FOR THE LOVE OF TRAVEL
For the past few years I put so much of my heart into traveling. I lived and breathed travel; I thought and I talked about it with so much fervor, similar to an eternal devotion for a loved one. I let go of a full-time cushy position at work, with benefits to die for, in exchange for a long-term travel experience.
From my mid-20’s until after I turned 30, I focused on visiting countries I’ve always dreamed of going to, landed in other countries I never once thought of setting foot in, coming up with itineraries for the next adventure somewhere halfway around the world, being fluent in Spanish, blog all about my adventures, and really delve deep into medical missions abroad. I traveled all over South and Central America, Europe, to Africa, the Middle East, Asia, and all the way down under in Australia and New Zealand.
At first people thought I caught the inevitable travel bug since I was finally able to afford international travels on my own dime, and it would eventually pass. Yet I couldn’t slow down. I felt unstoppable. I kept going and going and going. 40+ countries, 6 continents in and I saw no end to it. I even tattooed a map of the world on my arm!
What started out as a strong curiosity to travel and see more of the world ultimately led to one of my biggest passions. It consumed me, in a good way. Every paid vacation from work, I was always working on a trip somewhere halfway around the world.
I discovered both the good and the not-so-great things with solo travel, of staying in hostels, the ease of renting apartments in other countries, of meeting and traveling with strangers who have become lifelong friends, tackling countless Metro’s and other public transportations in remote areas, crossing cultural barriers, learning how to drive a manual car, mastering the art of booking cheap, last-minute flights, and speaking & thinking in Spanish.
One of my personal goals was to improve my Spanish language skills to a level where I no longer needed someone to translate for me when I was on medical missions abroad in Latin America. When I found myself dreaming in Spanish in my apartment in Granada in the south of Spain one day, two months after I have been living there, I knew I finally crossed the language barrier, and that… that is a profound feeling!
CHANGE IS INEVITABLE, ALL THE TIME
In the summer of 2014 something shifted. As soon as my travel assignment in California ended, I flew straight to Italy to celebrate my friend Alex’s birthday in the beautiful hills of Perugia, in possibly one of the most beautiful villas we have ever stayed in.
We had such a blast drinking way too much Prosecco, fitness by the pool led by one of Alex’s friends, Donny the Zumba instructor, being the ultimate tourists in Venice, Florence, and Rome (again!), and meeting hot Italian men who were more than happy to show us around their cities.
As soon as most of the group left Italy, I surprised myself at the fact that I was very anxious to go back home as well. Since I only booked a one-way flight to Italy (true to Antoinette travel fashion), I started looking for flights back to New York sooner than expected. I was a little shocked with my own freak-out moment.
I mean, really, it wasn’t like I had to hurry back to a job. I had no full-time employment at that time, and my next travel assignment wasn’t starting for another month and a half. I was more than free to roam around the world for another four weeks as I pleased. Any other time I would have been thrilled.
‘What is going on here? Why do I feel like this?‘
ALLOW ME TO SIDETRACK FOR A SECOND HERE, BUT HOLD ON TO THAT ITALY THOUGHT:
To be fair with my emotions, I recognized this same inkling of a feeling back when I was in Nice during the summer of 2013. I had just arrived in Côte d’Azure after a long train ride crossing the French border from Cinque Terre in northern Italy and I was feeling restless and anxious.
After dropping off my stuff at the hostel, I walked around the city toward the beach. I eventually came across a thick crowd surrounding a random guy playing the grand piano in the middle of the promenade. How he got a grand piano out there, I have no idea. He knew how to draw an audience. He knew he was good. I stopped, sat down, got comfortable, and listened to him play for over an hour as the sun was setting. I have always loved listening to piano music and at that exact moment, I was amazed at how my inner yearnings were answered. It calmed down that anxiety.
The guy who had been sitting next to me eventually shared his backpack full of beer [and photography equipment] while we sat mostly in silence, listening. I later found out he was an AFP (some French news press) journalist, family mostly from South America but was born in Paris. He had just flown in from Algeria and was on his way to Marseille the next day to visit his brother. We talked a lot about our travels, his mostly in remote areas in Africa and Afghanistan for work, mine for curiosity and chasing passion.
“It gets lonely sometimes, for sure, but many times I choose to be by myself. I am always running into ozer correspondents I’ve met from ozer assignments, and we have food, drinks, catch up on each ozers’ assignments. In Afghanistan, it was harder to have access to alcohol, but here in France, a bag full of beer always helps.”, he joked with me in his thick French accent after I asked him how he copes being by himself abroad many times.
“Ah huh…”, I replied out loud. ‘He keeps talking about alcohol, is this guy forreal a journalist?‘, I thought to myself.
“You know, only a person who is feeling lonely asks zat kind of question.”
I was shocked he recognized it right away. He knew what I was feeling – anxious and restless, feeling lonely arriving in a new city not knowing a single soul. You would think after traveling to so many countries it would eventually go away.
I admired how easily and confidently he owned up to that feeling, yet there I was trying to deny it. Me? Lonely?
Pfffttt… for sure!
I didn’t like the fact and it truly bothered me that feelings of loneliness crept up while I was in one of the most beautiful, most romantic cities in the south of France wishing Eugene or my best friends were with me. I felt sad, missing him and my friends so much, but I did not want to go home. I didn’t miss home. I just so wanted to share the beautiful experience with him or with close friends who I deeply care about.
I remember thinking to myself as I walked back to my hostel that night after Stephane, Angela (another solo traveler from Hong Kong we met), and I split up that, owning up to everything else I was feeling and doing: I chose to travel solo. I chose not to sit at home and not travel just because no one else could come with me. I chose to go, regardless.
That was how strong my curiosity was to see the world; that was how much I loved travel. I knew myself enough that if I wanted something so bad, I always put 100% of me in it. I knew I could always go home, but where I was in my life, it was not even an option I considered.
Owning up to feeling lonely, it somehow always went away the minute I stopped worrying about it, and although there was never a guarantee it wouldn’t come back, it didn’t last, and to this day, it still doesn’t last.
Contrary to what you just read, I do enjoy my own company. How else could one just pick up and leave familiar surroundings and head over halfway around the world not knowing a single soul? I love and deeply enjoy small social gatherings with close friends and family, but I’m also very comfortable in my own solitude, doing things on my own or by myself, where I can carefully gather my thoughts and recharge the social energy. Over the years, this has helped me appreciate welcomed company, giving them undivided attention during interactions, sans the phone in hand.
