The Argentine Chapters

San Telmo

Taking the ferry over to Buenos Aires was a welcome change from airport runs. Spacious seating areas, a snack bar, and luxurious interior. It’s a much better way to travel, see for yourself!

The old city is much that you’d expect. Narrow, cobblestone streets. Low buildings, wooden shutters. After our old-timey digs in Montevideo, we’d decided to go modern in Argentina and our Airbnb really delivered. The building is called La Editorial and the once publishing house was refurbished to the max and thoughtfully decorated.

The highlights of this neighborhood were the Lezama Plaza, the San Telmo market, and unique shops. A woman weaved a leather bracelet for Hector on the spot. The market is one of those places you have to see to believe. For our first couple of days we mostly wandered, read and sang in the plaza, and hung out on the rooftop to enjoy the view.

The lowlights of this neighborhood were congestion, dirty walkways and littered public spaces, and traffic noise. We were actually planning to stay in another unit in the same building for the second half of our stay, but after exploring and discovering the more spacious and cleaner neighborhood of Recoleta, we decided to jump ship. We found an okay Airbnb (yes, I’m being facetious, check out the pics of the new place) and we moved on Christmas day.


The move prompted a food adventure, of a different sort. While we were wandering around on Christmas Eve, we noticed shops closing up much earlier than expected. We’d already been told that “everything” would be closed on Christmas day, so we decided we better go ahead to the grocery store to gather supplies. Turns out we were too late. Metal gate after metal gate had been pulled down across the store fronts. We had a few things at the house, some tuna, some bread. We weren’t going to starve, but it wasn’t going to much of a holiday meal.

We walked and laughed about what concoctions we could design with the things we had at home. Then, an idea.

I say to Hector: “There has to be a Chinese-run store around here somewhere, they always stay open. We should get off this main avenue to a street with cheaper rent.”

He agrees. We detour to a side street and within minutes find a grocer with his doors wide open. And of course, Hector figures out something wonderful for us to have a proper holiday meal.

But we weren’t just going to let Christmas slide by without an UnTourist Adventure.

A Tango Christmas

Enter Manuel Vicente. He’s a professional Tango dance that competes in the European circuit during the ballroom season. In the off season, he runs a small dance studio and invites visitors to experience the art form he loves via an Airbnb experience. And let me tell you, it was an experience.

We start off in his studio at 8:00 in the evening. There are three other Americans, a Brazilian, two Hungarians, and an Austrian. (Plus Manuel, who is Spanish but has lived in Argentina for the last 9 years.)

Manuel begins with the history of Tango. It began as a mimic/walking game that men used to play while waiting in the salons of the brothel. Yes, you read that right. It’s really a fascinating tale. You can read more hear.

But why does Manuel explain all this? To help us contextualize that Tango equals walking! We proceed through a series of closed-eye exercises so that we focus on shifting our weight and feeling the movements and breath of our partner. We practice for 45 minutes or so and he declares us ready. It’s nearing 10 o’clock. It’s Christmas day. We’re uncertain of what the scene will be so we’re surprised that when we walk into El Beso (the club) it’s lively, it’s full, and throngs of people, many in their sixties or older, are dancing away!

The way a milonga works is that the music starts up. Men invite woman to dance with their eyes, maybe a small hand gesture of invitation. If a woman doesn’t want to, she avoids eye contact and he moves on. Four songs play (a Tanga). You stay with the same partner for all four. If you want to dance less, don’t accept an invitation until the third or fourth song. At the end of the Tanga a “cortina” is played, which means short song. It might be a rock-n-roll song, a salsa, a merengue. Something non-Tango.

Manuel and the Hungarians start drinking beer. Hector orders some champagne to share among us and another girl in our group, the Brazilian girl starts drinking cocktails. We watch with curiosity, how the whole room seems to move in tandem, slowly, around the circle, counterclockwise. There are three circles actually, more advanced dancers in the outside ring, beginners on the inside.

The night progresses. Manuel gets us all up for group dances during the cortinas. He takes a few of us to the inner ring to dance a few Tangos. We observe the etiquette and elegance. And then the orchestra begins. A world class violinist stands out from the also talented cellist and pianist. We are delighted to watch the bandoneón player stretch and compress his button accordion. We’d later learn this quaint instrument is considered the soul of Tango.

Manuel comes rushing over after he finishes a beautiful Tanga with a skilled dancer he’d invited to the floor. He’s learned which singer will be performing, one of the top ten in the world, he exclaims. And sure enough, the guy could really sing.

And, we couldn’t just be bystanders! We snuck some Cha Cha into one of the cortinas and I took a Tango turn with Manuel.

In total, the effect was enchanting and the hours flew by! We finally spilled out into the street, and fresh weather, at about 4:00 am. A long night, but oh so worth it.

Plaza Life and the Rest of It

We’ve decided one of our favorite things about life in South America is plaza life. We might call these parks in the states, but that doesn’t quite capture it. Here, the plazas may be large or small. They always have a central area but may sprawl out past that. They feature green space, benches, and people! Older folks sitting on benches and chatting. Younger folks passing through or resting on the grass. Some tots running about. We find this aspect of public life so charming, so alive. Many of our days and evenings were spent lounging in the plaza, often times guitar in hand.

