travel

5 Things to Expect When You’re Expecting (To Go To Ecuador)

What? What did you think we were expecting?

 

Research we may and research we might but despite a studious approach, it’s near impossible for a person to know a place until, well, you know the place. I do not presume to “know” Ecuador but along the last 6 weeks or so, I’ve picked up a thing or two. This is by no means an exhaustive list but instead, a sneak peek into the perks and pastimes, odds and ends and oddities of a place we called home for a moment in time.

 

ONE: The people

A smile is universal. You may know this from traveling in places where you don’t necessarily communicate well in the language but just in case you were wondering about Ecuador, it’s true there too. The people there are far more willing to smile than our co-patriots in North America (is there a daily smile allotment I haven’t been told about so that people don’t want to waste their smiles?) and if you ask for help (or even if you don’t but obviously look like you need it) they are quick to jump in. Shoot, even when you don’t know that you need help they jump in.

The Chief and I had a rough moment and a Cinda reminder (there are huskies everywhere in Ecuador) in the way of a sweet stray that brought tears to both of our eyes when a stranger approached us and offered The Chief his beer. “I just want you to be happy, amigo (friend)” he said. He didn’t need to reach out, it wasn’t his duty. He was amongst friends on a Friday night, seemingly on vacation himself but reach out he did. A smile is universal. English however, is not. Practica, pratica. We must practice our languages.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis 5 Things to Expect When You're Expecting Canoa Hostesses Ecuador.jpg

Hostesses with the Most(esses). Thank you!

 

 

TWO: The animals

As you might have surmised, we are dog people and in general, in the U.S. I think we are in good company (the sheer volume of cute kitty/puppy videos should be proof alone that we are pro pet), yet not everyone or everywhere in the world feels the same. In the time I’ve spent in Mexico and Central America, stray dogs weren’t often seen as comrades but rather as nuisances and their often skittish nature protected them from potential affronts. I’d always adopt a dog while in my travels and wish I could bring him or her back with me because the life they lead was rough and it was hard to see. So, I prepared myself to be in a place where dogs might not be regarded as family members.

Wrong, oh so wrong.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis 5 Things to Expect When You're Expecting Must Love Dogs Ecuador

Must Love Dogs.

 

 

Without placing too great an Alapaca blanket statement over the country, this place loves dogs (yet another reason to call is Alascuador). The dogs in Canoa were well taken care of. People would take turns bringing them to the vet and ridding them of fleas and they, in turn, acted as local security officers, escorting non-locals home on the potentially dangerous late night beach walks, asking for little more than an ear scratch in return, if that. Baños was no different. I’ve actually never seen so many dog grooming and veterinary establishments per square mile anywhere and the local businesses would have consistently full (despite being frequently visited) watering and feeding stations for the local perros. They lived independent, seemingly pretty wonderful lives and were well-regarded members of society. Even trying to adopt a dog here would seem funny because 1. The dog would have to adopt you and 2. They don’t really need you. It would have to be a special match.

 

THREE: The market

Bargaining, to me, had always seemed rude, a sort of “this isn’t worth what you’re asking” insult, but this trip gave me a whole different insight. Bargaining in Ecuador (and I’m sure most places where bargaining is a part of the culture) is like a dance, a push and pull where both parties have to play their role lest one person be dragged about or ignored. Bargaining is participating. If someone gives you a price and you just take it, you’ve told them you’re not interested in the dance and so, you take the item and they take the inflated dollar amount (yes, another Ecuadorian quirk I hadn’t known until we planned the trip: they are on the American dollar).

 

 

Beneath the Borealis 5 Things to Expect When You're Expecting Artesanal Market in Banos Ecuador

Welcome to the show, people.

 

 

By the end of the trip, after tips from locals on bargaining strategies, we were bargaining fiends (OK maybe not quite fiends, but we were participating). Hear a price, cut it in half and together, find the middle from there. It wasn’t so much the change of the price but rather the smiles and laughs throughout the process that made me adopt it. It was true, it was a dance and although clumsy at times, we broke out a few rusty moves (The Lawnmower, The Shopping Cart, you name it. 90’s move).

FOUR: The bathroom

When traveling, the basic necessities come to the forefront. Food, water, bodily functions, shelter, all coming demanding attention at different times depending on the immediacy with which they need to be satisfied. Thankfully, the bathroom is one necessity that is well thought out in Ecuador. From the moment you realize that you have to pee to the moment that you find a bathroom usually lasts no longer than 3 minutes, at which point you pay the fee (normally about $0.25 cents for TP and the bathroom or $0.10 without. Lucky boys) and tada! Needs satisfied.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis 5 Things to Expect When You're Expecting Bathrooms Quito Ecuador

 

 

In public restrooms, you may even be able to go in for free, however, don’t forget to get your toilet paper ahead of time. The dispenser sits at the entrance to the stalls. There is no TP in the individual stalls. I repeat: there is no toilet paper (almost never at least) in the individual stalls. This can make for a rough surprise so in case I forgot, I often kept a bit of TP in my pocket (another Alaska similarity). Overall, the necessity of a bathroom was met full-force and reminded me of how easy it can be. I can’t even recall all the times I’ve been in San Francisco or any other large city in the states and nearly peed myself trying to find a public restroom, only to give up 30 minutes in, paying $5.00 for a coffee I don’t want in a bathroom certainly not worth a $5.00 visit.

 

*Ecuadorian quirk: In every place we stayed or paid to use, the bathrooms were perfumed by the use of perfumed toilet paper. The Chief and I even sought out unscented toilet paper at the grocery store and were only able to find it in Quito. Perhaps it’s because of the second quirk which you may already be familiar with: toilet paper does not go into the toilet but rather into a trash basket nearby. Again, none of this matters if you don’t buy/bring the toilet paper to begin with so, either stock your pockets or don’t be a ding-dong and grab paper first. And now that we are back? I am constantly trying to remember the protocol. TP in trash? Toilet? Outhouse? Oh wait, that’s Alaksa but it’s again, another similarity to Ecuador. I basically spend my time these days trying to remember where the TP goes. Glamorous.

 

FIFTH: The bus

This one is last because it’s my favorite. So, first thing’s first: travel in Ecuador is far different from I thought it would be. Surprised? No, me neither. Travel between locations was not something I studiously approached but with a map showing a relatively small country, a plentitude of roadways and buses as the main transport I figured we’d be bussing about quite a bit. Right and wrong. The Right: The buses here are plentiful and you can get seemingly everywhere. The Wrong: Even Ejecutivos (First Class direct buses) make quite a few stops, elongating the trip. A 4-hour journey by car is an 8-10 hour bus ride. So, although you can get everywhere, make sure you leave yourself plenty of time to get there. Ok, boring semantics out-of-the-way and…onto the best part: Bus Atmosphere (with a focus on food. Surprised?).

 

 

Beneath the Borealis 5 Things to Expect When You're Expecting Chivas in Banos Ecuador

Chivas! Tour buses that are essentially Saturday Night Fever on wheels. Plus families.

 

 

That’s right, friends, buses here are basically a party on wheels with food as the ever-changing guest of honor. Buses here blast one of two types of entertainment (and sometimes both, simultaneously): movies and music. On one 10-hour bus ride, they were showing a horror movie (a true one too, the scariest kind. Gee, thanks) at full volume. Thankfully, The Chief and I were seated right under the speaker (catch the sarcasm). However, truly thankfully, I think the fright and might of the movie scared the bus sickness out of me. If it’s not a movie, it’s tunes, normally full-blast. On the way back from the grocery store one day, “Despacito” was playing. The bus was comprised mainly of schoolkids and basically turned into a music video with the kiddos singing at the top of their lungs whilst dancing in the aisles and seats. So, needless to say, entertainment is included. Next up: snacks.

Bus food is the syrup to my pancakes. Our first ride from Quito to Canoa was a 12-hour day and after a lackadaisical bag search by a very nonchalant security guard, I was forced to throw away the food we had brought for the ride. Never fear, Ecuadorian hospitality to our rescue. You see, at every stop, the buses are swarmed by vendors offering all sorts of goodies. I had read not to eat fruit or street food for fear of the tummy revenge but I had already caved on day two and had a salad without negative effects so I was up for a risk but still a little shy. What was all this stuff?

