Trespassing into Bolivia

The crossing into Bolivia will go down in history as one of the most miserable travel days of all time. (We all know I’m prone to exaggeration… But it’s true).We want to love Bolivia… But the simple truth is that Bolivia doesn’t love us… And really doesn’t want us here. Let’s give you a little insight as to why we feel this way…

Simply because we carried an American passport, crossing the border was a bit unpleasant… (I’m checking out any way I can get a passport with ANY other country…) As Americans, we were singled out as the ONLY people trying to enter Bolivia to be given hell. While every other country just needed to open a blank page of their passports for their stamp and were told to have fun and spend lots of money in Bolivia… It didn’t go quite as smoothly for us. 

Together, four of us Americans were thrust aside from the rest of the world (again, I’m talking literally here). We were told we needed to pay extra to go take passport photos, as well as needed copies of our passports to hand in (we had this), a copy of our yellow fever vaccination, 2 passport pictures (Al and I ended up looking like captured criminals), an invitation letter in Spanish from whoever we’ll be staying with, and US $160. We had only brought $140 each per the US visa website, thus ended up short $40. Crap.

Although we were completely unaware at the time, at the hour of our greatest need… our savior approaches. Bouncing along with his thin mustache, lanky body, and absolutely Aussie “no worries” attitude, our savior at the Bolivian border turned out to be none other than the self-proclaimed Chino-flaco, Michael. (Michael introduces himself as chino-flaco, which literally translates to Skinny Chinese Guy.)

Michael (from Australia), is THE most upbeat, kindhearted, and positive person I’ve ever met. He loves to use the F-word, and truly does so in the most kind and pleasant way possible. When he realized that all we needed to cross the border was $40 American dollars, he looked exasperated and said “Well F$&@, why didn’t you say so?! Here you go!” And hands us $40 American bucks. With promises we would pay him back, he responds with, “I’m not worried about it at all! It’s ok if you don’t!” And we could tell he truly wasn’t worried about it. He insisted it wasn’t necessary for me to get his email to be sure we found each other again. What a good lesson for all of us to be as KIND and unattached to money as Michael, especially as most travelers keep a pretty tight budget… $40 isn’t chump change to ANY long term traveler. 

So- Alli and I made it into Bolivia, despite the hour long threat from our bus driver that he would leave us. (I get it, the entire bus of 50 people was waiting on 4 Americans… But we paid for that bus too and we weren’t about to get left at the border thanks to Bolivia treating us like criminals! (The other 2 Americans actually DID get left at the border…. They didn’t have the proper papers…and were forced to walk back to Peru).

So Bolivia… I understand that “my country” makes it very difficult for others to visit the United States. I understand that they make the poor Bolivian people with little means pay hundreds of dollars for a visa to the US- I understand this is a political problem between these countries, and Americans traveling abroad having to pay these reciprocity fees is just a small piece of this big stupid and greedy game… But Alli and I hated it. Get it together, Obama…. But I digress…

After he saved us, Michael and Alli and I ended up spending the next week together! The three of us got along so well, we miss him quite badly actually now that we’ve parted ways… 

Our first priority after crossing the border was to find a refrigerator for Alli’s meds that had already been out of a fridge for over 10 hot hours (they NEED to stay cold). After being refused at one restaurant, we warily approached the owner of another restaurant… expecting to be treated like trespassers again. When we asked him (Rudy) if we could keep the meds in his refrigerator, he said, “Por supuesto!” (Of course!) Alli and I looked at him in shock and relief, looked at each other- and both of us burst into tears. Rudy’s kindness in our time of great need will never be forgotten. We realized the emotional exhaustion and stress that the border had put us through after our reaction to the first kind-hearted Bolivian that we met was to start sobbing. (Granted- night buses seem to do that to us…) 

First stop in Bolivia: Copacabana and Isla del Sol. We ended up spending the night on the north side of Isla del Sol, which is pretty rustic. Along with Michael, we took the 3 hour boat ride to the island, and found our way to a $2.80/night hostel with a view of the bay and Lake Titicaca. (Steep prices for such a view, I know.) Michael and Alli and I spent all our time at Isla del Sol hiking, drinking our daily beers, eating massive $0.72 empanadas for dinner, checking out 360 degree astounding views (water surrounding us, snow capped mountains in the distance), and being yelled at a bit more by some Bolivians. They made sure we knew they were happier without us tourists. Our bad- we had no idea…. Thanks for sharing your beautiful land and culture with us….

