Day 263: The Worst Bus Ride of My Life

It was time to checkout of my hotel in Hanoi and head north to Ha Giang. I talked with a woman at the reception desk about the best way to get there because it was a six-hour bus ride away. I asked her about the 10:00 am bus and taking a taxi to get to the main station. I found a site online that said the seats were recliner seats and it was not a sleeper bus. I also read that the sleeper buses were very uncomfortable. I wanted to get some writing done, so a seat would be better than a sleeper bus.

The woman told me that I’d be better off taking the 11:00 am bus because she could get them to pick me up. Going to the main bus station would be backtracking. I explained that I needed to get there by 5:00 pm and she assured me that I would. After eating breakfast, I brought my bags to the lobby.

img_4465

At 11:08 am, I asked the woman at reception, “I thought the bus left at 11:00 am?” She replied, “Yes.” Finally, at 11:30 am, a van picked me up. It was small and the back didn’t have much space for luggage. There were three guys in the back from Europe. I sat in the front seat with my duffel bag on my lap. Next, we picked up three British girls and there was no space for their giant backpacks, so they had to put them on their laps. They said the tight van quarters were “mental.”

At 12:15 pm, we arrived at the bus station and were instructed to board the bus. We put our luggage in the lower portion of the bus. I was extremely upset when I saw that the bus was a sleeper bus. There were three rows of sleeper “seats” that consisted of slightly reclined seats on the floor with a metal container where you were supposed to put your legs and feet. There were two narrow walkways and it was already halfway full. There were also metal bars around each sleeper seat that were holding up a second level.

The driver instructed me to take off my shoes and assigned a seat in the middle of the first floor. It was extremely narrow and made for people shorter than 5’2”. Being 6’1”, it was laughable. The problem is that I had to put my legs into the metal container. Since they wouldn’t fit, I had to sit with my legs bent and my knees practically in my face.

img_4470

The British girls were behind me and felt bad for me. They could barely fit and knew it was even worse for me. The bus filled up and we were off. I desperately didn’t want to take this bus for six hours, but at that point, I didn’t have an option. The British girls pointed to a guy above them on the second story who had a blanket over him. They thought he might be masterbating. I cringed.

The bus smelled of body odor and farts. People shouted on their phones, watched videos on their phones without headphones, and the driver constantly honked his horn. There was not a restroom on the bus, so I tried not to drink too much water. There wasn’t any air flow near me and I was miserable.

If I stretched my legs, my butt was halfway up the reclined seat and my head would hit the top floor. I found that I could turn to my left side and at least then my legs weren’t bent in my face. However, the metal bar was painful. I put my blanket on the bar which helped a little bit.

After two hours, we stopped at a remote store that also had a restroom. I got off the bus, not knowing how long we had there. The restroom was a squat toilet and didn’t have toilet paper. I was very grateful that I always carried Kleenex with me throughout Southeast Asia. There wasn’t any soap, which was common, so I used my hand sanitizer.

img_4472

I bought a small bag of puffed chips and a cup of popcorn. I got back on the bus and climbed to my seat. I couldn’t help but notice that we picked up another six people who didn’t have seats. They sat in the two aisles and two of them decided to sit directly next to me, shoulder to shoulder. This meant I couldn’t turn my legs to the side. It was also absurd that two decided to smash me in instead of sitting near our metal feet containers.

img_4474

I asked the man on my left if he could scoot up a little so I could turn my legs to the side, but he didn’t understand me. I called a worker over and asked him to tell them to move. He didn’t speak English either. I tried to use Google Translate, but I lost cell service. I used my arms to motion, showing them scooting up. That worked and he had the men move up a little. It was enough for me to turn my legs to the side. I couldn’t stretch my legs, however, because the men were in the aisle.

I tried to take a nap, but my legs kept losing circulation because of the metal bars. I shifted to try to get the blood flow back. We made several random stops on the side of the road to let people off the bus. To pass the time, I wrote for my blog on my phone and listened to music. When it got dark outside, colored lights came on like it was a nightclub.

img_4479

We arrived in Ha Giang at 6:40 pm. I was supposed to meet with the motorbike tour guide that afternoon, but with the delay I had to reschedule to later that night. I stood in the parking lot and tried to find a Grab. They were all busy, so my request wouldn’t go through. A guy standing nearby who appeared to be a taxi driver said he would take me for 50,000 dong ($2.15 USD). I tried to explain to him that all I had was one 10,000 bill and 500,000 bills and needed change. I used Google Translate and he agreed to give me change, but it took five minutes for us to understand each other.

Once I got into the car, I realized there was not a taxi sign on the car and I got nervous. Then I thought about how he talked with some guys as he left the parking lot. Are they kidnapping me?

Thankfully, I arrived safe and sound at my hotel. The man at the front desk didn’t speak English, so he couldn’t answer any of my questions about the WiFi, breakfast, or how to turn on the lights. He just pointed to the elevator. The hallway on my floor was dark and I had to turn on the lights. These are the moments that make traveling as a solo female scary.

img_4480

img_4481

I walked down the street and ate dinner. The town was small, but had a decent amount of shops. I went back to my hotel and met Opie, my motorbike tour guide. I signed up for a four-day tour around the mountains in the north that would begin the following day. Opie was in his early 20s, around 5’9”, had bleach-blonde hair on top, had earrings, an athletic vibe, and was really nice.

img_4483

Opie wanted to make sure I knew how to drive the motorbike because it was semi-automatic and I would need to shift with my foot. I looked it over and said I think I could do it. He told me that I could store my belongings at his hostel the next day and just bring my backpack on the tour.

I went back to my room to repack so that I had what I needed for the tour. The BBC was on TV and they were showing live footage of the Brexit deal with Theresea May in Parliament. I found it very interesting because even though they were obviously angry, they still had respect for each other. In the U.S., it seems as though we’ve lost all respect for the opposing party. I enjoyed seeing how another country conducted their politics.

Post Edited By: Mandy Strider 
Thanks for reading! Hit the Like button or leave a comment!

Day 262: Learning about Vietnam

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

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

img_4331

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

img_4344

img_4353

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

84039175-475c-4533-8813-cefbd1f30486

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

img_4368

img_4371

53243cba-7fe7-4996-a182-b035905df6a7

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

img_4382

img_4390

img_4393

img_4400

img_4401

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

img_4408

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

b280a106-5d54-45e4-8c00-d45543a3eca8

img_4414

img_4417

img_4425

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

img_4440

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

img_4444

img_4457

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

img_4462

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

Post Edited By: Mandy Strider
Thanks for reading! Hit the Like button or leave a comment!

