Minding the Mountains

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IMG_0020IMG_0161Anxiously wanting to explore the Pacific Northwest, Sean and I drove up the coast from San Francisco to Seattle to visit friends. Along the way, we marveled at the mountains in Northern California, ate terrible Mexican food out of desperation in Oregon, and finally reached Seattle by midnight.

After three days in the city, we craved to be surrounded by nature. I fell in love with Rattlesnake Ridge, a thirty minute drive out of the bustling city, simply humbled by the lush greenery and crisp air. Trailing through the tall, green trees to find the outlook peeling over the lake, I felt consumed by wild joy stillness.

Meet Isla Taboga

IMG_3314Hidden less than an hour ferry ride away from Panama City, Island Taboga was just what lifted our spirits as avid outdoor-lovers. Just fourteen U.S. dollars round trip will get you to this slice of paradise. The close-knit, colorful community clearly depends on tourism, but it still felt evoked it’s own culture. It just had an openness to those wanting more than just the typical tourist destination to Bocas del Toro or San Blas Islands. I loved how tightly packed the homes were to one another, as it really did feel inviting as I heard music playing in one home and kids outside playing soccer next door. Mikaela and I spent the day wandering through the community, kayaking, eating chicken skewers, and enjoying the feeling of the sun on our skin.

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Colors of C U B A

As one of the most unique countries I’ve ever visited, catching a glimpse of Cuba was a special opportunity as an American. Traveling legally under a ‘People to People license’, my coworkers-turned-travel sisters had the chance to explore a country that truly feels like you are traveling back in time. You won’t see a Mc. Donalds or a Starbucks in sight- it’s a rare beauty! Cuba’s culture is alive and evident in the architecture, food, and undeniable rhythm of the country.

Trinidad, Cuba
Pastel streets make up beautiful Trinidad
Plaza Mayor, Trinidad. The best outdoor salsa in the evenings, just above those steps to the right!
Plaza Mayor, Trinidad. The best outdoor salsa in the evenings, just above those steps to the right!
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Havana, Cuba
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Traditional Cuban ‘ropas viejas’ (literal translation of “old clothes”) dish of shredded beef and veggies
Strong Cuban coffee is delicious for coffee  addicts like myself
Strong Cuban coffee is delicious for coffee addicts like myself
Mi chica loves her Che
Samara loves the history that makes Cuba so unique. Mi chica loves her Che!
Streets of Havana
Streets of Havana
Inside a local rationing shop where Cubans can collect their monthly goods distributed by the government.
Inside a local rationing shop where Cubans can collect their monthly goods distributed by the government.
The colonial city of Trinidad
My favorite view of the colonial city of Trinidad.
The taxi driver was surprisingly amused with us too
The taxi driver was surprisingly amused with us too
Samara and I after exploring the local markets in Trinidad
Samara and I after exploring the local markets in Trinidad
Got a killer deal for that hand-made leather bag from a local craftsman for less than $30!
Got a killer deal for that hand-made leather bag from a local craftsman for less than $30!
A collection of coins from an antique market in Old Havana
A collection of coins from an antique market in Old Havana
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We loved the pops of color all over the country
Learning Afro-Cuban dances after watching a fun performance
Learning Afro-Cuban dances after watching a fun performance
Taneika's joy is contagious!!
Taneika’s joy is contagious!!
The streets of Old Havana
The streets of Old Havana

Finding freedom

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After moving to Panamá City a little less than two months ago for a new job as a Travel Specialist for a non-profit, the thrill of adventure can turn into frustration from the chaos of living in the hustle of the city and sitting at a desk for 40 hours a week. Buenos días, reality and culture shock. Adjusting to my first “real” big girl, full-time job, embracing Latin American culture, fumbling to learn Spanish, countries away from my loved ones is not always peaches n’cream. At times, I remind myself that I chose this challenge and I learn to choose joy on a daily basis to feel like myself. So much easier said than done, but it’s a learning process and mental exercise that usually is facilitated faster with intentional love and coffee first. This past weekend was such a treat picking up my boyfriend Sean from the airport, celebrating 23 years of life, and spending the weekend tucked up in the mountains of El Valle. We enjoyed the simplicity of just being together and even got to explore a new part of Panamá with what our backpacks could hold. And I’m glad to say the bottle of an Argentine Malbec made it safely through the 2 hour bus ride (with continuous reggaeton playing) to the mountains to celebrate only missing the bus stop once on our journeyInspired by my birthday weekend, discovering Parque Natural Metropolitano, just 15 minutes outside the city was glorious! I felt like Jane of the jungle running through the wilderness, regaining my sense of freedom and curiosity of where I am. Like love, life is so wild–often messy, but beautiful. I’m trying to be present in the little moments.

Sometimes that’s all it takes to feel more alive.

Defining beauty

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Passing through a village outside of Kolkata, I quickly snapped this woman’s photo since I had fallen behind the rest of the group. I heard a “hey!” in broken English right after I passed her. I walked back to her, thinking she’d be upset I took her photo without asking.
I told her, “You look so beautiful. Can I take your photo?”
She instantly smiled then started posing for me, which is not common in this culture.

The few moments with her made me realize how she maybe hadn’t been recognized or noticed in the longest time.

What a beauty!

Life without borders

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In two weeks, I leave for an anticipated challenging adventure to India. My heart has been anxiously pursing something to stay passionate about, and that kept me close to my wanderlust and love for people.

As I join a group of diverse people from different ages and backgrounds, we share a common mission in putting love into action. Love is powerful and poverty is something foreign to most of us living in a place where we can access clean water and a toilet when we want. India has been on my heart for years and I am trying to prepare my heart with little expectations.

This short, two week (yet rewarding) opportunity allows me to grow in my faith in humanity, learn from a different culture than my own, while being open to what India can teach me about life. I don’t pretend I know what it is like to live in poverty, but I am grateful for the opportunity to connect with new friends in India. My hope is to be fully engaged and revealing kindness in action, without hesitation or fear. I don’t think you need to fly across the world in order to practice this, but I believe God is creative and values our willingness to explore His world.

Preparing for this adventure takes patience and consistent reflection. However, I have come to realize that we can only prepare ourselves so much for adventures; part of the experience is learning how to respond when challenges arise, and how to trust that things will turn out just as they should.

What would your life look like without borders?

Exploring beauty

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“We do not want merely to see beauty . . . We want something else which can hardly be put into words – to be united with the beauty we see, to pass into it, to receive it into ourselves, to bathe in it, to become part of it.” -C.S. Lewis

DSC_009010001559_10203362679212800_666656904_nPhotos from my spring break adventures: staying at La Misión Orphanage in Mexico and road tripping to explore, camp, and climb Zion’s National Park- absolutely one of the most awe-evoking places I’ve been so far.

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What Chinese Buddhism taught me

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Be balanced, be kind, unwind your mind.

After a challenging, yet rewarding five-day retreat at a Buddhist Monastery, as part of my Philosophical Buddhism course this past January, I couldn’t help but return back to the Hsi Lai Temple. I was involved in the Chinese New Year celebrations where the women were dressed in traditional Laos and Indian costumes, and it felt strangely comfortable not needing to have everything translated into English–I instantly felt like I was being transported to Asia for the day. So who’s ready to explore SE Asia with me now?