To say I’ve been struggling with writing about returning home would be an understatement evidenced by the complete radio silence here and on Facebook.
Since coming home I had the chance to be on the Nomadtopia.com podcast to talk about the reality of our nomadic lifestyle, our decision to come home, and how it’s all settling in since we’ve returned.
I couldn’t have written it better if I had wanted to; it truly and honestly sums up our experience and where we’re at.
Listen here: http://www.nomadtopia.com/gillianduffy/
Here’s the thing. When you step up, step out, and try, you never really know how it’s going to turn out.
Truth is, we’ve been struggling for a while. We’re not making enough money, our ideas continue to fall flat, and the long term outlook doesn’t suggest that continuing to push through is the answer.
We’ve been trying to get this beast (whatever that is) up in the air for long enough. We’ve run out of runway. We’re going home.
Yes, it feels like failure. Like we didn’t try hard enough, or push far enough, or simply do enough. Like we’re giving up.
Yes, it hurts. A lot. Giving up on a dream is terribly painful; in my heart, in my head, in my gut.
Yes, it’s for the best. We’re not happy; the goal has always been to be happy so moving toward that on an altered path is better than continuing to push along a path that’s not working.
Yes, we’re excited. The future always holds such possibility; we still don’t really know what it will look like for us but, as always, we’re excited to see what it holds and how we can shape it for ourselves.
We do know a couple of things.
We’re looking at Vancouver or Toronto as our next new home. Each has tremendous pull for us. I adore Vancouver and have long dreamed of living there; Toronto holds some of our dearest friends and connections abound. We’ll be happy in either place.
It’s the job that will decide. Jason is looking for work in either city; first to the post wins! Here’s where you can help! Jason is looking for work as a Senior IT Business Analyst. He has experience in health care and transportation with skills in business transformation and change management. It’s a mouthful, I know, but if you know of a position, or a company, or a contact that you can let us know about I would definitely owe you a beer in return. 🙂
I’ll continue trying to build my new business. I think it’s the first thing I’ve started that really has legs. I’m excited to see where I can take it and what it will look like a year from now. If only it had come to me a little earlier, a little farther from the end of the runway. We can’t think like that though; looking back does no good, we can only look forward.
And so, here we go, taking another Giant Step in this journey of ours. Wish us luck.
Just like dating, it all comes down to time and place. You can date the biggest a$$hole for months on end because you have nothing better to do, and you can let a gem go by because it just wasn’t the right time.
That’s how it’s been with yoga and I. We’ve dated on and off for years and, quite frankly, I was probably the a$$hole during our early attempts to get to know one another.
A self confessed adrenaline junkie, I would have rather hurtled down a mountain on my bike or a wooden plank than sit in contemplative silence pretzeling myself into un-natural shapes. Yoga didn’t offer any blood-pumping, lung-stretching, adrenaline-inducing effects so I dismissed it as a useless waste of time.
Fast forward to this year. We’re at a crossroads. I’m anxious a lot of the time. It’s not crippling; more like a low lying bass vibration that’s with me all the time. It bubbles to the surface occasionally but mostly it’s just there.
And then yoga calls. Just at the right time.
“Let’s give it another go. I think you’ll like it this time.”
And thank goodness that, for once, I listened.
For me, it’s the whole ritual that I love. Riding my bike through the streets to get to there. Sitting quietly waiting for class to start. The hippy-dippy incense burning, singing bowl ringing, and ommmmming. The meditation that comes through the repeated movements of my body through sun salutations, chaturangas, and downward-facing-dogs. The quiet reflection of savasana.
It brings sweet relief; a quietening, a focus, a sense of calm.
I’m as surprised as anyone, believe me, but I’ll take it.
When a chance for a yoga retreat came up I didn’t hesitate. A whole week of quiet, focus, and calm? Yes, please.
With El Coco Loco Resort as the backdrop and an amazing, eclectic group of women gathered together, it was sure to be a great week.
