Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Far From Comfortable

Today would be a good day for comfort... Here I am new at everything, from the various unfamiliar work tools I'm interacting with all morning, to the exotic location I live in, the change in language, introduction to activities I've adopted like yoga and painting, driving that giant stick shift clunker around these insanely different roads to towns I've never heard of... Yes, it's starting to grind on me that things are no longer comfy. The internet is shotty, I am using a shared hostel-like kitchen for every meal, and each day is my own responsibility to fill time with adventures. Don't get me wrong, I'm not regretting this experience in the least bit, it's just that once and a while, no matter how much you embrace and crave change and growth, there are moments where being cuddled up on the couch watching a movie and eating junk food sounds pretty damn good. I'm far from a television or fast food joint or even a couch, so that won't be happening any time soon. It's up to me to find new comfort in simple pleasures once again. I've never been so enthusiastic about reading a book, cooking a meal, or watching the stars. Now it's my entertainment for the evening when I'm too tired to conger up a day trip or work on a project. This experience here has taught me to readjust, let go of convenience and simplicity, and become resourceful and flexible once again, just as I was when I was hopping from train to train and living in various bunk-beds throughout Europe. This is a different kind of challenge, a new way of living. There's no way I'm doing this and staying in this tiny, tiny village for longer than my allotted month, but I am just now realizing, beginning to conceptualize, how this move was not trivial and is far from a vacation. While being cozy is what's on my mind today, that feeling will pass and I'll remember how the excitement and wonder always seems to trump comfort in the end.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Life on Another Planet: The New Adventure Begins

I peer out at the night sky at a million twinkling stars high above my head. It’s as if I'm standing in the center of a planetarium, seemingly able to identify even the most far away galaxies, all within a big round bubble, surrounding me from all angles. Lanzarote, Spain actually does appear to be from another planet, both night and day, so this sensation is quite appropriate. Today was day two of my new adventure, living and working and becoming a part of this small Canary Island off the coast of Africa, part of the Spanish island chain.

My pueblo: a tiny, xen village, appropriately named of Tao, in the Casa Rural, a bundle of attached apartments, surrounded by nothing but natural reserve and farmland, with desert hills in all directions. Every building is white stucco with the shutters and doors painted green and each village in the distance looks like a clean, white oasis of quaint homes and shops. The island is coated in a layer of volcanic ash and the landscape is of erupted and dormant volcanoes around every turn. From my home, the neighboring island of La Graciosa is clearly visible, giving the illusion that just a short jog and a swim would have me sipping out of a coconut on its shore.

I arrived yesterday with little more than a backpack and an email conversation, leaving much to the imagination of what to be anticipated.  Scenic photos and gobs of information gave a vague idea of expectations, but there was no way, no way at all, to ever have pieced together what this island is from mere images. It's a place of wonder, art, and beauty, where people come to play and search, work and enjoy, think and dream... It's this remarkable, mysterious secret, a hidden gem that is still an infant in comparison to desirable tourist destinations and how I ever found myself here blows my mind too much to ponder it. Two weeks ago I was complaining of my overbearing manager at a typical suburban casual dining restaurant, dreaming of Spain and flying high about the clouds to another far away location. Now I'm sitting in the night's silence, staring up at a myriad of stars scattered about the open sky with not a light or sound to interrupt.

While life here is an absolute dream, it isn't to be mistaken for a vacation. I was fooled yesterday as the incredible eccentric couple that has taken me in fed me with amazing food and piles of useful information, all the while in Spanish, molding my mind to absorb the language even more. I fell asleep with ideas of beaches and hikes and mini adventures floating around my brain.  Today I was awoken bright an early to the cries of goats and clucking of roosters to begin day one of my new work. My new boss and adventure mentor walked me though my tasks and four hours later, after plucking away at the keyboard and staring at neighboring computer screens, my head was throbbing with the strain of new lessons, tasks, and challenges.

We then began my next “class” of mastering the roads in my new best friend, a beat up Nissan camping van, equipped with rattling door, a creative paint job, and gutted interior. I'm not complaining; in fact I love her and can't wait to name my new rickety baby, but as we tackled the hilly roads and worked our way around the main city's round-abouts, I couldn't help but feel my heart beating in my throat. (Nearly running over a pedestrian and being run over by an oncoming truck tends to have that effect..) Once upon a time I knew how to drive, but the combination of driving around a small house on roads littered with crazy locals and tiny cars, I suddenly forgot.

