Not Ours to Keep

I’ve made a lot of close friends on the Camino, which called for some hard goodbyes. It all seemed rather unfair, to be blessed with wonderful new friends, yet have to part with them after only a few weeks, fulling knowing some of us may never see each other again. But, truth is, that’s life and there is a lesson in that.

People will pass through our lives. Some linger for a moment like a neighbor dropping in for tea, some weave in and out like race cars through traffic, and some are always there quietly in the background like music in a cafe. The form their presence takes does not matter. The important thing is that they are in our lives in the precise moment they are suppose to be.

I’ve spent the last three weeks of the Camino being an adopted daughter to a retired Swiss man, who never had a child of his own, and confiding in a new big sister, an Australian yogi who sold all her things to travel the world. These were just two, among the many incredible people, who touched my life during the Camino, and for whom I will forever be grateful for.

There are certain things that simply aren’t ours to decide. Our mothers and fathers will pass on one day, our brothers and sisters may move away and our friends may become distant, engrossed in the direction of their own lives.

The people we love are here in this moment; they are not ours to keep. With that said, the best we can do is love the shit out of them right now.

Barcelona, Mexico, Australia, Germany, Switzerland and USA!

When People Visit

Visitors are exhausting.

You walk around all day, spend more money than you normally would on entrance fees and metro passes and you eat constantly, and I mean constantly, just so that they can have the best possible experience in Barcelona.

Over the last few weeks, I have had three visitors. I have re-visited all of Barcelona’s major sights, from Sagrada Familia to Park Güell, I can recite Antoni Gaudí’s life story by heart and I have perfected a Barcelona sightseeing itinerary, which I am more than happy to share. Also, I have been to Brunch & Cake, a local bistro, four times this week with my visitors. That means I have eaten brunch four times in a week.

That is not okay.

Well maybe it is okay, because as tiring as it’s been, I couldn’t think of a better way to wrap up my semester.

You see, visitors are actually the best.

They allow you to experience your city in a fresh way, as if you were discovering it for the first time.

Once you’ve been living somewhere awhile you tend to forget the city’s magic. You walk past the same things every day and they become mundane even if they are really special. Parisians walk past the Eiffel Tower daily, unfazed, and Romans apathetically speed past the Colosseum. And here I am, strolling down Passeig de Gràcia in Barcelona, absolutely oblivious to Gaudí’s Casa Batlló or Casa Milà because I see them practically every day.

The joy of  showing someone around is that you can actually look at what you’ve been seeing this whole time; you pause and you think,

“Whoa. How lucky am I to be surrounded by something this beautiful?”

Showing Kristi around Park Güell
Showing Kristi around Park Güell

Fútbol, Confetti and Tears- Visca el Barça!

Kristi, or KrIstanbul, whom I visited in Istanbul in March, came to visit this weekend and accompanied me to my first FC Barcelona game this past Saturday.

I had waited all semester to go to a game, and with only two weeks left in my stay, it was now or never.

FC Barcelona was playing Deportivo de La Coruña, and ended the game in a tie. However, it was an incredible game to attend because the club had just won the Spanish League Championship and was celebrating that win after this game. On top of that, FCB’s midfielder and captain, Xavi, was leaving the club after 17 seasons. The stadium was full of people paying homage to a man who spent 25 years in a Barça jersey.

FCB fans are truly something special. I was expecting rowdiness and chaos, drunkards and maybe a fight or two. Instead, I saw an entire stadium-full of people intently watching the game, and occasionally cheering. Old men speaking Catalan commented on every play, and kids sat with their families, chanting along with the crowd. You could see everyone was just keeping their eyes fixed on the players and truly relishing the sport, a huge contrast to American sporting events. In fact, the stadium doesn’t even sell alcoholic beverages, and not a single person was visibly intoxicated.

What a beautiful concept. People at a sporting event actually watching the sport.

After the game, all of the players accompanied by their adorable children made a lap around the field with the Spanish League Championship trophy. At the end, Xavi took a solo victory lap through clouds of confetti, and made everyone cry with his final speech.

