Honduras: there’s always one.

When James and Ashley left on our fourth day on the island, I threw my I love you over my shoulder as I braced myself to run through the streets in a tropical downpour. I seriously hate goodbyes. If there hadn’t been the need to brace against the rain, I probably would have had more time to think about how sad it was that I wasn’t sure when the next time I’d see them was. I’ve never been one of those people who gets stuck to home, who wonders what I’m doing every time I get back on the plane to Sydney; but that doesn’t mean it’s any easier to look my loved ones in the eye and tell them how I really feel every time I walk away. I guess on some levels, I’m still an avoider when it comes to matters of the heart. I planned my second dive accordingly so that an extreme high would follow what I knew would be one of the lowest lows of the trip. So I ran away from the goodbye and changed into my shorty wetsuit. When I surfaced, feeling that same high as the day before, the lightness in my head was attributed to more than just excitement. I was feeling slightly nauseous. At first, I worried I’d had bad air, but the truth was that I knew too well that feeling in my head and the heat rushing through my body. I was hungover. And diving hungover is not recommended. I decided to head back to the hostel and have a nap, since I didn’t have anyone to meet for galavanting around the island, and it was pouring anyway. As I laid down on my bunk in the empty four-bed dorm, the door opened and in walked one of the girls who worked at the front desk of the hostel. You’re getting a roommate. It could have been perfect timing, my family had just left and I was alone again. It couldn’t be a bad thing, right? When he came in a few minutes later, he introduced himself and promptly took himself outside to smoke a cigarette. All travellers smoke, so I didn’t judge. We got to talking, about where we’d travelled to and what we were doing in Honduras. For a while, it was a fine enough conversation, he’d been travelling around SE Asia and lived in Singapore…

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Honduras: Just don’t leave the hotel alone.

How long are you staying for?  7 days.  The immigration agent froze and looked up from my passport. Wow, really? But that was all he said. He never elaborated on his reaction, which I can only assume as surprise. I guess most people don’t stay, at least not in Tegucigalpa. Landing in Tegus was not unlike my very memorable landing in Queenstown less than a year before. The biggest difference was that rather than a play-by-play of the pilot’s actions and decisions, there was just utter silence. I assumed it couldn’t possibly be an issue if the pilot and flight crew didn’t have anything to say about it. Only after I cleared customs and was standing outside arrivals that I remembered my brother telling me that Tegus was one of the most dangerous airports in the world to fly into. Selective memory. When I did see my brother and sister-in-law finally come out of arrivals after what felt like ages, it was a little bit like shock; seeing them for the first time in a year, and for the first time away from my niece and nephew since they’d been born. The first thing Ashley asked for was an iced coffee and it felt nice allowing myself to take comfort in her familiarity of this place that I wasn’t so sure about. We loaded into a minibus and were off to our fancy hotel in Tegus. I tried not to think about the expense, I tried not to fear too much for my travel budget after only one week. But Ashley let me in on a little piece of wisdom: in Tegus you either pay, or you sleep in fear of your life. So, I shut up. Oh, and don’t leave the hotel alone.  The next two days were packed with wedding activities. It was a reunion for James and Ashley as they were reunited for the first time with the other volunteers who’d worked at Montaña de Luz alongside them two years ago. It was fun, it was busy and I was so grateful to be a part of it, to be welcomed with open arms into a ceremony at which I knew only two people. But it was also about this time that my German friend went off the radar as he ventured into the depths of the Guatemalan jungle for a few days. He’d been my most constant point of contact since…

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Guatemala: lost experiences, gained friends.

