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Life Lately & Upcoming Travels: September 2017 Edition

september 2017

Apologies for the delay in posting this – I fell violently ill last week and ended up needing medical assistance mid-flight for the first time ever – and hopefully the last time! I will share the full story in my October round-up, but for now I am happy to report that I am finally recovering, from both sickness and a surgery.

I spent the last thirty days in Spain, but even though I’ve only been in one country, I don’t remember the last time I had such an intense month of travel: 30 days, 29 different beds, and I’ve walked through four out of Spain’s 17 regions. I walked nearly 800 kilometers! Typing out this number makes me think: Wow, did I really walk that?

Camino de Santiago

What I’ve been up to

I have to be honest: Announcing that I was walking the 800 kilometer/500 mile long Camino de Santiago this month was a bit risky… what if I failed? What if I gave up after a few days? What if my feet failed me?

But then on the other hand, by announcing it and making it public, it made me more accountable. I had to make it through 30+ days of walking, even if that meant crawling into Santiago on all fours.

So did I made it to Santiago de Compostela? Not yet, but as I type this I am getting very close. It usually takes between 32 and 35 days to walk from Saint Jean Pied De Port in the French Pyrenees to Santiago, which is less than 100 kilometers from the Atlantic Ocean, i.e. basically across the entire width of Spain.

Camino de Santiago

I am struggling to put this journey into words, but I am going to try. And I am going to write in more detail about the hike as soon as I’ve finished it, so these are just some initial thoughts.

The Camino wasn’t supposed to be some sort of ‘walking holiday’ for me. I wanted to challenge myself, to push my boundaries, and to get out of my comfort zone.. Have I done this? Absolutely. Even more than expected.

I’d never hiked for more than five days in a row before, and definitely not 25-30 kilometers per day… for five consecutive weeks!

Camino de Santiago

Secondly, I absolutely pushed my limits. I hit them several times, my body ready to give up, to collapse. My feet announcing: No step further. My feet trying to boycott the journey and get me to stop by mysteriously developing not one, but two corns (both of which have to be cut out). My back rebelling against the insane weight of my backpack by sending shooting pains down my spine. My mind trying to convince me it’d be okay to take the bus.

“But that’d be cheating!”, the little angel on my right shoulder would exclaim. “Nooooo, it’s okay” the little devil on my left shoulder would say in a honeyed voice, “You’re still on the Camino, and so many people are doing it!”

In the end, I resisted all the temptations of buses, taxis, horses, private shuttle services and even the backpack transporting services that takes your backpack to the next place for you, making it much easier to walk for seven to eight hours. But if I was going to walk The Way, I’d do it the traditional way: carrying my own stuff, and not using any modes of transportation other than my own two feet. Almost like how it was done in the Middle Ages.Except that I had a proper trekking backpack, fancy hiking boots (and a pair of sandals to switch into), Milka chocolate bars readily available, and a bunch of podcasts on my iPhone to get me through the hard parts (which they did.. no matter how steep the ascent, you can’t help laughing when you hear Alex Goldman and PJ Vogt man-giggle).dani camino de santiago

I wanted to use the time on the Camino to reflect on these past few years, which have been such a whirlwind of travel, relationships, broken hearts, feeling unrooted and uncertainty – until I won the Greencard. Because my life in New York is so busy, I never get to just sit down and look back at things that have happened to me, most of them I have just brushed off, even though deep inside I knew they bothered me.

I was curious to see where my mind would take me during these long hours of walking, who and what I would be thinking about, and how I’d feel about certain people and events when looking at them from a distance.

Gratitude is what I’ve been feeling the most – gratitude for the life I’m living, gratitude for being able to take an entire month to do this, which I know most of my friends in corporate careers aren’t able to do, and gratitude for the people that have come into my life over the past few years – including on this hike, as explained below:camino de santiago hontanas

What went right

Choosing the right long-distance hike

When I told friends, family and some acquaintances that I was going to walk the Camino de Santiago, some of them tried to convince me to take a different route instead. “The Camino has become too popular and is super crowded now” they’d say. “Walk the Camino del Norte along the coast instead – it’s much prettier.”

There are several routes to Santiago, including one that starts in Portugal which also sounds lovely, and I was definitely intrigued by the coastal walk. In the end, however, I decided to start with the most common one – The Camino Frances – which is the route most pilgrims choose. If I enjoyed it, I could still walk one of the other routes at a later time.

In hindsight, I am glad I chose the Camino Frances. Yes, it’s incredibly busy. Sometimes even crowded, with a steady line of pilgrims making their way through the Spanish countryside. More than once, all hostels in our destination for the day were completely booked. More than once I found myself stranded without a bed (but ended up being saved and not having to sleep on the floor like I saw other pilgrims do!).

But nonetheless, I had an amazing time. The walk itself is, oftentimes, breathtakingly beautiful, as you can see from my photos. I crossed mountains, walked through forests, through countless little hamlets and some of Spain’s prettiest towns. I traversed the seemingly endless flatlands of Spain’s Meseta (Central Plateau).Camino de Santiago postcards

Meeting the right people

I knew I was going to meet interesting and like-minded people along the Camino – the fact alone that they were setting off on the same insane 800-kilometer walk meant we had something in common. You have to be a certain kind of person to decide to do a trek like this, including having willpower and mental strength, being independent, open-minded, ready to push yourself, and a little bit crazy.

Some of my friends who knew I was going to walk the Camino thought I was insane for doing it by myself, but I never even considered not doing it by myself. Like I said, this wasn’t supposed to be some sort of walking holiday, but more of an introspective journey, and I wanted to make sure to have time to spend with myself and my own thoughts.

And also, I never expected to stay alone for long, because it is inevitable to meet other people. Being alone makes this even easier, since you are not in that ‘couple bubble’ you often find yourself in when traveling with someone.

I met more wonderful people along the way than I could’ve hoped for, heard enough interesting life stories to fill a book, got so many different perspectives and discussed subjects like friendship, religion, family, relationships, and determining life events and dark moments in our lives with strangers who quickly turned into friends.

This goes especially for Kate, who I happened to share a two-bed dorm with on our very first day, and who I ended up walking most of the way with. Now we are already talking about other long-distances hikes we can do together – already planning our reunion. Who knew that the girl who walked into my room on the last day of August would become my Camino BFF?Camino de Santiago friends

I am blister-free!

My biggest fear for the Camino was having to give up because of blisters. I’ve read several blogs and accounts of people who had to stop walking, calling it quits after a week or ten days, and so I nervously awaited the ten day mark.

When I was still blister-free on day ten, and then still on day 14, I was ecstatic! My careful preparation had paid off: I had bought sock liners for the hike, which were supposed to prevent blisters, as well as a pair of hiking sandals to change into should I develop blisters and not be able to get back into my hiking boots.

The end of the month rolled around and I am still blister-free, which I am very grateful and happy about, but that doesn’t mean I am not suffering from other hiking-related pains: My back aches from my heavy pack and the two corns on my right foot make it nearly impossible to walk in my boots at this point, and I might lose the toe nail on my right foot.

But I am still walking, and I hope that I can continue to walk until I reach Santiago – then I will definitely be able to file ‘completing the Camino Frances’ under ‘What Went Right’ for next month’s Life Lately.camino de santiago yellow arrow

What went wrong

Oh, the pain.

As I’ve mentioned above, this walk is not supposed to be a ‘Walk in the Park’, so I didn’t expect it to be very comfortable. What I didn’t expect, however, was to be in pain pretty much the entire time. If it wasn’t from my corns, which were sending shooting pains down my toes, it was my back, that was sending shooting pains down my spine. And then, depending on the day, throw in some ankle pain, shin splints, aching knees or aching hips. There was always something that was hurting!

Towards the end, my back pain became so severe that I considered sending my backpack ahead, like many pilgrims do, but when I started considering it, I just didn’t end up passing a town big enough to have a store that sold decent daypacks (I’d still have to carry my own water, a change of shoes, rain gear, my camera, some snacks, etc).

But while my pain was often excruciating, I am still incredibly grateful that I didn’t have a single blister the entire way and that I was never forced to take the bus or take a rest day because I wasn’t able to walk. I was surprised to see how many people actually did NOT finish the Camino because their bodies didn’t allow it, which is why I feel like I can’t complain all that much about the physical strains.dani beat

Losing stuff

Of course this month can’t go by without me losing something – as usual. On the Camino I was shocked though that I lost two very important things right at the beginning: my headphones on the second day (after losing a pair of headphones last month, I luckily had the foresight to pack an extra pair!), and my reusable water bottle on the third day. Oh well! The good news is that I think these two losses made me more careful about my belongings and I always checked thoroughly before leaving a place after that – and didn’t lose anything else all month.

dani camino de santiago
Happy about the second pair of headphones I packed!

Struggling as a vegetarian

Spain was the first country I ever moved to, but I did not remember it being so hard for vegetarians! I often struggled finding healthy, nutritious food, something that I wasn’t expecting. Even many of the meat eaters were complaining that the food was mediocre, and most of the time I just didn’t feel I had as much energy as I needed for these long days of walking.

It made me realize how spoiled I am in New York, with my daily green smoothies (I only came across spinach twice this entire month!), quinoa (barely to be found along the Camino), wholegrain bread and all the veggies that make up my diet.

omelette baguette
Where are the veggies??

In Spain, there’s no wholegrain bread to be found outside the big cities. When I pick up a sandwich in Germany, it’s layered with lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, eggs and cheese (on wholegrain bread). In Spain, when I ordered a cheese sandwich, it was always served on white bread, and it didn’t even have tomatoes on it, let alone some lettuce – often not even some sort of butter or mayonnaise or any other kind of sandwich spread, making it a very dry and very boring eating experience.The sweet breakfasts (croissants, white toast with jam, or cake) also didn’t fuel me as the Skyr with granola and banana breakfasts I am used to, which are loaded with protein, fiber and potassium. I was hungry barely two hours after eating a cake breakfast – where’s the protein?

The vegetarian options on the pilgrim’s menu, which is offered for dinner in many of the albergues (pilgrims hostels), were disappointing too. Often I got French fries with a couple of fried eggs, not even with a side of salad. Or pasta with ‘red sauce’ – I can’t even call it tomato sauce because it tasted more like ketchup.

For vegans, the Camino is even harder, and I met one vegan who went vegetarian for the duration of the walk because he wasn’t able to find enough fueling vegan food.

I am sure that big cities like Madrid and Barcelona have a thriving vegan and vegetarian scene, but the small villages you stop in during the Camino often don’t even have a grocery store. Whenever we hit a big city like Leon or Burgos, we went to the supermarket and gorged on broccoli, hummus, avocado and wholegrain bread. It makes such a difference to start your day with avocados and whole grains!

I felt like most of the month I was just stuffing myself with empty calories, way too much sugar, and barely any memorable meals, which I’ve found frustrating.

Camino de Santiago Cakes
Even for me it was too much cake.

Challenges

The list of challenges this month was long (and I guess the food struggles above could count as a challenge, too), but let’s look back at the challenges I predicted for September:

Weight loss

I am pretty sure that I am the only person on the Camino who didn’t lose any weight ☹ Especially during the last couple of weeks, I’ve heard a lot of people talking about how much weight they’ve lost during the walk. I, on the other hand, feel bloated, haven’t done any abs workouts since leaving my sister’s house for Berlin over a month ago, and my tummy seems humongous to me.

My diet here has been so much unhealthier than my usual diet, as I explained above. I never eat white bread, for example, which I’ve eaten every single day here (what’s wrong with offering whole-grain bread Spain?!), and while I do love cake, even I got tired of it at some point, especially when we walked through a part of Spain where the only things available for breakfast were empanadas with meat or tuna – or cake. Adding to the croissants and cake I’ve consumed, the chocolate we bought to give us some energy during short breaks, and the wine that was freely flowing every night, and you can see how I, despite walking every single day, didn’t lose a single pound.

tortilla espanola
I blame it on all the greasy Spanish omelettes

Writing challenge

While I did write every day on the Camino, I didn’t end up doing as much writing for myself as I thought I would. I wrote a lot for freelance clients, but I often struggled putting everything I experienced in a day into words, and I still have a hard time verbalizing the extraordinary experience that is the Camino. Maybe it’ll be easier to do that when I am looking back at it from a distance, after the hike ends.

what are your dreams camino de santiago
Writing down our dreams in Las Herrerias

Work-hike-balance

My third challenge for the month, finding a good work-hike-balance, was actually the easiest challenge! I had talked to some people who also work online who had walked the Camino previously, and not everyone recommended that I bring my laptop to work during the walk. But after returning to 1,000 emails in my inbox after ten days offline in Cuba earlier this year, there was no way I could take a month off of work.

Luckily, it turned out that it wasn’t much of a challenge to find a good work-hike-balance. There were only a few days throughout the entire month when I was too exhausted to do any work, and I often surprised myself how much work I was able to get done while walking through Spain, even after a day of hiking. More than anything, it turned out to be a question of discipline – to sit down in front of my laptop instead of joining my fellow hikers for a post-hike glass of wine, or two.. or three.

And not only did I manage to fit in a lot of work time – I also had time to read a book and plenty of longreads I’d saved in my Pocket app, I made friends and socialized, and I stayed in touch with family and friends. I consciously opted against buying a local SIM card for my phone so that I wouldn’t be connected at all times, since the Camino was also supposed to be a time to allow me to disconnect and not check my work emails or social media during every little break I took.

I am glad I opted against it, since that left me with plenty of offline time in hostels where the Wi-Fi only reached public areas, forcing me to read my book instead of just scrolling through my Instagram and Facebook feeds.camino de santiago working digital nomad office

Other happenings

The world beyond the Camino

Despite being on the Camino, I never lost touch with the ‘outside world’. There were so many things going on this month – terrible things happening. First, hurricane Irma hit, then Maria destroyed Puerto Rico, and one of my favorite cities in the world, Mexico City, got hit hard by an earthquake. The way the Spanish government handled the referendum was shocking to watch, and of course widely broadcast throughout Spain as we walked from province to province.

I am not going into all the other political happenings around the globe that upset me – no matter how much I want to spend time focusing on myself, I am never able to shut out the world I live in. It was heartbreaking to see the images of people getting beaten up by the police, and of cities and entire regions being destroyed by forces of nature.