I had never seen so much confetti and so many tears in one place, it was an honor to attend.

Visca el Barça!

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Steps away from the Barça babes
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Barça players and their young ones

Conversations with Strangers: Pabloski from Wrocław

About him:  Paul, who goes by Pabloski because he is half Mexican and half Polish (Pablo-ski get it?), manages Funky Cycle, a rickshaw business in Barcelona. He has been living in Spain for about 16 years now, and his hidden talent is guessing what country people are from.

How we met: My friend, Kristi, is visiting from Istanbul and after a whole day of walking we decided to treat ourselves to a rickshaw ride. I came up to a group of rickshaw bikers and began fiercely negotiating when Pabloski approached me and began arguing with me about prices. Then, through a hot mess of English, Spanish and Polish we somehow ended up on his bike bonding and having a great time.

Coolest experience: The coolest thing Paul has ever done was move to Barcelona. He loves the people, the atmosphere, the climate and his lifestyle in general. But, can you blame him?

Life dream: Pabloski’s big dream is bike around the world. Aside from biking people around all day on rickshaws, he bikes competitively, so I think he could totally do it.

Just riding around with Pabloski
Just riding around with Pabloski

 

On Children and Mothers

The other day, my father and I made our way into the Sahara desert to round out our Moroccan experience. On the way to our desert camp, our driver asked if we wanted to visit a nomadic Berber family that had set up camp nearby.

Nomadic family? Berber locals?! Observing a rare gem of African life? CULTURE?!

Naturally, I jumped at the chance. It was every traveler’s dream come true.

Somewhere in the middle of nowhere, Africa, our driver pulled up to a wicker hut and a mess of patched together blankets, which resembled a tent. We were invited inside the hut and served green tea by a cheerful elderly woman sitting cross-legged on the ground, who was warming up a teapot over a charcoal pit.

A darling little boy appeared from behind her, smiling shyly at me, and suddenly the Angelina Jolie complex kicked in.

The Angelina Jolie complex is what I like to call the compulsion of most American travelers to believe we are all superstars and that every impoverished foreign child wants to come home with us to a better life.

I swooned over the four-year-old, Mohammed, as he stared at me from behind his grandmother and then latched onto his mother once she entered the hut.

When it was time to leave, I jokingly asked our driver to ask the boy in Berber if he would like to come home with me.

The boy responded without thinking twice, “Okay. But, only if my mama can come too.”

My heart warmed at the honest response that only a mother’s child could muster and I smiled at the boy, because I understood exactly what he meant.  

Happy Mother’s Day Mama Kulka.

Sunset in the Sahara
Sunset in the Sahara

La Rubia Goes to Africa

I think the best way to describe my first days in Morocco is to start with a joke. I’ll try my best not to screw it up.

A red-head, a brunette and a blonde were running from the cops, when they spotted a farm and decided to hide out there.

Once at the farm, the red-head ran into the chicken coop. The cops peaked in and she yelped, “cockle-doodle-doo!” so they thought she was just another chicken.

They moved on to check the pigsty, where the brunette happened to be hiding. The cops looked in and she went, “oink, oink” so they thought she was just another pig.

Finally, just as the cops were about to give up, the sheriff kicked a bag of potatoes where the blonde happened to be hiding, and the blonde yells, “potato, potato!”

I’m not sure if that’s how the joke actually goes, but the point is that me trying to blend in, in Morocco, is like the blonde trying to blend in with the sack of potatoes. It’s silly and it’s not going to happen.

I nearly spit out my coffee this morning when the Moroccan waiter at breakfast asked,”How many kids do you have?” and I realized he was hitting on me, and that was the pick up line. Once I told him that I have all of zero children, he asked about my husband, also non-existent, and subsequently asked if I had a boyfriend.

Then he jokingly stated, “100 camels and two tents for you to be my wife.” It was one of those jokes, that you know isn’t really a joke. Like when you meet an attractive stranger and tell them they should just date you and you’re dead serious, but you say, “just kidding,” because normal people don’t do that.

