Day 262: Learning about Vietnam

When I arrived at my hotel lobby, I intended to grab a quick breakfast, but my tour guide showed up early. The hotel staff, being concerned about my breakfast, made me an omelet to-go. As I walked to the van with my tour guide, Trung, he said, “Vietnamese don’t like empty stomachs.”

The tour would take us a few hours northeast to Ha Long Bay for the day. I sat next to Trung while we picked up the others. He appeared to be in his late 40s and was talkative. He told me that his father was a photographer for the communist government and he hoped that Trung would take over and save the world. Trung told me, “I don’t want to be friends with the computer. I’d rather be friends with you guys.”

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Trung was from Hanoi and he loved the city. He explained that families live together and keep adding floors to the house when the family expands. He said, “If one family member goes to Ho Chi Minh City, it’s very sad because they’ll have nobody. They’ll be on their own.” Trung didn’t seem to like Ho Chi Minh City in the south. He said Hanoi in the north takes care of homeless people, but the south doesn’t, so they have a lot of homelessness.

Once we picked up all of our passengers, Trung continued to talk to the group about Vietnam. He told us that HIV is a huge problem for the country, with 50 new cases each day. He pointed out their red-light district, where sex workers charge for services by the hour. Trung said that because people live with lots of family members, they don’t have a lot of privacy, so many go to the red-light district for prostitution and drugs. He warned us to watch out for needles on the street because they could be infected.

We passed Samsung City, which is a compound developed and owned by Samsung. There are 130,000 people living and working there. It’s so big that they have their own schools and hospitals, and they have to take a bus to get to other buildings. Trung told us that it’s mostly run and operated by the Koreans. There are half a million Koreans in Hanoi.

Trung told us that Vietnam and Singapore are the most expensive places to buy a car. Vietnam tries to control the number of cars sold, so there is a 250% tax on cars. If everyone owned a car, the streets would all be in gridlock. The country has 97 million people and more than 60 million motorbikes. Trung told us, “You could bring your car from the U.S. that you paid $10,000 USD for and sell it here for $30,000 USD.”

Vietnam has a large population considering the size of their land. Four million Vietnamese live outside of Vietnam, with the majority in the U.S, France, and Australia. Trung told us about the corruption with the police in Vietnam. He said, “The cops here are rich. They are not rich in the U.S.” He explained that the cops will pull you over and you will be forced to pay them to stay out of jail. They have a term called “umbrella,” which is when you know someone in the government who can get you off. In return, you’ll need to give them the most expensive lobster and whatever items you sell or make.

Trung pointed out the relatively safety of Vietnam and the fact that they don’t have bombings or terrorists; however, he said they have problems with China, Laos, and Cambodia (their surrounding countries).

In China, they have a shortage of women, so men go across the border to remote towns in the north of Vietnam and tell women they will marry them, give them children, a job, and a good life. These women are so isolated that they believe them. When they get to China, they’re sold into prostitution and work for free. If someone is caught trafficking five or more women, it’s a death sentence. Trung told us that they used to shoot people for $.50 each, but since 2015, they instituted lethal injection. It now costs $10,000 each. Trung said, “I prefer the bullet. Save the money for the people.”

The problem with Laos is the drugs that come from the Golden Triangle (borders of Thailand, Laos, and Myanmar). Technically the law states that if you have more than six grams, it’s a death sentence, but people with money can buy their way out. This has allowed a lot of drugs to get into Vietnam.

The problem with Cambodia is the gambling. There is gambling in Vietnam, but only foreigners are allowed to partake. Trung said that Vietnamese people love to gamble, so they go across the border to Cambodia. They end up losing a lot of money and borrowing from the casino. Eventually, they lose enough that they have to sell their kidney for $5,000. Then rich Chinese come and buy it for $40,000. Trung told us that there are five million kidneys for sale there.

I was thoroughly enjoying learning about Vietnam, but then we stopped at a pearl palace. We had some time to browse and buy jewelry. They have a huge pearl industry there and I bought a pair of earrings. Shortly after the pearl store, we arrived at the boat that would take us through HaLong Bay. We were seated at tables for lunch. We joined another group, but there was still only about 30 people on our tour.

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I was seated with Joanne and her parents. They were from Singapore and welcomed me into their family. Joanne appeared to be in her 30s and was very pretty. She worked in hotel sales and had been working for a Thai company for the last eight months, but planned to start a new job when she returned from holiday. The Thai company was too “old school” and once the top boss said yes, there was no arguing. Joanne’s parents have been to the U.S. and enjoyed their visit, but it was close to 30 years ago.

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The boat cruised through Ha Long Bay, which was incredible! Large rock formations were spread out all over the place. There are thousands of rock islands that vary in size. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site. There is nothing built on the rock islands, most likely because they are steep cliffs.

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We were served various fish dishes to share. I had a hard time eating some of them, like octopus. We arrived at a rock island, climbed a lot of stairs, and looked around inside a cave. The cave had a very large main room and it was just our group there. During the war, they used it as a make-shift hospital. Hospitals were often targets, so this allowed them to treat patients without the threat of bombs. Trung told us that during their rainy season, tourists have to take their shoes off because the cave starts to fill with water.

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We took the boat to another area that had a large pontoon platform to get into smaller boats. The smaller boats would take people through an archway, into a circular area, and then back to the pontoon. There were a lot of boats that had dropped off large groups of people. It was maddening to watch the chaos as people tried to line up to get on various small boats. Most of the tourists were from China. They tend to travel in very large groups and they don’t follow lines when waiting for something, so Trung was frustrated. He told us, “We welcome westerners and all the Chinese show up. We don’t welcome them, they just come. If we stop welcoming westerners, the Chinese will stop coming.”

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We got into small boats and a local rowed us through the archway and into the circular area. It was a short boat ride, but it was fun. We got back to our boat and were served fruit and coffee on the top deck. It would take about an hour to get back to the port and the boat weaved its way through the islands as the sun started to set.

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I talked with Joanne while enjoying some fruit. She was really sweet and we shared our contact information because I had a 24-hour layover in Singapore on my way to Australia and we hoped to meet up. Joanne planned to do some volunteer work in Fiji for several months. She had a very empathetic heart.

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The views of Ha Long Bay were beautiful and I was happy that I had the chance to visit. Joanne and I had to say goodbye once the boat docked because we were in separate vans.

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On the way back, Trung asked me if I had a man at home and was traveling without him, or if he was at the hotel. I said, “I’m divorced. I’m traveling alone.” Trung excitedly said, “Oh! You’re forever free?!” I responded, “Yup.” Trung was married for 13 years and had two kids, but he and his wife ended up getting a divorce. He told me that after ten years, you just get so bored of seeing the same person over and over. Early on in their relationship, they partied and had fun, but not anymore. They had an amicable split in the end.

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Trung dropped me off at my hotel and I walked down the street to eat Bun Cha. It was my favorite dish on the food tour, but this restaurant wasn’t very good. Next to me was a young couple smacking on their food so loud that it was driving me crazy. It seemed that many people in Vietnam were on a mission to eat as loud as possible. I ate as quickly as I could and went back to my hotel. After working on my blog, I was off to bed. The next day I would be leaving for a motorbike tour in the northern mountains for four days and I couldn’t wait.

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Day 258: Arriving in Vietnam

I arrived in Hanoi, Vietnam at 8:30 pm and headed to customs. There was a desk with various forms and I grabbed the one I needed, filled it out, and returned it to the man at the counter. The man instructed me to have a seat and wait for my name to be called. I had applied for and received a visa approval online from the Vietnamese government the week before, but I still had to wait for the final visa.

There were rows of plastic chairs and probably 40 people waiting. I sat down and listened in on nearby conversations. A young couple from Belgium was talking to a European couple about their travel woes. They explained that they flew in from Laos and used a third party company when they applied for their Vietnam visa. The visa didn’t arrive in time (that’s why I went straight to the Vietnamese government website) and Laos wouldn’t allow them on the plane to Vietnam without paying a $100 USD fee for not having the visa.

The young backpackers obviously didn’t have a lot of money, so they were frustrated. While we all waited for our names to be called, the Europeans told the couple that came from Laos that they’d have to pay a fee of $25 USD to get their visa on arrival. I had also read that it had to be U.S. dollars or Vietnamese Dong. The young couple looked frightened as he explained that he only had Laos money and the ATM was not allowing him to take out money. I was fortunate that the ATM gave me Vietnamese Dong.

The young backpacker came back from the counter and said they let him pay in Laos money, but it was the equivalent of $80 USD, not $25. The guy started to vent about the corruption he was experiencing in Southeast Asia. He was told by other backpackers that when they were in a hostel in Bangkok, they were smoking weed in a place where everyone smokes. However, it’s technically illegal and they were busted by the police who told them they had to pay a $600 USD fee or be jailed. It was a lot of money, especially for backpackers.

My name was called and I walked to the counter. I paid $2 USD for them to take a picture of me and add a small printed copy of it to their file. Then I paid the $25 USD fee and walked through customs. When I handed the man my passport, he didn’t say a single word to me. He just looked at his computer and handed my passport and 30-day visa back to me and I was on my way.

After I grabbed my luggage, I stopped at a booth selling SIM cards. I paid $13 USD for a month of 60 GB and walked outside. A taxi driver approached me and offered to give me a ride for 400,000 dong. I wasn’t familiar with their money yet, so I used my currency conversion app (Globe Convert) and realized it was $17 USD.

I pulled up the Grab app and it said the price would be 268,000 dong ($11 USD). After I pointed out the discrepancy, the man said that Grab drivers aren’t allowed to do pickups at the airport. I pushed back once again explaining that the app says they do pickups there. He reluctantly resigned himself and agreed to charge me 200,000 dong ($8.50 USD). The man also said I would need to wait ten minutes to see if there were others who needed a ride.

I agreed to the taxi man’s price and waited while the man asked where I was from. I said “Los Angeles.” The man got excited and said, “Ohhhhhh!!!” Nobody else showed up, so he started to drive me to my hotel. It felt strange driving on the right side of the road. I didn’t realize I had gotten used to driving on the left in Thailand.

It felt cold outside with a temperature of 68 °F (20 °C). After spending a month in the Thai heat, this was a nice reprieve. The first part of the drive from the airport to old town Hanoi had a modern highway, was well maintained, there were trees on the side of the road, and there were more cars than Thailand. Thailand had a lot of motorbikes. The driver often drove in the middle of two lanes, making me nervous. As we got into old town, the motorbikes were everywhere, honking constantly.

The driver pulled over and pointed down a very narrow alleyway, which was the street that my hotel was located down. His minivan wouldn’t fit, so I’d have to be dropped off there. It was sprinkling outside, so thankfully my hotel was just a quick, one-minute walk.

A friend recommended the hotel to me. She told me they treated her like royalty and she loved her stay there a couple of years ago. I walked into the small lobby around 10:45 pm and asked to check in. The man said he couldn’t find my reservation and said perhaps I booked with a different hotel. Then he pointed towards the front door. I insisted that I had a reservation and gave him my reservation number.

The man found my reservation, apologized, and then brought me fruit and tea. He understood it was too late for me to get dinner, so he brought me bread and butter to my room too. The room was very narrow and small, but it was clean and comfortable.

I was exhausted after a full day of travel by ferry and planes. After a shower, I was ready for bed. I turned off the lights, but the light on top of the closet cabinet wouldn’t turn off. It was a light for the closet, but the top had a circle cut out around it, letting the light shine in the room. I grabbed the desk chair and climbed on top to see what was going on. I called reception and tried to explain that the light wouldn’t turn off. The man at reception didn’t understand me, so he hung up and came to my room.

I was in my PJs and let him inside. I explained that the light should be turned off when I close the closet door, but it’s not connecting for some reason. He climbed onto the chair and played around with the wires and switch, but couldn’t get it to turn off. He suggested that I just remove the key card and cut off all of the power to the room.

Frustrated, I explained that if I did that, I couldn’t charge my phone or use the AC. The man stepped back on the chair and disconnected some wires and the light turned off. He said someone from maintenance would repair it the following day and he left.

The next day, I slept in and then worked on my blog. Next, I talked with some family and friends in the U.S. and updated them on my whereabouts. I had no idea what I was going to do in Vietnam, so I spent some time researching on TripAdvisor. At 3:30 pm, I left the hotel to explore and get some food. On my way out of the hotel, the front desk staff said they noticed that I missed the free breakfast. Embarrassed, I explained that I had some writing to do.

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The narrow streets and alleyways in Hanoi were loud. Motorbikes raced by while honking their horns, and street vendors were everywhere. When I arrived at an intersection, I noticed there were stop lights, but they weren’t turned on. It was just a constant free flow of cars and motorbikes. Crossing the street was difficult. I had to make eye contact with the drivers and walk across while bikes zoomed behind and in front of me.

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Motorbikes were often parked on the sidewalk, forcing me to walk into the street. As I continued walking, I came across a beautiful lake. Bright flowers were in bloom all around, groups of people were playing games, and others were going for a stroll. I followed the path around the lake and ended up at a temple. I bought a ticket and went inside. It was a beautiful, small temple.

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I found a restaurant nearby on TripAdvisor with a 5-star rating. I didn’t have a reservation, but they told me that if I was done by 7:00 pm (it was 5:45 pm) I could get a table. It was a romantic, upscale restaurant filled with couples. I paid $26 USD for a three-course meal including wine. The food was delicious and I considered this a treat.

Next to me was a couple in their 20s from the U.K. Their snobbish attitude was apparent when they instructed the waiter that the girl was vegan and clarified, “no butter.” The server confirmed, “vegan?” I thought it was insulting that they assumed he didn’t know what vegan means considering he is a server in a major city.

