Monday, July 26, 2010

dream on

“How do you get to travel so much? What’s your secret?”

This is the number one question I receive on a regular basis from friends, family, and people I’ve only just met. Everyone seems to think there’s a trick up my sleeve and I must be a magician who refuses to reveal my secrets. Until now.

Follow your heart.

It’s that simple. I strongly believe that if you want something bad enough, you can make it happen. If I can, then anyone can. But you can’t make everything happen; that’s the trick I suppose. When you pursue a dream with all your heart and soul, other aspects of your life will suffer. It’s the sacrifice one must make if they want to make their dream a reality.

Let me make this clear now: I am not on vacation. I am a traveler and this is vastly different from going on vacation. People seem to think that because I’m in far off places that my life must be easy and without stress. Wrong.

I’ve become accustomed to living with chronic bug bites, diarrhea, and sunburns. I often sleep on the floor, in airports, and overnight buses. When I do sleep in hostels, they’re cheap, which also means dirty, uncomfortable, and most likely a bit sketchy. I can share a room with up to 12 strangers coming and going at all hours of the day and night. I get lost, confused, and have awkward conversations in languages I don’t even speak. (Usually involving crazy hand gestures.) More often than not, I’m uncertain that I’m headed in the right direction, only hoping I’ll eventually get to where I want to go.

Adventure seeking is also a physically strenuous task. In order to get the most authentic experiences, one must push the muscles and mind to their limits. From a strenuous hiking trip with a badly swollen and infected ankle to climbing down steep stone stairs face forward with my hands for marital arts training, I’ve learned that authenticity makes you incredibly sore. And while cruising in a boat through the jungle I’ve had to endure hours of downpour and get soaked to the bone, only to camp outside and never truly warm up.

But when muscles ache, they soon heal and when covered in sweat or frost, eventually you’ll find shelter and a comfortable body temperature. The pain and misery will soon fade away only to leave you with memories and a good story. I know this trauma is part of the entire experience so I take it all in with a smile and some sarcasm. Unfortunately, I’ve traveled with people who are not capable of enduring such annoyances. From crying to complaining, I’ve heard it all and this is another reason I know a lot of people cannot handle this lifestyle.

Yes, it’s an adventure, and that I love. But most people are simply not cut out for life on the road. They enjoy a sense of home; a place to feel at ease in and have all of their belongings near them. I have to live with the same very limited wardrobe for over 6 months at a go. (The majority of my clothes have holes in them. I travel with a sewing kit.) I also have to carry everything I own on my back, which makes me really sweaty and exhausted.

Most people like to surround themselves with friends and family they’re comfortable with. I rarely see the people closest to me and have to make a new “best friend” every week when on the road. On top of that, many of my friendships from home have suffered. People get hurt or jealous by the fact that I’m rarely around. I lose support, contact, and sometimes an entire friendship with every trip I take and it will never stop breaking my heart.

And of course you can’t forget about the relationship issue. A good number of people have the benefit of being in a happy, healthy, and stable relationship. I’ve had no choice but to throw my love life out the window and live a life of near celibacy. Besides, my vagabond lifestyle attracts mainly douchebags and all the good ones are scared by the fact that I could leave them behind.

So there’s the reality check folks. Sure, I see my fair share of fun and adventure. From playing with monkeys to riding camels and tomato fight festivals to illegal border crossings; I live a life most people never imagined possible. But I’ve had to sacrifice pretty much every other aspect of my life to sustain this around-the-world dream.

Don’t get me wrong, I have no regrets. I love my life. But I needed to clarify what my life is to everyone who believes this fantasy jet-setting vacation dream is easy. To be poetic, traveling is like a rose: beautiful to all who admire from afar, yet full of painful thorns if you get a hold of it yourself.

