Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Carpe Diem is YOLO

Posted: May 17, 2019 in Uncategorized

I am approaching the 2nd month of my arrival in California. I wouldn’t actually say time flies because it really has only been 2 months. However, I feel like those 2 months have been full and substantial. After all, as I mentioned in my previous post, I felt that I had come a long way since I left and I am slowly recovering from my financial downfall.

In hindsight, however, I feel that I achieved a lot in the two months that I have been here in California.

There were a few aspects in my life and in my move here, which and where I felt, I was not going to go further and farther or progress faster rather easily. One is the aspect of FRIENDSHIP, the other being in the category of OTHER ACTIVITIES.

Quasi-Prologue: When I left the east coast or before I left my old job as an ER nurse in New York, I had this nagging fear of not being able to settle down easily, especially at work. I remember my conversation with my then-coworker and good friend, Barry Kagan. We both agreed that we may be stuck in a rut in Mt. Sinai (Hospital), because we are both too old to readjust. That is, admittedly, part of the reason that it took me forever to move out of Sinai or even find a job elsewhere in the east coast, even with the advanced degree that I have. However, other friends were more optimistic and said “you will make friends,” as I cried at the prospect of readjusting to a new work environment.

I guess I came to the new job with the mindset of “I am just going to work and probably not make friends.”

And so I came to Stanford Hospital and it hit me, that, in fact, making friends was going to be a tough ordeal. I signed on to become a radiology RN and that entailed working in different clinics, which also means working with different nurses from different sites and, possibly, just seeing them once every 2 weeks or so. Not exactly a great way to bond, I thought.

So I let that go and just juggled meeting different staff members from different facilities in a month or so. I just worked and went home and ran or hiked on my days off. There were bouts of loneliness when I came home to an empty house and all I did was talk to the dogs and listen to Cigarettes After Sex. Once in a while, I met up with east coast transplant-friends like Mama Michelle, which was a great help with transitioning my social life– if any.

However, I must say that working in New York City did a lot in transforming my personality over the course of years. I remember how, as a new nurse, I was bullied and even, at one point, literally, pushed against a wall, and talked down to. Over 10 years ago– believe it or not, I was not the same opinionated, vocal, and feisty person that I am now. I attribute that to culture-shock. Not that I didn’t know how to speak English before I came to the US; it was more because words were not as fluid then as they are now when it comes to rhetorics and rebuttals. The ER taught me the survival skills and part of that involved being able to speak up and out.

Coming to California, I still was intimidated. Those thought recurred as I wondered if I will become subject, once more, to being pushed aside.

As I would discover, however, even as I moved from one clinic to another for work, people are nice and are receptive to this new person “from New York.” (Yeah, they refer to me as the one from New York. I guess because that is where I worked.) And people have all been nice and welcoming. ANDDD I am able to speak, to be fluid in conversations, and have more confidence in reaching out. In no time, I became more than just coworkers to a few people. And yes, it may be premature to say they are now my “friends,” but I actually like how I get to hang out with some of them and make plans for hike trips, drinks, or rock-climbing.

And speaking of rock-climbing, yes– I segue way into that other aspect that I want to talk about: OTHER ACTIVITIES.

When I just moved to California, one of (mostly-virtual) friends, Khristina Kurdyla, and I were in constant communication via text and Instagram messaging. I say virtual because she and I met once and only once at a race about 4 years ago. However, that did not keep us from being friends since then. She was among those who encouraged me, talked to me, consoled me– virtually– during those months that I was in a limbo. Once or twice she told me that now that I am in Northern California, I must seize the moment and engage in activities I have always wanted to do.

Slowly, I am heeding those words. And actually doing things and engaging in activities outside of South Bay!

I have always thought of rock-climbing but never really pictured myself doing it in New York or Jersey. On Tuesday I finally mustered the courage to do it for the first time– thanks to my coworker, Zach, who did Leadville years back, by the way, and Ian, a former coworker in NYC. While I was sore and scared shitless for a while, I actually enjoyed the activity and although I know I will never be as good as those teens and girls in their 20s, I realized I can use this as an alternative to sulking or being on social media.

Also, I have done a lot more hiking and running and have continued my running streak, which I started this year– thanks to the beauty I see outside everyday AND the absence of the billions of pollen that would have plagued me now, had I been in Jersey. I love exploring new trails and learning of new trails and even went back to registering for trail races. I think it comes with the territory of being here in Northern California, where you cannot not try to be fit, enjoy the outdoors, and find some physical activity to engage in.

Apart from this, I started looking into plays and shows that my not-endless-pocket can afford and actually watched Flower Drum Song in Palo Alto recently. While it may not be Broadway, it was refreshing to see people perform on stage.

Quasi-Epilogue: I do not wish to say “Ah.. this is the good life” because it can be better if Mariska were here. But I am appreciating these things that I achieved, did, and learned to embrace in the short time that I have been here.

Yes, the apartment is still a mess and I have yet to take the dogs out to a nice dog park to give them their share of happiness. But these times and opportunities I get spend with me to pamper me is what my former coworker, Felix, once said is essential so you can love and take care of others.

The Narcissistic Show

Posted: May 11, 2019 in Uncategorized

 

Social Media (and I will use this in a singular form) has an uncanny ability to make our lives look fancy. It highlights the good and skews the rest. Or, perhaps, it is us. It is us, users of the different modalities of social media, who tend to create an illusion, willfully or otherwise.

I came up with this reflection, once someone on Instagram commented about how “cute” my journey was from the east coast to California. I said thank you to that, but deep inside came this nagging urge to throw some rhetorics. But I held back and, thus, from that came this writing. (Note: This is not the first one I wrote on this topic. This is probably the 3rd attempt.)

My life, especially my journey from the east coast was not an easy one.

There were so many battles fought. And they were not “cute,” particularly, as we speak about how my financial state at the time was.

Here is the story:

I left New Jersey in March. March 18 to be precise. I tendered my resignation on March 1, 2019. It came after about only 2 weeks following an interview with managers at Stanford. As soon as I received the job offer and one quick sick call at my previous work place in Mount Sinai, I tendered my resignation on March 1st. Given the turn-around time between the date I first submitted my application for the job while I was in Amsterdam in January, the interview in February, and leaving in March, I really did not have time to prepare for the move. That, I admit.