I will donate money as soon as I finish the Camino, and if you want to do the same, here are some good resources:

The New York Times put together a list of organizations to donate to if you want to help the earthquake victims in Mexico City, as well as a great guide of things to consider before you donate money:

Vox put together a list of organizations that help both earthquake and hurricane victims

Time Magazine published a list of organizations to donate to help Puerto Rico.dani o cebreiro camino de santiago

Shout-Outs & Mentions

I got a couple of awesome shout-outs this month – the Hostelworld blog included me in their list of Instagram accounts worth following (you can check out a bunch of my Camino pictures and stories on my Instagram here), and Feedspot.com included me in two of their Best 100 Blogs lists, on #16 and #20:

What’s next for me

Most importantly, I want to finish the Camino, of course! A few more days of walking through Spain until I reach Santiago de Compostela. From there, I’ll return to Germany to see my family again – my nieces and nephew in particular – because who knows when I’ll see them again!

Since I’ve still got some time left before returning to the U.S. (from where I’ll leave on my next grand travel adventure in November!), I decided to add another country to my three months in Europe – I’ll be returning to one of my favorite places, but to be honest, I have two options, and I am a still undecided which one I’ll go for. #nomadproblems!Camino de Santiago 2017

 

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Life Lately & Upcoming Travels: August 2017 Edition

august 2017

In my monthly round-ups, I am looking back at my travels over the past four weeks, what went well and what didn’t, and what’s next for me.

Where I’ve Been

I spent the month between the two cities in Germany where my family lives, followed by a few days in Berlin, from where I flew down to Toulouse, France. I am writing this now in a small town deep in the Pyrenees Mountains, not far from the border with Spain.august 2017 germany

What I’ve Been up to

I had ambitious plans for my month in Germany, including visiting friends all across the country, like I usually do – but I ended up traveling much less than normal. My friend in Dusseldorf moved back to my hometown, my friends in Munich had planned a visit to their families not far from where my sister lives which saved me from making those trips. The only Germany-based friend I didn’t get to see was my friend Jo who I visited in Cologne when I was in Germany last summer.

In the end, I didn’t even spend as much time in Berlin as I thought I would, because my sister needed help with the new baby and was thankful for the support, and I felt unwell for a few days. All in all, August ended up being all about planning my next big adventure (more on this in What’s Next For Me) and about my family.

family timeConsidering how little time I get to spend with my siblings and the kids, I always soak up every little moment I get with them. I cooked, I baked (a lot!), and I caught up with old friends. I played with my nephew and even took him on his first ever train ride to spend a weekend with his cousins, at the same time giving my sister some much needed toddler-free time. I made time for long runs with Odie, and after all of this, I treated myself to some city time in Berlin before I will embark on month of hiking – more on that below.

What Went Right

Being able to meet my new niece

The main reason for my visit home was to meet my brand new niece Louisa, who was only five weeks old when I got to hold her for the first time. There’s not a day that goes by in which I am not incredibly grateful that my lifestyle allows me to go and spend an entire month with my family when I want to. Had I started a full-time job in New York in May, I would’ve earned a mere three vacation days by August, making the trip to Germany (18 hours door to door) not even worth it. Opting for a job with flexible working hours in addition to keeping my freelance clients and this little website does mean earning considerably less money, yes, but it also means that I am still location independent and don’t have to rely on vacation days. Or as I was quoted in this article in a German magazine last month: “My freedom is the most important thing for me.dani bild der frauStarting the niece project

While meeting my newest niece was one reason for my visit home, celebrating my oldest niece’s first day of school was the other important reason for me to fly

lotti

to Germany (yes, I admit: getting me out of New York during the summer, my favorite time there, took some convincing!). In Germany, the first day of actual school – not kindergarten or pre-school, but the first day of a kid’s 12-year academic career (pre-uni) – is reason for a grand celebration. The entire family gets together to send the child off on his/her first day at school, to learn to read, write, do calculus, and all the fun stuff that follows later on.

This is, of course, also an occasion for a ridiculous amount of gifts, traditionally packed into ‘sugar cones’, which hold lots of candy in addition to pencils, rulers and paint boxes (hence the name). I decided that instead of adding another material gift, I’d use this occasion to start my niece’s travel fund. Ever since I first read about the niece project my friend and fellow travel blogger Sherry came up with, I wanted to start my own niece project. Sherry has taken all of her nieces on trips they could choose for themselves when they turned 16, and I want to do the same with my nieces and nephew. Since I’ll have to save quite a bit of money for these trips (I have three nieces and one nephew now), I wanted to start early. Even though the first niece trip is still ten or maybe even eleven years away, I am already excited to travel with them and to see which countries they pick for their trip.

This has me wonder if I’ll still be running Globetrottergirls then – but if I am, I’ll tell you all about these trips, of course. I loved taking my friend Shannon’s niece Anna around New York City for a week a couple of years ago – a teaser of sorts for my own niece trips.

A quick trip to Berlin

I don’t think there has ever been a trip to Berlin that didn’t make my ‘Favorite Moments’ or ‘Highlightsof the month. And even though this one was a short one, there was still enough time to catch up with friends, eat the food I have to eat every time I’m in Berlin (a veggie kebab and Vietnamese), and marvel at some new street art.Berlin

Visiting France

I’ve been to France six or seven times, but it’s been a few years since my last visit. And I honestly forgot just how much I like France! Not just for the baguettes, crepes, eclairs, wine and cheese – I also like French people and the cities are always gorgeous. Paris is of course my favorite, but I was happy to have been able to explore a city new to me on this trip, Toulouse, which was lovely, and the Midi-Pyrenees region, where my hike starts and which is stunningly beautiful. This short trip to France makes me want to spend more time in here, visiting places like the Loire Valley, Bordeaux and Lyon, which I’ve had on my travel wish list for a while (I’ll get to them eventually.)

France

What Went Wrong

The usual: Losing stuff

And in my usual category of losing stuff: On the way from New York to Germany, I somehow lost my favorite pair of headphones – my wireless running headphones – on one of the planes. I still don’t know how I even lost them. Well, at least these weren’t $300 headphones like the last ones I left on a plane.germany august 2017

Traveling to France without my main credit card

Of course I couldn’t travel to France without forgetting something very important – in this case my brand new credit card. I barely use my German credit card, but because I wasn’t able to get a U.S. credit card yet (hello second-class immigrant!) I put some money in my German account for this trip. Only recently did I discover that the credit card had actually expired. Long story short – after having the bank send a new one to my mom’s house and picking it up there the night before leaving on my trip (talk about timing – it had arrived just before I was leaving) I managed to leave the card at my sister’s house, along with my British credit card. This means I have only my British bank card on me right now, and I can only hope that nothing goes wrong until I get back to Germany in October.

Getting ill

Less than a week before I was supposed to leave for Berlin, I started feeling terrible: headaches, fatigue, and overall weakness. When I still felt like sh*t 24 hours after it started, I began to doubt my ability to go on the 500 mile hike I’d planned for September. Luckily, I felt better on the third day, but this caused me to postpone my trip to Berlin and caused me to stress over work that I didn’t get done while I was feeling unwell. I rarely get ill, and this was a good reminder to not take my good health for granted.

august 2017 germany and france
Sick from too much cake?

September Challenges

1 My monthly challenge

After my utterly disappointing failure in my July challenge (write at least 750 words per day) I decided to take a break from my monthly challenges in August (also because I knew I wouldn’t have much time for a challenge). But now I am ready for another challenge, and I’m thinking another daily writing challenge, which I hope will be easier in September when I will have plenty of time to be introspective and pensive. Let’s see how it goes this time around – I hope that the little notebook my friend Rotem gave me for this trip will inspire me to write every day.

2 Losing weight

I’ll admit it: I ate way too much cake last month. And too much bread, and too much chocolate. Whenever I get to Germany, I tend to go overboard with all the things I miss while I’m abroad, and then I eat them all at once while I’m there. This time around, it wasn’t any different. I think I may even have eaten more than usual because I read that everyone loses weight on the Camino. So let’s hope that’s true and that I’ll lose the 5 kilos I gained over the past month.

cakes
I ate pieces of all of these cakes. On the same day. Self control? Nope, not me.

3 Work-hike-balance

One thing that differentiates me from all the other hikers? I am not solely on a hiking trip – I have to fit in some work time as well. Sadly, I am financially not in a position to take an entire month off (especially considering I’ll be returning to NYC in October), which is why I am bringing my laptop on the hike and have to fit in a couple of hours work every day. It won’t be easy to pull out my laptop after 20 miles/30 kilometers of hiking, but I’ll have to be disciplined and just do it. I’ll report back next month how this went, as well as my progress for challenge #2.

Other Happenings

Join my travel chat on Pepo!

I’ve been very active on the Pepo app last month, talking about all sorts of travel-related things: Off-the-beaten path places in Barcelona, the Bronx and Brooklyn, how to get the most out of Google Flights, my favorite city in Chile and why you should go there, budget tips for Iceland, where to head for the best views over Manhattan, how to save money for travel, advice for anyone visiting Oktoberfest, what’s important to know when buying travel insurance, my favorite flight deal website, the best street food I’ve had on my travels and where you can get it, my top five pizzas in New York, and a bunch of other things. I’d love for you to join my Pepo channel, and of course you can ask me anything you like!

What’s next for me

A 500-mile walk

I will be walking all of September – every day, for six to eight hours. Typing these words makes me feel like I’m crazy, and I probably am, but then there are hundreds – if not thousands – of pilgrims who set off to do exactly this every single day. I will be walking the historic Camino De Santiago which begins in the French Pyrenees and ends in the town of Santiago de Compostela in Northern Spain, not far from the Atlantic Ocean. If you have been following me for a while, you may remember that I have been wanting to do this walk since 2014, but somehow timing never worked out.

And I didn’t think I was going to do it this year – in fact, I thought I was going to head to India for a travel conference in September, which would’ve been the perfect excuse to fly up to Nepal afterwards to finally hike the Annapurna Circuit, another long-distance hike I’ve been wanting to do for a while now.When I didn’t hear from the conference organizers for a while after they invited me to the conference in the spring, I started to think about alternative trips I could take, in case the conference would be canceled, and the Camino popped into my head right away. I’d be in Europe, and September is one of the two best months to walk it (the other month is May). I consulted Rome2Rio about how I’d even get to the tiny town of Saint Jean Pied de Port, where the Camino starts, and when the website showed me a flight to Toulouse for only $30, I bought it right away, even before the conference was canceled. Losing $30 wouldn’t hurt, and I’d have a Plan B mapped out.

And sure enough, the conference was cancelled in July, and I frantically started buying equipment for my five-week hike: new hiking boots, a new rain jacket, sock liners, trail mix, plenty of Compeed band aids, and all sorts of stuff that a long-distance hiker needs.

I don’t feel prepared at all (my last hike was climbing Schunemunk Mountain in July to break in my new hiking shoes – and that was my only hike all summer!), and I am afraid I may not make it very far, but here I am, in Saint Jean Pied de Port, surrounded by pilgrims who will all set off with me tomorrow to Santiago De Compostela. By the time I will write my next update I won’t even have reached the final destination of the hike – but I hope it’ll come from somewhere near the end, and that I will still be walking. Wish me luck!

You can follow my hike in real time on Snapchat: mariposa2711

august thuringia

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Life Lately & Upcoming Travels: July 2017 Edition

july 2017

In my monthly round-ups, I am looking back at my travels over the past four weeks, what went well and what didn’t, and what’s next for me.

Where I’ve Been

I finally left New York City! I spent two weekends out of town: the first weekend I went on a hiking trip upstate, and then I went to Long Island for some beach time. After two months of no travel, it felt great to go on these two little adventures – as well as planning my big adventure that I just left  the U.S. for. Yes, I’m traveling again, and I won’t be back in New York for quite some time.. but I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s look back at July first.July 2017 New York

What I’ve Been up to

July was the month of hosting friends. Three different friends, all of whom I met during different stages of my travels, visited New York this month and I got to spend some quality time with all of them, as well as lots of time spent with old friends I made in New York.

Knowing that July was going to be my last month in the city and my last month of summer in New York, I wanted to make the most of it, which meant I cut down on work and spent more time frolicking around the city. Scoring housesitting gigs for the entire month – i.e. not paying rent in July – was a deciding factor in this, and I am incredibly grateful that I get to enjoy months like this, especially in New York, where everything is so expensive. My housesits brought me to apartments near Central Park and Cobble Hill, one of my favorite areas of Brooklyn – and this was my fifth time housesitting in this quaint neighborhood! Both housesits were perfectly located – one close to Central Park and one close to Brooklyn Bridge Park – to get me back into a daily running routine after my month of yoga in June which left me with less time for running.

July 2017 nyc

I went to outdoor movies, several picnics in the parks, had rooftop breakfasts and rooftop drinks, covered hundreds of miles on my bike, enjoyed Sunday brunches, went back to the Whitney Museum for the first time in two years, stuffed myself at several food markets, went to see a pop-up art installation in Prospect Park’s Rose Garden, went on a brewery crawl and to a speakeasy bar, checked out new street art in Bushwick, took the aerial tram to Roosevelt Island for the first time in two years, and went to another yoga in the park, inspired by last month’s yoga challenge.