The driving was purposeful, eventual filling our bellies, then the van full of goodies from the market for my time here.  This clunker will be my ultimate tool to exploring the island and discovering its incredible beauty up close. We rushed back from the market just in time to unload heaps of fruits, veggies, and essentials, and make our way to my first Spanish yoga class. For two hours I panted and strained and watched attentively to the instructors every move. When it was all said and done there was nothing left but to finally decompress. Life has done more than a 180 in the last 48 hours and my head is spinning with new surrounds, a new way of living, hard work and all in Espanol. But it's a dream, an absolute dream to be here and I’m quite certain that this adventure, my biggest adventure to date, is shaping me from the inside out, down to my core, and will lay the frame work for what is to come. 

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

A Living Fantasy

For years I have envisioned living on a secluded island with not much more than the sun, the sea, and my thoughts to keep me occupied.  The fantasy of an empty, picturesque beach with not a sound but the rolling tide and infinite time to bask in it's serenity seemed to be an impossible figment of my imagination, an experience reserved only for the very wealthy or the indigenous people of some remote, unknown slither of land in the middle of the ocean.  But as luck would have it, after a serious of bizarre coincidences, I hit gold.

A year ago, the Canary Islands meant nothing to me, as I knew nothing about their existence, let alone their location.  Little did I know that in no time I would be longing for this chain of islands off the coast of Africa to be my home.  Sure enough, an impromptu decision to browse places to live last week had me glued to the images of a tiny town called Tao on the island of Lanzarote.  This destination may not be the white sand beaches I imagined in my fairy tail, but the intriguing, moon-like landscape and year around ideal weather has me singing a new happy tune.  My assignment there is minimal, with twenty hours a week dedicated to working on a computer to organize a tourist website and the rest open to hiking, swimming, sunbathing, and of course exploring.

In a mere six days I set off to begin the new adventure.  At times, when it's late at night and I'm snuggled up in my bed in Raleigh, I start to fret about being on a tiny island that about .1% of the world population is familiar with, wondering if the isolation will introduce new feelings of loneliness after loading up on constant interaction here.  But then I remember the dream of a quiet paradise and how this may be one of my very few chance to get to experience a dream that was once an unattainable reality.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

As All the Pieces Come Together...

Today has been a day full of amazing coincidences and inspiring conversations.  The more I go through life following what feels right, the more signs are showing themselves to further prove to me that I'm taking the right steps.  It's absolutely incredible how one email with a clever "Sound of Music" reference can spark a whirl wind of plans, all inevitably shaping into a perfectly fitting puzzle that I've been mulling over for years.

My purpose to return to Spain has been hazy up to this point, as I simply sit on the faith that something will grab me and give foothold to get to the next step.  The last thing I expected is for that something to appear so clearly and obviously.  But before my eyes, a chain reaction of coincidental messages flashed across my computer screen, screaming at me to pay attention.  Just yesterday I wrote a silly posting making reference to a famous song from The Sound of Music.  Not 24 hours later, an email pops into my inbox, also referencing that classic film and I felt compelled to investigate.  The hills are alive with the sound of...Colorado?  Again?  This location has been at the top of my list as a next American home, and before my eyes the perfect opportunity was staring at me right in the face, in sunny Keystone, CO.  A conference for travel writers, in the Rockies, this summer, the time on my radar to make a move.  A perfect chance to meet other people that share my passion for traveling and writing about it, face to face at last, and maybe even be afforded a chance to work for one of the travel companies I've always felt were so far out of reach.  This challenging career that I've been chomping at the bits to get into is now knocking on my door and handing me an invitation in the one place in the world I've repeatedly considered moving.

Suddenly, like a row of dominoes falling, my sketchy plans began to set into place; a perfectly fitting timeline leading me from Spain to Colorado and ready to grab my future career by the horns, embracing this rare chance to make my dream a reality.  More coincidences, like the oh-so-convenient end of my legal visa perfectly aligning with the final days of off-season prices for flights (to the day), and my discovery of an incredible program to live temporarily, for free, in impressive destinations in Spain, in exchange for minimal house work, have me doubtless about this destine path.  No more monotonous tutoring lessons or hunting for expensive housing in bustling Madrid; no more sitting around, anxiously awaiting some kind of unknown big break; no more being clueless and directionless about the future.  Finally, I can feel just how perfectly right this is and in this moment, all I want to do is board that plane to Spain and embark on an incredible three months before digging my heals in and relentlessly chasing my dream to travel and share my words with the world.  