MJ of Dynamic Retreats is one of the most positive, uplifting, and endearing women I have ever met. She definitely set the tone for the week; offering an open, supportive, and relaxed environment not only for yoga and meditation, but also for each of us to share our stories, help each other, and, of course, have fun.
I relished getting up before the sun rose to sneak down to the beach for a few minutes. Early morning meditation was new to me but I enjoyed both the struggle of it and the quietness that it led to. The yoga was challenging, meditative, and restorative; held on a platform overlooking the jungle toward the ocean, it was easy to succumb and let it all go.
I had a lot to think about during the week. A new business venture on the horizon, our continuing struggle to fund our travels, and the underlying question of what-on-earth-are-we-doing?
I’m so glad I took the time. Things are so much clearer now. I’m ready to take on the future.
Have you ever done a yoga retreat? I have often thought of doing a silent yoga/meditation retreat…I feel like this was the lead up to actually doing it one day.
It’s the story of a place that often holds the most appeal. Much like my infatuation with the Cave Lodge in Northern Thailand, El Coco Loco drew me in with their story of friendship and commitment to a vision.
As three Canadian college boys, Jamie, Earl, and Ben travelled together experiencing the world and dreaming of how their lives might turn out. Unsurprisingly there was more than one conversation that ended with ‘Dudes! We should totally open up a place down here!’. Okay, I’m not exactly quoting them here but I’m pretty sure that’s totally how it happened. 😉 What is surprising is that they actually did it!
El Coco Loco started out as a barebones backpacker stop along the deserted beaches of Nicaragua and has grown into a warm, friendly retreat for both surfers and yogis looking to get away from it all if only for a short time.
I was there to attend a yoga retreat but spent much of my time lounging by the cooling pool, wandering the still-deserted beaches, and indulging in my new found love of surfing.
The resort may be rustic but it offers up some of the warmest hospitality around. From endlessly trying to get me up on that surfboard (and high-fiving me at any attempt that even suggested success!) to packing coolers of beer for our game of kickball with the local team, the staff were tireless in their dedication to us having a good time.
But it’s the guys themselves that really set the place apart. Their stories of finding the perfect piece of paradise, setting the first corner post, sleeping in hammocks, and finally welcoming their first guests made me realize the depth of commitment they have both to each other and to their dream. Learning about their Waves Of Hope organization and the work they do with the local community to increase education and job prospects was encouraging; they are here to live, not just to enjoy the beaches and surfing. It’s about stepping up to the responsibility that comes with being here. It’s inspiring.
I asked Earl if it feels as good in real life as it had for so long in their dreams. Was the reality worth all the hard work and sacrifice? A slow smile crept across his face as he looked around and said ‘Yeah, it does. It feels just as I imagined it would.’
They all have families now. Wives and small kids round out the group and add to the feeling that we truly were their guests in this special place. Watching them rock their kids in the hammock, have family dinners together along with us, and sharing so many parts of their lives with each other I wondered if I could do it? Would I have the commitment to a dream that they’ve had. Could I stay the course so long? Could you?
Would you strap a plywood board to your ass and hurtle down an active volcano at breakneck speed?
When I found out that volcano boarding was a ‘thing’ here in Nicaragua I just knew that my adrenalin addicted self was going to HAVE to do it!
Cerro Negro is just one volcano in a whole string of them here in Central America. It’s not hard to imagine the ‘Ring of Fire’ being active in this region as you can see the volcano cones lined up across the otherwise flat landscape. Cerro Negro hasn’t erupted since 1999 but that doesn’t mean it’s dormant and signs such as these warning of eruption risk quickly bring the danger home.
The bus dropped us off near the top and left us to hike the last 45 minutes to the top. That’s Cerro Negro (Black Hill) in the background. It is such a young volcano that is has nary a life form clinging to it.
We hiked with our boards up through the rocky beginning.
Until it flattened out a bit into a well worn path.
Steadily up and up, battling the increasing wind that threatened to make a kite of my board and take me with it!
The last frontier; up on the ledge with the crater on one side and a quick ride to the bottom on the other.