Buenos Aires is too big a city to even begin to see in a week, and there is too much to tell if I try to go into the day to day. We did a three-hour tour with a delightful woman to get an overview of the history and layout. We had dinner with Juan and his sister (a brother and sister duo) who hosted a traditional asada via an Airbnb experience at their home. Juan grilled up a delicious meal over an open fire and we shared interesting conversation and learned much about how things work in Argentina. We visited the revolution museum, the Tango museum, the Recoleta Cemetery (it’s unreal, check it out online). And we had fun with the feeling that we were getting to know our way around, learning some tricks of the city.

Oh, and we saw the coolest thing! One morning I woke up to some strange shadows dancing on the wall. Curiosity got the best of me. I hopped up and looked. This is what I found, we watched them all the way down the wall, fascinated with the precision, the confidence, the teamwork!

The thing about immersion is how much it distorts time. It was shocking to roll around the final day and realize we were on the last leg of our trip: Chile here we come!

Oh Uruguay!

Come along to our peaceful arrival to Montevideo: balmy weather, relaxed roadways, and…

(Adobe stock photo, I can’t take credit.)

Our generous and magnanimous Airbnb host, Hilda, met us at our apartment and we were instantly glad we’d gone for rustic accommodations in the old city rather than a more modern apartment in downtown. As you can see, we had a hammock, amazing views, and were steps away from Zabala Plaza.

We stocked up on groceries and discovered the quaintness of our neighborhood with local restaurants, green space, ocean views, and street music. The next day it was time to explore. We popped onto Peatonal Sarandí, the main pedestrian street that goes from the port to the old gate leading to downtown Montevideo. The cobblestone street is extra wide, with limited traffic, and spotted with street vendors selling books, antiques, trinkets, jewelry, artwork, mate mugs (more on this later), jerseys…you get the point. But the nice thing is that the avenue still doesn’t feel crowded since its so spacious and the vendors are calm and respectful, so you can truly enjoy your stroll. In minutes, we hit Plaza Constitución and minutes after that reached Plaza Independencia.

Our impression? This is our kind of town. Laid back, manageable, friendly, and still vibrant. The city was living up to it’s #1 ranking on the Mercer’s report on quality of life (in Latin America), a rank the city has consistently held since 2005. Let’s do a photo tour of the “ideal” (Adobe stock photos because sometimes only the pros can do it justice).

After being there only a day, we already felt at home. We knew our way around, Hector already had his open-until-midnight coffee shop, and we’d learned some local slang. We also quickly discovered a host of contradictions to the city’s ideal image. The old city has an abundance of abandoned buildings. I’m talking stately, huge, gorgeous architecture that is boarded up. There is graffiti everywhere (edited out of the stock photos I assume), and not the inspirational street art kind but just good old fashioned (and ugly in my opinion) tagging. There’s lots of dog shit on the sidewalks and a fair number of homeless people sleeping next to it. Plus, just outside the fray, in the outer neighborhoods, the housing looked quite different. After several days in the city, we started to gather a more realistic representation.

But don’t get me wrong. We found more to love than not. Additional highlights include urban parks, open air markets, random choir concerts, and oh the views!

Plus, there was the fun of being in a country that neighbors the champions during the excitement of the world cup final. And after seeing the videos of the Buenos Aires swarm, we were indeed so happy that we enjoyed it from afar.

This whole leg of the trip was pretty much living life and being UnTourists. We did some morning workouts along the sea. We chatted with locals and cooked our own meals. We strummed guitar on the rooftop and in the plaza. We took long walks. We didn’t have any big plans except for one big UnTourist gamble: Pepe Mujica.

Here’s a quick bio from Wikipedia. José Alberto “Pepe” Mujica Cordano (born 20 May 1935) is a Uruguayan politician, former revolutionary and farmer who served as the 40th president of Uruguay from 2010 to 2015. A former guerrilla with the Tupamaros, he was tortured and imprisoned for 14 years during the military dictatorship in the 1970s and 1980s.

If you want to have a better understanding of his imprisonment, watch A Twelve Year Night on Netflix. He was isolated, starved, beaten. It was a lot. Then, decades later, he became the “people’s president” and is widely known as the world’s humblest head of state. During his presidency, he continued to live on his little farm and drive his Volkswagen Beetle or his old fashioned bicycle around. He donated about 90% of his salary to charitable efforts and small entrepreneurs. He hitched rides on the jets of neighboring heads of state to international political events. And, probably the biggest reason we’ve been so influenced by him, is he’s dubbed the “philosopher president”. He’s known for espousing for hours about the futility of accumulating material possessions, human happiness, and all ranges of topics. He was a radical president, pushing Uruguay into reforms ahead of many nations (legalizing marijuana to stop the underground drug trade, passing same sex marriage legislation, raising minimum wage, reducing the national poverty rate, legalizing abortion, supporting trade unions). Whether for or against or his policies, most people agree he set a tone for eliminating corruption in government. Uruguay is now considered the least corrupt and most stable countries on the continent. It’s called the “Switzerland of Latin America” due to their economy, size, and industrial, trade, and service sectors. Uruguay has one of the highest GDP per capita in the region, and the World Economic Forum claims Uruguay is the most equitable country in the world.

