviously, I did not). The man at Customs was probably the most unpleasant person that I have ever encountered, and I couldn’t even give him attitude because he was literally the only thing barring me from getting to London, and I didn’t want to piss him off. Firstly, when he asked me where I was coming from, I replied, Paris, France. This seemed like a perfectly acceptable answer. Wrong. He stopped what he was doing, looked at me, and goes, “What, do you think I don’t know what country Paris is in? Is that why you included France? That would be like me saying that I was coming from New York, United States. Do you see what I’m saying?” No, he wasn’t even joking. He was just being a massive, steaming turd from a corn-fed cow. And then (I wish I was finished), regarding where I wrote the location of where I would be staying (Hyde Park View Hostel), apparently the title simply wasn’t good enough. He required a complete address. Now, mind you, never in my life have I ever had to present a complete address to where I would be staying when entering a country, and I have been to more than a few countries. So he made me connect to the wifi so that i could look up the official address of this hostel, all the while lecturing me about what I would have done if I didn’t have a phone, etc. I usually just follow maps, or order an Uber when I’m feeling particularly drained, when getting to hostels because addresses aren’t really helpful unless you’re taking a cab anyways, which is way out of my budget. Finally, he stamped the damn thing and let me out of his sight so that I could fume in peace.

While waiting for my bus, I was mulling over how upset first thing in the morning that guy made me. I found my bus with no problem, and it wasn’t until I was halfway to London that I realized I had forgotten my water bottle at the airport. Now, if you hang out with me at all, you probably know how much I love that water bottle. It’s covered in stickers that I’ve gotten from places that I’ve been and businesses that I love and support, and I take it literally everywhere with me, including Europe. I kind of started freaking out and immediately made the decision to go back to the airport to try to find it. The water bottle is my piece of home and kind of brings me back when things get a bit rough; very sentimental stuff. So I pay the bus fare again to go back to the airport, which is a round trip of about four hours, so I can’t say that I was surprised when I didn’t find it. I knew in the back of my mind that it would have been an actual miracle if I had found it sitting by the benches, right where I had left it, and of course, yesterday was not a day for miracles. I headed back to the bus to pay the fare for a third time that day, just wanting to head back into the airport to buy a ticket home.

Six hours and a wasted £25 later, I finally made it to my hostel around 5pm. I talked everything through with a friend who I knew would understand and help me figure out what I was feeling, which helped more than I am able to express. The day was definitely a huge reminder that solo travel isn’t always amazing. Really unfortunate things happen frequently, and I want that to come across accurately while I’m on this trip. Solo travel is an experience in self-exploration. I know that I can get really anxious and stressed and totally panic, and I don’t know how to control it sometimes. Traveling alone can be really difficult and can get lonely and forces you to push your boundaries, and sometimes that means experiencing alone what can feel like some heavy losses and knowing that, if you just push through, you can come out even better on the other side.

Later that night, I was sitting there, and I thought to myself, You know what? I’m in LONDON. I can’t just sit here anymore. So I grabbed my bag and hunted for the nearest metro station. I got myself an Oyster Card and made my first attempt at the London Underground, which was successful (It’s the small wins!). I could’t help but smile as I got off and found a restaurant with an excellent mushroom burger as a reward to myself for deciding to get out there, even if the day was a bit of a shame. Of course, today was a huge improvement, as I went to a few quirky museums and hung around St. James Park all afternoon.

And I know that tomorrow will be even better.

xx

Down to the Wire

It’s that time of year — everyone’s semester is ending, and everyone is thinking abut the infinite possibilities that this summer can bring. Some are off to internships in new cities, others are back home in their old cities, and if you’re like me, you’ll be indulging in the freedom that this one American life that we have gives us.