The crater isn’t currently active. Little more than a couple of steam vents and some sulphur stained rocks. Still impressive, though, don’t get me wrong.
My first look at the run we’re to go down. It was a wee bit steeper than it looked from the bottom – in fact I couldn’t see the bottom of the run from the top. A few butterflies took up residence in my gut.
Suited up and ready to go. Safety first, right? Zoot suit, elbow and knee pads, and goggles; that should take care of any impending doom.
Here I come…
Honestly, I wish I had gone faster but it goes by so quickly that by the time I had it figured out, it was over. A tip for those who are thinking of going…pull up on the rope, use your feet just to guide you, and let it go…you’ll be at the bottom before you know it!
What a hoot! I wore this smile for days afterward!
One more tip. Use the sled, not the sandboarding option. Those who opted to stand and go down ended up slow and frustrated; it’s not at all like snowboarding and didn’t look like fun at all!
We’ve been here in Granada, Nicaragua for 6 weeks now. I know, time flies.
It is turning out to be just what I needed.
We’ve settled into a beautiful, colonial house directly across from one of the oldest churches in town. I love sitting and listening to the Spanish hymns as they float down into the courtyard. Soon we will move into a smaller apartment in a real neighborhood (we’re currently in more of an expat neighborhood); I’m looking forward to listening for the roaming vendors, seeing how daily life plays out, and finding a local place to grab a bite.
Granada is a beautiful, well kept city. There are a few really beautiful churches; the main one dominates the central square while others are dotted around.
Along with some buildings that may not be as well preserved, but are still beautiful in their own way.
The city holds onto history in many ways. The streets are narrow and are lined with doorways that, sometimes, open to reveal the beauty hidden inside. Transportation is often by horse and buggy, or bicycle (although there are plenty of modern cars around too!). Vendors roam the streets calling out their wares, and going to the morning market is a daily task.
We’ve settled into a nice routine; work, yoga, Spanish class, making meals, and relaxing on the porch in the evening. We have friends! It’s a lot like living at home but in a place where I don’t always know what’s going on. It’s just what I needed; a chance to settle and reflect, plan for the future, and build for the coming year.
We’re looking forward to seeing what 2015 brings for us. Happy New Year to all of you; may 2015 be good to each of you.
It started, as most volcano hikes do, in the dark.
I was excited. Seeing an active volcano is on my not-a-bucket-list and today we were going to have the opportunity to see a real, live, smoking volcano.
As the day dawned, we were already halfway to the mirador, or lookout. We stumbled into this meadow just as the sun was touching the peek of Santa Maria; one of the other, albeit inactive, volcanos in the close vicinity of the city Quetzaltenango in Guatemala.
We continued to hike through the forest. It was an easy hike, although quite chilly without the warmth of the sun.
Our first view of Volcan Santiaguito. It belches smoke and steam regularly although our guide, Edwin, explained that it stopped for a number of months last year causing great concern among the locals.
And so we waited; both for the volcano to to put on a show and for the sun to reach us.
The sun won the race. We were beyond grateful for the warming rays to finally reach us!
And then, a small explosion from Santuaguito. I realize that this picture doesn’t look much different from the other, but there is an extra plume of smoke and ash and we could hear the explosion even from our lookout more than 5 KM away.
The view of the rest of the valley showing past craters from the same volcano.
Both the sun and an active volcano. Two happy Giant Steppers.
The hike down was much easier, and warmer.
Next on my not-a-bucket-list? To see flowing lava!!
I apologize for the poor quality photos. I have been having all kinds of technical issues this past few weeks. 🙁
My Mexican dreams were awash with early morning runs on the beach, margaritas with new friends in the evenings, and a chance to really settle down and get to know a place.
Playa del Carmen was not the place of my Mexican dreams.
Filled with all inclusive resorts, pumping restaurants, and expensive shops it’s a place built to please holiday-makers; it is not a city in its own right but exists solely for the purpose of tourism. For me, it lacked soul.