I even crossed two classic NYC summer activities I hadn’t done yet off my ‘to-do-list’: the Friday fireworks in Coney Island and rowing on the lake in Central Park! And then I must have gained about twelve pounds by gorging on all my favorite NYC treats: pizza from Artichoke Basille, cookies from Levain Bakery, banana bread pudding from Magnolia Bakery, Steve’s Authentic Key Lime Pie, Doughnut Plant AND Dough donuts, tacos at Oaxaca, to name just a few. I feel like I need to go on a diet after a month of indulging in too much good food, craft beer and ice cream.July highlights

Not the entire month was spent partaking in fun activities though – I also managed to win a new freelance writing client, did extensive research for my new business venture (more on that below), worked in what I call my ‘New York day job’, grew my dog sitting side hustle further (after talking to several of my friends this month about how unhappy they were in their jobs, I appreciate more than ever that I get paid for things that I truly enjoy doing) and most importantly: booked and prepared for my next big adventure, which I will set off on at the end of August.New York City July 2017

July Highlights

A Hiking Trip Upstate

I’ve been wanting to go on a hiking trip for a while now, but scheduling an out-of-town trip with several people can be difficult. In the end, we pulled it off though, and I spent an awesome weekend upstate, staying at a friend’s house near the Hudson River and climbing Schunemunk Mountain. I also broke in my new hiking shoes which I’ll need for my next big adventure.Hiking Trip Upstate New York

Reunited with Lola

I have to admit that, after getting an annual membership for New York’s Citibike program right when I got back to the city at the end of April, I got a little lazy about getting my beloved bike Lola (see: Meeting Lola | June 2015) out of storage. New Citibike stations are being added all the time, and so it was easy to get around on Citibikes instead of having to use my own bike (and moving with it, because I moved way too often during the past few months and it’s already a pain in the b*tt to move all my stuff). But for my last month in the city, which I spent mainly in Brooklyn, it made sense to have my own bike because I was staying in several places without Citibikes and it was perfect cycling weather. It felt so good to have my Lola back, even though it was only for a few weeks, and we sure made the most of it – we rode hundreds of miles all over Brooklyn and Manhattan together.dani and lola

My First Trip to Long Island

The only time I ever spent on Long Island was actually spent on a small island off Long Island – Fire Island – where I finally went last summer after having it on my to-do-list for three years (but that’s still technically Long Island, right?). When my friend Erica, who recently moved to a seaside town out on Long Island, called friends from near and far to join her for a weekend of birthday debauchery, I finally had the perfect excuse to hop on a train headed east.

The weekend was nothing short of fabulous and the best part for me was that even though I brought my laptop, I ended up opening it exactly zero times. A completely work-free day has become such a rarity for me that this felt like a luxury.Long Island Weekend

Quality Time with Friends

I spent plenty of quality time with friends this month, and soaked it all in while I could, knowing that in August I wouldn’t get much ‘friends time’ – August will be all about being a super aunt, but more on that below.

From drawn out conversations during picnics in the park to juicy revelations during our hike upstate, to fun chats over boozy brunches, I was so happy to have visitors in town this month, all of whom I hadn’t seen since last year, some even longer. I bonded with new friends over cookies and coffee, even had a workout (friend) date this month, and took one friend on a bike ride around Brooklyn. I will miss my New York friends dearly, but I’ve already got so many things planned with them for when I get back that I’m already excited about returning to New York later this year!new york with friends

July Lowlights

I failed my 31-day writing challenge – big time. I only lasted five days into the month in which I was supposed to write at least 750 words every single day. I am extremely disappointed about this, but somehow I just didn’t have any words in me this month and even struggled to finish paid writing assignments. Funnily enough, I ‘hit a writing wall’ in July before – in 2015. Not sure if it’s New York or July, but I am going to have to re-do this challenge at some point this year – I hate failing.july 2017 writing

Other Happenings

I was featured in the August print edition of Diva Magazine, the UK’s leading lesbian magazine! I’m always super excited when I am featured in a print magazine, and can’t wait to get my hands on a copy of it.

Another print shout-out came unexpectedly from Germany, where the leading women’s magazine, Bild der Frau, recycled an interview I did with them in 2016. They didn’t tell me about it, so it was a nice surprise when I found out about it through readers in Germany.

I was also interviewed for the popular Native Traveler show on Sirius XM Radio Canada, which dedicated a full episode to budget travel at the beginning of the month – you can listen to it here.
July 2017 highlights nyc

And last but not least I wanted to mention a new travel podcast in which host Keith Richard narrates the best stories from top travel bloggers. He read the story of my trek through the Colombian jungle to the Lost City, so if you prefer the audio version over the 3,200+ word written version, listen to it here.

In business-related news, I had a meeting about my new business venture which will hopefully launch in September. Since this is not 100% confirmed, I don’t want to get too excited just yet, but I will tell you all about it as soon as I know that the launch will go as planned. I can’t wait to share more about this, since preparing for this is what I spent most of my time on in July.July 2017 Highlights

What’s Next for me

I am writing this round-up on my flight from New York to Europe – after taking ten flights in the first 3.5 months of the year, it felt completely surreal to suddenly ‘sit still’ and not be hanging out at airports on a regular basis. Needless to say that I am stoked to find myself on a plane again.

Admittedly, I love summer in New York City so much that it took a very special reason for me to leave the city now… and this reason is my one-month old niece who I can’t wait to meet. August will mostly be spent with my family in my home country, but of course I can’t visit Germany without at least a few days in Berlin, and who knows what other additional trips will evolve over the next four weeks.

And this flight to Europe won’t be my only flight in August – I’ve already booked a flight to France for later this month from where I’ll be setting off on my next adventure… which I will talk about in more detail in my August round-up, but here’s a little hint: I will be walking A LOT in September! Can you guess where I am headed? 😉dani schunemunk mountain

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Life Lately & Upcoming Travels: June 2017 Edition

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In my monthly round-ups, I am looking back at my travels over the past four weeks, what went well and what didn’t, and what’s next for me.

Where I’ve Been

I crossed the bridges between Manhattan and Brooklyn countless times, but for the entire month, not once did I make it out of these two boroughs.June 2017 Manhattan and Brooklyn

What I’ve Been up to

After stressing myself way too much in May with work, immigration matters and trying to find a place to live, I decided to take things a little slower in June. I cut my work hours in favor of a new business pursuit (which I’m excited to tell you more about next month, but it hasn’t officially launched yet), and gave up on the apartment hunt since it was not only time consuming and frustrating, but it also didn’t look like I was going to even get a place I really liked.

I have to say that I was extremely lucky how everything came together for me in terms of sublets and housesits – so far. This month I’ve had several options and haven’t even had to share a place. Amazing!summer fun NYC 2017

One of the main reasons why I stopped looking for a place? Because it’s almost time for me to leave New York! Yes, that’s right, my 3.5 month travel break is nearly over, and I am getting ready for my next big trip.

Since I’ll be gone for several months, there was no point anyway to look for a permanent place now, which would’ve meant having to deal with finding a subletter, and hoping that the sublet goes well.. but this also means that when I get back to New York, I’ll have to start the apartment hunt over again. Oh, well.

On the topic of me leaving for my next trip: I can’t believe how fast my time in New York went by! I still feel like I just got here, and I am getting ready to leave again.. how is this possible?! I won’t be leaving for another month, but I know that July will fly by, too, considering all the things that are coming up (see below under What’s Next).New York June 2017

On to the highlights and lowlights of the month:

June Highlights

Louisa is here!

I wouldn’t necessarily leave New York in the height of summer, which is my favorite time of year here, but I’ve got a good reason to leave: I’ve been impatiently waiting for the arrival of my newest niece, and the wait is finally over! I couldn’t be more excited to meet her in early August when I fly to Germany to spend some time with my sister and my ever growing collection of nieces and nephews.

The day of her birth was very emotional for me – I always get insanely homesick when big events like this occur. And that’s why I’m grateful that I found a job here that allows me to leave for several months – I couldn’t even imagine being ‘trapped’ in an office job now that doesn’t allow me to take a month off (or longer), but sadly that’s the case for most of my American friends.louisaAnyway, welcoming Louisa into the family was definitely the highlight of the month.

Pride & Pride Brunch

In 2014 and 2015, the first two summers I spent in New York, I was lucky enough to attend my friends’ annual Pride Brunch, and when I had to travel to Germany last June to deal with my green card, I was devastated that I wouldn’t be able to attend (I still can’t get over the fact that I won permanent residency!! Who wins a visa?! Pretty much everyone I tell how I ended up here is astonished).

But this summer I was back in town for it and it was the perfect way to kick off an amazing Pride. After brunch, we headed over to the parade, and from there we went down to the West Village to join the celebrations. The weather was perfect, our group was great, and it seemed like half of New York City had come out to celebrate love equality.New York Pride 2017

The only dampener was that not a single one of my straight friends here in New York City came out for the event – which is funny considering how I am always assured just how much they’re supporting the LGBT community.

Sleepless in Seattle under the stars

One thing I love about New York City in the summer is all the free outdoor movies all over town, in parks, on rooftops, on the riverside. I don’t always find the right person to watch a movie with, or sometimes a movie I really want to see gets rained out, but when ‘Sleepless in Seattle’ was showing in Bryant Park, everything was perfect. I went with someone who loves cheesy romantic comedies just as much as I do, the weather was amazing, and we had a delicious picnic dinner in the grass.

It’s nights like this that always reaffirms my love for New York.bryant park movie

Summer fun galore

In addition to Pride, the Mermaid Parade (see below) and open-air movies, I feel like I made up for all the things I didn’t do last month. I enjoyed summer to the fullest, with the Metropolitan Opera in Brooklyn Bridge Park (the Philharmonics and the Met in the park are among my favorite summer events in New York), rooftop cocktails, picnics in the park, bike rides around the city, sunset runs and photo excursions.New York City June 2017

I took friends around my favorite Brooklyn neighborhoods, took my office outside whenever I could, hung out with an adorable pup, relived my Sonoma Wine trip at the Sonoma in the City New York – Taste of Sonoma event, went to a Goddess-themed birthday party, ate brunch in the sun and I even went to an outdoor yoga class (more on that below in Other Happenings).summer fun New York

June Lowlights

A rained out Mermaid Parade

I had to think long and hard about June mishaps & lowlights, and I guess that if this is the only thing that I can come up with after giving it good thought, I must have had a pretty good month!

And that being said: Even though we arrived in Coney Island during a torrential downpour, the rain eventually went away and the parade wasn’t completely ruined. And we used the time when it was raining to eat pizza at Totonno’s, one of New York’s iconic pizza spots, so I can’t really put this down as a lowlight when I really think about it. But I was looking forward to a super hot beach day, and that obviously didn’t happen.Mermaid Parade 2017

The Usual: Losing and Breaking Stuff

Of course I can’t go through a month without at least losing and breaking one thing. The biggest thing I lost this month? My friend’s gay Pride flag. I feel horrible about it, but obviously I’ll replace it.

And I wasn’t very lucky with my electronics in June: one of my chargers stopped working, my favorite pair of headphones broke, and most importantly: my beloved blender stopped working! This little blender was the first thing I bought in New York in 2014, and it traveled all over the U.S. with me. Seeing how much use it got, I guess it was expected to happen sooner or later, and I ordered the exact same one to replace it, because it did me such a good service over the past three years.summer 2017 new york

Other Happenings

My June challenge: Daily Yoga!

I did it! I made it through 30 days of yoga. Okay, I’ll be honest here: I fell asleep on two days I was supposed to do a bedtime yoga routine, but I made up for it by doing two different yoga routines the next day.

I even added another challenge on top of this challenge: I would attend a public yoga class before the end of the month. For someone like me, who hasn’t really ever done any yoga, this was a terrifying thought, and I waited until the very last week of the month to do it. And then I was still very self-conscious about my ability to do certain poses and my flexibility. To be able to escape should the class be too hard for me, I opted for a free outdoors class – luckily there are loads of them held every day in the summer, all over New York.

I chose a great class and was able to keep up with the routine, even though I’m still not as flexible as I’d like to be. But the one thing I learned from that class was that other people aren’t either!June Yoga Challenge

The overall take-away from this challenge? I don’t hate yoga anymore (it took me about two weeks to get to that point though) and I grew much more conscious of my breathing, my balance and my posture. I definitely want to continue practicing, and master some of the more difficult poses. I am not sure if I’ll ever be able to do SUP yoga, but this month has made me more curious about trying other yoga variations and I am happy that I changed my mind about something I felt strongly about – I really disliked yoga!

Another take-away was that getting my followers involved was really fun: when I announced my yoga challenge over on my Snapchat channel (mariposa2711), a bunch of my followers suggested their favorite yogis to me to get started and they kept cheering me on throughout the month, which was nice.

My July Challenge: Daily Writing

I was stuck this month, unsure what to challenge myself to do next (and again, getting my Snapchat ‘family’ involved), when about a week ago, it hit me: I need to get myself to write more. And what better way than to actually challenge myself to write more? After my frantic May during which I barely wrote anything, I tried to focus more on writing again this month, but I found it really difficult to get back into it. I am still unsure about the number of words I’ll challenge myself to write, but it’ll be between 750 and 1,000 words. It just so happens that I got a bunch of new freelance work, so doing this as a challenge will actually be pretty helpful.writing challenge

Work, work, work

As I already touched on above, I am in the process of launching a new business venture, and I moved from unpaid pet sitting gigs to getting paid for my dog sitting services which has been a nice unexpected extra income (but this is only a fun side gig). Scoring a bunch of new freelance writing gigs on top of this has made June my most lucrative month of the year so far! I hope this trend will continue throughout July since I won’t be able to work as much in August, when I leave on a big trip.

NYC June 2017
Of course there’s time to play, too!

What’s Next For Me

July is going to be my last month in NYC for a while… you didn’t really think I was going to be able to sit still for too long, did you? 😉 And July will be a super busy month, with my new writing challenge, lots of work, and not one, not two, but three different visitors stopping by! I am excited for all of them to get here, and all the cool things we’ll be doing. (There’ll be lots of eating…)

And at the end of July I’ll be packing up again for several months of travel, starting in Germany. I’ll share more on that and where I’ll head from there in my next round-up.June 2017 New York

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Life Lately & Upcoming Travels: May 2017 Edition

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In my monthly round-ups, I am looking back at my travels over the past four weeks, what went well and what didn’t, and what’s next for me.

Where I’ve been

Even though I did not once leave the city limits of NYC this month, I feel like I’ve been traveling a lot! I may have physically arrived here, but the gypsy in me definitely hasn’t mentally arrived.. yet. And I think I know why: Because I haven’t stayed put anywhere for this long since summer 2014! Can you believe it? I was flabbergasted when I noticed it – it just hadn’t seemed to me like I was on the move all the time, but this ‘break’ that I am taking now, just over 3 months (I’m five weeks in now), is the longest I’ve stayed anywhere since August 2014, when I left New York after four months, with only two short getaways in between.

This got me reminiscing – but I’ll get into that in a moment. Back to gypsy-ing around New York: This month, I’ve lived in Astoria (Queens), Brooklyn Heights and Prospect Heights (Brooklyn), Chinatown (Manhattan), and right now, I am settling into my latest place in Bushwick (Brooklyn) – and no, this one is not permanent.New York Spring 2017

What I’ve been up to

It’s been quite a month, despite not leaving New York City in the past 31 days. I am still getting used to the pace of New York again, and if I’ll be able to get more than six hours sleep at some point next month, I’ll be a happy girl. I am already reminiscing about how much time I had for myself in Ecuador, only a couple of months ago. Time to read books, work out every day, maintain the blog, work on freelance projects and get them done on time, and having time to socialize and explore.

