Sunday, June 26, 2016

Lessons Learned

It probably sounds strange to make this announcement from a blog, but I don't like to get too personal about my life on the internet. I tend to leave this forum fairly benign in an attempt to keep my personal space sacred. After all, it's fun to write entertaining compositions that my friends and family can tune into for the 5-10 minutes it takes them to read my stories. I imagine my writing may even provide one or two of my readers a small opportunity to unplug and escape the monotony of Facebook scrolling [because let's be honest, the majority of my traffic here is redirected from my Facebook posts]. However, the 5-10 minutes it takes my readers to skim through my prose is usually preceded by more than 15-20 hours of writing and re-writing. Sometimes I get the itch to write and I pound out a post in one fell swoop, but more frequently, these 15-20 hours are spread out over the course of many months. Hence my massive backlog in regaling you with travel tales from around the world.

The truth is, my travels haven't stopped, but the effort it takes to leave out the true lessons learned from the road out of fear that I'll air out my dirty laundry for all of the world wide web to judge has become more cumbersome than my desire to update this space. Plus, the longer I wait to update between adventures, the harder it is for me to remember the fine and funny details of my journeys.

So why am I writing this all out now? Why not just let this blog fade away into a silent death of internet oblivion? Because my hope is that writing this post from an authentic and honest space will spark my desire to share publicly the things that make my heart beat faster.

With that said, I'll share two thoughts with you and call it a noche.

1. The Turning Point
Maybe I'm wearing rose-colored lenses when I look back in retrospect, but I seem to believe I've accomplished everything I put my mind to. Of course, the level of success surrounding these accomplishments are up for interpretation, but they've nonetheless been accomplished. I never struggled to believe that living my dreams was anything but the only option. My dreams didn't even seem like dreams to be quite honest. They were inevitable parts of my personality that I had no choice but to fully explore. Good or bad, this possible delusion allowed me to disregard the naysayers who often proclaimed, "you're too poor to explore" as a gospel truth, and soldier forward as the yogini warrior I am, busting through barriers and looking back at the carnage left in my wake way later.  Like I said, this wasn't good or bad, just what it was.

The rush I'd feel when I finally reached that "pinnacle" I'd set my eyes on was addictive, but fleeting. I didn't realize it at the time, but I was seeking meaning in very far-reaching and somewhat inconvenient places. I thought leaving New York and moving to a tropical jungle in Thailand would bring me happiness, but it didn't. So I shacked up on secluded beaches, threw any sense of my previous responsible patterns to the wind and danced wildly all night at parties that would last for 3 days in a row, thinking that would bring me happiness. But it didn't. I impulsively bought a ticket to India, thinking that studying with teachers and gurus in the Himalayas would lead me to a heightened level of awareness [read: happiness]. But, you guessed didn't. I had an unquenchable urge to move to a remote island in the middle of the Indian Ocean, thinking that would hold the answers I was seeking. While there, I found the greatest love of my life while floating under cotton candy sunsets in a secluded lagoon, and you would assume that would definitely bring me happiness. But guess what? It didn't.

Perhaps it's the genetic predisposition I possess that sometimes takes hold of my mind and sends it into very dark places. Places where I find myself crying uncontrollably on the floor of my shower, watching hours upon hours of mindless tv series in a dark room despite literally having paradise right outside my window, and waking up in the middle of the night fraught with fear that my heart is going to leap out my sternum, all the while repeating, "What is wrong with me? What is wrong with me? What is wrong with me?"

Don't be mistaken, I could see the merits in my adventures, and truly felt grateful for my life, but I lacked a deep sense of fulfillment which created a massive amount of confusion and suffering within.

One night, as I was sitting in my dark room in paradise [visualizing my escape to some other paradise that most surely held the answers], I received a call from my best friend in the States. She had just given birth to her first baby and was regaling me with tales of motherhood. I rattled off a few stories of my own about whatever beach I'd just landed on and most likely a whale shark I'd seen diving. I told her about my boyfriend whom I'd followed across the Indian Ocean, and my job as a yoga instructor on a platform floating in a crystal lagoon that couldn't help but inspire a peaceful practice. She said it all sounded amazing, to which I replied, "Well, I have love and I have yoga, but it isn't enough."