Thankfully, Ecuadorian hospitality to the rescue, the woman next to us kept buying extra of every vendor who came on the bus and giving us a taste. Whole mangoes, fruit in a cup, ice cream, bread, honey roasted soybeans, plantain chips (I think The Chief OD’d on these), empanadas, pork in a fanny pack (avoid that one, unless you want to end up like our friends from Boston) and our ultimate favorite: Pan de Yucca ((bread, usually with cheese, made from yucca (picture a sort of potato and a sweet potato baby) flour)). On a queasy but hungry tummy, those rolls (gluten-free even) warm from a cloth napkin-covered basket are like a hug for your stomach.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis 5 Things to Expect When You're Expecting Pan de Yucca Ecuador

Behold, the glory that is Pan de Yucca. Thank you, lady on the bus.

 

 

Finally, in the food parade, the longest buses often break up the trip with a stop at a restaurant where the food is great, the facilities are clean and the much-needed stretching of the limbs is available. Muchisimas gracias. So, even though it may take a day to get somewhere, at least you’re well fed along the way.

Now that you’ve read the big 5 you’re ready for Ecuador but just in case you needed a few extra intricacies to put in your back pocket, look no further.

 

10 Quick Odds and Ends and Ecuadorian Quirks:

1.) Alpaca is a staple and if you spend any time in cold climates I highly recommend getting some. I had to forcibly stop The Chief from spending our future life savings on everything alpaca (don’t worry, he still made out with head to toe llama).

2.) Try the streetside mango with salt, lime and chili powder. You can thank me later.

3.) Crocs are insanely popular. I’m open to it but I’ll never say I get it. Oh, and taffy. Taffy is everywhere.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis 5 Things to Expect When You're Expecting Taffy in Banos Ecuador.jpg

That is some serious taffy handling.

 

 

4.) The lunch special anywhere is by far the most economical and filling meal of the day (think soup and popcorn/plantain chip appetizers, a large meal and a drink and potentially a dessert). Plus, here you’ll find the locals and where the locals eat is where you want to be.

 

5.) The bamboo structures here are impressive, to say the least.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis 5 Things to Expect When You're Expecting Isla Corazon

 

 

6.) Stop and smell the roses. Really. Ecuador produces a huge amount of the roses you see in the U.S. Apparently, Andean conditions are the thorny beauties favorites and so, roses abound.

7.) Fear of heights? Enjoy. From bus rides to hikes to waterfalls to treehouses, Ecuador has seemingly endless options to flex your fear of heights. Flex on.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis 5 Things to Expect When You're Expecting Basilica del Voto Quito Ecuador

We decided to climb to the top of that spire, obviously. Afraid? Me?

Beneath the Borealis 5 Things to Expect When You're Expecting Basilica del Voto Quito Ecuador 2

View from the top. Barf.

 

 

8.) Ecuador + ice cream = every afternoon. I haven’t seen the cold stuff adored like this since Italy. Feels like home.

9.) Small bills and coins are king. If you show up with $100 bills you are either a.) leaving with them or b.) leaving with inaccurate change. $20 is the biggest bill you should bring and always aim to pay in exact coinage (especially on buses, etc.) or if you have a large bill, pay for your co-riders and they can buy you a beer later. Make it easy.

10.) The street art is amazing. The sheer use of color alone had my art heart swooning. Eat it up.

 

 

 

Beneath the Borealis 5 Things to Expect When You're Expecting Street Art in Banos Ecuador

My favorite.

 

 

Well, that’s all, folks and by “that’s all” I mean that’s just the tip of the iceberg that is the Ecuador that I’ve known thus far. I hope to return soon and report back more findings. In the meantime, have you gone to Ecuador or South America? What are your favorite quirks of living abroad? Do tell.

And now…to Alaska.

 

Beneath the Borealis The Last Day 02:26:18 Flowers of Ecuador

The Last Day

It’s belonged to others so far, others I’ve wished to join in the title, others I’ve felt sorry for that they bear its impending exit.

Yet today, it is ours and ours alone.

The last day.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis The Last Day 02:26:18 Hotel Canoa Ecuador

Amazing art everywhere you look.

 

 

Tomorrow, we depart from a place once foreign now familiar to a new unknown.

In our time here we’ve found an ever-changing yet ever-present family. We’ve fallen into a schedule and habits never before formed. Sunset surf? A trip into another world. Trivia Tuesday? One must defend one’s title.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis The Last Day 02:26:18 Surf Shak Canoa Ecuador

The ominous blank page.

 

Beneath the Borealis The Last Day 02:26:18 San Vicente Ecuador Coco Bongo Trivia Champs

Thursdays in Bahia.

 

 

We’ve cycled through schedules from early to bed, early to rise to late nights and lazy mornings and back around again and again. Even I, with my propensity for planning, have learned to let go and just be. A little bit.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis The Last Day 02:26:18 Workspace Work from Home

Plus, when the work kicks in, it could be worse. Work from wherever happiness.

 

 

This month in a place once unknown, now like home has been full of the ups and downs of, guess what? Life. Yet life in a very different setting.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis The Last Day 02:26:18 San Vicente Ecuador Coco Bongo Trivia.jpg

Amazing.

 

 

It’s funny how wherever you go, there you are. Pardon the inspirational kitten poster, next to its philosophical counterpart behind my High School Guidance Counselor’s desk but it does ring true, doesn’t it? That kitten sure is cute (“Hang in there” she says, whilst hanging from a branch) and the philosophy? True.

We may live a life on the opposite side of the Equator but just like us, it too arrived in this polar opposite of places. It’s been wonderful to watch a life develop in even the most drastically different of places.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis The Last Day 02:26:18 Flowers of Ecuador

Flowers in Winter make my heart sing.

 

 

A place where clothes are a necessity but only for social graces and even then, arriving in a bathing suit and flip-flops is sometimes accessible. In Alaska, clothes are our partners in survival. They serve to spare us in our fight with the cold. Here, clothes create as small a layer as is deemed decent between oneself and the heat. In Alaska we chase the sun all day, here we find moments of respite in shade and prepare for the sun’s might. In Alaska we fight to keep groceries from freezing on the 8-hour drive home, here we fear they’ll spoil or melt in a ten-minute walk. Here, we run to the water to cool off, in Alaska our submersion might kill us.

Yet in all of the opposites, there is a similarity, an Ecualaska or Alascuador or whatever you might come up with of similarities in these drastically different places and within that strange, unexpected similarity we’ve found our rhythm. We’ve found our life in a place so far from where it lies.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis The Last Day 02:26:18 Sundown Hotel Canoa Ecuador

Sunset in swimsuits? Not advisable in AK…

 

 

Now, we bid it adieu.

Today will be spent soaking up the last rays we can absorb, surfing at sunset (hopefully, since I decided to throw my back out in a triumphant sleeping matching with a too big pillow gone wrong yesterday) and toasting one last time with the family over a shared dinner. Or not. Maybe, it will be spent reading. Either way, I expect a Goodbye Sunburn (check).

Adios, Canoa. You’ve been lovely. You’ve been simultaneously otherworldly and completely the same, drastically different and as familiar as my middle name. We adore you and hope to see you again soon.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis The Last Day 02:26:18 Sundown Hotel Canoa Ecuador

I love you.

 

 

Alaska, we are one step closer to your embrace.

But until then, onward, to Baños, Ecuador!

A Reason, A Season or A Lifetime

Years ago I met a woman who enchanted me. She was witty and funny and cute to boot with a generosity that just kept giving. By chance, we ended up working together for a week or so and I hoped with fingers crossed that she would want to be my friend. In that week, we shared stories and stared down one another’s life situations, advising one other to the best of our abilities. In one such moment of advice, she regaled to me a statement that had been offered unto her:

“A person can come into your life for a reason, a season or a lifetime. Sometimes all three.”