The waiter mentioned the fish sauce that he’d remove as well before he walked away. Looking concerned, the girl said to the guy, “Wait, so all the food we ate in Thailand…I wonder if it had fish sauce in it?”

The guy responded with what I was thinking, “Yes, I’m sure it did. Especially the pad Thai.”

The girl justified it, “Well, it was vegetarian at least. I don’t eat food when I know it’s not vegan.”

The guy responded, “Yes you do.”

Getting upset, the girl said, “No I don’t. I know a guy that says ‘as long as I don’t know if it has stuff in it, I’m vegan.’ That’s not me.”

The guy laughed, “It is when you’re drinking.”

Dining solo at times is lonely. Other times, it’s entertaining. After enjoying my delicious meal, I chatted with the server, Leah. She told me about herself and how she was learning English. We had a nice conversation, but it was close to 7:00 pm and I had to skedaddle.

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I walked back to my hotel and was enjoying the cooler air. Street vendors were setting up small tables in the middle of the streets. Shirts promoting the meeting with President Trump and Kim Jong-un lined the clothing booths. The two had just met in Hanoi and the t-shirts had their faces outlined with the word “peace.” The city was abuzz and I was excited to see what Vietnam had in store.

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Days 256-257: Final Days in Thailand

Once I completed my dive certification, I needed to figure out how I was going to leave the island to catch a flight to Vietnam. Down the street from the dive shop was a hotel that also booked ferries and flights. I spent the next two hours reviewing my options. Weeks earlier I booked a flight from Phuket to Vietnam with a layover in Bangkok. When I booked the flight, I didn’t know I would be going to Koh Tao.

Phuket was now in the opposite direction and would take a full day to get there by ferry and bus. The nearest airport was on another island, Koh Samui, which was a two-three hour ferry ride away. I planned on taking the overnight ferry and bus to Bangkok and pick up my flight there from the layover. The woman at the hotel told me that the ferry that left that night in a few hours was their crappy one with uncomfortable cramped beds that were all in the same room. The thought of having to pack my bags and spend an overnight on a crappy ferry and then a long bus ride after several exhausting days getting my dive certification sounded like torture.

I was still in my swimsuit and all I wanted to do was rest. I had two problems: 1) My flight was already booked. 2) My visa was expiring the following day. The woman at the hotel was very helpful and connected me to AirAsia just to make sure I could actually get on the flight if I didn’t start in Phuket and joined in Bangkok. Unfortunately, their customer service is awful. They told me that if I didn’t get on the plane in Phuket, my ticket was invalid and I couldn’t get on in Bangkok. Even if I made it to Phuket, I couldn’t fly that soon after so much diving.

I decided to just forget about the plane ticket and lose the $135 that I paid. I extended my Airbnb by another day and searched for plane tickets from Koh Samui and Chumphon. The only options for flights had me leaving Thailand one day after my visa expired because of long layovers in Bangkok. I searched online and found that most likely, I’d just need to pay a fee and it would be fine, especially if it was just a day.

Once I had things booked, I decided to enjoy the rest of my time in Thailand. I met Davina for dinner because she was still on the island. She told me about her life back in Wales. She was a nurse and as long as she worked once every six months, she could continue in that career. Once her 15-year-old daughter moved in with her ex-husband, he took her to court for child support (even though she never received any when she had custody). She made a lot more money than him and decided to sell everything and spend nine months in a van touring Europe. Davina then went back to Wales and worked for a few months to save up money and then started traveling again – this time to New Zealand, Australia, and Thailand.

I completely understood Davina and was happy she found a way to live life on her terms. I also made a lot more money than my ex-husband and it cost me financially when I filed for divorce. Thank goodness we didn’t have kids. I have many female friends who have had to pay child support to their husbands who either didn’t make much money or didn’t work at all. It’s an awful feeling to watch the money you worked so hard for disappear.

Davina and I talked about how it is to date at our age. I swiped through Tinder with her to show her people in the area. It was awesome to chat, laugh, and have some company for the evening. Davina was starting to feel sick and had to move her advanced diving class back a few days and she’d end up not completing the dive class.

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The next day, I tried to ignore the construction banging next door because I desperately wanted to sleep in. I spent some time editing my blog and making a video. Then, I took my motorbike to the other side of the island. After walking down several stairs, I ended up at a restaurant where I enjoyed a happy hour two-for-one drinks. The views were incredible and I was trying to soak it all up before I left the following day.

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I continued driving my motorbike around in the sun. I ended up back at the lookout point I had found a few days prior. I enjoyed a refreshing coconut drink and then a beer as I watched the sun set. The sunsets on Koh Tao are some of the most magnificent ones that I’ve ever seen.

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I drove to Siree Beach and ate dinner at a busy restaurant with cushions on the floor with low tables. My fish wasn’t good and my legs started to hurt from sitting like that. I didn’t want to spend my last night in Thailand alone and a guy from Tinder had messaged me. He wanted to hang out a couple nights earlier, but I went to dinner with Davina instead. That night, he said he’d be off work at 11:00 pm and we could meet for a drink. He was from France, was 33, and was there for a few months helping a friend with a restaurant.

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Harry, my British friend, was eating at a nearby restaurant after finishing his homework for his dive class. I joined him, but got there as he was finishing his meal. We had some beers, but he didn’t want to stay up late because of the early-morning dive class. I enjoyed Harry’s company. I saw a lot of potential in him, but told him that he needed to mature a bit. Harry told me that he had matured a lot in the last couple of years. Before, he had no morals. His parents divorced when he was 12 and probably contributed to his behavior.

Harry told me that before he went to Australia solo two years prior, he didn’t do anything for himself and was pretty spoiled. We talked about how traveling solo makes you wiser and makes you have different priorities. In London, Harry would wear very expensive outfits, but in Thailand he just wore t-shirts. I thought it was great that Harry was taking on solo travel, especially at his age. I’m not sure that I would have been able to handle it at age 23.

Harry said he’d stay with me until my date was available. However, at 11:00 pm, the restaurant wouldn’t serve beer unless we went to the bar, so Harry decided to leave and get some rest for his class. After finishing my beer, I walked around while messaging the guy from France. He said he was cleaning up and we were trying to figure out where to meet. Then he stopped messaging, so I walked to a small outdoor bar.

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I sat at the bar and talked to a guy from Denmark who was extremely wasted. He ordered shots for his friends and then didn’t have the money to pay, so he denied that he ordered them. After accidentally knocking over his drink, he left with his friends. Next, I talked with a guy from Sweden who works on a cruise ship in Norway. He works for 22 days straight and then has 22 days off.

The bartenders were a couple who owned the bar. The guy was from Germany and had long blonde hair pulled back on top and shaved on the bottom. He was tall, had lip rings, and seemed smart. The bar had a board on the wall next to me showing how many shots were bought and consumed by each country. I took a shot for the USA and saw that some guy from Alaska took an insane amount of shots over a few days to try and get us to win. We came in third place in the first round and were making good progress in the current round.

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There were 18-year-olds from Europe dancing at the bar to the upbeat music and it was a fun night. The owner of the bar gave me a lot of tips for Australia because he spent a year there. He told me not to miss Tasmania because it was his favorite part. He came to Thailand eight months prior to get his dive master certification, but realized he could make more money running a bar. The guy wrote down things for me to see and do on my phone, so I wouldn’t forget. His girlfriend didn’t seem very happy about it. I went back to my Airbnb and was happy that the French guy ghosted me. I had a great night without him. He messaged me the next day saying he fell asleep and apologized.

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I packed my bags and checked out of my Airbnb. I stood in line to check in at the ferry station and ran into Michael from Serbia. I had met him during my “try dive” a few days prior. We sat together on the ferry until he got off at Koh Pha-ngan. I was taking the ferry to Koh Sumai. I asked Michael if Serbia was safe to travel to as a foreigner. He said it was and he gets asked that all of the time. He explained that they haven’t had a war since the 90s. The US was bombing them for “political reasons,” he explained. Michael said they tend to have wars every 30 years and it’s coming up to 30 years without war. He said, “Come visit while you can!”

Michael’s company was letting him work remotely for two weeks after his holiday, but it was an exception. He’s a leader at his company, so they weren’t going to let him do it full time. It was great talking with him, but we had to say goodbye. I continued on the ferry and fell asleep.

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When the ferry arrived in Koh Samui, I took an hour van ride to the airport. At the VietJet Air counter, the guy asked to see my visa for Vietnam. I showed him my preapproval letter in my email, but he had me print it. He also made me show him my plane ticket out of Vietnam before I could board the plane.

When I arrived to customs, there were large signs on the walls saying that if you overstay your visa, even by one day, you could be jailed. I started to panic. I did not want to be jailed in Thailand. When I got to the man and showed him my passport, he asked why I overstayed by a day. I explained that I couldn’t fly because of diving and missed my flight. He told me I needed to pay the fee, which was $500 baht for each day ($16 USD). I was grateful that he didn’t put a red stamp in my passport, which I read would decline re-entry.

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My SIM card ran out because it expired after 30 days. I was trying to book a hotel in Vietnam using WIFI, but it wasn’t letting me connect. It was time to board the plane, so I walked outside and climbed the stairs. When we arrived in Bangkok, there were three of us marked as “quick transfer” because we had a connection to Vietnam. A woman met us as we got off the plane and escorted us to a van that took us across the tarmac. The woman explained that our bag might not make it, but it would be put on the next flight. Great.

After being dropped off, we had to walk all the way through a long hallway, up the escalator, and back through security. Then we walked to our gate. They looked at my passport and made me show my visa again. Thankfully, the flight was running 20 minutes late, so I connected to the WiFi and booked my hotel. As we boarded the plane, a man backed up and accidentally rolled his suitcase over my bruised toe, making me wince in pain.

I was on the plane to Vietnam and was happy that I wasn’t jailed for overstaying my visa. I reflected on my month in Thailand. I hiked and biked in the jungles with REI Adventures and some really awesome people. I explored cities and temples. I ate some delicious new food. I swam in clear, warm waters and learned how to dive. I watched some of the most beautiful sunsets I’ve ever seen. The best part is all of the people I met. Even though I was traveling solo, I was rarely alone. I met people who made my time in Thailand such a special place to visit. I look back on my time there with nothing but fond memories.

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Days 248-249: Phi Phi Island is One Big Party

I woke up still exhausted from the day before. I needed to apply online for an extended tourist visa for Australia because I planned to go there after Vietnam. I booked my airfare from Vietnam to Melbourne after I was accepted for a house and cat sit in Ballarat, an hour and a half outside of Melbourne.

All Americans need a visa to visit Australia. The standard visa allows you to stay for up to three months, is easy to fill out, and costs around $20. I wanted to stay for six months because I didn’t want to be limited in house sitting. The tourist visa allows you to stay up to 12 months, but I had to confirm over and over that I wouldn’t work or attend school while I was there.

It took me a few hours to fill out the application on my phone, cost $140 USD, and I had to attach a copy of my passport and two months’ worth of bank statements showing that I wouldn’t run out of money. Once I was finished, the confirmation said the average time to process the application was 29 days. My flight was in 35 days. Thankfully, I was approved in three days for a six-month stay.

Once that was finished, I walked to the beach. It was very hot outside: 96 °F with a real feel of 107 °F. I laid on the beach and tried to get a tan. I got into the ocean for a little bit, but my phone and room key were buried in my bag, so I couldn’t take my eyes off it. I got out of the water because it was too stressful.

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I walked around the island, seeing what else was around. The white sand beaches were beautiful and the water was clear. Unique wooden boats were lined up on the shore. As I wandered through the narrow passageways, men wheeling carts full of supplies passed me. They shouted, “beep, beep, beep!” to warn me to move. I ate some fried rice and went back to my hotel.

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After a quick shower, I walked to The Only Bar to meet Harry, Dave, and Charlie from England. I accidentally took the long way there and walked over a mile in the heat and humidity. I shortly became a sweaty mess and my shower seemed pointless.

When I arrived at the outdoor bar, I saw a small dance floor, a DJ, some tables, and a section with foam pads with backrests to sit and lay on. The whole bar looked out to the ocean and the other bars across the island. I ordered a drink and sat on the pad next to my British friends.

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Dave and Charlie came over and gave me a hug. I hadn’t seen them since Chiang Mai. Charlie danced while Dave sat next to me and talked. We caught each other up on our adventures over the last week and a half. Dave started dancing while I met some women who had been sitting with the guys.

Davina was in her 40s, had medium-length blonde curly hair, and was from Wales. She was really friendly and told me that she’s been divorced three times and has two kids who are now grown. She just packed up and left to start traveling solo.

Davina showed me tattoos on her feet. On the inside of one foot it read,”Made in Wales.” On the other foot, it read, “Not in England.” She laughed and said she got tired of people thinking that Wales was in England, not knowing that it is a separate country in The United Kingdom. Davina was proud of her Wales heritage.

A girl named Amie was also sitting on the padded area with the group. She was in here 20s, was very short and petite, had long blonde hair, and was from England. She had been living in Thailand for a year and a half. Amie lived in Phuket, about a three hour ferry ride away, with her Thai boyfriend. She had a bandage over one ear and explained that she had an ear infection. She couldn’t work with the infection, so she decided to take a mini-vacation to Phi Phi Island.

There was another girl there from England traveling solo, but I didn’t talk to her much. Davina thought it was the coolest thing that we were all solo female travelers. She said, “Cheers to female empowerment!” We sat around a circle on the pad and told stories about our travels.

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I noticed that the other customers at the bar were mostly French and German and didn’t speak English. It seemed that all of the English speakers gravitated to one another.

Davina went home to rest, but we agreed to stay in touch and maybe meet up later. Amie and I got along well. She told me that she didn’t think she’d meet any friends because she usually doesn’t get along with other women. She likes genuine people who are down to earth. We laughed and became fast friends.