As soon as the words left my mouth, it was almost as if they turned right back around and punched me in the face. How could I express such an ungrateful statement...and out-loud at that?! Our conversation carried on, and although my best friend didn't think twice about what I'd said [I know this because we discussed it a year later], I knew that statement had just plummeted me off the precipice into some serious existential self-examination.

LOVE and YOGA... weren't those two of the major new age mantras that books like Eat, Pray, Love were written about? Those two words alone inspired millions of unhappy, newly divorced women like myself to go off on phenomenal adventures around the world, blogging and Instagram-ing about their spiritual lives for all of their Facebook acquaintances to covet. Hell, even I was hashtag-ing the shit out of things. Hashtag gratitude. Hashtag blessed. Hashtag WAKE UP!

I'd designed every single aspect of my life exactly how I thought I'd wanted it to be, so what was the deal? Being sad on the East River was no different than being sad on the Ganges. The same frustrations I'd felt at my jobs in Manhattan had followed me to two separate "dream jobs" in the Maldives. And you know the only common denominator between all these people, places and things? ME. All these years of travel, seeking when I didn't even recognize that I was seeking, led me right back to where I began. My Self. It didn't matter that I'd climbed tall peaks in India or floated in salty seas below sea level, the farthest distance I ever needed to travel was between my head and my heart.

I know this is not a new or unique concept. It had been taught to me time and time again by people who were braver, smarter and more awake than I just didn't make sense until I got there on my own. And once I arrived, oh my! It wasn't immediate peace. It was more like immediate pain, colored with a sense of relief and understanding. That knowledge of my truth, that no matter where I went I would still be there, suffering or celebrating, was all my choice. And slowly, slowly, I found peace- which was way more lasting than happiness.

I'm not here to say that traveling didn't serve an enormous purpose in my life. In fact, it cracked me open in unimaginable ways. Traveling connected me deeply to different people from all around the world and opened my heart to untapped levels of compassion that I never knew existed within me. I learned that my "normal" was not universal. I felt like a child again, full of wonder as I navigated cultural terrains I'd never played in before. I fell madly in love with the common thread of humanity I saw in every different group of people that I laughed and cried with. As someone who shunned the American Dream and for years romanticized living the ex-pat life, I learned to see the nuances of my own culture and fell in love with it from a fresh perspective.

I'd be lying if I said the peace I discovered in the Maldives has been constant in my life. It's been a daily choice to maintain my awareness of self amidst a labyrinth of self-imposed mind games and worldly temptations. Some days I succeed, other days not so much. And I most definitely still have the itch to see the world, [as they say, old habits die hard] but I've developed an equally strong desire to literally lay roots in the Earth and ground myself in one place I can call hOMe.

Last Spring, I found myself back in Thailand, assigned for the night to the first bungalow I'd moved to on Koh Phangan. Three years had passed since I slept under that exact roof, and I was struck with a barrage of emotions that left me feeling equal parts damaged and healed, refined and a total fucking mess. So much had happened in those three years and here I was, same same but different.

It was that night that I penned the following words. A letter to myself that pretty much summed up my experience traveling.

2. Dear Single Female Traveler

Dear Single Female Traveler
With your big backpack in tow
Did you find what you were seeking?
Were you aware enough to know?

You said it’d only take a minute
To see what the world would show
That you’d return to home quite quickly
But, dear, that was 3 years ago.

And let’s talk about this “home”
It’s more abstract as time goes by
When people ask you where you come from
It seems irrelevant to reply.

So you focus on your projects
Education on the road
Maybe distractions have more meaning
Than any address you can hold.

You’ve experienced great wonders
Seen the world in brand new ways
Sensitivities developed
In spite of being a cliché.

