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.

Post Edited By: Mandy Strider
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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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Days 237-238: Art in Paradise

After nine adventurous days of hiking and biking through the Chiang Mai Province, I was happy to sleep in. My studio apartment was comfortable and quiet. I watched Master of None on Netflix until I realized I needed food other than my protein shake.

I didn’t feel like getting dressed and going out. I just wanted to veg out and relax. I couldn’t find many food options on Apple Maps, so I decided to walk around and find something. I put some clothes on, but didn’t bother with any makeup.

The neighborhood was mostly residential and business, so I walked and walked without finding any restaurants. Finally I found a small cafe in a hotel with good reviews, so I popped inside to take a break.

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The pink and red heart decorations reminded me that it was Valentine’s Day. The place was empty. I ordered a dessert and a blended coffee drink, and sat at the counter facing out to the street. I was glad that I started the trip with a group of people and a guide who taught me about Thailand. It made me feel comfortable to venture out on my own.

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I continued walking down a main street and suddenly arrived at an outdoor market. I perused the stalls and passed restaurants, unable to decide what to eat. Across the street was a huge modern mall called Maya. It was clearly the spot to be.

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I walked into the main entrance and was amazed. A glass elevator welcomed guests and displayed several floors of shopping. I browsed the mall and noticed stores referencing the U.S. called “New York-LA” and “Portland.”

Eventually I found a restaurant that looked appetizing. It was large and modern with English menus. I ordered a pizza and savored the taste. It had been almost two weeks since I had American food and I missed it.

I took my leftover pizza and continued browsing through the mall. I was feeling a little self-conscious because I wasn’t wearing any makeup. It’s strange. When I’m in workout clothes, I don’t mind not having makeup on and I’ll go out in public all sweaty. But if I’m in regular clothes, I feel like I should have some makeup on. I continued anyway because I needed to find a new piece of luggage.

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The cheap $35 suitcase that I purchased from the market when I first arrived in Chiang Mai was horrible. It wasn’t properly designed, so when it was full it would immediately tip forward and fall over. The black plastic feet on the bottom were also coming off, making it even more ridiculous. This was a replacement suitcase after the airplane ruined my duffle bag.

After looking at several luggage stores, I decided on a hard plastic suitcase with a one-year warranty made by American Tourister. Ironically, I had never seen that brand in America. It cost $127 USD, which I thought was a lot for Thailand. I decided to buy it because I would be traveling for many months and needed something sturdy.

Once again, I was dragging an empty suitcase down a sidewalk. There was a college next to the mall, so college students were out and about at a nighttime market. Lights hung overhead and created a romantic atmosphere. I spent the rest of the evening researching how to spend my time in Chiang Mai.

The next day, I took a Grab to Art in Paradise. It’s a 3D art museum where you can insert yourself into the pictures. At the ticket counter, the woman told me, “It’s better to come with a friend.” Yeah, well, I didn’t have any friends with me, so my only option was to go alone.

I knew it was better to go with a friend so someone could take your picture. There weren’t many people there, so I just took pictures of the murals. After I took a couple of pictures, a Chinese couple took a picture for me. It was nice of them to offer, but I didn’t want them to think they had to stay with me the whole time. There is an app that you have to use to get the pictures to turn into video. The couple showed me how to use it, communicating mostly through gestures since they didn’t speak much English.

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As I was waiting for the app to download, the couple continued to explore. All of a sudden, a girl walked up to me and asked if we could take pictures of each other. Tsui was from Taiwan, was petite, and had straight black hair pulled back into a ponytail. She didn’t speak very much English, but it was enough for us to communicate the basics.

As the app finished downloading on my phone, Tsui told me that she was traveling alone and staying in a hostel. She pulled out a binder with typed travel plans in different clear folders. She excitedly explained how lucky she was to meet me because she had made a sign, but was too shy to actually put it up. The typed sign read, “Wanted: Someone to take pictures with at Art in Paradise.”

The sign made me smile. It was perfect. We were both alone and needed someone to take pictures with. The app was working on my phone, but it wasn’t working on Tsui’s phone. We decided to use my phone so we didn’t have to keep switching phones, and I’d give her the pictures at the end.

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The art museum was really neat! Some murals came to life on the app, making it look like it was raining, or like a dinosaur was eating you. The 3D paintings were optical illusions like being on a suspension bridge.

Tsui and I spent the next hour and a half going from painting to painting. She was very good at creating a dramatic scene for her pictures. I wasn’t as good. I was mostly awkward. We laughed our way through the museum.

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Once we hit the end of the museum, we sat at the cafe so Tsui could pick the photos she wanted and transfer them to herself on Facebook Messenger. As we sat there going through the photos, Tsui showed me her binder full of her travel itinerary.

Tsui was going to be in Thailand for nine days and had only been there for two days. During her time, she was going to an elephant sanctuary and riding an ATV. I had been looking at those same tours, but didn’t have anything booked yet. Tsui was impressive with her spreadsheets mapping out her entire trip. She had obviously done a lot of research.

Tsui asked me why I came to Thailand. I told her that I had some friends who had been and they all had wonderful things to say about it. I wanted to see the jungle and it’s also inexpensive. Tsui agreed that the food was inexpensive, but the outdoor activities were not.

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As the photos transferred over the WiFi, Tsui asked if I planned to go to the white temple in Chiang Rai. Because it was a few hours away, I decided not to go. She told me she will come back and go with her boyfriend. Surprised, I asked, “Why didn’t your boyfriend come with you now?” She told me she doesn’t have a boyfriend, but one day she will. Then she’ll go to the white temple with him. Otherwise, she’ll see all of the couples taking beautiful pictures of themselves, which will make her feel so sad. She made me laugh as she described herself taking selfies while couples took “couple pictures.”

The photos were transferred, so Tsui and I parted ways. I was so happy to have met her and I loved that she was also a solo female traveler. A week later, we became Facebook friends. I was getting a pedicure at the time and I saw what she had posted on her page that day. Facebook translated it to the following:

“Before I actually was a little worried about myself. Come here don’t know how to take pictures. Originally made a companion poster. I don’t dare to take it out without being shy.

Brace to this side. I found out there was a drop-alone girl too. I went to invite her to walk with me + take pictures with each other. She’s happy to promise.

Luck to meet her. Good get along, good chat, keep laughing. Also helped me take a bunch of pictures. After the walk, we’re next to the coffee shop. She’ll pass it to me when I finish the photo. How can there be such a lucky thing?”