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Harry had been lying on the mat while Dave and Charlie danced away. I leaned over to Harry and said, “You’re not even going to say hi to me?” He slowly turned his head and said, “I’m pretty out of it right now.” Indeed he was.

After a few hours of hanging out at the bar, I wasn’t feeling very good. I realized the bartenders filled the cups with 50% alcohol and 50% mixer. Amie and I laid there watching the ocean, feeling relaxed. She left at some point to go home, but I didn’t feel like I could walk back, so I stayed there.

I went to use the restroom and felt like I needed to throw up. I was standing at the shared outdoor sink contemplating when a French girl came up to me. She said she only speaks a little bit of Enligsh and asked if I speak French or German. I sighed, “I only speak English.” She mimicked putting her finger down her throat and told me to throw up because I’d feel better. She walked away and came back with a bottle of water, which was so sweet.

Finally after ten minutes of standing there, hoping to throw up, I put my finger down my throat. It was all liquid and I realized I hadn’t eaten dinner, just some fried rice around 4:30 pm, which was lunch and dinner. It was now around 1:00 am. I knew if I didn’t throw up, I wouldn’t make it to the boat the next day.

When I returned to the padded area, the guys were gone. I messaged them and Harry wrote me back saying that they didn’t see me, but they were tired and decided to leave. I laid back down on the foam padding with my head propped up. I needed to rest more and drink water. At 2:00 am, the bar was closing and the lights came on. I got up and wandered through the passageways. The sweet French girl saw me and helped guide me in the correct direction.

On the way back, I saw a stand selling pizza by the slice. I bought a slice and ate it as I walked back to my hotel. It wasn’t very tasty, but it was just what I needed. I felt so hungry and I really wanted the bread.

The next morning, I was supposed to meet the guys at 10:00 am for a private boat tour. I needed to extend my stay one night in order to stay another day. My hotel didn’t have my room available another night, so I had to pack up my stuff and move it to another room upstairs. I felt ok in the morning and I was happy that I threw up and ate pizza.

After switching rooms, I walked down the beach to the restaurant that the guys told me about. Harry mentioned days earlier that they had met some British girls there and they all decided to take the private boat out for the day. It only cost each of us something like $12 USD and we’d have a driver take us around the island to different spots for six hours.

I arrived at the restaurant and Dave was there with the two girls. I didn’t realize they were the two girls that the guys had been dancing with the night before. Nobody introduced us, so I thought they were just random girls at the bar.

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We were waiting for Harry and Charlie to arrive, so I had the chance to order breakfast. The boat was just off shore, but the driver needed some time to wait for the tide to come in before we could leave. I was happy to have the opportunity to eat and get some coffee.

The English girls were nice. They were in their mid-20s and were on vacation for a couple of weeks in Thailand. Laina was tall (around 5’11”), had long dark hair, and was voluptuous. She often talked about herself as being “big,” but she looked good and owned it. She had a lot of confidence and a big personality.

Stevie was slightly shorter than Laina, had medium-length brown hair, was fit, and had a sexual vibe about her. Both of the ladies often posed for pictures with “duck lips.” I felt a little out of place at first, but they ended up being really nice!

Harry and Charlie showed up and ate some breakfast. We also ordered lunch for take-away, so we had something to eat on the boat. When the tide was right, we all boarded the boat. It was a small wooden boat with wooden slats in the middle to sit on. You could also sit at the front of the bow.

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As we rode around the island, I noticed Stevie and Dave were pretty much an item. They often sat together and had a lot of physical contact. Everyone opened some beers that they brought and I couldn’t stomach the thought of more alcohol, so I stuck with water.

The island was incredible! We rode past rock formations and into small alcoves. It looked like something from a movie. The water was a beautiful light turquoise. The driver would stop at a spot and we’d jump into the water, swim to a beach, or snorkel around. We were often the only ones in the little alcoves. At one spot, colorful fish swam next to our boat. I jumped into the water and snorkeled around them.

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We continued driving around the island. Some spots had other boats from larger tour companies. Since our boat was small and we had a personal driver, we were able to go to hidden, secluded areas. At one spot, I swam to shore with Laina. We enjoyed playing with the sand because it was so soft. It didn’t feel like sand, it felt more like powder.

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 I got to know Laina better and I told her that I had been married for ten years, but I was divorced. We had a nice conversation about relationships as we swam back to the boat. She had such a strong self-confidence, I wanted to learn from her. I wasn’t feeling very good because I was getting sea sick. I took some Dramamine to help, but I should have taken it before we got on the boat. I was trying hard not to feel nauseous.

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Halfway through the day, I noticed that my gel nail polish from the manicure I got a few days earlier was peeling off. I said, “Wow, the salt water is destroying my nail polish.” Harry rolled his eyes and said, “That’s such a bird thing to say.” Confused, I asked what he was talking about. He explained that it’s an expression meaning “it’s such a woman thing to say.”

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We continued in the boat and the sun reflected off of the water as it started to set. We pulled into a medium-sized beach where other boats and tourists were enjoying the area. We stayed at this beach longer, so I got my towel and laid out. I dozed off because the Dramamine made me sleepy. After that beach, we drove back to the main part of the island.

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As we got off the boat, Harry said we should make sure to grab all of our trash so the driver doesn’t have to clean up after us. He started collecting trash and handing bags for people to take with them. Harry always bragged that he was not a nice guy – he was a heartbreaker and a womanizer. I said to him, “You always say you’re not a nice guy, but your actions show you are actually a nice guy.” I hope that as Harry gets older, he realizes that being a nice guy is actually an asset. Being a jerk and a womanizer might work while you’re young, but it won’t work as you get older. The Harry I knew was actually a considerate guy who cared and I wanted him to embrace that.

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I walked back to my hotel and showered. Then I met the crew for dinner at a nice outdoor restaurant. Harry really wanted to pick his own fish from a market and this restaurant let you pick your fish from a display of seafood and then they cook it for you. It was a beautiful night and we enjoyed wine. Harry commented that my hair looked more blonde. It tends to get lighter in the sun and a full day on the ocean did lighten it up a bit.

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The six of us had a delightful dinner with sand under our feet. The food was good, but the company was better. Laina and Stevie told us about their life in England and how they’ve been friends for a long time. They’ve had lots of wild adventures and they often go on beach holidays.

After dinner, we walked to an outdoor bar that had lounge cushions on the sand. We got drinks while loud music pumped around us. I told Harry not to fall asleep again (he fell asleep at the bar the night before). We danced around and then I sat on a cushion. I watched people walk by on the beach, dance on sand at our bar and bars next to us, and couples enjoying each other’s company.

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Phi Phi island is definitely a party island. It felt like a place where French and Germans got to escape their winter. Sort of like Cancun for Americans on spring break. I was enjoying the night, but the cushion was so comfortable that I fell asleep! When I woke up and we left the bar, Harry pointed out that I was the one who fell asleep this time. He said, “Typical American. Tell others not to do it and then do it yourself.” Oops.

We all walked back to the hotel where the guys were staying. Their room had three twin beds and a balcony. Harry had to turn back because he accidentally left his shoes at the bar. When we arrived at the hotel, Stevie sat on Dave’s bed and Liana sat on Charlie’s bed. I sat on the bed that was left, Harry’s bed. When Harry arrived, he told me I would need to “relocate,” so he could have his bed. I got up from his bed and stood around while he laid down.

It hurt my feelings because I just wanted a place to sit down. The other guys didn’t tell the girls to move. I tried to ignore it as Harry started to fall asleep. The rest of us drank, ate snacks, and danced around. Laina asked me how old I was and I told her that I just turned 39. She was surprised and said she thought I was maybe 32 because I said I had been married for ten years.

Dave asked me if I wanted a can of jack and coke and I hesitated. I felt bad taking a drink that I didn’t pay for and I wasn’t sure how late I wanted to stay up, which resulted in me being unable to make up my mind. He ended up giving me one and said, “Sometimes you’re really awkward, you know?”

I couldn’t get that comment out of my head. I sat there feeling rejected. I am awkward sometimes. Maybe it was a cultural difference between us because I wasn’t from England. Or maybe I’m just awkward. I tried hard to ignore it, but that combined with Harry telling me to relocate made me feel depressed. I was standing on the balcony with Laina, Stevie, and Dave. In an exaggerated tone, I made a comment to Dave that I didn’t want to be awkward. He immediately said he was joking.

I fought back tears and told him I know sometimes I’m awkward. He explained that he said that because sometimes I don’t accept things from them. I said I’m not used to it because I’m usually the one offering things to people. He felt bad and tried hard to reassure me that we were friends and he was just joking. It was British humor. I knew Dave was a nice guy, but I felt sensitive to the remark.

I finally left just before 6:00 am and walked 15 minutes back to my hotel to get a few hours of sleep. Tears fell down my cheeks as I wondered if I’d be alone forever. Maybe nobody wants to date me because I’m too weird. I was feeling over-emotional and overly sensitive.

Overall, it was a fun day and a fun night. I got to know Laina and Stevie, and we all had a great time together. I’m really happy that I had fun people to hang out with during my time on the island. Going to a party island alone was intimidating. Having friends on the island allowed me to experience the island as it should be. I wouldn’t have been able to go on that boat alone and going to bars alone is not very fun. I will always remember my time on Phi Phi Island as a great time with great friends.

Post Edited By: Mandy Strider
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Day 232: Thoughtful Conversations in Thailand

The REI Adventures group enjoyed the warm sun after enjoying a delicious breakfast at our second homestay in Thailand. The property sat on top of a mountain, so we had a picturesque view of the rising sun and surrounding area.

We packed up and began to hike to our next destination. The hike was mostly downhill as we made our way through the thick vegetation. As we got closer to another small village, we saw a huge pile of garbage strewn along the side of the mountain. Surprised to see the trash in such a beautiful landscape, a few of us stopped to look at it.

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We asked one of our guides, Sak, why it was there. He said that’s where the villagers throw their trash. Once the pile begins to stack up against the side of the mountain, they burn it. One person in our group was disappointed to see that the trash was ruining the landscape.

I pointed out that we have landfills in the U.S. too, it’s just hidden from our view. The amount of trash created from the small village was likely much less than the trash we create. I think it’s easy to criticize other cultures when they don’t do things the way we do it, but I didn’t have a problem with it. They need to do something with their trash and they’re located in a remote area on a mountain. From what I could tell, the villages don’t generate that much trash because they’re mostly living off of the land.

Walking through the village, we passed homes that were drying fresh coffee beans. There was a small coffee shop there and Tri let us stop there to get a drink. I sat outside with Clark, Cathy, and Terri. After enjoying the break, we continued our hike.

I had been in the middle of a conversation with Clark when we started hiking again. He usually hiked in the front because he’s a fast hiker, but he stayed in the middle with me so that we could continue our talk. Because we were hiking slower than he’s used to, he looked in awe and said, “Wow, the trail really is beautiful isn’t it? I’m usually just looking at the ground.” I laughed, “See Clark, you need to hike slower so you can stop and smell the roses.”

Clark is a retired Principal at a middle school. He told me about how he courted his now wife. When they were young and dating, he went over to her house one day and started loading her furniture into a van and told her that she was moving in with him. He just knew that she was the one for him. It was sweet to see the joy in his face as he talked about her and the love they’ve shared for decades.

Clark moved from New York to Albuquerque, New Mexico when he retired not too long ago. He loved the outdoors and found a beautiful home with hiking trails in his backyard. There was a period of time that he purchased the unfinished home while he was still living and working in New York. He went to New Mexico from time to time to finish the work that needed to be completed to make the house livable.

Clark told me about how he’s been denied housing throughout his life because he’s black. I was saddened to hear he still experienced it when he moved to New Mexico. Neighbors often assumed he was a construction worker. Even after he’d explain he is the homeowner, they continued to treat him poorly and as if he were not someone who was a part of their neighborhood.

Clark is a smart man. He’s been successful throughout his life and is very charismatic. His siblings are all extremely accomplished and have impressive work experience. It was frustrating to hear about times they’ve experienced discrimination because of the color of their skin. I told Clark about times I’ve lived in mostly black neighborhoods and was told to “go back to Santa Monica or Seal Beach” because I’m white. Clark and I agreed that being able to talk openly about our personal experiences was part of the solution to combating racism and stereotypes.

I had several running jokes with Clark and there was never a dull moment with him. I like to picture him as the principal who kids loved, even though he can be stern when he means business. He was often a leader in our group because he has a natural ability.

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We stopped for a quick break and Clark was back to the front of the line. In the back, I talked with Kristen. We had a great conversation about infertility. Being women of childbearing age, we both have felt pressure for a pregnancy to go perfectly. One in seven couples in the U.S. will experience infertility. I have many friends who have struggled with this and it’s hard to watch their pain and suffering.

Kristen and I agreed that it shouldn’t be taboo to talk about infertility. In general, people are more open to talking about it than they used to be, but I think there is room to open the conversation. A couple who is struggling with infertility or miscarriages shouldn’t feel ashamed to talk about it. I know people who didn’t even take time off of work after going through a miscarriage. It’s not an easy conversation to have with someone, but it beats suffering in silence.

I really liked hiking that day because of the meaningful conversations I had with people. Talking with Clark and Kristen really fueled me. They had great insights and perspectives, and I felt lucky to have met them. So often, we have superficial conversations with those around us. I heard something a couple of years ago at a recruiting conference that said we are expected to leave our true selves at the door when entering our workplace in the name of being a “professional.” It’s one of the reasons I left my job. Corporations in America have become stale and lifeless. Showing your true self, your vulnerabilities, is taboo. Maybe by putting ourselves out there we can break this trend?