Am I saying one man did this? No way. In fact, Pepe’s presidency was spotty. He was more “the heart of the people” and a thinker than he was a savvy strategist. Lots of the groundwork for Uruguay’s successes had been laid by the leaders that came before him. He made unique contributions to the national story, but it’s not a one man show. This article does a great job of detailing the complexities of Pepe’s influence:

Nevertheless, Hector and I have studied much about the man—his resilience, his successes, his failures, his reflections—and our big project while in Uruguay was to find Pepe!

We start off on a a Saturday, mid-morning. I’d researched the location of Pepe’s favorite cafe. Our plan was to hang out there, build rapport with locals, and then see about making a visit. It’s not entirely uncommon for folks to show up and visit with the guy, so we knew we had a chance. We cabb out of the main city and are dropped at the cafe address. But instead of a little, vibrant town square and civilization, there is a fruit stand, a gas station, and a bus stop. Hector almost doesn’t let the cabbie go. The whole thing feels like an abandoned movie set and he has visions of us having to walk for hours to get back to our haven in the old city.

But, we persevere! We grab a bottle of water at the gas station’s convenience store. We poke around the fruit stand and buy a few things. Slowly, we strike up a conversation with the guy and learn that the infamous cafe had closed during the pandemic, that there isn’t much going on in this area. We learn that there is a small plaza ten minutes up the road but not to expect much.

We trek along the road side. At a little shop, we come up with the idea to buy cigarettes as a rapport building tool. Always easy to engage with folks looking for a light or to bum a smoke, right? We ask which brand is favored by the locals and go with that. At the plaza, we are surprised to find a little taxi stand and just behind it a grill set up where a guy is cooking and selling some type of mystery meat. Of course, we buy a sandwich. Hector smokes with the taxi guys. And eventually, we link up with Juan.

And guess what? During Pepe’s presidency, Juan was a chef at the presidential palace! (Pepe didn’t live there but operated out of there for state visits and the like.) Juan says that sure, he’ll take us out to Pepe’s house. He says that Pepe is old now (87) and doesn’t socialize as much, but that it’s always worth a try. After 15 minutes on a winding “main” road, we turn onto a gravel one and roll slowly toward the infamous farm where Pepe spent his life tending to flowers and growing vegetables. This is the extent of the ex-president’s security.

That means stop. That truck belongs to his one “security guard”, who comes ambling out of a roadside shack in shorts and a t-shirt when we pull up. He explains that Pepe isn’t feeling well, that he won’t be up for visitors. To come back Tuesday.

On Tuesday, we are prepared. We cab to the end of Pepe’s dirt road. We walk in, enjoying the peace of the rural setting. We start up a conversation with the guard. Hector explains that we’ve been inspired by the man, that we won’t do social media and won’t take much time or take advantage. The guard explains a lot.

Pepe is old and frail. He’s not the man he used to be and just doesn’t have the energy of yesteryear. Many people come to meet him. People from all over the world. Imagine if he met with all of them, he’d have no time to live. He’d need to live a million years to say yes. People come that don’t speak Spanish or English, with a translator app in hand and expect to talk to Pepe through a machine. A few weeks ago, some tourists from Columbia “got lucky”. Pepe was out and about and in the mood. He chatted with them for a short while. They were thrilled. They paid him back by posting pictures of the encounter all over social media and bragging about “how easy” it had been. In the following days, people lined up all along Pepe’s little dirt road. The whole scene stressed him out, stressed out his guards, stressed out his wife. (By the way, Lucía Topolansky is badass in her own right. A revolutionary turned national leader. Check her out too!) Some time back, an official visit was arranged with the King of Spain. It had been all organized. Pepe greeted the king in the garden as scheduled…in his pajamas!

The more we chat with Mateo, the less we want to bother the legend. With just a look between Hector and I, we acquiesce. We thank Mateo graciously. We say we’re happy to leave Pepe to his afternoon and are grateful for the opportunity to be in his world. We ask if it would be okay if we lounge a bit at the bus stop across the road and Mateo says that would be just fine.

And that’s what we do. We let our emotions settle and quickly start having epiphanies about respect, about journey versus destination, about the power of adventure over achievement. We realize that our real goal had been to pay our respects to a person we admired. That shaking his hand or having a photo op would be for us, not him. Would be some kind of show to the world (look at us!) rather than respecting what this great man actually needs from his admirers. We let go of any disappointment and replace it with gratitude. We’re here! We made it! We examine Pepe’s flowers and treeline with new awe. We take deep breaths and immerse in Pepe’s aura. We speak our respects out loud and with our hearts. We let a feeling of contentment flood in. It really is the journey that matters. We were bold enough to try. We had to stretch past our comfort zone to get this far. We’d accessed a new form of compassion. These new ways of being are ours forever. We thank Pepe and make a humble exit.