However, if you know me, I am big on procrastination. And “winging” a lot of things.

Packing was done 2 days before I left, as I hauled everything into my Subaru. Material things were not what I was concerned about. That was nearly insignificant. What scared me more at the time was my financial state.

For those who follow me and my constant travels on Instagram but do not know me on a personal level, yes, my life does appear “sweet” and happy. It looked “cute” as I hopped from one European country to another or one US state to another in the past 3 years or so.

However, the fact was I left with only $700 in my pocket and 1 or 2 credit cards. I barely put aside any money in the bank. Even the little amount which I have at the time, I didn’t have access to because I could not, for the life of me, remember what the name of the bank was. I now recall it to be Goldman Sachs, where I purposely left whatever I saved because they didn’t have a “physical bank,” thus, the near-zero possibility of me easily taking money out. Then the little stocks that I invested, which, also for the life of me, I don’t want to sell because I didn’t know how to. In short, I really didn’t have any wiggle room to address future expenses.

Yet I left.

I was in a middle of some form of crisis, emotional and mental, at the time, that I just didn’t give a fuck about the rest. Not that I didn’t care because it really consumed me at that point. But I had mentally and emotionally checked out of the east coast at the time and all I wanted to do was leave that I didn’t anticipate what lay ahead.

Again, in short, I was not financially ready for the move. Yet I left.

Thankfully, my rent was paid for before I even began the journey. What I didn’t know, however, as someone who was mortgaging a condo in Jersy, was how the renting system goes. I had thought that once you rent, the money you put down covers you from the time you make the payment until the same date the following month. Wrong. Apparently, it only covers you until the end of the month then you make another payment at the beginning of the new month. That threw me off further. Much as I hated it, I borrowed money from my sister in Minnesota. Then I came up with other “smart ideas” to streamline my monthly expenditures, including the decision to let go of my Crosstrek and trading it in with another car, just so I can skip a month’s payment.

It was hard enough that I was unemployed and uninsured for a week. What made it worse was that my new job paid on a bi-weekly system– something that I was not used to working in New York, where I got paid weekly. It was a stretch of nearly 3 or 4 weeks of not having the income that I am accustomed to. I have not been not employed and not having soluble income was not my thing. Those 3 to 4 weeks were probably the longest 3-4 weeks in my life as I struggled at “adulting,” which I define as “paying for utilities, rent, insurance, food.” There had been times when I was scared I would not have anything to eat in the next days. Thankfully that did not happen, although there have, admittedly, been times when I felt I was in a “sorry” state.

The other day, someone on Facebook called me out on my position favoring charities and “free stuffs.” I deduced he was not in favor of these, citing that there can be ramifications if you do so. I contested by saying that there is nothing wrong with charity and receiving help. I used to be very “prideful.” Okay, I still am. However, given what I went through the past months, I learned to swallow all the pride, as I accepted help from people who knew my situation voluntarily extended help. Believe me, these help came in the form of plates and dishes, oven toasters, cutleries, and the like. But, rather than looking at these as straightforward “charities,” I figured I must have done something good in my life to deserve the gift of material things I needed to start a new life and more importantly, the gift of wonderful friends, who backed me up when I needed the push.

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This was a box from a package I received. I used this box as a table, while I waited for the right time to buy a small dining table.

 

Now I circle back to the question about what brought me to that financial downfall.

The answer is simple: I did not save and became too comfortable with my life. Plain and simple.

At the time, I figured that for as long as I worked, I did not have to worry about money coming in. I became too complacent. I failed at saving “Fuck You Money,” as my good friend, Lizette, describes that fund you set aside for when you decide to move on and out.

Also, as I mentioned, I traveled so much in the past 3 years. More than anything, I think that was where my money went– to all the plane tickets and hotels. Plus the fact that in the past 6 years or so, I have not been able to recover from the series of hounding from the IRS. I was audited for 2 years, was constantly paying additional income tax during filing season, and that biggest brouhaha that happened 7 years ago when I had to pay Uncle Sam $12,000 in tax money for some new rule that changed related to my immigration status.

Yes, I traveled so much. From France, to Italy, to Switzerland, to Denmark, to Finland, to Estonia, to Norway and Sweden, to the UK, back to France, Italy, and Switzerland, then Iceland. Greece. And back to the UK and The Netherlands and Prague. Those trips became my escape. A rather expensive diversion and reprieve that cost me, literally. It was therapy from my realities, as I smiled, or pretended to smile, while I bled on the inside.

I have to admit that I never had to ask myself if I ever regretted those travels. After all, it was and still is something I want to do– to see the world. Because while it lasted, it filled my soul, even if only momentarily. I always thought of myself as a wanderer. And I think that will always be inherent in me.

As I sit in the middle of the night, I am looking back at the past month or so and think that despite the challenges and anxiety, I have come a long way. I learned a lot of lessons and can only take comfort in knowing that I have gone to the “bottomest” pit and there is only one way to go and that is up. One big factor that also helped was the guidance from friends. I look at my friend, David Wiskowski, as my guidance guru. I am often reminded at the thought of him to “Let it go… and to let go of the idea of letting go.” Difficult as it was, I did that; with prayers, I let go of my fears about money and just let the universe take over. Much to my surprise, once I did that, a huge amount of money came in from something that I didn’t realize I saved, which eventually took care of my “adulting demands.” I am in awe of the power of “letting go.” Seriousness aside, I now own a couch and a table. And while many non-material things are missing, I am at a better place and in the process of rebuilding.

But to say that my journey was cute is a pure understatement of what I went through. Of those nights when I would wake up scared. While the financial issues were at a grander scheme of things, the emotional battles were even bigger– one that I would rather keep private at this time. I will talk of them one day, when the occasion deems it appropriate.

Unfortunately, you do not see that on Instagram or Facebook. What you see is a 5-foot, 1-inch and 104-lb nurse who is smiling, running, hiking trails, and “having a good time” in California. A “happy” person, essentially. It is an altered reality of my life, similar to the lives of many of today’s people, who portray their part in the biggest scam of today called social media.