We arrived at a restaurant for lunch and ate outdoors again. We enjoyed coconut water straight from the coconut. We were staying in a hotel for the next two nights, so we checked in and each had our own little hut and outdoor shower. It was a beautiful resort with a pool.

We had some extra time so Tri, our guide, offered the option for us to climb up a sticky waterfall. Most of us decided to go because it was just a 20-minute van ride. It’s a tourist spot, so there were several people in bathing suits climbing up.

The waterfall had a few different levels. It is called a sticky waterfall because the sediment forms a white coating on the rocks, making it sort of sticky. Even though the rocks look slippery, there is enough traction for your feet to climb up.

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The water poured down from the waterfall, but thankfully there was a rope on the side to assist with climbing up. Some of the rocks were large, so I had to take huge steps. The green parts of moss were slippery, so we were advised to avoid them. As I climbed up, I stumbled on one of the large rocks and slipped. My left knee hit the rock and scraped it up a little. I was disappointed because my right knee had been hurting over the last few days. Now both knees were in bad shape.

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The waterfall was beautiful, unique, and refreshing. Once we finished climbing up, we headed back to the hotel for showers. We had the option of getting a Thai massage and almost everyone wanted one. The hotel called in extra masseuses, but there were only so many time slots available before dinner. The group created a list in the hotel lobby before everyone was present. Of course, when I arrived, I was left with a spot nobody else wanted. I was getting frustrated that these lists were always made to without everyone present. I paid the same amount for the trip, but somehow always got whatever was left over. I had come to expect it.

I didn’t have time to shower before my massage appointment, but thankfully the waterfall cleaned off most of the dirt from the hike. In the bathroom of my hotel room, there was a set of blue denim clothes. I figured they were to wear for the massage so I put them on. The pants were so big, however, I had to hold them up or they’d fall off my waist.

I arrived to the small hut for my massage. Two mats were on the floor under an air conditioning unit. Terri was getting her massage at the same time and she was already being worked on. The masseuse didn’t speak any English but she showed me light colored pants and a shirt for me to put on. I put them on and laid on the mat.

A Thai massage is notorious for its uniqueness. It involves a lot of stretching as the masseuse pushes and pulls your body in all sorts of directions. After ten minutes of my masseuse trying to raise my legs and realizing I was about to rip the pants she provided, she had me change back into the baggy clothes that were in my room. I could stretch better, but I had to try and make sure they didn’t fall off.

The massage was comical. The petite masseuse had to put in a lot of effort to move my body around. She laughed and looked at the other masseuse, who laughed in return. I laughed along with them because it’s just absurd how much taller I am than them. I thought, “They must think I’m a giant.” Terri occassiably looked over at me as we laughed at our various stretching positions that were often painful.

After my massage was complete, I took a shower, got dressed in non-hiking attire, and got ready for dinner. We all walked ten minutes down a dirt road to the same place we ate lunch. We were able to drop off dirty clothes for cleaning and were told they’d be ready the next evening. A few of us shared some wine and laughed at our experiences with the massage. Scott is a few inches taller than me and his masseuse laughed at him too. We are not just tall, but also inflexible, which added to the comedy.

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After dinner we walked back to the hotel. I was happy to have a bed after two nights of sleeping on a thin pad on the floor. Unfortunately, the bed was hard. I ended up finding this to be very common across Thailand. I usually prefer a firm mattress, but these all seemed extremely firm.

My roommate, Nicole, and I told stories of dating as we lay in our beds. She had been married for around 13 years and on their anniversary, her husband said he wanted a divorce. That was a cruel thing to do to somebody. Nicole and I talked about the woes of online dating. She was currently dating a guy who she called her “part-time boyfriend” because he was only around part-time. He was a pilot, so he was often out of town. He was younger than her and she enjoyed his company, but he wasn’t someone she saw herself with long term.

I told Nicole about my ex-husband and guys I had gone on dates with. We bonded over some of our similarities and talked until we started to fall asleep. I was happy that I was paired with Nicole. We had a lot of the same interests and she was easy to talk with. I enjoyed her friendship and company during the trip.

Post Edited By: Mandy Strider
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Days 178-182: Family and Friends Across the USA

I left Idaho Falls, Idaho just after 1:00 pm and headed towards Denver, Colorado. I knew I wouldn’t make it there that day because it was too far. I decided to drive until I was tired and then find a place to stay.

I drove through Idaho and southwest Wyoming. Idaho was beautiful and full of ranches and mountains. It was December 19th, so the snow was on the top of the mountains, but the lower elevations were clear.

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The first parts were dry desert mountains, but then it progressively became more mountainous and green. I imagined the drive must be incredible in the summer.

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I had been nervous about driving to Missouri in December, knowing I’d have to go over the mountains. I drove around lakes, stopping to take pictures. I was enjoying the drive immensely because the roads were clear.

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Suddenly, it began snowing lightly and the roads were no longer clear and dry. As I continued to climb the mountains, I tightly gripped my steering wheel, fearing I’d slide off the road. I lowered my speed because I’m not used to driving in snow. I was happy that I had my Subaru Outback and my new tires handled the road well.

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I planned on checking out Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming at some point during my travels and I was bummed I had to quickly pass through to make it to Missouri by Christmas. I knew I’d be back again one day though, hopefully when the weather is a little better.

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After driving for almost five hours, I decided to stop in Rocks Springs, Wyoming. I pulled into a parking lot and booked a place on Orbitz. However, when I pulled in, the place looked creepy, old, dark, and vacant. I found the lobby across the street and went inside. I asked the guy at the front desk why it was so dark across the street at the motel. He said someone must have forgotten to turn on the lights.

I was getting the creeps from the place and he said I needed to pay because Orbitz didn’t collect my money yet. Relieved since Orbitz usually charges me a non-refundable charge right away, I asked if I could cancel since I hadn’t paid yet. The guy told me I could cancel, so I left. I booked an okay room at a Best Western for more money, but it was better than the seemingly abandoned motel I had just escaped.

The next morning, I grabbed some breakfast down the street and hit the road. The wind gusts through Wyoming were crazy strong. There were digital displays on the highway with warnings about the gusts, 60 MPH+, so I went a little slower through some parts. I was worried about my rooftop storage unit.

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The drive was flat until I hit Colorado. It was strange because western Wyoming was beautiful and full of mountains, but the middle and driving south was flat and windy.

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Once I entered Colorado, the skies turned blue and the sun was shining. I was staying the night at my second cousin John’s house, but I wanted to meet up with my Aunt Lori and Uncle Jim who live about 20 minutes from John. I met them for a beer and it was great catching them up on my recent travels. I had stayed with them four months prior when I flew out for their son’s wedding.

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We had a great time laughing and hanging out, but I needed to get to John’s house. I arrived and we headed to dinner. John, his wife Lori, and I went to Roadhouse Grill and ate way too much for dinner. It was so delicious and I had a lot of fun with them, but my stomach started to hurt. We went back to their house and I immediately put on my PJ’s.

In the morning, I left to drive to Colorado Springs (about an hour away) to see my friend, Mandy. She wasn’t available until the afternoon, but my second cousin Susie works in Colorado Springs, so we agreed to meet for breakfast.

We had a great breakfast at a cafe and then shopped at the mall for a bit. Since it was just before Christmas, she had some time off work, but had errands to run at the mall. I had zero gifts and Christmas only a few days away.

After the mall, I stopped at Mandy’s house. Mandy and I met in the 5th grade when we both lived in Canon City, Colorado. She was my best friend for the three years that I lived there and we had some unforgettable adventures. I moved back to Missouri right before 8th grade, but we stayed in touch. Sometimes we’ve gone a few years without seeing each other, but when we see each other, it’s like no time has passed.

We stayed in touch by phone and text, but sometimes we’ve gone a year without talking. It’s so funny though, because it’s never awkward when we see or talk to each other again.

When I arrived around 2:00 pm, Mandy was getting the house ready for a Christmas party she and her husband Chris were throwing for their friends. She asked me to stay, but I told her I needed to make more progress that day and would probably stay the night somewhere in Kansas.

Mandy was painting her nails and offered to paint mine too while we drank some wine. She had started to edit my blog for me the past couple of months and I was catching her up on more recent things since my blog has been behind.

Mandy knew what she was doing with the nails and wine. She convinced me to stay for the party and stay the night at her house. I didn’t have a hotel booked and thought I could still make it to Missouri by Christmas. I was really enjoying the nomad life.  

Mandy’s friends started to arrive and it was so great to meet them. I hadn’t met any of Mandy’s friends over the years because when we’d see each other, it’s mostly been for a brief period of time. This time I was able to spend a few hours catching up with her and then the party began.

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Mandy used to be a Grant Writer for several non-profit organizations and after a decade of doing that, she’s taking a brave step by joining the police department in the hopes of eventually becoming a detective. Her husband, Chris, is a prosecutor for the District Attorney’s office. There were a lot of lawyers and some very smart people at the party. They were a blast to get to know and were all very welcoming.

People asked how I knew Mandy and I couldn’t resist telling them about our adventures growing up. We used to sneak out of her mom’s house in the middle of the night to ride our bicycles down the old Main Street and pretend we were cars. We were also entrepreneurs and created our own restaurant called “Le Fancy Feast” and turned my mom’s kitchen into a full-on restaurant in the middle of the night.

Mandy was always the daredevil and I was the worry-wart. I would caution her and another friend about the crazy shenanigans they seemed to always get themselves into – like tubing down a drainage ditch and almost getting sucked under the road. It turns out my worrying was often justified.

After everyone left the party, Mandy, Chris, and I stayed up talking about politics. We often don’t agree, but I respect their views and we were able to have good discussions. Sometimes it was a little heated because we can be honest with each other. But in the end, we had a productive conversation until 3:30 am, when we realized we needed to get to bed.

I left Mandy’s house at 11:30 am and as I loaded my car, it started to snow. I hurried so I wouldn’t get stuck in it. After a couple of hours, the snow stopped.

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I drove through eastern Colorado and into Kansas. Growing up in both Missouri and Colorado, I’ve done that drive many times. The drive through Kansas is one of the worst drives in America. It’s eight hours of a flat highway with nothing around.

I was exhausted and it was dark, so I stopped in Salina, Kansas. I booked a room at Days Inn and walked across the street to IHOP for dinner. I was exhausted from driving about six hours and still had another full day of driving ahead of me.

The next morning, I continued through Kansas. It would be another six hours of drive-time to Lake Saint Louis, where my family lives. The drive was painfully boring. I amused myself by listening to Kansas on my satellite radio while driving through Kansas.

Once I hit Kansas City, the drive was familiar. I went to college at the University of Central Missouri, which is near Kansas City. I hadn’t driven that route in more than  a decade. I was tempted to drive the extra 30 minutes to my old stomping grounds to see what’s changed, but nothing would be open.

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After making a couple of food and bathroom stops, I arrived in Lake Saint Louis at 5:00 pm on December 23rd. I made it in time for Christmas! It was a surreal feeling being back. I hadn’t driven my own car there since I moved away in 2003. I had only been back to visit on holidays or vacation. This time, I didn’t have an end date.

I went to dinner with my parents, sister, brother-in-law, and nephews. I was exhausted, but I was happy to see them. I was also happy to have a break. It had been six months of travel and I had driven more than 15,000 miles. I needed some time to figure out where I was going next. The possibilities were endless…

Post Edited By: Mandy Strider
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Days 175-178: Reenergizing on the Road

After leaving Whistler, I drove to Vancouver, British Columbia to return some items I bought there that didn’t fit. They only have physical stores in Canada so I wanted to stop by on my way back to the U.S. The store hours were listed until 5:30 pm on Saturdays and I arrived at 5:32 pm because I had to fight Saturday Christmas festivity traffic.

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When I pulled up, the store was completely closed. It was clear they closed at 5:00 pm, which is supposed to be their weekday hours. I needed to keep heading south so I would have to mail my items back. I ended up learning a hard lessons about shipping to Canada; it cost me $47 to mail the package back!

I arrived at my friend Chanell’s house around 7:30 pm and she had a delicious dinner waiting for me in the crockpot. We talked about my time in Whistler and her pregnancy. We ended up staying up late talking as we tend to do.

The next morning, we went out for breakfast now that her morning sickness had improved a bit. I had a great time hanging out with her and couldn’t wait to meet her new daughter.

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After breakfast, I drove about five hours to Hood River, Oregon. It was raining and cool outside. I arrived at my friend Tracey’s house around 6:00 pm. Her newly remodeled kitchen was just about complete so she cooked up a wonderful dinner. I ate with her and her husband and stayed the night.

I felt so fortunate to have Chanell and Tracey in my life. I had stayed with both of them a few times as I drove to Canada and back twice. Each time, they cheerfully hosted me, offering me food, a bed, and friendship. I felt like they were my “Pacific Northwest family.” I am blessed to know them.

The following morning, Tracey and I went to a local cafe for breakfast and as usual, had a great conversation. I needed to continue my drive to make it to St. Louis, Missouri by Christmas. I drove three hours south to Bend, Oregon. I knew I needed to drive much further that day, but I stopped to eat a late lunch and look at places to stay.

My friend Bethany who lives there met me for an hour and we talked about her new house. Bethany, her husband, and two sons had just purchased a home a few miles outside of the city. It was on a large piece of land, so they were getting used to that and slowly moving in.

I booked a hotel in Burns, Oregon, which seemed like one of the only places to stop on my route to Idaho. The drive was dark and flat. I thought I was driving through a desert full of tumbleweeds until I stopped at a rest area. I got out of the car to use the restroom and it was freezing outside! There was snow on the grass and the wind was blowing ceaselessly. The sand and dirt I thought I was seeing was actually snow.

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I booked an old restored hotel on Airbnb – The Historic Central Hotel. The owner read my profile and saw that I had quit my job and was traveling.  She told me I was her hero and upgraded my room for free! She wanted to meet me, but when I arrived at 7:30 pm, nobody was there. I followed the instructions and used a code to get inside the lobby.

