Weekend words from Nomadic Matt

I’m here in Lima, Perú. I’ve been at this for a while. In many respects I can consider travel my life’s work. People are constantly asking me for tips, tricks, hacks etc. mostly though, it’s the “how do you do it”?

I’ve packaged that response in multiple ways over the years and each time I do I’m reminded of the most vital ingredient.

Just do it. Start somewhere. Go somewhere. Go ANYWHERE. See as much of this insanely beautiful world as you can. You will not regret it.

From Nomadic Matt (nomadicmatt.com)

“We all ponder exotic locations and amazing adventures. We think of the trips we will take and the places we will meet.

And then we abandon those dreams as rapidly as we thought them up.

We think of all the reasons why we can’t go. Why today isn’t perfect and we just have too many things to do.

Something comes up and our plans are put off until tomorrow as we wait for “the right time.” When we have more money, more time off, when things aren’t so crazy – then we can travel. We just need the stars to align a little more.

But, here is a secret: it will never be the right time to travel.

You’ll always find an excuse as to why today just isn’t the right day.

You will always have some reason to stay at home.

The idea that the stars will align and you’ll find the perfect day to step out of your door and into the world is a fantasy.

But tomorrow won’t be any better.

Tomorrow, there will still be bills to pay.

Tomorrow, there still won’t be enough money.

Tomorrow, there will still be someone’s wedding to attend or a birthday party to go to.

Tomorrow, there will still be planning to do.

Tomorrow, you will still second-guess yourself.

Tomorrow, you’ll still find yourself putting off the preparation for one more day.

Tomorrow, people you know will still sow the seeds of doubt in your head.

Tomorrow, you’ll find another excuse why you can’t go.

The perfect day will never come.

If I had waited for the “perfect day”, I’d still be waiting. I’d still be waiting for someone to come with me or for just a little more money.

Sometimes, you just have to take the leap and go for it. Ships aren’t meant to stay in harbor – and you weren’t meant to wonder “what if?” Because, one day, you’ll find you’ve run out of tomorrows.

And you’ll be filled with nothing but sadness and regret.

So stop waiting.

Take the leap.

Today is your day.”

What do you think?

Barcelona is easy to love

Ah Barcelona. Bright, beautiful and exotic to the American mind. The home of Gaudi, the stunning architectural master that adds yet another flavorful layer to the Catalan city by the sea.

I visited Barcelona in the early summer 3 yers ago. It was my first time in Spain (A country I have come to love the fuck out of). I had spent the majority of my travel time off the beaten path as it were. Trekking through the rapidly changing regions of Eastern Europe and the former USSR. Friends and colleagues, fellow travelers and Instagram alike had hyped Barcelona to impossible heights. “The absolute best city in the world”.

I had to go right?

And thus I did.

And I get it. I truly do. Barcelona is the topless beach, where someone passes you a joint and invites you to hacky sack. Barcelona is all night sangria. Barcelona is shockingly gorgeous people of damn near every stripe. (Seriously though, where did all of you beautiful people come from??) It’s mostly safe and enchanting enough.

But therein lies the rub. Not to sound like a wanker, but I’ve been at this for a bit. I thrive on finding that travel magic and at this point I gotta dig for it. Barcelona…is like Disney world. Barcelona is a dream, an idea. This City is the myth that keeps you working over time to be able to pay for that vacation. So, it shouldn’t be shocking that It’s a place SATURATED with tourists. Now, I recognize that I am one of those tourists. Albeit not in a backward ball cap and flip flops getting blind wasted in the afternoon and cat calling passing ladies.

I had an idea that since the world and everything in it changes so damn fast (who’s getting old?!) that perhaps Barcelona would be different 3 years later. Don’t get me wrong, as I’m not overtly hating. Every place has elements of awesome. Barcelona certainly has more than its fair share. If you go, and if you most certainly should, stay outside the Las Ramblas area. When you venture near grace yourself for heat, crowds, that overpowering scent of urine and airport style prices.

Stay anywhere else, and try to at least make an effort to engage some aspects of Catalan culture. Don’t be a sack of asses and enjoy your holiday.

This August Barcelona was under 300$ RT from the midwestern US. The best option on the continent and a great hub to explore the Mediterranean regions I am keen on.