Although she had given me this bit of advice in regards to a particular situation, it started to seep into and throughout my understandings of my surroundings. Suddenly, the challenging or the random had a purpose: reason. The people I’d once fallen so quickly in with and faded away from just as quickly too had their purpose: season and the people I knew I’d always know were my lifetimers.

I sent a little wish skyward that this woman wouldn’t be just this lesson, not just a reason.

Five years later, we are still dear friends.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis February 9th 2018 A Reason A Season or A Lifetime Sonoma Coast with Danielle.jpg

From the forest to the beach to the back of a random person’s truck to pinot on the beach. What a day. What a gal.

 

 

She is the one I went to when my relationship fell apart and I needed somewhere to feel loved and recoup. She fed me soup and drew me baths and encouraged me to go. Travel was the best medicine, we decided and so off I went: first stop Alaska, next stop Thailand.

Thailand, as we know, never came.

Yet Ecuador did.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis February 9th 2018 A Reason A Season or A Lifetime Isla Corazon Tropical Flowers Ecuador.jpg

Peek-a-boo around a boat

 

 

Now, more than ever, amongst only new, I again hear her words: a reason, a season or a lifetime. Or all three.

We arrived at our home away from home three weeks ago. From the moment I saw it on the website, I knew we would be staying there, and although it was lovely, I couldn’t have told you why exactly we had to stay there, we just did. The night we came in it was nearing 11pm. We’d been on bus after bus, hour after nauseous hour (apparently I get bus sick nowadays. Who knew?!) and finally, we had arrived. Almost. After almost 12 hours of travel, we had one last push. We panted through the mile plus long walk, walking hopefully in the right direction, with our backpacks filled to the brim and when we arrived we were greeted by the whole family. They graciously settled us into our room, turned on the fan full blast to bite away at the layer of heat that had taken residence in our room and bid us goodnight.

Bienvenidos.

Welcome.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis February 9th 2018 A Reason A Season or A Lifetime Sundown Hotel Canoa Ecuador Manabi.jpg

The view from our room. Palm trees, ocean, sea breeze? Yes, please.

 

 

The next morning, as we were sitting out on the terrace having our coffee and tea, we started to meet our fellow travelers, four lovely gentlemen: The Bachelors. Within ten minutes we had lunch plans, a date for that evening, yoga plans for early the following morning to be succeeded by a lesson in Ecuadorian grocery shopping and trivia plans in the night.

We had arrived.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis February 9th 2018 A Reason A Season or A Lifetime Sunset Canoa Ecuador Manabi

First sunset.

 

 

The place swept us up and into a family of ever-changing characters.

At first, we were the youngest members, the kids of the group and the only present couple (and I the only visiting female). Then we suddenly had younger siblings in the form of four young Welsh travelers with whom we became fast friends (and the gender divide lessened).

And then the first goodbyes.

After just a few short fun-filled days full of stray dogs guarding us on walks home and dinners in and drinks out, the Welsh were gone.

The first goodbye of many while The Core group remained: the bachelors (my used to be bachelor) and I.

We grew a little closer.

We took day trips together.

We swept the local trivia circuit.

We grew closer again.

Then came the next set of siblings with whom we too bonded quickly. Everything was halvsies. We shared everything from dinners to surfboards to after sun aloe (with Lidocaine, no doubt). They extended their stay, as we’ve learned most people do when they get here, but then they too arrived at the day when they had to depart.

That goodbye broke the dam and suddenly the goodbyes started flooding in. Arrivals and departures sped as Carnival approached but still, The Core group remained.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis February 9th 2018 A Reason A Season or A Lifetime The Core in Canoa Ecuador Manabi

Sunset chasers

 

 

Again, siblings arrived in the form of a couple from the UK. They too took a liking to all things Canoa: surfing, trivia, pre-mixed coconuts and again the family expanded. We weathered the wild of Carnival together and watched the sleepy town swell by thousands into an all the time nightclub we peeked in on. And then, just like that, it was gone.

We said goodbye to the festival and just as soon as we had, it was time to bid the UK couple adieu as well.

The family was shrinking again.

Ebb and flow.

And then, the first of The Core left, one of our constants, one of the people I had bonded with most closely, like a Dad and best friend wrapped up into one kind face from Colorado.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis February 9th 2018 A Reason A Season or A Lifetime Tom in a Flower in Canoa Ecuador Manabi

 

 

The Core was moving on.

Suddenly, every day seemed to be someone’s last day and so there stirred in me a sort of uneasy swirling of unsteady ground. I wanted every moment to be their best and at the same time, I wanted things to just be normal. Our Lou used to get nervous whenever she would see someone packing and then would either disappear or try to jump in the truck. Either be left behind by her own accord or decide she was coming with you, either way, it had to be her decision. I can sympathize with that. All the change made me uneasy. I wanted to either jump ship as well or pretend it wasn’t happening.

I’ve never been swift to flow with change.

And so, of course, change came again.

Another of The Core had his last day. We spent it together and we spent it well. We ventured together to a nature preserve, filled with mangroves and more species of birds than I could count.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis February 9th 2018 A Reason A Season or A Lifetime Isla Corazon Ecuador Manabi

A female passes over a male doing the dance of love for her.

 

 

It was a beautiful day but the tinge of another Last Day again stirred the pot.

Change, again.

Yesterday morning, he left. Another Father-like friend who knew how to simply be. Be in the moment. Be present. Be content.

As The Chief and I ate our granola post-goodbye, who should come around the corner but our first friend here, our Southern hospitality in a far more Southern place.

Suddenly, strangely, we had come full circle. Those who had left had returned and those who had been here had gone.

Later that night, two more travelers arrived to grace our doorsteps: again, another who had been here right as we arrived and then, a newbie. The cycle continued. The family again was in flux but the circular fashion in which it flowed made me smile. It was a family anew.

A family that keeps me going back to what my dear friend said: a reason, a season or a lifetime. Or all three.

It’s too soon to know how everyone will fall into one another’s lives but if nothing more, each member became a reason in my life. Some of the reasons are obvious, some are little more than breadcrumbs of clues a strewn about the way.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis February 9th 2018 A Reason A Season or A Lifetime Surfing Canoa Ecuador Manabi

 

 

Sometimes people just show up in the moment you need them. Sometimes, you can’t be sure why until later.

I felt the familiarity of a father I hadn’t felt in years, the encouragement of a cheerleader cheering for me to just be me, the camaraderie of four people of the same age in totally different places than us and the youthful liveliness of those younger than us with plenty of lessons to share.

The reasons abound, the seasons may present themselves and the lifetime will only know. Either way, I am grateful to have traveled all this way, only to find myself amongst my lessons, amongst tools to find my way through and amongst family already old and new.

Thank you.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis February 9th 2018 A Reason A Season or A Lifetime Family Tree Canoa Ecuador Manabi.jpg

Family trees, beach style.

 

// If you haven’t already, subscribe to the blog using the subscribe button above. You’ll get every week’s post delivered straight to your inbox. Follow us on Instagram: @beneaththeborealis to get pictures not featured on the blog. //

Surf Thirty (One)

As a California grown lady of the sun, I’ve spent my whole life around surfing. I grew up at the beach, I spent my summers by any body of water I could find and I loved a good beach blonde suntan combo. I had all the components of surfing: I lived near a beach, there were surf shops galore with boards and wetsuits for rent (and sweatshirts I desperately wanted but would allow myself, lest I be discovered a poser) and I knew of people who were surfers. Yet what I lacked was the confidence to try.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis Surf Thirty (One) Surf's up Beetle Bug.jpg

Surf’s up, buttercup. Hangin’ ten, beetle style.

 

 

The times I came closest to learning, I realized that the people wanting to “take me out” actually had more interest in taking me out for a date than really teaching me to surf and so, frustrated, I had bailed (surfer lingo, brah).

A few bails in, I stopped trying. Certainly, without question, I could have gone on my own or grabbed a girlfriend to go with but in my awkward earlier years I was less Grab The Bull By The Horns and more Oh Shoot, I Just Watched That Bull Go By.

And so it went.

Suddenly, I was 31, still wanting to learn to surf and realizing that the only thing about surfing that I’d learned was that saying you want to surf and actually surfing are a world apart.

