And I can breathe again.

You know when you’ve been holding your breath, but you don’t realize it until you finally exhale? I had that feeling when I arrived in Pucon a few days ago. I’d been enjoying the bigger cities so much that I hadn’t even realized my body was craving nature. But once I got here, to this cozy little mountain village with its stunning volcano and sparkling lake, I felt that wave of instant peace and serenity that you can only find in the outdoors. I don’t know how I could’ve let myself forget.

I had a similar experience this past summer. The school year had just ended and I had no idea where my life was headed in the coming year. Nerves were shot, I was bloated from too much coffee and sugar, and my insomnia had started to take a noticeable toll on my appearance. I felt destroyed. Half alive. Unhappy and unhealthy. I needed a break.

I hadn’t visited my dad’s house in Wisconsin for four years. I had all sorts of excuses. It wasn’t the house I grew up in, so I had never really considered it “home”. Plus, he visited so often that it hardly seemed necessary. And honestly, huge family gatherings in years past with cousins and spouses and kids had only left me feeling completely alone. So I had been hesitant to return. But this summer, “basecamp”, as my dad lovingly refers to his refuge in the woods, was the only place I could think of to go.

I’m sure he could tell right away that I was miserable. I walked around in a hazed state of exhaustion the first few days, blaming my low energy on the long car ride and lack of coffee. He let me be, giving me plenty of solo time, and was nothing but supportive when I revealed that I’d officially left my job. And so I spent my days kayaking on the water, napping in the tree house, hiking through the woods…and I slowly began to heal. I began to feel more and more like a human being. More like me. I could sleep again; I could breathe again.

That week in Wisconsin helped my body remember what my mind had somehow, inexplicably, forgotten: I love being surrounded by nature. My soul needs it. And this place reminds me of home (I’m actually writing this post in a tiny tree house overlooking the lake). At this point in my journey, even though I hadn’t realized it, I desperately needed a nature fix to reenergize. It seems I have found my little “basecamp” here in southern Chile, and I feel restored.

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Watch me while I disappear…

A month in and I’ve hit my stride. I’m at that point in my journey where I feel comfortable and natural as a traveler…but also completely removed from life back home. I’ve been so focused on the present moment that I can hardly be bothered to write a simple email. I haven’t even taken many pictures in the last few weeks, choosing to see and experience first-hand rather than behind the lens of a camera.

Chile is unlike any country I’ve traveled to before. I expected it to be similar to Peru (which was very reminiscent of countries in Central America, which reminded me of India and Indonesia…the list goes on). But Chile is different. It was obvious the moment I stepped off the plane, as I was hit with slight but unexpected culture shock. 

I adored Santiago. The city felt familiar and comfortable, and I almost forgot I wasn’t staying forever. I met like-minded travelers at the most welcoming little hostel and I just…fit. For that week, it was perfect. 

I wish I could explain what happens when I am in full “travel mode”. I become a chameleon. I blend. I fade away into the scenery. That bored look on the metro; the indifferent gaze from unwanted whistling as I cross the street; my purposeful stride, regardless of whether or not I actually know where I’m headed at the moment.

I can almost see my sisters rolling their eyes at that last paragraph because they will think I’m exaggerating. Or maybe they can’t picture it, because they haven’t witnessed it themselves. No one has. I can be shy and uncomfortable in unknown surroundings, or loud and embarrassing with my closest friends. But I swear I’m different when I’m alone, walking the city. I’m not sure I’ve ever felt quite so vibrant and alive.

So please don’t fret if I go quiet for a few days or a week here and there. I am doing just fine. I have simply disappeared for a bit, wandering the streets and taking in the sights and sounds of some South American city. But don’t worry…I’ll be back soon. Love, K:)

*Obligatory Machu Picchu post*

“You’re going the wrong way!”

“¿Adónde va, señorita?”

“If you’re headed to the Sun Gate, there’s nothing to see.”

Now that I was nearing my destination, I began to pass groups of trekkers disappointed by the lack of that famous sunrise promised them on their final day of hiking into Machu Picchu. It seemed nearly everyone had a comment or some wisdom to impart as I trudged along in the drizzling rain that morning on my way toward the scenic overlook known as Inti Punku, or the Sun Gate. 

I already knew there wouldn’t be a view. It had been raining since I woke up at 3:40am, and upon entering the park at 6am, I had hardly been able to see the path in front of me. But I didn’t care. 

I wished they could see what I saw. The cloud covering gave our surroundings such a hushed mystique that only hinted at the secrets it held. I knew that, once it cleared, I’d lay eyes upon the famous site–that much was all but guaranteed. But for the time being, my imagination convinced me the fog was somehow protecting its famous fortress, forcing its visitors to prove themselves worthy. 

Yes I was soaking wet and my teeth were chattering and I was running on barely two hours of sleep. But I also had a huge smile on my face. Nothing was going to detract me from this experience.

I spent a full eleven hours at Machu Picchu that day, from the time the gates opened until they quite literally had to shoo me out. Toward the end, I begged a guide to let me up to the overlook to watch the sunset. “Diez minutos. ¡Te prometo!” Ten minutes. I promise! 