IS LONELINESS SO BAD?
I once wrote something in my journal around the time I was in California about “loneliness rearing its ugly head, once again“. I stopped for a second and stared at the ‘loneliness’ word I had just written down. ‘What if I don’t put too much meaning behind that specific word? What if I don’t associate it with something along the lines of ‘ugly’. What if I just let it be, sit with it, don’t ignore it, but don’t take it so seriously. In our society, loneliness is often looked upon as such a negative thing that many people do not even know how to work with it, including me.
You’re feeling lonely? Blasphemy!
Correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe loneliness is one of the most common feelings every single person feels in this world that everyone tries so hard to get rid of, just as much as every single person is fiercely trying to obtain happiness at all costs.
Nope. Loneliness is not so bad, actually.
THAT LOVE OF TRAVEL
When you love travel deeply the way I do, as with any other thing, hobby, or person you love so much in this world, you begin to realize, especially when you’re traveling solo, that there is always that constant ebb and flow of emotions.
For a few moments, you may feel lonely, and believe me it gets very lonely, even unsure and scared of being in a new city or country all by your lonesome. Yet, after immersing your self in this brand new culture, exploring different neighborhoods, tackling public transportation, and devouring different kinds of food and flavor, for many more moments you feel so elated to be in some of the most beautiful places halfway around the world you forget you’re by yourself.
Excitement begins to take over. It happens so fast, you don’t even realize loneliness has already left you alone. Walking around in a brand new city, in a brand new place, for me, is one of the most exhilarating things in the world.
Perhaps you meet the most divine, funniest, or most interesting person you form a bond with instantly in 2-seconds flat you end up traveling together for weeks across South Africa, get invited to a Sunday family barbecue in Buenos Aires, sit down and talk to a family hanging outside in their courtyard in Tel Aviv, or you get to know more of your own self far better than you ever thought you did if you never ventured out on your own.
I can highly attest to the fact that it is worth all the loneliness, all the sacrifice.
It is worth getting lost.
It is worth missing flights because you didn’t get your Yellow Fever vaccination (don’t make the same mistake I did!), or getting sick and going from one pharmacy to another looking for a specific medicine.
It is worth it arriving in a city in the south of Spain not knowing a single soul, living in a hostel while looking for an apartment and going to Spanish school, making local friends, navigating the European health care system in order to obtain vaccinations and medicine at http://quotecorner.com/medication.html for Africa, and leaving that same place months later realizing you are now practically almost fluent in Spanish.
It is worth it going on medical missions where nothing fancy or advanced is readily available when your patient is going into cardiac arrest, and at rare times eventually death, and we have to learn to trust each other and work tirelessly with the local medical team to save children’s lives.
While many people love to criticize our American health care system, going on these medical missions abroad has opened my mind and my heart to appreciate my career as a nurse and our healthcare system in America even more.
It is worth it looking and feeling like a fool for not knowing another language or not knowing where to go or how to get there in the first place.
It is worth hiking for over seven hours with a heavy backpack in Patagonia exhausted to death, your legs and feet feeling like they’re about to give away, to see a view so stunning it literally brings you to tears.
It is worth it getting on a “chicken bus” and being the only foreigner in the middle of nowhere in Guatemala, reggaeton music blasting, with intense anxiety as you hope and pray to arrive at the right place safe and sound in order to meet other travelers. And I did, in Rio Dulce, which has unexpectedly become one of my favorite towns in Guatemala.
Most importantly, it is so worth it opening your mind and your heart out to a constant uncertainty yet knowing and trusting yourself that you are going to be okay. It is all worth it.
“If I’m feeling lonely, I always ask my self what I want to do about it. 99% of ze time, I never want to sit and do nozing, so I go out, drink some beer or wine, read a book, go swimming, Skype wiz my wife and son, or talk to people. Look, I’m talking to you!”, Stéphane continued.
My friends always say that I have such a strong ability to talk, ask random questions, or strike up a conversation with anyone, even a wall if need be, hence that conversation with Stéphane. While I do admit this is true, I wasn’t always like that.
I developed social anxiety when we first moved to America from the Philippines. I wasn’t used to a culture where people were so direct and in-your-face about anything – opinions, feelings, rage, and all. Not to mention the language barrier; I came from a much more reserved culture. Though I spoke, learned, and understood English in school in Cebu, it’s entirely different and challenging when I all of a sudden had to utilize a different language in my daily life, from the minute I walked out the door.
Traveling all those years definitely helped shape me into that kind of person, shedding that awkwardness, lifting up my self-confidence with social interactions. People I meet and hang out with abroad are never glued to their phone screens the way Americans and Asians are. If anything I’m probably the one who always has my phone out since I stopped bringing a point-and-shoot camera and I have stuck with my phone camera all those times.
However my desire to interact and have long, meaningful conversations has never subsided. It’s one of the many things I highly appreciate and enjoy here at home and while traveling.
I had only planned to stay in Nice for five days. I was only going to check out the city, go sunbathing, and head straight to Spain after to start Spanish school.
I ended up staying for over two weeks and met up with Oscar and Alex while they visited for a few days. I also met Uliana and Aurélie, two other travelers the day I arrived and we instantly became inseparable, exploring the surrounding areas of Nice from Monaco to Menton, and Grasse to St. Tropez. Not to mention daily sunbathing in their rocky beaches that I had quite a hard time getting used to. Rock indents on our backs? – no big deal, we were busy basking in the beauty and charm of the south of France and believe me, it didn’t matter.
Two months later, Uliana and I met up once again while Eugene and I were briefly in Paris after my 30th birthday.
OKAY, BACK TO ITALY!
So that’s how it was with Italy my second time around. I flew in to join a group of over 15 people total in one big villa in Perugia and we all eventually traveled to Venice, Florence, and Rome before all going in different directions.
This time I was traveling with some of my closest friends and we just had way too much fun! I haven’t traveled with friends since the year before when a few of us went to Guatemala after a medical mission in El Salvador. While I have always managed to find camaraderie among other travelers, it’s always different with your closest friends from back home. It just downright feels good in a comfortable, familiar way.