When I read what Tsui posted, tears came to my eyes. It was such a perfect opportunity for us to meet. We did our best to communicate and she was such a sweet and fun soul. I continued to follow her adventures, watching her zipline, ride an ATV, and go white water rafting. She has an adventurous spirit and I love her zest for life.

After the Art in Paradise museum, I decided to walk two miles to a rooftop bar I found online. The walk would give me an opportunity to see more of the city. The sidewalks are narrow with lots of potholes, making it difficult to navigate. Sometimes fluorescent lights dangle above the alleyway. It also appeared that drinking in public was legal.

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As the sun went down, I came across an outdoor sporting event. There were stands full of fans cheering on all-women teams. I don’t know what sport they were playing, but there was a net in between teams of three. The women would hit the ball with their feet or their head. It was impressive watching what they could do.

I continued to the rooftop bar, following Apple maps. It often took me through alleyways in the back of houses. Clothes were hung out to dry since they don’t have driers there. Motorbikes lined the sidewalks.

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When I arrived at the Oasis bar, there was a dark, steep stairwell leading to the rooftop. At the top there was a small bar, some couches, chairs with pillows, and string lights hanging above. There were a few people there that were all sitting alone. I sat down and ordered a snack and a drink.

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I looked around and noticed the men and women who were sitting alone were all on their phones, but only inches from another person. It was so sad that nobody was talking. We were all solo, why not have a conversation?

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There were a few couples there and one couple arrived after me. They were around 30 years old and sat near me, so I could hear their conversation. He was American and she was Canadian. They talked about life, goals, friends, and family. The guy did most of the talking and then I heard him say, “This is the best first date I’ve ever had. I’ve studied psychology and want my own practice one day. I love that it’s not surface level. I love that you feel comfortable with me.”

The couple seemed cute and were entertaining. I ordered a Grab and went back to my Airbnb. I kept forgetting that the driver’s steering wheel is on the right side of the car and they drive on the left.

I went to bed happy with how my time in Chiang Mai was turning out. Solo travel often brings new people into my life, making it more interesting. Even though I don’t speak Thai, I was able to get by. A lot of people knew some basic English. Other times, I used Google Translate. It was shaping up to be a great city to explore.

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Days 235-236: Joy

It was our final full day of the REI Adventures tour in Thailand. The morning was warm with a cool breeze. Seven of us walked to a nearby village (Nicole, Cathy, Terri, Kristen, Christian, and Neil). We passed a school and continued walking down the dirt road.

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We arrived at the very small village and locals were there to greet us. Several of the women started to put out their hand-made goods in hopes that we’d buy some. As they set up, we walked around the village.

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I was shocked at how basic each house was. Built with thin bamboo walls and floors, the houses were a foot off the ground to withstand flooding. One woman was washing things in a bowl. The village was similar to ones we had stayed in – no plumbing.

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A few of the homes were abandoned. Stray dogs roamed through the streets. We each bought a couple of small items, mostly to help support the villagers. They were so friendly, with big smiles on their faces. Neil walked over to me and gave me a threaded bracket, “You can put this on your backpack to help identify it. I got one for you, Nicole, and myself – the three solo travelers.” It was such a sweet gesture and the bracelet still adorns my backpack.

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As we walked back to our eco lodge, I thought about how grateful I am that we have running water, plumbing, and electricity in the U.S. Even if I end up in a small apartment again one day, I will be grateful for four walls and these amenities. Many people around the world live without them.

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The cooking class was held under the pavilion at the ecolodge. I paired up with Nicole and Cathy. The chef taught us how to cook several meals with fresh food. I’m not the best cook, so I was happy to have Nicole and Cathy. Each meal was delicious and surprisingly easy to prepare.

After the class, we loaded into the vans to drive back to Chaing Mai. I fell asleep during the drive, but after an hour, I was woken by the sudden urge to use the toilet. After attempting (unsuccessfully) to communicate with the driver about stopping to use the restroom, I held it until we arrived at the temple. I made him stop at the entrance where I saw a restroom and literally ran to it.

The temple was beautiful and laden with lots of gold. There was an option to have a conversation with a monk. It’s an opportunity to learn about Buddhism, and for the monks to practice their English. Our group walked around and then boarded the van to head to another temple.

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One van went back to the hotel instead. There were elephant statues around the second temple and it was huge. We walked around outside and learned about some of the history and restoration efforts before going back to the hotel. There was also a sleeping Buddha, which is the second largest in the world (the biggest is in Bangkok).

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After showering for our final farewell dinner, Nicole and I went to the pool and enjoyed some happy-hour drinks. Then we all boarded the vans again for dinner on a riverboat.

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Our group was the only one on the boat. Servers took our drink orders and brought out food before we started to cruise down the river. It was a beautiful night  and a perfect way to end the trip.

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We all had so much fun telling stories about the trip, drinking wine, and telling each other what our plans were for the following days once the trip was complete. We even had karaoke. Scott and Steve sang some songs, which provided great entertainment. Clark gave a beautiful speech, thanking Tri for providing a great tour and giving him our pooled tips as a thank-you.

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My birthday was the next day, so they all sang Happy Birthday to me. It’s funny how 15 complete strangers can spend nine days together. Eating meals together, sleeping in the same room, hiking, biking, and experiencing a new culture together. I think it’s inevitable that people will have moments of not agreeing. I’m sure there are moments that I annoyed people. But in that moment on the riverboat, all I felt was joy.

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Each person had something to contribute and a life story of their own. I loved getting to know each of them. As we drank and listened to karaoke, I could feel tears welling in my eyes and thought, “What a beautiful thing. All of us are forever a part of each other’s story.” I am happy to have gotten to know them and to have spent my first week in Thailand with them. I hope to have made life-long friends during that trip.

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Once diner was finished, we said goodbye to Mimi and Lisa because they had a very early morning flight and would miss breakfast. Mimi is a firecracker, full of life and opinions. She was always very encouraging of my travels and I appreciated her support. Lisa had stories of adventures she’s been on – one where she passed out on a bike trail in Europe and was helicoptered to a hospital! We said our goodbyes and wished each other well.

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It was also time to say goodbye to Tri, our guide. He was a nice guy, taught us a lot, and did a good job handling our different personality types. He worked extremely hard to make sure we were all comfortable, well fed, and safe. He also threw in jokes at random times, keeping us on our toes.