Did I enjoy it? Abso-fucking-Lutley. Barcelona just doesn’t have that magic for me. The primary industry is tourists, who flock to its sunny shores and bars like a European Cancun…only without the resort culture.

Loads and loads of people love Cancun, and even more love Barcelona I’m sure. It’s a personal preference thing. I don’t really dig cruises or theme parks. I’ve always been on the hunt for something more…visceral. For a first trip to Europe, I would still go with Barcelona over London/Paris. I would land in Barcelona, then head elsewhere in Spain or the region. Which is exactly what I did.

More on that next post!

Back to Bangkok, Time to Rock

When you roll the travel dice, and tempt the divine powers that be, you can never really tell what’s going to happen. I’ve relied on fate mixed with a bit of intuition, thrown down with a dash of inspiration to steer my wayward ass on countless occasions. This time around, I was coming out of a savage yet rewarding semester. I had taken on more classes than ever, and drowning in bluebooks, prepping like a madman and holding it all together along with the backdrop of an incredible year of change had left me optimistic, yet a touch depleted. More on that shit possibly later.

I waited until the last possible second.

“I need to get the fuck out of here”

“Tickets look kind of pricey”

“Well shit”

I could have stayed home, tended to a few things, prepped for next semester, etc…but lo and behold, after scanning possible routes for a few weeks, in the midst of finals, days before departure what falls into my lap?!

A scuzzy bargain basement fare to Bangkok Thailand. Don’t go and read the reviews. Stop being scared. Stop wasting all of your fucks thinking about what could go wrong. Embrace what could go right, tap into the stunning ass power of ridiculous optimism instead. Kick fear in the dick, and let hope reign supreme. Buy the ticket, take the ride.

Boom. Do it. Don’t look back.

For two months worth of most people’s cable bill, I was out of here. 15 ass numbing hours to Shanghai , then five more to Bangkok, this adventure was underway. I had finally finished grading in the wee hours the night before with my trusted buddy Frank, courtesy of some amazing friends. (Reason #16578 not to be a twat, friends make the world go ’round)

Frank always offers stellar moral as well as academic support

Thus I was able to grab a bit of shut eye. My flight from China landed at 2:00 AM after 25 hours, and 10,000 Miles. All grades submitted, everything graded. 2018, mostly survived. My cab driver despite lack of English kicked on the jams, and him, I and Neil Young rocked into the city.

Late night eats and into my hotel. I’ve been loving the simple things as of late, and so many aspects of Thai culture resonate with that. From outlook, all the way to flavor profiles.

This is my third time to the land of a thousand smiles, and this journey is just getting started.

Ready to get lost with me??

Leave some love, or don’t.

Europe, on sweet training wheels.

You know I’m all for savage adventure. After Colombia and a brief respite back in the mitten, through chance and a bit of luck I’ve found myself back on the road. An easy flight to Amsterdam, and a few days on the canals turned into a run to Brussels and the push down to the Mediterranean. I’ll start by saying I love the Netherlands. I’ve used Amsterdam well over a dozen times to base invasions or departures from Europe. Winter, summer, spring…never a bad time here. Stroll the Red Light district, have a waffle, enjoy the people watching and the canals. Take it all in and relax. You’ve arrived! This is the perfect starting point. I’ve come to look at Amsterdam a bit as the perfect beginners gateway to Europe. Or, as the title suggests, Europe with training wheels. Let’s start with the airport. It’s big, sure, but easy to navigate. Make your way through customs and viola, the train station is in the basement of the airport. 25 min and 6$ and you are now in the city center.

How easy was that?!

Arriving in the morning is cool as the city is disarmingly quiet. Make your way to your accommodation, drop your stuff, grab a shower/charge your things and get out there! The people here are used to tourists. Don’t worry too much, if you’re confused about something, ask. There are tons of foreigners here, especially in the center. Find a cafe, grab a coffee and start your exploration. I’m a total sucker for canal shots as you can tell. These make for the ideal morning wander as they have a tendency to get jammed packed as the day goes on. You will log serious miles marveling at the old world architecture, waterways, and other sordid attractions. As this is the red light district, you will walk past people engaging in the time honored wake and bake, hitting it hard in the various coffee shops as well as on the street.

Yes. Weed is legal, taxed, and regulated. Enjoy that shit. Just don’t be a wanker about it.

