Conversations with Strangers: Joel from Ann Arbor

I was having coffee on the lawn of my guest house in Tolka, overlooking the terraced hills of the Himalayas when an older gentlemen with the most soothing voice struck up a conversation with me.

His name was Joel, pronounced Joelle- the Italian way. He was born and raised in Ann Arbor, but has been living on an island off the coast of Tuscany for the last 9 years. He used to live in Nepal- working in the villages to aid the blind, and speaks fluent Nepalese as a result. We talked about Nepal, and it’s kind people and beautiful culture. We also chatted about life, and how the world really is a small and funny place. In life there are no coincidences, and it was certainly no coincidence that I met Joel on the last full day of my trek.

Best advice you could give someone?

“Go slowly.” Everything is going so fast these days, that it’s only when you slow down you can begin to see where you are.

What was your happiest moment?

Nepal.

His answer was simple and direct. Some things just don’t need explaining.

Namaste Joel. Thank you for the serenity you brought me, and for the reminder to slow down. I hope to take that with me on my journey home, and I certainly hope our paths cross again.

Conversations with Strangers: Kelsey from Colorado

Kelsey and I met while watching the sunset over Annapurna in Nadapani. I had seen her around over the last few days, and could just tell she was a warm and inviting person, so striking up a chat with her was effortless.

About her: I learned that Kelsey and her fiancé, Matt, are from Colorado and both quit their jobs to travel for six months. Before the trip she was working at the suicide prevention hotline, which absolutely blew me away, but made sense because I could tell she had a great phone voice.

Biggest takeaway from her job:

Her biggest takeaway was quite simple: People are resilient. She had heard all sorts of stories about people’s traumas and hardships, but what inspired her the most was that these people were still fighting for their lives and still finding the courage to pick up the phone and call for help.

She also mentioned the importance of listening and validating, and I couldn’t agree more. Sometimes all people need to hear is, “it’s okay, I hear you.”

What she’s looking for:

Self contentment. Kelsey was open about how she felt like she was in survival mode at her job, burning out with life, and not taking care of herself. Part of the purpose of this trip was to reconnect with herself, her needs, and her goals.

Kelsey reflected how a lot of us are feeling. What really stuck with me though was how she not only talked about what she wants to get from her travels, but how she wants to bring back those learnings back home with her.

It’s easy to think about how you want to grow as a person while you travel, but it’s harder to think about how that growth extends past the trip itself. I’m certainly not perfect at it.

I believe everything happens for a reason, and chatting with Kelsey that evening felt serendipitous in a way. Earlier in the day, while I was cursing my way up from Ghorepani, I kept telling myself, “I am resilient.” It struck me when she used that same word, and I couldn’t help but smile at how right she was.

People are resilient.

Kelsey and Matt, I wish you safe travels!

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Reflections on the Camino

I was honored when Laurie, of The Camino Provides, asked me to write about what “the Camino provides” meant to me.

In all honesty, I put this task off for a long time. I didn’t believe that I could actually put pen to paper and articulate how much the Camino provided me. But, when I sat down to think about it, and reflected on my life in the half year since the Camino, I knew that I finally had the answer.

It has been exactly six months since I started my Camino. Notice, I anchor to my start date, because I don’t believe that my Camino has ever really stopped.

I began on June 1st, 2015. My Camino took me from Burgos to Santiago de Compostela in 18 days. In those 18 days, I walked and I talked, I laughed and I sobbed.

I sweated through the Meseta, and shivered in the rain in Galicia. I drank too much red wine, and ate too many Spanish tortillas.

I got lots of blisters, and I made lots of friends. 

I cried too many times to count. I also smiled too many times to count.

I pushed myself to my limits, both mentally and physically, and all along the way, the Camino provided me with all of the tools I needed to keep going.

The Camino provided me with open hearts to connect with every day, and open minds to share stories with.

The Camino provided me with the comfort of community, and a sense of purpose, in knowing that I was never alone along The Way. It gave me peace, in the form of the nature and beautiful landscapes that surrounded me, especially in the mountains of Galicia.

It provided me with shoulders to lean on when I limped, and the hands of complete strangers to bandage my blistered feet.

It provided me friendships with incredible people from all over the world. The Camino gifted me Peter, Nadja, Mundo and Austin, among many others, who all now hold a very special place in my heart.

But, the Camino doesn’t stop providing when a peregrino reaches Santiago. Instead, during the months after your journey, it slowly molds you until you realize that you, at your core, have somehow become a better version of yourself.

Since my Camino, I have become more patient, I love more openly than ever before, and I have developed an incredible amount of faith in myself and my capabilities, as well as in the kindness of others.

Most importantly, the Camino provided me with the conviction that I am the creator of my own path, my own happiness. By pushing me to my physical and mental limits, the Camino taught me that my state of mind is not merely a product of my environment, but rather, can be whatever I choose for it to be. We cannot be defeated, we simply choose to feel defeated. Likewise, we can choose to be happy.

And just like that, these last six months of my life have been the happiest I have ever been. I know the Camino played a part in that.

To everyone who has already completed their Camino, and is now on the Camino of life, I hope my words brought back beautiful memories.

And to those peregrinos, like Laurie, who are looking forward to their journey, my heart warms at the thought of all the things the Camino will provide you.

Buen Camino,

Pauline

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Santiago de Compostela with my Camino family

Lessons from Jellyfish and Deserts

Today I got stung by a jellyfish for the third time in my life. Once was in Belize, once in Honduras and now here on the beach near Barcelona. I didn’t even know they had jellyfish here this time of year.

