Another year, another few stories to tell.
One of my favorite posts I wrote last year was 2016 in Places, a meditation on a year of movement.
I started that post with this sentence:
“As I go into 2017, I’m faced with a big choice: do I choose to keep chasing places, for another little while, or is it time to settle down and devote myself to enhancing my relationships with people?”
As you’ll see, I ended up choosing places. Places gave me a lot this year. I leave 2017 with a greater breadth of stories and experiences. But my feeling is 2018 will be defined by people. We will see.
For now, here’s what happened to me in 2017.
2017 in Places
Vegas had been on my calendar for months — tickets purchased and hotel booked further in advance than I plan almost anything in my life. I was to attend an anniversary celebration for an organization I founded in university. Everyone was going. Vegas promised old friends, good times, and a celebration of our achievements.
Instead, I blacked out within three hours of landing.
I don’t remember the event I flew to Vegas to attend. I came to my senses in the bathroom of the event, puking. No one knows where I was, what happened to me. One day, years down the line, I’ll find the person with the key to this experience. For now, I’ll just have to settle for the shame.
I stumbled out of the event, found some friends, and had a triple-stack burger at Steak Shack. It saved my life — kept me from completely losing the thread. I found some more friends. We went on a bender. I had 24 hours in Vegas — I didn’t sleep. I didn’t use the hotel room I paid for. I didn’t win any money.
And when I flew home, I immediately caught the flu.
The flu hadn’t cleared up by the time my best friend and I flew to Amsterdam. He’s a mechanical engineer; works a full-time job in Colorado and exists basically like a normal person in the world. I don’t know if he’d count me as his best friend, since I’m around the world half the time; but I don’t really mind.
These are the inequities you have to accept when you live a life of travel.
Normally, I join him in his life at home. For ten days at the start of this year, he joined me in my life on the road. We did Amsterdam and Iceland. I had wanted to do Colombia, but it was his first international travel ever. He bought his passport for this trip. We decided to ease in.
Unfortunately, our easy entry was Amsterdam, in the middle of January. And I had the flu.
I packed a sheet of Nyquil Liquid Gels in my bag. Enough to get through the trip, I thought. They were gone by the time I got off the plane.
“Doesn’t exist in Holland,” the pharmacist told me, when I asked him for nighttime cold medicine. “I can offer you a vitamin C supplement.”
I needed more than the Vitamin C supplement.
- The One Thing You Should NEVER Do Before a Major International Trip
- 13 Photos Which Show the Not-So-Glamorous Side of Traveling
By the time we got to Iceland, a week later, I had mostly kicked the flu.
Having just recovered from the consequences of my last acts of drunken stupidity, I decided to commit more.
By observing this, perhaps we can learn something about my state of mind to start the year.
I punctured both of my boots while trying to climb a wrought-iron fence. Impaled both my feet. Was in a lot of pain, 4 a.m., the streets of a foreign city. As with most of my stupid stories, I was drunk, it was late, and I was following a pretty girl.
I didn’t get the girl, wrecked a pair of nice socks, and limped around the rest of our time in Reykjavik. The shoes, miraculously, would survive until the end of the year.
My plan had been to move abroad, settle down, and take a job in 2017. I went through three interviews for a job in Estonia, with Jobbatical. It would have moved me to Europe, where I imagined I would begin a new phase in my life.
I didn’t get the job, and I returned home, again locationless and aimless.
Without any sort of anchor at home, I climbed for a bit, skied once or twice, and set my sights on completing my New Year’s Resolution: learning Spanish.
My friend Dylan and I set sail for Medellin, Colombia. Our plan was to rent an apartment, settle in, and live in the country for three months, learning Spanish.
Dylan had been in Medellin a year before, on his post-graduation trip. We landed at a hostel for just a few days, where he had worked a year prior. We got sucked in. The apartment never materialized, and we found ourselves with other backpackers, mostly speaking English.
When Dylan said he wanted to go up north, see some more things, and then fly home in a week, I stayed behind.
He hadn’t found what he was looking for in Colombia, and neither had I. We parted ways amicably; he in pursuit of his goals, me in pursuit of mine. I wanted the language, and as much as I enjoyed his company, I wasn’t going to get it speaking English with him.
My progress accelerated.
I lingered in Medellin a bit longer than I should have; it was the rainy season, and by the end of my stay my mood was as grey as the cloud-covered skies.
Even “The City of Eternal Spring” has its pouty periods. That’s a reassuring thought for me, sitting here, at the end of this year, reflecting.
I headed north for the Caribbean coast of Colombia, in search of sunny skies.
I landed in Taganga, a fishing village just outside of Santa Marta. Dylan had described it as a ‘party place,’ but I found no such atmosphere. Just an impoverished town, the site of a tourist boom which had clearly over-extended itself. The town was full of guesthouses, hotels and restaurants — but not people.
The streets were dirt, bars on the windows, barbed wire protecting what little people had. I was offered cocaine every few steps.
I paid USD $5 a night for a hostel, with breakfast.
I expected to move on, quickly. But I stayed, in the end, for three weeks. I left for a few days to visit Parque Nacional Tayrona, a veritable paraiso de naturaleza along the coast, but found myself returning to Taganga.