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The hotel was adorable, filled with history and remodeled with a slight modern barn feel. I carried my suitcase to the second floor and opened the door to my room. It was set up like a Bed and Breakfast. With my upgraded room, I had my own bathroom!

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I walked around the property checking out the pictures of the remodel that were hanging on the walls. I think there was only one other guest there at the time. I was exhausted from the drive and fell asleep on the bed right away. After an hour or so, I got up, took a shower, and went back to bed.

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The next day I continued driving with the goal of making it to Idaho Falls, Idaho, where my Uncle Steve and his wife Sonia live. It was a six and a half hour drive.

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I drove through Oregon, passing farms and ranches. The ranches had large signs and entrances like I’ve seen in movies. The name of the family ranch would be posted on the large, wooden post before driving down the long gravel driveway to the house.

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I had to drive through most of the state since Idaho Falls is near Wyoming. Idaho was beautiful and full of mountains, lakes, and more farms.

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I drove through Boise, Idaho, which was a little out of the way, but I wanted to see the capital. I drove around for a bit, stopped to grab some lunch, and continued on.

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As I drove, I had a lot of time to think about things. I was feeling down about relationships. As I reflected, I realized I often receive compliments from men, but it never materializes to an actual relationship. I’ve been told I’m intelligent, beautiful, fun, funny, and a great conversationalist.

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It makes me feel like I’m great….but not great enough to date. I’m either not enough or I’m too much. I am going to be me, even if I’m not enough or I’m too much for men. However, I was still feeling lonely and rejected. Maybe it was the online dating apps, but I was feeling like nobody wanted to actually date me. Nobody wanted to put in the effort. Nobody wanted to be exclusive with me.

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I talked with my friend Toni and then my friend Jimmy while I drove. I had been telling Jimmy for awhile that I didn’t want anything serious considering I was married for ten years and I just wanted to meet people to see what I wanted. However, now that it had been a year and a half, I was feeling like I actually did want a real relationship.

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Jimmy understood, but said it would be very difficult to date someone while traveling. He wanted to make sure I didn’t get my hopes up and I knew he was right. I tried the casual thing and I learned a lot about what I want and what I don’t want in a relationship. I still didn’t want the traditional relationship.

I’m afraid of getting bored. I was bored a lot in my marriage while my ex-husband was perfectly fine with the ways things were. I want an interesting relationship where we try new things and have adventures. I want to be surprised and I want to be spontaneous. I want the intimacy and the connection that comes along with an exclusive relationship. I was tired of meeting new people and I was tired of guys who weren’t interested in a relationship beyond casual dating.

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While talking with Jimmy, I got distracted in the dark and made a wrong turn. I ended up going 40 miles out of the way and had to turn around and go back another 40 miles. I didn’t arrive to my uncle’s house until 8:00 pm because of that mistake and I was in a new time zone, which was an hour ahead.

I ate some food and talked with my uncle Steve, his wife Sonia, and her mother, Effie. I had seen my uncle in Denver at the beginning of September for two cousins’ weddings, but I had never been to his house in Idaho. He’s only about 12 years older than me and he’s a funny, caring man.

My uncle Steve is a lead pastor of a small church. They told me about how the church is expanding and the impact they’ve seen God have on people there.

My uncle Steve and Sonia have such wonderful hearts. They talk about the Bible, God, and how we’re all just trying our best. It’s not about following religious principles and being legalistic in following God, it’s about having a relationship with God. They do a lot for people and are wonderful role models.

I told them about how I was feeling about relationships and I was feeling lonely and wanted a partner. They told me about their love story:

They were 32 years old and single. Steve was told by a friend that he wanted to introduce him to a fellow friend, Sonia. Sonia lived in India, where she grew up, and Steve was living in Omaha, Nebraska. They emailed each other for a year, but then it sort of fell off.

A few years later, Steve emailed her again. This time, he was more committed and she noticed something about him had changed. He was more engaged in their conversations. They emailed for a while and then in February 2007, Steve flew to India to met Sonia for the first time. While he was there, he also met a child that he had been sponsoring for years.

While in India, Steve proposed to Sonia. A few months later, Sonia flew to the U.S. to attend my wedding and meet some of our family. We all instantly fell in love with her and her mother. They were sweet, smart, and genuine. We happily welcomed them into our family.

About five months later, they married in India and a month after that, Sonia moved to the U.S. They’ve been married ever since. Steve and Sonia told me about their story because I never really knew how they met. They told me they got to know each other through email, which enabled them to get to know the others’ heart. They were able to focus on who they were.

They laughed. Sonia said, “I probably would have chosen someone shorter and he would have chosen someone taller, but God had a plan for us and his timing is perfect.” My uncle is 6’4” and towers over Sonia.

I loved hearing their story. It gave me hope that love can be unconventional and can be found in unexpected ways. Steve and Sonia are great together and compliment each other. They fell in love across the world from each one another.

I told them about my travels, the people I’d met, and how it felt like I was doing what I was supposed to be doing with my life. They agreed and said they felt I was in God’s path and that amazing things were in store for me.

They understood my desire to have a partner. Steve, Sonia, and Effie prayed with me and I could feel God’s presence. For me, God’s presence and the relationship we have with him is what is important. Not following some rule that the church put into place, created by man. Having this time with them encouraged me and lifted me up. It was just what I needed.

The next morning, Steve and Sonia went to work in their day jobs while I slept in. Effie made me some breakfast and amazing tea from India. I got to know her better as she told me about her life in India before moving to the U.S. a few years ago.

Effie grew up Catholic and converted to more of a nondenominational decades ago. She felt the call to evangelize in India because she witnessed so many people giving their lives to Jesus. She was so passionate while  talking about her calling and her desire to help the community. In the U.S., she said it’s much harder to evangelize because people are closed off and don’t want to talk about God. I felt for her because I could tell it bummed her out. She has such a heart for God and helps out so many people in the community in any way she can.

After breakfast, I drove to Target to get a case of water and continued my drive towards Denver to stay with some other family members. I was so happy to have stayed with my uncle Steve, Sonia, and Effie, even if it was for a short time. They’re the type of people who accept everyone and bring joy to those around them. They provided me with the support and encouragement I needed to keep my chin up.

Post Edited By: Mandy Strider
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Day 175: Leaving Whistler with a Bang!

After spending six weeks in Whistler, it was time to leave. As I packed, I reflected on my time there and all the things I did:

  • I wrote a lot, oftentimes sitting in a reading nook, peering out the window. A few times, I was able to watch the snow fall.

I settled in, bought groceries and cooked. I even joined a gym while I was there.

  • I watched fall transition to winter, and enjoyed taking in all of the changes during walks in the forest and around town.

I took the bus to town and got to know some locals. I even took advantage of locals’ only discounts!

  • I cleared more than eight inches of snow off my car a few times, drove in the snow, and scraped ice off my gas tank so I could add gas.
  • I met a few guys. Each one helped me learn what I want and don’t want in a relationship.
  • I sat at bars alone, often times listening to live music. Sometimes I felt lonely, but I made myself get out and about anyway.
  • I attended a wine festival and a film festival.
  • I went snowshoeing and snowmobiling.

I did a beer tour tour, a nightclub crawl, and went to a vodka freezer.

  • I went to game nights, pub trivia, and bar bingo.
  • I made several new friends.

I very much enjoyed my time in Whistler and could see myself living there someday. I don’t get that vibe often with places. I don’t know where I’ll end up living, but Whistler is on my list of possibilities.

Before I left Whistler, I wanted to give a letter to Josh, who I had met right after Thanksgiving. When I dropped Josh off after spending 16 hours together, I didn’t know his last name or phone number and I had hoped he would reach out to me. I was 99% sure I’d never hear from him, which made me bummed. I wrote him a letter telling him how I felt because I’m tired of living life afraid – afraid to be me, afraid of rejection, and afraid of being vulnerable. I knew he worked at a fine dining Italian restaurant, but I couldn’t remember which one so I held onto the letter until I could figure it out. Before I left town, I planned on walking into his restaurant, handing him the letter, and walking out.

When I got sushi with my new friend Brittany, she connected me to a Whistler Facebook group. I found Josh on the group and felt relieved that I at least knew his last name and had a way of contacting him. One night at bar bingo, my new friend Saya convinced me to send Josh a message on Facebook. I thought I had seen him at the bar, but the guy disappeared. After a few drinks, I decided it was a good idea.

Of course, my message was lame (what did you expect?) and I said, “Are you around?” This was after not seeing or talking to him for two weeks. I had become accustomed to guys either not responding, responding very late, or responding in a disrespectful way after online dating. I was pleasantly surprised when he wrote back within 15 minutes. We conversed about the weather and how the snow was great. He said now that it was snowing, he was waking up very early every morning to ski. He told me which restaurant he worked at, so I was happy that I could give him my letter.

It was my last day in Whistler and after snowmobiling, I showered, ate dinner, and prepared to leave my Airbnb to surprise Josh with the letter. I was extremely nervous.

“He will probably think I’m a weirdo.”

“What if I become the laughing stock of his friends?”

My friends back home all thought I was crazy. Their response was always the same – if he was interested in you, he would have contacted you. He just wanted to have a fun night and you’ll never hear from him again. That’s how men are. I could hear the tone in their messages as they told me I’m such a hopeless romantic and that this likely would end with a broken heart. I didn’t care.

I knew logically they made sense. It was likely that he never wanted to know me past the night we met. But my instinct kept telling me that he was different. He wasn’t a jerk, he was actually a caring individual. I spent many hours getting to know him, and he didn’t act like other guys. He was tender, he was real, and he had a good heart. I didn’t blame him for not contacting me. It was a strange situation. I was traveling and was only there temporarily. Nobody wants to do long distance, so I didn’t blame him for that. I just needed him to know that I cared and that our time meant something to me, even if that meant I’d be rejected.

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I had a few shots of vodka in preparation for going to the restaurant where he worked. I arrived around 10:20 pm and couldn’t get myself to walk inside. It’s a fine dining restaurant. It’s not like I could just walk in and find him in a sea of people enjoying their fancy meals. I also didn’t want to ask for him because then his coworkers would all wonder what was going on.

I saw a second door that led to a hotel that was connected and went through it. I used the restroom, trying to convince myself that I had the strength and the nerve. People always tell me I’m the bravest person they know – I can assure you that does not apply to the romance department.

Sweating, I managed to get myself into the side door that was by the bar. There was not a single person at the bar, so I asked the bartender if the bar was open. He said it was and got me a menu. The section to my left was crowded with tables full of people enjoying dinner. Behind me, there were lounge tables and some dinner tables, but they were mostly empty.

The bartenders were all from France and were so friendly that it helped to calm my nerves. That, or the vodka was settling in. I ordered a drink and texted my friends. Kristina, who was from Germany, came down within 15 minutes and sat with me at the bar. I slowly turned around, looking to see if I could find Josh. I didn’t know if he was working that night, but it was my last shot.

Kristina and I talked all about her life in Germany. She told me about how she thought Canada would be a lot like the U.K., but she found that is not at all the case. She described German people as being very straight forward, but in Canada, they consider it rude. I told her it’s because Canadians are known for being very nice.

I was enjoying Kristina’s company. At some point, I thought I saw the back of Josh walk by me twice. He was headed the other direction so he only saw my back. I was also trying to cover my face with my hair. I told Kristina about my letter and my dilemma.

At just past 11:00 pm, two servers who were running the bar after the bartenders left said they needed to close out our tabs. I panicked and told Kirstina to stall. We slowly paid and I messaged Josh, asking him to come to the bar. He wasn’t responding and after a few minutes, our bill was closed.

Kristina, being a straight-forward German, asked the servers, “Is Josh here?” The girls looked at each other and one said, “I think he just left.” The other chimed in, “Yeah, he was helping a large party and once they were done, he went home. He just left.” Kristina immediately said, “Can we give you something to give to him?”

Panicked, I said, “No, it’s ok.” The sweet servers enthusiastically said, “Yeah! We can give him something.” Kristina tried to grab the letter from my hand and I tried to shove it back into my purse as I quietly told her, “It’s fine. I’ll message him.” The servers, trying to be helpful, said, “We can tell you his schedule tomorrow.” I assured them it was fine and that I’d message him.

Kristina and I walked outside and met our friends Saya and Misato from Japan, who had just arrived after getting off of work. We brainstormed as to what I should do. I wanted to just run away. Kristina reminded me that I wanted to tell him how I felt and I came there to give him the letter, so I should do it. She told me I could give the letter to her and she’d go back the next day and give it him. I gave her the letter and we all decided to go have a drink at Brickworks bar.

They all thought the idea of writing a letter and giving it to Josh was romantic and they gave an “awe…”. I explained to them what my brother used to say many years ago, “If the person likes you back, they’re flattered. If they don’t like you back, it’s stalking.” I think he’s right. I had no idea if Josh would consider this romantic or consider me a stalker.

As we sat at Brickworks, Josh messaged me back and said he was in bed after skiing and working all day. I told him it was my last night in Whistler and there was something I wanted to give him. He said he would come back out, but he was too exhausted. He asked when I was leaving the following day and said he could meet me to say goodbye.

I was happy that he offered to meet me. I told him once I checked out of my Airbnb, I was going to the holiday market at one of the hotels, and then I needed to head south by around 2:00 pm. He said he’d keep me posted because he would be skiing early in the day and then had to work that evening, but he thought he’d have some time to meet me in the village to say goodbye.

My new friends and I had a great time talking over some wine. I played some classic American songs on the jukebox and we talked about relationships, what it was like in their home countries, and how much fun we’d had together. They are amazing people with warm hearts, and they were so encouraging. I felt lucky to have met them and figured I’d go visit their countries once they were back there. They walked me to the bus station and we hugged goodbye.