After a few days in Titicaca area we took a bus to La Paz with Michael. Michael ended up running into (quite literally) his Colombian friend, Nicolás, that he had hiked some old Incan ruins with weeks prior. Alli and I also ran into our Argentinian friends (that were in our hostel in Cusco) on the paths of Isla del Sol. The world of travelers is the smallest… The coincidental stories go on and on. (The same 4 German guys that we had seen at the top of the mountain back in Huaraz in our first 4 days, we ran into at a restaurant 3 weeks later and hundreds of miles away in a remote island in Bolivia.) HA. 

Once we arrived in La Paz… Alli and I, along with Nicolás and Michael, and the 3 Argentinian guys, formed a group of 7. Together we searched for a steal of a deal and a company to bike down the Death Road with. It was definitely the best group of people to potentially die with. I can’t say I wasn’t nervous. While the boys haggled for a good group price, Alli and I were off in the corner chugging the “free” water. (We bought only three bottles of water for our entire time in Peru. We had stubbornly used our Steri-pen and Lifestraw to save on water costs. So to us, tasting actually clean/filtered water was like tasting heaven!) 

We found a reputable company (Barracuda- who we highly recommend) and after just a few hours sleep we were off again! After we finished the 5 hour descent thru mountainous, rocky, cliff-ridden, slippery roads with astounding views… We arrived at paradise. Part of the tour included a pool at the end of a sweaty incline (first time in 3 weeks that Alli and I felt what it’s like to be hot/not freezing!) where we sipped beers in the sun and reminisced about that time 3 hours prior in which we almost fell 200 meters to our sure death. But- there we were laughing about it! Our group was awesome and we had just one small slip up/fall… “He who shall not be named” slid off his bike on one of the hairpin corners, but he jumped right back up and kept going. Some passing by have described him as “Chino-flaco”, but it remains a mystery as to who it was…

That night, we returned to La Paz and hung out there for about 3 days straight with Michael and Nicolás. Over that time, we enjoyed some local food at the market, (each of us succeeded in paying just $1.30 for a massive two-course amazing meal), walked around the witches market looking for trouble, ate ice cream/fruit/yogurt creations made of heaven, walked around street vendors, checked out some dead llama fetuses, nearly got into trouble at la Ceja market (saved by the Colombiano sense), found the country’s best burger stand EVER, and went to a Bolivian club and succeeded in making the dance floor HAPPENIN’. (The locals either love or hate us gringos…), and we also found a friend who had a connection to all 4 of us. I have to tell this story because it shows how small the travelers world is and how we always run into each other! 

Michael met Nicolás on a trip to Machu Picchu. They meet Derek, from NY, USA, who ends up convincing them to do a different trek with him. The 3 of these guys hang, doing the trek to some Incan ruins for about 4 days together, then they split ways. Michael runs into Nicolás again when we’re all in Copacabana. We all 4 hang. Our last night together at the hostel, this kid Derek from NY walks into our hostel. Derek freaks out upon seeing Nicolás and Michael again. Then, this kid I’ve never seen before looks at Alli and I and says, “I know you two as well. You were on my plane from NYC to Lima”. Later he also tells us that he saw us in Cuzco too, where he pointed us out to Michael, mentioning how we had been on his plane a few weeks ago. Michael remembers seeing us too and remembered the classic headband I’ve been wearing. Little did he know he would be our guardian angel a few weeks later!!

That’s enough rambling for now folks! 

Up next: Alli and Elizabeth meet kind Bolivians who want them in Bolivia! 