Day 261: Vietnamese Prison

An old co-worker, Austin, was in Hanoi for the day before flying back to Thailand, so we met for breakfast. I hired Austin a couple of years earlier to work in sales. After earning his Master’s degree, he quit in the spring of 2018 to travel the world for a year. He was in his mid-20s, was about 5’8”, had black hair, and looked a lot like my ex-husband. 

img_4266

Austin spent several months in Europe, Egypt, India, Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam. He needed to leave that day before his visa expired, so he was flying to Thailand for a short time and then planned to go back to Vietnam because he loved it there so much. He was traveling as a backpacker, staying in hostels. He frequently met other travelers and ended up traveling with them for a while. 

Austin originally planned to travel for a year, but it was going so fast that he realized he wanted it to be more like two to three years. After Southeast Asia, he planned to go to Australia to visit his sister who was living in Perth. He also applied for a work visa there because his finances would only last a year, which was coming up soon. 

Austin gave me a lot of good tips on things to do in Vietnam because he had spent the last month there. He told me that when he first arrived, he was lonely and it felt strange traveling solo again because most of his travel was with other travelers he met. Within a short time in Vietnam, he met more travelers and explored with them. 

I was happy to see Austin and to see him enjoying travel so much. He had the right attitude and appreciated the ability to travel. It was funny because we were both managers at Target, but at different times and both worked with my friend Karyn. We both worked at McMaster-Carr and were now traveling the world. We enjoyed talking for a few hours over a delicious breakfast. 

img_4262

Austin had to go buy a plane ticket and leave the country that day, so we parted ways. I walked to the HOA Ko Prison. The sign at the entrance said, “A hell on earth in Hanoi set up by French Colonialists, it was also called “a school” by Vietnamese patriotic soldiers (1896-1954), a “Hilton Hanoi” – where the American Pilots lived while they were arrested in the North of Vietnam (1964-1973) and now it is “an attractive destination” by the friends who love peace.” 

There was a special exhibition called “Finding Memories” currently at the prison. The sign described the presentation as recreating “the struggle of the people of Ha Noi and Hai Phong to overcome the pain and loss of war and to achieve victory. It helps those who haven’t experienced wars to learn more through remarkable and humane wartime stories, especially the stories about American pilots in Hanoi-Hilton. 45 years have passed, and the Vietnamese people always bestow the most beautiful appreciation for American Peace-lovers.” 

img_4279

The French controlled Vietnam for 100 years and built the prison in 1896. It was one of the biggest and most solid prisons in Indochina. The prison signs describe  the poor conditions that the French created for the Vietnamese people. It was hard to walk through the rooms and cells. Sometimes there were porcelain sculptures in the shapes of bodies to depict what it was like for prisoners. There was also a guillotine on display. 

img_4282

img_4281

A pamphlet provided more information, “Throughout nearly a century under the French occupation (1858-1954), the life of laboring Vietnamese was extremely hard and miserable: shortages of food and clothing and family separations. Not being resigned to losing the country and being enslaved, the Vietnamese rose up against French colonialists and regained national independence and sovereignty.” 

The first part of the pamphlet talks about how the “Vietnamese patriotic and revolutionary fighters” were treated inhumanely by the French. They were tortured, lived in unsanitary conditions, and then killed. I did my best to remember that I was only hearing one side of the story. 

img_4284

During the American War (we call it the Vietnam War), they captured hundreds of American soldiers and kept them as prisoners from 1964 to 1973. Sign after sign pointed out how good they were to the Americans. They gave them daily exercise and even let them put up a Christmas tree. They could also send letters home. I tried to keep an open mind and recognize that I was hearing the history from Vietnam, so the story might be different if told by the prisoners. 

img_4283

The last section of the prison was devoted to the peace that the U.S. and Vietnam now have. They were proud that they beat the U.S. despite their better technology and said it was because their spirit was stronger. There were pictures of John McCain who spent years there as a Prisoner of War. There were also pictures of recent U.S. and Vietnamese presidents shaking hands and agreeing to peace. 

img_4276

img_4277

As one tour guide would tell me many days later, “The U.S. and Vietnam share a history.” It was hard to imagine the pain that took place at that prison when it was operated by both the French and the Vietnamese. I know people who fought in the Vietnam war and it wasn’t easy for either side. I thought that overall, the prison did a good job of saying just that – most people suffered on both sides while governments fought. 

After the prison, I walked to a cafe and enjoyed a dessert. The sidewalks were packed with motorbikes, so I often had to walk on the street.

img_4292

img_4289

I kept walking and ended up at a festival where streets were closed off. Little kids drove tiny cars around, which was so adorable! Then I came across food stalls, so I ate a crepe-like wrap and sushi rolls that had hotdogs and vegetables inside. There were groups of people singing and playing music, and others creating giant Jenga stacks in a competition. 

I ended up at a theatre that had a water puppet show. I bought a ticket and enjoyed the playful production. People played music on the side of the stage while puppets raced around the pool of water. 

img_4323

img_4327

I walked through a night market on my way back to the hotel. It was packed with people shopping and eating. I wasn’t feeling very good and my throat was still hurting, so I didn’t stay long at the market. After working on my blog, it was bedtime. I had a long day ahead of me the following day and wanted to make sure I was well enough to attend. 

Post Edited By: Mandy Strider
Thanks for reading! Hit the Like button or leave a comment!

Days 259-260: Food Tour and Exploring Hanoi

I skipped breakfast at the hotel again because it ended at 9:30 am and I wanted to be hungry for a food tour that I signed up for. When I walked through the lobby, the staff pointed out that I missed breakfast again and said the next morning they’d give me a wake-up call. I appreciated their concern, but I was hoping that staying in a hotel instead of an Airbnb would give me some privacy. It appeared that the hotel staff were very concerned about my food intake.

The food tour guide, Minh, met me in the lobby. She was 27, had glasses, her hair was in a ponytail, and she was short. She told me to grab a jacket because it might get chilly. I followed her instructions and then we walked to a hotel to pick up a guy. Minh told me about the city as we walked. She was cute and grabbed my arm when crossing the street to make sure I followed her. She was petite, but fierce. She crossed those streets like they were nothing. Minh asked me what it’s like traveling alone as a female. She told me that she likes to travel with friends, but she thought I was brave to travel alone.

img_4069

We arrived at a hotel and Jake was waiting to join the tour. He was 26, lived in Los Angeles and Boston, was tall with brown hair, and was in medical school. He was doing an internship in Thailand and he was only in Hanoi for the weekend to explore.

