A self-reflection on travel

I was five years old when I first thought of myself as Godzilla. (The next time it happened I was 26 at a bar in Miami...but that's a story for another day*). That first time, I was looking out the window of an airplane at a landscape full of teeny tiny cars, homes and streets. I was too little to understand visual perception (which I'll admit, I still struggle with), but I knew that I was larger than what I was seeing through the window and was 100% convinced I would crush Orlando with my jelly shoes.

It's no surprise that I had this moment of self-awareness mid-air. In my 32 years of life, I've been lucky to have had the opportunity to travel to a bunch of places, and I find that, the farther I go, the better I understand myself. Living in Hong Kong I realized how much I value personal space, and how it's a luxury for so many people. Austria made me aware of JUST HOW LOUD I AM. Also, that I'm not super comfortable with nudity (hello German people at Spanish beaches whoaaa). While walking the Camino de Santiago I realized I was not as agnostic as I thought; that I do and want to believe in God. 

I snapped this pic at the Chicago bean a couple of years ago. It's not a particularly awesome one (I look like a weird distorted elf), but I love that it captures the reason for my wanderlust. 

My reflection at the Chicago Bean

Travel allows me to see myself and my life through a different lens and in a different context. I provides me with perspective. Experiencing different cultures, languages and ways of thinking allows me to reflect on my own. I live my life thinking everything is one way, and then I travel somewhere and see hundreds of thousands of people doing the complete opposite. There's no better ground for growth and self reflection. Travel is my favorite kind of mirror.


Mercer Island has never seen so many boricuas

Connection is the silver lining of all tragedy. Prior to Hurricane María devastating my home, I had never met a single Puerto Rican in Seattle. In the past 3 weeks I've met dozens (maybe even hundreds?!) living in this wet little corner of the world. Yesterday a bunch of us gathered at the Mercer Island Beach club for a Rise Up PR event where we raised more than $10,000 for the San Jorge Children's Foundation. It was a glorious fall day, like the Caribbean sun decided to bless us with its presence. (For those who live in this part of the world, you know the weather starts turning gray and rainy around this time.)

Two lovely (and happy!) customers with a stunning Mt. Rainier as a backdrop.

Two lovely (and happy!) customers with a stunning Mt. Rainier as a backdrop.

My mom and I set up a a table with my bags and had such a blast chatting with all the people who came from all over Seattle to support Puerto Rico. My heart was filled with so much love and gratitude.

Love all my babies. So hard to pick a favorite!

Love all my babies. So hard to pick a favorite!

Thank you all who came! Besos!

I think this is what my dad felt like in the 70s

After graduating from high school my dad hopped on a plane to Los Angeles to attend aviation school. In typical baby boomer parent fashion, he rarely talks about this phase of his life (Why?!?) but when he does, he describes a crippling feeling of homesickness. This feeling, combined with an illness in the family, led to his return home and the end of his childhood dream of becoming a pilot. 

It's always funny to me to think of my dad feeling homesick; it just doesn't fit with his stoic, zen-master-like persona. He's a mountain: 6'3 feet tall, strong, serious and capable of keeping calm in even the most stressful circumstances. At age 8, I witnessed the man successfully catch a 679lb marlin off the east coast of Puerto Rico (picture here, I'm the one on the lower left) thus winning the 'Anzuelo de Oro' award for the largest fish caught in the Caribbean that year. (I'll leave my rant on the horrors of deep sea fishing for another time.) 

My dad, stepmom, siblings, cousin and I being super 90s next to a massive fish.

My dad, stepmom, siblings, cousin and I being super 90s next to a massive fish.

Bottom line: it's hard to imagine him crying on the phone to my grandparents in Puerto Rico. But as I sit here dialing my mom's number every 15 minutes with no success, I have to say, I GET IT. I now understand how my dad must've felt living in Lost Angeles in the 1970s, having to stand in line to use a payphone to call home and not knowing if anyone would be home to pick up. It's sad, unnerving, enraging, frustrating, anxiety-inducing...it's just not good, especially in emergency situations. It's total darkness.