There I passed some pleasurable weeks reading, sunning on the beach, occasionally working from my laptop from a hammock. And to my surprise, by the end of my time here, I found myself going out dancing with a group of Chileans, Brazilians, and Spaniards — and I understood what was going on.
I was conversational in Spanish.
I was indescribably sad to leave Colombia, but family called.
My father turned 60, in Boulder. A week later, my grandfather turned 90. We flew to Boston as a family. Family drama ensued, and my mom, who had planned the whole party, suffered one of her frequent migraines. She missed the dinner.
The sounds of American English rung wrong in my ear. I wanted to be in Colombia.
But my grandfather, the amazing patriarch of a far-flung family, had a celebration he richly deserved. He cried. And although it was just a few days, rushed and reactive, we had a sense of togetherness that is rare in our fractured family. So one can hardly complain.
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I returned to Colorado for a taste of summer. I’ve been to hundreds of towns across the US and many foreign countries, and for my money, summer in CO can’t be beat. In fact, in my reckoning, Colorado’s one of the nicest places in the world.
Especially if you like to rock climb.
I ticked off some nice climbs this year, including some more ambitious adventures in the alpine, and my first foray into ice climbing. Meg and I climbed Long’s Peak. I climbed away some long summer days in Eldorado Canyon State Park, just minutes from Boulder. I ran four miles, free-soloed the Second Flatiron, and ran home.
I passed summer with a smile.
- This Is Youth and Meg of the Mountain Climb a Mountain
- The Day We Climbed Long’s Peak
- A Taste of Colorado: A Day Rock Climbing in Eldo
I left Colorado and headed to Panama for a few weeks of Spanish classes, hoping to build on the progress I had made in Colombia. I also partnered with Habla Ya Spanish school, advancing my blog with a professional partnership. It seemed like this new country should bring me only good things.
In Panama, I wrote the final words of my book; a year-long endeavor in emotional self-flagellation. (You can read the whole thing online, for free, here). You would have expected it to feel good. Instead, it simply felt inevitable. Of course it was over.
Much like the relationship it chronicles, I’d started the project enthused and energized. I stumbled through the finish, wondering whether the thing I’d sunk so much time and effort into was ever worthwhile.
Panama remains my least-favorite country I’ve ever visited.
- Permaculture in Panama
- My Second Free Stay as a Travel Blogger
- The Cute Caribbean Houses of Bocas Del Toro
The American West
I returned to Colorado for a friend’s wedding. After the wedding, we climbed Long’s Peak. Then my friends Shawn, Dóra and I set off on a road trip from Denver to Los Angeles. Dóra, who is Hungarian, flew home from LA. Shawn, who you may remember from his post about living as an expat, remained in Colorado for a few more weeks, before returning to his new home, with Dóra, in Budapest.
Showing the US to a foreigner was an exciting opportunity for me. While there is a lot I don’t like about my home — the politics, the ignorance, the isolationism and the xenophobia — there is much of value in the USA as well. Specifically, our great public lands, outdoor activities, and wide-open spaces.
There is no better space for this than the American West.
Best explored with a car full of climbing gear, a tent, and a taste for adventure. Best seen through a bug-guts-covered windshield. Best soundtracked with the fuzzy static of a fading radio station, as you slowly lose it across state lines.
Though we had only about half the time I would have liked (American trait that, always rushing), this trip was still a highlight of the year. I waved goodbye to Dóra promising I’d see her again soon — little did I know it’d be before the year was up.
I turned 25. Same as I’ve done for the past three years, I caught an international flight right after. My sister and I landed in Tanger, the northern tip of Morocco. Pointing ourselves south, down the coast, we were to start on a grand African adventure.
The adventure ground to a halt in Chefchaouen, only a few hours south.
Morocco’s famous Blue City compelled me to stay. I took a job at a hostel, planted my feet in the fertile soil of the Rif mountains, and in the blink of an eye, ten weeks had passed.
I met many amazing people.
I woke up every day, feeling happy.
After two years of travel, I can tell you, that is a special thing. It happens rarely, and when you find it, it’s worth pursuing.
I stayed in Chaouen ten weeks. I finally left when the weather turned cold and my visa neared its expiration.
‘But you can extend your visa, this is no problem,’ my Moroccan friends said. Simply visa run to Ceuta, the Spanish territory, and return.
“I know,” I told them, half-sadly. “But it’s time for me to be going.”
The city will remain in my memory for a long time: a pleasant, sunny, blue haze.
- The Cats of Chefchaouen (English) // Los Gatos De Chefchaouen (Español)
- Chefchaouen — a Story of People
- The Melting Pot of Tanger
- One Month (English) / Cinco Semanas (espanñol)
My year ends in Budapest, along the banks of the Danube
Starting with my return from Panama, my year just got better and better. And it ended with some of the best days I’ve had in a long time.
Days so nice, I think I’ll keep them to myself.
(And y’all know I’m a chronic oversharer).
Instead, I’ll leave you with this:
Keep moving, keep learning, and keep loving my friends.
Cheers to another year of searching.