Here in New York, I barely find time to read anything anymore, I always find myself running somewhere because I’m always late. There’s too much going on all the time for my FOMO personality to be just like ‘Thanks but I think I’ll stay home tonight’. This has happened to me in previous years when I spent the summers in New York, and usually ended up feeling completely burned out. At least I know what’s coming 😉New York 2017

I’ve been upping my workload from working one job at the beginning of the month to working three jobs at the end of it. It’s a relief to know I’m making enough cash to not only get by, but to live comfortably in this expensive city, but as a friend of mine pointed out over drinks the other day ‘In New York City, you’ll always find yourself hustling. You never stop.‘ And oh how right he was! I have yet to say NO to paid work that is offered to me – so far, I’ve been saying YES to everything, because I am always paranoid I may run out of money.

Add to my daily hustle my efforts to stay in shape (more on that below), socializing, dating, looking for a place to stay, moving four times and dealing with immigration matters, I’ve not gotten much sleep (I passed out on my laptop three nights in a row) and I don’t even know where the month went.

Last week, when I walked down Fifth Avenue after picking up my first paycheck (Yes! I got a job! More on that below.), it hit me though: I am living my dream. I nearly burst into tears in the middle of a crowded Manhattan sidewalk when I had this realization. I had to sit down for a moment and take a deep breath. Is this really happening?, I asked myself. Sometimes I still can’t believe that I can legally work and live in New York now.Dani Spring 2017 New York

Every time I came here over the past few years, my stay had an end date, was limited. And every time, I asked myself how I’d be able to extend my stay, how I’d be able to make New York a more permanent base. Even all the way back in the summer of 2014, when I first came to New York by myself, I already posted:

I just love this city and there’s at least one moment every day when I try to figure out how I’ll be able to spend more than just a couple of months here – every year! (I’ve got some ideas though…) – May 2014 – read the full post here

and:

I am still in New York, something I hadn’t planned at all when I boarded my flight to JFK in May. It only took me about two days to realize I would want to stay longer – even though my time in New York started with a disaster. (July 2014read the full Life Lately here – my first Life Lately ever!)New York City Spring 2017

And here I am, a mere three years later, having figured out a way to make this dream come true – or actually, not even having to figure it out, but to simply be granted permanent residency (remember, I won a green card?). I still can’t believe how lucky I am.

The whole thing still feels so surreal to me, even over a year after opening the email that would change the course of my entire life. I do not take any of this for granted – every day I am grateful to whoever was looking out for me last spring when I needed to make the decision of where to settle, having nearly given up on the dream to be able to move to New York.

And in spite of the fact that I am still struggling with a few immigration-related issues (see What Went Right and What Went Wrong below), I just can’t see myself being anywhere else but New York. I am still as much in love with this city as I’ve always been, regardless of all the obstacles that are being placed in my way at the moment.

While I’ve been spending way too much time working, running (see under ‘Other Happenings’ below) and commuting, I did have a number of memorable moments this month. Highlights included a cherry blossom photo shoot with my friend Kristin, a couple of travel meet-ups, street art tours around Bushwick, several bridge runs across the Manhattan Bridge and Brooklyn Bridge (my favorite route, especially at sunset), bar hopping nights, my favorite pizza, boozy brunches and finding new cocktail bars. It has also been great to catch up with all my friends here, some of whom I hadn’t seen since last August.Spring blossom photo shoot

Let’s take a look at what went right and what went wrong in May:

What Went Right

I Found A Job!

Not only did I find a job, but I found the perfect job for me, and it happened to be the first job I interviewed for (and consequently the last one). I wasn’t sure how easy or difficult it would be to find a job, especially after having been self-employed for over seven years and not having had any job interviews in nearly ten years, but somehow it all worked out.

I am so happy about how easy the job hunt was and love having colleagues again (blogging and writing can be quite solitary, my friends!) and a regular paycheck doesn’t hurt either. I was ecstatic when I went to pick up my first paycheck last week… even though my excitement quickly faded when I saw the amount that was taken out for taxes… but that’s another story. I also got a side gig, and albeit that one was more for fun than for the money, it’s been quite challenging to juggle all three plus the blog and still be able to enjoy New York and/or have a social life – more on that below.

Manhattan
I took these pictures on my way to and from work in Midtown Manhattan

Sidenote: It makes me chuckle that the highlight of my month was finding a job, something that I’d been dreading for years!

What Went Wrong

I’m still homeless

I may have found a job faster than expected, but I am still struggling to find a living situation that I’m happy with. When all the bureaucratic things I had to deal with as a brand new immigrant went super smooth at the beginning of the month, I was ecstatic. But then the reality of finding an apartment or even a room set in. As a foreigner without a bank account (which I have now), regular paycheck (can you see now why I had to get a job?) and credit score (I still don’t even know what that is but one owner told me he required ‘a score of 680’) it is pretty much impossible to find someone to rent you a place, unless you’re able to pay an entire 12-month lease upfront. Well, I can’t.

May flatmates
Some of my room mates this month

Add to that the insane competition here in New York, the fact that if you want to do a police check on me I am non-existent thanks to my immigration status, I just started to get paychecks, my guarantors are overseas, and I am pretty much f*cked, if I may be blunt. And so I’ve been bouncing around from sublet to sublet with some pet sitting gigs thrown in, which meant I moved four times in the last month. Subletting is the way to go for now, and luckily I keep getting leads from friends for accommodation, so that I haven’t found myself stranded yet, but of course this is no long-term solution, and lugging my stuff around town constantly is really getting on my nerves.

Serious Blog Neglect

The above mentioned apartment hunt (seriously, for a good portion of the month I wasted hours every day on checking out rooms online or heading out to view a place), the new job, a ton of freelance work (which is good for my savings account) and my side gig, I’ve found myself completely overwhelmed with keeping up with the blog. I hope I’ll find a better balance between work, freelancing and blogging in June because I’ve got so much awesome content lined up that I’m eager to share with you, like highlights from Cuba and the Galapagos Islands.

Another iPhone Fail

I feel like I should just make this a monthly feature. My iPhone acted up again – and I had to visit Apple not once but twice, wasted hours at the genius bar as well as on the phone with them, and even the shop assistant had to admit that a six-month old phone shouldn’t act the way mine did (and I didn’t do anything to it – didn’t drop it or drown it!). That’s all I want to say about it – dealing with Apple to get my phone fixed was another time-consuming matter which I could’ve done without.

New York City 2017
At least the camera function of my iPhone never failed me…

Other Happenings

May Running Challenge

As part of my one-challenge-per-month-quest of 2017, my challenge for May was to run at least four miles per day. That’s 124 miles in total, and I just added up all the kilometers I ran this month in my running app: 202 kilometers, or 125.5 miles! I’ve reached my goal, but I will admit that I ended up skipping one day because it was pouring outside and by the time it stopped, I had dinner plans. I am feeling bad for skipping one day though and will add one more run to my challenge on 1 June to make it feel more complete, so I’ll add even more miles to my already achieved goal.

Of course I’ll still go on regular runs throughout the next month – I won’t stop after this. I will, however, cut back my miles because one thing I didn’t anticipate was just how time-consuming this challenge would be. In addition to the time these longer runs took, I did my daily exercises and often combined my run with an errand, meaning I’d take the train back (I ran eight kilometers to Trader Joe’s to stock up on my favorite foods from there, for example) and it was definitely more time intense than the quick 5k’s I usually run when I don’t have much time for a proper workout.

running shoes
Replacing my running shoes was long overdue… Definitely a highlight of this month!

But I stuck with it, even when it rained (one time I got completely soaked, one time when it rained I had a treadmill that I was able to use, but that was a good reminder of just how much I dislike running on treadmills). During my first week in my new job I had two 10-hour days and two 13-hour days – and I still went for a run after those long shifts which is miraculous to me.

Now, as for my next challenge, I’ve been thinking about it long and hard, and decided yet again not to do a month of no sugar, which I have yet to do this year, and already put off last month. I’ve got several barbecues and birthday parties coming up this month, I just know that at some point I won’t be able to resist a cupcake. I promised a friend to take her on a pizza tour, and on Friday is National Donut Day.. so, instead… I’m going to face my biggest nemesis: Yoga. Daily yoga for 30 consequent days – I’m curious to see if I won’t hate it anymore by the end of it (or if I hate it even more).

May Running Challenge
My runs brought me to some awesome street art in Bushwick, Prospect Park, McCarren Park Track in Williamsburg, and Downtown Manhattan’s grand buildings

I am running out of ideas for challenges – other than going vegan for a month and no sugar for a month, what can I still challenge myself to? If you have any ideas for me, please share them in the comments!

What’s Next For Me

I’ve got another full month in New York ahead of me! I’ve been talking to friends in other parts of the U.S. about coming to visit them, but honestly – I don’t want to leave! June in particular has so many things I love about summer in NYC coming up: The free Metropolitan Opera recitals in the park, Brooklyn Pride and New York Pride, free outdoor movies, birthday parties and rooftop barbecues. I may escape to Jersey for a weekend to visit a friend over there, but hopping between the five boroughs is enough travel for me at the moment 🙂New York May 2017

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Life Lately & Upcoming Travels: April 2017 Edition

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In my monthly round-ups, I am looking back at my travels over the past four weeks, what went well and what didn’t, and what’s next for me.

I can’t believe how much my life has changed in April… going from frolicking in the Caribbean to hectic city life in NYC, dealing with immigration bureaucracy, apartment hunting and job interviews! Trying to establish a life here has been more time-consuming than I thought, hence the delay of my monthly round-up, but let’s look back at April 2017:April 2017

Where I’ve been

April may have been the best month of 2017 so far. I spent the last thirty days between two of my favorite places in the world: Mexico’s Yucatán peninsula and New York City, and added my second new country of the year to the mix, which I happened to fall hard for: Cuba.Cuba

What I’ve been up to

I started the month in Valladolid, continuing my second Yucatán road trip. While I’d been to Valladolid in the past, the stops that followed where mostly new to me: Rio Lagartos with its pink lakes; Izamal, Mexico’s Yellow City; Campeche, a coastal town filled with pastel colored Spanish colonial buildings, and Bacalar with its spectacular lagoon, which I somehow blissfully ignored when I lived in nearby Xcalak a few years ago.Mexico 2017

Our next stops were two of my usual hangouts: Tulum and Playa del Carmen, where, for the first time in my three visits, I was unfortunate with the weather when we visited the Maya ruins (grey and cloudy skies), and in Playa, the typically stunning beach was plagued by algae.

Our final stop on the road trip was Cancun, where I never spent much time before but discovered that the city outside of the hotel zone is actually not that bad. You can see some of our adventures in this short clip:

After bidding farewell to my road tripping buddy Chrys, I dropped off our trusted rental car at the airport and hopped on a plane to Havana to meet up with my favorite travel companion in the world.

While our long-awaited Cuba trip didn’t start off as planned (see What Went Wrong below), once we started exploring this fascinating island, everything went pretty smooth and we both fell for Cuba quickly. Havana in particular is a place we were immediately smitten by, but the picturesque Spanish-colonial town of Trinidad and the gorgeous landscapes around Viñales also made for a fantastic introduction to Cuba – I say introduction because I have a feeling that I’ll be back soon.Cuba 2017

Re-adjusting to the extravagant, lavish New York City life after poverty-ridden Cuba was harder than I thought. To be honest, I don’t think I’ve ever experienced culture shock to the extent I felt it this time. Going from nearly two weeks completely offline to being online again for 24 hours (and arriving to 1,000 emails), from slow-paced days to rushed, meet-up filled days in NYC – it was definitely overwhelming. I am still struggling to get used to the frenzied pace of New York again, with less sleep, more caffeine and a huge increase in my expenses (which tripled from what I was spending in Cuba and Mexico!).

new york coffee shop

Add to that my attempts to become an official, legal resident, now that I have my green card, has been more time-consuming and more frustrating than I anticipated. Since most of this is still a work in progress, I’ll give you a full rundown on everything I’ve done so far to become a true New Yorker (other than drinking seven times more coffee than anywhere else in the U.S.) in my next roundup.