That anxiety over feelings of loneliness crept up again as everyone took their flights to different corners of the globe and I decided to stay longer in Europe. This time around, to calm the anxiety that emerged inside as I was already missing everyone and our daily Prosecco and Aperol Spritz intake, and all the laughter that ensued, I did more than just listen to piano music and talk to a journalist.
I sat with that feeling of loneliness and anxiety calmly, looked them in the eye: ‘I’m going to the Amalfi Coast. I know you might follow, but you can’t play. I know you’re here now but I won’t miss you when you’re gone.’
I took the high-speed TrenItalia from Rome to Napoli, got on the sketchy-looking Circumvesuviana train from Napoli towards Sorrento, and took the dangerously exhilarating SITA bus ride to the Amalfi town. (If you ever take this same route I did, sit on the right side of the bus to see some of the most sublime views of the coast. You won’t be disappointed.)
For several days I was able to unwind, relax my mind, sunbathe under the ferocious sun and swim in the sparkling Tyrrhenian Sea, eat delicious seafood, met Nadine, another solo female traveler on a quick getaway from London, went to a beach party a waiter invited me to in Ravello on my last night, and caught up on some much-needed rest.
I could not have asked for a better way to end my trip to Italy!
Out of the two times I have been to that country, those days in the Amalfi were probably some of my best ones yet. The beaches, the food, the small towns up the hills mixed in both luxury and simplicity, and the winding coastal roads – it was all stupendous!
I still thank my self to this day that I pulled through. I didn’t take an earlier flight and did not allow the fear of loneliness to eat me up inside. The Amalfi Coast was too beautiful! I fell in love easily.
GUESS WHAT? I’M EXHAUSTED
However, there was another factor I faced the second time around in Italy. While I was feeling anxious because of the loneliness that hit me again, another thing emerged rather unexpectedly: anxiety from exhaustion. I have learned my way around loneliness, and while I still was not too comfortable with it, I’ve learned to sit with it and accept it like blizzards in the winter season. It’s inevitable.
The latter hit me pretty bad: I was exhausted. I grew tired of packing, unpacking, repacking, and losing sleep in between. I felt weary, emotionally and physically, and for the first time in a long time, I wanted to stay put in one place. My heart and everything else inside yearned to be back home.
C’mon, one more country; one more state!, something inside was urging me.
I couldn’t do it.
I was supposed to finally travel to Slovenia after Italy, work my way to Austria after, and fly out of Germany, yet I couldn’t even bring myself to start looking for accommodations, let alone transportation options for Slovenia. I cancelled the first two countries and flew straight to Germany instead – in Göttingen – to celebrate with Vincenzo and Gennaro, two Italian friends whom I met in Spain while learning Spanish who finally completed their PhD’s.
Despite a small town, Göttingen proved to be much more charming than I expected, partly due to the fact that it was a university town with young energy vibrating throughout, but also because reuniting with my friends made it even better. Oh, let me not forget the 2Euro German beers – Prost!
From there I took a non-stop flight from Dusseldorf to JFK, and called my travel nurse recruiter right away to cancel my next travel assignment lined up. She was just as disappointed as I was but I had already made up my mind: I was staying in New York.
I didn’t know for how long, but that was where I wanted to be. I dove right into the familiarity and comforts of home – friends, family, busy streets, hot, crowded subway rides, favorite coffee shops and restaurants, late-night summer strolls downtown, happy hours, free movies at the park, rollerblading in Central Park and on the West Side highway, and even those chaotic days at work: short staff, cardiac arrests, ECMO cannulations!
I needed them. All of them.
AVOIDING NEW YORK, HELLO CALIFORNIA!
One of the reasons why I had been avoiding New York was the fact that one big factor in my life changed dramatically – the end of a long-term relationship. The way I was gallivanting around the world solo, no one would have thought my relationship would last, but against all odds it did. I never really admitted this to Eugene but I have always felt bad, somewhat guilty, for loving travel so much, but most importantly I have always been so grateful that he has always understood.
Honestly, I didn’t know how to face New York with all the confusion and heartache suffocating me inside. I wish I can say I walked away unscathed but I didn’t even know how to deal with my feelings.
Actually, I didn’t want to deal with my feelings. I couldn’t feel or see the depths of my emotions, and I felt, perhaps at that time, it was better I didn’t as I did not know how to come to terms with what I was going through. Going to California was the only thing I thought would help me cope with it all.
California was and still is a blessing in disguise. I still talk about it a lot to this day because I truly enjoyed myself there despite what I was going through emotionally. I loved the surrounding areas, I loved that everyone’s so outdoorsy and active. I loved going out for a hike in the nearby mountain trails, and then head down to the beach for fish tacos in the late afternoon just in time to watch the surfers and the sunset.
The weather was gorgeous 95% of the time and the plenty of people I met in such a short time were quite interesting and so much fun to be with. Although I didn’t like the hospital I worked in, some of the amazing nurses, respiratory therapists, and doctors I met and got to know made up for it.
The downside to my California bliss was that I harbored such strong, painful emotions inside, that behind closed doors I found myself crying a lot in despair, in confusion. I beat myself up so bad for my own mistakes.
Feelings of regret, resentment, and anger came charging at me like a raging bull any given time of the day. If and when I felt okay, I pushed myself so hard to have fun, to keep on plastering that smile, to keep myself busy and distracted just so I wouldn’t crack and fall apart inside. Every single day felt like a fight.
It was unfortunate I had to experience California that way. It was unfortunate that I came with a stumbled heart. I fell apart in the West Coast, of all places. That so-called coping mechanism I have always counted on, the whole ignoring my feelings, ignoring the pain, the heartache hoping it would all go away. Well, it sure got comfortable in my luggage and followed me to the sunshine, happy state.
I sat one evening outside by the pool and practically drowned in all those emotions I tried to ignore.
Welcome to the human experience, Antoinette! Pull up a seat.
As miserable as I was on the inside, my time in California was limited so I allowed only about 2.2 seconds of a pity party each day, and gradually to half a second on the last three weeks.
Who was I kidding? Brokenhearted and in despair, yes, but so what? I was not going to mope around the house, blow some candles, and throw confetti in my own pity party.
I was determined to have fun, and I did. My friends and I got to bike across the Golden Gate bridge towards the gorgeous town of Sausalito and wine tasted our way through Napa Valley which were parts of my California-to-do list. I tried new restaurants, explored surrounding cities, danced the night away, and attended outdoor yoga events. I even went to a San Francisco Giants game and enjoyed the food more than the actual game (as many people know, I find baseball to be such a boring sport).