 

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Monument Valley. This picture does not even do justice. Behind is my Subaru Crosstrek, where I loaded “my life” inside a few garbage bags.

How do I even begin to talk about this 5-day journey to the west coast? I wanted to write about it without being too dramatic, as my god daughter would say. But I think skipping emotions from being part of the writing would be difficult, as part of this move was because of a surge of emotions that has been bottled inside—something similar to “Waiting to Exhale.”

Let me start by saying how much of what prompted this move stems back in October of last year, having come from Greece. However, I want to say as a caveat that to be fair to any circumstance and individuals who were quasi-involved, my return from Greece in October was not solely the triggering factor. It was primarily self-propelled. I always loved the west coast and I have been coming to visit California for years.

It all finally boiled down to that trip in Amsterdam, when, upon a friend-coworker’s advice, I sent a message to a former coworker about helping me find a job. He responded quick enough and said he will submit my resume to his boss. Fast-forward March 18, 2019, I took my white Subaru Cross trek, 2 dogs, and only a few hundred dollars to a 3, 351-mile drive to the west coast.

I didn’t think I would have quite a lot of things to pack, but I did. The dogs were left to be cramped in the front seat because of all the garbage bags, where I placed my belongings in.

It was a trip I started after dropping Mariska in school. I walked the dogs at the park then started the drive slightly before 0900. I admit to packing for this west coast move only 2 days before the departure. If you know me better, you will learn I work under pressure, better under pressure. However, packing 2 days prior to the trip left me with taking only those I  deemed essential at this point.

I was off to a wrong start, when I took the wrong ramp, leaving Jersey City. I think that’s when I cried. Perhaps, the only time I cried during the earlier part of the trip. But it was not long. I had a few minutes of second-guessing, as well, and, for a while, doubted whether I should have sucked it up and continued to live out in the east coast.

However, it must have been the prospect of the long drive that killed the emotions.

When people found out I was driving alone, they asked how long I planned to take the trip. I said 3. That was pretty ambitious. The second question was stop-overs. I didn’t have that plan, either. So what I did the night before was figure out how long I can handle driving in a day and find a safe place to check in. Because it was winter, I had to terminate plans to sleep in rest areas because of the cold.

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Route: Jersey City to Joliet, Illinois to Wheat Ridge, Colorado to Tempe, Arizona to Bakersfield, California to Milpitas, California.

Day 1: It was a long trip to the Midwest. I think that’s where Illinois is. The Midwest.

I don’t know how I came up with Illinois. ‘Must have been the distance. I hit up my college friend, Darlene, to ask where in the Midwest she lived. Apparently she’s in Michigan and not Illinois. She tried to hook me up with discounts to Marriot hotel chains but we couldn’t find any available outside Chicago that was pet-friendly. I decided to check on Motel 6. Eureka! Not only are they pet-friendly, pets stay for free!

It was a long drive through Pennsylvania. And boring. Pennsylvania became Ohio, which was another long drive. And it rained. It was past 9 pm, when I reached the Motel 6 in Joliet. It was further down south of Chicago’s south side, I believe, and quite close to I-80. As soon as a I got there, I checked in, showered, and passed out.

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At a stop-over in Ohio, I think. Drivers have showers!

The thing with Motel 6 hotels is, it is a hit or miss. I have seen nicer Motel 6s but this one was not only in a rather dicey area (I did see a woman get off from an SUV and the guy throws a big cup of soda, a can, and a bottle—almost, if not, hitting the car parked in the hotel) but also, the room was not clean, at all. Yes, there was hair on the bed. And holes on the sheets. And stains. And gaps in the walls and floors. It was, by no means, the best place but that sufficed, given I was going to be up early anyway the next day.

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I woke up the next day and went for a quick run before leaving. It was hilarious because given that it was so close to I-80, I didn’t realize at one point that while running, I was not on a sidewalk anymore but was on the ramp to the interstate and fast-moving cars and trucks were coming my way.

Day 2. I believe earlier this day I was still not totally decided whether to go to Cheyenne, Wyoming or hit Arizona via Denver. I had a raging urge to go to Arizona, however, and that was only sensible if I stopped in Denver. I remember plugging in Cheyenne, WY and then Denver, CO a few times… tossing between these two cities. On the side, however, I was in talks with my friends from Colorado and Arizona about the possibility of me swinging by to see them. The utmost urge, I admit, was to go to AZ. I love Arizona to a fault.

As a natural progression, Denver was a “collateral.” I looked up on another Motel 6 but didn’t want to book it at the time yet because, somehow, even when I had plugged in Denver with some finality on my GPS, I still debated whether there was a “point” to go to AZ and prolong my already-long drive. And incur more expenses for the hotel, as that might mean spending one more night on the road, rather than hitting California by Wednesday and making it to my physical check-up appointment on Thursday.

However, I figured making it to Northern California for my Thursday appointment would be pushing it, mentally and physically. So I called Stanford Hospital and asked to move the appointment on Friday, as was already suggested by them as a back-up schedule. I guess that sealed the deal, along with my friends, Lisa and Bruce, in Wheat Ridge, CO, offering me to stay at their place for the night.

It was a long day and night driving to Denver. I passed Iowa and had an urge to see my aunt but decided against it. I drove to Nebraska and was just thankful none of the roads that got hit by the flooding was on my route. IMG_5588

Admittedly, I was the most exhausted on this day. I had a nagging neck pain, one that I have been having intermittently the past months, and that really worsened the discomfort from driving.

(By the way, leading up to the drive and during the trip, I had been taking prophylactic doses of baby Aspirin, to prevent blood clots. I am not a doctor and I do not suggest doing it, but consult with your doctor. I figured, however, for my benefit, I could pop some ASAs. I did the same for my long flight to the Philippines back in December.)

Anyway, I was a bit disappointed when I reached Colorado at night. I wanted to see the Rockies during the drive in, to break the monotony of seeing ‘Braska—a name Siri came up with for Nebraska, each time I dictated the word “Nebraska” because it couldn’t clearly pick up my accent.