Of course I’ve also been busy catching up with friends in New York and I’ve combined that with some cool things I wanted to check out in New York: an art installation in Green-Wood Cemetery, cherry blossoms in the parks, new street art, an overdue visit to the Oculus which I’d been wanting to see since it opened last year, and eating some of my favorite foods in the city: Doughnuts (Doughnut Plant and Dough), pizza (Roberta’s) and Brooklyn bagels, to name just a few things that I miss when I’m not here. Oh, and I even joined my first political protest (ever!) – and I’m sure it won’t be the last one.NYC

Here are the highlights and lowlights of the month:

What went right

Deciding to visit Cuba

I had already mentioned that Cuba wasn’t really in my travel plans for 2017, but as this trip began to take shape during the planning stage, the more excited I got. And it turned out to be the best travel decision I made this year (so far)! Cuba was such a fulfilling traveling experience – for one because I took a digital detox (see below), and also because the country itself was such an intriguing destination: filled with natural beauty, but also thought-provoking and challenging due to its Communist regime, which for me turned into a trip down memory lane.cuba April 2017

Road tripping with an almost stranger

When I spontaneously decided to road trip with my fellow digital nomad Chrys, who I’d talked to regularly online but only met once in real life, for a minute I had doubts if we’d travel well together (the past few years have shown me that I don’t travel well with everyone). But the road trip was such a blast and we got on surprisingly well. It’s always great for me to travel with someone who works online, too, and understands the needs for working hours, online time and planning a trip with a healthy work & travel balance. That Chrys happened to be a runner, cake lover and vegetarian like me were added bonuses.C&D

Not being homeless in New York

Whenever I returned to New York in the past three years, I knew where I’d be living prior to my arrival. Funnily enough, this time around, now that I’m finally a lawful ‘permanent resident’, I arrived not knowing where to stay after a splurge at The Row for a couple of nights. Just like it had happened in the past when I’d found myself in a similar situation, it was a housesit that saved me from having to sleep under the Brooklyn Bridge (or crash on a friend’s couch). I read the inquiry while I was still in the air, on my flight from Cuba to NYC, and managed to secure the sit before I even touched down in New York. While I am looking for a permanent place in New York, I am housesitting and AirBb-ing my way all around town, but I hope that by the time I’m writing my next monthly round-up, I’ll have found a place to call home.Cat Sitting NYC

Digital detox in Cuba

Oh, the dreaded digital detox. I guess I prepared at least somewhat for this by deliberately not buying a SIM card in both Colombia and Mexico, meaning I was only online when there was wifi, and not connected 24 hours, like I am here in the U.S. And guess what? I didn’t have the withdrawal symptoms my sister was sure I’d have, and I realized that I’m fine without checking my Instagram or Snapchat all the time. I could have bought a scratch-off wifi card (60 minutes for $5), but because I’d heard that the wifi is painfully slow, I decided not to bother and waste my precious time in Cuba by waiting for websites to load, while getting frustrated over the slow wifi. The only thing that I started worrying about after a while was my family and loved ones and if they were okay. My offline time in Cuba made me wonder how I can reduce my online time more, because I can literally waste hours on social media and feel like that whenever I have the distractions of Facebook Messenger and Whatsapp around, my productivity is terrible.the yellow envelope

What went wrong

Losing a day in Cuba

This was something beyond our control, but it put a major dampener on our trip: Miss G, coming to Cuba from NYC, missed her connecting flight in Atlanta, because the plane from New York was delayed due to engine problems. Until that day, I’d never experienced the disappointment of waiting for someone at the airport and the person not showing up. The situation was made even more complicated by the fact that this being Cuba, I had no wifi and no way to find out what had happened until I left the airport, drove into Havana, and found a wifi scratch card (which took me two hours to find). Luckily, she arrived the next day on the same flight, but it did cost us a precious day in Havana. I could have enjoyed the day on my own, of course, but I waited at the airport for hours, hoping she’d still walk out of the gate, and by the time I had checked into our Airbnb, gone out in search of a wifi card, and finally found one, it was 8 o’clock in the evening.April 2017 Cuba

Losing stuff

It seems like no matter how hard I try, I can’t go a month without losing at least one thing. This month came with two major losses – I left a fairly new iPhone charger plugged into the wall in our Airbnb in Havana, and in New York, I left my brand new spring jacket in the basket of a Citibike (New York’s shared bicycles). Even though I went back to the bike station as soon as I realized I had left the jacket on the bike, by the time I got to there, the bike had already been taken out by somebody else and the jacket was gone.

no jacket dani
Who needs a jacket anyway…

Feeling Overwhelmed

While the digital detox in Cuba felt amazing at the time, and was probably good for me, the positive effects of it wore off in no time: I arrived in New York to 1,000 emails across my four email inboxes, causing me anxiety straight away. After having pulled an all-nighter before flying to Cuba in order to cope with my workload before going offline, I stayed up until 5.30am when I got to NYC to work my way through all my emails and react to the most urgent ones. I’ve felt tired and overwhelmed ever since, because, in addition to my usual workload, I have been trying to deal with all the bureaucratic stuff that comes with being an immigrant, from mundane things such as opening a bank account and getting an ID to more complicated things like finding a place to stay (which is nearly impossible for a foreigner without credit history and a steady pay check) and trying to figure out the tax system (please send help). That’s why it has been fairly quiet on the blog in April, but I hope I’ll get back to my regular posting schedule in May because I have a ton of content from Ecuador and Cuba that I’m excited to share with you.

Beach Mexico
Take me back to these blissful beach days!

Other happenings

Features and shout-outs

Here are some of the articles I’ve written or contributed to in the past few weeks:

what i've been up to

The reading challenge fail

Well, I don’t know what made me think I had a good chance of finishing four books in April, or even the slightest chance, because now all I can think is: what was I thinking…, setting myself up for another month of failure (remember, I didn’t quite make it through NoChocolateMarch). Instead of spending hours reading in Cuba, I was too tired to read more than a few pages on most nights. Our sightseeing schedule was just too crazy. That said, I have only gotten up to the second book of the Neapolitan Novels but I’ve enjoyed them very much and will make an effort to read more to finish all four books. This goes along with my quest for less time online – instead of scrolling through Instagram pictures before I go to sleep, I want to get back into the habit of reading every night.

what i did instead of reading
What I did instead of reading…

Originally I had planned to cut out sugar in May, but since I need a success after two consecutive fails, I decided to change it up and challenge myself to run every day for the next 31 days. Since this might be too easy (I run pretty much every day anyway) I made this challenge a little harder by having to run at least 4 miles, because whenever I feel lazy, I only run 5k, but now I have to run 6.55 miles every day.

What’s next for me

Seven countries in four months – the first third of 2017 has involved so much travel that I am looking forward to a month of sitting still. Of course I won’t be sitting around all that much, considering I’m in New York and there’s always something going on, and even in that short time that I’ve been back I’ve found myself exhausted from trying to fit in too much with too little sleep. Anyway, since I barely spent any time in NYC last year I am excited to be back in my favorite city in the world and am looking forward to eating my way around town, enjoying spring, checking out new places and catching up with friends.April 2017 roundup

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Life Lately & Upcoming Travels: March 2017 Edition

march 2017

In my monthly round-ups, I am looking back at my travels over the past four weeks, what went well and what didn’t, and what’s next for me.

Where I’ve been

Let’s start with where I am right now: in Mexico! I started the month in Ecuador, assuming that’s where I would also end it, but as so often, my plans changed completely (throwback to March of last year when I started the month in Colombia and ended in Mexico, too – also completely unexpectedly.)

Three countries, and twelve different beds. I thought this would be a slow travel month with a week in each place, but once I made the decision to leave Ecuador early, I sped up my travels to still see all the places I wanted to visit.March 2017 travels

So how did I end up in Mexico?

After my trip to the Galápagos Islands, I spent a few days in Guayaquil followed by a week on Ecuador’s coast. I noticed that while I didn’t have a terrible time, I also didn’t love anywhere I’d been so far in Ecuador – with the exception of the Galápagos Islands. Quito was meh, Guayaquil was nothing special, and the beaches were only okay (I know, I am spoiled!). I had planned to spend all of March in Ecuador before flying to Central America in early April to meet up with one of my favorite people in the world for another epic road trip together. But did I really need to spend all of March in Ecuador? I started to look into alternatives while starting to plan our Costa Rica road trip. And nothing came together the way I had hoped.

Flights to Costa Rica were outrageously expensive – both from the States and from South America. I was unsure if I should head south to Peru or north to Colombia. I wondered if we should even travel to Costa Rica given the challenging travel planning, also considering it’d be during Semana Santa, Easter Week, which happens to be one of the busiest travel weeks in Latin America.

I was frustrated and started to look into other destinations. Maybe a quick tour of the southern Yucatán in Mexico combined with island hopping in Belize and the Mayan ruins of Tikal in Guatemala? Maybe Nicaragua? Or island hopping in the Caribbean? No matter what I looked into, nothing worked out with the dates for our vacation. And then, when I was ready to give up, my eyes fell on a little island that has been on my radar for years: Cuba.

March 2017 pictures
March 2017: Colombia, Ecuador and Mexico

Twice on my travels when I was in Cancun, I was ready to fly over there, in 2010 and then again in 2012, but something always held us back (Americans weren’t allowed to travel to Cuba back then, making it a bit more risky for my partner at the time). I checked flights and found a great deal, now all I needed was Miss G’s okay. “How about Cuba?”, I texted her. “Are you kidding me?”, she replied, “Cuba would be amazing!”. I booked her flights the same day, and from South America, flights to Cuba usually go through Cancun. Once I knew I was going to have to fly to Cancun, there was no way I wasn’t going to add on some time in Mexico. After all, the Yucatan Peninsula is one of my favorite places in the world!

A friend of mine, who is currently living in Mexico City, was also in need of a change of scenery and decided to join me in the Yucatan. I assumed we’d rent a place in Tulum or Akumal and just enjoy the beaches and cenotes in the area, but somehow our plans evolved into a road trip. Yes, another Yucatan road trip! This time, I’ll get to explore the places I haven’t made it to yet, and I couldn’t be more excited!

Mexico 2017
Mexico!

I happened to find a great deal to Mexico from Colombia, which gave me the perfect excuse to head north from Ecuador and to visit a few places in Southern Colombia which I missed last year, when I only made it as far south as Bogota. After spending the first three weeks of the month in Ecuador, I crossed the border into Colombia for a whirlwind tour of Ipiales, Pasto, Popayan and Cali. I’ll tell you more about this trip shortly, but it felt so good to be back in Colombia – exactly one year after leaving this gorgeous country.

For a detailed recap of this month, I let you check out the Polaroids Of The Week of the past four weeks:

March 2017

What went right 

Surviving risky adventures in Baños

The thing about adventure activities in South America? They may be ridiculously cheap, but they’re often not subject to safety regulations of the same standard we are used to in Europe or the US. And sure enough, I heard of a tourist drowning during a rafting trip, several tourists getting severely injured when a cable car dropped into the river, and too many accidents to count on the popular bike route visiting the waterfalls in the area (which also happens to be a main road into Ecuador’s jungle region – with lots of trucks and buses!). Dangling from a thin rope over a raging waterfall? Or dangling over the edge of a cliff on a swing, without any safety precautions? Jumping off of a bridge for $20? Ziplining over canyons? Paragliding? Baños is the dream place of every adrenaline junkie, with enough adventure activities to keep you busy for weeks.

Even though I was afraid I might break a limb or hurt myself in another way, I took my chances and went full-on adventure in Baños. I went canyoning ($25), overcame my fear of heights and swung on the ‘swing at the end of the world’ ($1), I cycled down a winding road next to a gaping gorge ($7 for the bike rental), went rafting ($25) and had I had more time, I’d have probably thrown myself off of a mountaintop (with a paraglide attached to me).

Back in Quito, I went on a mountain bike tour of Cotopaxi volcano (the second highest active volcano in all of South America). This didn’t go as planned though – see below under What Went Wrong.
adventures in banos
Visiting Las Lajas 

To make a long story short: I’ve wanted to visit Las Lajas since 2010 and somehow never made it there (I’ll share the long version of the story in this week’s Polaroid). Until now! This was the main reason I added the whirlwind tour of southern Colombia to my itinerary. I knew I wanted to visit Otavalo in the north of Ecuador, about three hours from the border.. and Las Lajas is just across the border in Colombia. Would I ever make it there, if not now? I doubt it. I was over the moon when I finally stood in front of the stunning church that is built inside the canyon of the Guáitara River.

The church was built in Gothic Revival style between 1916 and 1949, and of course there’s a reason why it was built in this rather remote and unusual setting, but I am sharing those details in this week’s Polaroid: The Stunning Las Lajas Sanctuary in Colombia.

While some destinations I’ve dreamed of visiting for years have not lived up to my expectations, this was definitely one of the times where my expectations were not just met, but exceeded. I spent about an hour exploring the church and the surrounding canyon, which is worth a visit in itself. Seeing Las Lajas already made the Colombia detour worth it for me!
Las Lajas

What went wrong 

A cyber-attack and going way over my budget

Of course this month couldn’t go by without some business-related stress. First, my hosting company shut down my website for 48 hours. Only after spending $1,200 (typing this number still makes me tear up) I was able to get it back up. These two days caused me so much mental stress, ideally I’d like to block them out of my memory. The site is back up now, and I am broke.

As if this wasn’t enough stress this month, I arrived in Valladolid with a deadline and when I wanted to edit the article and send it to the editor, my laptop charger cord broke. One of the cables simply broke. It was after 6pm, and all the shops around town had already closed. I wasn’t even sure if I’d be able to replace the cord in this small Mexican town – luckily I was able to send the document with the article to my friend and finish the assignment on her laptop. The next day, we began a frantic search for a new cord all over town. In the third shop, I got lucky! They were selling universal laptop charger cords. In that moment, I was so relieved that I have a PC and not a Mac, because Mac charger cords can be hard to come by in countries without an official Apple presence.
laptop cord
Not loving Ecuador as much as I thought I would 

After my amazing Galápagos cruise it took me a while to find a place in Ecuador again that I truly loved. To be honest, I expected to love Ecuador much more than I actually did. I already touched on it above in ‘What I’ve been up to’ and consequently decided to leave Ecuador earlier than I thought I would. Luckily I ended up really liking the places I visited before I headed to Colombia: Baños, Cuenca and Otavalo. But overall I was a bit disappointed that I hadn’t loved it as much as I loved other South American countries.

march 2017 travels Latin America
Moments I enjoyed in Ecuador

A rained out volcano bike ride

I had already wanted to climb Cotopaxi when I arrived in Quito in February, but I found out that you can only go up to a refugio at 15,953 feet / 4,864 meters at the moment, because the volcano has been active since October 2015 and it is too dangerous to climb any higher. But there is a tour that offers a hike up to the refugio followed by cycling down the volcano. Well, that sounded even better! I enjoyed my bike ride down the death road a few years back, so why not cycle down a volcano? Sadly the tours were only offered on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, and during my first visit I arrived on a Sunday and left Quito the following Friday. I planned my second visit to Quito precisely around this cycling tour.

We arrived in decent weather, and even though the volcano was covered in clouds, the volcanic altiplano scenery around it looked beautiful. But then as soon as we started ascending from the parking lot to the refugio, it started snowing. And by the time we reached 15,953 feet, it was snowing heavily. I was freezing! On the way down, the snow turned into rain – a real downpour. We couldn’t even start the bike ride at the supposed starting point because it was raining so hard. We took the car down for a while before we started cycling.. in the pouring rain. I could enjoy neither the scenery nor the bike ride itself because I was putting my entire focus on not falling on the slippery road. I guess under other circumstances I would have just filed this away under ‘not so great travel days’ but because I had been looking forward to doing it for an entire month, my expectations had been built up pretty high. Plus: at $50, this was the most expensive tour I did this month.
dani cotopaxi
Car rental issues in Mexico

Even though I am aware of the cheap car rental schemes in Mexico, I ran into trouble this time when I turned up at Budget to pick up my rental car. I didn’t even go for one of the super cheap offers (see below – $7.54 for a two-week rental – who are you kidding? Of course you get hit with all sorts of fees on top of their ‘great deal’) but went for a rate that seemed more reasonable. I knew the rental company would try to trick me into buying their additional insurance which I didn’t need, and because I declined it, they wanted to put a $3,000 deposit on my credit card. However, my credit card company didn’t approve of such a high payment. So we had to leave without a car, standing at Cancun Airport at 9.30pm, not knowing what to do.