Surprisingly, I also rekindled an old friendship with one of my closest friends from New York growing up, and we ended up going on a road trip to Big Sur together with her brother in law. I hiked in Lake Tahoe with my friend Natalia from Colombia who got to experience snow for the first time.
My travel nurses crew sunbathed while people-watching in Dolores Park on lazy Sunday afternoons until the sun started setting. I even went on dates. The most memorable ones: a hiking and overnight camping trip to Yosemite and a beach day in Monterey and the Carmel Highlands. Those guys definitely knew how to impress a New Yorker!
IT’S TIME TO FACE THE MUSIC
“Why don’t you come home after your contract?”, my mom asked me one day while I was on the phone with her, tears streaming down my California-tanned face.
Mothers always know best. I have been yearning to go back home to New York and stay for more than three months, but I was being so hard on myself. I felt defeated by even entertaining the thought of going home.
’Seriously? You’re going to let this get to you?’
‘You’re better than this. You’re a strong woman, for God’s sake. Toughen up!‘
‘C’mon, you’re a bonafide traveler, how could you want to go back home to New York already?‘
The more those voices kept coming up, the more I wanted to rebel against myself. Despite the insanely generous salary the hospital offered me in California to go on as a full-time staff, I graciously declined. At that moment, what I really needed was a peace of mind, a giant dose of New York city comfort, laughter with my closest friends and family, and shoulders to lean and cry on in only the best place I knew where to be with a broken heart – home sweet home.
STAYING PUT IN THE CITY
Coming back home in the summer time after flying in from Italy and Germany was off to a good start – watching the exciting World Cup matches in different venues around the city, participating in The Color Run, joining a rollerblading club, finally visiting museums I have never been to, live shows and free concerts (Beyonce & Jay-z!), and catching up with everyone, even friends who came in from out of town.
I went on a week-long open-heart medical mission with Heart Trust to the Dominican Republic a couple of weeks after I came back. A few of us from the team were able to squeeze in a weekend at possibly one of the most beautiful resorts I have ever been to in the Caribbean – Sublime Samana – and we indulged in sleep, relaxation, good food, World Cup matches, sun, the beach, and gorgeous sunsets.
For the first time in three years or so, I stayed in New York for more than three months.
I didn’t have travel plans set in stone and I got too busy at work and being back in school. Since 2011 I have also made it a point to celebrate my birthday in a different country each time, from Turkey, El Salvador, and in San Sebastian in the Basque Country.
Last year, I celebrated my birthday in the city quietly for an entire weekend over dinners, cocktails, and brunch surrounded by my closest friends and family, which I haven’t done since 2010. I did get birthday treated to a live futbol match at the Metlife Stadium with Brazil vs Ecuador. Does that count as an international birthday celebration? Haha!
A few months ago for 2015, wait for it…. I spent my birthday AT WORK! Hah ha ha hah! Between flying out to Michigan for my best friend Nadine’s wedding and a medical mission to Chiapas, Mexico and play time in Tulum after, I needed to stagger working days together to get at least three weeks off between September and October. Sacrificing my birthday for the sake of travel. It’s what I had to do.
IT WAS PAINFUL BEING BACK IN NEW YORK
I still didn’t feel my best when I resumed life back in New York. I felt better, for sure, but anxiety and restlessness stuck around. It hurt just being in the city with all its past reminders of people, places, and things. Anger, pain, and sadness danced around me in piercing silence, one often chasing the other away. But there was always one of them that remained, sitting obediently with me in that silence.
Work proved to be one of the best distractions I could think of. The sicker my patient was, the busier I was, leaving little or no time for useless thoughts and suffering. Bring on the ECMO patient! So did all the crazy shenanigans with friends.
I remember re-reading Eat, Pray, Love within two days and laughing to myself how backwards I handled my situation – I should have taken that sabbatical when my boyfriend and I broke up so I can heal my heart and my soul in some of the most beautiful places on earth.
Perhaps carry on a love affair with some Italian guy while trying to learn Italian, meditate in some ashram in India, or meet the man of my dreams in the rice fields of Bali. I mean, clearly Elizabeth Gilbert can’t be the only lucky one (I adore her and all her literary works, by the way).
I, on the other hand, surrendered to my emotions the only way I knew how, which was to run to the comforts and familiarity of New York, and quite honestly, I wouldn’t have it any other way. Where I was at that time, If I continued on with my travels, anxiety would have caught up to me faster than a speeding bullet.
OH DARLING, I DIDN’T GIVE UP ON TRAVEL
Just because your girl was brokenhearted and went back home didn’t mean she had to give up travel! Nope.
So where have I been since I’ve been back home? Well for starters I’ve explored more of the city’s backyard – meaning upstate New York for the fall foliage and hiking. Those stunning views of the Hudson, the hundreds of trails and swimming holes, and cozy cabins – I can’t believe it took me this long to explore more of upstate New York, aside from all those weekend snowboarding trips up in the freezing slopes.
I finally visited Bolivia in November of 2014 after a medical mission trip to Lima (with a stomach virus, might I add) flying into La Paz first and then then spent a few days on an organized tour of 7 people total plus the driver on the Salar de Uyuni and the surrounding areas. I can’t begin to tell you how much of a wonderful time I had in such a beautiful country! Best of all, everything was super cheap! South American countries never fail to capture my heart, through and through!
TRAVELS IN 2015
HAWAII: Back in February of last year, I finally made it to Hawaii to visit my long-time friend since freshman year in high school. Necosie moved to Hawaii over five years ago and moved back to New York over the summer, so before he left, I took the perfect opportunity to see a little bit of Oahu. Since New York hit an ultimate deep freeze with weekly blizzards during the winter season, I could not have asked for a better winter getaway – sunbathing, swimming, hiking, and yoga in the valley.
COACHELLA MUSIC FESTIVAL, INDIO, CALIFORNIA: In April, I finally checked off a major thing in my bucket list (not that I actually have a list): attend the Coachella Music Festival with my friend Amber whom I met last year in California. I flew in to San Francisco first and caught up with her and my other travel-nurse friend Natalia, and then we were off to the desert for a weekend of live music, laughter, and sunshine. If there’s only one word I can choose to describe that weekend, it would have to be “EPIC”!