Things we’ve learned in week 3:

1) Bolivians aren’t interested in bargaining with the tourists they don’t even want 

2) Taking a boat to Isla del Sol may take twice as long as expected because you have to make a stop to a small pueblo to unload cement to build an entire school.

3) It’s quite possible to enjoy a massive meal for about $1 in Bolivia.

4) If and when possible, travel with a South American- they can sense when danger is near.

5) Whether a Bolivian knows what time mass is or not, when you ask them, they’ll tell you a time with certainty, and it is most likely incorrect.

6) Sprinkling 99% alcohol on the earth, on your bike, and down your throat may contribute to saving your life while riding down Death Road. (Thanks Pacha-mamma!)

7) We finally learned how to eat like a local in South America. 

8) When you need an 8-10 hour overnight bus, go to the station just 30 minutes before the bus leaves, and you snag it for 70% off. (Our last two 9-hour bus rides cost us about $4 each).

9) Any time you find yourself in a place with unlimited free water, drink more than your fill- it will NEVER happen again.

10) Sometimes all you need is a little more time to understand and warm up to a country. 🙂 but more on this lesson next week!!!

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Backpacking with Crohn’s: The Pre-Trip Prep

 Finally, what you’ve all been waiting for: my first Crohn’s blog post! 
When I started researching what it would be like to travel long term with my Crohn’s medication, I soon realized there was not a lot of information about the “how to’s” with this disease. So, I figured I would write down my experiences here so that others with IBD or similar ailments might be able to learn from my experience!
So, here we go. 

Background info: I take Cimzia, 400 mg every two weeks, which requires that I give myself two subcutaneous injections twice a month. This one downside in exchange for living a mostly symptom-free and active lifestyle is totally worth it. I’ve been using the drug since early 2010, right around the time it was approved in the US for Crohn’s disease. The kicker to Cimzia (and traveling with it), is that it must remain refrigerated. (Although I did call the company that manufactures Cimzia to make SURE it must remain cool…. They explained to me that yes, for now there is only research that states that Cimzia is still safe and effective 24 hours maximum at room temperature, no longer). 

The logistics of being on-the-go constantly while traveling city-to-city and country-to-country started making me a little uneasy as my trip drew closer. 

Here are some ideas I had. 

My (failed) options:

1) Convert to oral steroids while I travel to reduce the stress and hassle of worrying about taking Cimzia. When researching about other people in my similar situation, I ran across this solution multiple times. 

**Why I decided against this: Cimzia is one of the few drugs in its class of “biologics” that is prescribed for Crohn’s disease. Once I stop taking it, my body will not allow me to go back to it. So, I’d like to take it for as long as it works for me. Also, there are many risks with long term steroid use, so I want to avoid those at all costs.  

2) Plan ahead with my loving parents to ship me my meds from the US every month. 

**Why I decided against this: Shipment of anything international is a little sketchy, especially medication that must remain at a refrigerated temperature. It could get rejected, damaged, lost, etc. I also did not know how long I would be in one place at a time or if I would be able to use a safe and appropriate address for where I thought I was going to be. 

3) Try to have my insurance company ship me my meds to the US embassy in each country I visit. No joke, I emailed each embassy and spent hours on the phone with my insurance company 🙂

**Why this plan failed: My insurance company will only ship out of the US if I gave them an embassy address or a US military base address. Unfortunately, no embassy accepts mail “of any kind” for US citizens, even though I explained my ‘dire’ situation.

4) Call Cimzia, and see if they could send me the unconstituted version of the drug; that way I would not have to refrigerate it the whole time. I called Cimzia, and unfortunately, even if my insurance company approved that, the unconstituted version still must remain cold. So that was a hassle that wasn’t worth it. 

My final decision: 

To carry four months-worth of meds with me. This way, I could ensure that I would have access to the meds when I needed them, and didn’t have to worry about the logistics of receiving them from home.

The final prep: 

I regularly receive a shipment of doses every three months, so I have three months worth stock piled. But what if I want to backpack for more than three months? I wanted access to at least one extra month of Cimzia. 

