Conversations with Strangers: Bob from Kansas 

*For privacy reasons some of the details in this post have been adjusted- which I’m happy to do- but I must start with a disclaimer that my new acquaintance chose the name Bob himself. I would never do that to someone (apologies to all the Bobs out there.)

If it were up to me, I would have gone with G.I. Joe. My Barbies always preferred him over my Ken doll anyways.

About Him: Bob is a captain in the army currently stationed in the Middle East and was on his way home for leave. He loves Emma Watson, bacon and the adrenaline of knowing that every day he can get killed in the war.

If that’s not the wildest combination of passions you’ve ever seen, then I don’t know what is.

How We Met: I was having lunch alone in London’s Heathrow airport during my layover and noticed the handsome stranger next to me ordering a cider after having just finished a rather tall beer. “Whoa there, switching it up already,” I joked. Bob flashed a charming smile and explained why he hasn’t had a drink in nine months (active duty will do that to you.)

We started talking, and I was absolutely mesmerized. His world was just so different than mine. I’ve never met anyone who served in our war, let alone someone who lives ever day knowing they could get killed or have to kill someone. (I work a 9-5 and I sit at a desk- the only danger I face is carpal tunnel.)

Most Dangerous Experience: Bob’s most dangerous experience was during an off base mission in a bad part of a city that’s already in a dangerous country to begin with. He was traveling in a convoy, when the entire convoy got stuck in traffic. This is dangerous, as Bob explained to me, because you run the risk of someone sticking C-4 to the side of one of the cars. It’s amazing how something the size of a fist can take out an entire car and kill a few people. Luckily, the traffic cleared and the convoy left the city safely.

Best Advice: Everything is about balance. Your job can’t be everything about you, just like your family can’t be everything about you. Same way you can be sober for nine months and start drinking at the airport- balance.

We left the restaurant and Bob walked me to my gate like a true gentlemen. My flight was boarding, but I was having too good of a conversation to care, so we headed to the concourse bar for a tequila shot, followed by Kinder Eggs from the airport shop. Ironically, he chose a Barbie themed Kinder Egg for me.

I was the last person on my flight, but it was well worth it. It’s people like Bob who remind me why you should always strike up a conversation with the person next to you. You never know just how interesting they might be and what new world you might discover!

*Not pictured for privacy, but here’s another nice view of Barcelona for you.

Conversations with Strangers: Deborah from Colorado

About Her: Deborah is a retired schoolteacher from Colorado who is traveling solo around Spain and Portugal. She is currently spending a month in Barcelona.

How We Met: Katie and I were having brunch at Mama’s Cafe in Gracia, when I noticed a lovely blonde woman eating alone at the table next to us. Women who eat alone at restaurants are my favorite type of people because they ooze confidence, and I was immediately intrigued when she introduced herself.

Fondest Memory: Deborah shared that whenever she’s daydreaming, her mind immediately goes to the three life changing months she spent living in Rome. It was the first time she lived outside of the States and she called it freeing and empowering. She laughed at her own cliche when she said that, but honestly just because it’s a cliche does it make it any less wonderful. Traveling solo is certainly one of the most empowering things a woman can do for herself.

Best Advice: Deborah’s grandmother encouraged her to discover and travel the world because she had done the same back in the fifties, which was a rather unusual thing for a woman to do during that time. It’s clear that Deborah is living out her grandmother’s advice! 

(I usually add a photo of the person I spoke with, but I completely forget to take one. She was beautiful and so is this city view, so it will have to do!)

Conversations with Strangers: Brian from Los Angeles 

About Him: Brian is an actor from Los Angeles who is traveling Europe for a few months. He recently landed a role in a new HBO show. 

How We Met: Katie and I were at the Bunkers for a panoramic view of the city. The best seats at the Bunkers are on top of a little roof that’s gated off, and at all of 5’3 and wearing a denim skirt, there was no way I was going to hop over a fence. That’s when we met Brian and his two German friends, who quickly solved our problem by lifting me and Katie over the fence. The group of them then joined us for sunset. What intrigued me about Brian was his openness. While most people usually ask a new acquaintance questions like what they do for a living or how they’re liking Barcelona, I bluntly asked him, “What are you looking for,” because life is too short for small talk. He surprised me by sharing that he was coping with the loss of both of his parents and was just looking for solace.