Enter: Ecuador, or as I’ve started to call it: Alascuador.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis Surf Thirty (One) Bougainvillea

Bougainvillea. Could this be heaven?

 

 

This place, I swear is a cousin to our State of Brr. Everything from the reservation at first interaction to the utter triumph one feels getting a pint of ice cream home (one of our friends paid a taxi driver 50% extra just to get him home as fast as possible with a quart of ice cream he was bringing home for a celebration) to the timing (Alaska time, Ecuador time, Hawaiian time, same, same), to the dogs running about being a celebrated part of the town, to the what to do with toilet paper has made this southern spot seem like a flip side family member to the Alaskan way.

Which makes it no surprise that upon landing here, Ecuador has kindly kicked my behind. Just like in Alaska, if you’re not on the right path, Ecuador seems to either firmly correct your trajectory or high-five congratulate you for your ability to go with the flow. From our first escapades in getting to know one another in travel (firm corrections) to gliding through bus connections with uncanny luck (high-five congratulations) to finding our home for these last few weeks and me struggling to learn to relax (firm corrections as far as the eye can see) this place has been full of the ups and downs that I cherish about Alaska. The things that make life in Alaska feel, well, alive.

All the while, firm corrections and congratulations popping about, in the back of my head an anxiety started to rise. Was I going to continue to talk about surfing or actually learn? We had come to Ecuador to learn to surf and it was day 10 with no waves in sight. Don’t get me wrong, there were waves all about but we certainly weren’t on them. It had been years since I’d been fully immersed in an ocean, something I didn’t realize until we got here and the last beach I had been on had been unfriendly, to say the least.

Yet, when we arrived, I figured I’d jump on in like I had for years as a kid and start off right away with some epic bodysurfing.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis Surf Thirty (One) Canoa Ecuador Sunset

Canoa sunset.

 

 

Wrong.

It turns out I wasn’t as comfortable in the waves as I had planned. While The Chief seemed to glide out past the break into calm waters, I was left in a whitewash whirlwind. I had forgotten all the tricks my Mom had taught me.

 

Diving under waves

Timing

Decision-making

Confidence.

 

I realized it would be a few days until I was comfortable alone in the water, much less to attach something to me and bring it into the water.

Enter: the boogie board, the perfect transition between body surfing and surfing.

We broke it within 20 minutes.

Still, getting tumbled about in waves far bigger than me was good for my morale.

Until it wore off. Finally, on day ten, panicked that we would never learn to surf (I love to pop in nevers, even when I have control of them) we went to Town to find June and his week-long surfboard rentals. Four hours later, after waiting for 2 hours for the shop owner to return, we had our boards. It was late in the day and we were set to be picked up for our traveling trivia team (apparently, The Chief and I make a sought-after trivia duo) and so, we said “goodnight” to the boards which had taken so long just to find and hours to rent and waited until tomorrow. Mañana, mañana.

I was sick of mañana.

Today was the day.

Unfortunately, Ecuador didn’t agree (or in actuality, she did agree, but she was testing my will. Do you really want to learn or do you want to talk about learning? Sound familiar, Alaska? Alascuador). A storm set-up, the sky was pregnant with rain and right as we went in for my first set ever, the waters came down upon us. The sea responded. The waves were all over the place, coming in diagonally, double crashing and the current was so strong that within minutes we were out of sight of our hotel. Gone were the parallel sets of beautifully set-up, semi-consistent waves of the morning only an hour prior. If I hadn’t been in a bathing suit in warm water, I would have sworn I was back in Alaska. The timing was just too much. The Chief and I looked at one another and burst out laughing. Decades of build-up and we couldn’t have picked a worse time.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis Surf Thirty (One) Canoa Ecuador Stormcloud

Ominous, eh?

 

 

It was perfect.

By the time we were out of the water, my hips and knees looked like I had dyed them blue. Bruises welled up before my eyes and I plopped down in the sand, exhausted.

I’d been in for 20 minutes.

And…I’d gotten up. Sure, we may have just been chasing whitewash but after 20 years of hoping, wanting, giving up and hoping again, I had gotten up on a surfboard and rode that whitewash all the way to shore.

A few hours later, still storming but not as bad, we went in again. A couple we met from Canada was sharing the boards with us and had impeccable timing so the next time they went, we went after.

Still, it was storming.

Still, there we were, up again, riding the whitewash.

I feel like my body had been planning and scheming and approximating just how it would do this task for me for years, I just hadn’t unleashed it.

I looked at The Chief and we were both beaming, smiles from ear to ear.

Those three seconds of the joy of floating above the water were worth the ten minutes of push and pull to get to them. I couldn’t believe how it felt. Better than I had imagined. Maybe like flying.

Needless to say, I was hooked.

That night I went to bed, completely physically exhausted for the first time in a long time. In Alaska, I often fall into bed, absolutely fatigued from the day’s duties. That day, the duties were purely pleasure-based but they were as challenging as any other chore I’ve performed.

Finally, finally, I had tried. The years of wanting washed over me. How simply such a buildup could just go away. How unnecessary the buildup to begin with.

Lesson learned?

I hope so.

One week later, I’ve caught even more than the whitewash. I’ve caught my first real wave, from crest to finish, I’ve even turned (a little). I’ve fallen more times than I can count, my body is more bruised than unbruised, I’ve caught a fin twice in the thigh, I’ve been hit in the back, had the board land on my head, done a somersault into the ocean floor and broken a fin and I can’t think of anything right now I’d rather be doing.

It may have taken me until 31 to try, but now that I have, I’m a sucker for it.

It’s time to start checking off the list of the long overdue wants and wishes.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis Surf Thirty (One) Surf's up The Chief

A log, a love, two boards, two books. Bueno.

 

 

 

Thank you, Alaska for starting the teaching. For forcing me to test myself and trust myself. Thank you Ecuador for testing that teaching by forcing me to get out in a bathing suit day after day even on the days I’d feel more comfortable in, say, a parka. Thank you for pushing me to make new friends, get out of my comfort zones, to get a little scared but to try anyway and in the end to get to the base of it: to enjoy oneself. I’m listening. I’m trying.

Thank you. You are beautiful.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis Surf Thirty (One) Bananas in Ecuador

Bananas, y’all.

The Tour Guide Beneath the Borealis 1/29/18 Canoa Brewery/

The Tour Guide

We’ve been through two Winters in a cabin consisting of less than 400 square feet.

We’ve driven countless hours just to grocery shop.

We’ve moved umpteen times in California.

We’ve worked in the heat amongst the bugs together.

We’ve lost together.

We’ve survived without the modern niceties I once thought necessities.

We’ve dealt with the panic of leaving the woods and greeting society again.

We’ve been through days that won’t quit and stresses that seem to multiply without end.

 

And through it all, we always ended up closer.

 

Yet, needless to say, it was time for a vacation.

 

Our first vacation.

 

 

The Tour Guide Beneath the Borealis 1/29/18 Japantown CA Sushi Cat

My ultimate last supper before the flight. Japantown, SF.

 

 

The Chief and I had both traveled a good amount, a good amount of time ago. Suddenly it had been a decade-plus since we’d really traveled. We set off to right this wrong choosing Ecuador out of a Google search for “best place to learn to surf in Central or South America”. Before we knew it, we had tickets and our first two weeks mapped out. The rest of the time, we’d figure out later. We spent our last few days in California in a whirlwind of last-minute store stops and packing pick-ups. We worried about what to bring and how much and the what-ifs abounded but the thought to worry about us never crossed my mind.

 

 

The Tour Guide Beneath the Borealis 1/29/18 Quito Pack Light

Backpack brigade.

 

 

 

We’d been through far harder ordeals than a beachside vacation, right?

Well…

It turns out that travel can be stressful. Who knew?! I for one did, yet in my decade of time away from it, I’d forgotten the overwhelm of plopping down into a place where everything is unknown and chose instead to focus on the idea of us, perfectly tanned, strolling down a beach at sunset.