So, I called my insurance company, and they said they could help me out with this one. They can issue what is called a “vacation override,” a very useful piece of knowledge! So, if there is another time that a vacation overlaps with a shipment of meds, it is possible to have an extra few doses shipped to you early. Therefore, I was able to have four months of Cimzia doses to carry with me to South America. (Should I have gone for five?!)

Not ideal, but at least now I had the ability to stay for four months, if things went accordingly! 

My Crohn’s Packing List:

– 4 months worth of Cimzia syringes

– Two 30-day doses of Uceris, in case of a flare-up while traveling (this is an oral steroid)  

– 4 thin refreezable blocks of ice (each about the size of a CD case)

– Collapsible cooler, just big enough to fit all ice and syringes (fits in the top of my backpack too)

– Small combination lock to secure the cooler with meds while in communal refrigerators but not large enough to draw attention to the pack

– Name tag, with full name and purpose of meds, etc.

– 3 XL Frio cooling devices ** I did a lot of research on the best and most realistic way of keeping my meds cool while on the go. These were the best I found. You soak them in cold water for about 10 minutes, and then as long as they get some airflow, they stay cool for DAYS! More on these and my experience with them later….

****** Also, an important note: I cannot stress enough the importance of preparing EARLY if you are going to go on an extended trip like this. Doctor’s appointments, research, and phone calls with drug companies and insurance companies takes a lot longer than it should and a lot longer than anyone wants it to. As prepared as I tried to be, I spent my final day in the States on the phone with my insurance company because I did not receive my extra month of Cimzia, due to various miscommunications. They same-day shipped it to a random CVS pharmacy in the middle of Manhattan (where I was), but not without a fight. So, I cannot stress enough how important planning is! I also cannot stress enough how important assertiveness and determination is throughout these bumps in the road. They can and will get worked out!     

Alas, I was as prepared as I ever would be with this packing list and with four months of Cimzia shots in hand. 

Next up: Do the ice packs work? Can the meds stay cold and safe? Can Alli and Elizabeth find people they can trust with refrigerators throughout South America?  

The Mach was Truly a Peach

So there we were. With an hour delay on the last night bus back to Lima from Huaraz, we only had a three hour max window to make it from the bus station, across town through Lima’s morning rush hour, grab my Crohn’s meds from our hostel that we trusted them with for five days, and make it to the Lima airport. Miraculously guys, we made it. We then boarded our flight to Cusco, a city on the eastern side of Peru. 
From Cusco airport, we took a colectivo (the van that acts as a bus and stuffs as many humans as possible) and with no address or true knowledge of where we were going, we were dropped off two blocks from our hostel. We rested for the day and planned for our Machu Picchu trek that left the next morning. Because the trek to THE Machu Picchu was the main event of our Peru trip, neither of us would admit that we were slightly dreading the early morning and ensuing 5 more days of trekking….. Instead, we enjoyed our first Pisco sour (an amazing Peruvian cocktail) and then spent a solid hour and a half with our trek agency owner haggling the price down of our trip. Disclaimer- our friends had done the same trek with the same agency a month prior, and had a less-than-smooth experience…. So, thanks to the “salesman” genes inherited from my dad, and a small amount of liquid courage, we went in guns a blazin’ and came out saving $120 🙂 Victory! 

We woke up the next morning at 4 am, brushing our teeth with friends who were just arriving back from the bars….. Then we hopped in the van and joined our new family for the next 5 days.

The lineup: 

“Mom and Dad:”

Salvatore and Antonia: A couple from Spain who have been happily married for 39 years. Their love for each other and for each individual person in the group was absolutely unreal, even moreso because they did not speak a word of English. 
“The Crazy/Fun aunt and uncle:” 

John and Jenn: A middle-aged couple both from Ireland and tons of fun. John now lives in London and Jenn in South Africa. The second John opened his mouth, the jokes started flowing and we both knew he was going to be a great addition to the trip.