Happiest Moment: Although Brian thinks he hasn’t had his happiest moment in life just yet, to this point it would be when he graduated college and both of his parents were there to see it.

Best Advice: Live life in the moment and don’t worry about tomorrow. You don’t know if that will show up (Amen to that.)

Tenerife and las Cucarachas

After three days in Barcelona, Katie and I flew to the island of Tenerife for a much needed detox. 

We rented a car and spent our days cruising around the island blasting Spanish hits, occasionally stopping at perfect 75 degree weather beaches where you could make like the Europeans and lay half naked. It was certainly relaxing.

One afternoon, we visited Mt. Teide, the volcano that formed the island, and it was the most incredible drive (also the most terrifying because of the fear of crashing a car I can’t afford.) It started out winding through a forest of pine trees which smelled like Christmas and was oddly pleasing. The middle of the drive was above the clouds, which made the entire island look like it was blanketed with snow. The summit of the volcano just looked like a different planet- it was rocky and barren and beautiful in its own way. I felt like Mark Wahlberg in that one movie where he grew tomatoes on Mars, except I wasn’t stranded and I didn’t have to grow tomatoes. Nor was this actually Mars- but you get the picture. 

Speaking of pictures, all of those moments were, in fact, picture perfect. 

My end goal is always to encourage people to travel, so I try to make it look as effortless and fun as possible through social media.

And it’s easy- all you have to do is post a few carefully selected photos, most of them in sunglasses or facing away dramatically (bonus points for both!), so that no one can see that you’re actually sweating profusely, then you slap on a light filter and top it off with a semi witty caption. Voilà! 

But this blog is for reality, and reality isn’t always perfect. 

Katie and I spent our first two nights in the cutest little Airbnb, tucked away in the small fishing village of El Pris- complete with a balcony overlooking the ocean. 

It seemed pretty perfect to us, but reality decided to set in around one in the morning while we were watching Killer Kids in Spanish (a strange yet satisfying combination) and a cockroach crawled out from under the couch. 

A cucaracha, one might say…

And the next thing you know Katie is standing on a chair screaming that the floor is lava and I’m picking up a coffee table book about Tenerife yelling, “not today Satan!”

I slammed down the book and successfully killed la cucaracha, only to have her baby roach appear a few minutes later. After another brief moment of terror, bebé cucaracha met its demise in the same manner. 

Shaken and out of coffee table books, we retreated to bed, from where we listened to Daddy Roach singing the song of his people throughout the night. Naturally, I did not sleep a wink.

Needless to say, we packed up pretty quickly the next morning and headed to the other side of the island for a one night stay at a fabulous beach front resort.

All in all our entire stay in Tenerife was absolutely lovely, regardless of the incident with our little friends. It just goes to show that whenever something looks too good to be true, there’s likely a funny story or two lurking behind it. 

At least it keeps things interesting. 

Places and their People 

When you visit a place you know well with a person who also knows it well, you have the luxury of freedom from the responsibilities of being a tourist. Your trip becomes less about the physical place and more about the people (including oneself!) and experiences in that place.

That’s why Katie and I spent our first few days in Barcelona catching up with old friends, eating and drinking at our favorite spots, and even shopping at our favorite stores. A classic day would be a mix of walking down Las Ramblas with hoards of tourists, but then stopping in Zara for a bit (which I’m convinced is better in Spain), and then heading down to the beach clubs for a midday drink and cat nap. 

We had no big scheduled plans, no itineraries- just freedom to roam. And, for someone like me who is a compulsive writer of lists and itineraries, it’s a welcome break from my daily over-planned life.

I even spent an entire morning just catching up with my old roommate Pablo, an Argentinian artist and theater director that I lived with for half a year. I was immediately hit with a wave of nostalgia upon entering my old apartment, where I would spend hours on my balcony just enjoying the city view. I loved that place and it felt good just to be back. It reminded me of the beginnings of my blog- which was born right in this city during a search for the perfect apartment.

Oh how far we’ve come. 

Anyway, after an exhausting day of doing everything and nothing, Katie and I headed to Bastaix, a little tapas place in El Born for dinner. Somewhere between our ceviche and pulpo, Katie noted that one of the three young German men sitting behind us was crying. His friends were comforting him, but Katie and I couldn’t help but feel our hearts break a little. 