You got comfy being solo
Can sit all day on your own
Enjoy the benefits of silence
And aren’t afraid to be alone.

You’ve dabbled in personas
Spiritual seeker, party girl
And adorned the latest fashions
on location in the world.

But the longer that you globe-trot
Drives the notion further home
No amount of worldly exploration
Solely changes what’s your own.

Whether it’s yoga in the mountains
Or dancing all night on the beach
All that seeking in different places
Led you right to what’s in reach.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

hOMe is Where the Heart Is [part 3]/Lapping Up Luxuries in the Land of Thai

In the past, I've referenced incubating these blog posts like they're full term pregnancies. I intended to birth this final part of my Springtime Thai adventure around the same time as my previous two posts. I do have a great excuse for not squatting down and popping out this proverbial blog baby like the final triplet of a hippy home birth, but I'll spare the gory details for another post. [BTW, my dear friend Jonathan got a sneak peek at this blog post and said with a mildly disgusted expression on his face, 1.) This paragraph was a bit heavy on the pregnancy imagery, and 2.) Pregnancy imagery makes men uncomfortable. So, I apologize to my male readers...but I think you're a minority out there, so #meh].

As you may recall from my previous post, I finished a four-week yoga teacher training course with my Rishikesh Angel, Anna. Sanoon had to head back to the Maldives for work, but not before making an impromptu trip with me to Koh Tao, the baby brother of the Samui, Phangan and Tao trio in the Gulf of Thailand.

After a quick hour and a half ferry ride from Samui, we arrived in Koh Tao and headed up a rugged jungle road to our castle in the sky [read: a 4 star resort booked cheaply from the internet]. The hotel was a bit far away from the main life on the island, but it more than made up for the distance with it's spectacular views and enticing cliffside infinity pool.

Jungle topped Koh Tao is a popular paradise with easily accessible dive sites right off its shores. Since I had spent the better part of my days off from work in the Maldives underwater for the last year and a half, I was excited to check out what the Gulf of Thailand had to offer beneath the surface.
(Here I am floating free in the Maldives, post-manta ray, pre-whale shark c. 2014)

However, with an embarrassingly sad mixture of poolside laziness and post-Maldives off-season snobbiness ["what do you mean visibility is less than 30 meters?"], I didn't end up anywhere near an oxygen tank or BCD for the duration of our stay. However, Sanoon and I did manage to get off our a$$'s just long enough to squeeze in some seaside sunset cocktails set to sweet Tropical House beats at Maya Beach Club.

Our time in Koh Tao was a bit too short and but none too sweet. As I mentioned, Sanoon had to fly back to work, which gave us a solid excuse to spend a couple nights in Bangkok together before his departure. We decided to travel to Bangkok on a very affordable 14 hour ferry/bus combo. The transit was relatively easy and the driver even gave us a 30 minute breather at a fueling station to stretch our legs and purchase all the road side necessities one could ever imagine- like this enormous sack of squid flavored potato chips.
(I think this bag of chips and I share the same dress size.)

We arrived in Bangkok and did all the typical things one would expect us to do in that city- including, but not limited, to eating in food courts, seeing 4DX movies, getting cheap massages, finding toddlers dressed like K-Pop superstars

 and NOT balancing in a deep squat atop toilet bowls at the mall.
(Upon closer inspection, this is a photo I took at a mall in Samui. Same same but different).

Sanoon and I were pleasantly surprised to find out our friend Shane was also visiting Bangkok at the same time that we were. Shane, aka my American ally in the Maldives, was stopping through Bangkok for a weekend break from his home in Hong Kong. The three of us had a happy reunion over eggs and coffee at a downtown Bangkok eatery. 

After breakfast, Sanoon had some last minute errands to run before his flight, so Shane and I set off on a mission to find my bank's only international ATM in Bangkok and day drink at a pub over a laughable game of pool. Why? Because we're Uh-mericans dammit, and day drinking is our God-given right!
(It's only fitting that halfway through our excursion we'd stumble upon the American Consulate. #FreedomConsulate. #F*ckyeah!)