 

 

The Tour Guide Beneath the Borealis 1/29/18 Quito Pack Light

6 am in Miami. 12-hour layover beach bum style. Sunrise vs. Sunset. Sunburnt vs. Suntanned. First time The Chief’s toes tickled the Atlantic.

 

 

Not quite, at least not at first.

 

At first, it was the overwhelm.

 

A week later, we realized why.

 

In our time together, one of us has always been the tour guide. When I arrived in an unknown land in Alaska, I had the best tour guide anyone could ask for. The Chief knew the land and the people and all of the systems. If I needed to know how to do something, he knew the right answer and could teach me and coach me. I was confident in an unfamiliar place because he was so adept at surviving in it. And then, when the tables turned and we headed to CA, I became the tour guide. I showed him the best beaches and taco trucks and navigated the five lanes of traffic while he watched me in awe of me in my element. And now, we’ve created a life in both of these places together, they have become our places. We are both comfortable in different ways, adept at different things and so we organize our life accordingly. We divvy up the labor based on what each person is adept at.

 

For example:

 

Driving in San Francisco: Julia

Driving in scary (to me) snow conditions: The Chief

Making a healthy dinner from a barren pantry: Julia

Making the best macaroni and cheese you’ve ever had: The Chief

 

The list goes on and on.

Walking on the beach the other night, a week after arriving, we realized we’d entered a situation we couldn’t divvy up because we didn’t know up from down and neither of us was a clear choice. The playing field was level but we were both third string players sitting on the bench.

And so, our first few days were a little tense.

 

 

The Tour Guide Beneath the Borealis 1/29/18 Quito Airport Ecuador

So tense that I didn’t even enjoy this here playground in the middle of the Quito airport. I mean, really? 24-hours of travel and landing at midnight shouldn’t get in the way of that. Amazing.

 

 

In all the excitement of saying “Yes” and packing and planning, I’d never assumed we be anything other than in-sync and getting along perfectly. I thought instead of my go-to image: tanned to perfection, hand in hand, sunset. When we landed at 11 pm after 24 hours of travel with a mere intersection for the address of our accommodations, no building name, nothing, that vision started to fade. We were in a busy city, loud and noisy and diesel filled at 9,000+ feet and I was still recovering from a nasty cough. Our Spanish was rusty, to say the least, and the unfamiliar felt more ominous than exciting. Neither one of us was a pro and the awkward You Lead, No I Lead, No Lou Lead back and forth was a dance filled with stepped on toes rather than a graceful flow. We were out of sync.

 

 

The Tour Guide Beneath the Borealis 1/29/18 Quito Highrise

Unlike this kitty, he’s totally in the zone.

 

 

One week later, pieces of my vision of us started to come together. Walking home from a beachfront dinner, hand in hand, mainly burnt but slightly tanned, just after sunset, we laughed as we realized how a new situation had so thrown us for a loop. The “us” who’s consistently been in uncomfortable situations, the “us” that has typically handled them well, the “us” who had traveled, but as it turned out not really traveled together, the “us” who were handed a swift dose of reality. We’ve always been the other person’s tour guide in the unfamiliar, an expert local to share the inside scoop with the one we love. Before an overwhelming unknown to us both was infrequent and in a familiar landscape, it was an opportunity to explore but these opportunities were less often and the valued outside input of a trusted confidant was almost always available. Alone together in another country, our comfort was taken away. For two accustomed to discomfort, it sure made us wiggle.

Thank goodness.

 

 

The Tour Guide Beneath the Borealis 1/29/18 Canoa Ecuador

A little pink, a little tan, a lot of love.

 

 

We can look back and laugh at the tension produced, the opposite ways we travel, the new circumstances of traveling with a love, not alone and the togetherness we’ve again found. I think now, we’ve hit our strolling stride. It may have taken some trip-ups to find it but find it we did.

Cheers to the new, to the levels of uncomfortable we don’t know until they find us and to working through it as best we can to find the joy in the unknown. Cheers to learning your partner and yourself and to sharing the not so perfect but perfectly human moments together.

Cheers, to travel.

Until next week…

 

The Tour Guide Beneath the Borealis 1/29/18 Canoa Brewery/

My favorite.

 

 

 

 

Beneath the Borealis In the 30's Sonoma Coast

In the 30’s

The last time I traveled, really traveled, the kind of travel where you look at your departure date on your calendar with Mr. January posing coyly amongst snowflakes and have to switch all the way to Mr. March (sorry Mr. February, you know I love you too) in his springtime garb in order to find your return date was a long time ago.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis In the 30's Viva Italia Siena Italy

Viva Italia. 19 years old.

 

 

Growing up, I was a lucky little toehead and travel was a normal part of my life. My Grandma Gam took me to Ireland, I vacationed with friends in Hawaii, every year my Mom and I went to Mexico for a week to beat the Winter blues and in between I found myself exploring the sweet states of our country. Like I said, I was a lucky little beast. I ate up travel with as much gusto as I ate up my daily pancakes. I loved seeing new sights, smelling new smells, meeting new people and (obviously) tasting new foods. Travel, to me, was glorious.

It was also the norm.

So, when I flew the coop at 17 all the way to our Nation’s capital, I thought it would simply continue.

It turns out, travel is expensive and colleges, unlike high schools, look down upon a 10-day Mexican hurrah mid-Spring Semester. Who knew?

I had an inkling, but it quickly became a solid reality. It’s not that I didn’t appreciate travel or money, I had worked almost full-time since the age of 14 but I hadn’t booked and paid for my own travel until then.

Jules, are you coming home for Turkey day?

Maybe, if I can afford it.

Travel had changed.

And so, suddenly, here I am in my 30’s and it’s been almost ten years since I’ve traveled, really traveled, skipping Calendar Boys style traveling. It felt like it was yesterday but suddenly, a decade has slipped past.

Well, hello Mr. March, here we come because…

In the past two and a half years, I have settled.

Not in the “I guess he’s good enough way” (see last week’s post if you’re worried, he’s full stack of pancakes amazing). No, in the “Oh sweet heavens, I uprooted my entire life, changed residencies, changed professions and fell deeply in love soon to be married” kind of way. You know, life. So, after that upheaval, the Scorpio in me needed to nestle down and settle.

And…done!

One day last year, it was like a timer had gone off. The bachelor pad was suddenly a home. We’d built it together. We even had a living room rug and a couch with throw pillows to boot. The table had a tablecloth and the house glittered with fresh flowers in vases. Vases, people!

 

 

Beneath the Borealis In the 30's McCarthy AK Home Decor

I guess I’ve allowed color into my life.

 

 

Any more domesticity and we’d never leave again. The travel bell had gone off.

Now, we answer it’s call.

The Chief and The Scribe are taking off.

Hola, Ecuador.

For the next 6-weeks, we will be navigating the sunny south in search of…everything. It will be the first time The Chief and I have traveled together outside the States and the first time I’ve traveled (really traveled) in ten years since my seriously unexpected Italian escapade.

And let me tell you…things have changed.

 

Me packing 10 years ago, day of departure: I have 25 pairs of underwear, tanning oil and a bathing suit. Done!

My Mom, watching me pack 10 years ago, day of departure: Please, please tell me you at least have your passport.

Me: Ummmmm…

My Mom: all of her nails are now bitten off (not really, she would never bite her nails, but you get the point).

Me: Oh yeah, here it is. Not even expired!

 

Success?!

 

The Chief & I packing 10 years later: 

Me: Ok, I’ve called in all of our prescriptions for refills for the next 90 days because you never know and I’ve spent the last 6 hours researching how to do this on the cheap.

The Chief: Perfect. I’ve set-up our immunization appointments and put together a med kit (unveils med kit the size of a small child).

Things have changed. My toiletries 10 years ago consisted of a bar of soap and lotion. Now, that lotion has delineations: Night Cream, Day Cream, Body Lotion, After-Sun Lotion…the list goes on.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis In the 30's Packing for Ecuador

All the things…and by all the things I mean a fraction of all the things.

 

 

 

We could rough it again, travel on the fly like the times of our 20’s past but there’s something about the 30’s that makes you say…no, gracias.