We were super gung-ho about pushing our way through the crowd to make it to the front especially for our top-pick artists Clean Bandit, The Weeknd (with a surprise appearance by Kanye!), Vance Joy, Kiesza, DJ Snake, Sylvan Esso, Milky Chance, Stromae, Hozier, and so much more! We made sure our outfits and make-up for the day were on point, we Snapchatted (thanks Amber for introducing me to it – I am now hooked!), and danced the afternoon or the night away. While Drake’s last performance on Sunday evening was a huge disappointment, our AirBnb host and her gorgeous house with an equally gorgeous swimming pool made up for it!
PARIS, ROUEN, & EPERNAY/CHAMPAGNE, FRANCE: Soon after Coachella, I flew home to repack and headed off to Paris with some of my closest friends from New York for 3 weeks, rented two apartments, and rocked out. This trip was part grad-school completion and birthday celebration for my friend Oscar and Virginia, and a “just because I love Paris” trip, with our friends Nea and Marilyn joining in. Seriously though, who doesn’t love Paris?
It was my third time there and I still love it. I feel comfortable in the city, I can easily navigate their Metro system, feel safe walking around during those late night hours, have lunch or dinner outdoors, and meet new people to hang out at home or at bars with. Usually when close friends travel together, they normally stick together, but since we were there for three weeks, we made it a point to meet Parisians, hang out with them, had them over our apartment for drinks and/or dinner, and went out to cocktail bars and dancing with them. It was the perfect way to experience a different side of Paris aside from the touristy things.
Dare I say I felt like a Parisian; the only thing lacking was my French language skills! However, I’ve got to pat myself on the back. When we enrolled in French-language school, the teachers quickly changed me from a total beginners’ class to level A1 within the first day! (Il y a un App, s’appelle “Coffee Break French” – merci beaucoup pour les leçons!) Learning Spanish grammar extensively for over three years helped a lot more than I expected, and surprisingly, I understand and read French better than I’ve always thought!
SCOTLAND: While Nea and Virginia flew back to NYC, Oscar and Marilyn headed off to the Philippines and Myanmar, and me? I flew off to Scotland. My friend Vincenzo, the same one I visited in Göttingen the previous year, got a job in Glasgow so it was the perfect time to explore a little bit of Glasgow, Edinburgh, and the Scottish Highlands while I was still on the European side. I had no expectations with Scotland and ended up loving it, especially Edinburgh and the highlands.
Admittedly so, I did not quite enjoy the weather, not that they’re known for daily gorgeous weather to begin with, but I wasn’t prepared, in terms of my clothes, for freezing temperatures, windy, and rainy days in the month of May. Needless to say, spending time with Vincenzo and meeting his friends made the experience even better, especially learning the traditional Scottish dance in a bar one night, and road tripping up north where we had some of the best just-caught, fresh-off-the-boat seafood and giant raw oysters anyone could ask for.
UPSTATE NY, FIRE ISLAND, FAR ROCKAWAY, MYRTLE BEACH, SOUTH CAROLINA: Over the summer, I cancelled plans for a family reunion in LA and spent most of my time here in the city. A few weekends here and there Eugene and I went for hikes, discovering swimming holes and exploring a few towns upstate in Kingston, Woodstock, and New Paltz, while other times my sisters or friends went out to Far Rockaway beach and Fire Island.
A few colleagues and I also took a long road trip to South Carolina where we practically did nothing but relax and catch plenty of sun at the beach, with an abundant supply of white sangria. Since I’ve been working a lot more than usual again, I opted to stay within the same coast and just try to get as much rest as possible since I knew I was going to be away for the months of September, October, and November.
GRAND RAPIDS, MICHIGAN: In September, I flew to Michigan for the first time ever for my best friend Nadine’s wedding. Nade and I have been best friends since junior high school in the Bronx. While she moved away from New York many years ago, I have always appreciated how close we’ve remained. Despite not seeing each other for months or even sometimes years on end, we never lost that bond.
We’ve led completely separate lives, but I love how we can pick up where we left off and still laugh our asses off while reminiscing over our stupidity as teenagers, our shared love for the Power Puff Girls, and even when we delve deep into our emotions as adults. Over the years, we have seen the best and the worst of each other and I am delighted beyond words that we continue to remain in each others’ lives. Most especially, I was ecstatic to have witnessed her walk down the aisle to marry the guy she’s always wanted to be with.
CHIAPAS & TULUM, MEXICO: In October, I joined Heart Care International on their first Open Heart Surgical/Medical Mission trip to Chiapas, Mexico. At the beginning of 2015, I made it a point to go on one medical mission only, and this was the one I picked. Our mission was a huge success, operating on a total of 15 kids from ages 1.5 to 16 years old who were all too adorable and had some of the most impressive personalities. All the kids did very well with minimal to no post-operative complications. Best of all, we immensely enjoyed our collaboration with the Chiapas team of nurses and doctors. They were all so amicable, so open-minded, so welcoming, and so eager to learn and accept the experience. We as a team were beyond elated, so much that I cannot wait to go back and work with them again.
Soon after that marvelous medical mission, I flew to Tulum in the Yucatan Peninsula to soak in some sun, explore some Mayan pyramids, and dive in their famous cenotes. I had mixed feelings about Tulum only because Eugene and I were supposed to go there together, but that did not quite work out and I ended up going by myself. I was thisclose to canceling that trip altogether but, who was I kidding! Not only did I go by myself, I also unexpectedly ended up falling in love with Tulum and met some amazing people, especially Samantha and Kathi, these two women with the most beautiful, interesting souls.
Not only that, I also discovered Laguna Bacalar south of the peninsula close to the Belize border not from any guidebooks or online travel blogs, but from word-of-mouth from other travelers. I raved about Tulum too much two of my friends ended up going there soon after I did and loved it just as much. If you’re looking for a quick getaway from New York City, fly down to the Yucatan Peninsula! Skip Cancun and Playa del Carmen if you can and explore more of Tulum, Valladolid, and Laguna Bacalar.
HOUSTON & AUSTIN, TEXAS: In November, I finally made it to Texas for the first time since one of my really good friends, Nahid, moved there over 5 years ago. As a New Yorker, born and bred in Brooklyn, she initially had the hardest time adjusting to such a different city across the country. After graduating university, I always thought she’d eventually come back to New York, but has very well made a home and a Texan life for herself in Houston, complete with a super cute half-Siamese white kitten I fell in love with instantly.