“Big bro and big sis:”

Chris and Marley: A couple who left their home and jobs in Australia and are traveling the world together. They were constantly keeping Lizzy and I in line, thus the title of big bro and big sis. Chris is originally from Australia and is a physical therapist, and we had some pretty meaningful/inspiring conversations about healthcare. Marley is originally from Poland and had amazing stories from her childhood. 

“The foreign exchange student” of the family: 

He-Kyung: This adorable 22 year-old Korean girl, fresh out of South Korea, was less than prepared for a 5 day mountain trek. Outfitted with her camera, Keds as hiking boots, lack of rain jacket, and 44 pound backpack, she went from wanting to quit 15 minutes into the 5-day hike, to completing the entire trek, cracking jokes in broken English, and telling tour guides that she is from North Korea. 

“The neighbor who is always over:”

Caesar: Our Salkantay Trek Tour Guide. Native of Peru, his first language is Quechua, Peru’s other official language. He was a wealth of knowledge about indigenous and modern Peruvian culture.

On the 5-day Salkantay trek to Machu Picchu, we walked a total of 61 miles, with a max altitude of 15,253 feet at Salkantay Mountain, then down into the jungle for two days (where we were all literally eaten alive by mosquitoes….no malaria or yellow fever symptoms….yet) and ended with a 2000-step hike up the mountain to our final destination: The Mach. We started the ascent at 5 am, and were able to see the sunrise and clouds uncover the majestic beauty that is one of the seven wonders of the world. It was truly a breathtaking and once in a lifetime experience. We had all day to explore the ruins of Machu Picchu and learn about the insanely detailed and intelligent Incan people. We spent ten hours there, and left still awestruck at the power of this place. 

Although Elizabeth and I explained on the third night the role that each person played in our “family” on the trek, it was truly solidified when we said goodbye to the group. After spending the day with He-Kyung (where she was ecstatic about getting a selfie with an alpaca and trying to befriend all the strayest of dogs), it was a truly sad goodbye. She burst into tears as she hugged us and our Spaniard parents goodbye, making each of us just as emotional. The goodbye between the Spaniards and He-Kyung especially will remain with me forever. They did not share a common language, but after 5 days, they impacted each other’s lives this much. Love is a universal language, and it needs no spoken words. 

Speaking of language, I do need to boast about my travel buddy for a second. Elizabeth’s Spanish is incredible, and it leaves native speakers as well as tourists asking, “where did you learn your Spanish?” She became the official translator on our trek, which also bonded the group together. Caesar, however, wasn’t thrilled when he realized she intentionally translated a few key words to have the opposite effect…Classic. She has inspired me so much, that I have to force her to let me embarrass myself with my Spanish, so that I can someday learn the language like she knows it….. For example, I’ve asked a pharmacy for cream for fisherman instead of cream for bug bites (pescadores and picaduras are very similar words). I also asked a vendor at the market if she was tired…..when I meant to ask if she had any change… She was not thrilled. Thank God for Elizabeth to talk me out that one…..

Our last three days in Peru were spent in Cusco, the cutest and most beautiful city! Complete with cobblestone streets, more amazing Inca ruins, surrounding mountains, and delicious food, we did not want to leave. After being stranded out of our first hostel with no vacancy, we followed a French couple twenty minutes uphill to what turned out to be the perfect living quarters for three days. There was a fantastic view of the city and just enough cookware to make our first homemade meal in South America. We were FINALLY able to truly relax after our 105 miles of Peruvian trekking. We went to mass each day at a different church, which is easy to do when there is a church on every street corner. We are loving to explore and learn about Catholicism in South America! Our time in Cusco was just what we needed for what was to come. 

What we learned in week two:  

1) If possible, don’t plan two multi-day mountainous camping treks a day apart….. You might get tired. 

2) Don’t make travel plans down to the hour in South America, because things might not work out as timely as you’d like. 