One of the other big taboos for Americans is legalized prostitution. Get over it. Also, respect the ladies. Don’t try to take their picture or waste their time. Smile and walk by. Enjoy the ambiance. How many places like this exist in the world?!

Enjoy the European cafe culture, walk this city, and see how much different things can be. The Dutch are awesome, and as an American they may just ask you why everyone in the States is so sensitive. Grab a beer at one of the dozens of eclectic bars and think about this question. Hang around for the night life, and soon you will be with people from 10 different countries, sampling beer and snacks that simply don’t exist at home, expanding your mind with conversations you never thought you’d have.

A mind stretched by new experiences has a terrible time being closed again. Instead, it will leave you hungry for more.

Buy the ticket, take the ride, and let the good times roll. Amen.

Welcome to Colombia!

Say what?!

Yes dear readers, we braved Iceland to tell you all about WOW air and glaciers in the previous piece, and now we have arrived in warmer climates.

Welcome to Cartagena, Colombia!

The Kelty bag and I are once again on the road. This time for the first flight on Jet Blue. The process was solid, staff friendly, and the cabins kept extra chilly…which I love! Over all thumbs up to the team at Jet Blue oh this initial run.

Colombia has long been on my list, and I’m super stoked to be here. I want to present this country over the next few weeks outside of the single story we in the USA have heard over and over again. The single story of cocaine and violence. This place is so much more than that, and I want to share all of it with you. Now, I’ve been in country a whole twelve hours, and already I need to tell you a few things. First and foremost, this, (and you) are absolute bullshit if you travel to a place and don’t make any attempt at the language. You can try to at least master “Thank you”. If I can stutter through a few failed sentences, so can you. Assuming everyone speaks English, everywhere and at all times belongs in the depths of wankerdom. The practice immediately builds walls between you and what could be a kick ass local/authentic experience.

The second is another gleaned from my personal arsenal. Airline food sucks. Duh. No point complaining about it, as it’s not getting better. What I want you to do on your next flight is decline that shit. Have some snacks so you’re not all wienery and hangry to those around you. Then when you arrive, arrive famished. Arrive famished, interested and ready. Drop your bag at your accommodation of choice, embrace that hunger, and set out on foot.

What you find, might just change your fucking life. (And no, kick literal rocks Mr. Hard Rock Cafe) get out there and take a chance. There is no better way to begin to understand a place and a culture than its food. Today, after two bags of pretzels and a sneaky Kind bar, I found this.

Absolute Caribbean glory. I chatted in broken Spanish about the menu, and the area. The owner happened to be there. There are a few options I’m stoked to try in the coming days. Carpe that fucking diem. I’m happy to report that after an early morning Detroit departure and being heinously crop dusted in Fort Lauderdale by an evil old woman, I have arrived. Logged a few miles on the shoe lace express, chatted with some locals, and now completely ceviche drunk and content I will wander this city by the moon. Painting a picture of this “gem of the Caribbean”, I hope you’re ready for more.

A Note on Spontaneity

Just fucking go.

 

Seriously.

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There will always be a thousand excuses not to. Some more pliable than others.  Is it the perfect time? Probably not. Do you have wads of disposable income with no other designated purpose than making you smile? Probably not. On the flip side, however, do you need to eat out 3~ days a week? Probably not.  Lease and drive a new wanker mobile? Most likely not.  Do you really need that 5$ a day latte habit? Certainly not. Do any of these things actually make your life better?

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Find a way, buy the ticket, take the ride.  adventure is the one purchase that will always make you richer. Set the goal, embrace the unknown, and love taking the plunge. Love yourself enough to say “Lets do this”!  Even if this means finding yourself post leap, hurdling toward certain disaster, then at the last minute  building your wings on the way down, and coasting into bliss. I’ve never encountered anyone, late in life that said “I wish I didn’t adventure as much” or “I wish I would have spent more time at the office”…because that shit simply does not exist.  This is your life, and its ending one minute at a time. Why are you wasting these precious minutes on shit relationships, craptastic jobs, or toxic friendships?  There is a freaking world out there to discover. Literally billions of people, crazy flavors, insanely great cultures, traditions, and collective experiences.

Temple Street Night Market

I want to help you. In fact, I am dedicated to helping you. In this vein, I want you to maximize those travel dollars and inspire you to get up, get moving, and get into having your mind blown.  I have posted about some crazy airfare deals in the past, its one of the main pillars for cheap travel. In recent years there’s been a monsoon of activity for the LCC (Low Cost Carrier) segment.  What is this all about?