I was conflicted about coming here; I have friends who have stayed for months on end and love, love, love it and others who have come and couldn’t wait to leave. I didn’t know how it would work out for us but, with tickets already purchased, we decided to give it a shot. You can put us in the camp that couldn’t wait to leave.
It wasn’t all bad though.
Our skimpy budget may have forced us into a cheap apartment on the outskirts of town, but we did manage to turn it around and started spending less than we’re making. Europe was tough on our budget and, although we didn’t spend more than we expected, I didn’t expect how it would feel to have chipped away at our savings. Lesson learned.
The funk that I had been battling for a while landed with full force, but it also made me really think things through and figure out what was going on. Through plenty of talking and teasing it out I discovered that it was a toxic combination of peri-menopausal hormones (Seriously!? I’m old enough for this?!), a homesickness that I didn’t recognize, a frustration with our budget, and a realization that being in Playa del Carmen was not turning out how I had expected. The funk has lifted, thank goodness, but it was a lot of work and I don’t plan on letting it take over again.
I discovered yoga. In an effort to find some peace and deal with the anxiety that would not go away I decided to try yoga. I found a donation-based class (good for the budget) held in a quiet palapa (think grass roofed, open walled building) in town. As the instructions floated over me in lilting Spanish, and I pretzeled my body into shapes I didn’t think possible, I also learned how to breath, and relax, and let the anxiety drain.
This travel thing, this serial expat thing, this figure-it-out-as-we-go thing; it’s definitely not all rainbows and puppies all the time. Sometimes it’s hard. Sometimes it’s really hard. Sometimes it’s hard because of where we are. Sometimes it’s hard because of what’s going on inside. And sometimes it’s hard because of a perfect storm of where we are and what’s going on inside.
I’m sorry Playa del Carmen; it’s not all you, but I’m afraid we won’t be coming back.
I’m in a funk. I’m struggling and can’t seem to get a handle on why. I’ve been feeling it rise for quite some time but have been unable to stem the tide. I feel so far away from everything I want to feel and, right now, it feels more like a Giant Chasm than a Giant Step from here to there.
My eyes are often full of tears.
I realized the other day that this is the first time in my entire life that I am not sure that everything is going to work out okay. Every step I’ve taken before now has always, in my mind, had a guarantee of success. Yes, there have been plenty of sacrifices and lots of hard work, but I’ve always known that it would out; that the work and sacrifice would pay off and that I would end up exactly where I thought I would. The path has always been paved and I just had to follow it.
My heart is filled with doubt and fear.
I don’t feel that way right now. I’m not entirely sure that the work we’re putting in and the sacrifices we are making are going to result in success. I’m not even sure I know what success would look like. Right now we seem to just be keeping our heads above water; our path isn’t clear but we’re dog-paddling through hoping that some island will appear on the horizon. Our island. The one with a big, flashing, sign over it.
Because this is totally how it works, right?
My head says to just push through it.
I knew it wouldn’t always be easy. I knew there would be days like this. Weeks like this. But months like this?
This is the hard part, right? This is the part where we just have to put our heads down and get it done. Push through. Wait it out. Identify what we’re missing and work toward the pieces that we know will help.
We made a list; make more money, find a nice place to settle for a while, make friends.
We left Ireland, and Europe, a little wistfully. Our final two weeks in Laytown had been perfect; filled with nothing more than early morning walks along the beach, afternoon pints at the small local pub, plenty of cat cuddling (well, as much as he would endure anyway), and meals that we actually cooked ourselves. It was chilly though. Wearing long sleeves and a poofy coat chilly; it’s no wonder the Irish have such alabaster skin – I fear they never see the sun! And so we looked forward to finally getting to Mexico and warming up.
Most of the flight had been uneventful but as we neared the Canadian coast, ready to touch down in St. John’s for a few hours, the clouds began to thicken and the plane began to bump and roll.
The seatbelt sign went on immediately; beverage carts were quickly stowed away, seat-belts were checked, and I slowly entered into the first steps of my ‘flying system’. Earphones in with favourite song playing; check. Game at the ready; check (it was Spider Solitaire this time). Definitely NOT thinking about the worst case scenario; check.