We decided to walk over to a couple of other rental companies and were quoted much better offers right away. So luckily, in the end we didn’t end up stranded but were able to set off on our road trip as planned.

Cuba flight debacle

I booked my flight to Cuba with Interjet the same day I booked my flight to Cancun from Colombia, also with Interjet. When I checked in for my flight to Cancun, I was asked for an onward ticket from Mexico, which I luckily had – my flight to Havana. Only that I couldn’t find the ticket confirmation anywhere in my emails! Had I not booked that flight? Maybe the payment hadn’t gone through and I had not noticed it because I booked five different flights that day? I was relieved that I noticed this before showing up at Cancun airport without a ticket, and booked a new ticket as soon as I noticed my mistake (at a higher rate, of course). When I got my bank statement at the end of the month, it showed that the payment did go through the first time I had booked it – I just never got a confirmation email or an itinerary sent to me.

So now I have two tickets to Cuba and am still fighting with Interjet about a refund, which they don’t want to give me, since it’s a non-refundable ticket. But I wouldn’t have booked the ticket had I gotten a confirmation the first time around! Not sure if I’ll ever get a refund, and I am not happy about Interjet’s customer service at all.

March 2017 travel
Trying to focus on the good things in life…

Other happenings 

No-Chocolate-March 

Let’s start with the good: The aftermath of no-coffee-February. I ended up dragging out my caffeine detox until 4 March, which is when I got to Cuenca. Being the coffee snob I am, I couldn’t find a single coffee shop in the beach town of Montañita, where I spent the first few days of March, that seemed like it offered a decent cup. After going without coffee for a month, I wanted my first cup to be amazing. It was quite ironic that I’d chosen the shortest month of the year to go without coffee, and then ended up dragging it out to 32 days. By the time I got to Cuenca, I was seriously considering giving up coffee completely. I ordered a tea with my breakfast. And then the waiter brought a coffee! Once the smell hit my nose, I told him it was fine, and that I’d drink the coffee. I took it as a sign that I wasn’t supposed to give up coffee. However, since doing the detox, I haven’t had as much coffee as I used to, so that’s a good thing.

No-Chocolate-March went pretty well until mid-month, since I wasn’t withdrawing from sugar or sweets completely, only from chocolate. There were a few tempting chocolate cakes, but other than that, I wasn’t really craving chocolate. Until PMS hit. I ended up having a hot chocolate in Otavalo, and another one in Colombia. And I may have had a chocolate bar and some chocolate wafers on a bus ride. So, this didn’t go too well, even though I’ve still not given into chocolate cake or bought a big chocolate bar. I can’t believe that it was easier for me to go a month without coffee and a month without booze than it is going for 31 days without chocolate!

March 2017 cake
There’s been quite a bit of cake in March… and yes, one of them includes chocolate.

Since I’ve got an extremely hard challenge coming up in May, I’m taking it easy in April. The challenge will be to read four books, or roughly one a week. This is how much I used to read before I started wasting hours on social media and WhatsApp and Snapchat, so I’m curious to see if I can drag myself away from my phone for long enough to complete four books – and I’ve already got my eyes set on the books I want to read (the Neapolitan novels by Elena Ferrante, which happen to be four books, and, since I’ll be visiting Cuba, I feel like I’ll have to read a Hemingway book I haven’t read yet that he wrote in Cuba. Recommendations??) This actually adds up to five books – talk about ambitious! However: the lack of wifi in Cuba and forced social media detox should help me accomplish my April challenge.

The perfect life-work-travel balance 

This month, something that I don’t think I’ve ever experienced since I started running Globetrottergirls by myself three years ago happened: I achieved the perfect life-travel-work balance. I made time for regular workouts (almost daily!), fit in a fair amount of sightseeing, got all my work done on time, had a social life and on top of that I even had time to read books and watch a couple of TV shows. I hadn’t watched anything on TV in nearly a year! It felt glorious, but I have a feeling this luxury of having plenty of time won’t last long – as soon as I get back to New York, life will be a lot busier again.
life and work March 2017

What’s next for me

April will see me travel in three countries: the Yucatán road trip with my friend Chrys, then Cuba with my BFF, and then it’s time to finally head back to New York where I haven’t spent any quality time since August – nearly eight months ago (with the exception of a couple of short visits), that’s too long. Cuba especially has me ridiculously excited – I can’t believe I’m finally going!
Mexico Road trip
Join my live Q&A on the Pepo app!

I am doing a live Q&A on Pepo on Sunday, 2 April from 10am EST to 2pm EST (2pm GMT, 3pm CET) and I would love to see you there! You can download the app here.

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Searching For My Inner Demons In The Colombian Jungle: A Date With Ayahuasca

ayahuasca vines

I held the little bamboo cup with both hands and quickly gulped down the thick, dark liquid. The bitter taste in my mouth was repellent, and I tried to wash it down with some water as soon as I sat back down on the wooden floor of the ceremonial hut in the Colombian Amazon.

“You should be feeling the effect of the ayahuasca in about twenty minutes,” the shaman named William told us in Spanish. “If you don’t feel anything then, I’ll give you some more.”

He then pointed to my left, where on one side of the hut, the wooden wall was only chest high, above that it was open until the ceiling, like a window, but without glass.

“You’re very likely to throw up when the ‘medicine’ begins to work. If you feel it coming, throw up out the window.”

He then turned his headlamp off, the only source of light in the hut, and the four of us were suddenly sitting in the pitch black dark, cross-legged, waiting for the ‘medicine’, as William called it, to work.colombia amazonAyahuasca. A plant that grows only in the Amazon and which, brewed into a tea, is famous for its ability to open a door to another reality, to access a part of your brain that is normally not used. In the countries where ayahuasca can be found – Peru, Brazil, Ecuador and Colombia – the plant has been used for centuries by shamans to cure sicknesses and to open your mind to another dimension.

The brew, for which the ayahuasca vine is combined with the DMT-containing chacruna leaves, is a very strong hallucinogenic. Because it contains DMT (a psychedelic tryptamine compound found in around 60 plants on the planet, and which is illegal in the U.S.) and is highly visionary for some people, ayahuasca has become somewhat of a cool way to ‘go on a trip’ over the past few years.

Now you don’t need to fly all the way to the Amazon to attend an ayahuasca ceremony – you can also experience it in an apartment in Brooklyn, San Francisco or Berlin. Indigenous people, however, regard the calling of ayahuasca as a drug derogatory.ayahuasca experience summed upI was not looking for some sort of hallucinogenic trip, having never experimented with DMT-containing drugs in my life and apart from a couple of times in my early 20s, I have never felt the urge to try drugs in general. When my friend asked me if I wanted to partake in an Ayahuasca ceremony, I was equally as intrigued as terrified. But the fact that I was intrigued and even considering it made me realize that something inside of me had shifted.

The first time I had heard about ayahuasca was when I had traveled in Peru in 2014, and back then, I found the whole thing just frightening. Never in my life would I do something like that, I thought to myself back then after reading a few first-hand experiences of other travelers and the short rundown of ayahuasca in my guidebook. Peru in particular is famous for its ayahuasca ceremonies, with people flying down from the States for weeklong ayahuasca cleanses. Because that’s what the brew, also called Yage, is supposed to do: cleanse you. Not your body, but your mind. From all the emotional baggage you are carrying, from traumatic experiences you can’t let go off, even from mental illnesses like depression.

I am certainly not suffering from depression, but as most of us, I’ve got a fair amount of emotional baggage. Several of the articles I read about ayahuasca mentioned that one night of ayahuasca would equal ten years of therapy – how could I not be intrigued? Other articles called ayahuasca a life changing experience, a way to overcome fears you believe impossible to overcome, a way to face your biggest demons.ayahuasca experienceIn one of the best articles on ayahuasca I’ve read, Kira Salek writes: ‘All those self-destructive beliefs, suppressed traumatic events, denied emotions. Little wonder that an ayahuasca vision can reveal itself as a kind of hell in which a person is forced – literally – to face his or her demons’.

While I was reading about it (I must have read every article on ayahuasca on the internet, and watched every documentary I could find on YouTube), I came across the statement that you shouldn’t be looking for ayahuasca, but that the medicine will find you when you are ready for it.

And that’s when I decided I would take part in the ceremony. I hadn’t been looking for it, but the opportunity presented itself to me. I was willing to do it, no matter how bad the demons were that I would be facing, no matter how deeply upsetting the experience could be.

Because you simply don’t know what the plant will reveal.

Some people said they were reliving moments from their childhood they had long forgotten about, some even said they were experiencing their own birth from the perspective of an onlooker. Where would my ayahuasca journey lead me?ayahuasca experience colombia daniThe first place it led me to was William’s hut in the middle of the jungle, somewhere outside of the small town of Leticia in the Colombian Amazon. My friend and I had taken a local bus for half an hour, asked to be dropped off on the side of the road where a small dirt path led into the jungle.We followed the muddy jungle path until the last houses disappeared out of our rear view, walking deeper and deeper into the jungle, the path narrowing more and more, and getting muddier the further we went. After nearly an hour, we finally reached William’s jungle home: a couple of wooden huts, a large circular structure with a thatched roof where the family cooks and works – like is common in this part of Colombia – and a covered area with a few hammocks where we would be sleeping after the ceremony.

William introduced himself, wearing regular clothes, including big rubber boots, and I couldn’t help but think: That’s not how I pictured a shaman. He told us to rest until he would come and get us for the ceremony later that night. There were four of us: a German (me), a Spaniard, an Italian and a French person. An international group, two girls and two boys, all four of us from different backgrounds and walks of life. The only thing we had in common was that we were looking for answers, and we were hoping that ayahuasca would give them to us.

While we were waiting for the sun to set, I turned into a bundle of nerves. I tried to ignore my rumbling tummy, because you are not supposed to eat anything 24 hours before drinking the brew, to ensure the ‘medicine’ would have its full effect. In addition, you are not supposed to have caffeine, dairy, gluten, sugar, meat, spicy food, alcohol and sex for a week before taking ayahuasca.amazonian skyI tried to calm myself: The plant had found me. I was supposed to be here. When I started my travels through Colombia I had no desire and no plans to visit the Amazon, and yet here I was, with someone I trusted, and I felt like we were supposed to cross paths just so that I would have this experience. I know how hokey pokey this must sound, because I am admittedly not a very spiritual person, but I really felt that the only reason I had boarded that plane to the Amazon – a spontaneous decision – was to participate in this ceremony.

These were also the thoughts that were running through my mind as I was sitting on the floor of William’s jungle hut later that night, waiting for the yage to kick in. ‘I am supposed to be here’, I kept telling myself, wondering what the plant would reveal for me. Would this be a life changing experience for me?

While we were all lost in our thoughts, William, who had changed into a more shamanic outfit with white pants and a white shirt before the ceremony, had started to sing shamanic chants accompanied by shaman rattles, mixed with shamanic drumming. These chants call upon healing spiritual powers, some of them are supposed to render the mind susceptible for visions, others are calling the plant spirits for healing, and others are calling the spirit animals for protection.leticia chickensThe music started to get louder and louder inside my head, and it now sounded as if there was was an entire village population playing instruments, and not just one person. I opened my eyes to see if there were other musicians in the room, but it was pitch black, I couldn’t see anything. I turned my head towards the open window, where I could make out the silhouettes of the trees and jungle plants, vaguely lit up by the moon.

A million things ran through my mind, and with every new thought I had I asked myself if I was thinking about this particular thing because of the ayahuasca or simply because I was sitting around waiting for something to happen.

All of a sudden, I felt sick to my stomach. At first, my hands were trembling, my lips were shaking, and then quickly, my entire body was shivering. I was freezing cold. This feeling was anything but pleasant. I was hoping that it would pass, but I couldn’t stop shivering. And then there it was: the urgent need to throw up. When it overcame me, I wasn’t sure if I would be able to make it over to the window, that’s how weak I felt. But somehow I stumbled over to the big hole in the wall, my hands reaching the ledge just in time before what can be described best as projectile vomiting began.colombia amazonI threw up vigorously, emptying my stomach out into the darkness of the jungle. I threw up over and over again, until there was nothing left inside of me.

The vomiting, politely referred to as purging in the world of ayahuasca, was part of the ceremony. I had read that this is supposed to clean your body completely, clean it from all the evil and bad and the toxins that has accumulated inside of it over the years. The thought of this being a cleanse was what kept me going through every puke spell, with tears running down my face, because that’s how fierce the throwing up was. There is only one thing in the world that tasted worse than ayahuasca, and that is ayahuasca thrown up.

I slowly made my way back to the middle of the room, but I was staggering so much that I decided I should instead lean on the back wall of the hut, giving my body additional support. I sat down, still shivering, still tasting the bitter taste of the ayahuasca in the back of my mouth. I was waiting for visions to start, to have some revelations, to take a journey into my sub-consciousness, or maybe re-live a traumatic childhood memory I had buried deep in the back of my mind.

But nothing happened.amazonian rainforest colombiaInstead, I kept feeling dead sick, and I started to wonder if I’d survive the long way back to the closest hospital, which was in Leticia. There were no rescue helicopters here that could get me there quickly. Nobody even knew where exactly I was. I pictured myself crawling on all fours through the jungle back to the main road, trying to get to a doctor. For a moment I was convinced I would not survive the night, and started to spend a lot of time thinking about my family and all of the things I felt I should have told them before leaving them behind.

All of a sudden, I heard the familiar sound of someone throwing up. It was now the Italian girl who was puking, but she seemed fine and sat back down quickly. After her, the French guy headed to the window. William asked the Italian boy if he was okay, since he was the only one who hadn’t thrown up yet. The shaman offered him another cup of the brew, but he declined. Nobody wanted a re-fill of this disgusting tasting drink.