Sometimes when things aren’t okay and your world is crashing and burning, you just need to cry in the middle of a restaurant- and that’s okay. I get that. 

Katie and I paid our bill, and walked over to the table of Germans. I smiled at him and said, “It’s going to be okay. You’re going to feel better.” He smiled and you could tell he was embarrassed, but Katie and I each gave him a big hug and he hugged us back like a person who truly need it. 

We returned to our apartment with our hearts full from the day (bellies too because tapas are a gift from the Spanish people to us all). Being back in Barcelona just felt so good for both of us. It was like sleeping in your childhood bedroom. Comfortable and worn in, nostalgic yet pleasing.

Good to know some places never change. 

Back to Barcelona, Back to Me

I booked my trip to Barcelona last November, and as if the universe were looking out for me- this trip could not have come at a better time. 

After you’ve had your heart bruised and you’re feeling a little lost, you can count on the world to still be there and an adventure to welcome you back with open arms. Now, before you start feeling all sad, realize that this is a good thing. 

Why fall in love in your early twenties when you can travel the world and just be yourself?  

Travel will be honest with you and it will be faithful.

It does not try to control you, instead it gives you the reigns and says, “lead the way.”

Lastly, it will take nothing from you as a person. It will only give you back experiences that will last a lifetime. (Okay maybe I’m getting dramatic because anyone who’s ever had their wallet stolen in Italy is probably disagreeing right now. But you know what I mean.)

I’d like to blame movies for our obsession with whirlwind and impractical romance. Romantic comedies have conditioned us to wait at train stations and airports thinking that the other character in our love story is going to race in just in time to stop us and sweep us off or feet. 

That’s absurd. Why would you waste a perfectly good trip? Who are these people who can afford to pay for flights they’re never going to get on?

Life isn’t a romance movie. Get on your flight and don’t look back. Life’s too short to waste on anything that isn’t a grand adventure! 

Now that that’s out of the way, stay tuned for some wild times in Barcelona.  

I’m back baby. 

Death Road and the Trip of a Lifetime

It’s been over two weeks since I’ve returned from Bolivia, and I kept meaning to write, but life got in the way. Isn’t it funny how we permit ourselves the time to do the things that we love while we’re on vacation, but push them aside when we return to reality? 

And by funny, I mean sad. 

For those of you seeking closure in my Bolivia trip, here it is. 

Bolivia to me was like a Picasso. It was a surreal visualization of something familiar. I’ve seen many beautiful sunsets in my life, and because of said paradigm I understood that what I saw in Bolivia were also sunsets- yet somehow they didn’t feel real. And that’s how all my major moments in Bolivia felt.

I drank wine on the world’s largest salt flats, I crawled through the tunnels of the highest silver mine, and I rode down the world’s most dangerous road. And that is where my story ends. (I mean the trip, but that was for dramatic effect…)

Dubbed, “El Camino de la Muerte,” Bolivia’s Yungas road is a 40 mile stretch of road where about 300 people have been estimated to die each year. 

We took a ten person bus down the deadliest road, with a local man, Juan, as our driver. For those of you who know me well, you know that I’m overly trusting of other people to a fault. I entrusted Juan with my life- the man who rode his brakes downhill instead of shifting to a lower gear, and who I caught praying on more than one occasion. I saw this as a good sign in case Jesus needed to take the wheel.

Driving along the winding road of the Camino de la Muerte was impressive in itself. On your right side you had the wall of the mountain, and on your left a straight drop down. Crosses lined the road, marking where cars or full buses had fallen, and in certain places, if you looked hard enough, you could see old wrecks that over time that began to blend in with the jungle flora. 

I would occasionally peer over the edge and envision how our bus would tumble. 

Would we flip over the front like a gymnast or would we roll down like a log? 

And what would happen first: would I fly out through the glass or would a tree punch through the window?

I hurried to distract myself with the jungle views instead, because honestly life will happen the way it wants to and the details don’t matter. 

Plot twist, I survived, so I suppose I will never know the answer to those questions. 

But what I can tell you is that there is nothing that can make you feel more alive than the moments in which you take yourself out of your comfort zone. Whether that means traveling to a new country or entrusting your life to a Bolivian man named Juan. 

In the end, Bolivia and Death Road ending up being the ride of a lifetime. I highly recommend it for anyone looking for a trip off the beaten path.