We took a taxi to the next hotel and picked up Michiel. He was from Holland and was only 18 years old. He was around 5’9”, was thin, had light brown hair, a nose ring, and an earring. He was taking a gap year before college, which is common there. His friends weren’t traveling on their gap year, so he was traveling solo for a few months. Jake asked Michiel how his parents feel about him traveling alone. He explained that his parents said he couldn’t take a gap year if he didn’t travel. Michiel pointed out all that he’s learned and and that traveling solo has forced him to do things for himself. I was impressed that he was traveling internationally by himself at 18. I don’t think I would have had the courage to do that at such a young age. At age 20, I drove from Missouri to Colorado by myself and visited family and friends. But going overseas and exploring on your own is a whole different story. Michiel was mature, smart, and fun. It was great seeing him out there exploring the world.

img_4064

The four of us walked to our first destination. When crossing the street, Minh told us, “Just be confident.” She held up her hand and we crossed with her. The three of us were all scared to cross the street, so we followed her closely. We went to several food stalls and small restaurants down alleyways eating donuts, egg and dill patties, rice pancakes, soup, meat, ice cream, and (my favorite) egg coffee.

img_4080

As we sat at a miniature table, we got to know each other better. Michiel was staying in hostels and explained that they’re mostly great, but sometimes he gets to one where nobody talks and he gets lonely. Jake confirmed traveling solo can be lonely for him at times too. It made me feel better that they also experienced loneliness.

Jake told us about the things he was learning in Thailand. He was in a smaller village just north of Bangkok. One time there was a man who had a spinal injury and his muscles were completely frozen. The local doctors did acupuncture on him and Jake watched as the muscles loosened and the man could move around again. I was happy that Jake was learning both western and eastern medicine because I think it’ll make him a better doctor.

img_4075

Minh was from a small town, but she moved to Hanoi when she was eight years old. She told us that the government took homes from the wealthy and gave them to the poor. Because of this, houses have seven to ten families living in them and they all share a kitchen and bathrooms. Most homes have a business on the ground floor (like a restaurant) and they all live in the floors above.

img_4068

The government charges taxes based on the width of the house, so everyone builds very narrow houses that are very deep and tall. The houses were sometimes so narrow that I could almost touch my arms on both walls. The houses were packed in side-by-side and sometimes trees grow right in the middle of courtyards, making their way up the house.

img_4074

We continued eating at the various food stalls around the city. Minh took us to a cart that the woman carries on her shoulders everyday using a wooden pole across her shoulders. She sets up in front of a bar that is closed until the evening and serves food during the day. There were tiny plastic stools just six inches off the ground for customers. A few men were sitting on the stools eating and one told us that we need to try it if we wanted to “see the real Vietnam.”

img_4070

img_4072

We went to our last stop for egg coffee and sat at a small table. Egg coffee is whipped egg (mostly egg whites) that fills half the coffee cup. The whipped part is sweet and once you stir it, it tastes like a creamy, sweet latte. They started making it many years ago because they couldn’t afford milk or cream.

All of a sudden, my stomach was very upset. I raced to the single-use restroom and wasn’t feeling well. After our coffee, I was luckily feeling a bit better. We walked around for a bit and then said goodbye. We were all extremely stuffed and wanted to take a nap.

img_4076

img_4119

On my walk back to my hotel, I stopped for a manicure for $12 USD. The salon also offered a Swedish massage for $17 USD an hour. I agreed to the massage and was taken upstairs. There were a few tables very close together with sheer curtains around them. The woman made me uncomfortable as she stood there while I undressed. I laid under the blanket and hoped nobody else came in.

After my massage, I rested at my hotel. I still didn’t feel very good and spent time talking on the phone and working on my blog.

The next morning, the hotel staff made good on their promise and gave me a wake-up call for breakfast at 9:00 am. I ordered a banana pancake and beef noodle soup. I love the soup, but it is hard to eat onions in the morning. I went back to my room and researched while resting since I still wasn’t feeling well. My throat had been hurting for the last day and I didn’t want to push myself too hard.

img_4124

In the afternoon, I talked with the girl at the front desk and she gave me tips on what to do. It was hotter outside – around 70 °F (21 °C). I walked around and made it to the famous train tracks. They’re famous because houses, shops, and restaurants are lined up extremely close to the tracks. Trains still use the tracks, which makes it crazy that people are actively walking on them.

b42c25ad-af71-4d74-8d9b-80bc3a08103a

d9b6eeb4-1eec-488f-965e-63a1ca58b9bc

I ordered a banana coffee at a shop and sat against the wall on a small ledge. I enjoyed watching the people in the lively area. Tourists posed for pictures in the middle of the tracks creating their (not very) unique pictures. I talked with a young couple from the U.K. and took their first picture together in eight months.

img_4129

I walked to the Citadel, which is a huge complex. I didn’t learn much about it because I wasn’t on a tour, but I walked around enjoying the structure, narrow and steep stairs, beautiful flowers, and jets.

img_4177

img_4178

In the evening, I walked to a theater and saw an acrobat show where they did all sorts of gymnastics using large bamboo. Once that was finished, I enjoyed a drink at a rooftop bar while looking at the skyline. I used the time to search for day tours of HaLong Bay. Once I got back to the hotel, the girl at the front booked a tour for me.

Sometimes it feels overwhelming going to a large city not having researched what to do. I often struggle with feeling like I’ll miss out if I don’t constantly do something. I’m learning to let that go and be ok with relaxing a little bit. It’s still a struggle, but I consciously try to have some downtime.

Post Edited By: Mandy Strider
Thanks for reading! Hit the Like button or leave a message!

Day 258: Arriving in Vietnam

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

img_3998

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

img_4003

img_3999

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

img_4011

img_4012

img_4024

img_4033

img_4030

img_4036

img_4027

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

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

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

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

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

The guy responded, “Yes you do.”

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

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

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

img_4042

img_4050

img_4048

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

Post Edited By: Mandy Strider
Thanks for reading! Hit the Like button or leave a comment!

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.

img_3904

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.

img_3909

img_3908

img_3916

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.

img_3922

img_3925

img_3936

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.

img_3947

img_3950

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.

img_3954

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.

img_3961

img_3959

img_3960

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.

img_3965

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.

img_3968

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.

img_3975

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
Thanks for reading! Hit the Like button or leave a comment!

Day 244-246: City Living

Miley, my Airbnb host, gave me a ride to the Sky Train which would take me to the Siam Center, a mall in Bangkok. Miley was tall, had red circular glasses, and a confident stature. She appeared to be in her late 20s and was in charge of the Airbnbs in her family home. I got in the front seat of her car and turned around to meet her family.