William continued to chant and drum, and I continued to sit there and try to distract myself from feeling like I was dying. The feeling reminded me of how I felt when I was 21 and lived in Ibiza, and my friend fed me half an ecstasy pill on an empty stomach. That had been such a horrible trip that I had vowed to never take ecstasy again – something I’ve stuck to until this very day.path to shamans houseA little bit later, the Spaniard announced that he needed some air and that he would step outside for a bit. I remembered reading about a boy who had stripped off of his clothes during an ayahuasca ceremony and ran out into the jungle, completely naked, and gotten lost. We’ll probably never see the Italian again, I thought to myself, there are probably jaguars out there in the jungle, and poisonous snakes and spiders.

After what seemed like an eternity, the Italian guy still not having returned, the shaman announced he’d step outside as well to check in on the Italian.  The drumming and chanting stopped and the three of us were sitting in absolute silence. The sound of the jungle – crickets, birds, frogs and other animals – seemed to multiply ten-fold, just as the instruments and chanting had seemed to me earlier.

William returned after a while and announced that he had drunk a little too much of the medicine, asking if we could spare some water for him. That is exactly what you don’t want to hear while you’re on ayahuasca: that the person who is in charge of the ceremony is unwell. The shamans drink the brew as well in order to open their minds to a third dimension and to guide us on our spiritual journey, but their role is also to help us in case we encounter a particularly bad evil spirit, that we are unable to handle by ourselves.colombia amazonWilliam checked in on us occasionally, calling us by our names and asking if we were okay. The Spaniard returned to the hut, assuring the shaman he was fine. The Italian girl and the French boy were both quiet, I had no idea if they were experiencing any visions or felt the effect of the ‘medicine’.

I thought to myself that we had to be about halfway through the four-hour ceremony and decided to lay down on the floor, since I still felt terribly sick, almost like I was on a boat that was swaying from side to side. Instead of facing my inner demons or having a grand spiritual awakening, I was just lying on the dirty wooden floor, waiting for this misery to be over. This was not how I had pictured my encounter with ayahuasca.

Finally William announced it was time to conclude the ceremony. He came to each one of us individually, chanting and giving us blessings, thanking Mama ayahuasca for leading us through this journey.jungle colombiaAll four of us walked over to the hammocks, none of us talking. I tried to swallow my disappointment about the experience that had been so not what I had been expecting. I thought for sure that I would have a life-changing experience, battling demons, facing a long forgotten childhood trauma and coming out of it as a new, better, grown person.

As I was continuing my journey through the Colombian Amazon a few days later, I tried to get over the sadness about the non-occurring revelations and realizations by reminding myself that many people don’t have any visions during their first ayahuasca experience.

A few weeks later though, it suddenly hit me: Something that had weight heavily on my heart for a long time had disappeared. Before the ceremony, I regularly found myself thinking about a certain thing that gave me grief, but that I couldn’t do anything about it. But that day I noticed that I hadn’t thought about it for weeks. Maybe William had been right when he told me the morning after the ceremony: “Dani, you threw up so much, you had many demons inside your body. But you cleansed yourself entirely of them.”ayahuasca experience colombia

You want to try ayahuasca? Here are a few things you should know:

1 Do your research

Ayahuasca has become so trendy in recent years that it has caused a growing number of fake shamans who try to benefit from the increased interest in ayahuasca. If you visit Iquitos in the Peruvian Amazon, you’ll see posters and announcements for ayahuasca retreats throughout town. Make sure to research the shaman or retreat provider, ask other travelers for recommendations. There have been several incidents, including deaths, during ayahuasca ceremonies in the past few years – see below.

2 The dark side of ayahuasca

Be aware that an ayahuasca ceremony shouldn’t be treated lightly. It can be a deeply disturbing experience, but there are also many reports of sexual harassment by female solo travelers, so if anything feels off, get out of there as quickly as possible. I wouldn’t have done the ceremony by myself, I only did it because I was with someone who I trusted.colombia amazon

3 Further reading

Read up on ayahuasca before simply signing up for a ceremony, only because you can now do them in major cities in the U.S. and Europe. This is NOT some sort of drug trip but is supposed to be a spiritual, cleansing, and sometimes cathartic experience.

I recommend reading:

(There are plenty of other good articles in publications like the New York Times, The Guardian, Elle, Vice, Cosmopolitan, LA Weekly – read as much as you can.)

ayahuasca experience colombia

4 The Amazon vs. the U.S.

No matter if you live in Brooklyn, Berlin or San Francisco, chances are that you can experience an ayahuasca ceremony there instead of having to travel thousands of miles into the Amazonian jungle to find a shaman. However, after reading a couple of articles by people who partook in ceremonies in the U.S. (see above), I cannot imagine the experience in somebody’s apartment or a yoga studio would have the same impact as a ceremony at the source of the vine: in the Amazon. I personally think that if you are looking for a possibly life-changing, healing experience, you should look into ayahuasca retreats in the Amazon, ideally retreats over several days with various ceremonies, in case the ayahuasca doesn’t reveal its full effect immediately, like in my case.ayahuasca experience colombia

5 Keep your expectations low

Since my ceremony, I’ve met several people who didn’t have revelationary experiences like Kira Salak had during her retreats (see article Hell and Back). But since I had read about her incredibly powerful ayahuasca journey, as well as several other, similarly cathartic experiences, my expectations for the night were very high, and weren’t necessarily met. I recommend keeping your expectations low in order to avoid disappointment.ayahuasca experience

*** Side note: I took most of the photos on the morning after the ceremony and they turned out completely blurry, which perfectly sums up how I experienced my first ayahuasca ceremony: in a blurry haze.

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Life Lately & Upcoming Travels: February 2017 Edition

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In my monthly round-ups, I am looking back at my travels over the past four weeks, what went well and what didn’t, and what’s next for me.

Where I’ve Been

I can’t believe that this month had only 28 days – it feels like I’ve packed so much into February: Tel Aviv, Berlin, Erfurt, Cologne, New York, and in Ecuador I’ve already visited Quito, the Galápagos Islands, Guayaquil and Montañita, where I am right now. I took nine planes, starting the month in the Middle East and ending it in South America:

  1. Tel Aviv – Berlin
  2. Dusseldorf- Lisbon
  3. Lisbon – NYC
  4. NYC – Houston
  5. Houston – Quito
  6. Quito – Guayaquil
  7. Guayaquil- Baltra
  8. San Cristobal – Baltra
  9. Baltra – Guayaquil
February flights
Flying in February included the tiniest plane I’ve ever been on – and I got to play co-pilot!

What I’ve Been Up To

This month was a crazy travel month, and yet I managed to fit in a whole bunch of work as well and I’m not feeling completely exhausted, because I was taking things slow.

I wrapped up my Israel trip with a couple of days in Tel Aviv before a whirlwind 24 hours in Berlin to see some friends before leaving Germany. From there, I went to my hometown to say goodbye to my sister and my nephew and packed up everything I needed to get settled in New York City.

Flying to NYC from Düsseldorf meant I was able to spend some time with my friend Jo in Cologne, and then I had five days in New York to get a taste of an East Coast winter before escaping to South America. And what a taste I got: I arrived just before a massive blizzard hit New York, the biggest snowstorm I’ve ever experienced!February 2017 travels

That’s as much winter as I could take (I had decided not to bring my winter coat because I was going to leave for Latin America after a few short days in NYC!), and luckily I left for Ecuador after five days in the Big Apple – just enough time to catch up with friends, eat some of my favorite foods and treat myself to a cronut (no pizza though, major fail!).

This was the first time I entered the U.S. on my brand new green card, which I was pretty nervous about after the travel ban just a couple of weeks earlier. Who knew if a spontaneous decision to now temporarily ban ALL green card holders from entering the US would come into effect while I was in the air! But I was let in without any problems, and one of the immigration officers greeted me with a big smile and a ‘Welcome to America!’, but a grumpier officer pointed out that I was lucky to have gotten the green card when I did, mentioning that a bill terminating the Diversity Visa Program (Green Card Lottery) had already been presented to Congress.

Anyway, after reading way too many stories about immigrants being stranded somewhere, unable to return to their homes and families, all I could think while I was entering the U.S. without any issues: White Privilege. I haven’t felt that way in a long time.

February 2017 picturesArriving in Ecuador felt both terrifying and relieving. On the one hand, I was a bit anxious about traveling by myself for the first time in months, but on the other hand I was craving some alone time after being surrounded by people all the time since mid-December.

I started my travels through Ecuador in Quito, which admittedly, didn’t impress me much, and from there I flew down to Guayaquil, the country’s biggest port town, to start my bucket list trip: a four-day cruise through the Galápagos Islands. And the trip definitely lived up to my expectations – I can’t wait to tell you more about all the wildlife, the incredible scenery and life on a 16-passenger yacht.

After the cruise I spent a few days in Guayaquil to catch up on work, and yet again I have to say that the city didn’t wow me. The humidity and heat (even during the night it wouldn’t drop below 80°F) took a while to get used to, and I started craving a nice ocean breeze, which is why I decided to go to Montañita next, the country’s most popular surf town.
February 2017

Now on to the highlights and lowlights of the month:

Highlights

Cruising Around the Galapagos Islands

The Galapagos Islands have been on my travel wish list for as long as I can remember – as a wildlife and nature lover, this is a must-visit destination. However, the remoteness of the islands and the hefty price tags of the cruises make it difficult to visit the islands – so difficult that only 79,000 people visit the Galapagos every year! When I got the chance to hop on a four-day cruise (on a luxury yacht no less) I didn’t think twice. And the islands were everything I had dreamed they’d be: wildlife galore, and the best thing is that no matter if you’re underwater or on land, the animals don’t really care that you are there and aren’t bothered by you. This is how I ended up swimming with penguins and seals, sharks and turtles, manta rays and hundreds of colorful fish. On the islands, I got to hang out with giant tortoises, saw blue-footed boobies, frigate birds and pelicans, watched sea lions own the port towns as if they had been built for them. It was a fascinating experience that I won’t forget anytime soon.
Galapagos Islands
A Writer’s Retreat in the Ecuadorian Cordillera

When I said I was taking things slow this month, that’s mainly because I had to get a lot of writing done, which I can only do when I am settled in a tranquil place where I don’t have a lot of distractions. So when I stumbled upon a center for artists on AirBnb, nestled into the mountains near the beach town of Montañita, I thought it was perfect for a writer’s retreat. A little cabin with a desk, a hammock to swing in, but not much else, except for hikes to nearby villages. The place itself is gorgeous – only a few cabins, set in a lush green valley filled with fruit trees and coffee plants. It was the perfect getaway for a few days to get some writing done, including my monthly round-up.
Ecuador cabin getaway
Gorgeous Spring Days In Tel Aviv

Oh Tel Aviv! My love affair with Israel’s second city is still going strong and hasn’t faded one bit since my last visit. I started the month in Tel Aviv and was blessed with glorious weather which meant I could go on long beach runs, cycle along the coast line and simply wander the streets of the city. Having been to Tel Aviv twice before, I didn’t feel the pressure to do a whole bunch of sightseeing – instead, i revisited old favorites such as the Florentin neighborhood for street art, Carmel market to pick up some goodies to bring back to Germany, and Old Jaffa because the ancient port town is still one of my favorite parts of Tel Aviv.
Tel Aviv 2017
24 Hours in Berlin

I only had a mere 24 hours in Berlin – just enough to catch up with a few friends and to do some of my favorite things: go for a run in Tempelhof, the airport-turned-park in Neukölln, eat Vietnamese food (I always eat Vietnamese food when I’m in Berlin, it’s so good there!), and soak in the special Berlin aura – it just doesn’t feel like anywhere else in Germany.
berlin street art
A Snow day in New York

One thing I’d been worried about with regards to moving to New York more permanently? Winter. The long, harsh east coast winters. After having escaped winter for so many years, I asked myself if I could really survive an entire winter in New York, but I actually enjoyed my first ever real blizzard and a couple of snow days.

This might have been because of the novelty of it, but I am now less worried about going stir-crazy in the winter months. Of course I will try to continue to get away during the colder months, but once I’m more settled, I have to face that I might not be able to go on a three-month winter escape anymore – we’ll see.

Luckily I had picked up a warm vest in Cologne before boarding my flight after reading that NYC expected a major snowstorm – I would have died in my thin summer jacket.
New York Snow Day February 2017

Lowlights

Skyroam Fail

I wasn’t sure how I’d feel about being offline for four days on the Galápagos Islands, especially during a busy work month like I’m having this month. So I was happy I remembered my new Skyroam device, a hotspot you can use to connect to wifi in over 100 countries – only to find out that it’s not working in Ecuador!

galapagos beach dani
Do I really need Wi-Fi here?

What I discovered during my forced digital detox was that the world doesn’t end when I’m offline for a few days and that I should make it a point to disconnect more often. It felt good not to be glued to my phone the whole time! However, dealing with 250 emails upon my return to Wifi-land was quite overwhelming – and that was a small number because I was on the cruise over a weekend.

Losing Stuff

This has been an ongoing thread in my monthly round-ups: barely a month goes by without me losing anything. I was surprised I made it through January without losing anything or leaving anything on public transportation (like my laptop on a plane in December!). But this month, I managed to lose something important: I left a little bag in which I store my electronics in my Airbnb in Berlin and wasn’t able to recover it before flying to New York. This bag has everything from various charger cords to SD cards to my camera charger. I had to replace everything before my trip to Ecuador, but I hope that I can recover the bag when I get back to Germany – however, that won’t be any time soon.

manglaralto beach cocktail
Cheers to not losing anything else after that incident at the beginning of the month

Other Happenings

No Coffee February

No-Coffee-February was so much harder than No-Booze-January! I guess that shows me where my addictive tendencies really lie. On my first day without caffeine I got such a bad headache in the afternoon that I was already ready to give up. If you’ve ever experienced caffeine withdrawal headaches, you know what I am talking about. But I stuck with it and fought the craving for coffee, despite jet lag and tiredness. It got easier as the month went on, but whenever the smell of freshly roasted coffee hit my nose, I wanted a cup of coffee so bad. Since I don’t drink soda (Coke) and don’t drink black tea, I went nearly caffeine-free for the longest time since 2004, but I did drink green tea which still has caffeine, albeit much less than coffee.

Interestingly enough, I didn’t feel the urge to drink alcohol after staying off it all of January, which is a good thing, I guess. But the few times that I had a drink it usually made me feel terrible (headaches) and super sleepy.

I am now looking forward to my first cup of coffee, but being in a beach town means there is usually not a lot of good coffee around, and I am a coffee snob, which means I might even extend my coffee detox for a few more days.

hot chocolate and truffels
Enjoying hot chocolate and truffles – instead of coffee. Both will be off limits next month.