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The next day, I checked out of my Airbnb and drove to the winter market at the hotel. Misato met me there and we looked around at the locally made items. It was much smaller than we anticipated, so we walked through the village. Misato hadn’t been in Whistler very long and was working a lot, so she didn’t have a lot of time to shop around yet. It was a great time because we got to know each other better now that it wasn’t in a loud bar or while we were playing a board game.

Josh messaged me at 1:00 pm saying he was about to do his last run and he’d be done by 2:00 pm. Then at 2:00 pm, he was done and asked where to meet me. Misato and I had just finished shopping and were by the Pangea Pod hotel, which is a hostel. They have a nice restaurant on the second floor overlooking the village. We went inside and I told Josh to meet me there.

When we walked inside, Brittany, my friend from the beer tours, was there to get people to sign up for the tours. It was perfect because I hadn’t gotten a chance to say goodbye to her. We talked for a bit and then Misato and I went to the bar to order some coffee while Brittany was at her table with promotional material. I was incredibly nervous and this time didn’t have alcohol to help give me courage.

As I was looking at the menu, Josh tapped me on my left shoulder. I turned around and he had a big smile on his face. I was awkward of course and messed up giving him a hug. He was in his ski gear, took off his jacket, and sat down. I was pleasantly surprised because I wondered if he’d just message me saying he was downstairs and ask me to come outside to give him whatever I had to give him. Or maybe he’d come upstairs, but quickly leave.

I introduced him to Misato and she ordered coffee, talking with the bartender. I was turned towards Josh, talking. We talked about the ski conditions and how amazing the snow had been the last two weeks. Within about ten minutes, Misato had to go to work so she hugged me goodbye. Ten minutes later, Brittany came over and hugged me goodbye because she had to leave.

I continued to talk to Josh over the next hour. I kept thinking he was probably about to leave at any moment. After 40 minutes, the bartender asked if I wanted to order anything (I never ordered my coffee) and I said no because I thought Josh was about to leave. To my surprise, he ordered an espresso.

We continued to talk and I told him about my snowshoeing and snowmobiling experiences. As he told me about skiing, he was enthusiastic and never made me feel awkward. I enjoyed talking with him and it was reassuring that we could still have great conservations, even without any alcohol. It reminded me why I liked him in the first place. He was so easy to talk to and I was attracted to him.

After an hour, Josh said he needed to go because he had to change for work. I told him I needed to get headed south to make it to Mount Vernon, Washington that evening to stay the night with a friend. We put on our coats, walked down the stairs, and went outside. He gave me directions on how to get back to my car and then he gave me a hug.

As we hugged, I reached into my purse to grab the letter. I had printed it at the library and put it in an envelope. I was terrified about how he’d react, but he came out to say goodbye and I was reminded that I like him. I could also run away right after I gave it to him.

At the end of the hug, I pulled the folded envelope out of my purse and said, “Just don’t make fun of me.” Josh looked down, took the letter, and looked up with a huge smile on his face. He immediately gave me another hug. I felt relieved that he didn’t make me feel like a weirdo. We said goodbye and went our separate ways.

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I drove to Washington feeling amazing. I had conquered a tremendous fear. I let myself be vulnerable, even if it meant embarrassing myself. I trusted my instincts and they were right. Josh wasn’t a jerk and he didn’t make me feel like it was a pity goodbye. He seemed happy and being able to see and talk with him again confirmed what I believed about him.

I know I can’t control the future. I can’t make someone like me. I am a hopeless romantic and I desperately want life to be like the great books and movies where big gestures happen and anything is possible. They say that you should “be the change you want to see.” Well, I want to see people letting themselves be vulnerable. I want to see people taking risks in life. I want to see people express themselves to those they care about. So, I decided to start with me. I can’t expect someone else to treat me that way if I’m not willing to do the same.

I knew I probably wouldn’t hear from Josh for at least a few days. I was feeling happy and content that I was able to say goodbye in person and give him the letter.  Now it was in his hands.

Post Edited By: Mandy Strider
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Days 170-174: Snowshoeing and Snowmobiling

There was snow at the top of Whistler Mountain, so they were finally doing snowshoe tours. I love the snow and having lived in Los Angeles for the last 15 years, I was missing it. I met the group of six (and two tour guides) at the office and we started to put on boots that would be good for hooking the snowshoes onto.

The group consisted of  the following:

  • A married couple in their 50s from Victoria, British Columbia. They were celebrating the wife’s birthday, which was that day.
  • A married couple in their 50s from North Vancouver, British Columbia. They were visiting their daughter who lives there.
  • An Aunt and a niece from Australia. They don’t ski (the mom was out skiing), so they signed up for snowshoeing. The aunt said she figured out what she wants to do with her life in her 50s, which is farming and forestry. It’s never too late to discover this!

We boarded the gondola, which took about 20 minutes to reach the top. Kierra, one of the guides, was in my gondola. She appeared to be in her 20s and was from Australia. She told us that she came to Whistler in 2011 and spent some time there, but then went back to Australia. She just returned for the new season and had a work visa.

Kierra commented on how things have changed a lot since she was first in Whistler years ago. Maybe it was because Vail (a U.S. company) bought them out. She said, “Maybe it’s because the U.S. dollar is worth more than the Canadian dollar, but there are a lot more Americans here now.” I thought that was strange considering I had only met two Americans. I told her I had mostly met Australians. She responded, “That’s because we’re the loudest.”

Kierra also told our group that she noticed the party and drug scene was much more prevalent than it was years ago. Like most people working in Whistler, she commented about the housing situation. Kierra described it as large corporations taking advantage of young people who don’t mind sharing rooms. But as people age, they want their own space.

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We arrived at the top of Whistler Mountain and it was a beautiful, clear day with bright blue skies. We put our snowshoes on and started walking towards a reservoir. The mountain range in the distance was magnificent!

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We passed the ski and snowboard runs with care and once past them, we got to walk on fresh snow. It was deep and took effort. As we walked towards the reservoir, the guides told us to be careful not to step on baby trees that might be just below the snow.

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We walked around the reservoir and took some pictures of Blackholm Mountain. Once we walked around it, we climbed up a small hill. The snow and icicles were picturesque. The sun reflected off the snow and provided some warmth.

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Once at the top of the small hill, we slid on our butts down a little patch that some other people had created. It was a lot of fun! We had to walk back uphill to the gondola to return. As we walked, I talked with the other guide, Annabel.

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Annabel is from northern England. She had been in Whistler for one year and had another year to go. Once her visa expired, she planned on going to Japan and Australia. Annabel told me she was an excellent student in high school, but she decided not to apply for University because she wanted to experience and live in other countries. She said, “My teachers were all surprised, but I think I’m gaining more life lessons these last couple of years than if I were at University.” Annabel said her friends that were currently in University were unhappy and it’s a big party scene. She’s not into partying, so she felt it was better she wasn’t around that.

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I understand Annabel’s situation. As a society, we’ve pushed higher education on everyone even though it may not be the best path for everyone. She was learning a lot about different cultures, had to problem solve on her own, and navigate traveling – skills she wouldn’t learn at University.

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Annabel told me that before coming to Whistler, she was an Au Pair for a family in Spain and had a good experience. However, her next Au Pair position was for a family in Greece for six weeks. The parents were highly successful and had two children around seven and ten years old. The entire family was super fit and healthy, and worked out all of the time. When she arrived, the kids showed her their 6-pack abs and asked to see hers, which she declined.

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Annabel was thin and I was shocked as she told me the seven year old gripped her leg one day,pulled out an inch, and said, “If you lose this much, you’ll be great.” When she would be out in public with the kids, they’d laugh at overweight people. Annabel has overweight family members and was offended. When she told the mother she thought the comments were insulting, the mother said they probably got it from her, but she’d talk with the children.

We arrived at the gondola and started to head back down the mountain. Annabel was in my gondola and told us all how the family in Greece asked her to speak with a London accent because they didn’t like her northern English accent. In Whistler, she used to work at the Four Seasons hotel and watched children in the daycare center. The hotel also asked her to speak with a London accent. She’d only been to London once, so she was still working on eliminating words they asked her not to speak and fine-tuning her inflections. I thought it was rude that they asked her to change how she speaks.

Once we finished the tour, we parted ways. I walked over to Merlin’s Bar and Restaurant and ate a burger. It was almost completely empty, except an older guy next to me training his seeing-eye dog. Before I left, skiers started to come inside because it was getting dark. I loved being in the snow and seeing all the skiers made me want to learn how to ski…One day!

I wanted to stay in Whistler a little longer because the snow was finally in the forecast, but my Airbnb wasn’t available. I booked another Airbnb that was just down the road and was in the same building as the gym I had joined. When I checked out of my Airbnb that had been my home for the last five weeks, the owner, Lisa, stopped by to get the key. She also brought me a bottle of wine as a “thank-you” for putting up with all of the construction in the unit above me.

I loaded my car in the rain, frustrated it wasn’t snow. It had snowed a few days earlier, but the rain was now making all of the snow melt. I was able to check-in at my next Airbnb early. It was also a studio apartment, but this one had a loft for the bedroom. It was on the top floor, which provided great views of a nearby river. However, I had to carry my bags up four flights of stairs.

The next day, it was snowing! It was finally snowing hard, with large flakes. I looked out the balcony window and just watched the snow fall while I enjoyed my breakfast and coffee. It was so beautiful and it was exactly what I had been wanting for over a month. I was able to get cozy inside my apartment and write while watching the snow fall.

The following day, I woke up to a message from a friend asking if I wanted to know what the profit sharing was for the company I used to work for. I knew it would be very high because of the new tax breaks. He told me the amount and it was the most the company has ever given out. It was painful realizing that if I had stayed working there for six more months, I would have received that money.

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I decided to go for a walk. It was snowing, but I could still see where the concrete path went through the woods. It was beautiful. Peaceful, clean, and clear. I walked around a lake and to the train tracks. The snow was deep and I loved smashing my boots through it.

I walked back and continued across the highway to Creekside Village. I watched the skiers and snowboarders going up and down the mountain. I went to the gingerbread house and ordered an apple brown-butter latte. I sat there thinking about the money I lost because I quit my job.

Then I thought about how I’d spent the last six months: the things I’ve experienced, the people I’ve met, and the beauty that I’ve seen. I believe you have to be willing to give up “good” to experience “great.” I gave up my job, house, money, status, and comfort to pursue my dreams. I was happy with my decision. Chasing your dreams is hard and making sacrifices for your dream is harder. But I have faith that it will all be worth it in the end.

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That evening, I took the bus to the village and enjoyed some live music at the Fairmont Chateau. It was much busier now that dead-season was over. There was a holiday party for a healthcare company and I briefly talked with a woman from the party who was at the bar waiting for her drink. Seeing the holiday party reminded me of the holiday parties with my old company and I missed some of my friends.

The next day it was finally time for snowmobiling! I had been wanting to do this for weeks, but due to the lack of snow, they weren’t offering tours. Whistler had received 36” of snow in the last 48 hours (and 72” in the last seven days), so it was very deep.

The van took our group of five about 15 minutes out of town and halfway up a mountain. They had snowmobiles and other summer outdoor treetop activities there, which involved climbing and walking across ropes to various trees. The others in my group were a mom and daughter, and a couple who appeared to be in their 30s.

Our tour guide was from Australia and said he came to Whistler six years ago and never left. Back then, he applied for a visa and received it in seven days. As he showed us a 60 second demonstration on how to use the snowmobiles, he casually included, “Because of the deep powdery snow conditions today, at least one of you will flip. Any questions?”

I hadn’t driven a snowmobile since I was about 12 years old. I had a blast with my brother and dad riding through the Colorado mountains, but that was decades ago. Alarmed, I said, “Excuse me, You said we might flip? What exactly do we do if this happens?”

The tour guide said, “Well, keep your feet inside the foot holders or when it flips to the side, you could break your ankle. Also, if the machine starts to go off the mountain, make sure you jump off. But jump backwards so you don’t fall down the mountain. We don’t care if we lose the machine. We only care if we lose you.”

I thought, “Does this guy think I’m Tom Cruise and I can jump through the air backwards off of my machine and let it go crashing down the mountain?”

The couple was riding on one machine and they were right behind the  guide. The mom and daughter drove their own machines and were behind me. We started out immediately climbing on an old fire road on the side of the mountain.

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There were some tours in the morning, so there was some tracks we could follow and put our blades in. Because it had just snowed and not many people had been on the trails, it was extremely powdery and bumpy. The guide told us to make sure we shifted our weight on the machine on bumps and curves or we wouldn’t be able to turn. He was correct and I had to put my weight into it.

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Halfway up the mountain, we lost the mom and daughter and the guide went back to find them. It turned out that the daughter had flipped to the side. He was able to get her back up and continue driving.

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I was ecstatic as we continued to gain elevation! Giant pine trees covered in snow surrounded us. When there was a break in the trees, we could see the beautiful mountain range.

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Once we arrived at the top, we got off our machines to take pictures. As soon as I stepped unto the snow, I sank almost to my knees! The snow didn’t look that deep so it surprised me. We had a blast playing in the deep snow banks on the side and taking in the view.

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The sun was starting to set as we headed back down. I took off my goggles because they were tinted, which made it harder to see. I could see better without them, but it started to snow and it was getting in my eyes.

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We went much faster going down the mountain and it was a blast! We turned on our headlights and raced down. I loved snowmobiling so much and I decided I want to live in the mountains and own a snowmobile.

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Once we finished, we headed back to the village in Whistler. I was happy that I finally was able to enjoy Whistler’s famous deep snow. While November was the warmest, driest month on record, December ended up receiving the most snow in Whistler history. The lesson? Sometimes periods of drought are followed by periods of blizzards.