We walk. We just want to take the moment in. We laugh about being in the middle of nowhere in a country called Uruguay in the bottom of South America. We feel our own expansion. And we are rewarded.

You see, Hector has had a burning desire for several years now about owls. We went to the national aviary so we could hold an owl on his arm and look it in the eye. We went for late night walks with my dad to find screech owls in the night. He’s watched countless videos and documentaries about the amazing characteristics of these creatures. And he’s dreamed of seeing one, spontaneously, in the wild.

As we walk away from Pepe’s house, this borrowing owl flutters past us, lands about ten feet away, and parades around in the field. We stand stunned and watched him for several silent minutes. We accept the blessing. We fantasize that somehow our energy and comingled with Pepe’s and manifested into this moment. Because, why not? In this chaotic, unpredictable world, only we create the narrative of our own life. And that was the most empowering interpretation we could come up with!

We keep walking until we se a makeshift fruit stand in front of someone’s house. We buy bananas. We keep walking. We find a shady spot along the way and sit down for a picnic. We don’t care that we look weird to passerbys.

We sit a while longer. Reflecting, feeling the breeze, cementing the memory. We watch a man corral two horses and lead them down the road on his bicycle. And eventually, when we feel satiated with the significance of it all, we text Juan. We’re somewhere along the main road that leads to Chacra de Pepe.

And that’s another thing we love about this country. That’s all Juan needs to know in order to find us.

Bom dia!

That’s “good day” in Portuguese. And even though I left Brazil almost a week ago, I’m just welcoming you to it!

We did some travelling acrobatics for our first stop: an overnight flight from Medellin to Sao Paulo, a morning layover, and then another flight to Recife. The key to flying all night without being exhausted when you can’t afford first class? Buy three seats! The long-haul flight wasn’t an astronomical price (relatively), so we had made the auspicious decision to buy three seats to secure a row to ourselves. Worked like a charm! We both got to lay down and get some decent rest.

Anyway, I digress. Why were we on this crazy flight path to cross half of the South America continent in one go?

There’s a single answer: Fernando de Noronha. Fernando de Noronha is a volcanic archipelago about 350 kilometers off Brazil’s northeast coast. It’s renowned for its undeveloped beaches and sea turtles, rays, dolphins and reef sharks that swim in its warm, clear waters. One of it’s beaches, Baía do Sancho, has been named the “most beautiful beach in the world”. We laughed. How, after all, can one choose such a thing? After spending several hours there, we had to agree it’s as good as any choice for the title. Here are some iconic photos that I found from

The reason we made such an effort to get here is because we were repeatedly told by Brazilians that we know (a Brazilian acquaintance we met in Portugal and have kept in touch with, my Brazilian hairdresser, a Brazilian colleague of my brother) that all Brazilians dream of going to Noronha in their lifetimes. We couldn’t pass up an opportunity to take an excursion that so many local people dream of doing, so we made it happen.

Going to Noronha is, by definition, a touristy thing to do. 100% of the island’s inhabitants earn their living off tourism. But we at least had to put an Untourist spin on the days we spent there. Enter Bruno.

Bruno moved to the island when he was four and grew up there. Though he spent a decade living abroad in Europe, he’s now returned and guides people around. But he’s not any guide. He’s an avid volunteer with several environmental efforts: a turtle project, a shark project, a bird project. He’s a naturalist, a historian, a storyteller, and an amazing photographer. Check out his work and his adventures @brunonoronha (Bruno Galvão).

By hiring Bruno for our days, we got a true insiders look at how things operate, the politics, the economy, and of course, all the best sites. We meandered, taking Bruno’s suggestions and taking advantage of current circumstances like Brazil’s world cup match.

Of course, there’s a risk in going local, because our hearts also broke when the team ended up losing the match. Some folks were in full blown tears and we were fascinated about the effect sports can have on people’s emotions. We consoled ourselves with watching birds and beautiful sunsets.

Noronha was hikes in the sunshine, swimming in transparent waves, climbing volcanic rock, and watching birds. It was song jams into the evening hours and rising with the sun. It was nature, curiosity, wonder, and awe.

Let’s just say it was a shock to the system to reorient to the metropolis of São Paulo. Lucky for us, we snagged an Airbnb in Paraíso, a posh neighborhood that actually has some trees and a bit of quiet. Our apartment was a bastion of modernity and honestly water pressure and hot water was a welcome creature comfort after the Noronha days. São Paulo days were crunch time for me in submitting a draft of my novel manuscript to my mentor, so I did a lot of hunkering down. Hector did a walking tour, took a Portuguese class, and made a few temporary friends to explore the city with. Together we cooked some nice meals, did some shopping and self-care appointments, and spent time on the rooftop with our guitar and conversation.