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One of the vans went to the night market. Tien, Nicole, Neil, Scott, Andrea and I all walked around together, enjoying the booths and nightlife. I bought a few items that I thought were small enough to fit in my bag. When we returned, we said goodbye to Neil because he’d leave very early for a flight as well.

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I was sad to say goodbye to Neil. He had told me about his wife who had passed away many years ago and his son. He was retired and had a sense of adventure that I admired. He also had a peaceful, calming, sweet spirit. He was always so genuine and I loved talking with him.

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The next morning, the rest of us (except for Cathy and Terri) ate breakfast in the hotel restaurant. It was the same hotel we stayed at for the first two nights. Nicole suggested that we each say what our favorite part of the trip was. I enjoyed hearing everyone’s perspective. The answers ranged from biking, hiking, getting to see remote villages and rice fields, and of course meeting the people. Clark said everyone has encouraged him and he’s enjoyed hearing about all of their activities and adventures. I agree. Everyone had an impressive, adventurous spirit.

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They all wished me a happy 39th birthday. We hugged goodbye and most people headed to the airport to catch flights home or to other destinations.

I said goodbye to Nancy and Steve. They’re level-headed, outdoorsy, and kind. Steve turned on his cell service, even though he was getting charged for data, to see how far away we were from the temple when I had to suddenly use the restroom. That’s the type of people they both are. He instinctively did what he could to help me.

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Christian and Kristen are one of the cutest couples I’ve met. They support and care for each other, setting a great example of what a healthy relationship looks like. They were so much fun to hang out with and kept me company in the back of the line when hiking.

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Clark and Tien were the comedy duo. They cracked jokes at each other and made all of us laugh many times. Clark kept things light-hearted and enjoyable. He is humble and his wisdom will be cherished. Tien and I had many great conversations about life and understood each other. I was so happy they were along for the trip.

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I got teary-eyed when saying goodbye to Nicole. I couldn’t have asked for a better roommate. She helped me carry my bags at times and gave me her leftover sunscreen because I lost mine. She was always thoughtful, caring, and respectful. I have so many good memories of us laughing as we fell asleep. We have a lot in common and I am honored to call her a friend.

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I put on my swimsuit and headed to the gorgeous  pool. As enticing as it looked, the water was cold! Even though it was hot and humid outside, it was hard to get used to the frigid temperature. The pool wrapped around the middle of the property past the guest rooms. It wasn’t very deep, so I just walked along and enjoyed the vegetation. Then I saw Scott and Andrea doing laps around the pool. We talked for a bit and then they continued to get a few more laps in before check-out.

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Scott and Andrea are smart, athletic, successful people. But they never bragged or made me feel bad for not being as athletic as them. They were kind and generous. They were going to check into another hotel in Chiang Mai and had hired a guide to take them on a trail run in the mountains that was more than 20 kilometers.

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I decided the water was too cold, so I sat at the swim-up bar. I was the only one there. I ordered fruit and ice cream inside of a pineapple and a drink. I was happy that I was celebrating my birthday in Thailand. I got a late check-out for the hotel and enjoyed a bubble bath before finally leaving. I hoped it would help my swollen ankles. They had been painfully swollen since I arrived in Thailand.

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My next place was an Airbnb on the other side of the city. I took a Grab (it’s like Uber) and met the owner of the studio apartment. She gave me the key and I gave her cash since Airbnb mistakenly cancelled my reservation. The apartment was great! It was newly remodeled and had everything I needed. For $23 a night, I couldn’t beat it.

I started some laundry and had to line dry my clothes on the balcony since they don’t have dryers there. I took a brief nap and then met Cathy and Terri for dinner and to explore the night market. I ordered a Grab using their app and the driver was listening to Adele in concert on a built-in tv screen monitor. He was singing along and said he loves Adele. Adele breaks international language barriers – the language of love.

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I was so happy when Cathy gave me my phone charger that I had left in my hotel room. We walked around to several shops on the narrow streets while Cathy searched for deodorant. It was hard to find one she was familiar with. Terri had re-injured a bad ankle and it was very swollen. She was struggling to walk, so we took a taxi to a restaurant.

We sat outside by the river and enjoyed the night. Terri told me about an adventure she had when hiking to base camp on Mount Everest. She was with a group on the day they got the massive earthquake of 7.8 magnitude in 2015, which destroyed most of the area. They were only about two hours from base camp and had just packed up from eating lunch. All of sudden, the earthquake struck, creating an avalanche. A guide grabbed her to try and protect her as the snow came rushing at them.

The avalanche knocked them over, but thankfully they were ok. Many people died that day at base camp and if she had been on schedule, she would have been there. I was fascinated by her story. She explained how it took days to be evacuated and when they finally were, the city below was demolished.

Cathy, Terri, and I talked about our next travel plans. They were headed to the elephant sanctuary the next day. Because it was my birthday, they got two pieces of cake and we all shared. They also paid for my dinner. I was so happy I didn’t have to spend my birthday alone. Every year, I tend to get emotional around my birthday. Maybe it’s because it’s the day before Valentine’s Day, but I tend to get sad. That day I wasn’t sad. I was happy to celebrate with friends and I was excited about my upcoming adventures.

After browsing the night market, I said goodbye to Terri and Cathy. Cathy is responsible and at times can be strict with herself. I loved when I’d see her smile and loosen up. She has a good heart and I was happy to spend time with her. Terri is full of adventure and had a lot of stories of travels around the world.

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If you’re interested in doing the REI Adventures tour, here’s a link to the one that I did. I recommend the tours because they provide all of the food, accommodations, guides, and a lot of the equipment you’ll need. REI Adventures has given me the opportunity to stay in remote places and hike on trails that I simply wouldn’t be able to do on my own.

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.

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Day 230: Villages in Thailand

On the third day of the REI Adventures tour, we were able to enjoy the delicious breakfast buffet at the hotel. Right after I sat down to eat, I received a notification from Airbnb that my studio apartment I had booked once the tour ended was cancelled. Confused, I logged on to see what the problem was.

I messaged the owner and let her know that my reservation was cancelled by mistake through Airbnb. The home owner and I agreed that I would just pay her cash when I arrived and she’d keep the apartment available for me. I was happy because the price for my stay in this apartment was only $23 a night.

Dealing with Airbnb and the homeowner meant I had to frantically scarf my food down and ignore my roommate, Nicole. We had to be at the vans ready to go, so I didn’t have much time. Thankfully, I was able to get it resolved and get to the vans.