I missed a lot. Okay, okay. Maybe it’s not the best way to set the scene as I begin to unfold the tales of my last month. But when it comes to Guatemala, I missed a lot. I thought I learned a lot about myself on my Sri Lankan travels. Things like: I’d rather take a taxi in my first moments in a brand new country, even knowing it was going to cost me. Like: I always wanted to book my first night or two so I could take comfort in knowing I had somewhere to go. Like: after three weeks in a third world country, I would want some of the comforts of home. I thought I learned these things about myself in Sri Lanka, but in Central America, I learned so much more. Because of what I thought I knew, I booked my first two nights in the small village of Santa Cruz la Laguna on Lago de Atitlán. It wasn’t a hostel, so I missed the chance to meet other travellers right from the beginning. Or so I thought. But I guess I’d sort of accepted that I wouldn’t meet many people in the first few days, so I didn’t think it would matter so much that I didn’t pick a hostel. It had taken me two whole days in Hikkaduwa to find Steve, and that being my only experience with solo travel, I assumed it as the standard. But I met someone my first day in Guatemala. In fact, I didn’t even have to make it to Atitlán first. From the airport, I took a shuttle to Antigua because there were no taxi drivers. As I’d walked out of the airport I’d braced myself for the onslaught of Guatemalan locals eager to snag a tourist fee for a short trip. But when I’d exited the sliding glass doors of La Aurora International Airport all I saw was a sea of unsmiling, indifferent Guatemalan faces. They were there for their families, fuck the gringa. When we got to Antigua, my driver palmed me off to another driver and I carefully crawled into the van, exhaustion setting in. Inside I found two Japanese faces turned expectantly toward me, and the side-profile of a German boy. The Japanese couple were eager to know me; What’s your name? Where are you from? Where are you going? The German didn’t care who I was, or…

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The Share House

I remember vividly the day that my dad dropped me off at the terminal. I had spent most of the day with my brother and his fiancé investigating the San Francisco airport map in an attempt to avoid getting lost and missing my first-ever international flight. Of course I was scared shitless, maybe more of saying goodbye to my family than actually uprooting to move to a new country all on my own. I hate goodbyes. To this day, a goodbye, in any form, is one of the things I dread the most. I managed a tear-free exit from Dad, James and Ashley but as I walked down what felt like the longest hallway in SEATAC to the international terminal, I knew that I didn’t dare look back. My first two days in Sydney were in a tiny youth hostel in Redfern, where I ate little {mostly out of the uncertainty of not knowing where to shop} and spent way too much money on public transport. Thinking about my state in those days and comparing it to where I stood just a short week later; in the kitchen of a share house on Newtown’s Alice Street, it’s amazing how quickly your entire life can change. My search for a place to live during my semester abroad was one of a 21-year-old who’d lived all her live in housing provided by her parents or her University. I had no idea what I was looking for. I only looked at three places. The first was old and L-shaped. The interviewer was an older man, very kind and easy to talk to, but I sat in the overgrown courtyard with fear that this was all that Australia had to offer. The other flatmates were full-time grad students, they weren’t going to want to hit up the local bars with me. I foresaw a semester of loneliness. When I got back to the hostel that evening, a new ad had popped up on Gumtree. A nice share house of ten on Station Street in Newtown. Newtown was the place I wanted to be, the place where the students were, where I’d feel like I was at home on the streets of Seattle. Stepping into the old, white terrace house on Station Street was likely the moment that everything changed for me. Joanne, the landlady who organized the house, had picked me up and brought…

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Tackling the Thai Toilet

This is not a story about poop.  I just wanted to make the clear. The Thai sun was searing down through the lower deck window as I surveyed the hungover Brit and Aussie backpackers and young European families on the ferry boat. As we finally got off the swaying boat, and shuffled single file from one boat deck to the other, my suitcase banged against the ankle of the young women in front of me. She huffed unappreciatively as I apologized. Too bothered myself to care if a stranger thought I was arrogant or not. We stepped into a sea of Thai tuk tuk drivers, hollering to take us to the resorts, or wherever it was we were going. I pushed through, attempting to mumble ‘No, thank you’ but coming off slightly more rude as other travelers pushed past. Jenn and I quickly split off down a back road, where we could see souvenir shops and guesthouses. Walking just ahead of Jenn, I could feel the irritation of the 100 degree day seeping into my fallen smile. Jenn, the positive one, chirped that we should jump into a travel agent, and see if we can find a great guesthouse to stay in. That worked for me, anywhere out of the sun. We stepped inside, wary that we might be getting ripped off. I was grumbling, not-so-silently about our lack of planning, while Jenn continued to chat with the travel agent in her cheery California accent. When the travel agent suggested, Lanta L.D. Beach Bungalow on Long Beach, we said that sounded fine. At around 200 ($6) baht a night roughly, we weren’t sure what we might be getting into. We arrived via a capped tuk tuk ride of 100 baht and were greeted warmly by the young Thai lady at the front desk. When we were shown to our bungalow, we walked into what Thai dreams are made of; a tiny bungalow with a front patio and hammock, a double bed with a mosquito net (complete with a giant beetle sitting on top) and a bathroom with a simple shower head, toilet and sink. It took well into the first night for Jenn and I to figure out how to flush the toilet. Jenn and I warned each other that if we never figured it out, we’d forgive each other for what might happen in the next few days. Thankfully,…