On our last night in São Paulo we decided we needed to get brave and check out the night life. Months before, at our friend’s engagement party in Connecticut, we’d met a Brazilian couple who introduced us to the dance of forró. The term refers to a musical genre, a rhythm, a dance and the event itself where forró music is played and danced. It encompasses various dance types as well as a number of different musical genres.

We hit the club. We’re aware that Brazilians are known to be touchy-feely and sexually open. We’re aware that forró can end up looking like dry humping. But still, we weren’t prepared! If you want a taste of it, just google “Brazil forró sexy”, and you can see for yourself. But hey, when in Rome, right? We met some fun people, danced away, practiced the art of friendly boundary drawing, and then at about 1:00 am, when things seemed to be really heating up, we made our escape. After all, we had a flight to catch the next day. 😉

The calm of Montevideo began on the plane…that was half full. We met an Uruguayan man with his mate mug and thermos of hot water in tow. We arrived to an empty airport, a fully automated immigration process, and a pleasant sun.

We’re loving it here. Loving our old fashioned apartment, the old city, the slow pace, the sea…and having an uninterrupted week to explore this new world. We’ll do Uruguay in the next edition!

Romance, Old Towns, and Flight Hops

It’s thrilling to meet up with your significant other in a foreign, romantic city after you’ve spent some time apart. It’s all the flair of a love affair—exotic surroundings, the feeling of discovering someone fresh, passion—without any of the risks, like being robbed or getting an STD!

I scooped up Hector at the airport and impressed him with our apartment and view.

Now you know that by no stretch of the imagination am I a foodie. If NASA ever designs a pill that can fulfill all of a human’s nutritional needs, I’ll volunteer as a tester! But I have to admit, even I’ve been impressed with the food in Colombia. Interesting, rich, flavorful. I mean, you can’t go wrong with a fruit that you crack open and scoop out slimy goodness. And check out this ceviche. And of course…the coffee.

Cartagena was walking old streets, enjoying the architecture, catching music in the plaza, and the big adventure of buying a guitar. We stopped by a few stores that google told us about, to find a few dusty guitars hanging among purses and linen shirts that were also for sale. That wasn’t going to cut it for Hector’s talents.

So, in a moment of inspiration, I went chasing after a group of musicians in the street. Through a bit of mishaps with my Spanish, I determined there was one and only store in the city that had quality guitars: Miche Instrumentos Musicales. I’ll spare you all the details, but there was paperwork for foreigners to make a big purchase ($220), a debate whether they would take cash or credit, multiple calls to the corporate office, and slogging through a torrential downpour to get cash. After three or so hours, we had ourselves a new six-stringer. Hector has already given concerts to some friends from the hostel and to Viviana and Juan, plus we’ve been singing our nights away.

Solento was a welcome change from the big cities. Fresh air, mountain views, and a cute town plaza surrounded by shops and restaurants. Our cab driver told us that about 80% of the town’s population earns their income from tourism (Columbian tourists included). Yet, it still didn’t have the feel of being overrun.

And two of these beasts lived at the hostel!

For the last leg of Colombia, we circled back to Medellin to try our hands at “normal” life. I wrote, exercised, took long walks. My big accomplishment was figuring out the whole series of questions the clerk asks you upon checkout at the grocery store! Hector was a bit more adventurous. He went for a walking tour and took up a salsa class. And yes, we did one super touristy thing but it was worth it! Comuna 13 is a favella that in the past was crime-ridden and isolated. Thanks to grassroots efforts by the locals and infrastructure development by the government (namely escalators to make the neighborhood’s hills accessible), it’s now a bastion of vibrancy, creativity, and tourists!

I’ve got a story for you! Imagine this. It’s November 30, in the evening. You are sitting at your computer in front of a big picture window. A massive city glitters behind you. You write. You consider stepping out into the night. You reprimand yourself. You write. And then this happens.

Apparently, fireworks at midnight of December 1 is the Colombian was to kick off the festive season. Depending on which site you read, the tradition has a villainous origins but let me tell you, this went on ALL night. Not at this intensity, but there were still plenty of explosions at 5:00 a.m. Oh, did I mention that fireworks for personal use are illegal in this country?

After the eventful nights and busy days we were ready to head for the fresh air and tranquil pace of Rio Negro. The Colombia leg of the trip ended right where it began: a delicious dinner on the finquita with Viviana and Juan (with Hector added to the mix this time).

So that’s a wrap on Colombia. Here’s your final photo montage.

Dos Mundos

I’ve been living in two worlds in Colombia. For a Spanish intensive, I stayed at a school in Medellin. Things I liked: colorful flowers, lots of hills, interesting neighborhoods, and this view (when entering the city).

But not so much: crazy traffic (and the accompanying fumes). After a week of cramming Spanish grammar into my brain, I was ready for some peace and fresh air. Enter the finquita (little farm) of my friend, Viviana.