There’s really only one main reason why this lifestyle works for me: it makes me utterly and completely happy. Seeing new places, experiencing other cultures, and finding adventure in random corners of the world is what I am most passionate about. This is what drives me and pushes me forward. From frustrating moments abroad to working at home, traveling is the carrot that keeps me going. Nothing ever seems too difficult because it’s what ultimately makes me happy. From deep within my soul, this is who I am.

But before I finish without any real advice, I’ll offer some quick tips on how to travel more often than work. First, I’m good with money. Really good. I watch every penny which means those with shopping addictions are near doomed. Also, with every trip I gain new friendships and people inviting me into their homes. This not only gives me a goal and direction of where to go and what to see next, but a free place to stay. Consider using if you don’t know anyone. It’s safe and I’ve had nothing but good experiences, nor have I heard any horror stories. Lastly, I often live off of peanut butter and banana sandwiches and (questionable) street food while on the road. I dream of burritos and cooking in my kitchen constantly, but good food has been a big sacrifice for staying on the road longer. Possibly my most missed luxury.

Finally, I want to end on the best advice I can give: design your life as you wish it to be. Search within your heart for what you want to do most with your own life. Is it a career? Or an artistic pursuit? Do you want to write a book? Or become a mother to many? Or own a company? Or maybe it even is traveling around the world. Whatever it is, find your one and only dream that works best with your personality and passions. Anything you want more than everything can and will come true, if you work hard enough and sacrifice for it. It’s that simple really. Design your life.

Friday, July 16, 2010

ramblin' on...

As I boarded the train for Paris, it finally hit me that I had only one week left in Europe, which left me both saddened and excited. I had to live every moment and savor every flavor. Luckily, I had one complete day in Paris to myself before I was off to the coastal town of La Rochelle to meet with my friend Celine.

Since I had been to Paris before, I spent the day doing the un-obvious. No Eiffel Tower or Louvre, but I did sit and enjoy the scenery. I spent most of the afternoon at the modern art museum and strolling/people watching the rest. I was also very lucky to be couch surfing and the three roommates invited me to a mini dinner party at their flat. Even when I knew no one in that gigantic city, I still managed to get myself into the local scene. Nice.

By the way, a lot of people ask me how I can travel so much for so little and always avoid the tourist traps. Get on people. Its facebook, but with free places to crash all over the world. You’ll make friends, get insider advice, and travel on the cheap. Highly recommended.

Anywho, back to my adventure. The next day I found myself running after my train even though I had arrived 45 minutes early. My inability to take transportation without delay or panic will probably haunt me the rest of my life. Still, I made it safe and sound to the gorgeous ocean side city of La Rochelle. Celine picked me up and brought me to the apartment she shares with her boyfriend who unfortunately did not speak English. (Actually, he could usually understand me, he just responded in French.)

Celine and I met in Peru a year ago and I remember her best for dancing on bars and staying out till dawn every single night. As you can imagine, we get on really well. But a lot had changed since I last her. She still enjoys drinks in the evening and partying it up sometimes, but she now has a stable and healthy relationship and a good job with a lot of responsibility. Luckily, while I was there she took a couple of days off of work so we could hang out properly. And fortunately, my favorite part about her hadn’t changed at all: her passionate energy and nonstop boisterous laughter.

First, it deserves to be mentioned that I was in France during the first round of the World Cup and my hosts were very much into it. This was the first time I was so spirited about the event and it was probably because the people around me were so passionate. This was also the second of three countries I would experience the event in (and the most zealous). So most of our nights involved having “the game” on in the background, nothing I minded at all. (Although the French were bothered when I told them I was a bad luck charm, especially since they embarrassed themselves both on and off the field. Oops, probably shouldn’t have mentioned that to them.)

All over Europe were complaints of the coldest winter anyone could remember and the lacking of spring entirely. France was no different. While it was mid June at this time, rain and clouds still dominated the sky and disrupted our plans for bbq.

Nonetheless, Friday still involved a lot of friends and family coming over for drinking, eating, and hanging out all night. It truly is a joy to be able to be apart of people’s lives, even if for just a moment, and meet everyone close to them and experience the world from their point of view. I am always grateful for these opportunities.