 

Funny you should ask.

 

I will take the plunge for you. I’ve just booked 200$ (USD) roundtrip flights to Iceland…for a weekend…Two weeks from now. This is exam season, and I don’t have a ton of time. Who goes to Iceland for a weekend?! Who books transatlantic travel less than two weeks out!?

The GypsyProfessor, that’s who. I’m going to detail the experience, and let you know how twisted it gets, and how bare bones it can be. Savage plastic lawn chairs aboard an airbus for 6 hours. Will it prove worth it?

This way when the next dirt cheap fare pops, you will have all the info you need to pull the trigger. Just a mini weekend run before we prep for a run through the jungle after the semester finishes!

Reykjavik! Prepare for my triumphant return!

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Wish me luck, and leave some love!

Monday Musings…a day late.

Today has been a Tom Petty kind of day. I miss that guy.

Fat Tuesday is here, its cold outside, and there are Paczki near at hand. Tuesdays may be the most difficult day of the week this semester. The previous evenings night class ends at 9:30. post the long slog of Monday, I am left to stumble home, a bit numb and wind down before bed. The true endurance is needed for the early morning rise on Tuesday.

How do you stay motivated? Do you look at flights? Pictures from previous trips?

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After much thought I’ve come to realize that the tricky Motivation beast is not a bottomless well, but a battery that has to be kept fully charged, and maintained. While the idea of travel is almost always inspiring, sometimes life gets in the way and then suddenly, your focus has shifted, you’re distracted, your limited supply of fucks have been redirected elsewhere. those are precious fucks, and you have a finite supply from day to day, so keep those eyes on the prize.

I feel as if I’ve had my ass kicked this semester. A month through South East Asia,Holy shit. Angkor Wat. then An incredible and yet taxing time in Haiti, The End of the World…Caribbean style. only to land  back to a full time grind a day later. The day job, running a small business, office hours, grading, the side hustle, writing, reading… who in the hell has time to run down their dreams?!? You know the whole damn point to all of it? I can get easily distracted, and these last few days have been a low point of frustration and exhaustion.

Motivation is important, and I want to discuss it shortly.

When it comes to traveling;

 

3 Quick bits

Research Destinations — Google them, read blogs about them. Here, and all over the web.  These are the initial steps, build the foundation, and eventually you’ll get there. It may sound wankerish, but by always keeping travel on my mind, I have a mental place to focus on, don’t just zone out, keep those eyes on the prize. Be mindful about what it is you want. Don’t worry, there will plenty of people to shit on your grand ideas. Friends and family who have never left the country rarely shy from giving you their input about not going there…because, in fact they have never gone anywhere. This is a GREAT sign. People bag on things they don’t understand. Just worry about getting there. You know when you encounter someone who is actively keeping their dreams alive. They are typically supportive of your endevours, positive and cool to interact with. Those that let their dreams die a twisted death are past even cynical, and their jaded nature finds a way to alter almost every aspect of conversation with them. People will either inspire you, or drain you. Chose them wisely.  I’m constantly researching destinations online, reading news from overseas, and generally getting to know the world better. Refining my “short list”.  The more I learn and absorb about various places, through history, culture, food, etc…Im left energized with a feeling of “So many places, so few years”.

Devote time – Stuff always seems to come up, doesn’t it? Life happens. Life happens fast. Blink and you will be in a long term relationship, picking out matching leisure wear, yelling at kids to stay off your grass. Guess who didn’t climb that goddamn mountain?  Look, nothing awesome comes easy. I spend roughly an hour per day looking at airfare and options for adventure. My dad, on the other hand reads the local obits every morning. (see the difference here)? Instead of wasting time on toxic people, or drowning in the mental masturbation of social media take that time back. Devote that shit to planning your trip. Make it a consistent part of your schedule and develop a habit so that it doesn’t feel like a task you “have” to do; it becomes just something you do automatically. Book a flight. Just do it. Go. You might be shocked whats waiting for you.