Oh, but first there was the Terminal de Sur aka shopping mall that after asking three people and walking three different directions, I found the forty+ ticket counters that sell rides to just about every town within 100 miles of Medellin. Thanks to a friendly janitor, I found the right one (#28), got my slip to give to the conductor, and found the right bus with two minutes to spare. I’m just glad I was following my travel rule of carrying local currency in small denominations because paying came 2.5 hours later when I arrived in Rionegro. Viviana’s smiling face was there to greet me and her Aunt’s smiling face was behind the wheel of her car that she’d so graciously volunteered to the cause of transporting the gringa!

Arriving at the finquita was fresh air, a web of stars, and…quiet!

Let me fast forward the next day. Up at 6 o’clock, head to the airport at 7, fly to Bogota, eat some amazing soup while laying over in Bogota, fly to Neiva, take a taxi to the bus terminal (repeat yesterday’s experience but this time with locals so it wasn’t just me😉), take a bus/minivan to Villavieja, barter with a tuk tuk driver, and bump into the desert on a bench seat pulled by a sputtering motorbike.

Why did we jump through all those travel hoops? Well, let me show you.

Welcome to the Tatacoa Desert. It’s not an official desert, but it comes in two colors: gris y roja, and it’s pretty unique terrain for an Amazonian country. We spent the weekend hiking, reflecting, and conversing on oh so deep topics into the night while under a clear sky. There were also barefoot mud walks and some of the most amable (gentle, kind, helpful) people working at the local-owned hostel where we stayed.

Next stop? Cartegena…and Hector! ✨🎉

On the Road Again

“Time is free, but it’s priceless. You can’t own it, but you can use it. You can’t keep it, but you can spend it. Once you’ve lost it you can never get it back.” – Harvey Mackay

Let’s catch up. Though I haven’t cranked up this blog for years, it doesn’t mean I haven’t been adventuring. After all, adventure can look a lot of different ways.

It can be moving to different places, learning things, befriending people, or discovering new worlds on the pages of books that you can’t put down. It can be experiencing your own expansion; it can be watching another grow. It can be fitness, creativity, craft, or luck. And of course, it can be travelling. There’s no end to this list. As long as we’re awake to possibility, and stretching ourselves as humans, we’re having an adventure! But like everything else in life, adventure is moment to moment. So, I’m not going to take these pages to try to “catch you up” on the three places I’ve lived since my last post; or the business I’m experimenting with; or the new novel I’m writing. I won’t try to summarize what I’ve learned about life and love. I won’t recreate my 6-country European trip in 2019, my respite in Puerto Rico in 2020, my three weeks in Alaska in 2021, or my Costa Rican writing retreat in 2022.

What I’ll do is start right now.

I’m a nomad again! I’m on a plane headed for Medellin, Columbia. Day 1 of a two-month trip to South America. Hector and I sold our condo in Maryland (north of DC), drove to Ohio to scoop up mom and dad, and spent a long weekend at Niagara Falls. Dad isn’t always easy to impress, but to this view his only word was Wow.

We camped out for a few weeks on the farm, precious quality time that was full of highlights. Karla flew in for the “soft opening” of the newest and grandest addition to the Morrow County Park District. The X acres is a bastion of natural diversity and countless views. We got a few workouts clearing trails and blowing leaves and the weather smiled on us with an amazing day.

Our favorite past time was owl watching: the screech owl living in the hayloft and the Barred owl we successfully called in the woods. Picture this: Hector, Dad, and I, lying beneath the night sky with our heads resting on a log. A “Hoot Flute” in hand, tooting Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you all? It really sounds like that! Listen for yourself:

Ok, back to the woods. After tooting a bit, there is a swish of a shadow and a Barred owl appears on a branch above us. It was spectacular and spooky and oh so satisfying. 

When Mom wasn’t madly sewing on the new quilt she’s making, she was solving puzzles and spinning stories for us, that is when grandpa wasn’t telling one! Hector was the family chef and experimented with all sorts of things, including his first go at fresh baked bread. Fluffy goodness.

There was visiting with the extended clan: the Loebicks, the Martins, the Russels. And there was the farm itself. Rainbowed trees, the fragrance of wet leaves and fresh earth, woolly bear caterpillars. Sun-ripened raspberries, long walks and short four-wheeler rides. Words will never do it justice so I’ll just show you.

The last stop was San Antonio to see a friend of Hector grew up with, keeps in touch with, shares a passion for music with, but hasn’t seen in person in 15 years. Want to experience the warping of time? Witness the hug of two brothers after a long absence.

So now, I’m gearing up for hostels and Airbnbs, for Columbian deserts, Brazilian islands, and Argentinian tango. And don’t worry, we’ll be doing it all in UnTourist style! Stay tuned 😊

Finding Words

IMG_3214Since September, since moving to a new place, since summoning the courage to begin again another life within this one lifetime I’ve been given, I’ve written a lot of blogs.  I kept searching for words to describe…things, but as you may have noticed, none of them made it onto the wires.

Sometimes we live life in big pieces, one day similar to the next, a week blending to month, like taffied blocks of time.  It may be that these are reprieves from the fractured times, when life is the flyaway candied threads, each pull another change, when we are so tussled by growth that it’s too swift for us to take note, assign meaning, and write down.