My next adventure begins in just five days. Sheer insanity! It hasn’t even hit me yet, and I think that’s why it’s so insane. For those that don’t know, I have indeed locked down an itinerary! I’ll be flying into Paris, spending about a week there, popping over to London for a week, jumping over to Copenhagen for a long weekend, Amsterdam for my last week, and then literally one day in Switzerland to say hello to an old friend. I’ll actually be meeting up with several people along the way in different cities, and if you happen to be in the area between May 2nd and May 23rd, please let me know! I would love to see ya.

I was actually really worried up until yesterday that I would have to call off the whole thing because I had debilitating migraines for the last five days and couldn’t keep down anything that I ate or drank. My muscles were excruciatingly tense and it hurt to breathe. I have a vendetta against hospitals, and I even went to one. That’s how close I thought I was to dying. Luckily, after one last good upchuck from my body, I finally began to feel almost okay(ish) yesterday, and continue to feel better by the hour. I even ate a sandwich today! That’s the first actual thing I’ve eaten since Saturday. I think I had even come to terms with the fact that I was not going to be able to do this, but somehow, the universe pulled through, and here I am. I’m just thankful that all this didn’t happen while I was abroad.

Until then, I still have one final left, which I definitely need to study for.

Cheers, and more to come next week!

What happens when you give me a passport

It was just a regular Tuesday afternoon. Taking a break from studying and obsessing over the poor state of my bank account, I went on to Kayak Explore to check out flights and fantasize about going somewhere not here, as I do too often (yes, I like to torture myself).

It’s all fun and games until you find round-trip airfare to Paris for $415 from Detroit.

The rest is a blur. I cleaned off my glasses in disbelief that British Airways would carry a flight this cheap. I ran to grab my credit card, and before I knew it, I had purchased a flight to Europe. I think we all knew it was just a matter of time before I cracked and left again. The price was obviously perfect, and the dates couldn’t have been more convenient: four days after my semester ends, and three weeks following. This is the universe’s future gift to me for finishing my semester. Honestly, how could I say no?

If I learned one thing in Panama, that would be to always pack light. I have learned the hard way that the more you pack, the more difficult it will be to get around… which sounds completely logical when said out loud, I’m realizing, but no matter. As nice as it would be to have a suitcase to store things in, I’m thinking it’s just gonna be me and my backpack this time around. Easier to get around, more secure since I’ll be able to lock away all of my belongings at hostels, and no need to waste time dropping things off at where I’m staying later when I get to a new city. I’m excited to experiment in urban backpacking; we’ll see how it goes.

So I guess that is that. If you’ll be in Europe in May, I will be running around by myself for a couple weeks so let me know! I’m currently looking at Paris, London, Amsterdam, maybe Stockholm, and Berlin, but that’s the beauty of solo travel — I can change my plans as much I want. Show me cool things! Let me in on your life!

That’s all for now. Much love xx

One Year in Review

Let me reflect on where I was last year at this time. I had no travel plans at all for 2016 locked in as a 100%. I was working seventy hours a week at two jobs that did nothing for me mentally. I was in school with a defined major that I cared about but didn’t know what I wanted to do with. On New Year’s Eve, I was at the same gross club that I was at the year before with the same people.

A lot can change in a year.

Let’s start with item number one: travel. The following is the list of places out of the United States that I had been to at the beginning of 2016:

  • Canada, when I was four
  • The Bahamas for a few days on a cruise
  • … Does China Town in NYC count?

Yeah, it’s a sad list. I had such an interest in the world around me and hadn’t seen much of it. I was feeling restless and unfulfilled. In March, I finally got my passport and haven’t taken a break from traveling until right now, as I’m writing this. I began by traveling by myself around the United States, such as trips to Chicago and New York in the spring, just to see if I could do it successfully without dying (spoiler alert: irrational fears are dumb and everything was literally fine). In early June, I went abroad for the first time — for over a month, with a bunch of people I didn’t know. Everyone I knew told me I was insane, but I just had to go and it was such a great opportunity that I couldn’t say no. What followed turned out to be probably the most monumental thing I had ever done, Reconnect Hungary. I went to the country where my ancestors are from and learned about my family’s heritage and who I was. It was so eye-opening, and I left with a whole new connection to myself and where I came from. I decided it was as good a time as any, since I was already there, to run around for a little while, because why not? I’ll be the first to admit it – it was insane. I did things during my first trip to Europe that not one person I know who has been there had done. Most times, the insane things are probably the best things.