I realized this today: I've lived far away from my family for almost 15 years but, until today, every second of those 15 years I've had my loved ones one phone/email/text/call away. Not being able to talk to my mom, family or friends in Puerto Rico right now is so hard. I keep scrolling through a newsfeed full of pictures of flooded homes, streets, downed trees and streetlights and my brain drifts toward the most catastrophic of conclusions. I need to hear from them soon and know they're OK. Please cell phone towers, please work, please!!!

So dad, WHOA LA must've been super hard! Not at all what it's like for me to live on the West Coast right now. Seriously, crazy. 

Not like I need more reasons to be addicted to my phone, but today I realized that without it I wouldn't be able to live my life as a modern nomad. Without it, I probably would never have left PR. Very frankly, in this very moment, I wish I never had. 

Category 5 feels

María, se fue para casa de su tía...y su tía tenía una alcancía, una alcancía...

It's past midnight here in Seattle and I'm WAY TOO AWAKE listening to throwback Vico-C and trying to keep my mind away from the horrible monster about to claw its way through my beautiful home.

I'm experiencing a lot of feels right now! A lot!

Fear for people whose homes might not stand the abuse of 160mph winds. Sadness and worry that I'm not in San Juan with my mom who's weathering the storm in my house all by herself. Anger that this stupid swirling mess of wind and rain couldn't inch a couple hundred miles north. More anger (with a splash of guilt and regret) that I live so far away from the place and people I love.

That last one is the real kicker, the reason why I might have to take a Benadryl tonight. Distance just feels SO REAL in moments of crisis. And it's not about feeling like I need to be home to make myself useful. Even though I was the professional storm shutter installer in my house, I know there's not much humans can do to stop mother nature's wrath.

It's less about IMPOTENCE more about CLOSENESS.

I want to tip toe through the house to find matches so I can once again beat my family at Monopoly. (Ja!) I want to hear the scary noise the wind makes and yell at my sister across the hall to make sure she's ok. I want to hold my mom's hand and tell her that I'm there for her, always always, and that she shouldn't mop the water flooding our living room because our floor is super slippery and she might fall. The fact that I can't do any of these things, actually, that I CHOSE a life that prevents me from doing any of these things, is super crushing.

I know my mom and family will be OK, Puerto Rico will be OK, we will survive this one like we have many others. Meantime I'll just keep refreshing the CNN homepage, trolling my FB feed for Ada Monzón updates and finding excuses to call my family over and over again. Because my human body might be half way around the world from Puerto Rico, but my mind is RIGHT THERE in the thick of it all. 

Bubble hopping

This Invisibilia episode moved me so much that I almost burned my dinner and couldn't contain the impulse to share with you fine readers. 

The episode tells the story of a Google engineer who felt trapped by his strict work/life routine and created an algorithm to select random events for him to attend. Every Friday he would spin the proverbial wheel and let the thing choose where he was going - he calls this "bubble hopping".  Anything was fair game, from a community center pancake breakfast to acroyoga. 

The Invisibilia producers joined him for some "bubble hopping" in his hometown of Des Moines, Iowa. The algorithm landed them at a First Friday Breakfast Club for gay and bisexual men. There they met a man named Gary who opened up to them about his experience leaving rural Iowa so he could live life as an openly gay man. As he described the home he left behind, Gary started crying. (21:48 if you want to listen). Here's the reporter's reflection:

Fifteen minutes earlier we had been speeding through a barren winter landscape and then, just like that, we were here, in front of an older man, with a muffin crumb stuck in the corner of his mouth, who had been overcome and was accidentally crying in public about how the freedom he clawed for himself had cut him off from a thing that he loved. Is that the price you might pay for ditching your bubble?