We left the hotel and drove towards the mountains to visit hill tribe villages. The roads in Thailand are often bumpy and windy. I get carsick if I try to read in the car. Sometimes if my head is turned sideways looking at someone talking, I will start to get nauseous. The best place to sit for motion sickness is the first row because you get less bumps there. Unfortunately, there were several people in our group who also get motion sickness, so I sat in the back.

My roommate Nicole also gets carsick. We were in the van for a couple of hours and Nicole and I were talking to each other in the backseat. She told me about her travels and hiking various famous mountains. Her accomplishments were impressive, but she was humble. We talked for awhile, until we both needed to look out the window to attempt to alleviate the nausea. I took a dramamine in hopes that the motion sickness would subside.

When we arrived to the villages, our guide, Tri, talked to us about the general life in a village. The area we were visiting was a combination of many different tribes. They built this area to showcase a mini-village of each tribe, their customs, and their people.

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Tri stood in front of a large painting of the king of Thailand. He told us there are six main tribes in Thailand and they are mostly in the mountainous northern and western parts of the country. Generally speaking, the women work harder than men. When a family gives birth to a girl, they are very happy because she’ll bring in money from the husband. She’ll also work harder both in the fields and in the home, while the men will take opium and sleep in the fields.

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We wandered through the streets and saw several different tribes selling hand-made items. The tribespeople weren’t pushy though. They just casually stood near their booth and would tell us the price of an item if we pointed at it.

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We saw some women weaving fabrics, while others proudly displayed their products. One tribe is known for their long necks. They put rings around their neck and keep adding to it in hopes that their necks will stretch. I bought a couple of items, mostly to support their efforts.

Once we finished exploring the villages, we stopped at an outdoor market on our way to lunch and were given ten minutes to browse. There were fresh vegetables and even fried insects – beetles, crickets, you name it! I declined trying one and kept walking.

I was walking alone and a vendor asked me, “Where are you from?” I replied, “America.” He got very excited, “Oooooh! USA! Super Power!” I smiled and slowly kept walking. He continued and mentioned how tall I am and then asked, “You married?” “No”, I replied. “Ooooh, are you alone?” As I walked away, I told him I was with a group.

For lunch, we went to a restaurant that sat right off of a river where people on rafts raced through the rapids. We ate family-style, but this time the vegetarians asked Tri not to be separated because it didn’t allow them time to talk with the non-vegetarians. We each had our own plate of pad Thai, which was delicious!

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I sat next to Scott and Andrea, who are from Minnesota. Scott works as an industrial engineer and Andrea works as a physical therapist. They told us how cold Minnesota was when they left and how a huge snow storm was sweeping the area. They were happy to have escaped it.

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Once lunch was finished, we began a hike to the village where we’d stay the night. It was hot and humid. This hike would take more than three hours and involved a lot of climbing.

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The thick forest was unforgiving. The dense vegetation often brushed up against my legs. I was sweating profusely in the extraordinary humidity. When I sweat too much, I need to take salt pills so I don’t lose too much salt. About 30% of people are salty sweaters. The group was moving so fast, I was struggling to keep up. I didn’t have time to take my pills. In addition, the Dramamine made me feel tired.

I was in the back with Christian and Kristen. I felt bad and hoped I wasn’t keeping them from the rest of the group. Kristen assured me that she also likes little breaks – we were soul sisters. We would often stop for 60 seconds just to take a breather. There was another guide, Sak, in the back with us. The four of us had a fun time looking around at the Jurassic-sized leaves and learning from Sak. He told us that when bamboo dies, it sprouts a flower. Just one flower it’s entire life and only when it is about to die.

The rest of the group would stop every 20 minutes or so to let us all catch up. Those of us in the middle and the back would arrive, and within one minute, we were off again.

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I felt my heart pounding and realized I should have taken my salt pills. Once my electrolytes are out of balance, I can feel it in places like my heart.

While the hike was challenging, it was also beautiful! We were the only ones on the  trail. Finally, we arrived towards the top and were rewarded with incredible views. The sun was just starting to set and was giving off splendid rays of light.

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This fueled me to get to the homestay. As we approached the small village, I couldn’t believe people lived there. It was extremely remote, steep, and the dirt road was in terrible condition.

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Our homestay was with a local family who had a large main room filled with 15 pads to sleep on. Each thin pad had a mosquito net above it. The floor was made of thin pieces of bamboo and I was afraid I would fall through, so I stuck to walking near the main wooden beam down the middle.

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I’m sensitive to people snoring so I asked that I be on the end and not near any snorers. I brought earplugs, but the sound of snoring is usually so loud they only slightly work. I had my iPod shuttle just in case.

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It was evening and there was only one shower available. It was outside in a small concrete building that was not completely enclosed, letting the cold air inside. They don’t have electricity so we were warned the water would be cold. People made a verbal list of who would take a shower next. I was number four on the list until some of the women decided to make another list and I was bumped towards the bottom.

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The sun was quickly setting and we were desperate to get a shower in before it was dark since there wasn’t a light in there. When it was my turn, it was almost dark, so I brought my headlamp inside to see my shampoo and soap. I knew the water would be cold, but I didn’t expect it to be freezing. A thin stream of water forcefully came shooting out! I gasped for air and almost started to hyperventilate from the harsh cold. I showered as quickly as I could.

To use the toilet, there were two small rooms in the same concrete building. Because they don’t have plumbing, there is a pot full of water next to the toilet. Once you’re done using the toilet, you have to scoop the water with a bowl and dump it inside the toilet, which slowly drains it. You have to put a few bowls of water in order to get it to fully go away. Behind the toilets were pigs, which you could hear while you took care of business.

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As we all showered and drank some beers, the guides and homeowners cooked our dinner. On the rough dirt street, young children drove by on motorbikes, often 2-3 per bike. Stray dogs also roamed around and we were instructed not to touch them as many of them carry disease.

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There were a few people who didn’t get showers because they didn’t want to shower in the dark. Dinner was ready and there were a couple of dim lights hanging above the table. As we sat down to eat, Clark gave a nice speech. After a tiring day of hiking, it was nice to have some time to unwind.

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After dinner, we enjoyed the stars above with the complete absence of light pollution. The village was celebrating the Chinese New Year, so the occasional firework went off. Tri told us that families will kill one of their pigs and eat it over the next three days and basically have a party the whole three days.