To celebrate her 30th birthday, our other good friend Martha, who also moved out of New York to LA, and I flew in to Houston to spend several days with her. (As I write this post, I realize now most of my closest friends have all left New York… I think I have the hardest time departing from this city as I still find so many ways to fall in love with it very often). She arranged for a weekend getaway to Austin, rented a gorgeous house for her closest friends, and the festivities remained non-stop from the moment we arrived in Texas.
We got to experience Austin’s nightlife and I’ve got to say – I’m highly impressed! So impressed I can’t wait to go back, perhaps for their famous music festival. Martha and I also enjoyed her international group of Texan friends very well, from Colombia to Mexico, India, to Pakistan. Travel talk was definitely one of the biggest topics we all shared in the group.
WINDING DOWN IN DECEMBER: Or so I thought! Some of the most exciting things during the month of December were my cousins and their kids visiting from Australia, as well as Nahid’s friend and his friends from Dubai and Karachi who stayed for over 10 days in New York. December was a whirlwind of holiday parties, a wedding, and running around the city doing touristy things, with an emotional roller coaster added into the mix. Playing tour guide always gives me a greater appreciation for a city that I’ve had a love/hate relationship with for quite some time now. I finally made it to the 9/11 Memorial which I have avoided for quite some time, but am so happy I finally visited!
Totally unrelated time but a few months ago when Nadine and Shari were visiting New York, we went up to the newly-opened One World Observatory and absolutely enjoyed ourselves! Local New Yorkers or tourists – it’s a place I highly recommend to visit; the elevator ride up to the 102nd floor itself is quite an experience!
I just want to add something for one second, and I really want to add this in here despite the fact that I never mention anything that involves work to avoid violating HIPAA. To a wonderful person who I took care of several times during his multiple hospitalizations in our Cardiac ICU, I will never forget his smile, his compassion, his strength, how he taught me how to play the Madden NFL video game one Sunday at work, and his entire family who were all so genuinely kind to our staff.
On Christmas Day I took care of him when he went into cardiac arrest, and in my mind I begged him not to die as we resuscitated him with fervor. ‘Not today, not any day, please don’t die’, I kept telling him in my head as I was trying to shake the shock off, as I tried so hard not to vomit at his bedside in the middle of CPR. His mother and I broke down into each others’ arms right before I left late from work that night. I was an emotional wreck. The next morning, I got the inevitable text from one of my colleagues: he passed away. He was finishing up high school and expressed how he wanted to be a cardiothoracic surgeon in the future. Without any doubt, we all knew he would have been an excellent one.
H, may your beautiful soul rest in peace. You were very much adored by so many of us.
MATTERS OF THE HEART
When I made the decision to come back to New York, one of the other reasons, aside from wanting to be home, was wanting to work things out with Eugene, admittedly so. I set aside my focus on seeing more of America and shifted it towards another thing I yearned in my heart.
I had this vision I held high in my head that we could and that we would weather through the storm that wreaked havoc on our relationship. I was so committed to winning his heart back, I just didn’t know how, but I knew that was what I wanted to do. I had such high hopes as I made my way back to New York, I strongly insisted to myself and to the universe that our love wins.
[I know. Fucking cheesy.]
Anyhow, the funny thing with wanting something to work so bad, attaching yourself to that specific result that you so vehemently hope for is that the higher beings, or whoever or whatever you believe in fucks with you, and is probably laughing while doing so. Rolling on the floor, laughing so hard – noted!
What I didn’t expect was all the anger, derogatory names thrown my way, extended periods of silence or blank phone screens, and an unanswered question about working things out. Or sometimes I’d receive angry, painful text messages thrown my way that would send me to tears in the middle of the night.
Yet I understood. I understood it all. The enormous amount of guilt I felt inside for breaking the relationship and breaking the trust drove me into that state, so I stuck around, took it all in, and waited and waited. And waited, and waited some more.
I once read a blog about that famous dating & relationship guy Mark Manson that if you want something so bad, you have to be willing to eat the “shit sandwiches” that come with it. All his anger and painful words darting my way. Yup, I ate them. The silence, his lack of communication over how he really felt, him going through my phone, the head games, the maddeningly frustrating roller coaster of emotions that came with it, the painful, punishing verbal digs out of spite and anger – I ate all those “shit sandwiches“.
Through the tears, through the depression, through the frustrations, I ate them all. That was how bad I wanted things to work; that was how bad I wanted to earn his trust back. That was how guilty I felt throughout that ordeal.
I also have to admit that unhappily eating those shit sandwiches didn’t come without their own repercussions. While I worked so hard to let go of the anger and resentment toward myself, the more I seemed to have shifted those same feelings toward him. Somewhere down the road, not only did I lose trust in myself, I sadly lost the trust I always had in him.
I felt smaller. I started keeping things to myself. I started holding my tongue back, no longer wanting to talk about many things I loved and enjoyed, especially with travel, for fear of his reactions or sarcastic, rude comments. I felt like walking on eggshells. I felt like I had to put out that inner fire in my personality, and in who I was, and be a meek woman instead (I seriously laugh at the thought these days).
I remember looking at my self in the mirror one morning, searching my eyes for that inner spark, that edge, and seeing and feeling nothing.
We did finally reach a good place. After a month away in Europe, it started to get better, and I happily thought that we had finally overcome that giant hurdle. This was it. This was going to be my happily-ever-after. Though we both worked a lot, we found some time for romantic picnics in the park, exploring swimming holes in upstate New York, hiking, seeing Kevin Hart live in Barclays Center, nights or dinners out.
This past summer was a good one. I distinctly remember that moment when we were on a ferris-wheel ride in the Ulster County Fair, when the wheel stopped while we were at the top and I took in the sprawling view of the lights and other rides, giant stuffed Captain America monkey he won for me joining us for the ride.
He’s always been afraid of heights yet I teasingly urged him to look down and look around. I remember thinking to myself that if I had a theme-song for that night, for that moment, it would have to be “Drunk in Love” as I watched him. That was how in love I felt; that was how happy I felt that we have finally reached that place once again.
I don’t want to bore you with minute details as to how or why things went downhill eventually. I can’t even pinpoint to any specific detail. Well, yes I can, but they no longer hold any significance after all this time.