Anyways, I’m not very well versed on camel and tent values, but that seemed like a lot so I was obviously flattered. I laughed along because sometimes, when you’re the blonde in a potato sack, all you can do is yell “potato,” and hope for the best.

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Just hanging out in Casablanca

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

Jesus and Jolie

I spent my birthday weekend relaxing with Mama Kulka in the beautiful country of Malta.

Don’t know where Malta is? That’s okay. I’m not completely sure either, and I just spent five days there.

Malta is a little country below Italy, half way between Siciliy and North Africa, and it encompasses five islands. It is the world’s most catholic country, second only to the city-state of the Vatican. Also, the film industry is a big deal there; Troy, Gladiator, Pompeii, World War Z and Game of Thrones were all filmed on Malta.

In fact, the Maltese man who picked me up from the airport informed me that Angelina Jolie had sat in the exact same car and the exact same seat as I was sitting in. He then told me all about how nice of a lady she is and how stunning she is in person. The news on Brad Pitt is that he’s aged significantly, but is also nice.

Almost everywhere you go, you are bound to see a signed photo of Angelina Jolie or have a native tell you about the time they met her. For such a devout country, I wasn’t sure who was more important: Jolie, or the big J.C.

Anyways, I think that the reason why it took me so long to write about Malta is because nothing really happened.

Well, lots happened. My mother and I toured the main islands with very pleasant tour guides, ate at great restaurants, sampled local liqueurs and had relaxing massages at our resort’s spa.

But nothing really happened.

There were no flights that were almost missed, no peculiar strangers to talk to, no crumpled maps to decipher. In fact, things were almost too easy. We even stumbled upon an International Fireworks Festival, with competitors from all over the world, that just happened to be going on in a village we visited.

Don’t get me wrong, I loved having another relaxing vacation from the vacation that is my life, and I enjoy massages, nice restaurants and sitting in the same Mercedes Benz as Miss Jolie herself. But, I couldn’t help but feel that something was missing.

Clearly, I’ve been spoiled by a steady dose of adrenaline running through my veins these past few months.

Resort
Resort life isn’t too bad I guess…

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.

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I’m actually just smiling because there is cake.

My Own Kind of Paradise

I have come to a crisis.

Not quite a mid-life crisis or a quarter life crisis for that matter, rather what I would like to call an island crisis.

I’m no longer sure that a life involving wearing deodorant and underwear is the one I want to live. I have spent the last four days wearing the same sundress, tanning nude on empty beaches and dancing with strangers during sunset. My skin is golden brown, I haven’t brushed my hair in four days and I’m not quite sure where my bra is. I have found paradise and I hate the thought of losing it.

Last night, Francie and I drove out to a bar to check out a live band and watch the sunset. Of the entire crowd there was only one person dancing, a beautiful and lively Italian woman in her forties, Olivia, who was clearly having the time of her life. I believe that no one should ever have to dance alone, so I joined her. As the night went on and the wine flowed on, Olivia, Francie and I had an entire crowd dancing. I was pulling elderly Germans off their benches left and right to come join, and by the last song we had a crowd of people feeling alive and free, dancing and smiling.

Earlier today we spent the day at the island’s International Food Festival, listening to live music as friendly locals stuffed our plates with more Latin American and Spanish foods than one should ever eat in one sitting. But, who can say no to free fried plantains and horchata?

At the festival, I met a man from Switzerland and I asked him how long he’s been here in Formentera. 35 years. He just came one day and he stayed. He plays in a band, organizes the island’s artisan market and just kind of hangs out.

He is happy. And I am too.

We closed off the night with a glass of wine at the bar we had visited the night before, where our bartender friend, Fernando, treated us to snacks and took a shot of local Hierbas liquor with us. Then, we watched the sunset while cruising down the ocean-hugging roads, blasting Adele and singing along dramatically with the top down in our convertible.

Smiling, being free and having fun. Thank you, Formentera.

Dancing with beautiful strangers as always.
Dancing with beautiful strangers as always.