Let’s just put it this way: I love me some Earl Grey (have you seen the double bergamot edition? Be still my heart) tea and you better believe I’m packing a two month supply, right next to my daily multiple vitamins.

I don’t think I even took monthly vitamins at twenty-something and I certainly didn’t know my coffee or tea order (London fog, anyone? Try it.)

And so we embark, a little older than the last time we both traveled, maybe a little wiser but equally, completely excited.

And you, sweet reader, are invited.

Let’s dip our toes in some sand, shall we? It’s been far too long.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis In the 30's Sonoma Coast

Flipping Coasts.

 

 

Cheers to the 20’s, the 30’s, the 40’s the 50’s the 50’s, the 70’s, the 80’s, the 90’s and 100’s and beyond. Cheers to knowing ourselves better as each year passes, to settling and to finding the new within and wherever we may go.

 

// Lovely readers: have you been to Ecuador? What should we not miss? Please, do tell and leave a comment below. //

 

Beneath the Borealis 12/11/17 The Cult Travis Winters

The Cult

The crazy that California seems to outsiders has proven true.

I’ve joined a cult.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis 12/11/17 The Cult Travis Winters

 

 

“What kind of cult?” you say. “There are so many options!” you worry.

True that, pussy cat. Options abound in the strange world of the old West but I’ve gone with a simpler approach: The Cult of Busy.

This cult’s techniques are sly as a fox and crazy as a loon (thanks to John Prine and Iris Dement for the perfect description). I did my best to stay away, my best to avoid it, to not look it in the eye lest it sees me and my self-control be lost forever. Yet, alas, at some point I looked up, into the heart of the beast and I myself was devoured.

 

The Cult of Busy.

 

The moment we left the woods, it felt as if someone had turned the music up. The walls widened and the opportunities shifted as the road took us to the big city and onto California.

 

 

 

Beneath the Borealis 12/11/17 The Cult Dillon Beach

Out of the Woods. A New Narnia.

 

 

 

The last two years here, we’ve run about like chickens after slaughter, manically trying to soak in the goodness to the last drop and running ourselves ragged in the process. There’s so much to do and so many people I deeply love that I want to see that every second I had, I scheduled.

This year, we were going about it differently. The pace the prior years was too much and I would end up arriving to somewhere I really wanted to be with people I desperately missed and I wouldn’t actually be there, I’d be worn out and show up as the less than best version of me.

So I started opting out early in Summer to save stamina for California, while also deciding to take it more slowly in the big CA. I realized that I am an Introverted Extrovert and gave myself the go-ahead to turn down the bass and slow the pace. Besides, this year we were better set-up. We would have a 2 month-long home base. No moving every other week, no going out to dinner and driving in traffic every night because we had no way to cook. The busy extras which were what truly kept me busy and exhausted be gone, making room for what I really wanted to do.

The plan worked.

Sort of.

I forgot to factor in the whole culture shock thing.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis 12/11/17 The Cult McCarthy Alaska

 

 

Our first week here, culture shock was at its peak. We tried to go to a movie, we drove all the way there saw a huge line and a parking lot teeming with people and…we turned around and took our shocked selves back home into the woods.

It took us a week to try again.

I swear, in the 6 months since I was last here, this place has somehow gotten busier.

The 15 minutes I used to allot myself to get into Town now requires 20-30 and the “quick trips” to the grocery store had The Chief returning to me hours later looking like he’d gone through a war.

And…this is the quiet time of year.

The Winter is seen as a time to slow down, go inward, cuddle up and cozy down for a Winter’s rest, no?

Maybe, but the pace is still daunting at first.

The Cult of Busy.

I’m a card-carrying member these days, paying my dues but the thing is, so is everyone around me. I’m not busy solely because of the scarcity of our time here, it’s just busy.

 

Everyone is busy.

I’m busy.

You’re busy.

My nephew is busy.

My nephew is 6.

 

 

Or so I thought.

 

Enter: old friends to put a little candor in that Kool-aid.

 

 

 

Beneath the Borealis 12/11/17 The Cult The Ka-Ca-Jus

Oh weird, where did that rainbow come from?

 

 

 

My girlfriends, nicknamed by my Dad as the Ka-Cas, renamed by me as the Ka-Ca-Ju’s (ALL of their names start with Ka or Ca and then there’s me, Ju) and I were out to brunch (insert snarky bougie comment here) this past weekend. It was the first time all five of us had been together for two years and well, a lot had changed.

For one, we were seven now.

Two of my childhood loves had become mothers, of daughters nonetheless. Our clan is growing and the group is now made of mothers and non-mothers and so, we talked about the differences. The pros, the cons and the reality that they both exist, always and forever in whatever situation you’re in. It made me so grateful to hear all of the possibilities of life broken down and dissected and into their basic form where…they were all, in essence, the same.

Here we were, holding babies and brunching, talking about the ups and downs of life. Twenty years ago we were doing the same thing only different. Talking over cereal, discussing topics like curly vs. straight hair or the pros and cons of divorced versus still married parents.

Twenty years later, everything has changed and at the same time, nothing has changed and it made me realize that we are still who we were as kids, twenty years ago.

It amazing to come home to our number Home 1 of 2 to a brunch of babes, babies and benedicts and…some realizations.

Realization #1: Living in Alaska, I’ve compared and contrasted California and Alaska to no end which has made me appreciate both, but I realize that it’s exactly like that brunch: they are different but the same. Both good, both bad, both life, both busy.

Realization #2: Yup. The Cult of Busy? I’ve been in it the whole time. I was while growing up here (I was an early inductee) and I am in Alaska, it’s just a different type of busy with different options which have taught me to appreciate how things were before I started hibernating in my Winters away from here. People often ask me how I fill up the days in Alaska and I laugh because I honestly don’t know where they travel off to, but they’ve certainly collected some stamps on their passports. And that’s because:

I am a person who is busy.

I have always been busy.

I realize this now.

Nothing like brunch to really pack a reality punch.

It’s not California or Alaska or any state or state of being in-between, it’s a constant. The busy of one looks glamorous from the place of another and vice versa but the grass isn’t greener and the snow isn’t whiter (O.K. but the wine is certainly better in one place. Guess where?!) It’s me. I’m the busy one. Yes, this place has certainly gotten exponentially busier, but me, I’m the same. I’m a busy bee. No wonder my friends nicknamed me The Hummingbird.

While The Chief will carve out time to spend a day reading with the ease of a blade through soft butter, I feel like I’m chiseling a new Mt. Rushmore.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis 12/11/17 The Cult My Christopher

My Man and His Book.

 

 

I found the Cult of Busy or the Cult found me but either way, we are inextricably intertwined.

For now.

And so, for now, I dive right into this type of busy with a little side of understanding, courtesy of time away, courtesy of Alaska.

My days, for now, are no longer filled with chopping wood and hauling water and hour-long dish debacles and day-long shower set-ups and so, I can work more, chore less and see the place and the people who made me.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis 12/11/17 The Cult Dillon Beach 2

Family & Friends at the Beach

 

 

From friends and family to world-class wines and restaurants to the sheer awesomeness of quick store runs and street side garbage service this place is stocked full of so many people I love and all the comforts of life one could hope for and I didn’t appreciate it enough until I didn’t have it. Alaska taught me to savor in scarcity and so while in this place of abundance, I feel like a kid freshly paid an allowance in a candy store. Hot water? Hot showers? Dark chocolate with sea salt anytime I like? Hello, Heaven? I must have been good.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis 12/11/17 The Cult Dillon Beach 3

No Doctoring Needed. Beach Heaven.

 

 

So, yes, the Cult of Busy? I’ve paid my dues and the late fees I incurred while pretending I wasn’t a member. I’ve even tried to recruit others to no avail (The Chief refuses). I’m in it and maybe someday I’ll bow out and bid adieu.

So it goes. I started the week thinking I had unknowingly joined a Cult and it turns out I may have been one of the founding mothers. There’s nothing like a gaggle of girlfriends to put life in perspective, to hold a mirror up and say “Take a peek. You’ve been you all along.”

Hats off to you, life. Sneaky, very sneaky.

 

Cheers to you and yours, wherever, you may be. May the contrast you find bring out the beauty in each place you land.