3) How to spend our money more wisely:  

– In Lima we averaged $10/taxi ride, whereas in Cuzco we’ve brought our average down to $0.23 for a colectivo

– When you know the true worth of something, putting in a strong hour and a half haggling the price down with a scamming agency owner COULD get you a Machu Picchu trek for significantly less than you had originally agreed upon.

4) The signs outside a church stating mass times are subject to change….

5) Thanks to the coca museum, we now know the exact process of how to make cocaine.  

6) When you’re feeling down, sometimes all you need is a Clooney cuddle. 

7) If you overstay your welcome at a restaurant long enough, you may be lucky enough to finish someone else’s unwanted food. (Thank God for the pregnant woman who couldn’t stand the smell of her broccoli samosas!)

8) Sometimes, a seemingly opposite group of people can become a family away from home. 
Next up: The horrors and realities of entering Bolivia as an American. Hold on to your seats, folks. 

One week later… And we’re still alive. 

Disclaimer: this post is about a week late due to our insane travel schedule…

Alli and I know only one speed- and that’s full speed ahead. 

We landed in Lima on Tuesday night 10/27, crashed in the hostel- where we were welcomed and treated like queens. We hadn’t heard great things about Lima, so we decided to skip town the next day and took off into the mountains. We took an 8-hour bus ride to Huaraz, (a mountain town north of Lima in the heart of the Peruvian Andes) on Wednesday 10/28. On Thursday we went on a day trip from Huaraz to see Pastoruri Glacier at 16,465ft above sea level (the highest Alli and I have ever been… Quite literally)! 

After hashing things out with our mysterious/sketch helper Marcos, we agreed to embark on the 3-day Santa Cruz trek thru el Parque Nacional Huascaran. 

We embarked early Friday morning along with 13 soon-to-be amazing friends from numerous countries. This is when things got interesting (and painful). The first day we hiked from Vaqueria to Paria campsite (12,628ft). This was the single most difficult physical activity I have ever done in my entire life. Despite taking acetazolamide, stuffing coca leaves in my cheeks (the Peruvian cure for altitude sickness), and drowning myself in coca tea… I nearly died. 

Ok, classic exaggeration, but it sucked… I’ll spare you the details, but my body was in full revolt. Thanks to Alli and our Swiss friend Jeannine, our guide was able to make me a magical Peruvian potion to cure my altitude sickness. Lemme tell ya- it worked like a charm. Still don’t know the exact ingredients… but something worked. 

On the second day of the trek we hiked to the highest point of Santa Cruz, Punta Union at 15,580ft. I finished dead last of all 15 hikers (and a very far last place), but it was well worth it with its stunning views of snow capped mountains and bright blue lagunas. The rest of the day was downhill to our camp. Some in our group took advantage of the ice cold glacier stream to bathe in, and we played a fun card game of “President and Asshole” with the Frenchies. 

The 3rd and final day was mostly downhill… But a long and steep 10 miles downhill (rough on the feetsies). The group we were with (including Alli) was a bit… INTENSE. They didn’t stop for as many photos, so I was put even further behind. (Worth it to capture such breathtaking scenery!)  Despite still feeling half human at such high altitude… we arrived at our final destination, and of course I was dead last. I was used to it at this point. I think it was good for me in a way… I don’t think I’ve ever worked THAT hard and still lost so sorely. I’m only human. 

Once we exited the park, we took a combi (cheap taxi in which they pile as many humans as can possibly fit into a car) back to Huaraz. We crammed 8 people into what should have been a 5 person car, swerving around dirt roads with cliffs a mile high, with no guard rails. Don’t worry mom and dad- it was suuuuper safe.