NOTES ON FORGIVENESS
Alexander Pope said it best, “To err is human; to forgive – divine”. I’ve always thought myself as such a forgiving person toward others. I’m so quick to forgive. I don’t have it in me to harbor such strong, angry, resentful, heavy emotions toward other people; it’s too much wasted energy.
However, the vicious cycle of anger and regret continuously played itself in my head over my mistakes, over the different choices I made, over doing this and not that, and even in who I was. There I was asking for forgiveness, exasperated as to how my past mistakes kept being brought up and thrown in my face by the one person who I loved the most.
How could I have desperately asked for something that I couldn’t even do for my self? I struggled to forgive; I struggled to let my own mistakes go.
I carried around that guilt on my shoulders for too long thinking I needed to. It showed in my words, it showed in my actions. As aforementioned, I felt like I needed to conform to a different person, bring myself down, and be smaller than who I was, punishing myself for all those damn mistakes.
It was so absurdly pathetic how bad I have fallen from grace.
But that is not who I am. I am not the sum of all my mistakes. I am a perfectly imperfect person who made a lot of mistakes, who stumbles, who falls, who probably will continue to stumble here and there.
Call me selfish, call me stupid, tell me to go fuck myself, but deep inside I know who I am.
I am a very passionate person who follows her heart probably often times more than her head. A person brave enough to chase her dreams of traveling the world. A person courageous enough to allow herself to be in some of the most vulnerable situations. A person, who instead of running away from loneliness, finally began to confront and sit with it and make peace with it.
A person who lives for the moment, for laughter, for intimate moments in life with close friends and family.
A person who wholeheartedly appreciates her career taking care of babies and children with congenital heart defects. A person whose heart breaks right along with the parents when they have to say goodbye to their child who lost the battle to heart disease.
A person who always chooses to feel and be happy.
A person who can easily be emotional, dramatic, irrational at times, comes up with crazy ideas and runs wild with it, but always, always with the best of intentions. A person whose heart has been broken many times but deep down inside knows that everything is going to be okay, that everything always works out.
And most importantly, a person who grew too tired of beating herself up and finally owned up to her personal failures and past mistakes.
When I became completely honest with my self, owned up to all the disappointments, accepted that things have changed and will never be the same, I finally opened my heart and my mind to release and let it all go, forgiving myself in the process.
Forgiveness left me with the most profound, simple feeling I have been yearning for far too long: an unshakable peace of mind.
And do you know what the 2016 version of an incredulous, peaceful state of mind is? Zero fucks given.
As I am typing these last few bits down on my phone while riding the D train home, these strangers sitting in front of me can feel the happiness and the glow oozing from within. They can see a beautiful young woman giggling, rocking out to Kygo’s Stole the Show, smiling to herself as “zero fucks given” has immensely never felt so good.
It’s been a long time since I’ve felt this way. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I’ve had plenty of fleeting moments of peace and happiness along the way. It’s something I have always strived for and continue to do so, but every so often when I think about fully and wholeheartedly being at peace with my self, my mind always evokes a specific memory while I was in South Africa.
Beth and I road tripped across the entire country and made an impromptu stop in Coffee Bay on the Wild Coast. I think about the day after we arrived, I was sitting outside our hut accommodation paralyzed with peace at the sight of the shimmering Indian Ocean, listening to the small waves crash ever so gently.
Jazz music was playing loudly in the cafe a few meters from where I was sitting, warming up to the morning sun while writing on my journal. I had been on the road for several months basking in my travel dreams, and I just wanted to soak it all in. Breathe it all in. Let it seep in through my pores. If there was such a thing as being exhilaratingly high on life, perfectly at peace with thy self, then I was definitely the poster child for it.
Back in New York, I asked myself several times what I was doing, but choosing to move forward, the resentment and anger slowly faded away. Almost every drop of regret has evaporated. As cliché as it may sound, time always helps.
I am so happy I made the decision to come back to New York. I am happily content with staying here and not traveling as much as I used to. Life changes so much and I have accepted that my focus has changed and will continue to change and evolve over the years.
I’m glad I worked up the courage to ask Eugene if we can work things out. I remember Nahid telling me, after I confessed to her how scared I was to ask him,
“Babe, you’ve traveled across the world by yourself, not knowing anyone, not knowing the language, you befriended strangers in some dangerous countries for God’s sake, and you can’t ask a man you love for a second chance? Seriously, Antoinette?!”
I’m not going to sit here and pretend that I’m not hurt or that I’m not disappointed we didn’t work out. Having that peace of mind doesn’t magically erase the pain overnight. Remnants of it remain, found within those few chosen solitary moments in my life.
I wish we could have worked out, admittedly so. I find myself missing him so much, missing that best friendship we built within our relationship, and while before I would have judged myself for feeling a little in despair, I find that I no longer care if I do. It’s okay to miss him, it’s okay to not be okay some days, it’s okay to feel lonely, and for all those things I don’t feel bad about at all.
I have stopped caring about having to conform to the correct feeling or emotion I “should” be feeling. If I’m feeling like a sparkling unicorn joyfully gliding on a rainbow one day, then I’m super happy about it, and if I’m feeling angry other times, on the verge of throwing myself a pity party, then so be it. I breathe through it and exhale slowly. The best part of it all: that awful feeling never stays.
No more beating my self up, no more dwelling on my mistakes. Life doesn’t stop, and it never has. Happiness doesn’t stop, giving love doesn’t stop. The fun doesn’t stop and laughter definitely does not stop, of all things. Each day we learn to live and fulfill the best of our lives in spite of the disappointments.
I think the best five words I heard coming from one of my best friends when I told her that we didn’t work out in the end: “Then he’s not for you.”
Simple. No over analyzing anything, no doubts, no questions asked. We didn’t even go further into it, and I loved and appreciated her even more for that.
For everything that happened and didn’t happen in that relationship, I can only be grateful for the lessons learned. Absolutely grateful for all those years we have loved each other. Grateful that I no longer harbor feelings of regret, resentment, or anger.
Grateful for the peace of mind and for forgiveness because quite frankly they seem to matter so much more than anything these days. Moving forward, I came to the realization that I got one thing right after all. Only one thing, and it’s probably the most important one: love wins. Love always wins.
“When the karma of a relationship is done, only love remains. It’s safe. Let go.” E.G.