That’s how life has been for me.  My new city (Norfolk) has more to offer than I could have imagined.  I’m linked into an active writer’s center and making friends.  I’m deep in love.  I’ve had the recent luxury of quality time with dear family and friends.  I’m having fresh insights while enjoying a new view from a different balcony but feeling the same sense of blessed that I can again live in a place that blurs the boundaries between indoor and out.

But as I’ve tried to write this, I’ve realized how hesitant we’ve become to say life is good.

My grandpa is turning 92 soon.  I’ve been having him speak his life into a handheld recorder.  About his days of living in a 24X24 building that he constructed himself, with its self-installed 55 gallon drum septic system, he says, “We lived good.  We had plenty to eat, plenty of work.”  And then he talks about Smelt fishing, catching little sardine-like fish from which you could just “strip the entails and have some good eatin’.”

It’s true that it’s hard to watch this iron man who built his life by working first the railroads, then the skyscrapers struggle to rise from his chair and catch his balance on standing with the help of a cane.  Yet he has his health, his mind, his independence, his memories.  He’s almost 92.  If only if we can all live that good.

Which is why we can’t get tricked into all we think we need to have to live good now.  It’s not like I’ve given up wanting to do better.  I have ever present dreams of expanding as a human, of abundance, of magic powers.  I’m not blind to the suffering that’s apparent in my world, the world at large.  But I don’t want to let those dreams or hardships crowd out now’s accomplishments.  I don’t want to let them steal today’s joy.  I want to immerse in the sense of possibility and hope I feel when I wake to the morning sun.

So today I refuse to convince myself that I don’t have enough to say if all I have to say is that life is going good.  My heart is true when I say that’s all I hope for each of you so I’m publishing this imperfect blog to say so!

Once in a Blue Moon

Astrologists say it’s truly a month of transitions.  Not only is tonight a blue moon, its energies are said to be magnified because Venus (the planet of love) went retrograde last week along with six other planets.  A blue moon is defined as any time there is a second full moon during a calendar month, and it only happens every several years or so and retrograde motion is an apparent change in the movement of the planet through the sky when it appears to move backwards because of the relative position of the planet and Earth and how they are moving around the Sun.  So astrologists consider today an unprecedented event–a true “once in a blue moon” experience.

I don’t know much about astrology and am not necessarily inclined to the premise that there is a relationship between astronomical phenomena and events in the human world, but as much as anyone, I’m awed by the night sky.  I’ve often found myself humbled and expanded by time spent star gazing.  One time, under a full moon, I had an existential experience of fearlessness, something I’d like to experience in every moment.  My love and I even recently bought a telescope to further explore our fascination.

So I thought…why not?  I don’t have to have a belief system formed around something to know its power.  Seemed like the perfect time to give the UnTourist a whole new look.  I hope you enjoy it!

Love Wins

In the past few days I’ve seen this phrase, a lot.  And each time it makes me smile.  I’m struck by feelings of joy on many levels:  for my friends and family that have been afforded new rights, for a society that is able to shift its thinking, for a government that takes a stand for love and equality even amidst great controversy, for the very idea that love can win.

Because imagine that world: where every single instance of hate, every moment of fear…was met and overcome by love.

Aren’t we all struggling to love?  Ourselves, our partners, our children, our mothers.

Yet we throw love away all the time.  When someone says something we don’t like, when they disagree with us, when they have a belief we don’t understand, when they cut us off in traffic.

We throw love away in bigger ways.  We put ourselves down, we lie, we don’t keep our commitments, we get jealous.

And we do it for a very simple reason: protection.  Michael Singer explains this eloquently in his book The Untethered Soul.

During eons of evolution, from the simplest of living forms to the most complex, there has always been the day-to-day struggle to protect oneself. In our highly evolved cooperative social structures, this survival instinct has gone through evolutionary changes. Many of us no longer lack food, water, clothing, or shelter; nor do we regularly face life-threatening physical danger. As a result, the protective energies have adapted toward defending the individual psychologically, rather than physiologically. We now experience the daily need to defend our self-concepts rather than our bodies. Our major struggles end up being with our own inner fears, insecurities, and destructive behavior patterns, and not with outside forces.

Yesterday’s Supreme Court Decision represented giving up the false notion of protection.  Your idea of marriage cannot be destroyed by another’s notion of it.  There is nothing to fear.  The decision represents the letting go of an outdated model to accommodate a more expansive one.  This is also our task.  That archaic protection mechanism built into us centuries ago is no longer useful.  It has us being stingy with something that is free, the very something that is an ultimate solution.

Love is all around us, it really is, but more than that…it’s in us.  I know that the news doesn’t feature it; I know that typical bar stool conversation doesn’t acknowledge it.  But think about it.  For every high profile act of hate, how many millions of people lived that same day in love?  How many people kissed their children good night, called their father, held the hand of their lover?  Take count.  How much did you love today?  How much did you fear?  How many times did you open your heart?  How many times did you close it tight when it really wasn’t necessary to survive?  Did you love more than you hated today?