I was swerving on the road towards the end because I was so sleepy and exhausted. I didn’t want to tell anyone about this because I didn’t want any sympathy and worries. But it was, perhaps, the longest day in the whole trip.

My friends, Bruce and Lisa, were both kind enough to wait for me ‘til late. Bruce told me they normally went to bed early, so I was ever so thankful for them and recounted how fortunate I am to have met them in 2014 in Moab after a race. They’ve been good friends since, despite the distance.

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Always lovely to see Bruce and Lisa. So thankful for them sharing their home in CO.

Day 3: I woke to good night’s rest. I didn’t even bother shower the night before but that sleep was unlike any other. I chatted with Bruce and Lisa for a bit, let the dogs out in their backyard along with the Wilsons’ greyhounds, DeeDee and Monkey, and left.

Because I have been doing a run-streak since January 1stthis year, I stopped by a nearby park on my way out of Wheat Ridge.

The drive out of Colorado was beautiful. The Rockies just never fail to amaze me. The snow-capped mountains, the ski slopes—all wondrous and mesmerizing. If I weren’t driving, my phone might have lost memory from me capturing photos.

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After the snow-capped mountains, the scenery changed to red rocks and canyons. Utah was another state that captivated me the first few years I traveled for races to the west. I fell in love with Moab when I came in 2014 and then fell in love with the Wasatch Mountain Range when I came back a few months later that year. It amazed me how desert mountains (not exactly sure if that’s an appropriate word) and alpine mountains stand in close proximity.

I had many unexpected surprises during in this journey. One of which is that I would actually drive through and see Moab again. I didn’t know that to go to Arizona, I would see this place one more time and somehow, I was so excited because that is where I met Bruce and Lisa before. I have fond memories of Moab. I also didn’t realize that coming from Colorado, Moab would actually be closer than if someone came from Salt Lake, which is what my friend, Joe Delano, and I did in ’14.

I stopped at a gas station in Utah and grabbed food. At this point, on Day 3, I learned to just grab food and eat en route, rather than waste minutes that would translate to mileage.

Utah eventually became Arizona after a while.

That was when the scenery even became more surreal. IMG_1236

It must have started with a butte. Then more buttes. And when I thought I had seen series of buttes, I would come around and out a winding road and see more buttes.

When it became absolutely astounding—and familiar—I realized I was in Monument Valley!

I was at a loss for words. Dumb-founded.

I didn’t really come out of my car for photos during this trip, besides that time I detoured towards an overlook in Utah to see a range of canyons but this one was a no-brainer. Forrest Gump. That’s all I could think of. I only saw this in a movie.

I was nothing but full of appreciation for being given this chance to see this scenery. I know I would not have seen this if I decided to skip Arizona.

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Monument Valley

Finally I continued along a stretch of road. There was no cell service. I realized thar was because I was in the desert. That was normal. However, I panicked when I reached Flagstaff and still couldn’t get cell service. I had been to Flagstaff before and did not recall losing service. Verizon almost has the perfect service. I was nervous because I was supposed to meet a friend for drinks and had to redo my hotel reservation because, apparently, I missed checking out the reservation.

After an hour or so of that state of fear, I decided to reset my phone and my service came back. Phew.

Past 9pm, I reached my hotel in Tempe, AZ. I have an affinity for Tempe at this point as I always stay in that town when I am in AZ for the proximity to the airport and for the multitudes of choices with recreation and food, as it is close to the Arizona State University.

Bess and Walmsley. The dogs were tired. I could tell from how Bess would just lay on my lap during the drive. Being cramped inside the car and on one seat, I think, wore the dogs out.

I was tired, too. But I managed to shower and still go out and meet my friend for drinks. I figured at that point that I deserved it, being my last night on the road and with the following day, Thursday, as my last day to drive. I even decided to sleep in the next day before heading to California.

I went for drinks with my friend and stayed up until 2am, hitting 2 bars that night.

The dogs and I stayed at another Motel 6. This was a better one than the last Motel 6. Tempe can be borderline sketchy, as well. Also, as s sidebar, my friend told me how a nearby dorm of ASU had, at one point, the highest STD rate in the country. Okay…

I recommend food st Snooze. This is Pancake Flight, recommended if you cannot decide on flavor.

Day 4. Homestretch. Or so I thought.

I woke around past 6 that morning and had breakfast at a really good pancake place in Tempe, which my friend recommended. I’ve never had a pancake flight until that morning and I suggest Snooze to anyone coming to the Phoenix or Tempe area. It was sooooo good.

When I said I was going to take my time, I was not kidding. I left the hotel nearly 11am, around check-out time.

I attempted a run at nearby park but, somehow, my stomach became unsettled and I had to abort the mission.

I was in full spirits at this time. I smelled California and the prospect of reaching the state was there.

Because I had a late start, I decided to not proceed to Northern California. I texted my best friend and asked to stay with her.

It was still quite a drive coming out of Arizona. But I saw many interesting places, including Native American communities, that I wanted to go back to.

Finally, at 2:20 pm, I hit the border of California, where a sign would say “Welcome to California.” And that was when all these became even more surreal. I cried. I texted my coworkers and friends, who had all been witness to this journey—the symbolic and literal journey that led me here, to my decision to come to California… an “adventure,” which I described as something where I “run the risk of losing everything.” I texted my coworker and friend, Lisa Menotti, and when she responded, her words just made me lose all emotions from wherever they might have been hiding at and I just let the tears fall. I never thought all these would happen: moving out, packing, traveling by car alone, leaving with barely any money, and leaving Mariska thousands of miles away.

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But eventually, all emotions were going to be overcome by another bout of exhaustion especially as my route took me to I-10 and I-5, where I finally had a grasp of where I was in California and how much longer it would take me to my friend’s house. Thankfully, just as I was drowning in this physical and mental fatigue, my other former coworker and good friend, Cindy, called me and we talked for over an hour about everything under the sun—from nail polish to kids.

This whole time, I was telling Cindy and another friend how hungry I was and needed “real food.” Past 9 pm, I reached my friend’s house eventually and a feast of real food was ready. I ate like there was no tomorrow. And, of course, I went for a run. Crashed. Slept.

Day 5. Man, did I not say I was just going to finish this drive in 3 days?

