pant pant pant
I’m alive! I’M ALIIIIIIIVE!
Hi there. It’s been a while. It’s been a while, and I feel bad about it.
When I started writing about my travels last year, I never really thought I would stop. I’d always wanted to be a writer when I was younger, and it had been deeply rewarding to take my memories from the road and turn them into tips and stories to publish on my blog. I had especially loved writing my Cuba cycling story, and I’m so glad I kept pushing myself to finish it.
But I guess things sort of petered out after that. Maybe I got a little burnt out from writing so much about Cuba so quickly. Maybe I got so lost in traveling that I unknowingly killed my own creative inertia. And perhaps (almost certainly) I underestimated the difficulty of traveling/writing as a lifestyle. Whatever happened… it’s been a while.
Let’s fix that.
USA Road Trip
Five months ago I began a trip that would change my life. I suppose nearly every trip does, but I always knew this one would be different. I was trying to prove that I could travel indefinitely, so I left home with no job, no destination, a lot of hope, and not a lot of money – not a whole lot has changed since then.
I drove out of Champaign, Illinois in a Toyota Prius, absolutely the most boring car I’ve ever had to deal with. A friend of mine was moving to San Francisco, and I’d volunteered to drive the car there for him. It would be my first extended road trip, and I had laid out a pretty good path for myself over the next month.
Key points of interest – Badlands National Park, South Dakota; Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming; a lady in Lynden, Washington; solar eclipse in Oregon; San Francisco, California.
Stops along the way – Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming; Tom Miner Basin, Montana; the lovely Idaho state; waterfront in Seattle, Washington; San Juan Islands, Washington; doughnuts in Canada.
*Map is an approximation.
Wow! I didn’t realize I’d done so much while I was on the road, but now that I think back on it I really had a lot of great experiences. I walked through massive herds of bison in the Badlands and went fly fishing for the first time in Yellowstone. I hiked my longest and highest hike to the top of Ramshorn Peak and witnessed a total solar eclipse in the fog around Boiler Bay. I even met a beautiful woman, fell in love, and had my heart completely shattered on the shores of the Puget Sound.
It was one hell of a road trip.
[full Northwestern USA photo gallery here]
The Shores of Maui
After the journey to San Francisco I traveled further West to the Hawaiian islands where I had been accepted as a volunteer on a farm in Huelo near the northeastern shores of Maui. For 2 months I worked on the farm, toiling away each day in the heat and humidity and learning about the ferocious growth habits of tropical jungles. In that regard, I had a good time. The physical labor was a welcome departure from my previous work indoors, and I could see my actions having a direct effect on the world around me.
But honestly, most other things about working on that farm were terrible. It was located out in ‘da boondies’ and far from anything of real interest. I needed a vehicle to travel anywhere, and I certainly didn’t have the money to rent one. Even if I did, I’d have to rent or buy other things wherever I went if I wanted to have any fun – surfboards, snorkeling gear, or food, all of which were quite expensive due to the effects of the tourist economy on Maui.
While many work exchange hosts provide transportation (or a good alternative), sporting equipment, or free tours (if it’s part of their operation), my host was turning out to be a cheap bastard. His online profile offered tents, food, yoga classes, and surfboards. The yoga room was completely off limits; the tents were infested with mold; surfboards sat piled in a dumpster, their use prohibited; and even as substantially more volunteers joined the work site, our weekly shared food supply did not increase.
So while I enjoyed the work I was doing, my overall experience in Maui had actually been quite miserable. There had been a few nice things about my stay like some of the people I’d met along the way, but I was pretty relieved when I finally found my ticket out of ‘paradise’.
[full Maui photo gallery here]
Onward to Vietnam
The same day I began searching for other work exchange opportunities, I received an email from a woman in Vietnam. She was looking for an English teacher, and the job would start just a few days after my time at the farm was over. I didn’t have to think too much about it – I said yes.
After 2 crazy weeks of preparing my travel documents and shedding a little pack weight, I was on a plane bound for Hanoi. Well, sort of. First, I had a nice long layover in Japan where I thought maybe I’d have a little vacation and do some exploring. That may have been a mistake.
What began as a nice late night trip to the Nagoya TV Tower and the Sakae district ended with me sitting hungry on a sidewalk with no cash, no phone, a debit card that didn’t work, and a seething, unbridled hatred of Chase Bank, the sole reason I had been unable to pay my bar tab in a foreign country. That was one of my worst travel experiences to date, and it’s definitely a story I want to tell in greater detail when my banking issues are finally worked out.
After that, I bounced over to Tokyo where I had a nice massage before my final flight to Hanoi, and I’ve been living and teaching in Vietnam for just over 2 months now. I’ve visited the Old Quarter in Hanoi, the Tràng An Grottoes and Bái Đính Temple in Ninh Bình, and I even took part in celebrating a death anniversary in Nam Định where I spent the day with a very large family, ate a nice variety of traditional foods, and got super drunk on home-brewed rice wine.
And teaching here is awesome! Initially, I’d only signed up for a month of teaching, but those first few weeks were so great that I quickly extended my contract for the full 3 months of my visa. And just last week I signed up to teach through May! I’m really enjoying my time with my students, and even though I’m the teacher here I feel like I’ve learned quite a lot from them as well (like how to safely cross the streets in Hanoi). My class with them is often the high point of my day, and I’m a little regretful that I didn’t try teaching before now.
But it doesn’t matter. I’m here now, and I can do this as long as I want.
[full Vietnam photo gallery here]
Things were an absolute mess for me this time last year. I’d lost my job, my home, and any paths I’d thought my life might offer at the time. Shit had truly hit the fan, and it didn’t feel like there was much hope of cleaning it up. So I didn’t.
I booked a flight to Cuba for 2 weeks, remember?
I left everything behind in an effort to find a new way of life for myself. Then I started writing, sold most of my belongings, went on a road trip, and… well, now I’m here. And from here, I can go wherever I want to.
That’s a nice feeling.