 

And to you, Alaska, I’ll see you soon. As for now, I carry you with me.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis 12/11/17 The Cult Alaskan Winter

Winter Wonder.

 

 

 

Joni & Julia: California Part II

California.

It took me about a week before I felt that I could breathe again.

The journey from Alaska was a three-day affair, and by that I mean a week-long affair, and by that I mean a month-long affair, filled with cabin prep, shut-down, packing and prioritizing, tidying and un-tidying and then re-tidying again. As someone who needs my space to be relatively uncluttered, the leaving game is basically a vomit inducing tug-of-war with my ability to handle chaos (P.S. it doesn’t always go well. P.P.S. I definitely ran inside after we were all loaded into the truck and gave the floor a quick mop down).

However, this year went better than last. This year, we had our systems figured out. I wasn’t relying on The Chief for my every move, I had My Own agenda, he had His and we had Ours. It was great. I only cried once…maybe twice.

The stress of it all, the magnitude of a simple mistake like leaving a water line slightly filled and coming home to a frozen lake was swimming through my ears after my foray into freezing lines the week before. The sheer potential for a mistake in a three-day all-day hustle hung around me and so, the occasional stress cry was necessary.

The real cry came later.

We left late morning on the 30th of October.

For the first time, The Chief and I left together with snow on the ground and rain in the sky.

For the first time, we left together in a vehicle with a heater.

For the first time, we left together in our own vehicle.

And, for the first time, we left together without our girl.

 

The body remembers what the heart tries to forget and as we rounded the corner that meant we were heading away from home, I turned to see my Lou in the backseat as I had on countless trips before.

Where she was to be sitting lay a mountain of cold weather survival gear but it couldn’t have felt emptier.

I broke.

For the millionth time, I broke and The Chief held my hand as I sobbed my way through our first turn towards California, for the first time, without Lou.

 

 

 

Beneath the Borealis Joni & Julia Part II Beach California Coast succulent

Like a sea flower: sassy, gorgeous and salty.

 

 

 

Eight hours and a plant baby drop-off and a lovely visit with our dear friends and we were in Anchorage.

[Insert scary music]

We arrived just in time to grab some food and hit the hay.

The next day was packed to the brim with appointments. Two dentist appointments plus four doctor appointments between the two of us. When you’re in Town, you make the most of it and we crammed every ounce of health we could into that endless day. Yet, end it did, in the company of good friends on a not so spooky Halloween.

The next day was our Travel Day: California.

I felt like we’d already been traveling for days on end (we had), but those had been the easy ones. A slow move into society via miles of highway through beautiful mountains. But the airport? Be Still My Heart and not in a romantic way, but in the Stop Beating Out Of My Chest, Chill, Be Still My Heart way. The bright lights and the constant movement and the utter pace of it all wrapped up into a sterile environment left us both a bit dumbstruck but, we made it through.

All the way to California.

 

 

 

Beneath the Borealis Joni & Julia Part II Beach California Coast Bunny

The BunBuns.

 

 

 

 

We arrived in the evening to two tricksters, my Mom and my Girlfriend (both of whom visited this Summer) who scared the living daylights out of us by jumping up from behind a wall to greet us.

I almost lost my lunch.

After we caught our breath and were able to hug them without passing out, we headed downstairs.

Again, my body triumphed and tricked my heart into hoping. I instinctively headed over to the Oversized Baggage Area to collect our girl. Habit trumped heart and again the pain came over me and my eyes welled up with tears. Yet here were these two people I love, here to greet me, here to welcome me Home. I felt ungrateful and so stuck in my inability to meet their enthusiasm but I couldn’t help it. I felt stunned and stunted.

 

 

Re-Immersion is always hard but it took on a new shine this year as my comfort, my steady, my love was no longer with me. I didn’t realize how much I relied on her to make this process easier, to make this culture shock carry a bit less voltage.

But there we were and there she wasn’t and so we set off to bear the brunt of the change on our own, together.

 

 

If you’ve ever come back from abroad to the U.S., especially from a less developed nation, you’ve likely experienced culture shock. Coming back from Italy one of the first of many shocks came in customs. In Italy, every direction in the airport was written in countless languages and although customs agents were still serious, they were kind and conversational. Yet upon arriving in the U.S. I immediately felt as if I had done something wrong. Agents were looking me up and down, scrutinizing my passport, asking me questions…and I was a citizen. I couldn’t imagine the stress of being a non-citizen (until I picked up my Norwegian girlfriend from the airport and had to wait 3 hours for her to make it through customs. A two-week holiday in the U.S. by a thirty-something cherub-faced Norwegian? Verrrrrrrrrrrry suspicious (apparently)). To add to the discomfort was a feeling of unwelcome. The signs were posted solely in English (this may have changed). English is well-known, but to have a single language at an International Airport? Sounds like xenophobic notes playing on your xylophone, sweet S.F.

Point being, if you’ve been there, you know. You emerge from a new point of view into the old and suddenly, you look at everything with new, slightly shifted eyes. You see things you didn’t notice before, you re-evaluate how you lived your life prior to your travels. It changes you. And, in your absence, if you return to the same place you’ve left, it too has changed by the passing of time.

Joni Mitchell has always sung me back to a California where I feel like the changed one and certainly, I am. This year, I felt it most. Leaving Alaska and arriving in California felt like walking through customs again. Me, I’m further and further accustomed to my life in the woods and less and less inclined to be in cities (though more and more grateful for their amenities). And, for now, I’m not the happy-go-lucky person I was before Cinda. I’m a little quieter, a little more reserved, less the life of the party, and though it won’t be forever, it is for now.

Yet, despite all of my differences, I’m not the only one who’s changed. For the first time, I’ve been away long enough, often enough to get outside my bubble and see.

California.

You’ve changed, girl.

 

 

 

Beneath the Borealis Joni & Julia Part II Beach California Coast The Problem

The new norm. New cars, new vineyards.

 

 

 

(I can’t account for the whole state, so when I say California, know that I mean Sonoma County.)

I think the reason Alaska fits me so well is because of Sonoma County, the Original Sonoma County. I was raised in the outdoors, taught to nurture nature, encouraged to explore, and things were quiet. I would go whole weekends lost in a land of solo play amongst the redwoods and rhododendrons or the tall wheat colored snake-tail grasses of my birth home. It was simple.

Slowly but surely, things got busier. Wine came in and took out the orchards of apples that made up my youth and soon, I grew accustomed to that shift. It was normal to no longer see singular farmers drive their tractors up and down the street but instead to see crews of workers change a landscape in days. With the changing land, came a new breed of people, wine people, but still the shift was slow and steady and the bones of our community felt the same.

Yet, it wasn’t. This place hasn’t been the same since the first apple tree went down. My ideas of it remained the same, my values garnered from it grew stronger but it continued to change as I continued to hold onto the past.

Maybe because this year has been a year of letting go, I was finally able to see it.

The quiet hippie town I’ve loved is a bustling bourgeoise town. There are still enough remnants of the old to feel utterly familiar but everything has changed. And, since I haven’t been here through the change, I haven’t changed with it.

 

 

 

Beneath the Borealis Joni & Julia Part II Beach California Coast Wine Preston Winery

Don’t get me wrong, this girl loves her wine. Jug Sundays at Preston with DCG.

 

 

 

The library where I used to spend hours on end getting lost in books, talking to librarians for recommendations and discovering worlds I’d never dreamed of is still there but everything is automated. You check yourself out. There’s no one looking at your selections, asking if you’ve read this or that book by so and so.

The once industrial part of town is now a bustling uppity center for delicious eats and fancy finds filled to the brim with people I don’t recognize.

The traffic, once non-existent (I once saw a tractor and a horse driving/walking down Main Street) is fully present and the impatience with which people drive is both catching and depressing.

It’s not just me. It’s not just the Alaska factor. Friends around me I’ve grown up with are noticing it too, even those who live here and change with it. It’s different.