Well, Day 5 did not even count. It was a mere 4-hour drive. Of course, at this point in my life, anything that didn’t involve a 10-hour drive is a short drive for me.

I will not forget that, officially, at 11:23 am, I arrived in Milpitas, California and I REACHED THE END OF THIS JOURNEY—the literal part of it. That hit right there. My arrival in my new “home” was slightly anti-climactic, as I felt the highlight was when I passed that California border the day before. Yet this will always remain significant in that this was when those long days and long drives would stop. I was “home.”

It is now nearly a week since I arrived in California. I went to church on Sunday to thank God for everything (yes, I do go to church when I can).

I started work 2 days after arriving in Milpitas. I have been, slowly, transforming my empty apartment into a quasi-home with my Bess and Walmsley. Mariska is missing. I managed to buy a doormat that said “Home Sweet Home” the day after I arrived and I cried when I saw that at Ross. I cried, but that door mat—well—that marked the start of a new life I am trying to build here in Northern California.

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It has not been an easy transition. I was out of job for a week and I am cash-strapped like I have not been before. But I learned who my friends are. I learned friends can be better than family. I learned how to live wisely, because this experience highlighted my mistakes in life—how I failed at being smart, how I didn’t know how to be an adult and get ready for the worse, how I wasted money to run away from things that annoyed me, bothered me.

At the same time, however, I am being a big girl. And I am actually appreciating this new-found sense of independence, of this ability to make do with what I have. This is a hard lesson I learned but one I would remember and learn from now on. Things that I took for granted and hope to never take for granted again.

I learned, as well, that if I just let go of my fears and stop stressing about things—no matter how big they are—they will find their “solution,” not “inadvertently” by chance but more from every “vibe” and stars aligning, as my friend Dave Wiskowski would say. Or something in that context.

Most importantly and I might have said this already, there were people who were with me in this journey. A lot of them. Many of my coworkers cried with me, hugged me, gave me support. There were a few friends who knew what I was fighting and going through inside me that made me so depressed for a while and these friends stood by me. And, well, there were people who failed to be there, as well, who I hoped would be, but were not. I guess it is high time to really “rethink” them but it will happen at its own time, I guess. What is important is that I learn to look at the glass half-full now.

The journey is not over with me reaching Northern California. It just started. Cliché but, oh, well.

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Go where your heart wants to go and figure out the rest after-” Paige Banks.

 

 

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This sunset reminded me of Arizona. And to be thankful.

I thought I had all the energy last night to write but I didn’t. Yesterday was the first day of this drive to the West Coast. I started rather late, having the intent to drop Mariska off to school before starting my long drive.

Thankfully it was not as bad. Emotionally, I should say. I thought i would be a mess but i wasn’t; it must be the nerves about the long drive, I figured. 

So I started in Jersey City, where I live. Since I-80 starts in Teaneck, New Jersey, it was easier to start the drive from Jersey City. Of course, right there, I already made the wrong start and took the long route but it didn’t take long for me to get to 80.

It didn’t take long for me to get out of Jersey, as well. Funny, because just one hour into driving, I started to feel sleepy already. Not a good sign, I thought. So I took the most sensible thing to do at the time when I hit the first sign I was nearing Mount Tammany on the Appalachian Trail, where we often hiked and run: I took the exit and parked to take a nap. I knew taking that “edge” off that feeling of sleepiness and exhaustion can go a long way. The power nap helped. I was ready to go again.

It was Pennsylvania after then. Man, PA is soooo long. I thought and wondered how my cowork, Mo, lives out in Pittsburg and work in Manhattan. Anyway, I must have taken a few pit stops. I realized that since gas is still cheap in PA, I might as well fuel up each time I took a break, regardless of how little was consumed in my tank. (As a side note: I already stored some gas in a separate container, just in case.)

Around 2pm, I took another nap somewhere. I realized that, indeed, we have those two periods in a day when our energy just dips. Just couldn’t remember what hormone that was. 

And then I hit Ohio. Man, that place is long, too. Long and flat. It flurried some but it was not as bad. I tried to remember what many of my friends said: enjoy the drive. So I did my best to look at the beauty of the highways and sun, even the clouds. Seriously, I tried. IMG_4718

Finally Indiana came. Then Illinois. I aimed to take sleep in a town called Joliet. Thankfully, I found a Motel 6 that took in dogs for free. That is a factor. And it was cheap.

There was not much to say about the first day except that it was “a PR” (personal record), as my friend Otto described it. I have not really driven 13 hours but I did. 

At 9pm something, I finally got to my hotel in Joliet. Then this part circumvents to my intro: I thought I had the energy but I was just beat. I guess thats what happens when you decide to pack 2 days your departure. But I have no regrets. I wouldn’t have done it otherwise. Onward and forward. IMG_3745Thank goodness, EZ Pass works in Illinois and Ohio.

Syros is an island about 4 hours by ferry from Athens. It is what they call a Medieval island that fell in the hands of Venetians and French. I am not exactly great with history, so I am going to skip the historical details and leave it at that. 

I came to syros on the recommendation of my friend, Alex Papadopoulos. I met Alex last year because he is the Race Director for Tammany 10, a race a few friends did. This year, I met him again at the same race when I volunteered. Somehow along those hours, he found out I was planning to come to Greece to spectate at Spartathlon, when my friend, Otto, runs. Fast forward to months after, we started talking about how he was going to help me plan my trip to Greece. My criteria were: No touristy islands and cheap. 

Fast forward now to Syros.

I arrived in Syros via Blue Star Ferries in the port of Piraeus in Athens. Paid €30-something and I got an economy seat (no need to get Business Class, ok?). It was an accomodation enough for the ride. The boat is reminiscent of the trip from Finland to Estonia— minus the bountiful liquor they sold in that Finnish ferry. It has quite a bit of amenities and shopping. 

The son of the hotel owner, Stratis. I’ve never been picked up with a name card before.