In March I’ll take it easier with a no-chocolate month, which shouldn’t be all that difficult considering most chocolate I’ve seen in Ecuador so far is cheap and made of more sugar than cacao, but then looking at this photo I might be a little too confident here.

Business Ups & Downs

After months of frustration over the company that hosts my website, who kept shutting my site down, I thought I had finally resolved these issues last fall. But this month, they shut my site down for over 24 hours, and that happened while I was in the middle of negotiating a new business contract. Of course it doesn’t look great when a client wants to work with you can’t access your site. And who knows what other opportunities I missed out on because of that.

On the upside, I did have my most lucrative month in a very long time thanks to two new contracts, one of which is an ongoing freelance gig. I hope it stays like this, but usually my income fluctuates a lot, so I am not overly confident.
tel aviv florentin street art life is complex
Features

I was featured in these two articles this month:

Connect with me on Pepo!

I’m still enjoying Pepo, a new chat app that I downloaded last month which connects you with people who share your passions – ranging from topics like food and street art to travel. I created a Globetrottergirls chat (boys are welcome to join, too ? ) in which I talk about travel, share favorite places and travel tips and answer your questions. You can also start a private chat with me on Pepo. I’d love to see you in my public chat and have you join the conversation.dani pepo

What’s Next For Me

I will be spending the entire month in Ecuador, and because the country is so tiny, it means I can take my time in each place and slowly make my way from Vilcabamba in the south to Otavalo in the north. I don’t have any plans in between, except for mountain biking down Cotopaxi Volcano and the ‘swing on the edge of the world’ in Baños, so if you have been to Ecuador and have tips for me for things I shouldn’t miss, let me know!
EcuadorIn April, I’ll be returning to Central America for the first time since 2012 – has it really been that long?! I’m in the process of putting together another dream trip for me and my favorite travel buddies, but I won’t tell you where I’m going until everything is set in stone, flights are booked and a route chosen.

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Life Lately & Upcoming Travels: January 2017 Edition

january 2017

In my monthly round-ups, I am looking back at my travels over the past four weeks, what went well and what didn’t, and what’s next for me.

Life lately

Phew, where do I even begin? Let’s start with the good news: I won the lottery! No, I didn’t win a million dollars, but I won a green card.. i.e. permanent residency, the right to live in the US. Did you know that you can win green cards? Chances are that if you are from the US, you aren’t aware of the fact that your country gives away 50,000 immigrant visas through a lottery. Or at least most Americans that I told I won a green card didn’t know that this was possible. And most foreigners I’ve met in the past few months who I told about my green card win had heard about it but didn’t think it really existed, they thought it was more of an urban legend. But yes, the US have an amazing initiative called The Diversity Visa Program, which was introduced in the early 1990s to attract immigrants from countries with low immigrant quotas. You can enter every year (it takes place in October, running all month), and it’s completely free of charge. The only requirement to qualify for the DV lottery visa? You must have a high school diploma or its equivalent; or within five years of applying, at least two years of work experience in an occupation requiring at least two years’ training or experience. Some countries – those that sent a total of more than 50,000 immigrants (those issued green cards) to the US – aren’t eligible to participate, but millions of people from all over the world enter the lottery every year hoping to make their ‘American Dream’ come true : to emigrate to ‘The Land Of Opportunity’.immigrant visaMost of you know that I have been tired of the nomadic life for a while now, and that I have been spending most of my time in the US over the past few years – but I didn’t have permanent residency, making it impossible for me to get a lease in my name, to get a bank account, a phone plan, a job. The only way for me to get permanent residency? Get married. Or win the green card lottery. And guess what. In 1016, I finally won, after years of trying my luck. I would finally be able to make my American dream come true.

Fast forward nine months to today, when after months of being screened and vetted, after months of waiting, fearing, hoping, I’ve finally got the permanent residency visa in my passport. I am officially an immigrant. In light of the recent political events with regards to immigration in the US, you can imagine that my dream, which I was wishing for years to come true, has taken an interesting turn. Trump’s America doesn’t necessarily feel like a welcoming space for immigrants at the moment, no matter if Muslim or non-Muslim, I don’t think there’s a single immigrant in the country who feels 100% safe now from another, potentially broader immigration ban. Am I, as an LGBT immigrant, safe in the US, now that several outspoken homophobes are in power? Do I have to worry about moving to a country that is going through a lot of changes that I couldn’t have foreseen when I entered the lottery and started the vetting process, changes that don’t support my beliefs.follow your dreamsOf course I won’t nix my longstanding plans to settle in the US because of these recent events, but you can imagine that I’ve found myself in an emotional turmoil ever since I received my passport and my immigration documents from the US consulate. Concerns and worries about the future that I’ve never felt like this before have been keeping me up at night, have been consuming my thoughts most of the month. I will write about the whole process of entering the lottery, winning and emigrating to America when I’m finally settled – granted I’m being allowed to enter the US.

I am going to leave it at this for now, because as you might have heard, all green card holders entering the US at the moment are being thoroughly questioned on their views about the current president and social media channels and other online profiles are checked.

Where I’ve been

January was my first proper month of winter in a long time – luckily I got to escape the cold for ten days, because I’m still not a big fan of snow or arctic weather. I spent 2/3 of the month in chilly Germany and 1/3 in Israel, where one of my favorite people in the world recently relocated to. The perfect excuse to head to Israel for the third time!January 2017While my travels in Germany were limited to my life changing trip to Frankfurt as well as a couple of trips to Leipzig, where my brother lives, and a couple of pit stops in Berlin, my itinerary in Israel was packed! I started my trip with a day trip to a stalactite cave in the mountains surrounding Jerusalem, and went north from there to visit the two artist colonies Rosh Pinna and Tsfad. While we were in the north, I also got to have a traditional Shabbat dinner with my friend’s family. A couple of rainy days forced us to cancel some of our plans, but we still managed to visit the Roman ruins of Caesaria before heading to Jerusalem where I visited the Old City and the Western Wall for the third time – I love this place and think I have to finally write about it. I’ve never said much about Jerusalem but it is such a unique, historically and religiously significant city with a special aura. I then got to return to the desert and the Dead Sea – a day later than planned, because of a rained out half-marathon, but more on that below. We spent the last couple of days in Tel Aviv, another third visit after falling in love with the city in 2014 and returning for a quick getaway in 2015. All in all, it was an amazing trip and I am glad that I was able to fit it in before my return to the other side of the world (more on that in What’s next).Israel 2017

Next: the highlights and lowlights of the month:

Highlights

Quality time with family and friends

When I got the notification that I had to come to Germany in the winter to finish my green card vetting process, I was everything but happy. I was supposed to be in Asia now, enjoying the tropical heat of Thailand or Vietnam. Instead, I was snowed in most of January. However, I realized two things this month: I am dealing with winter much better than I thought I would, and I am dealing with winter much better than most of my friends who have to go through this every year. I was able to skip most winters since 2010, or at least escape for a few months. However, I seemed to be the only one who didn’t let the weather stop me from daily runs (yes, that’s my hair FROZEN after a 12k run in the picture below), from being out and about, and NOT being cold all month (thanks to my new winter coat, my first one in eight years!).germany winterThe other great thing about being stuck in Germany while waiting to get my passport back? Catching up with old friends and spending quality time with my family. Now that the green card will allow me to settle more permanently, I will probably not be able to take any extended trips to Germany anymore, unlike in the past few years, when I’ve seen my nephew and nieces twice a year and always spent at least a month in my home country. I treasured every moment I had with my siblings and the kids, and am grateful that my location independent lifestyle has allowed me to be such a big part of their lives.family time

A spa day at the Dead Sea

The Dead Sea is one of the most fascinating places I’ve ever visited – not only the lowest point on earth, but also one of the saltiest bodies of water. I’ll never forget the strange feeling of floating in the salty water for the first time in 2014. The desert scenery surrounding the Dead Sea, albeit being barren and lifeless, is magnificent in its own way. When I found out about a marathon along the Dead Sea, I thought to myself: running a race here would be so special! And when it just so happened that my trip to Israel aligned with the 2017 race date of the Ein Gedi Desert race along the Dead Sea, I didn’t have to think long. Sign me up, please! This was supposed to be the highlight of my trip – sadly it turned out to be a lowlight, see below – but nonetheless we went ahead with the spa day that we had planned post-race in one of the spa hotels on the shores of the Dead Sea, which is famous for its minerals and salts (of course). I didn’t think it’d be warm enough to float in the water at this time of year, but I took a chilly dip and it felt just as bizarre as it did the first time around. Unforgettable!Dead Sea spa day

Lowlights

A rained-out half marathon

As I said above – this was supposed to be the highlight of the month: running my first destination race, the Ein Gedi half marathon. Right upon arrival in Israel I was told that a big storm was moving towards Israel and that the race might be canceled. And sure enough, a couple of days before race day, the dreaded email arrived in my inbox: the Ein Gedi Run 2017 had to be canceled for fears of heavy rains and subsequent flash floodings – this was not only the desert after all, but the lowest point on the planet. And sure enough, the photos that I later saw of the road I was supposed to run on looked horrific. I can’t believe how quickly the storm passed – we had our Dead Sea spa day a day later and the weather couldn’t have been better. I was also bummed out that I had trained so hard all month for nothing, braving the snow and icy temperatures, but in hindsight I can honestly say that I wouldn’t have gone running this month hadn’t it been for this race which I needed to train for. And it changed my mind about running in the winter – I was always too much of a wuss to do it, but now I know I can do it and I wasn’t even miserable.desert flood

Anxiety

I’ve already touched on this briefly above: This month I’ve experienced anxiety for the first time ever. After Inauguration Day, I started having this tense feeling in my chest, which hasn’t left since. I cried when the news of the green card holders ban broke. I’ve simply been feeling deflated by the current situation in the US, and had not pictured my move there to take place under the current circumstances.dani israel fence

Other happenings

20,000 Instagram Followers

For most ‘digital influencers’, 20k followers is a small number, but I have been working hard to reach this major milestone: reaching 20k followers on Instagram, my absolute favorite social media channel (looking at pretty pictures helps me take my mind off political stuff, work-related stress and distastrous news). Since most brands don’t even work with influencers who have less than 20k followers, this was also a big step for me towards becoming more profitable.

instagram

2017: The year of challenging myself

After a quite boozy December, I made an on-the-whim decision to quit alcohol for all of January. I usually don’t drink much, but I noticed that in December, I drank nearly every day. In Berlin, my friend and I went to cocktail bars and drank mulled wine at the Christmas markets every day, I went on a wine-themed trip to Sonoma County, I spent a weekend craft beer tasting in L.A. So I decided it was time for an alcohol cleanse, which I’d never done before but which turned out surprisingly easy. There were a couple of awkward social situations, but I generally avoided them by meeting people for breakfast or over coffee instead. Of course I felt I needed a drink on Inauguration Day, not gonna lie 😉

Since this challenge was fairly easy, I decided to continue to challenge myself this year, mainly giving up my main vices for a month each, but also to do a few things I wouldn’t usually do (quit sugar, go vegan, 30 days of daily runs, maybe even 30 days of yoga). And next month, I am really challenging myself: February is the month of no coffee. Which happens to be my biggest and most beloved vice… so we’ll see how that goes.

dani jaffa coffee
Enjoying a coffee while I still can..

New haircut

dani haircut 2017It had been nearly a year since my last visit to a hairdresser (last February in Santa Marta, Colombia) but my reader Sarah already told me a few months ago that it was time for a new haircut. Sarah, this one’s for you: I finally went to the hair dresser (of course I only ever looked like in the picture right after he blow dried my hair.)

The invite to speak at Women’s Travel Fest

I always want to take my business to the next level, add new skills to my portfolio, challenge myself to things I haven’t done yet. One of these things is public speaking. I had to drop out of a panel at the New York Times Travel Show last year, anWomen's Travel Festd haven’t pursued any other public speaking gigs since, but I’ve been asked to speak at the Women’s Travel Fest in New Orleans next month which isn’t only a huge honor but also the perfect fit for me. The Women’s Travel Fest is one of the best travel summits in North America to attend for women, and if travel is your passion and you don’t have any plans yet for the first weekend in March (3-5 March), I highly recommend you buy a ticket! Maybe see you there? I have to admit that at the time of writing this I’m not 100% sure if I can attend since I will be in South America then (see below: What’s next for me), but I’m trying everything I can to join the inspiring and impressive range of speakers and panelists (check them out here). It is a great opportunity to connect with like-minded female travelers, to learn about female solo travel, get inspired for your next trip, maybe even a long-term adventure by yourself. (If you attend the conference, please let me know – I love meeting readers!)

Connect with me on Pepo!

This month, I’ve joined Pepo, a new chat app that connects you with people who share your passions. I created a Globetrottergirls chat (boys are welcome to join, too 😉 ) in which I talk travel, share travel tips and answer your question. You can also start a private chat with me on Pepo, but I’d love to see you in my public chat and have you join the conversation. By the way – Pepo is not just for travelers, there are chats for all kinds of passions: food, street art, LGBT chats, and more.dani pepo

What’s next for me: Upcoming Travels

I’ll return to Germany for a few short days at the beginning of February, but just long enough to pack up my stuff before heading to New York City. I won’t be spending much time there either, just long enough to celebrate my new immigrant status, because South America is calling! Ecuador, to be precise, the only country in South America that I haven’t made it to yet (other than Venezuela, Guyana, Suriname and French-Guiana) but which I’ve been intrigued by for a long time. In fact, it was a close tie last winter between Colombia and Ecuador, and after lots of hemming and hawing I chose Colombia, which turned out to be an epic adventure. I hope that Ecuador will be equally as enthralling, and I’m off to a good start: I will be visiting the Galápagos Islands, a dream trip for me! I can’t tell you how excited I am to tick these fascinating Islands off of my bucket list. I will be cruising around the islands with Galapagos Luxury Charters, which is something beyond my wildest dreams. I can’t wait to share photos of the experience and just ordered a bunch of new camera gear to be able to photograph all the wildlife and do some underwater filming (I had to after watching this video by my friends the Nomadic Boys).

My next round-up will be coming from Ecuador – expect lots of seal and turtle photos!dead sea dani jump

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