Read, Read…Read! — Reading about other travelers’ adventures can show you that it is easier to travel than you thought, provide advice and tips on the art of travel, and teach you about places you’ve never heard of. Start with the history of a particular region, then move onto some of the literature. Your experience will pay off in dividends.  And of course you can read about some of it here. Shameless plug.  Scared of Albania? Read about peoples experience there. I’m sure there are dozens of blogs dedicated to everything from the art/music scene, hidden beaches, solo female travel, vegan food options, etc. You go with a glimpse of history, end up with a talented musician on a secluded beach…how much better than some bullshit Caribbean cruise would that be? Perhaps One day you’ll get sick of living vicariously through others, and you will be all set to go make your own blooper/highlight reel.

This, as well as hanging out on travel forums will also help you tune out the ass hats that tell you “you can do that”. Life is too damn short for that shit. Like i said before, you chose your company. chose wisely.

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Leave some love

Baltic Success on the Solo Road

Some things work out quite nice as a trifecta. When I began thinking about the importance of traveling alone, I thought of my first time truly taking the plunge, and sharing that story became a necessity. Divided into three parts, this my mini narrative.

As you might recall the two previous chapters are On the Path to Solo Travel

and here: The Silver Lining/Solo Travel Pt2

So, after a crushing defeat, we find glory. (A proper silver lining) This glory is two fold. One of the first aspects is that when it comes to travel, toss those expectations right out the fuckin’ window. Toss em. I’ve known folks who have the most insane itineraries, allocating absolute minutia, building in “15 min break” slots into their schedules. Control wound that tight…is going to lead to a tense, frustrated mess.  No thanks.  Learn to embrace some element of flow and flexibility for a much improved experience.

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I had found my ticket, but it was last minute. My Balkan fantasies would be put on hold for a bit, because my only real option was Vilnius Lithuiania…With a 12 hour stop over in Stockholm, Sweden.  This sounded great to me. I was hell bent on embracing this new sense of enlightened adventure. I had completely  transformed my feelings of disappointment and anxiety into ones of wonder and excitement. I was doing this as a personal journey as well as a European adventure. As I mentioned before, this was a starting point of epic proportion. I booked this ticket last minute, and was set to arrive home the night before the fall semester began.  Logistics be damned, lets get on the road!

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I made it to Chicago, and boarded my flight. Watched a few movies, and promptly woke up in Sweden. That morning is mostly a blur. I took an incredibly nice, and incredibly expensive train to the city center. Grabbed a pastry and walked the Swedish capital.  Stockholm is clean, efficient and easy to navigate. Swedes are courteous and a bit cold in an appropriate “Nordic” style. 38894251235_5d6da2898c_b

Stockholm was an appetizer. I was here, and I did it solo. after a day of wandering about, meatballs, and viking heritage, I made my way back to the airport, for the propeller powered jump over to Vilnius.

 

I was only a bit nervous, but mostly excited. I had planned on a few days in Vilnius, then taking a bus to Riga, and then finally onto Tallinn. I had no reservations, no expectations, no damn travelers checks, just my phone and serendipity.

I land, clear customs, and make my way to the ATM for local currency. The person in line ahead of me turns around and says  “Go green”!

I was a bit shocked and tired, so I didn’t immediately grasp his meaning. Pointing to my

t shirt, I realized I was sporting a large Michigan State University Spartan logo.

This guy hailed from Royal Oak, Michigan, and was visiting a friend who had moved to Lithuania. I was stunned.

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His local based buddy had a great group of friends and I was soon welcomed with open arms. I found a local boutique hotel in the old town, and  most nights we met for beers and general debauchery.  I absolutely loved it. Vilnius is large enough to have a plethora of activities, and yet small enough to maintain at least a somewhat intimate feeling. I implored  my new comrades to join me for Riga, and we took the party on the road.

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Before this trek, I was racked with doubt about logistics, about enjoying that amount of solo time, etc. Mid way through this journey, I had embraced the uncertainty and was never going to look back.

” You live like this, sheltered, in a delicate world, and you believe you are living. Then you read a book… or you take a trip… and you discover that you are not living, that you are hibernating. The symptoms of hibernating are easily detectable: first, restlessness. The second symptom (when hibernating becomes dangerous and might degenerate into death): absence of pleasure. That is all. It appears like an innocuous illness. Monotony, boredom, death. Millions live like this (or die like this) without knowing it. They work in offices. They drive a car. They picnic with their families. They raise children. And then some shock treatment takes place, a person, a book, a song, and it awakens them and saves them from death. Some never awaken.”