My Go-to Packing List for Moving to Spain

Wow, that was easy.  One of the biggest stress points of preparing for a big trip or move is packing.  To eliminate this weight off my shoulders, I like to do a practice run before hand so I know what to bring and am not scrambling at the last moment.  It's remarkable to me how easy it has become.  Today I dedicated the afternoon to preparing my bags as if I was leaving tomorrow.  In 2 short hours, wa-la!  I'm finished with a few extra pounds to spare. I managed to fit about 40 pounds of clothes and shoes into a standard hikers backpack airporter bag to keep within the 50 pound limit, and the rest in a small tote and carry on sized suit case.

For those of you who are new to the big pack or find it an overwhelming process, here are some basics I go by.  Keep in mind, I'm a girl and I like to look at least somewhat stylish in the city, so I tried not to skimp on outfits.  I plan to be in Spain for about six months, so I packed for late Winter, Spring, and Summer time weather.

-My 3 favorite pairs of jeans and 3 other pairs of pants for night or day.
-3 sets of exercise/ outdoor and a fleece jacket
-3 light weight jackets (I'll be arriving at the end of the winter so I don't wanna lug around a giant coat)
-Enough socks and undergarments to last a week
-A bunch of little dresses that don't take up too much space and can be utilized for different weather by adding or taking away a jacket, sweater, tights, or leggings
-Also a bundle of short sleeve tops to interchange with the pants and skirts
-4 scarves (Europeans love their scarves)
-Tennis shoes, a pair of boots, sandals for when the weather gets warmer, and a few pairs of flat shoes that are super comfortable and match everything
-2 Purses and a small clutch
-2 bathing suits

Now I'm ready to prance around the city in the changing weather and prepared to stay for a while, not draining my bank account to shop for new stuff I forgot.  A few other things to remember to bring:

-Books, maybe 2 or 3, and a Spanish/ English dictionary
-Electronics like camera, computer, ipod, etc and all the chargers
-Converter for your plugs
-Cosmetics and small toiletries; you can buy pretty much anything there, but it's good to have a starter so you're not scrambling upon arrival
-Passport, tickets, and other essential documents
-A few American souvenirs for when I reunite with my Spanish buddies
-Sunglasses, belts, hats, jewelry, and any other accessory that's small, versatile, and functional

I learned from the last time I made the transition that it's better to leave stuff home like decorative items, office supplies, and clothes for only certain occasions.  In the long run, it's just better to have less to carry and trust me, you'll live without those things.  You'll want that extra space for special items you can only get there and gifts for everyone back home.

This list is obviously flexible, but it's a good baseline to get started.   And a practice pack is so so valuable, even if it does take a little extra time.  Hope this is useful for those of you setting off yourselves!  Safe travels and happy packing.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

The Count Down Continues: Two Weeks

A lounge in Retiro with guitar music playing,
Tapas and vino, till morning we’re staying.
Eating and laughing and living like kings,
These are a few of my favorite Spain things!        

Gooo, all I can think about is my return to Espana.  I should probably be experiencing increased level of stress as there are only two more weeks till I hit the sky and sail far from here.  But, no, all I can seem to think about are all the things I love so dearly about Spain and get so eager to be there that it distracts me from my daily routine.  Last night I made a spread of Spanish cuisine for my mom and I and we ate in the true Spanish form, with our hands and in no particular order.  We just laughed and talked and enjoyed our cheese and bread and olives and tortilla.  I'm beginning to think in the Spanish language again as I reconnect with all those lovelies I sad adios to a long five months ago.  I'm forcing myself to think practically about the move, remember that I have no home there and that packing will inevitably be a chore.  But I still can't get over how moving to another country has become so common place to me that I'm completely blase about the whole ordeal. The anticipation is part of the fun, I suppose, but I'm really just ready for this short time to pass and for me to be sitting on a plane to return to a life that feels much more real.  Change has become so normal that moving from place to place is practically a comfort zone for me and I look forward to reconnecting with this unusually normal lifestyle.