Once the sun fell, it got much colder. After star gazing, we all headed to bed. I put my earplugs in, but I kept waking up because I needed to use the toilet. Of course. This never happens when I’m inside of a house. But if I go camping or have the toilet outside, I suddenly have to go. I tried to ignore it because it sounded like rain was pouring down outside. I wondered if it was flooding. I didn’t want to put my glasses and shoes on and slip through the mud.

Then suddenly I realized maybe it was wind and not rain. I listened intently and realized I didn’t hear anything hitting the roof, so it must be wind rushing through the trees. I reluctantly put my glasses on, walked down the entire room following the beam with the light from my cell phone. I put my shoes on that were sitting outside by the front door steps and made my way to the toilet. Sure enough, it was extremely high winds, not rain.

I returned to my bed and went back to sleep. At 4:40 am, roosters started to crow. The sound was deafening so I tried to smash my head into my pillow. It didn’t work. I put my headphones on and played music on my iPod shuffle. We were warned about those roosters and they weren’t kidding. The roosters crowed for the next several hours. The thin bamboo walls did nothing for soundproofing.

Steve had noise cancelling headphones, but he still heard the roosters. He joked the next morning that if a company can create the ultimate soundproof headphones, their slogan should be “Strong enough to combat roosters.” I also found out the next morning that Mimi fell into Steve and Andrea when she went outside to use the toilet. Having 15 people sleep in the same room only inches apart makes for an interesting night.

Post Edited By: Mandy Strider
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Days 223-226: Overseas vs Wedding

When I arrived in Los Angeles, I picked up my rental car and drove towards my old workplace to meet a friend for happy hour. Jimmy and I used to go to happy hour at Geezers, so we met there like old times. We had a great time catching up over some drinks.

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I was staying the night at my friend Trisha’s house, but my friend Debbie had the key to my storage unit. It was late and they were in bed, so I picked up the key from Debbie’s mailbox and drove to Trisha’s house.

I’ve picked Trisha up from her house several times, but I’d never actually been inside. She has two children in grade school and they were all in bed. Her son Hunter was letting me use his bedroom while he was in Trisha’s room. Trisha left me instructions on how to get inside, which felt like a typical Airbnb for me.

I walked inside and looked for pictures on the wall so I knew it was her apartment. I was up late that night because I had to do some updates to my blog. The next morning, I drove back to Debbie’s house because I had the wrong key. After getting the key, I drove to my storage unit to get some paperwork from the sale of my house. Once I had that, I drove to Torrance to give all the documents to my tax accountant. This all reminded me just how spread out Los Angeles really is.

Once that was complete, I went to my friend Carey’s hair salon in Long Beach to get a haircut and highlights done. Then it was off to Debbie’s house for lunch. After that, I went to the bank because they did not properly add my beneficiary to my accounts. They don’t have locations in Missouri, so I needed to do it while I was in California. Having a life in multiple states 2,000 miles apart is complicated.

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After making a quick stop at Target to get some things, I headed back to Trisha’s house. We quickly got ready and drove to El Segundo to meet my friend Toni for dinner. It was great catching up and having a “girls night out.”  After swinging by REI to get a battery pack, we went to another place for drinks.

Once Trisha and I got back to her place, Trisha tried to help me fix my duffle bag. It was a new bag and I only used it as a backup bag while traveling the last six months. The baggage handlers at the airport somehow bent one of the bars on the bottom, preventing the handle from extending. I’m too tall to hold the loop on the side and it was too heavy to carry. But no matter what we tried, we couldn’t fix it.

The next morning, Trisha and I went to a restaurant for breakfast and then I drove to the airport to drop off my rental car and catch my flight to Thailand. As I drove to the airport, I realized my ex-husband was getting married that day. I had seen a few weeks earlier that my ex-sister-in-law was tagged at his fiance’s wedding shower with a hashtag of their wedding date. It was strange seeing a picture with my ex-mother-in-law, grandmother-in-law, and two sister-in-laws in a group picture with Aaron’s soon-to-be wife. I have those same pictures with them.

It was a strange feeling knowing he was getting married less than two years after our divorce. I had ended the marriage because of his lies, but it still felt strange. It felt strange because he kept telling me he didn’t want the divorce, he loved me, and had no interest in dating. And before the divorce was final, he was on Tinder dating his first match, who he was now marrying.

I reflected on the symbolism. He was getting married on the same day that I was heading overseas. He would make the same vows to her as he made to me. They would likely be blissfully happy that day, sharing their love with their family and friends – just as he did with me. I have those same pictures with him – cutting the cake, dancing, and committing to each other.

I remember on my wedding day I felt panicked. I was in the little waiting room with my dad as we waited for the wedding party to walk down the aisle under a large tree at a golf course. My dad and I would drive up on a golf cart. I remember feeling worried – was I making the right decision? I convinced myself it was just nerves. But deep down, I remember thinking, “this is forever” and feeling slightly panicked.

After the ceremony, the best man told me he watched a large vein in my forehead pound with blood during the ceremony. Nerves, I told him. We had a great day and people told me for years that it was one of the funnest times they’ve had at a wedding. It was a great day. If only it were all true. If only I had married the person I thought I was marrying.

I don’t feel jealous or envious of Aaron getting married. I’m happy he’s moved on and that he’ll be just fine. But it still doesn’t change the fact that it’s a strange feeling. It’s hard to put into words.

I don’t mean to be cynical about marriage, but I have a hard time believing people will be together forever. Vows are said with good intentions. People intend to be with the other person until “death do us part.” But the reality is more like “I promise to be with you unless you…”

I know what you’re thinking, “You have to fully commit for it to work out.” But the truth is that you cannot control your spouse and the things they will and will not do. When I hear vows now, I have a lot of hope for couples, but I also know it wouldn’t be unheard of for them to divorce and fall in love with someone else. It all seems so fleeting.

While Aaron prepared for his big day, I headed to the airport. I was happy with where my life was going. When I filed for divorce I still loved him, but I knew he wasn’t good for me. I had stood up for myself in a marriage built on lies, confronted many of my fears, followed my heart, and was living the life I believe I’m meant to live. It was poetic that I was leaving on his wedding day.

LAX is one of the world’s worst airports, but the international terminal is slightly better with better food and shopping options. It’s also less crowded.

I was flying with Japan Airlines for the first time. The plane had two seats, an aisle, four seats, an aisle, and two more seats. I got an aisle seat to the right of the plane. The girl next to me at the window looked to be in her early 20s and seemed to be with the two people in front of us. She didn’t get up to use the restroom the entire 12-hour flight to Osaka!