Post Edited By: Mandy Strider

Days 163-169: Friends in Whistler

I met Brittany during a nightclub crawl and a daytime brewery tour. We agreed to have some sushi over lunch one day. She’s 30, fit, and has long dark hair. When I arrived, Brittany was already sitting at a table so I joined her there. I couldn’t help but notice the green painting on the wall by our table. It was the same painting that Josh (a guy I had meet the week prior) had waited for two weeks to have added to his snowboard and ended up living in Whistler.

Brittany told me about the separation with her husband. They had been together for eight years and married for about three of those years. They had been separated for awhile, but hadn’t gotten around to filing. In Canada, you have to be legally separated for 12 months before you can file for divorce.

Brittany realized they were more friends than romantic partners. She is still friends with her ex, and even invited him and his new girlfriend over for dinner. She said one of the reasons it ended was because he was so into rock climbing that it became an obsession. I understand the feeling of drifting apart and feeling like you’re just friends.

While enjoying some sake and sushi, Brittany and I talked about how neither of us wanted to have kids if our marriage wasn’t strong and in a good place. I told her about the lies that my ex-husband told me over the years and she listened intently saying, “It’s like a Dr. Phil episode!” It was nice having a friend to hang out with. Brittany had to go to work so we parted ways.

A few days later, I saw there was a trivia night at a local pub and I asked Saya if she wanted to go with me. Saya is from Japan, is in her early 30s, snowboards, and was in Whistler for a one-year working visa. I had met her at game night at the library. I was able to snag a table right by the stage. The place was packed with teams.

Saya brought her friend, Boram, who was also from Japan. We had a great time attempting to answer the trivia questions and drinking some beer. There were a few categories and we struggled the most on the music category. We didn’t do very well with our answers, but I used the excuse that it was because none of us were from Canada.

The next night, a local bar was hosting Bingo. I met Saya and her friend Serena there. It was packed and we waited in line in the cold for 30 minutes before we could get inside. We were able to snag a tall table that had a couple of guys getting ready to leave. We missed the first round, but we were able to join in the second round.

A few of Saya’s friends joined us, like Misato. I had met her at game night at the library as well. She’s in her late 20s, from Japan, and was also there for a one-year work visa. I talked with her about dating apps because we had both tried Tinder. We agreed it was fun, but often times frustrating. We drank wine and had a great time hoping we’d win something. The girls even made some amazing origami out of old score cards!

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There was another game night a week later at the library, so I went there again. This would be the third and final game night I’d be able to attend before leaving Whistler. This time, I was playing with Saya, Misato, Kristina, and a new girl, Lucy.

At 6’5”, Lucy was very tall, had blonde hair, and was in her early 30s. She had visited Canada 10 years prior and loved it. This time, she had a two-year work visa. However, she said she was missing her boyfriend in France and didn’t want to stay for two years. Kristina was not happy about this and said, “It’s not fair. We can only get one year visas and you get a two a year visa and don’t even use it.”

The five of us played a train game called Ticket to Ride. We were all learning so it was slow going at first. I thought I was doing pretty well, but once it ended and we calculated points, I was not even close to winning.

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On another night, I wanted to go to Bingo night at Tapley’s bar. It would be the last one I could attend because I would be leaving in a few days. Saya and Misato met me at the entrance and we only had to wait a few minutes before we got inside. However, once we got inside, it was packed! We looked around for a table or any spot where could share a table.

As we searched around, a guy said we could use his table. He had offered it to two other guys as well and they scooted over to make room for us. The tall, rectangular table had a few bar stools and there was a ledge where two people could sit on one side of the table. Misato and Saya sat there and I stood at the corner.

The guy, Trevor, who originally offered the table to us was on the opposite side of the table and called me over. He was very tall, had an average build, had brown hair, and was 37. I was not physically attracted to him. He asked me my name and then gestured towards Misato and Saya saying, “Are you their tour guide?” Offended, I said, “Excuse me? They’re my friends.” I already didn’t like this arrogant guy who thought he owned the place, but I needed the table.

We got score cards and talked with the two other guys. They were from Vancouver, but were in Whistler for work. They were friendly to talk with and were respectful. Trevor on the other hand, was a jerk. He kept putting his arm on my back and then would slowly run it across my butt. He gave me one of the other guy’s bar stool and made that guy stand. I figured maybe the touching would be better if I was sitting down.

I was wrong – he started to rub my leg, going up my thigh. Multiple times, I pushed his hand away, made a face, and started turning my body against him. I could only turn so far and he continued to touch me on my back and leg. At one point after I moved his hand off of my leg, he asked, “Is it ok that I’m touching your leg?” I replied, “No,” but it didn’t stop him.

Over the next hour and a half, Trevor told me that he’s from Whistler and works in drywall for multimillion dollar homes. One of the guys at our table won a game and got a free pitcher of beer for our table. The place was loud and busy, and our table was close to a register with a server station. Trevor knew all of the servers and kept calling them over for different things. He was making it clear he was an important, well-connected person. Then Trevor casually mentioned that he can’t leave Canada. I asked why and he quickly said, “I was sent to prison after tying some people up in their home.”

Trevor called a waitress over and ordered some drinks as if nothing had happened. Once the server left, I said, “I’m sorry, what did you say? You tied people up?” He told the story, “Well, I was 19-years old and me and my buddy were breaking into houses in Whistler to steal stuff. When we got into one house, we saw there was a husband and a wife and we didn’t know they were home. So we tied them up. You know, what else are you going to do? Well, it turns out that they had set off their alarm and the cops caught us. I spent four years in prison and now I’m not allowed to leave Canada.”

I stared at Trevor in disbelief and disgust at his casual telling of the story. I said, “You broke into their home and tied them up?” He responded, “Yeah, whatever, I was only 19. I’m very successful now.” He went on to describe how his mother is wealthy and owns a lot of hotels in the area, but he assured me he doesn’t take her money and earns his own.

Trevor won bingo and got a ski hat that said “Whis Life” on it. He immediately gave it to me and I like hats, so I put it on. He said, “Wow, you were pretty before, but you’re even prettier with that hat on.” I cringed. Misato and Saya couldn’t hear a lot of what Trevor was saying and they were talking with the other two guys. But they could tell by my body language that I was not enjoying him. At one point when Trevor left the table, I leaned over to Saya and told her he was a creep. She agreed.

For 20 minutes, Trevor kept saying he was going to leave and go to some exclusive place. He wanted me to go with him and I kept telling him no, I was staying with my friends. He made me put his phone number in my phone and send him a text message. He said I’d have to text him so I could get inside, otherwise the line would be too long. To get rid of him, I kept telling him I’d meet up with him after bingo. He kept pressing me to leave right then and then he said he thought we should just have sex. I declined his offer and kept trying to focus on Bingo.

I kept pushing him away from me and wondered why he wasn’t picking up on my very obvious body language that I was not interested. I also wondered why I was putting up with it and not just telling him off. It’s strange. Even in the moment, I thought, “Why don’t I walk away from this guy?” But I needed his table because there was nowhere else to go. He also knew all of the servers there. He was tall, domineering, and aggressive. It’s astonishing how much power a man can hold over a woman, treat her poorly, and get away with it. But no matter what I did or said, he wouldn’t stop touching me.

Finally, Trevor left. Shortly after, the other two guys left. After the last game, Misato went home because her throat was hurting. Saya and I decided to walk to Brickworks so we could actually hear each other talk.

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We talked about relationships and she told me about her ex-boyfriend who she hiked with in New Zealand. He was Australian and they looked like a really cute couple. But they fought a lot and it didn’t work out. I could tell that she was still hurt by the breakup and I completely understood. She’s a snowboarder and an active, adventurous person. It’s hard to find someone who sets your heart on fire and who has similar interests.

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Saya and I had more drinks and had a really fun time. Then I walked through the village with her until I had to take a different path to the bus stop, and we hugged goodbye. The friends I had made in Whistler were genuine, adventurous, friendly, and open. I think Whistler attracts a certain type and I felt like “my people” were there. They had left their home country or home city to explore the world on their own. I have a lot of respect for them and felt profoundly grateful for their friendship.

Post Edited By: Mandy Strider
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Day 154: A Night to Remember

It was the Saturday after U.S. Thanksgiving and the insanely loud noise from the flooring construction in the unit above started promptly at 9:00 am. I went to bed late and didn’t want to leave the warmth and coziness of the blankets. I fell in and out of sleep over the next few hours, having crazy dreams.

Around 4:30 pm, I took the bus to the holiday market at the conference center. It was so much fun listening to Christmas carols, buying some locally made items and food, and settling in to the Christmas spirit.

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After spending a couple of hours there, I walked around the village and perused a bookstore. I needed to use the restroom so I popped into a hotel. When I came out, I saw the Whistler nightclub crawl was getting ready to start in the lounge area. The leaders, Brittany and JD, were training a new girl and getting all of the name tags ready. They had 90 people attending the crawl that night – Yikes!

It was good chatting with them for a bit and Brittany and I agreed to get sushi sometime. She recommended that I get a cocktail at 21 Steps Kitchen and Bar. I trusted her recommendation, so I walked over to the restaurant/bar. It was around 7:45 pm and people were waiting for tables at the higher-end restaurant. I was seated at the bar and there was only one other seat available, which was to my left.

I ordered a drink and then a salad. I was fascinated by the bartender’s ability to make specialty cocktails, wines, and beers at light speed. I was close to the end of the bar, so I watched as he zipped through cocktail after cocktail, lining them up for the servers to take to tables.

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I felt a little bummed as I looked around at the tables filling up with couples and groups of friends. The bar sat about eight to ten people and I was the only one sitting next to an empty chair.

As I was halfway through my salad, a guy took off his coat and sat next to me at the bar. I couldn’t see him very well since he was directly next to me in my peripheral vision, but he appeared to be young and was wearing a baseball hat. He ordered a beer and I thought, “Are you even old enough to drink?”

He knew the bartender and the manager, and they chatted about the ski conditions. I finished my salad and the bartender asked me if I wanted to order dinner. I said, “That was my dinner.” I ordered another cocktail as the guy next to me ordered appetizers. Through the bar, I could see the cooks motioning to the guy next to me. Finally, one of the cooks came to the bar and they chatted for a bit about mountain biking. I figured this guy must be older than I thought since he knows all of these employees who appear to be in their 30s. I overheard them say his name: Josh.

As Josh was eating his first appetizer, I turned towards him and asked, “How do you know all of these people?” He told me he’s from Australia, but he’s been in Whistler for eight years. When Josh came to Whistler on a work visa, he first managed a bar because that was his experience in Australia. However, he quickly realized he could make more money by being a server so he stepped down. During his time in Whistler, he’s worked at several different restaurants and has worked with these guys at various places. He was currently working at a fine-dining Italian restaurant.

Surprised to hear that Josh had been in Whistler for eight years, I figured he must be in his late 20s. We continued to talk and I told him I was staying in Whistler for a month writing. I turned towards him a bit so I could see him better as he ate his appetizers. His blonde hair stuck out from the bottom and sides of his baseball hat. He had blue eyes, no facial hair, was thin, and appeared to be around 5’9”-5’10”. On his left arm, I could see a tattoo sticking out from the slightly rolled up sleeve on his checkered button-up shirt. He was cute.

After I told Josh about writing my book and blogging about driving to Alaska, he told me he wants to ski all 50 mountain peaks that are in the western US and Canada, all in one winter. He asked me how he’d go about doing that – could he write or blog about it? I told him about my blog and Instagram.

Josh finished eating and we both kept ordering drinks – although he switched from beer to a gin and tonic. We both turned towards each other as we talked. Josh has traveled to more than 35 countries, including the western US, Europe, Africa, and the Middle East. His favorite city was Portland until he went to Amsterdam.

Josh told me that in 2010, he was heading to Banff from Vancouver and he drove through Whistler. He saw a snowboard for sale that had a design from his favorite artist, who was from Whistler. When he tried to purchase it, he was told it would take two weeks to make. While he waited, he found a job and a place to live and has been there ever since.

Josh spends his time skiing, snowboarding, working, and recently got into mountain biking. He described Whistler as getting busier in the shoulder seasons, but he’s still able to take off about four months a year to travel. When he hit 31, his work visa expired and he applied for permanent residency. He is now 33 years old and a permanent resident.

Josh and I had a similar sense of humor and view on life. I was happy to have the company so I kept ordering drinks. The cook came over and asked Josh if he wanted a dessert and Josh chose the cheesecake. He told me, “You’re going to have to help me eat that.” When the cheesecake arrived with one spoon, Josh quickly asked them for another spoon. We shared dessert and it was starting to feel like I was on a date. I am drawn to free spirits who have opinions about the world and there was never a lull in our conversation. Customers had to pass by the bar on their way in and out of the restaurant and as it emptied out, I didn’t even notice. That’s when I knew I was starting to like this guy. The rest of the world seemed to disappeared.

Josh and I talked about border crossings and how he is afraid going into the US and I get afraid going into Canada. He told me how he drove to Alaska, almost to Fairbanks, and stayed with a friend in Anchorage for a month. On his way back down south, he stopped in Dawson City and told me how the town is like an old west town with saloons. He drank the famous drink they serve with a toe inside the glass. Your mouth has to touch the toe, which is disgusting. I had heard about that place on my travels to Alaska so it felt good to talk to someone who knew about it as well.

After the two guys next to Josh left, a single guy sat down. At one point, he interrupted so he could comment and said, “Sorry, I’ve been eavesdropping.” It turned out Josh knew him too.