These words, and Gary's tears, really struck a chord. Like most people who've left home in search of something (adventure, a job, a spouse, freedom...) I've done a ton of bubble-hopping. I've lived in 7 cities and 3 continents in the past 10 years. Don't get me wrong, I love my nomadic lifestyle: it has enriched my life, widened my perspective and introduced me to the man of my dreams. But, in that process, it's also made me feel increasingly disconnected from the community I was brought up in. (A huge reason why this site exists.)

My desire to burst out of my bubble always comes from wanting to experience more of the world. But the price I pay for this is a feeling of never truly belonging anywhere; of always being, in some sense, an outsider. Every time I move somewhere new I feel like I'm infiltrating, visiting, touring, sightseeing... all verbs that are temporary by definition.

So yes! I'm an unrooted individual! Sometimes this concept is super freeing and sometimes it depresses the hell out of me. I'm like a bird who flew high and far but is now getting tired and needs to find a place to land, build a nest and lay some eggs. But where? And when I do find that place, will I ever feel there the same way I feel when I'm in Puerto Rico? Or is my original caribbean bubble the only place that will ever truly feel like home? 

Is our original bubble, the one we were born in, the only one that will ever truly feel like home?

Hay que perderse

Hoy llegué 25 minutos tarde a una cita con mi peluquero, super puntual a hora boricua pero el gringo que me tiñe de rubia no estuvo de acuerdo y se rehusó a atenderme. Para añadirle al caso, mi teléfono se quedó sin batería pero le había montado tanto escándalo al tipo que no me atreví regresar a pedirle prestado su cargador - hubiese sido weird luego de haberle tirado la puerta y amenazado con no volver jamás. Gracias al drama (que vergüenza), no me quedó de otra que tener que llegar a mi casa sin GPS.

Mi telefono es una porquería y se queda sin batería super rápido pero no lo cambio porque me da terror tener que regresar a Sprint a firmar un contrato lleno de palabras incomprensible que me van a atar una vez más a un servicio que no entiendo pero sin el cual ya no puedo existir. Pero más que esto, me aterroriza tener que vivir sin Google Maps, perdida como un topo, arrastrando papeles impresos con mapas de Mapquest por las calles de Seattle. Hoy me di cuenta Google Maps, al igual que muchos de los features de mi celular, me hace la vida más fácil pero mucho menos interesante.

Cartel fotografiado fuera de un bar en Cartagena, Colombia, donde la gente sabe vivir.

Cartel fotografiado fuera de un bar en Cartagena, Colombia, donde la gente sabe vivir.

No voy a mentir - luego de salir del peluquero me tomó un buen rato llegar a mi casa. Mi cerebro estaba como "WTF...donde está la vocecita esa que me dice que hacer?! Y ahora, que hago!?" Pero deambulando por las calles de Seattle vi partes de la ciudad que nunca había visto: un restaurante vietnamita bien chevere, un sitio que tiene happy hour de café y cupcakes por las tardes, una cervecería alemana que a C le va a encantar... OK casi todo lo que vi fue comida, pero de todas maneras! Descubrí cosas cool que jamás hubiese visto si estuviera siguiendo las direcciones exactas de mi GPS.

El GPS nos tienen a todos viajando de punto a A a punto Z sin dejar tiempo ni espacio para descubrir y disfrutar el sublime espacio que existe entre la B y la Y. 

Mi punto es: los 'smart phones' nos han vuelto adictos a los procesos lineares y las contestaciones inmediatas.  Pero muchas de las cosas más mágicas, las amistades más bonitas, las oportunidades más interesantes, y los restaurantes más ricos se descubren cuando uno no sabe exactamente a donde va. Por eso es que hay que perderse y disfrutar del estar perdido (lo segundo es aún más importante). Y es que perdiendo es que uno encuentra y se encuentra.

Anda Pa'l on NBC!

Thank you NBC for featuring my bags in your list of Top 10 Latino Inspired Gifts.

I was in Puerto Rico for the holidays, which means days full of lechón, mofongo, arroz con gandules, pasteles and SCREEN PRINTING! Thank you to all who bought and gifted one of my bags. I am most grateful for your support. And wait 'til you see what I have in store for 2016!