I wished Shane a fond farewell and returned for my final few hours with Sanoon. We took a quickie trip on a long tail boat down the Chao Praya River to meet a friend at his swanky hotel in Bangkok, before heading back to our neighborhood and calling it a night.

Early the next day, I bid farewell to Sanoon, who left to board a flight back to Male, and I boarded a train back down to the Gulf of Thailand, where I intended to stay for the remaining 4 weeks of my visa.

Arriving back in Samui a day later, I went right back into the swing of island life. My days were full but simple. I'd wake up and either take or teach a yoga class, 

then run home to shower and take shameless selfies on the way out the door, 

where I'd ride my motorbike to the beach,

so I could nap and drink coconuts until sunset,

and hang out with my friends again after dark.

After a full day of leisure, I'd return home and pass out next to Anna's beach dog, Stumpy, then do it all the next day.

I carried on this routine for about a week and half with only a few variations. One of which was deciding to get rid of my curly jungle locks by booking a keratin treatment for my hair at a salon in the mall. 

Two and a half hours, one very angry ladyboy and my first full-blown asthma attack later, I emerged with a silky soft head full of carcinogenic chemicals. The only problem [aside from the obvious ones I just stated] was that I couldn't get my hair sweaty or wet for the next three days. Perhaps the super hot and humid month of April on the Gulf of Thailand was not the best place to get this unnecessary hair treatment. However, I made lemonade out of lemons and perched myself next to a fan for most of my free hours over the next day, which not only cooled me down, but made feel like Beyonce in my bungalow.

I loved hanging out on Samui, but the fact that my favorite island in the world, Koh Phangan, was only a ferry ride away and I hadn't visited there yet, made my heart ache. So my friend Peggy and I decided to head that direction and stay for the weekend where we planned to hit up a couple parties, hang out on the beach and practice some yoga.

I left my backpack at Peggy's house and only had a couple small bags with me for my short visit to the island. But in true Koh Phangan form, one weekend merely wet my appetite for more. 

Peggy had to return to Samui to attend Thai Language school, but I stayed on for an additional two and a half weeks practicing yoga on one of the most beautiful platforms in the world, with two of the most phenomenal Ashtanga teachers I've ever worked with.
(Do yourself a favor and check out Kirsten and Mitchell at

 Aside from yoga, I mainly did a lot of hammock swinging at my bungalow in the jungle.

However, between hours of yoga and hammock napping, I also managed to squeeze in nightly meditations, a few incredible Rolfing and cranial-sacral sessions, swimming at the beach, a raw cacao ceremony, and couple more parties, because...why not?
(I don't like taking photos at parties, but here are some butterflies dancing in the jungle.)

Although, I was having the time of my life on the Southeast side of Koh Phangan, I longed to visit my old stomping grounds on the Northwest of the island, where I had a house in late 2012-early 2013. Due to the waning time on my Thai visa, I only had two full days left on the island before I needed to make my way back to my backpack at Peggy's house in Samui. I made the decision to say goodbye to the wild Southeast beaches and head back to my old hood with my new yoga pal, Ola. One taxi boat and a hilly motorbike ride later, we arrived at the North side of the island, where we spent the rest of the weekend hanging out in the island markets,

swimming at relaxed beaches,

And swinging in more hammocks.

Returning to the North side of the island was same same but different.
(The top picture is from my first morning on Koh Phangan in 2012)

I made a point to visit the Yoga Retreat, where I used to practice Ashtanga and give Thai massage a couple years ago. After a great morning practice, I happily reunited with my friends Shelley and Nathalie there.

It was just like old times, but now, some of them had amazingly cute babies to add to the joy of the setting!

The Yoga Retreat had a lovely makeover too, with stunning new murals on the walls

And a delicious raw food cafe.

After a beautiful morning with my friends at the Retreat, I hopped on my motorbike and treated myself to my favorite homemade coconut ice cream on the island. 