So now I must get on my knees and pray to the lovely Patron saint of Farewells…
(Can I just tell you how when my colleague showed me this at work, I could not stop laughing so hard for a good 5 to 10 minutes, and I still can’t help but laugh every single time. Best meme, ever! Bye Felecia!)
“ONWARD EVER, BACKWARDS NEVER”
Hello there you gorgeous 2016, you! 2015 was a good year, but this new one – it’s going to be an even greater one! There’s this one quote I absolutely love from the movie “Night Train to Lisbon” I saw a few years ago when I was living in Spain:
The decisive moments of life, when its direction changes forever, are not always marked by loud and shrill dramatics. In truth, the dramatic moments of a life-determining experience are often unbelievably low-key. When it unfolds its revolutionary effect and ensures that a life is revealed in a brand-new light, it does that silently. And in this wonderful silence resides its special nobility. (It sounds somewhat weird dubbed in Spanish, so I had to watch it again in English.)
A LIFE WELL-LIVED
I would be lying if I told you I have a profound list of New Years resolution. I have none. Not to say there are no improvements or desires in my life; oh believe me there’s plenty to be changed, plenty to be desired! Punctuality, especially! But if I actually have to think of one thing, it’s to continue wholeheartedly loving and accepting my self, flaws, imperfections, quirkiness, and everything else in between.
A life well-lived and well-traveled, my inner fire rekindled, bursting into flames, a life I love and enjoy so much, a life I feel good about physically, mentally, sexually, and emotionally – that’s what I’ve always aimed and that’s what I’m going to continue aiming for.
Whether I am here in New York bombing down 2nd Avenue on my bicycle, out traveling halfway around the world, perhaps caring for a sick patient at work, shaking my hips at Samba dance class with much fervor, going on dates, or rock climbing till my arms fall off – I’m going to make it all worthwhile.
WHAT ABOUT TRAVEL?
Travel remains and will always remain of paramount importance in my life. As a single lady, as a married woman, as a mother, an aunt, travel is one thing for sure that will always remain a certainty in my life. Where I am right now, however, it is no longer my biggest priority. No worries you guys, I am still deeply in love with travel the same way people are with their first-borns.
I just spent an amazing weekend getaway in Vermont two weeks ago for snowboarding, and next month I’m off to Colorado for more snowboarding and hiking! Eeekkkk, I’m stoked! (cue: dancing in my seat and shaking my shoulders as I write this!). A friend also asked me to go to Iceland with him, and while our schedules rarely match, we’re going to try our best to get this Icelandic show on the road some time this year.
For this summer, I’ll be meeting up with my California friends and the cousins in the Canadian Rockies – Banff, Lake Louise, Jasper National Park, and all that jazz! I’m really excited for this trip since I have drooled over photos of the turquoise-colored lakes and glaciers, and the ample amount of hiking we’ll be doing (cue: more dancing!).
In terms of medical missions, I was just confirmed for a trip back to Chiapas, Mexico at the end of September, so perhaps I might finally travel to Nicaragua, another Central American country I’ve had my eye on for some time.
As I have already decided to take three paid weeks off in November, I will finally go on one of my bigger trips I have been dying to go to for years: Nepal and the Himalayas. There’s definitely going to be lots of hiking and backpacking involved, and sweeping views to die for.
Since I will be on that side of the world, someone gave me ideas, therefore sparking my interest on a country I haven’t really thought about: possibly heading to Sri Lanka after for some sun, beach, and relaxation after all those days in the mountains. Southeast Asia, I believe, might happen this year, but with school, time has become limited so I’ve had to play those by ear.
APARTMENT RENTAL VS. BUYING
On a more important note in my adult life, I was introduced to a broker a few months ago and have been looking for an apartment to buy. I am very excited and nervous and scared all at once, and sometimes I feel my stomach flip-flop inside. I am in no hurry to sign under the dotted lines, but going to open houses and seeing different places has been quite interesting, not to mention loads of interior design inspiration.
I want this to be as stress-free as much as possible, and I have said to myself and to my broker that if I don’t find a place I love enough to buy within my budget by this summer, I will take a rental instead.
No pressure. I have also spoken to some of my friends who currently own their own apartments and the best advice they have all given me: take my time and don’t rush into it, as I do have a shiny track record of picking up and leaving New York in a heartbeat.
In the meantime I’ve applied for a credit union membership as I hear their mortgage rates are better than normal banks, met with two other bank reps to find out who’s got the best mortgage rates (they’re practically all the same), and have met with a “financial expert advisor” (I swear, that was the title on his business card!) just to make sure my finances are all in order. wOot! Adult life sounds like so much fun! Not!
While I haven’t even found a place yet, I’ve already started shopping for kitchenware, bedsheets/linens, the cutest wall mirror, towels, and vintage photo frames of all sizes, colors, and designs. I’m just overall excited! Up next will be a bed frame and a mattress. I’ve practically had to beg my sister for some storage space in her basement for these things. Since I basically threw away everything from my old, old apartment, I’m super excited furnishing a new place from scratch.
Dinner parties? Hello! (Mind you I don’t even remember the last time I cooked something, but this new cast iron skillet, though!). Or perhaps adopt another mini daschund. You have no idea how much I terribly miss Pepper, a mini-daschund I adopted on a whim one Sunday afternoon years ago.
HELLO, IT’S ME
So here we are now. Writing/publishing this has not been the easiest for me. I started this post almost a year ago as another way to sort out what I was going through, but I have always been busy and overall uncertain about publishing it. Perhaps the writing is terrible as I haven’t published anything in two years. Maybe it’s too much to share, or it’s too long. I am also not the most forthcoming with my deep feelings on my blog, so I felt a little uncomfortable.
I can tell you all about my travels, the good, the bad, and the ugly, but revealing how and what I truly f publicly has been more than a challenge for me. It comes with being such a private person, or maybe I just lost a lot of trust in my self. I have wanted to get back on my blog for quite some time, but I didn’t even know what to write about. A travel recap? Photo gallery posts? This was the only kind of post that made sense, so I committed to editing what I already started and stuck with it over the months, finally finishing it two weeks after ringing in the new year.
If you’re reading this to the end, I thank you wholeheartedly. It feels good to be back on my blog after I’ve abandoned it for two years. It feels good to have redesigned the whole thing, and it feels so good to hit the “publish” button once again.