I booked a hotel in Syros through “trust,” because I skipped Hotels.com, where I normally do my reservations. Trust because I had Facebook-friended one of the owners, as suggested to me by Julio, a Filipino based in Athens, who I friended and crewed with at Spartathlon. At Atlantis Syros Hotel, my €50/day covered my room, breakfast, and on arrival and departure, shuttle from and to the port (or in my case, to Ano Syros). The hotel was about 8 kilometers (do the math for miles) from Ermoupoli, the Center town of the island. It is owned by a family but as I would learn, owning a hotel doesn’t necessarily mean you own the  building in Greece. The mom told me, they aim to own the place, thus, they have to work harder. 

Anyway, the hotel is about a few steps from the beach. The thing about Greece is I have yet to find a beachfront that is not open to public so finding a place to swim is never a problem. 

Day 1, I spent it on the beach. I arrived at around noon and headed to the sea where I could actually wade or swim! It was quite unlike the US, where I constantly fear for my life because of huge waves and I can barely swim. In Greece, including the islands, the waters are calm. It almost is like being in a bay or whatever that is called, where you don’t get crazy waves.

At the beach, I spent a good amount of hours— 2, maybe— and just laid there, trying to even out my tan without going topless. I did wish  could. 

Lunch with traditional Greek drink, Ouzo. Pretty strong alcohol.

It was 3-something in the afternoon by then and because I had late dinner and drinks with the wonderful Irishmen the night before, I didn’t have much an appetite til then. 

On the beach there is a restaurant. Slightly pricey (I guess because they sold dishes by kilos, mostly), but I had a serving of an “island” food which had fava in it (dish suggested for the weather by the owner) and, yes, a glass of the Greek drink, Ouzo. I paid €9.40, which was not exactly bad. 

From there, I headed to the hotel and passed out for an hour. Some spam call from the US woke me up. (I thought it was Trump’s text.) Then I went for a run to discover some trails by the coast.

I needed that 5k to unload all the beer I drank in Athens. I called it a night early.

Non-technical trails that lead you to this magnificent view.

Day 2: I spent most energy on this day. I was bent on running to Galissas, where there is, supposedly, a church on a cave by the cliff above the sea water. Because I am stubborn, I disobeyed the clear instruction of the hotel owner to take the main roads to run and hit the next town to take the bus from. As I had said on my Facebook post, if you need to find walking directions in Greece, especially the islands, you are better off taking the driving the directions because walking directions will get you to back roads that don’t exist. Also beware of drivers there. Even on narrow roads, they drive fast and they talk on the phone while driving manual vehicles. Also, just because you are the pedestrian doesn’t mean you always get the right of way. Reminds me of how runners ran at Spartathlon.

Anway, it was humid during my run and those 9 miles took a toll on my sodium reserves as I saw so much salt from on my skin on to my bag. Two hours something after, I reached Galissas Beach, took a quick swim, and then hiked up a mountain (or hill?) for 2 miles more to Agios Stefanos— the church cave.

The hike up and down the cave church, Agios Stefanos.

I was alone in that hike up and down the cave and I really wished my mom didn’t call me out again.

It was an exhausting climb and I had just about 50ml of water left because all stores had gone into their siesta. I had to tell Alex that I was there, in case I fell and died or dehydrated and died. No one knew where I was except him. Not even my family. But I figured I couldn’t possibly die from dehydration because I do have some water reserves in my fat pads. A lot. 

So I came and conquered and saw this simple yet magnificent sight before me. I got emotional and cried some. There is a notebook there, where visitors left their names and the dates they came to visit. I signed and left a message, hoping all else I held heavy in my heart at the time would be heard by the saints and Gods and angels that dwell in the place.

Somehow, the climb back up the rocky section was not bad at that point. 

View of the church from the top.

I raced against time to beat sunset and hit Galissas soon, only to not find a cab. I must’ve been an aweful sight that an elderly woman offered to take me back to the Center town of Ermoupoli. I swear I was gonna fall and break my head because I didn’t have a helmet. Syros has rolling terrain and at times on those uphills, I would try to “lighten” myself in an almost-Kegel-like movement and I knew that didn’t really help.

Me, hanging on the the lady. Stupid idea to photograph this but this was something unexpected.

I had to send a message to Alex to actually ask if I needed to pay the lady but she didn’t speak English and she took off when she and her dog (yes, a dog was also on the scooter) dropped me at a corner. 

In my wet clothes, I had dinner at a restaurant by the pier and had 2 glasses of red wine (again, so much for saying ‘’No more alcohol when I leave the Irish.”) o

The main commercial center with all its restaurants and souvenir shops.

After dinner, I strolled on Ermoupolis, which would have been Louisa Lam’s thing with all the shopping there was. At past 9, most shops were closed. I do have an affinity for European buildings and even crazier obsession with alleys and walkways so I took a ton of pictures of them. 

The town capital building. But it was the church behind and above me that captivated me.

At around 10-ish, I headed back to hotel and the lovely owners were still up so I gave them a run-down of how my day went. It was almost like talking to family. 

Ano Syros, the Catholic settlement area. Built since the 1200s.

Day 3: I woke up so early, restless from my sunburn itch. So I got up and had breakfast— one that I would not forget because that was just genuine hospitality from the hotel. The owner cooked me so much food I nearly threw up. 

At past 9am, Stratis, the owners’ son, took me to Ano Syros, where many Greek Catholics reside. It sits atop Syros and has most of its structures are still from the 13th century. There are churches there, including the church of St. George (I honestly didn’t know George is a saint’s name til today). 

The church has a key that you can open yourself.

On a side note, if I had gotten to Ano Syros post-siesta, the place would have been more vibrant with all the shops and cafes open.

I walked down the town steps, past beautiful Venetian-inspired houses on to the main road that took me back to the port of Syros. I thought I was going to take forever with my backpack and all and miss my ferry but I thought I only lived once and ferries will come and go. It is what it is. 

The other church, St. George.

Narrow path, down and out of the village.

Soon enough, I was back at port, ready to get on the next ferry. I have not many take-aways from this trip in the island, except to say, I love Greek island hospitality. And that, if for any reason I missed some spots and failed to take some photographs, it is all because as Joe Schmo once quite said, sometimes, you just have to take it all in.