During the long flight, everyone was quiet and respectful. We left around noon so I wasn’t tired. Instead, I watched free movies on the screen in front of me. I used my Bose headphones so it felt like I was in a movie theater. After a movie, I’d do some writing for my blog on my iPad mini and keyboard that I brought. Once I was tired of writing, I’d watch another movie.

When the flight attendant brought dinner, I was amazed! It was all free and delicious!

  • Chicken and mashed potatoes
  • Salad
  • Quinoa
  • Fruit
  • Noodles
  • Miso soup
  • Bread
  • Green Tea
  • Water
  • Wine
  • Ice Cream
  • Warm towel

I got up a few times to stretch and use the restroom. There were toothbrushes in there for people to take and use, which I thought was a nice touch. The flight attendants would go down the aisles from time to time selling items from a catalogue. The homemade looking signs declared, “Some unique items you can only buy here.”

I was only able to sleep for about 45 minutes on the plane. We arrived at Osaka close to 1:00 am Los Angeles time, but it was 6:00 pm there. I was astonished by the toilets! I’ve always heard that Japan has fancy, complicated toilets and they weren’t lying. I had a private stall with a whole slew of buttons. I pressed the music button and whimsical music played. I wish the U.S. would get on board with these awesome additions.

I walked around looking for a place to eat, although I wasn’t sure if I was overeating or not eating enough on the plane. It seemed like they kept serving food, but with the time change, I had no idea if I should be eating or not. A friend recommended a place there, but after searching and searching I couldn’t find it.

I had a six hour layover there and I asked the security guard about the restaurant and he told me it was located outside of security. I asked if I could just go outside of security for the shops and restaurants and come back in and he told me that I couldn’t. There were hardly any shops or restaurants in the section I was in.

I felt like I was walking around in circles as I ate some bad sushi and visited the couple of shops. Finally, I found a table ledge with computers and space for people to put a laptop. Nobody was over there. I was writing, but as the night went on, I couldn’t keep my eyes open. I was literally falling asleep at my keyboard.

Finally, it was time to board the plane to Bangkok, Thailand. It was a six-hour flight and I was looking forward to getting some sleep. When they scanned my ticket, a buzzer went off and they pulled me aside. My duffle bag was sitting there, wide open. They said somehow it was broken in transit. The entire lock and both zippers on top were completely broken off!

My items were almost falling out. The attendants told me they would wrap it in two big garbage bags and tape it all around. I asked that they please wrap it tightly so things don’t spill out. I was so frustrated as I boarded the plane.

I was only able to sleep for a little more than an hour. My body was completely off kilter with the time changes. I watched some movies until we arrived in Bangkok. I had a four and a half hour layover.

The airport is huge, with very long terminals. I walked for what seemed like forever to my next gate. I ate a donut and got some coffee. The time went fast and it was time to board my next flight to Chiang Mai. It would be an hour and a half flight and this is where the real adventure would begin!

Post Edited By: Mandy Strider
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Days 196-222: Life in Missouri

Once my pounding spinal tap headache was gone, I tried to develop a routine with writing and working out, while figuring out where I’d travel to next. The thing is, I hadn’t been back “home” at my parents house in more than 15 years. My sister, her husband, and two children (aged 11 and 14) were temporarily living in my parents’ basement while they were building a house on some land they had purchased.

My parents have one dog and one cat. I had brought my cat from Los Angeles, who needed to be sequestered for a while because she wasn’t used to being around other animals. My sister brought her three dogs with her (two that are huge). It felt like a small animal farm.

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For my whole adult life, I’ve either lived alone or I’ve lived with one other person (roommate or husband). I’ve never owned a dog. I like to pet and play with dogs, but I do not like to take care of them and I don’t like all of the problems they can create. One day in early January, my brother-in-law’s dog Maximus (a Rottweiler) walked into my room and started to eat one of the only souvenirs I’ve purchased. It was a block of wood from Whistler (my favorite city) that was locally made and said “Wild + Free.” My sister grabbed it from his mouth, but Maximus had already ruined it.

I was extremely upset. I have always valued my personal space and I felt violated. I immediately went on my laptop and started looking at new destinations. I found a hiking and biking tour in Thailand for nine days through REI Adventures. I had gone on an REI Adventures trip to Norway in 2017 and I loved it. The tours are expensive, but they include everything you need except  airfare.

I planned on going to Thailand at some point in my travels, but I was nervous because I’ve never been to Asia and I don’t speak any of the languages. I figured starting with a tour guide would help me to learn the basics and feel more comfortable traveling on my own. I hit the purchase button and waited for confirmation.

A few days later, I received an email that my space was confirmed! I had a couple of weeks to get plane tickets, figure out what I needed to bring, and book some hotels. I spent days researching things like how to get around without a car. Sometimes it felt overwhelming. Knowing I only had a few weeks left in Missouri, I tried to spend my time wisely.

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Logistics

I made a couple of trips to REI to buy some things that would be useful for the trip, like bike shorts and bike gloves. I also had to sort through my backpacks and decide which one would be best to bring.

My California license was expiring and they were requiring me to go into the Department of Motor Vehicles(DMV), the most dreaded place. The California DMV has always taken three hours. They are also notoriously rude and unhelpful. Since I was in Missouri, I couldn’t go to the California DMV, so I decided to get a Missouri license. I’ve also been using my parent’s address since I don’t currently have an address.

I went to the Missouri DMV without an appointment and only waited 20 minutes. I was called up, took a quick eye exam, gave the woman my paperwork, and five minutes later, I was out of there. Missouri may not be as exciting as California, but they are certainly more efficient!

I also needed to switch my car insurance from California to Missouri since my car would be behind while I traveled overseas. I was extremely happy when the price for insurance was half of what I was paying in California. It was so cheap, I was even able to upgrade my coverage for a very small amount.

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Doctor Appointments

My sister Amy is a holistic chiropractor who looks for the root cause of a problem. She has a practice called The Center for Natural Health and patients have seen amazing results from her. She agreed to see me a few times a week in her office, which was very generous. I was finally there long enough for her to get some work done. Amy helped me to start feeling better, so I took her out to dinner as a “thank-you.” I also got a couple more massages from the massage therapist, which were great.

The other nice thing about Missouri is the wait times at doctors’ offices. I was able to get an 8:00 am monday morning appointment at the ophthalmologist with only a week notice. My mom sees the doctor and recommended him. I was still having blurry vision and still didn’t know if I needed to follow up with a neurologist.