Yet, still, it is home. It was the first home I’ve known and now, it is the first home I visit when I have the chance. Our relationship now feels like the first meeting of two old lovers. You see the change, you see the new and different and perhaps, maybe it’s all for the better, but all that you have in common now, is the past. What there is to talk about is the past and it makes you feel perhaps grateful for the time you spent together, a bit melancholy for what once was and realize that you no longer fit the way you once did.

Don’t get me wrong, that lover was gorgeous. It’s absolutely lovely here. The leaves are turning and the Winter light is shining so that everything at least feels quieter. There are Christmas Fairs popping up with wonderful local artisans and holiday concerts with local talent. There are small businesses (even apple businesses!) and tie-dye and hippies. There is so much of what I grew up on, I am just no longer a constant part of it and it doesn’t always fit. I am holding on to a past that has passed.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis Joni & Julia Part II Beach California Coast Wohler Bridge

 

 

In an unplanned year of letting go, I find myself again being faced with a reality I hadn’t expected. Yet, to see the truth is to truly live. And so, since the first time Joni sang me home to the present, I see the truth. We both, California and I, have been changing all along, becoming who we are.

As the first line state in a speech I wrote and read at our 8th-grade graduation read: “Change is inevitable.”

If only I had listened, it might not have made re-immersion so hard.

For the first week, I could barely breathe. The fast-paced life, the constant sounds, the hustle, and bustle all shook me but what I really think jarred me were the changes on all fronts. We were without our girl, without our comfort and the wool was suddenly pulled from my eyes. The realization came and swept me up: change happens, with or without your acknowledgment.

In self, in state, in life…

Change is inevitable.

Welcome home to us, to a home I’ve always loved and to a place I didn’t realize I was trying so hard to hold on to. As Joni said: “My heart cried out for you” and it always will. You have a piece of me and as I change, you too change.

I adore you, California, new clothes and all.

Cheers, to change.

Cheers, to California,

Cheers, to our Lou. Always and forever, you will be our first.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis Joni & Julia Part II Cinda Lou

Sunshine on my shoulder.

 

 

[**Missing updates? Sign up for the blog by entering your email address in the box on the right of the page. No spam, just goodness.]

Beneath the Borealis Joni & Julia - November 13th 2017 Northern California Beach

Joni & Julia: California

For the past month, Joni Mitchell’s “California” has been going through my head. If you’ve never had the pleasure of the fluting vocals of Miss Mitchell, please do, as the Millennials say “Treat yo-self.” Who am I kidding, I say that too. It’s fun, no? Totes.

Anyways, pop culture colloquialisms aside, Miss Mitchell had been dancing in my ears for days on end. I’m the type of person who constantly has a song going through my head (I used to even be superstitious during my soccer games that if a sad song came into my head, we were going to lose, which of course, as the odds would have it, proved true) so there have been many other companions to “California” but she has, overall, been the main show.

 

 

 

Beneath the Borealis Joni and Julia - November 13th 2017 Joni Mitchell

La Joni

 

 

 

The song holds a sweetness to me as I first discovered it on my own (I’m sure I grew up hearing it but never purposefully interacted with it solo) during my first year of college. I was 17 years old, living in Washington, D.C. Back then, Sebastopol, the little town I grew up in, was still holding on to its hippie roots. Tie-dye and incense were the accessories of my youth and I had just started to dig into who I was to become as an adult (tie-dye not so much, incense yes) when this country girl landed herself smack dab in the middle of a metropolis. Not just any capital, it was the Nation’s Capital: D.C.

I was completely overwhelmed.

Upon meeting my “floor” and cohort in college I was introduced to the business handshake…

by teenagers.

These kids were ready to succeed. They had a drive I’d never seen and a lingo I didn’t speak and an overall sense of entitlement I had only caught glimpses of at my Grandparents’ Country Club, a place where I would say I was about as comfortable as a lobster at a hot spring. It just didn’t fit.

So, I did what every teenager does at one point or another and I split in two, trying on a new side of me: the professional. I put on the business suits and I shook the hands of my friends instead of hugging them as I’d grown up doing. I updated my resume and printed it on a hard fancy stock. I spoke the vernacular, I did the dance.

I hated it.

D.C. in and of itself is amazing. Free museums? Yes, please. Cherry blossom wonderland? Sign me up.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis Joni & Julia - November 13th 2017 Cherry Blossoms

 

 

The constant hustle and bustle of grey, black, and khaki? The colorless wheel of all day business? The inevitable “Who do you work for/who do you know” self-elevation quandries. Thank you and no, thank you.

I spent most of my time amongst art and artifacts realizing all the while that this, indeed was not the place for me. Upon discovering Joni’s “California”, I felt more and more sure that I had been given a peek into a different world, one which I appreciated and admired in many ways but about which I could wholeheartedly say was not for me.

Joni sang me through the months in an almost mantra-like fashion.

Almost home.

Almost home.

Almost home.

California, I’m coming home.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis Joni & Julia - November 13th 2017 Northern California

 

 

And come home I did where my lurking decision on whether or not to return to D.C. became wildly clear. I was not going back. I had left to try something on and found out from the first leg in that it was not my size. I very much believe in leaving what doesn’t suit you to allow the space for the person it does fit to find it. Don’t take it simply because it’s there. Leave it for someone else to wear.

I settled into my home again at a new college with a little better idea of who I was and was not and continued to find me, often by finding what didn’t fit first.

Joni Mitchell marked a time where this all started.

The next time Joni became a focal point and “California” started again to be the title track playing through my head was three years later. I had recently turned 20 years old and I had been living in Italy for the previous nine months in an unplanned journey away from heartbreak right into the loving arms of Italy (this was pre-Eat Pray Love but I’m O.K. with Elizabeth Gilbert and I sharing a shockingly similar narrative and love of eating). I fell absolutely head over insanely fashionable heels for the place and I found new sides of myself, this time by finding what I loved. Good food, walking, history, art, a slower pace and a deeper purpose.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis Joni & Julia - November 13th 2017 Capri

 

 

I thought I would never leave and part of me never did but slowly, as my European classmates left to go back to their respective countries and the weather started to cool, the song turned up and all I could hear was her singing:

“Oh, it gets so lonely when you’re walking and the streets are full of strangers.”

I was lonely. The beautiful Italian families surrounding me made me miss the sense of home I had felt in Italy only a few short weeks before and so, I followed the whispering welcomes of California.

“California, I’m coming home.”

I arrived, and that time, unlike the relief I had felt upon my recovery from D.C. something felt different. California suddenly didn’t fit quite as well as it had before. It wasn’t a non-fit like the squeeze of trying to wear post-break-up jeans two years into a cozy loving new relationship, but something wasn’t quite right. My favorite old pair of blue jeans had started to wear thin but still, my love for California and all that it held kept me close for the years to come.

The years until Alaska.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis Joni & Julia - November 13th 2017 Alaska

 

 

Just the opposite of Italy (in so very many ways), I landed in Alaska and did not feel like I’d arrived at a forever home. I was scared, truly and uncomfortable to say the least but I felt a stirring in me I hadn’t felt since landing in the land of pasta. Something again had shifted.

Almost three years in, I’m in love with Alaska not just because of her beauty but because she is both comfort and discomfort all in one. She is constantly pushing me to find new parts of myself I would have rather left undiscovered, dust them off and love them into a new shine. She’s challenging and I’m challenged into becoming a better me just by being in her presence and also constantly reminded that I’m not “there” yet. But I am there, in Alaska, most of the year in the almost three years which have suddenly flown by.

Yet this time, it’s not only me who has changed, it’s California as well. Since my journeys away often ended before a year had passed, I’ve never returned to her being as different as I felt after my time away. Yet now, as I am more able to let go of her as my main home, and as the years continue to pass, I see the change.

And so I ask: “Will you take me as I am? Strung out on another man (Alaska, don’t worry Chief)?”

I will do my best to accept you as you are.

California I’m coming home.

And then, we arrived.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis Joni & Julia - November 13th 2017 Northern California Beach

Da beach.

 

To be continued…

 

P.S. Missing updates? Make sure to sign-up for email updates on the blog. No spam, just goodness. Also, follow along with pictures not featured on the blog via Instagram: @beneaththeborealis.