Miley’s mother and grandmother were in the back, so we said hello to each other. Then they said something in Thai, which I couldn’t understand. I looked at Miley for help and she said, “They think you’re very brave to be traveling alone. They think it’s great.” I smiled, “Oh, well tell them I said thank you!”

Miley dropped me off at the Sky Train station and gave me instructions for how to use it. I climbed a few flights of stairs, bought a ticket at the ticket booth, and followed the ticket booth operator’s instructions on where to stand to get the correct train to the mall.

img_2901

The Sky Train is an elevated metro system and provides some amazing views of the city. I wanted to ride it and I read online that the malls in Bangkok are something special to see. It made sense to take the train to the mall. It wasn’t very crowded, it was new and clean, and it reminded me of England. In Thailand, they drive on the left, say “mind the gap” when getting on and off the train, and “mind your hands.” In Chiang Mai, a local told me they had a strong presence from England decades ago, so they have replicated a lot of the Brittish culture.

The Siam Center was huge! I first started to look around the outside covered area and found a small shop selling a “pancake cup,” which is a cup of mini-pancakes, strawberries, and cream. I ate a cup while enjoying the small air conditioned section. I continued walking and noticed shops had very narrow stores with glass doors. The doors allowed for air conditioning and they only had to cool off a very small section. What it created, however, were small store booths that looked like little jail cells.

I continued walking around, but the heat and humidity were making me uncomfortable. I found a restaurant with air conditioning and ordered a chicken with egg. After that, I went to the main indoor section, Siam Paragon. The multilevel glass windows made it look regal and expensive.

img_2917

img_2920

I used the toilet and it included a container of disinfectant that you could use to wipe your seat. Bathrooms (or toilets as they say) are very inconsistent in Thailand. Most are run down, or only have squat toilets, don’t have toilet paper and instead have a spray nozzle attached for you to use to wash yourself, and no soap. But there are also high-end places like this mall where the toilets are fancy – they included toilet paper and the spray nozzle, soap, and were incredibly clean. This bathroom was cleaner and nicer than most bathrooms in the U.S.

img_2928

I continued walking around and couldn’t believe how amazing this mall was! The floors shined from the marble, sculptures hung from the ceiling, and I could look up and see seven stories! Most stores were priced similar to an average store in the mall in the U.S. There were also high-end stores like Chanel, Bvlgari, Cartier, and Rolex.

img_2929

This mall had everything you needed: furniture stores, hair salons, investments banks, a bowling alley, a boxing gym, a movie theater, a food court, lounges, and car dealerships with actual cars inside! I watched as children in school uniforms worked on homework in the food court and it appeared people spent many hours there.

img_2933

I was exhausted from walking around so much and even though there was air conditioning, I was still a little warm. I read online that the movie theater there is a “must see,” so I headed to the very top floor and found it. I talked with the girl at the counter because I was confused about the theatre options. She talked me into the higher-end theater that came with a small ice cream, a latte, a small bottle of water, and a lounge recliner seat. It cost $32 USD, which I thought was a lot, but I wanted some down time.

img_2945

I walked into the VIP lounge and was treated like royalty. While they got my ice cream, latte, water, and the popcorn that I ordered for $5 USD, I went to use the toilet. It was the most fancy toilet I’ve ever seen! I had my own little room that was covered in marble. The toilet lid opened itself when I approached. The seat was heated, it washed me, and then flushed itself. As soon as I left my little room, which included a personal sink and cloth washcloth, a housekeeping woman immediately went in to make sure it was perfect for the next guest.

I got to my theater and it was dark, so a man walked me to my seat using a flashlight. My seat was a large double seater for couples. There were only two other people in the theatre and they were a few rows up from me.

img_2937

I watched the movie, The Favourite, about Queen Anne. The movie was in English, but it had Thai subtitles. I enjoyed the movie and the pampering was nice.

img_2941

When the movie finished it was dark outside. I walked through the mall some more and eventually left. I walked towards a rooftop bar,  checking out the shops and nightlife around me. It reminded me of New York City because of its size and high-rise buildings, but the walkways, stairs, and bridges reminded me of Las Vegas.

img_2955

There didn’t seem to be any trash cans around on the street corner like I’m used to. When I had trash from a water bottle or snack wrapper, I just put it in my purse until I could find a trash can. The strange thing is that they don’t have a lot of litter around. I also noticed another big difference than the U.S. Maybe it was just where I was walking (near a high-end mall), but I didn’t see any homeless people. I saw only one disabled man laying on the street asking for money. In the U.S., homelessness has become an epidemic for many cities.

I walked just over two miles and arrived at a rooftop bar that I found online. It provided incredible views of the majority of the city. I paid for the view in the price of the drinks ($12 USD each). I enjoyed some appetizers and cocktails while enjoying the evening. I didn’t run into many tourists, especially Americans, during most of my time in Thailand. But in touristy places like the rooftop bar, I could hear American accents.

img_2966

I took a Grab to my Airbnb and slept in the next morning. I was feeling extremely tired. I lounged around, updating my blog and creating a video. It takes much longer than you’d expect to do all of this.

I needed to eat more than a protein shake, so I wandered around my local neighborhood. On the way out, I met Miley’s mom. She didn’t speak much English, but she was really welcoming. Miley’s family always had a smile on their faces.

I ate Americanized chicken for dinner, but it was not good. As I walked around, I saw a nail salon behind the glass windows, so I stopped in. They didn’t speak English, but a customer translated and told me to come back in 20 minutes. I enjoyed some ice cream and made my way back.

img_3009

The manicure wasn’t done very well because the girl didn’t do much cuticle work. They had gel polish though, which I couldn’t find in Chiang Mai. The girl then worked on my feet while another girl and a guy just hung out talking in Thai. She saw that my big toe on my left foot was bruised under the nail and she kept asking me something in Thai. I kept telling her I don’t speak Thai.

Then the girl who was just hanging out used her phone and Google Translate. It said, “nail figure” and I shrugged my shoulders. I didn’t know what that meant. Then she typed “are you hurt?” I shrugged again, “I guess so.” I didn’t know where I got that bruise, but it hurt, especially when she dug under it.

As I sat there getting my nails done, I played on Facebook and saw that the girl, Tsui, who I met in Chiang Mai at the Art Museum posted a sweet message to her account about the time we spent together. Tears came to my eyes as I read it. Seeing her post made me smile and I was grateful that I had this opportunity, even though it was tiring at times.