I limped out of the water, slightly annoyed thinking, “just my luck,” and also annoyed because I knew that someone would offer to pee on me, which is absolutely unnecessary.

Then, I started laughing to myself, because no matter how unfortunate it was to be stung by a jellyfish again, I was still a happy little lady.

It was last weekend, watching the sun set over the Sahara desert, that I came to a very important conclusion: Life is good. Being abroad and traveling has taught me to be mindful about each moment and to be grateful for this beautiful life. After all, nice things are happening every day.

I slept outside, under the stars, in the desert that weekend. With no cities, houses or lights for miles,I saw more stars than ever before. There are about 5,000 stars visible to the naked eye, isn’t that incredible? Whether it’s the beauty of a sky full of stars or the sting of a jellyfish, life is full of tiny delights and surprises that remind you how good it is to be alive.

I really don’t mean to get all “one love” and “namaste” on everyone, but I implore all of you take a moment of each day to pause and feel grateful for our beautiful lives, because in the wise words of Ferris Bueller, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”

Have a lovely day, all.

Somewhere in the Sahara, watching the sunset.

Somewhere in the Sahara, watching the sunset.

Adéu

Adéu. It means goodbye here in Barcelona. And the goodbyes have begun.

I had my first round of goodbyes this past weekend, with friends that were also studying abroad and had finished their program midway through April.

I didn’t imagine it would be this difficult to say goodbye to people I had known for such a short period of time. But, I believe that everything in life happens for a reason, and that each person we meet has a purpose in our lives.

That’s why it’s hard to say goodbye to such beautifully kind souls, who were placed into your life for some reason that you’ll never know, to in some small way, somehow make you better. Maybe they made you more kind, made you smile just a little more, or taught you a new joke. Some of them you wish you had known longer and deeper, and you wonder why you never asked about their goals, or their mothers, or the places they’ve been and the places they’ve wanted to go. Some of them will let you crash on their couch if one day if you find yourself in their hometown, and others will forever remain in your iPhone’s contacts under some silly nickname.

This entire month will be full of goodbyes. The kind that leave you with a dreadful ache in your chest, like a weight has been physically placed there. But I suppose that’s a good feeling, because it reminds you how lucky you are to be alive and how lucky you are to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.

I think of each goodbye as a”see you later,” and have faith that God will allow our paths to cross again, whether it’s months from now, or years.

And even if they don’t, well shit. At least it was fun.

Squad going up…on a Tuesday

A Birthday

I’m turning 21 tomorrow.

I’ve talked to my mama about this and we both agreed that it somehow felt strange, considering I’ve been “21” for at least three years now. I’ve always felt older than I am, and I suppose it has something to do with the fact that I have lived more than most people do in an entire lifetime.

I use to think of birthdays as a reminder of my mortality and fleeting youth. I thought that for some reason I had peaked at age 20, and that the rest of my life would only be downhill from here. But, I’ve realized that aging is a gift, a beautiful thing that not everyone is fortunate enough to experience and I have so much more to look forward to.

You see, birthdays are great because you either have a birthday or you die.

For most people, 21 is the last of the milestone birthdays. It’s the ends of an era. You can finally do all the things you’ve already been doing but without the fear of getting busted.

For me, this is just the beginning. In fact, I’m already looking forward to my 30th birthday, because I think I would be really good at being thirty.

It’s fun to imagine what my life might look like years from now.

Maybe I’m celebrating my 30th quietly at my Californian home, on a couch with my handsome husband with two little boys asleep between us.

Or maybe, I’m a career-savvy divorcee killin’ it on Wall Street, and I’m celebrating by buying myself a diamond tennis bracelet because I am fabulous and “don’t need no man.”

Or maybe, just maybe, I was brave and pursued my dream of being a writer and published my first book, and I’m celebrating my birthday in a bungalow somewhere in Fiji, working on a piece for Condé Nast Traveler, while a beautiful naked diver lays in my bed.

Whichever path my life takes me in, it will surely be an adventure and I will be good at it.

Cheers to my 21st, and the many more birthdays ahead.

birthday2

I’m actually just smiling because there is cake.

Pauline Ran Away

So I ran a 10k for the first time.

Since I have never ran more than about a mile without taking a break, I happen to be pretty damn proud of myself for running over six miles continuously. I didn’t train for it at all. In fact, in the days leading up to the 10k, I did the opposite of training. I went out too much, drank too much and ate too much.

I’m not naturally a runner, nor am I particularly fit. No, the only reason that I was able to run for ten kilometers nonstop without any preparation is because I am stubborn. When I decide I want to do something, I do it. And I had decided to run a 10k.

I happen to think that stubborn and determined are the same thing, just spelled differently. I suppose determination got me started, and stubbornness is what fueled me when I thought I couldn’t run any further.

You see, my friend Caroline was running as well. About four kilometers in, we started going uphill. Caroline, of course, was way ahead and her long legs were gliding at a steady pace while I huffed and I puffed my little lungs out desperately trying to keep moving forward. Running was hard and I was tired, and I began questioning my decision to even run a 10k in the first place.

But I kept running, because Caroline was running. And then I ran because the hot guy in front of me was running. Then, I ran because I had already ran too much to stop running. And lastly I ran, because I saw the finish line.

And that is how I ran a 10k without any sort of preparation. If I can do it, anyone can. The body is a tool that carries out what your mind sets out to accomplish. If you want to reach a goal, sometimes all you need to do is get in the right mindset and let your body do the rest.

The only advice that I can give, unsolicited per usual, is: Go ahead. Be stubborn.

Caroline

Caroline and I at la Cursa de Corte Ingles