At 11:15 pm, they asked if we wanted one more drink since they were closing at 11:30 pm. Josh told his friend, the cook, “If I have another one, I won’t be able to go mountain biking tomorrow.” I was happy when he ordered another drink, so I did too. At 11:45 pm, we were almost the last people there and they were closing up. We walked out together and he made a comment about going to Brickworks, a bar. The guy who had been eavesdropping was with us too, so as I walked with them, I asked, “Is it ok that I’m coming too?” Josh replied, “Yes, of course.” Then he shook my hand and said, “I’m Josh by the way.” We laughed as I introduced myself as well, realizing we hadn’t technically gotten eachother’s names.

We arrived at Brickworks and it wasn’t very crowded. After taking bathroom breaks, we sat at the bar with Josh to my right. The other guy was down the bar a bit. The bartender let me sample a couple of beers and I picked one. As I was talking to the bartender, Josh was talking to the guy on his right. Of course, he used to work with that guy too.

After two beers, the bar was closing at 1:00 am. All of a sudden, it got super quiet and we noticed everyone was gone. The bartender needed to close out our tabs and asked, “Together or separate?” I quickly replied, “Separate” because I didn’t want Josh to feel obligated to pay for my drinks. Josh and I walked outside and he immediately set out to another place that was open until 2:00 am. He said it was the only bar open that late; all the others that are open until 2:00 am were underground clubs because of noise ordinances. The last bar was packed. We could barely squeeze our way inside. Once again, Josh knew someone as we were walking into the main section. He introduced me as his “friend, Christy.”

Josh asked what I wanted to drink and I said a beer, so he fought the crowd and brought back two beers. We stood in the middle of the packed bar talking. Now that we were standing while talking to each other, I realized he was a few inches shorter than me. That always makes me nervous because some guys feel uncomfortable with taller women. But being 6’1”, this happens to me most of the time. I’ve only dated one guy who was taller than me – he was an inch taller. The rest have been one to five inches shorter than me.

It was loud inside the bar so we had to stand close to each other to hear, which made the height discrepancy more apparent. The nice thing was that he didn’t seem bothered by it at all. He was also thinner than me. Sometimes that makes me self-conscious, even though I prefer thinner guys over larger guys. He didn’t seem bothered by the weight difference either. It made me feel accepted. He didn’t even seem to notice, and we were able to just focus on our conversation and who we are as people.

It was now 2:15 am and the bar was closing. We laughed that we closed out three different places. On the way out, I told him I was going to use the restroom and he said, “I’ll wait for you outside.” When I got outside, he said, “I’d invite you back to my place, but I just ran out of vodka.” I said, “Well, I have vodka sodas at my place and you’re welcome to come over.”

We took a taxi to where I was staying. I showed him around my little studio, got us vodka sodas, and we sat on the reading nook by the window. I turned on my favorite pandora station and we bonded over music. He told “dad jokes” and made me laugh.

For the next three hours, we talked about politics, gun control, movies, and adventures. At one point, Josh got so passionate about politics, he jumped up and was standing, sort of shouting. I just laughed because I was enjoying how passionate he was about it. Even though we didn’t see eye-to-eye on many things, I knew his heart was in a good place and he really cared about people.

My ex-husband had no opinions about anything, which drove me insane. I tried and tried to get his opinion on topics and he’d always say, “Well, you’re right.” It was maddening not being able to have a good discussion with my partner for a decade. I’ve realized that I need to be with someone who is passionate and has opinions, even if I disagree with them. As long as that person can have a considerate, respectful conversation, I’m down. It’s an absolute must for me in a relationship. I lose interest in someone who doesn’t have anything to say.

Josh realized he was getting too animated and upset when he was standing and yelling about politics. He paused and said, “I’m sorry. I know I need to work on being calmer when talking about these things.” He sat back down and we continued talking about other topics.

At 5:30 am, our conversation came to an end for the first time in nine hours. We looked at each other and laughed. He said, “Can we stop talking about politics and makeout?” I laughed, “Yeah.”

Josh kissed me with just the right amount of assertiveness. He was gentle and sweet, which made me feel comfortable. We made out and I laid on Josh’s shoulder as we talked more about his family and life in Australia. He kissed my forehead and his embrace was something I hadn’t felt in a very long time.

I knew our time would end soon and as he fell asleep, I laid there thinking about how wonderful the night had been. My recent experiences on dating apps had been making me very depressed. The guys put in zero effort. One guy kept wanting to “come over and say hello.” When I kept suggesting we go meet for a drink first, he’d end up being too tired to go out. We messaged for two weeks and never met up. He’d say he was going to get dinner and would let me know how he was feeling afterwards. I wondered why he couldn’t have just invited me to dinner…

I know sometimes my expectations are too high. I am an idealist and a hopeful romantic. The previous year attempting to date hadn’t gone well and I was really starting to believe I’d be alone forever. I’m too weird – there’s nobody who would like me for me and be willing to put in the effort. A few days before I met Josh, I figured I’d give up on meeting people online because it always just ended in hurt feelings and feeling disrespected. I hadn’t cancelled my subscriptions though because I was afraid that I simply wouldn’t meet someone in real life. All of the good guys are in relationships. Those left are often narcissistic jerks who only want to hook-up or are super lazy.

As I laid there, I knew that this probably wouldn’t last. I was only going to be in Whistler for two more weeks. He likely didn’t want a long-distance relationship and maybe this is all it would ever be. But as hard as I try not to care about someone, my feelings always get involved. I’m either not interested in someone at all or I fall for them. And when I fall, I fall hard.

I tried to focus on how I was feeling in that moment. I wanted to remember it, to cherish it. The way he looked at me. The feeling that someone cared enough about me that he spent over twelve hours talking with me, laughing with me, debating with me, kissing me, and holding me. I didn’t want it to end.

We ended up falling asleep as the sun was making its way through the blinds. An hour and a half later, the construction started on the unit above, disturbing our sleep. At 12:30 pm, Josh woke up and wasn’t sure if he worked at 3:00 pm or 5:00 pm that day. I took him home so he wouldn’t have to take the bus.

I dropped him off at a place near his house so he could get a coffee. As soon as I stopped the car, he opened the door to get out saying, “Have a nice rest of your trip.” He was out of the car too fast. I said, “Do you want my number at all? To maybe hang out again?” He said, “Well, that was my night off for the week, but sure.” He took my number and said goodbye.

I drove away feeling sad. I didn’t even know his last name or phone number. I had no way of getting ahold of him. I would have to sit and hope he messaged me, which I knew was very unlikely. I was angry with myself that I didn’t ask for his number, felt hurt that he didn’t ask for mine, and felt regretful that I didn’t tell him how I felt. I was also confused. He didn’t act like the guy who just wanted to make out. He acted like he cared. I knew his response would likely be, “You don’t live here.” But I still wished for the ending in all of the romantic comedies – the unexpected, the big gestures, and the “anything is possible” attitude. It was an unbelievable night and in the end, I fell for him. 

Post Edited By: Mandy Strider
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Days 152-153: Thanksgiving For One

Day 152 was American Thanksgiving. While Canada had their Thanksgiving the month prior, the ski resorts still recognize the day because it’s the official start of ski season. American tourists will often go to Whistler over the long weekend. This year, there wasn’t any snow. It hadn’t snowed at all the entire month, so the resort was making snow at the top so some of the runs could be opened. People could ski on the top half, but they couldn’t ski to the bottom.

I don’t ski or snowboard, but I wanted to enjoy the snow because I think it’s beautiful. I also wanted to go snowmobiling. On Thanksgiving, I walked to the gym and got a workout in. Afterwards, I FaceTimed with my family in Missouri so I could say hello and see all of the delicious food they were eating.

After showering, I decided to go to my favorite restaurant to eat a Thanksgiving meal. Portobello is attached to the Fairmont Chateau at the base of Blackholm mountain. I ordered the chicken mushroom pie and a dessert. It was just as delicious as when I ate it back in September. The place was mostly empty, as was that whole section of the village. Blackholm didn’t have the gondola operating. It was only operating at Whistler mountain across the way.

I walked around the Fairmont Hotel, which was decorated beautifully for Christmas. There is something special about luxury hotels. I just love them. I love the details that people put into making a magical atmosphere. I wandered the halls, wishing I could live there.

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Outside, the trees were laden with lights, adding to the festive experience. It started to drizzle and I regretted not having my umbrella. I walked the Village Stroll over to the main part of the village. Because it was Thanksgiving, I didn’t just want to sit around at home. I saw a sign for a Vodka Ice Bar. It was inside of a hotel, so I went to the front to ask about it.

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They keep this small freezer room at -22 F (-30 C) full of vodka. You can do an expensive tour and it includes four shots of vodka in 20 minutes. You aren’t allowed to stay longer due to the cold. I signed up for the tour, but there wasn’t a group to go yet so I ordered a drink and some oysters at the bar. It was around 5:30 pm and it was mostly empty.

To my left was a couple from Seattle and to my right was a couple from Portland. Both couples were there for the long weekend to ski and were pretty bummed about the conditions. They were the first Americans I had met the entire month in Whistler.

I talked with the couple to my right about my travels and they said they were jealous that I was living the dream. The girl’s name was also Christy and she was only two years older than me. They were fun to talk with and they signed up for the next tour as well. After talking for about 15 minutes, we were called to put on large, thick coats to tour the vodka room. The bartender was helpful and put my oysters in the fridge for me.

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There were 11 of us on the tour. When we stood up to put on our heavy coats, the guy from Portland said, “Wow, I didn’t realize you were so tall.” I get that a lot when people meet me when I’m sitting down.

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The vodka room was so cold! The coat helped a lot but my fingers were freezing! I had to have one hand out to hold my little shot glass so I kept rotating hands, giving one a chance to warm up in my pocket. The tour guide talked with us about vodka for about five minutes and then let us sample four kinds.

I talked with a couple who were in their late 40s to early 50s and they volunteered to take my picture. That was super nice because daring to take your hand out of the pocket was a painful experience. Supposedly the vodka tastes much better being that cold. It was good, but I was too focused on being freezing. Plus, having four shots in 15 minutes is a lot.

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As we were all taking off our coats, the couples said they were leaving because they only came to the bar for the vodka room. We said goodbye and maybe we’d see each other again. They didn’t want to tell people we met at the vodka room though, so they said, “We’ll just say we met at the library.” Wink wink.

I went back to the bar and the bartender promptly got my oysters back out and I ordered another drink. There was a tall German guy sitting next to me so we chatted for a bit. He was there for work. His job is to figure out the best tour for millionaires to drive their three million dollar cars from Vancouver to Alberta. They were considering making a stop in Whistler. He was waiting to meet with the operators to see what Whistler could offer them – maybe helicopter rides?

Man, being a millionaire is a crazy life. This guy was friendly enough, but he was pretentious. His co-worker met him at the bar, and then they met up with another couple at the bar, the operators. I almost got included in their meeting, until we basically had to explain I was just talking to him at the bar and I didn’t actually know him. They all went off to look at the cellar to see the finest wines available.

I looked around and noticed it was now packed. Dead-season was officially over. There was live piano music and it was a lovely place to be. Once I finished my oysters, I walked around the village now that the shops were finally open past 6:00 pm.

After checking out some shops, I went into Tapley’s. It’s a bar that has live music, skeeball, and darts. I sat at the bar and listened to the bartenders talk about the sudden influx of the American tourists – the start of the season.

“We’re running out of glasses. They’re all ordering martinis.”

“That’s how you know the Americans are in town.”

The next day, I woke up to snow flurries! I was ecstatic that it was finally snowing! Unfortunately, it only lasted for about 15 minutes and didn’t stick.

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I had ordered some boots and a winter coat from a store called Long Tall Sally. They closed their U.S. stores and only have physical stores in Canada. The closest one to me was in Vancouver, so I ordered online and had them shipped to my Airbnb. In the U.S., I would order from them and receive my package within a few days. I was confused when it took two weeks to be delivered. Then I found out the Canadian Post Office was on a strike.

Thankfully, I received them just in time for the snow. The boots were cute, but they were a little tight. I wear size 12, and most stores don’t carry my size, so I would have to make them  work.

As I was getting ready to walk to Creekside Village to test out my new boots and coat, I received a knock on the door.

“Hi, I just wanted to let you know that we’re going to be doing some construction in the unit above you for the next three days from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm. I know you’re going to be in the unit a lot, I already notified the owner of your unit.”

“Yeah, that’s a bummer considering I’m trying to get a lot of writing done.”

“Well, according to the bylaws, we can work from 8:00 am to 8:00 pm, but we’re not working that long. The first two days will be the loudest because we’re redoing the floors. Maybe you could go work at the Starbucks down the street.”

Great. Within 15 minutes, the noise was so loud that my cousin couldn’t hear me on the phone. I talked with the owner and described how loud the noise was. She wasn’t confident it would only be three days because after the floors, they were redoing the cabinets. We had already agreed that I’d stay an extra 10 days, so she agreed to give me the extra days at a discount.

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I walked down to Creekside Village and walked around. Two snowboarders stopped me on the corner asking where the bus station was. I directed them and said it’s $2.50 one way. They said they’d probably just hitchhike instead, but they headed towards the bus station. I felt like a local – people asked me for directions!

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The snow had stopped, but it was still pretty and festive outside. The gondola was running even though it was mostly empty. I walked over to a gingerbread house that was serving speciality-made ice cream cones with cotton candy around it.

On my way back, I stopped at Creekbread Pizza. They make wood fire pizza and had great reviews online. I sat at the bar and ordered two different pizzas split in half so I could try two different kinds. It was delicious and provided left-overs for the following day.

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It was nice having a fun two days. In the U.S., Black Friday shopping has gotten out of control. Instead of shopping for the latest deal, I was just living life, talking with people and having experiences. I’ll take that any day over a discounted flat-screen TV.

Post Edited By: Mandy Strider
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