The next morning, I took Miley’s advice and took a Grab to Nonthaburi Pier. When I arrived, I searched for the long tail boats. I read online that the boats were a really fun way to get to the island that I was going to. There were a few different men with long tail boats and one approached me. He told me it would cost $400 Baht ($13 USD) for a round trip.

img_3057

The driver’s name was Pet and he helped me get  into the small boat without tipping over. I sat on two wooden boards in the middle, just in front of Pet. The boat was so close to the water that when we took off, water was splashing up on the sides. I didn’t get wet though and it was a really fun ride! The wind was a nice reprieve from the heat and humidity.

Pet stopped a couple of times for me to take pictures. We rode up the river, passing under a huge modern bridge, small houses that were right off the river on stilts, and statues.

img_3066

img_3071

I climbed off the boat when we arrived to Ko Kret, a man-made island. Pet told me to be back there in two hours and he would pick me up. The island is still in the craziness of Bangkok and they offer a weekend market. I perused the stalls of interesting foods, occasionally buying some to try. I resisted the temptation to buy anything else. It was over 100 °F outside and walking around in the humidity made me sweat like crazy.

img_3075

img_3083

After two hours, I returned to the spot Pet had dropped me off and thankfully he was there waiting. The boat ride was just as fun getting back. Once I got back, I took a Grab to another weekend market that is well known in Bangkok, the Chatuchak Weekend Market.  

The market had so many stalls that it felt a little overwhelming. Some stalls were in the sun, while others were under a shared roof. With no air conditioning, it made it difficult to spend much time there. The vendors sold everything from clothes, food, and household items to essential oils. I mostly purchased cold beverages.

img_3102

In the maze of shops, I found a tiny room with sliding glass doors with air conditioning and just enough space for five people to sit down for a massage. I paid $6.50 USD for a 45-minute foot, neck, and back massage.

img_3111

The massage was good, but the woman was really digging into my foot. Two minutes after walking away, the top of my right foot was hurting so bad that I started to limp. I forgot that a bad massage is worse than no massage.

The Sky Train was nearby, so I bought a ticket and stood in line for the Siam Center. It was taking a while for the train to arrive and then a man came by and said it was broken, but should be up soon. After 20 minutes, the station was packed. I squeezed my way inside and made it the Siam Center.

I had a coupon for a 15 minute massage that was part of the movie theater package I purchased days before. I sat in the cool, comfortable plush chair while the woman painfully massaged my neck and shoulders.

img_3115

After the massage, I walked a few blocks to the Hard Rock Cafe to buy a shot glass (I collect them). My limp was more pronounced now, making me look funny. When I arrived hot, sweaty, and limping, the woman told me that they had a happy hour special – two for one drinks. That sounded appealing, so I sat down and enjoyed mojitos and a salad. Nothing makes you look more pathetic eating alone at a restaurant than enjoying two drinks at the same time.

img_3117

After Hard Rock, I walked around for what seemed like an eternity, trying to find a Boots pharmacy. I finally found it at the bottom level of the food court of the huge mall. I asked a pharmacist for help with my toe nail. I told him that maybe it wasn’t a bruise under the nail, maybe it was a fungus. I also needed an antihistamine cream for some bug bites. The pharmacist was helpful, but it turned out it was just a huge bruise under my toenail and the antifungal cream didn’t help any.

To get back to my Airbnb, I was going to order a Grab, but there was nowhere for them to pull up. The Tuk Tuk drivers offered a ride for $20 USD and didn’t know where I was going. A Grab would cost me around $4 USD, so I kept walking.

img_3120

The busy streets were insane. At one point, I needed to cross a large intersection, but they don’t use crosswalks. I waited for five minutes with a large group of people. The cars didn’t stop. Multiple lanes of motorbikes, cars, Tuk Tuks, and busses raced by. Eventually, some people started to cross. I took advantage of their numbers and joined them. It was wild! We formed a group and slowly crossed while vehicles passed in front and behind us. The stop lights have a digital display that counts down how long until it changes colors, mostly starting from 40 seconds. That helped to know when the light was going to change.

I continued walking while attempting to find a place where a driver could pick me up. It was like the Las Vegas Strip – multiple lanes with a divider in the middle of the street. I passed “love massage” places and lots of tourists. Finally, after a mile of walking, I ordered a Grab. When the driver pulled up, it was on the opposite side of the street.

I had waited 15 minutes for him to arrive in the traffic and I knew there was no way that he could get to me. I took a deep breath and ran across the multiple lanes as fast as I could. I got to the divider and once it was clear, I ran across those lanes to my driver.

Bangkok is an exhausting city. I am glad I was able to see and experience it, but the crowds, heat, humidity, traffic, and overall insanity made me want to get out. I was headed to Phuket the next day, and I decided I needed to spend some time relaxing on the islands for the next few days.

Post Edited By: Mandy Strider
Thanks for reading! Hit the Like button or leave a comment!

 

 

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.

img_1038

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.

20190201_155858

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
Thanks for reading! Hit the Like button or leave a comment!

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.

img_0260

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.

img_0273img_0271

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.

img_0246img_0248img_0257img_0253img_0263img_0264

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.

img_0275img_0289img_0281img_0277

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.

img_0293img_0290img_0295img_0303

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.

img_0332

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.

img_0315img_0321

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.

img_0326img_0312

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.

img_0343

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.

img_0346img_0351

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.

img_0395

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
Thanks for reading! Hit the Like button or leave a comment!

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.

img_0161

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.

img_0165

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.

img_0175

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.

img_0187

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!

img_0177

img_0179

img_0180

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.

img_0178

img_0182

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.

img_0192

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.

img_0196

img_0199

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.

img_0200

img_0212

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.

img_0219

img_0221

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.

img_0225

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.

img_0229

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.

img_0231

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.

img_0233

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
Thanks for reading! Hit the Like button or leave a comment!

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.

img_0142.jpg

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.

img_0151

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.

img_0141

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
Thanks for reading! Hit the Like button or leave a comment!

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.

img_9565

img_9562

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.

img_9569

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
Thanks for reading! Hit the Like button or leave a comment!

Days 145-151: Dating in Whistler

As hard as I try to stay busy, I still get lonely. I was on Tinder and from time to time would match with someone. I almost never message first because I don’t want to get stuck in another relationship where I’m the one doing all of the initiating. During the first few weeks in Whistler, I didn’t have much luck with men.

Keven

I matched with Keven shortly after I arrived in Whistler. He was engaging in his messages and his pictures made him out to be quite a character. He looked like a free spirit who enjoyed festivals and he had a nice smile. He was 30 years old and had black curly hair that was just past his shoulders. He was originally from Portugal, but grew up in Toronto.