We arrived safely in Lima, despite a terrifying night bus ride in which our driver also loved swerving around cliff edges. Despite being exhausted after walking a total of 44 miles up and down mountains in high altitude, Alli and I had a rough time sleeping on that bus!
So… Things we’ve learned this past week: 
– We’ll make friends from all over the world (Even the French can be cool!!) 
– Although I believe I am/should be the exception to most rules… I am not an exception to getting severe altitude sickness. 
– “Ass is ace” in French.
– “Suiza” is the name of Switzerland in Spanish… Not another Spanish word for shit. 
– Offering cookies can have a deeper meaning than the cookie itself.
– As long term and frugal travelers, we’ve learned a few things about each other. Alli will pay the equivalent of $1.50 to shower after an intense 4 day hike thru the Peruvian Andes, whereas Elizabeth refuses. Elizabeth happily will pay $1.50 for a hot breakfast, while Alli refuses. Instead, she’ll eat the stale water crackers for breakfast.
– America MUST switch to the metric system. We’re sick of being the only ones who don’t really get how high a mountain is, or how much things measure out to. (How many cm tall are you? Who the heck knows that?)
– When you feel like you’re dying, the mysterious Peruvian potion can and should be trusted immediately.
– It’s probably not the best idea to hand 640 soles ($215) to a random man you’ve met on the street, even if this man promises you a 4-day trek in the Peruvian Andes. (Thank Jesus this man was -mostly- honest and came through!) 
– After one week of navigating Peruvian cities, we’ve realized that collectivos are 100% the way to go. (Collectivos are the size of a mini van that will pack humans to 3X it’s actual capacity)

Until the next post!! Please keep praying for us- it’s working!!!

Alli’s Pre-Trip Tidbits

Hi friends and family! Alli here…. 
Welcome to my first blog post ever! Coming from a non-journaler, bear with me for a bit….. For my first post, I thought I’d focus on why I decided to do this mid-twenties retirement adventure and what I’m looking for down here in what us locals call, Sur America. I think writing these down now will make it fun to compare the prior “what I’m looking for” to the post-trip “what I actually found.” Could get pretty wild, folks. Hold on to your seats, hats, and passports. 

The first two years in post-college, adult life were not the easiest for me. I moved to a big city where I knew almost no one, started work as an ICU nurse in the heart of downtown and finally entered the REAL world. Although I had some harsh and lonely times during that first year, I was so blessed by great work friends, church friends, and extended family in the area (shout out to you, grandma! The best matriarch around; and the rest of my loving Midwest extended family). One of the best parts about living in Chicago and working in my job as an ICU nurse for two years was the comfort that I finally reached in my world. But at this point in my young adult life, my heart is still seeking out discomfort. I think that is why after finally getting settled in my first post-college “adult life,” my heart is still restless. My faith, professional growth as nurse, and relationships all grew tremendously there, but I still feel this desire to shake things up and become uncomfortable again; this time, I guess, in a place with a different language and culture altogether. 

“Wait, but, aren’t you just running away from the ‘real world’ and adulthood?” I’ve received various renditions of this question (from loving family and friends) and asked myself the same thing! And to answer it now, I would say no. I don’t think so. Don’t get me wrong, no matter how much I thought my wonderful alma mater, Gonzaga, prepared me for this so-called real world, I don’t think anything could have other than just diving in head first. After two years as a nurse, it’s great to look back and remember the nervous 22 year-old small and innocent child I was when I began. I learned more in Chicago and in the ICU than I ever imagined I could, and I am so blessed to have learned from the best coworkers and the best friends around. I do think I personally need this hiatus from such a beautiful and exhausting profession to better serve my patients and coworkers in my role as a nurse, and to better understand what that role means to me. I’ve heard that traveling can broaden perspective, so heck, why not try it? I truly hope that the time off will grant me a different/ wider perspective on life that will aid in my vocation to others as nurse. So, to try to answer the question above…. I don’t think I’m running away, I just think I’m continuing the search for my meaning of “real world” 😊.

Whether I can explain why I am going on this adventure or not, I feel that solely the desire to do this is reason enough to do it. I have wanted to travel/live in a Spanish speaking country since Señor Mondragon (my high school Spanish teacher) ingrained in me the beauty and love for the language. I truly believe God places these unquenchable desires in us for the obvious reason to go after them! So, “here I am, Lord!” Let’s see if I learn a thing or two down here. 

Love to you all!