The doctor was in his 60s, was friendly, and I told him all about the hole in my retina in June, the fuzzy optical nerves on the scan, and the spinal tap. He turned off the lights and stared into my eyes with a magnifying glass. He confirmed that he saw the hole and the repair that my doctor in Los Angeles had done.

The doctor backed up and said, “Well, the good news is that I don’t think you need to see a neurologist. The bad news is that your eyes are much older than your stated age.” He went on to explain that I have Vitreous Detachment. The vitreous is the gel that fills the back of the eye from the retina. As we age, the gel turns to liquid and millions of fibers break and separate from the retina. The main concern when this happens is the retina will detach.

My vitreous gel has liquified, which is why I got the hole in my retina in June. Thankfully, they caught it before the retina detached and they repaired the hole. Unfortunately, my gel has rapidly turned to fluid and the millions of fiber that have detached have caused a lot of floaters. According to this site, it “usually affects people over age 50, and is very common after age 80.” I was 38 when the doctor was telling me about this.

I was upset because this has been the story of my adulthood, getting diseases that usually affect those decades older than me. It’s also led to frustration as I’ve gone to doctor after doctor because they never suspect that I could have these diseases. For example, I had two parathyroid tumors removed in 2016 after seeing doctors for seven years. Most patients who get them are over 50, and typically over 70.

I asked the doctor what I can do about the floaters. Sometimes it’s not bad and I barely notice them. Other times, I can’t stop thinking about them because I have a hard time seeing without blinking and moving my eyes a lot. The last few months at my job, I had a hard time seeing screens in meetings. The doctor told me there isn’t anything they can do and hopefully over time, they’ll settle towards the bottom or I’ll get used to them.

I was disappointed to hear this, but I was glad that I didn’t need to see a neurologist. On my way out, the doctor said, “If your retina detaches, you need to call me immediately and come in so I can repair it.” I explained to him that I was about to leave for Thailand. He said, “Well, you’ve already had the hole and it’s already liquified so you likely won’t get a detached retina.” Great.

Investment

I had been wanting to invest some of the money from the sale of my house, but hadn’t gotten around to it. I looked at houses in downtown St. Charles, Missouri because there is a cute Main Street and a University there. I thought it would be a great place to put a house on Airbnb. Plus, I had furniture for two bedrooms in my storage unit in Los Angeles. I was paying $240 per month for a small unit because everything is expensive there. This would allow me to stop paying storage fees. Plus, I’d have somewhere to live when I needed it.

To get financing, I sent in all the needed paperwork to a finance guy and within a day, I was approved. I looked a few properties, but there was hardly anything on the market for sale. It was cold and snowy outside, which means people aren’t listing their houses as often.

Before I left, I set some things up so my parents could sign for me if a property came up that I liked. My realtor and friend Trudy, my sister, and my parents have been great at looking at properties for me while I’ve been away. Unfortunately, I haven’t found anything yet.

Family and Friends

I had some time to hang out with family and friends while I was in Missouri. My sister Amy, my mom, and I watched the entire series of Game of Thrones to get ready for the new season. I was able to get some Thailand research done while watching the series and it was great watching it with them. We could talk about things we had missed when we first watched the show and theories about what we thought would happen in the future.

One day the weather was great and we went for a hike with the dogs. Taking four dogs on a hike is a challenge, let me tell you. They battle over who is at the lead. I’ll stick to being a cat owner.

One weekend we got more than a foot of snow! We drove to my sister’s land which was an empty lot and we played around in the snow. I built a snow-woman and Amy built a snowman. My dad built a huge snow fort. I helped to make snowballs so the fort was loaded for battle. It was such a fun time!

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My second cousin Kirsten, her husband, and two young daughters were headed to Nashville from Minnesota and stopped to hang out for a couple of days. Because of the snow, we all hunkered down and relaxed. It was fun getting to know them better. We don’t get to see them a lot outside of weddings and family reunions. This was a chance to spend quality time together.

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My friends Melanie and Laurie met me twice for dinner. We went to youth group together in high school. It was great to catch up without having to rush. Normally, I have such a limited time in Missouri that I don’t get a chance to see people outside of my family. They were encouraging about my upcoming travels and made me laugh as I told them about Tinder.

I went to my brother’s house one night and watched a movie with him and my nephews. I also watched my nephews who are in high school play some video games, which was entertaining for them.

Conclusion

Overall, it was a busy time in Missouri as I worked out at the gym, went to doctor appointments, got things done with my car, and saw family and friends. It was great to unload my car and get it cleaned. I felt prepared for my trip to Thailand and I could stay for 30 days without needing a visa. I planned to go to Vietnam next and stay for 30 days there as well. I wasn’t exactly sure where I’d go after that.

I packed up my duffle bag and small carry-on bag. I also had a medium sized backpack for hiking and biking. I was disappointed that I had so much luggage, but traveling for several months and needing clothes for hot and cold temperatures meant I needed it all. My medications and daily use contacts also took up a lot of space.

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I said my goodbyes and headed to the airport. I was flying to Los Angeles first for two days. I needed to give my tax accountant my documents for the tax year so she could complete them in time for filing in April. It would also give me a chance to see a couple of friends. I spent almost six weeks in Lake Saint Louis and it flew by. It was great to see people, but I was ready for my next adventure!

Post Edited By: Mandy Strider
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Days 190-195: New Years in Nashville

After getting a spinal tap I was home resting. The day after I came home from the hospital, my head started to hurt while I was out with my parents. I took some Excedrin and told them I needed to go home and lay down.

Laying down made my headache go away, so I was worried that I had “the” headache that often comes after a spinal tap. If spinal fluid continues to leak from the hole that was created by the large needle, you will get a massive headache unless you go get a blood patch. To do that, doctors take your blood and put the needle back into your spine and push the blood in. The blood seals the hole and the headache goes away instantly.

It was Sunday and I convinced myself that I didn’t have “the” headache, it was just a headache. The hospital that did my spinal tap stuck my spine ten times because they couldn’t get the correct spot. They also don’t have someone working the guiding machine on weekends. I did not want to go through another stabbing fest. I thought about going to another hospital and getting the blood patch, but I just wanted my back left alone. I could sometimes stand or sit up for an hour, so I figured it was just a regular headache.