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Letting Go

I am always reading posts on the loneliness that travelers face and the sacrifices we must make as we hit the road. I think about this all the time as I am at a crucial stage in my life when the road has forked. For the last year travel has been the ultimate goal, the one thing that I am truly passionate about. I want to see the whole world and it baffles me the number of amazing people that are out there for me to meet. But I remember that I have to come to grips with the hard times too. When our group started breaking up in Australia, people began moving on, it was really scary. I wanted to shut off and go into hiding until they had left. I didn’t want to face the thought that I might not see them for more than another year. I have been lucky with this group, as we have all kept in touch really well and most of us have seen each other at least one other time since we left Oz. Now, I’m starting to struggle with something else. Leaving home. I never had a problem leaving home, being away from my family or friends or starting a completely different life. Maybe what I hadn’t realized was that, even though I would’ve given an arm and a leg to stay in Australia at the time, I always knew in the back of my mind that I would go back home. I would return to my friends, my family, my sorority and the comforts of Seattle. Well, I was unpleasantly surprised to get home and find that everything had changed. I wasn’t living in the sorority anymore but about twenty minutes outside of town, which meant I didn’t get included in almost all of the plans because I wasn’t easily accessible. I was working over forty hours a week and taking classes with none of my friends. I was essentially alone, and sad to say, for a long time my friends let me be. A couple of friends in particular who I considered some of the best completely turned the tables. They had promised to keep me company and make my transition easy and not only did they eventually disappear but when I needed their support the most they took the opposite side. I suddenly wasn’t allowed to talk about…

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The Importance of Silence

As a teacher myself, I know the appeal of introducing controversial topics and cultural discussions to the classroom. It’s one the best ways to get your students talking, because chances are they all have an opinion. Last week in my Italian course, my teacher did just that. I consider myself pretty open-minded or in the least open to being open-minded. From my travels, and what I have learned from others, I know what people think about Americans. And although, I refuse to agree when people say that I “hate America” or that I “never want to live there”, I share many of the viewpoints that non-Americans have on the practices that the government and the society enable. I’ll have to preface this post by explaining a bit about the other students in my class. There is me, an American girl who has trouble with the fluency of Italian language but, according to my teacher, is the most advanced student in the class. Then there are two Japanese girls, both have similar problems to me in the language but both understand a great deal more than they are given credit for. Then, there are two Spanish girls. Both girls came into the course a week or more into it (and it’s only a 5-week course) studying a level ahead of where they were tested but with the advantage of fluency. One of these girls, is eager to speak but sweet and reserved in what she says. The other, I’ve finally allowed myself to say, just likes the sound of her own voice. At first I thought she was really fluent and knowledgeable but the more I listened to what she was saying the more I realized that I know people like her; they exist in every language. So, back to my teacher’s plan to get us speaking. Our teacher asked us what our thoughts were on each other’s countries: Spain, Japan, the U.S. and Mexico (the teacher is from Mexico). Well, of course someone jumped at the chance and began going into detail about Spain and it’s history. She started with the history, moved to the difference between North and South then jumped on over to Mexico and how it came from Spain. After that it was onto the US. She went into great rocket-speed detail on U.S. policies and the mindsets of the citizens. She described how the people think…

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