He was living in a bus in Squamish and one night he said he’d love to come over and tell me about his stories and bus life. I figured why not? so I let him come over. It was late at night and I told him if he wasn’t who he said he was, I wouldn’t let him in the condo complex. It was a glass door, so I could verify.

Keven was standing outside of the glass door in a black hoodie (with the hood up) and black jeans, which made him look mysterious. He appeared to be who he said he was, so I allowed him inside. He gave me a hug and we sat down to talk.

Keven told me that when he was 20 years old, he moved to Mexico, near Playa Del Carmen. He went with his brother who was six years older than him. They bought an old van and converted it to a home. To make money over the next year, they played music on a jug to American tourists and made a lot of money. In an attempt to get him back to canada, his parents paid for him to go to Cuba with them. He decided he liked having running water again, so he moved north.

Keven bought a small school bus in Oregon and converted it so he could live inside. When marijuana was illegal, he worked in the fields in northern California picking it. He made $20,000 in six to eight weeks, working 12 hour days. He lived off of the money for the rest of the year. He said, “Now that it’s legal, you can only make about half of that.”

Growing up without a lot of money, Keven’s parents always told him not to pay rent. He took that literally and lived in the bus for seven years. Three years ago, he moved to Squamish and actually rented a house with some friends for two of those years, but had recently moved back into his bus. Keven described the bus as having an outdoor shower, a wood stove, and a full kitchen. He had everything he needed. For work, he did housing construction with his brother.

Keven was interesting, but not as interesting as he was trying to be. After just over an hour talking, Keven kissed me and we briefly made out. I didn’t enjoy it because there wasn’t chemistry and I wasn’t that attracted to him. I sort of pulled away at one point and when he left, he hugged me and kissed my cheek. I didn’t mean to, but I flinched and pulled away when he went in for the kiss. He left saying, “I’ll call you. You can come see my bus.” I sort of wanted to see his bus, so I said sure.

A couple of days later, he unmatched with me on Tinder. It was fine because I didn’t really like him anyway. But it still hurt. There’s a feeling of rejection when someone just unmatches and disappears forever. It hurt my feelings. Keven made me realize that I can’t just casually make out with a guy. I tried, but if I’m not interested in the whole package, I can’t be attracted physically.

Andrew

Andrew and I matched about two weeks after I arrived in Whistler. He was 34, very tall (6’6”), muscular, and had shoulder-length blonde wavy hair. Andrew was a firefighter and a paramedic. He grew up in Ontario, but has lived on and off in Whistler since 2003.

When Andrew first messaged me, I was at the Cornucopia that was going on at the conference center. The large conference room had a lot of booths with vendors sampling their wines. There were also some appetizers. When I arrived, I noticed groups of friends dressed for a nice night out as they tried different wines and beers. I felt awkward being there alone and drank my samples way too fast. I felt a little less alone when Andrew messaged me.

Afterwards, I went to a bar and continued to message him. He said he had a long work day and had work early the next morning, so couldn’t meet me that night. But, he could hang out the next evening. We continued to message, getting to know each other.

This trend would continue over and over with Andrew. He’d message saying he just got home from work at 7:00 pm and needed to work out and get dinner and he’d see how he felt later. Then later would come and he’d be too tired to meet me for a drink. He’d always mentioned he “could come over” though. After the Keven incident, I did not want someone coming over again.

I was feeling rejected one night when we were supposed to meet up, but he bailed yet again. I had done my hair and makeup so I went out drinking alone. He messaged me saying he wasn’t trying to reject me, but he was just tired. I never understood why he didn’t just ask me to dinner, instead of always saying he’d see how he felt after dinner. I realized he just wanted to come over and hook up and I wasn’t going to do that. So, I kept insisting he meet me in public. Andrew told me he’d take me for a walk on his next day off, which was in a couple of days.

The day came and Andrew said he was on-call, so he couldn’t go for a walk. He did offer to come over, however, as long as he was close to his car because he “might need to run out at a moments notice.” I declined his offer and felt very frustrated. He left for Hawaii for two weeks shortly after, and wouldn’t return until I was supposed to leave. I ended up staying in Whistler for longer than I originally planned, but I didn’t bother telling Andrew I’d still be around when he got back. I was tired of the games and it was pretty clear that he was only interested in one thing.

Adam

I matched with Adam in September when I first went to Whistler and I met him twice after his band was finished playing some shows. We had continued to message every now and then. When I got back to Whistler on November 1st, he was in Florida with his parents for a few weeks. In mid-November, he returned and we matched again, but this time on Bumble. For the next few days, we texted and he’d often be flirtatious.

After a few days, I was impatient and asked him when he was going to ask me out. He responded a day later saying he wasn’t into “dating” because he had a few bad relationships. He assured me that he adored our talks though. I was very disappointed. All I wanted was to meet up with him. I guess asking “when are you going to ask me out?” was too much. Perhaps if I had just said he could come over, that would have worked.

A few days later, we messaged again for a bit as friends. Then a week after that, I was walking through the village and saw a sign that mentioned his band was playing that night. I went inside and sat at the bar and ordered a beer. It was crowded, especially with the groupies at the stage dancing. I was surprised when he saw me right away and as he kept singing, he pointed at me. I waved and smiled.

Shortly after, he had a break and came right over and gave me a hug. We chatted for a bit and then he continued the performance. They stopped playing shortly before the bar closed and were cleaning up their equipment. I waited around so I could say goodbye. He saw me waiting and walked over and said, “I have to go home and get some sleep.” I was irritated because I wasn’t expecting to hang out with him. I was saying goodbye, a goodbye that I knew would likely be for good. We hugged and I haven’t spoken with him since.

img_9551

Result

I started to feel very depressed. I constantly felt like I wasn’t good enough for these men. I wasn’t good enough to be taken out for dinner. I wasn’t good enough to be romanced. I wasn’t good enough to date. None of them wanted to put in any effort. The dating scene is awful, no matter where I go. I was starting to believe that I’d be single forever. For the first time, it crossed my mind that I just might never meet someone that I actually like.

On one of the nights, I watched Destination Wedding, a dark romantic comedy. It made me sad that I didn’t have a partner. But these men all made me feel worse than feeling lonely. Maybe being lonely is better than being broken-hearted.

I often hear that expectations are the death of a relationship. While I think that can be true if you have unrealistic expectations, I also think it’s bullshit. I know that I have high expectations of myself, of my friends, of my family, and especially the person I’m involved with romantically. I tried really hard the last year to be carefree and throw expectations out the window.

Holding people to standards and not letting them be themselves, or holding them to expectations that society has placed, is bad. But we should have some expectations. I expect a partner to be honest, to be kind, and generally be a good human being. I don’t think that’s too much to ask. Trying to “let go of all expectations” was allowing me to accept poor behavior from Keven and Andrew. It was making me feel like that’s how the world is and I’m the weird one for expecting more.