I knew it would most likely be my only visit, and I wanted to enjoy it fully. I hiked every trail, explored every ruin, and climbed every mountain (cue The Sound of Music). And throughout the day I was able to find precious minutes away from the hoards of tour groups and obnoxious selfie-takers. Completely solo atop little Huchu’ypicchu or the slow meander to the so-called “unimpressive” Incan bridge…tiny pauses from the madness were definitely treasured.

But I think those moments of morning solitude were my absolute favorite. Honestly, my reaction to the less-than-ideal weather conditions surprised me; I thought I’d be angry or upset, or at the very least disappointed. But I felt nothing of the sort. Something about the gentle rain and surrounding mists filled me with such absolute peace. And for a brief instant, I found it. Finally. Perfect and utter contentment.

I left in a whirlwind.

I hardly remember a thing. Pack, move, clean, repeat. Run errands, make time for friends and family; I had a constant list in my head. Although I had had the entire summer to prepare, I was somehow still in the middle of a frantic packing frenzy when my sisters came to pick me up that final evening. 

Zombiefied. That’s the best way to describe it. I stood unemotional as loved ones said tearful goodbyes. I felt frozen, my head filled with to-do lists and self-reminders. This was not how I had wanted to leave…but I didn’t have a choice. 

“I can’t stay,” I explained softly to my mom as she hugged me one final time before boarding the shuttle. And I couldn’t. That life didn’t fit anymore, and I needed to do something drastic.

I thought the reality would set in on the plane, or in my first hostel, or after a couple of days on this new continent, in this different culture. I kept waiting for “the big freak out”…but it hasn’t happened yet. Maybe it won’t. 

Leaving my job and my home and my family seems so huge in theory, but now that I’m here, it just feels right. Natural. Like it was always going to be this way. And I think that scares me most of all, because I don’t know how long I will continue to wander…

“I’m restless. Things are calling me away. My hair is being pulled by the stars again.”   -Anaïs Nin

(Sculpture found at Qorikancha in Cusco, Peru and so perfectly fit this quote…I flipped her so she’s upright:)

I never meant for this to be a travel blog.

I originally started this site because I had so many thoughts that I needed to get out, and I type much faster than I write. It was healing to express myself completely anonymously, and know that I could go back and reread those posts, and remind myself that I couldn’t continue on that particular path, no matter how comfortable it seemed.

But now that I’ve left, that I’ve officially committed to this “school year of travel”, I’ve got friends and family who want to join me in my journeys…and I understand that. I wonder, now that I’ve shared my link, what they think of previous posts. I know I shouldn’t feel embarrassed, but I do. So much of me is completely exposed.

And so I’ll try to relay my journey, while remaining authentic to this blog’s original intention. You might not see a day-to-day account, but I’m hoping to share mini-adventures and overall impressions, thoughts, feelings, etc. that left their mark on me. I’m hoping to somehow document a personal evolution of sorts…but already that’s putting too much pressure on this trip, and I’d rather experience it in real time, without expectation. 

In short, this may not be what you expected to read, but I’m hoping you’ll join me anyway. Ready or not, world, here I come!

And so it begins…

All I can think is…I have no idea where to begin. The end of a chapter, the (supposed) beginning of another. But how do I start? How to take that terrifying initial step into the unknown, where fear and uncertainty inevitably reside; this is my challenge.

A “personal leave of absence” from the upcoming school year. My very own journey of supposed soul-searching and truth-finding has begun. I should feel excited and ready to jet off at any second. And yet I hesitate…because where do I even go from here? Is this a life I can come back to? Can I settle for the mundanity that has become my everyday existence, regardless of how much time I take off? I wish I had some token, a talisman, a crystal ball to tell me which way to turn. And yet I feel (and fear) I already know the answer:

No. No, I can’t.

This truth came to me in the unexpected form of a long-lost friend with whom I was reunited just last week. We spoke, we reconnected, and I instantly remembered what it felt like to be home. That pit-of-the-gut instinct immediately reminded me that I had lost a vital piece somewhere along the way…and I am so grateful to have been reacquainted with my quest.

I will not live a mediocre life. I can not and will not settle for anything less than amazing. And that first step must be taken by no one but me.

The Insomniac Strikes Again

Sleep.

That one little word sounds so inviting, and yet I’ve been finding it impossible lately. My bed has turned into an uncomfortable place of restlessness, worry, and frustration. I lie awake each night, constant thoughts streaming through my head…and no hope of shutting them off.

Anxiety-ridden, you might assume? I suppose so. Although I’ve struggled with insomnia off and on since I was a child, anxiety was never the issue (or so I thought–maybe it was the culprit all along). It’s more a constant struggle between what my soul wants, and where I am in life at this very moment.

I reach for the light, and the doubts creep in: “You are not living your path! What are you doing with your life? And where are you headed? You are so alone, and you’re already in your mid-thirties. What if you never find what you’re looking for? What if you never know real love? What if you never find the happiness you seek?”

All of these open-ended questions scare me shitless. Uncertainties, insecurities, negative self-talk…fear. They all allow themselves to surface the second the room turns dark. My head and heart are battling, and they can’t seem to find peace. Yes, I know I’m not living my true path right now. And yes, I (sort of) have a plan. But…what if I fail? I don’t really have a clue where I’m headed; I have no idea where I’ll end up or how my life will turn out.

Does anybody, though? Do people actually have it all figured out, or are some just better at pretending than others? And how do I quiet my mind, when the biggest naysayer turns out to be me? I don’t know where to turn next. I need sleep.