With just over a month in between, my next stop was Panama, the Latin-American secret oasis that I am so proud to have found a home in. While interning with Kalu Yala, I made the strongest relationships that I have ever had in my entire life with the most incredible group of people from all over the world. I learned a lot about business, sustainability, and community living, but in the process, I also learned a lot about myself. I learned how to understand the things that I was feeling and recognize where my headspace was. I found an inner peace that I wouldn’t have access to if I had not experienced the things that I did in the mountains. I wish I could say more, but I just can’t find the words. If you want to know, just go there. You’ll get it.

The following is the list of places out of the United States that I have been to at the end of 2016, in addition to my unfortunate previous list:

  • Hungary
  • Romania
  • Italy
  • Germany
  • Slovakia
  • Panama
  • Costa Rica

So it’s been an exciting year, and I am all too excited to expand upon this list and adventure more in 2017.

With the weird enlightened feeling that probably most feel once they’re home from traveling, I have learned to find joy and happiness in things that I didn’t before. I quit the job that I hated and am learning to take things that frustrate me at Starbucks and find solutions through research and informed conversation. It’s okay to be angry about things that upset you if that anger is fueled by a passion to fix and improve the things that are wrong. I am officially starting a second job on January 2nd, finally beginning my professional journey with Coach, and I am so excited for the opportunity. I’m returning to school on January 9th, and I’m looking forward to diving deep into my studies and devoting my attention to expanding my wealth of knowledge into different subjects and further fueling that anger and passion to improve the world that we live in. I plan to make every decision in 2017 angled toward getting one step closer to my personal long-term goals. I have a feeling that it’s going to be a crucial year in setting myself up for success in 2018, and I want to make the most out of every opportunity.

Finally, I realized that most of the friendships I was working so hard to maintain in 2016 were very surface. Most of those people don’t actually care what I’ve been up to or how I feel or what struggles I’m dealing with. Right here, right now, I am promising to myself to focus only on the people that matter. I spent this year exhausting myself to include certain people in my life that made no effort to include me in theirs. I am worth more than a back-up plan, so I’m riding this year out with middle fingers up to y’all, because your backup plan just dipped. I have no bad blood towards anyone, but I’m done with pretending to myself that I am best friends with people that have no idea who I even am anymore. In 2017, I’m focusing on myself and the relationships that matter. I’m focusing on the people that care about me as much as I care about them.

Much love to everyone. I’ll see in the new year.

Cheers xx

Integrating Back Into Society

As most of you hopefully have figured out by now, I have been back in my quiet little Michigan home for nine days now, far away from the jungles of Central America. Too far away, if you ask me, but life happens.

Leading up to my leave from Kalu Yala, I was talking a lot about take-aways and learning experiences and opportunities for growth. As grateful as I was that I had experienced anything like that at all, an actual change, I was anxious to see how that would translate into my “real life” back home in Michigan. I wasn’t sure if what I had gained would still be a part of who I was or if those gains were to be left in Panama. Either way, it would be what it would be, but I obviously wanted to keep with me the things I had learned. So you can probably imagine my delight, nine days in, that I am so different about everything.

Probably the first thing that I had noticed right off the bat was my attitude,, demonstrated almost too clearly at work. Us baristas like to complain about literally everything to make ourselves feel better about having to wake up at 5am every morning to serve some man in a bad mood a much too complicated drink that probably tastes like ass anyways. This definitely used to make me feel better, too. However, upon coming back, I realized that there are so many more important things to be angry about that the grumpy man with the ass latte should not matter at all. My coworkers will sometimes irrationally freak out about the wrong size lid accidentally being stocked in the holder or the fact that, yes, we are unfortunately out of the sandwich that you ordered and now we have to awkwardly ask you if you want a different thing once you get to the window, which takes an unnecessary amount of time. Little things like that can somehow ruin someone’s day the way it used to ruin mine, but I just can’t bring myself to be bothered by it anymore. I’m honestly embarrassed by how I used to empathize with really stupid problems like that. If running out of a sandwich at work is the worst thing that happens to me in a day, then I can assume that it was a pretty damn good day.