Also, I don’t know where I am going with this but I left my heart in that cave church. A feeling I may not ever have again but can only be thankful it happened. That being said, it, sorts of, reminds me of how the great Irish, Anthony Lee, described a boy we saw while we were all eating in Athens, “wisely” said in these exact words “That boy will not have the same feeling again, you know?” And, yes, I may never have the same feeling ever again. But it did happen and all that, was witnessed solely by that silence up above that sea, inside the cave.

More goods for sale.

Restaurants that abound the port.

Loofah: Just among the things you can buy in this seaport town.

The hotel owners. They were so wonderful and treated me like family.

(note: this one was written on a whim. unedited.)

I was going to write about my solo travel in the West coast last month. Somehow, when I opened my Word application on my MacBook, I saw an unfinished writing. I had not gone over it and read it all but one word captured my attention—something along the line of death. Now I am wondering what must have gone on in my mind at the time I wrote that. But then, again, I do not want to delve on it at the same time. Then again, as well, I find myself thinking again of death and how I lost one friend to it. Not too remote a time ago, but one that still remains fresh in my mind.

In June, we lost a good friend to suicide. I must say, I had lost a really dear friend before to suicide. Perhaps, because I was younger, but that other friend’s passing over ten years ago did not seem to hit me or linger as much as it did this time. I don’t know why and I can’t explain why. But I still think of your passing each day, my friend. I think of you every day.

I would like to not believe in spirits or souls that linger in this world. Perhaps, I am just scared to the core over the thought of the supernatural still lingering amongst us. At the same time, however, I am trying to understand if there was any closure I needed to have made with you before you chose to say goodbye your way.

At the same time, I know it is just me. My brain conjures all these things and it is in these conscious, sane moments that I find myself thinking that, yes, you are happy where you are right now. That no matter how hard it may have been for your family, for us to have seen you go the way you desired, it was your own peace. And that in all my fear, alongside my constant wondering on why you chose to, you are smiling, watching us from above.

I wish others, however, understood your bidding in manner on how you chose to live and leave. I pray people would stop to judge you or others, who opted to do just the same. I do not condone but, yes, that was a hard a decision. Maybe. Or a spur, a whim borne out of that moment when you felt that there was no turning back.

I hope you find your peace.

 

 

Iceland ALONE: 4 Days, 3 Nights

Posted: September 13, 2017 in Uncategorized
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Get an app beforehand, if you want to capture a photograph using your iPhone.

It was, initially, with a heavy heart that I left said goodbye to Mariska at border control in Geneva’s airport, the day they went back to the States and I, for Iceland. I would have wanted to see Iceland with her.

But I landed in Keflavik International Airport on a September afternoon alone. I was picked up by a bus that was to take me to the Reykjavik, to my hostel. Driving in, I was not exactly impressed with the modern buildings I saw. I was expecting more of older buildings or something more colorful, probably, the like those in Copenhagen. Right there, I was almost thankful I was only staying for 3 nights.

Hlemmur Square was right near the city center, across from the Penis Museum and a grocery, that made it convenient for everything. Plus, there was a noodle shop downstairs. It was hip, as well.

Because I have quite a restless soul, I immediately ventured out into the city. I met one person, an older English woman from Manchester, whose bunk bed was underneath one of the 2 that were available for me to take. It seemed like she was in Iceland forever. She seemed nice and I immediately felt safe in the room. I left soon after talking to her and walked to Laugavergur, which is the city’s version of main street.

It was a lovely stretch. “Quaint yet modern” may be the appropriate words to describe. It had a narrow road, cobblestones in some portions of it, probably spanning 2 miles at the most. Cars still traverse these roads, just not at 30mph. I walked it from end to end, at least, where the commercial district is and picked out which restaurants interest me.

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Laugavegur Street in Reykjavik. It is the Main Street of Reykjavik, I suppose.

Restaurants mostly had menus from outside, thus, it was easy to distinguish prices. Of course, that was when reality kicked in.

I remember working at triage at work one day, one patient walked in saying he had just come from Iceland. He told me how expensive it was. Having been to Geneva and Norway, where I thought restaurant food was expensive, nothing prepared me, still, for not only how expensive food was but everything in Iceland! Like everything. From grocery to souvenir items! (At least, in Norway, grocery items were cheaper.)

Anyway… a day before coming to Iceland, news got out that the Northern Lights were supposed to be highly-visible.

If you know me, within the past 10 months, I had gone to Ivalo, Finland and then Norway, in search of the Northern Lights. Both attempts failed. So I didn’t want to raise my hopes up. Because of this news, however, there it was again, all the way up to light years and beyond.

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My friends said on Facebook “Show us proof!” Here is your proof, fam!

That same night, I set out to walk by the sea, supposedly to find a spot with the least amount of light. Almost a failure and I thought I should have taken heed the advice the tour bus driver gave, when he told me to go to Grotta, a lighthouse about 5k away from the center. I met up with a friend, Pete, who also came from Chamonix, and together, we waited for the Northern Lights. We waited but it “never came.” Or so we thought. Maybe it did but eventually, we both decided it got too cold and headed back to our hostels. At that point, I figured, I NEED TO SEE IT and I AM NOT LEAVING ICELAND WITHOUT IT.

Day 2. Pete and I were supposed to carpool in a car he was renting to go around the Golden Circle path— a tourist thing tourists did, seeing some of Iceland’s top sights. Somehow, that plan fell through because of some “manual vs. automatic” car issues.

So instead of driving around, I pretty much spent about hours of the day going from one tour company to another to look for the best deals. What’s great about Reykjavik is that a lot of the tour companies are in the Laugavergur area; there are also multitudes online. So in those hours, I managed to book a Northern Lights tour for that night starting at 9:30pm and a 14-hour bus tour to the Glacier Lagoon the next day.

The rest of the afternoon, Thursday, I spent running to a local thermal pool, where I paid about $9. Great experience, as it was mostly locals there.

I also went souvenir-shopping and ate at an overpriced buffet, that cost me 5900 isk or about $55.

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Just to be clear, souvenir shirts in Iceland are NOWHERE NEAR the US’s prices. They average an equivalent of $36/shirt.