The captains voice soon muffled its way into the cabin. I love it when the captain acknowledges that the plane is dipping and diving. It makes me feel that he knew this would happen; that he wasn’t surprised by it and he has it all under control. Crazy, I know, but it’s my head so my games. He apologized for the turbulence (how Canadian is that?!) but explained that we would have to wait it out as the storm was much worse down below and the rain was too heavy to land.
So I relaxed, not exactly happy to still be up in the air but happy to know that the captain had it all well in hand and that we would soon be landing safely. For about 2.48 minutes, until the plane started to lose altitude and it became clear that we were going to land in it after all.
It wasn’t pretty. Oh, I’m sure it was as safe as all get-out, but the bumping and rolling, and dipping and diving, coupled with the rain streaming against the window and the zero visibility beyond was too much. I put the full system into place but still adrenaline shot through my body making me sweaty, with heart beating wildly and on the verge of tears. Definitely not pretty.
We, of course, landed safely. Everyone clapped. We went to the bar.
It was to be the start of one of the worst travel days we’ve ever had.
Our next flights were uneventful and we landed in Cancun, Mexico tilting our faces to the sun as we exited the plane and soaking in the humid heat that had been so long in coming.
We are not those people who get nervous at customs and immigration. We have no contraband, we follow all the rules, and generally believe that this will hold us in good stead. So our smiles were genuine as we greeted the young Mexican immigration agent and handed over our passports and immigration forms.
Flipping through our paperwork she asked how long we planned to be in Mexico. Our answer of 72 days raised her eyebrows. She looked up and asked if we had an outbound ticket. No, we nervously replied, our plan is to exit overland by bus. She asked if we had an itinerary, looked at our notes on our phone as to our plans for the next few weeks, and then, asking us to stay there, she took our passports and disappeared.
Cue anxious smiles, encouraging statements about how she just needed to check with her supervisor and that we would be just fine, and shuffling of feet for five long minutes.
Returning, she silently stamped our passports, smiled at us, and welcomed us to Mexico. Whew.
Our One Giant Yucatan Road Trip plan, of course, required us to have a car. So off to the rental agency we trooped.
Jason came out of the office, folded the signed rental agreement into his shirt pocket, and said we were all set. Perfect, I said, how much did it end up being? Forty dollars a day, he said as he acknowledged the young lot worker sent over to check the car out with him.
I looked at him with my eyes wide open mentally doing the math converting between pesos and dollars and multiplying by the number of days we had planned. And then doing it again before I said anything…just to be sure.
That’s almost eight hundred dollars, I quietly said as calmly as I could manage. Seven hundred and sixty four to be exact, he replied, turning to check the car over with the lot boy.
Oh my god, oh my god, oh my god, oh my god…my mind raced. Eight hundred freaking dollars. Oh my god, oh my god, oh my god, oh my god.
I was stunned. Paralysed. What the f*ck was he thinking?! What made him think that we could afford eight hundred dollars? What made him think that I would agree to this? My mind cast back to the conversations we’d had as we planned the road trip. The ones where we gleefully plotted our course unbelievably happy that renting a car in Mexico could be so cheap. Where on earth was eight hundred dollars considered cheap?!
I said nothing, tasting blood as I bit my tongue and climbed into the passenger seat for the 2 hour ride south to Tulum. He must have a reason, I thought to myself, but I couldn’t talk to him about it as he drove a new-to-him car in a foreign country for the very first time. It was a very quiet ride as I went over and over our conversations and mentally noted all the things we wouldn’t be able to do in the next few weeks because we were just instantly eight hundred dollars poorer.
Although it’s a mantra that we have used for many years it is our friends at Married With Luggage that put it into words for us; always assume your mate has the best of intentions. It has, for us, always proven to bear true and this time, again, held up to the test.