I was recently talking with a guy about our dating woes on Tinder and I mentioned my experiences. His response was, “Wow, Don’t scare those poor fellas. Actually wanting attention. What’s next, conversation over dinner?” It made me feel better knowing there are men out there who put in work and don’t think it’s unreasonable to have basic expectations.

After experiencing all of this over a month, I decided I was done with men. At least temporarily. I was tired of them making me feel horrible about myself. I was tired of crying myself to sleep. I decided that being alone wasn’t all that bad.  

Post Edited By: Mandy Strider
Thanks for reading! Hit the Like button or leave a comment!

Days 107-120: Life Back in Los Angeles

Over the next two weeks, I spent time in the Los Angeles area visiting friends over lunches and dinners, going to several doctor appointments, and running errands.

My Cat

Jen had been taking care of my cat, Cali, since I left and I missed her very much. Jen was such an angel and would send me videos of Cali while I was on the road so I knew how she was doing. Jen had somewhere to be, so I was only able to see Cali for about ten minutes. She was not doing the best because she’s very attached to me. I got her from the shelter when she was just three months old and she is now 14.

Jen has a few other cats and also fosters cats from a kitty bungalow nearby. Cali is a pretty particular cat and kept hissing at other cats if they started to approach her. She had been living in Jen’s bathroom so she would have her own space. It was a very large bathroom and she had her cat stand and a window to look out of, but I worried about a long-term solution. I also couldn’t keep imposing on Jen. I told Jen I would come up with a plan and take her to my parent’s house in Missouri soon.

img_7559

Doctor Appointments

Ophthalmology

I went to my ophthalmologist’s office for a follow-up appointment. Right before I left California, I got a hole in one of my retinas. The doctor was able to laser around the hole to prevent my retina from detaching, but he wanted to follow up to make sure things were ok.

I had only met the doctor once. He’s a retina specialist and most of his patients are several decades older than me. The doctor is about my age and while he was examining my eyes, he asked, “How is work going?” I paused, “Well, I actually quit my job, sold my house, and I drove to Alaska. I just got back a couple of days ago.”

The doctor pulled back astonished and started asking questions. I told him I was trying to finish a book about hiking the John Muir Trail. He was very interested in that and kept asking questions. I found myself getting excited, telling him about my coldest night on the trail and sending myself resupplies. It was so fun to talk to him about my adventures and his excitement got me pumped up.

Restorative Medicine

When I was leaving my appointment with a restorative medicine doctor, the office manager and I chatted while she ordered some supplements for me. Brittany is 32-years-old and we have a lot in common. We both grew up without a lot money and in order to fit in with our friends and buy clothes, we started working at a young age. She continued working and was now in school as well. She talked about how hard it is to work full-time and go to school.

I sympathized with her because I did that right after high school and I couldn’t wait until I was only doing school or work. Doing both full time is draining. Brittany was so fun to talk with. She had known me for a few years and I’ll never forgot the big smile on her face when she said, “You seem so happy.”

Breast Center

I was on a six month follow-up program to monitor dense tissue in my left breast. This would be the two-year mark and if the dense tissue hadn’t grown, I could go back to annual evaluations. I arrived at the Breast Center and a nurse, Carrie, took me back and did the mammogram. She was in her 50s, had shoulder length dark blonde hair, red glasses, and spunky tennis shoes.

Carrie asked me all sorts of questions about my travels and then she told me about her desire to retire in Hawaii. She said she found mother-in-law suites that she could rent for $2,000-$2,500 a month. She wanted to volunteer at the Botanical Gardens pulling weeds. She said, “My kids and family are here, but they’ll probably come visit me since it’s Hawaii.”

The doctor came in after evaluating the results and said the dense tissue did not change so I could go back to annual exams (YAY!). As Carrie walked me back to the dressing room, she gave me a hat for breast cancer awareness and said, “I’m glad I met you. You’re so brave and gutsy.” I was feeling fantastic!

img_8569

Dentist

I see my dentist every six months for a check-up and cleaning. One of the hygienists, Cherry, has worked there the entire time I’ve been seeing the doctor (about 13 years). When I first started going, she was working at the front desk and always had the biggest smile on her face, which instantly put me in a good mood. She always recognized my voice on the phone and always remembered the things going on in my personal life. When I got engaged, she congratulated me. Then Aaron started going there too. Then the questions about babies started, but eventually stopped as the years passed. The last time I was in there, I had to tell her about the divorce. At that time, it was still difficult to say that word, so we didn’t talk much about it.

This time, I felt great! I checked in with the new receptionist and Cherry, now a hygienist, came out to say hello. I told them about my travels and recent changes in my life. With tears welling up in her eyes, Cherry told the new receptionist, “I’ve never seen her this happy. Usually, she’s pretty quiet and doesn’t talk too much.” It warmed my heart to hear her say that.

When I got into the dentist chair, I had a different hygienist and my dentist came in. I updated her on my new life. She longingly said she would love to do what I’m doing, but she’s still five to seven years away from retirement. She thinks she’s too old now and I assured her you’re never too old.

Primary Care

I also had an appointment with my primary care doctor for an annual follow-up. She asked me how work was going and I told her about quitting. She paused, and chatted with me for the next 30 minutes. She asked “How are you doing? I ask because jobs create a lot of stress. The thing in life is that you are always learning about yourself. I’ve learned that I overdue things. There is no such thing as doing things half-way for me, or mediocre. So I need to learn to say no sometimes.”

My doctor went on to describe that she was always jumping at her pager when it went off. Until one day, she stepped away from dinner with her family and the page ended up being for Tylenol. She realized she can’t live like that and maybe it’s ok if her job waits for 10-15 minutes.

She’s a good doctor and told me about how her perfectionism goes overboard, creating stress for her and her family. One time it was her turn to bring the snack to soccer practice and what she started as a healthy fruit snack turned into strawberry shortcake sundaes with all of the toppings. It was so overboard that her son told her, “Mom, don’t take this the wrong way, but some parents can’t go all out like that and they might feel bad now.” My doctor told me, “You’ve always got to look into the mirror, see yourself, and be willing to make changes.” As I left the office, my doctor said, “If you get published, I want a signed copy. I’ll buy the book, but I want you to sign it.”

I was having such a good time at each appointment. Normally, I was there before or after work, or even on my lunch break – always rushing and stressed out about the time. This time, I was relaxed and not stressed out at all. At each appointment, I was able to have meaningful conversations with people. It was eye-opening. My whole aura felt different and people noticed. It made me feel like I’m on the right path.