Thankfully, my hostel is right at Bus Stop no. 10. At 9:30, I was picked up by the tour bus and the hour or so bus ride to somewhere started. We got there at 11 o’clock. The place was somewhere farther away from city lights.

I must admit that at first I was skeptical about where they had taken us. It, sort of, reminded me of where they took us to our Northern Lights hunt in Finland, on board sleds pulled by reindeers, into a flat, wooded area, where I thought we could have gone, ourselves. Only to see nothing.

On board the bus and while there, I had to make a mental note of what the bus driver the day before told me to make sure I do: I have to be patient and by that he meant refraining from looking at my cellphone (because it keeps me from adjusting to the darkness) and just to be patient. Period.

In no time, the skies changed and we started to see what appears to be streaks that can only be the Northern Lights. It started with one streak that disappeared. Then another at a different spot, then more simultaneously. It was magical, despite the absence of full color display. It was a dream-come-true. I tried to capture it on my GoPro but have to see that yet. But, oh, it also helped that the tour guides from Reykjavik Sightseeing were young because one of them advised us about getting an app that will help capturing the light in our iPhones.

Day 3. I woke early. Like 6am! That is so not me. I do not wake at 6am on vacation! But I did and drank my coffee from the downstairs bar of the hostel. For free. And ate a croissant. Pretty much what was how my breakfast looked like while I was in Iceland.

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I did not want to advertise this bus here but I owe it to the superb driver and female tour guide (forgot her name because it was too long). The tour guide was exceptional, especially with her input as a local in Iceland.

I picked a tour with BusTravel. Thankfully, I got the tour for about 9900 isk or $95. While it may have been expensive, that is actually half of what the others paid. I got my deal at 50% off through a British guy running a tour agency (GetLocal.com). The Glacier Lagoon tour takes you to south of Iceland.

The bus took us first to Skógafoss—for a lack of a better word— a beautiful waterfall. As the tour guide explained, the place has been used as a backdrop for multiple ads, like Mercedes Benz. A set of stairs took us to the top which serves as an overlook. By the waterfalls, it is fun to see rainbows that stand lower than the ridge line.

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Skógafoss.

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Glacier Lagoon: Surreal. Blue. I have no words.

The next stop was Glacier Lagoon.

I have to make mention, however, that in the hours that we were taken from one point to another, there were stop-overs for pee breaks. However, the most interesting were the lunch and dinner breaks in nondescript locations but with food that had exorbitant prices. They mostly showcase what Iceland has to offer—lamb. They had lamb leg and lamb soup, which is supposedly eaten mostly in the summer. Average meal price in these stops is $25.

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The nondescript lunch stop-over. So. Fucking. Expensive.

Glacier Lagoon was exceptional. I don’t know why they are blue, but they are blue. It’s a 1.5-stop with time utilized for those who opted to pay about $50 to go on a boat ride. I opted to stay inland and take advantage of my selfie skills.

I should not make any more comments about it and just let the pictures explain.

Glacier Lagoon was where we turned around and headed back the same road we took from Reykjavik. We saw the same, familiar “free-range” lambs and then cows, crossing, at some point. Then the geysers and waterfalls that abound in Iceland. We stopped for a bit in Vik, a town that boasts of black sand beaches. One of the beaches was right next to the dinner spot.

The most beautiful stop, however, happened in Seljalandsfoss—another waterfall but one that is the most magnificent, in my opinion. They particularly made this the last stop because part of this experience is going behind the waterfalls, which can get you wet. There, someone took one of the most beautiful photos I have had traveling in my entire life. IMG_5743

I went back to the hostel earlier that night—around 10 pm. That is pretty much the earliest since all of my stay in Iceland. The bus got us back to Reykjavik at 9pm, which left me with an hour to do last-minute shopping for souvenir. Most stores have closed by then, except for a few.

I don’t exactly know what I ate for dinner that night. Perhaps, I had combined my lunch and dinner. Who knows? IMG_5746

Day 4. The day I left. My flight was not ‘til 5pm. I was lucky enough to have found a remaining spot for an earlier time for Blue Lagoon that day.

I was told to book Blue Lagoon early, but of course, I did not so many of my prior searches with other websites turned up with nothing until the day before. Apparently, people cancel bookings so if you are a procrastinator like me, worry not. At some point, something will turn up.

 

Again, I was up early. I didn’t even get to finish my coffee since the bus came before 8am. If you ever plan to go to Blue Lagoon on the way home, there are transfer services that let you go to Blue Lagoon from the airport then to Reykjavik or from Reykjavik to Blue Lagoon to the airport. There is also a baggage deposit area.
It was just as I expected. Soothing, calming, beautiful. So many tourists. It seemed like I as in the US; it was mostly Americans then some other.

They have a bar on the water with, again, ridiculously-priced drinks. Even the smoothies cost an arm and a leg. The pool is wide enough and it allows you to choose depth and temperature to your liking. Also, the silica mud mask is something they offer for what you paid for. Towels and swimsuits are for rent, if you don’t have them.

Just be sure to heed their warning about making sure you leave conditioner on your hair because my hair was rough and stiff for 2 days even with that conditioner on.

I came at 9 and stayed until around 1230 and called it a day. I wanted some time to shop at the Duty Free at the airport.

At 1pm, I got on the bus that was to take me back to the Keflavik International and I must say, if you are taking Iceland Air, you need to give time for your check-in at the airport.

There are not lots of cheesy take-aways from this journey to Iceland, but I am making mention of them, anyway.

  • Learn to have the superb skills at driving manual cars again! Yes, I used to be an expert at driving manual cars, living in the Philippines. I can be intoxicated, drive a manual, and text at the same time. That was VERY IRRESPONSIBLE but yeah, I could do that back then.

Most cars in Europe are manual and you can save a whole lot and see a lot more if you can drive.

  • Be comfortable about taking guided tours ALONE!
  • Be comfortable about vacationing and taking time off ALONE! At the end of the day, I realized I needed that time off alone, with all the bickering I started to hear once I got home. It not only takes away the stress of having to think of others, it leaves you with time to just think of YOU and YOU ALONE! I thank my friend, Vivian, for telling me this. In retrospect, she was right. We all need it.

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    Rainbow by Skógafoss.