The following day was New Year’s Eve. My doctor put in an order to get a CT scan of my head to make sure there wasn’t a mass causing the pressure from behind my eyes. I went to the clinic and it went pretty quickly. Then I drove to Nashville. It’s five hours away from Lake Saint Louis and I was meeting friends to celebrate the New Year. Unfortunately, my headache continued to get worse because I had to sit up in the car to drive.

I was taking a lot of Excedrin, which I knew wasn’t good for me. But I didn’t think I had an option. The pain and pressure in my head became unbearable and I kept trying to squeeze it because that made it feel slightly better. I pulled over for some gas and grabbed a shirt from the back of my car. I tied it around my head as tight as I could so pressure would be against my head. I looked like a maniac, but I just wanted to make it to Nashville.

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I arrived in the evening and my friend Lindy and her boyfriend Rusty were already at the Airbnb. We rented a two bedroom house for two days. Lindy and her boyfriend showed up around check-in time. My cousin Misty and her boyfriend Dan also arrived shortly before I got there.

I walked into the house, met their boyfriends, and laid down on the couch. I explained to them that the Excedrin was making me shake and my head was pounding. Misty got me a wrap that she had brought for her hair and I put it on my head, which helped with the pressure. I was disappointed that I couldn’t be all peppy and excited. I laid on the couch while they sat at the table. Thankfully, it was a small house, so the kitchen table was right next to the couch. I tried my best to be engaging.

They asked if I needed to go to the hospital to get the blood patch. I said no because sometimes I could go a couple of hours without it hurting too bad, and online it said the headache will eventually go away if you don’t get the blood patch….it just takes two weeks.

We ordered pizza, took showers, and got ready to go out. After laying down for a couple of hours, I figured I would be ok to go out for a few hours. My head was hurting, but it was tolerable. We took an Uber to a brewery downtown that had a small concert in their big warehouse.

Lindy and I were best friends all through high school and college, and were college roommates. After school, she moved to Tennessee for a job and has lived in Jackson ever since. She was now a nurse working at a hospital. She had just started to date Rusty, so they were still getting to know each other.

Misty is my cousin and grew up in Pennsylvania. When I was 18 years old, she stayed with us for a while and we became best friends. For the next two decades, we stayed close, always emailing and calling when we could. We’ve pretty much never lived in the same city. She’s lived in Pennsylvania, Utah, Kansas City, and was now living in Atlanta, where she is a teacher. Her boyfriend lived in Chicago and it was my first time meeting him.

We all agreed to meet in Nashville because it was a drivable distance for each of us. I was excited to catch up with them and also to learn more about their boyfriends. However, the concert was too loud and we couldn’t talk, so we decided to go to the downtown area.

We jumped into an Uber, but the traffic was pretty bad. It was getting close to midnight and none of us wanted to celebrate the New Year in an Uber. We were dropped off in the main area with all the bars. The street was packed and each bar seemed very crowded. Some were still letting people inside, but we couldn’t decide which bar seemed the best.

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Finally, we just picked a bar that was only half full. We jumped inside and ordered drinks and grabbed a table. The clock struck midnight while we waited for drinks and everyone gave kisses to their significant other – except for me because I had no significant other.

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We ordered some food and were able to talk at the table. It was a great time laughing and catching up with each other. The bar was closing around 1:00 am, so we left and walked around the streets, people watching and enjoying all of the country music and cowboy hats. Nashville is lively, full of live music, and is a classic country city.

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After walking around for a while and not finding another place that we wanted to go inside, we requested an Uber and went back to the Airbnb. My headache was coming back full force and I was starting to feel sick to my stomach.

I tried to sleep with my feet hanging off of the hard futon in the living room. In the morning, they all came to join me. I was afraid to sit up because of the headache. I told them I needed to just lay down that day. They were so sweet and stayed with me.

Misty and Dan went out and picked up a delicious breakfast. Afterwards, we debated on how to the spend the day. I felt bad because I couldn’t do anything. But we realized we all just wanted to hang out anyway and it was cold and raining outside. Misty and Dan snuggled up on the other futon while Lindy and Rusty grabbed a foam mattress pad we found in the closet and put it on the living room floor. They snuggled up and it felt like we were having a slumber party.

We had a great time hanging out and even took naps in the afternoon. At dinner time, we decided to go out somewhere just to get out of the house. We found a small dive bar with darts and stayed there for a bit. I started to feel sick again and was burning up, so I sat outside in the back at one of the tables. There weren’t heat lamps, so nobody was out there except for me. I was so hot, the cold felt good to me. Misty and Dan joined me outside until it was too cold for us.

We picked up food and ate back at the house. The next morning, Misty and Dan took off early because they had a long drive. I went to lunch with Lindy and Rusty at Waffle House and then hit the road.

When I got back to Missouri, I laid down and stayed that way for several days. It was extremely frustrating. I felt ok when I was laying flat. But as soon as I would get up for more than 20 minutes, the headache came back. I took Excedrin and hoped that rest would cure it. I kept figuring it would go away soon. It had already been a week since the spinal tap and according to Google, it would go away in two weeks.

Once it had been a week, I went to my sister’s Chiropractor office to get a massage from a massage therapist that also does energy work. When I arrived, I told Jackie I needed to lay down because the 20 minute drive made my headache return. She said she would focus  mostly on energy work.

She barely touched me throughout the whole massage. I told myself that there was no way the headache was going to go away and I couldn’t keep living this way. I planned on going to the hospital after the massage to get the blood patch.

When I got up from the table, my headache was gone. Normally, it was much better after laying down for a while, but this time it felt completely gone. I was skeptical and was sure it would come back. My sister just finished for the day and asked if I wanted to get dinner. I told her ok, but if the headache came back, I’d have to go home.

My sister Amy and I went to a Greek restaurant and had some great sister bonding time. After dinner, I continued to be upright and didn’t get the headache! I couldn’t believe it. Whatever Jackie did worked. The headache never returned. The next day I was even able to get a light workout in.

Looking back, I wish I had just gotten the blood patch the day after the spinal tap when the headache started to appear. I was reluctant to think it was the massive headache because friends told me they’ve had it after a spinal tap and couldn’t even walk to the bathroom because it was so bad.

I think because I laid down so much the day of the spinal tap, it made the leak better, but it wasn’t healed. I also know I have a high pain tolerance and I’m stubborn. I didn’t want to ruin New Years Eve. But I was in an immense amount of pain and could barely function. I also took way too much Excedrin. A word of advice: get the blood patch right away if you get a headache after a spinal tap.

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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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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