Arriving at the beach I said that we should probably talk about the car and figure out how we had suffered such a MASSIVE miscommunication. It wasn’t like us so something had obviously gone terribly wrong. It turned out to be just that; a massive miscommunication where each of us clearly thought that the other was on the same page. No malicious intent. No mean-spiritedness. Just a complete misunderstanding of what was expected.
We quickly came up with a plan; we would return the car and take the bus back the 120KM from Cancun and continue on with our road trip by bus. As soon as we could, we called the rental agency to see if we could return the car after only one day. They agreed to let us break the contract and said they would only charge us the one days rental we had used. And the One Giant Yucatan Bus Trip was born. Whew.
Heading to the hostel we realized that we had absolutely no Mexican pesos on us. We had completely forgotten to stop at an ATM to withdraw any money. Tulum is small so we were grateful to find an ATM at the local grocery store. Except it wouldn’t work. Neither would the one at the gas station. Or the Scotiabank building. Or the HSBC bank. Or the OXXO corner store. Shit. Now we’re newly best friends again but tired, and hungry, and thirsty, and with no money and no idea why our card isn’t working. Shit.
Time to call the bank and find out what’s going on. Sure enough the banks security system was fine with us gallivanting from country to country to country around Europe for the summer but the switch from Ireland to Mexico wasn’t sitting too well and they had frozen our account. I am grateful that such security measures are in place; they have saved our asses more than once when our card has been compromised so I’m happy they are so vigilant. But it was not what we needed on this day. Fortunately it was easily resolved and we were off to the ATM as soon as we hung up the phone. Whew.
As dusk closed in we walked to the closest restaurant we could find, ordered tacos and beer, and put our worst travel day yet to bed.
This is the only picture we managed the whole day. It’s on the beach in Tulum, after we had ‘the talk’. There is no other evidence of the Worst Travel Day Yet.
After four months of pedalling, eating, and drinking our way around Europe, it’s time to leave.
Winter is coming to this hemisphere (even if it never really felt like summer anyway!) and, as we vowed not to spend another day in the cold and icy grip of Old Man Winter, it’s time to find the sun.
So tomorrow (or today, or yesterday, or three days ago, depending on when you’re reading this) we fly to Mexico!
I dreamed of Mexico all last winter. As we braved (ok, ‘braved’ is a probably a term better saved for those around me who had to endure all my snivelling and whining about how cold it was), the -20C temperatures and snow-banks-as-tall-as-me in southern Ontario, I dreamt of white sand beaches, palm trees, fresh lime margaritas, spicy tacos and, of course sunset beers.
Clichéd, I know, but damn it was cold last winter!
Talk about cliched!
We’re not sure exactly where we’ll end up in Mexico. I want a place that is near the beach and quiet, yet close enough to a town so we can pop in for a beer and meal once in a while. We had thought that Playa del Carmen would be it but I have been worried that it might be too developed and ‘touristy’ to have what we’re looking for.
And so the One Giant Mexican Road Trip was born. Our plan is to pick up a car at the Cancun airport and spend a few weeks driving around the Yucatan Peninsula searching for the ‘perfect place’ to settle in for a couple of months.
It should be fun and having a car will mean we’ll get to see parts of the peninsula that we wouldn’t normally see. We’ll be able to really look around the places we visit and get a sense of what it might be like to live there for a while. We may well end up finding that Playa del Carmen is the perfect spot for us but we’ll have battled the FOMO by checking out some of the other great spots first.
Our Big Plan (in so much as we have any plan at all!) was to spend the whole winter in Mexico, hence the worry about finding the ‘perfect spot’, but opportunity came knocking and, in the spirit of saying ‘yes’ to whatever we can, we stepped into it.
My friend Darlene runs the most amazing photography tours to Nicaragua. This time she, and her husband, are interested in staying for a while (to also avoid the dreaded Canadian winter) and asked if we would be interested in travelling farther south to share a house with them in Granada for a couple of months.
Nicaragua!! Who knew?!
So, plans change, time frames are adjusted, and the research starts! How do you get from the Yucatan Peninsula to Granada, Nicaragua? I’m guessing it’ll be One Giant Overland Bus Journey. Stay tuned!