It’s true that I’m in love.  The mad, deep, curl your toes, close your eyes, change your world kind that can happen between one person and another (or maybe sometimes a few) and when you’re lucky involves all of life’s pleasures like moonlit walks and flares of passion, like new understandings about life and conversations that keep you into the night and start right back again when you both open your eyes, like fresh songs, unfamiliar foods, new places and hope…mostly hope.

But that’s not the only kind of love that wins.  I loved a hitchhiker wanting to head North (sorry Dad) that I picked up in Milton, Florida and dropped off four exits later because a cop had been hassling him at his last set-up.  I loved a woman at the nail parlor, with 67 years, whom while having her first ever pedicure could simply not stop laughing.  “Are you ticklish?”  I asked her.  “Lord, honey, no,” she said, the words Southern on her tongue.  “These crusty things couldn’t feel a thing.  But I’m tickled pink!”  She couldn’t believe that she, of all people, was sitting having her “feet worked on.”  And I couldn’t believe how wide open someone can open your heart in a matter of minutes.

I visited Ken recently (a best friend of mine) and around a low lit table topped with Mediterranean dishes I looked from him, to his girlfriend, to the super sweet waiter and I felt full of it: love.  I asked my sister to borrow some money and didn’t even finish my explanation of why I needed it before she’d transferred it to my account.  Annie Maier and I figured out our whole lives in a three hour phone call.  There are so many kinds.

Like when I spent a few weeks with my four and ½ year old niece and one bedtime when our pre-sleep conversations stretched from why water falls…to if babies can choose not to come out…to why we have toenails…she decided to make up a song that went like this:

When the night comes out
and the light bulbs are low girlsun
and the world is expressed 
I want you to stay.

When the sun is bright
and you’re eyes are glittering 
your lips get rainbowed.

Have you ever felt so much love that it’s hard to stay inside your skin?

Let’s not hold it in anymore.  Let’s expose ourselves.  Let’s be brave enough to put our love on our outsides, and give it away with abandon.  Not only will we “survive”…we might just start living.

There are far too many people that have said it better than I.  Here are a few of them.

Philosopher and mathematician Bertrand Russell says, “Of all forms of caution, caution in love is perhaps the most fatal to true happiness.”

Honoré de Balzac, in Physiologie Du Mariage:  “The more one judges, the less one loves.”

And Kurt Vonnegut himself said “A purpose of human life, no matter who is controlling it, is to love whoever is around to be loved.”

A Different Kind of Love Affair

The sun is coming up but I’m still not leaving the shore.  Since I moved here it’s consumed me: my love affair with the sea.  I can’t count the hours I’ve spent sitting afront it, diving into it, floating among its waves.  Both in the dark and light.1

A Midwestern childhood made the ocean something mystical.  A place we saved a year to go, endured endless car rides to get to, but so easily was the sacrifice made worth it with a dip of toes.  Sand grains under bare feet a form of amnesia.

People often ask me why I moved to Puerto Rico.  Sunshine, I say, the warmth of the weather…and the people, the laid back culture, and of course, the sea.

But I think I also came here to heal.  The sea can do that.  The tide, the ever-flowing waves, the undertow; One just has to spend enough time letting it wash over them and it will take all that was heavy.  Burdens, disappointments, heartache, despair.  The sea will absorb it all and leave only a sparkle of salt upon the sand-sloughed skin of those it has made buoyant enough to rise from its shallows.

The best thing about healing in the sea is one doesn’t have to try all that hard.  Whether one sits, floats, swims, or sinks, they cannot escape awareness of how insignificant they are against the sea’s power.

The ceaseless miracle of the next wave,

then the next,

and then the next,

expose human concern as illusion.

Waking up every morning and looking out across the sea helps me remember how small and how grand life is.  It encourages me to live in new ways, to open myself to new depths of love, to write words I didn’t know were living inside of me.  It’s going to be hard to leave it for a while. But it is for the life of those words that I’m going to do so.

I’ve come to realize that writing in isolation is not all I need to flourish in my writing life.  I need community, literary events, support, conferences, encouragement, retreats, accountability…In other words, I need to immerse myself in a literary sea.

So this nomad is once again taking up the road.  My routes, of course, aren’t clear, but if I have my way they will involve lower Alabama, upper Florida, Connecticut, Ohio, Michigan, Moldova, maybe Syracuse even, to hopefully temporarily land in my writing home of Charlotte.  I usually name my purpose “to write”.  This time, it’s bigger than the act of writing itself; I’ve done a lot of that!  It is launching my novels to live in the world.  It is giving the dedication and energy it will take for that to happen.

If you ask me if I’m sure, I’ll say I am.  I’ll say I’m sure the words that flow through me can flourish.  I’m sure many great blessings will come and many unforeseen paths will open.  I’m sure this adventure will expand love…for me and for those I love.  And I’m sure the routes, no matter how squiggly, will lead me back to this island, to the family I’ve built here, to my beloved sea.