Satiated from my mid-morning indulgence, I headed back to my favorite beach on the North side, where I treated myself to a Thai massage, lounged around the rest of the day and watched a gorgeous sunset.

While the proverbial [and literal] sun set on my time in Koh Phangan, I was filled with so much gratitude for the time I'd spent with new and old friends, and thankful for the opportunity to return to that beautiful island, thus adding to my arsenal of fulfilling experiences.

I returned to Samui the next day to retrieve my backpack and spend a few more hours with my friends there. But as I mentioned, my visa was rapidly coming to its end, and although I would have loved to stay longer in the South, I felt a magnetic draw to return to the North before leaving my beloved country. Sanoon was able to finagle another few days of vacation away from work, so I had one final dance with the Gulf of Thailand

before hopping on a ferry, which led me to a bus, that would eventually take me to my flight from Surat Thani to meet him in Chiang Mai.

Chiang Mai has always held a special place in my heart. You may recall that it was the first city in which I had a prolonged stay when my travels began in 2012. Sanoon had never been to Chiang Mai, so I was excited to act as his guide through the city. I recommended we stay right off of Nimmenhemin Road, an area of the city teeming with chic restaurants, trendy bars and tons of young Thais and resident expats thanks to its proximity to Chiang Mai University. Nimmanhemin is only a short motorbike ride away from the Old City Center, so we were still able to conveniently visit many of the markets and wats in that part of town, but retreat from the tourist crowd at any time we wished.

We spent most of our time in Chiang Mai indulging in delicious Northern Thai cuisine, swimming in gorgeous pools at fancy hotels [that we most definitely weren't staying at] and visiting the many markets around town [mostly to eat street food]. We also took it upon ourselves to drive up to Doi Suthep National Park a couple times, where we hiked around waterfalls,
(It was dry season, hence the puny waterfalls)

And admired the flora and fauna in the forest.
(My best tree for the trees)

I'm not sure how he did it, but Sanoon found wifi in the jungle.

I took his internet surfing as a sign that he'd had enough of touristically "roughing it," so we drove a little further and visited the beautiful Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, the Buddhist Temple at the top of the mountain. Legend has it that in 1398, the king of Sukhothai released a white elephant into the jungle with the shoulder bone of Buddha strapped to his back. The white elephant climbed to the top of Doi Suthep Mountain, stopped, trumpeted three times, then dropped dead. Interpreted as an omen, the king erected a monument at that spot which still remains today.

I don't think I took enough photos of Buddha, so here's one of Sanoon smelling a jackfruit.

After a couple hours at the top, we started our descent down the mountain. We chugged along the steep mountain decline at a snail's pace on our motorbike, while mountain bikers with the biggest wheels I'd ever seen blew past us.

The road down Dui Suthep had many opportune places to pull over for a bird's eye view of Chiang Mai.

It was so pretty, I jumped for joy [and you know how I feel about jumpshots in the jungle].

Sanoon and I posed for a final awkward selfie before heading back to our guest house and bringing our time in Chiang Mai to a close [read: eating more delicious food before heading back to Bangkok].

I have to admit, I hardly took any photos in Bangkok, which leads me to believe we probably just ate pad thai off the street, got cheap massages and saw another 4DX movie. I relished my final days with my two great loves, Sanoon and the Land of Smiles.
(This awkward selfie serves as the only photographic proof of the last night of our trip.)

After three gorgeous months in Thailand where my biggest concern was where and when I'd get my next fresh king coconut, I'd be lying if I didn't admit I was slightly apprehensive to return home to Uh-Merica, but I knew I had a great job awaiting me for the summer in another part of the States that I'd never explored before, so my adventures seemed far from over.

My heart was full as I kissed Sanoon goodbye and made my way to the airport. It was the sweetest sorrow leaving Thailand once again, but I knew I'd return one day soon, because as Rumi, the Sufi poet so perfectly put it, "I can't stop pointing to the beauty."