This was my moment of awakening. On the long bus trek to Riga, and then onto Tallinn, I had decided. This was the road for me.

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After Riga my comrades went back to Vilnius, and I went on to Tallinn.  I want to write a more indepth review of these cities, and this post isn’t that. This bit is meant more to discuss the journey.

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This ten day journey covering a few thousand miles proved absolutely what I needed. By the time I made it back to Vilnius for the flight home, i was already looking at tickets for winter break. I was going for a long haul month long trek after exams to the Balkans. It was going to a twisted savage affair that would change me again forever after.

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Exploring these Baltic streets of the three capitals  in late August has stayed on my mind over the tears. I met so many incredibly friendly and inviting people. I left the region utterly inspired on every level to keep exploring, and never stop wandering this incredible world of ours.

 

 

 

 

Friday Motivation

 

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The weekend is nearly upon us! It’s time once again to momentarily shed the office shackles and wander a bit farther afield…Even if only in our imaginations.

Today’s blurb comes to us from an unlikely source.

 

Remember that there needs to be a balance, don’t kill your self for a company/job that would replace you in minutes.

Take care of yourself.

“The less you eat, drink and buy books; the less you go to the theatre, the dance hall, the public house; the less you think, love, theorise, sing, paint, fence, etc., the more you save – the greater becomes your treasure which neither moths nor rust will devour – your capital. The less you are, the less you express your own life, the more you have, i.e., the greater is your alienated life, the greater is the store of your estranged being.”

– Karl Marx, 1844

 

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Now rock that weekend!

Caribbean dreamin’

It’s been damn cold here in Michigan. As friends have not hesitated to remind me, I seem to have missed the really cold days, but I’m rather frigid none the less.

As the semester is underway and the rhyme and flow of the “grind” has set in, I’ve been thinking of Haiti yet again. I’ve been thinking of the island nation on a few different levels.

The first of which is downright adversity. Our last full day on the island was dedicated to a roadtrip to the sea. We tried to go the day before, yet couldn’t find a car. After overcoming this obstacle through much time, hard currency and angst, we then could find no fuel.

What?

That’s right. Port Au Prince was seized by a petrol crises. When was the last time you couldn’t go somewhere because when pulling into your local gas station a 12 gauge wielding team of guards informed you “no gasoline”?

Makes for a frustrated road trip. But this is a common occurrence for Haiti, especially in the capital. The solution? Dollars and time. Our fixer cobbled together a gallon here, a gallon there. We were set for early nothing the next day. To the sea we will go!

A mere hour outside the city is akin to visiting another planet. This is what I had imagined when thinking of a quick week run immediately before the semester. You know, coconuts n shit. Sandy beaches. Drinks with wee umbrellas.

Taking a day to lounge along the Côte des Arcadins is majestic. Slow, easy and not butchered by gaudy resorts. This day on the sea allowed me to begin to wrap my mind around Haiti. I had gone from the context of adversity to one of calm beauty. I did drink out of a damn coconut and floated for a while. These memories are extra potent when confronting sub zero Michigan temps. My final layer/level to Haiti that comes to mind is sheer tenacity. The savage beauty of the landscape as well as the people. I think back to the Ghetto Biennale, and Andre Eugene, the resident artist and curator. I think of seeing the kids of the art collective assemble amazing pieces, and having literally nothing. Living in a tent city.

I think about the grit that it takes to create, despite living in actual realized destruction. While I listen to my students bitch about the battery life of their new iPhones wearing their pajamas to class because they can’t be bothered to find actual pants. They “can’t even” as they say.

I think about Haiti. I think about how this place caught me off guard. Destroyed my intestinal tract, proved much more expensive and difficult than originally intended, how it caused friction among friends and could prove absolutley exhausting. But all of that aside, Haiti changed my perspective. I gassed up my private automobile yesterday…without issue. I drive where I want and things around me work for the most part.

You should smile about that.

Our political situation is nutty, with the US president calling Haiti a “Shithole” and promising to deport more Haitians…and this isn’t the post to delve into colonial legacy, but it’s something that deserves far more attention than it currently gets.

I think about Haiti, and I smile. I’m thankful for seeing a vastly different world, and yet again what that human spirit is capable of.

Thank you!

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