Friends

I missed my friends, so I was grateful to everyone who made time to see me, even if it was a quick lunch. Each time I’d meet up with a friend, I’d talk about my adventures and what it was like being back. They always wanted to know my plan, so I told them I was going to spend a month in Whistler so I could focus on my writing. There is no way I would make progress in the Los Angeles area – there’s too many distractions and too many people to see. I also wanted to hear all about their lives and it was just the fuel I needed. Almost everyday I met up with one or two friends.

img_8572

One night, Ryan, (who’s house I was staying at) was playing an added show in Pomona with his band, Julien-K. His girlfriend Caitlyn, roommate Max, and I all went to see his show. We were able to see him backstage and meet the other band members. On the way, I got to know more about Caitlyn and Max.

img_8547

Caitlyn grew up in Utah, but has spent most of her adult life in the Los Angeles area. She had such a kind heart, but was also a badass. She was in one of band’s music videos (she could easily be a model), and used to rock out on stage with them. Max was from Santa Barbara, but spent the last six years on the east coast. His partner was in New York, so once his internship was complete, he would be moving there to be with him.

We grabbed beers, talked with the band backstage, and then got to see Ryan in action. He has an amazing voice and owns the stage. I enjoyed every song and they even finished their set with playing Blue Monday. Since Ryan was a founding member of Orgy, he is able to still play the song. I highly recommend you check out Julien-K’s album, California Noir – Chapter two: Nightlife in Neon.

img_8550

During my two weeks in Long Beach, I was able to have some relaxing days with friends too. One rainy Saturday, my friend Trisha and I spent the day doing retail therapy, having dinner, and seeing a movie. It was just the sort of day I needed. Another day, the weather was great – warm and sunny. My friend Debbie and her husband Robin were going to the beach with their 10-month-old son. I tagged along and enjoyed a relaxing day at the beach under their canopy and eating delicious, fresh-made sandwiches.

img_8703

img_8705

img_8710

The weather had been so warm most of the trip that I went standup-paddle boarding with my friend Lori. It was my first time and I gripped the board tightly with my feet. After about 20 minutes, I had to pull over in the bay to stretch my feet because they were cramping. We continued, but boats were coming in and creating waves. One wave was too much for me to control and I flipped into the water. Lori helped me get back on and we were both impressed that I had managed to grab my sunglasses as they fell. However, about five minutes later, I fell again and this time didn’t grab my sunglasses. It was a great day on the water, but it was much harder than I anticipated.

img_8682

img_8681

I spent a night out in Manhattan Beach with my friends Toni and Jessica. We had been wanting to have a night at the Strand House, which is a luxury hotel, restaurant, and bar. We ate a high quality dinner and then had drinks and danced at the bar. It was an awesome girls’ night out. That is until I realized the bar accidentally charged my credit card an extra $1,000 for bottle service that a different group ordered.

img_8690

img_8701

On the Uber ride back to Long Beach that night, I talked with my driver, who was in her 20s. I told her all about my time in Canada and Alaska during the 30 minute drive. When I got out of the car, she told me that I inspired her. It felt so good to hear that. Those kinds of comments help me to understand what I want to do with my life. I want to inspire.

Work

One morning, I woke up to a text from a friend telling me that a former coworker had passed away. Phil was my age and died in his sleep. They didn’t know why and were going to do an autopsy. It really affected me. Phil had been my final interview when I was hired in 2007. I didn’t work for him directly much, but he was someone who made a huge impact. He was a fun and wild guy, but he was also incredibly intelligent. He graduated from Yale University and made a lot of wonderful contributions to the company. A few years ago, he left to become a Vice President at another company. He had a wife and two young children.

It was less than a week from when I had found out one of my doctors had passed away suddenly. You always hear about these things, but when it’s people you know, it strikes you differently. These were both highly intelligent, successful, and kind people who made incredible contributions to the world. It just made me realize how quickly it can all end. It was yet another reminder to me that I need to do what I’m passionate about before my time is over.

I stopped into my old work one afternoon. I thought I’d be there saying hello to people for a couple of hours, but it turned into six hours. I had lunch with a friend like old times and then went inside the office. During my time there, I worked in several departments and hired hundreds of people, so I know a lot of folks.

img_8645

My heart was filled with joy as I was able to catch up with each of them. I told someone that now that I was in the building again, it felt like I had only been gone a week. The person said, “Then how about you sit back at your desk and do some work.” The thought of doing actual work was unappealing. I prefered to just hang out and talk. I was surprised by how many people told me that I looked the happiest they’ve seen me. I kept hearing, “You’re glowing.” To me, that is a sign that you know you’re doing what you were created to do. Many people told me they were following along through my blog and I am extremely appreciative for each and every person who reads it. So thank you, dear reader.

My Mind Adjusting

I had a wild dream one night that was so vivid, I couldn’t stop thinking about it for hours. I dreamt that I was outside in front of a Target store, leaning against a half-wall. I used to be a manager there many years ago in real life and I can’t remember if I was an employee in my dream.

All of a sudden, a giant wave was crashing into the parking lot. But then it just started to slowly rise above everyone, going over the top of the building. It was slow motion and then it froze over instantly, leaving all us trapped underneath. Everyone was running around screaming and panicking. I was calm, fascinated by the whales and other sea creatures that swam above us – dinosaur-like creatures that nobody knew existed.  

Then a male friend of mine walked over to me and asked, “So, do you think you’ll make it out alive?” I confidentially answered, “Well, in my stories, I’m always the hero. And hero’s always find a way to survive.” The male friend kissed my cheek softly and I continued talking because I was nervous and trying to avoid acknowledging the kiss. It was such a crazy dream and I think my mind was trying to wrestle with all of the changes in my life.

While I was in California, I had a chance to get some writing done, go to the gym, get my hair cut, my car washed, attend church, and go to the store to buy some needed items. I also went to my chiropractor to help with my back and neck pain. It’s a husband and wife team who also attend my church. They were so encouraging and prayed for me while I was there to give me words of encouragement.

img_8604

It was the first time being back in my old stomping grounds after making a huge life change. It was incredible to receive so much support from friends, doctors, and acquaintances. At the end of my time there, I would fly my cat to Missouri to be with my parents, and then fly back to Los Angeles to get my car and head back to Whistler, Canada. The first leg of my travels was complete and this was my new life. Did I regret my decision? Absolutely not! I felt like for the first time in my life, I was on the track I was destined to be on.

Post Edited By: Mandy Strider
Thanks for reading! Hit the Like button or leave a comment!