However, a change of me getting angry at work also happened. Coming back, I became hyper-aware of how unsustainable a lot of the business practices we employ are. Why do we double-bag trash cans, rather than just get stronger bags? Why do we throw away so much food when we can just donate it? Why do employees use the disposable cups when we have glass mugs that are free to use already, reducing an enormous amount of waste? I  began to question everything, as we were encouraged to do at Kalu Yala, to open up that conversation of Why? Going back to my no-complaining point I made previously, I don’t intend to just sit on these questions and grumble about it under my breath. I’m beginning to keep track of these questions, write them down, and research deeper into the practices. If I am unable to find an answer to the why, I intend to channel the little Clare Bassi that lives in us all and write a letter to corporate, asking them why and hopefully be able to work together and come up with a solution. Starbucks has a long history of actually listening to the partners, even at my level, so I have high hopes that, if the information is compiled correctly, I can really change some things around my workplace.

I’ve also noticed in myself a patience that was not there previously. A lot of things are a very different at home due to some challenging events that took place within my family while I was away, and dealing with that has been hard for me. However, I take one day at a time, as we all do, and continue to keep a positive outlook on everything, even when things are hitting that figurative fan. Actually, I’m not even sure if patience is the right word; maybe “centered” is more accurate, being able to come back to that place of mental stability and solidarity when things become too much to handle, however patience is definitely still a key factor in many other ways these days. I don’t know how in depth I can go into this without airing the dirty laundry of my personal life, so I’ll leave it at that and trust that you will understand.

And as far as being centered goes, I am very proud to say that meditation has been helping me a lot since I returned home. That was something that I was almost sure wouldn’t carry over, but ended up being instrumental in my transition back into the American society. No, I don’t know anything about crystals or constellations or drink weird green blended concoctions that may or may not scare me — it makes me sad that a wonderful thing like meditation has such a weird lifestyle stigma around it. You don’t have to lead a specific lifestyle or be a certain way or wear certain types of clothing or jewelry to take a moment every day for yourself and recenter your mind and thoughtspace. It’s so important to be able to just take a breath and clear your head sometimes, and that has been one of the most incredible things I have been able to bring home with me. (DISCLAIMER: If you’re into crystals and constellations and weird green concoctions, you know I love ya and would never knock on a fellow human for an interest that simply don’t partake in.)

One last specific thing that has changed is definitely my diet. I find myself making most of my own food now, just because I now feel more comfortable knowing exactly what is in my food and where it’s coming from. I also realized how simple a plant-based diet actually is and  have implemented a lot of those meals into my schedule, as well. No, I’m not a vegan now or against eggs, but I will never again argue with a big plate of veg! My food is now super colorful and involves several different food groups for balanced nutritional value, and I only eat meat once every couple of days. If you had asked me to do this a year ago, I would have told you that it was impossible, but all those delightful meals in valley showed me that a flavorful vegan meal is much simpler than we tell ourselves. Don’t let the V-word scare you, my friends.

Some things just don’t change, though; I came home and reveled in all of my wonderful cold-weather clothing that I had missed too much. I cannot begin to express how happy I am in my pants are cardigans and sweaters and scarves again, as much as I do miss the valley. I was too excited to put on perfume and throw on some makeup, and probably looked a little too good to just be going to Kroger, but it was so nice to feel like myself again. Jungle Dest was definitely a lovely version of myself, but I feel like a happy compromise between the person I was before Kalu Yala and the person that I have become because of Kalu Yala.