The following night was much the same as we went out in the country a wee bit to celebrate Celine’s aunt’s birthday. Family is a vital part of Celine’s life, particularly since her father passed away a couple of years ago. It was obvious this entire clan shared a close and important bond. No one really spoke much English, but I was welcomed in with open arms and lots of beer. A wonderful evening of eating, drinking, and even singing ensued.

Celine did her best at showing me around town and taking me to beautiful places. Her area was most definitely a vacation hot spot for the French from all over. The air smelled of salt, the ice cream was delectable, and the streets were filled with relaxed, happy people. The days were long but consisted of nothing in particular other than enjoying time and space, something I think the French are well accomplished at.

My favorite day there was June 21 aka the first day of summer aka music day. Apparently all of France celebrates the changing of the season by cramming the streets full with musicians of all types throughout the entire night. Celine had even taken the day after off of work in anticipation of the shananagins. It sounds so simple, but all we did was wander around and meet up with various friends of hers and listen to good music.

There were cover bands, djs, acoustic hippie girls, hard core bands, and even a little boy trying out his newly acquired violin skills. I felt alive and inspired. And a little bit drunk, mostly because we were carrying around 2 liter bottles of rum and soda. When I get back home (eventually) I don’t think I’ll ever readjust to the fact that you can’t drink in the streets. At least not happily or quietly.

The night was grand but didn’t go as late or crazy as expected. Which is to say we started to make our way home around 4 am and lacked hangovers in the morning. This was great though since it was my official last day in Europe and I wanted to enjoy it. So we got into the car and made our way to Celine’s most favorite beach.

I had no idea how far away it was; it was indeed an adventure, but a beach well worth the trip. The winding road was lined with a forest of tall evergreen trees and it was hard to imagine we were right next to a sandy beach. Actually, a wide, fine grained sand beach that I fell in love with the moment I saw it. Unfortunately I did not have my bathing suit, but I could still wade in the water and appreciate the splendid beauty that surrounded me. The sun had politely come out and gave the ocean a gorgeous shimmering essence that made me feel as if I were standing in a postcard.

Eventually we got hungry, drove to the local beach town, and ate some sandwiches on yet another beautiful beach. We shared stories of our past, what we wanted in our futures, and grew much closer than we ever could have dancing on bars. (That’s not to say our drunken antics weren’t bonding.) In the end, it was the most perfect final day in Europe I ever could have imagined.

Early the next morning, I bid Celine farewell as I boarded the train for Paris where I was due to fly out of later that day. When I arrived, I only had a couple of hours to burn so I used them to wander (with my giant effing backpack on) and enjoy my last meal. And of course, I ordered my last liter of house French wine for super cheap. I savored each sip, each bite, and each ray of sun.

Soon enough I was making my way to the airport, everything feeling very surreal as I was leaving, yet not going home. I was beginning my adventure in Asia with my first stop being in South Korea. I was excited, yet numb. And a little pissed off when I got to the check-in counter that they were so adamantly against me having a one-way ticket. This has never proven to be such a problem before (ok, in Ireland it was, but this time I had proof of work back home and a print out of my bank account showing I could afford to stay there. This is usually all you should need to accompany a one-way ticket).

So I was forced to buy a (refundable) ticket to some place in Siberia (literally), but still had to fork out $50 in non-refundable sales fees associated with the transaction. Merely a little bump in the road, but aggravating nonetheless. Soon enough I was on a plane and bound for South Korea, but with a layover in a country I had never heard of.

The greatest part of flying in other parts of the world is the quality of service you receive onboard. Back home in the States you might as well have to pay to go to the bathroom. Abroad, hot towels are given out, decent meals served, and unlimited alcohol service. I tend to take advantage of this service, but never abuse it. Until now.

My gin and tonics led to several bottles of wine that I inevitably had to go to the back myself and kindly ask for. The last one I went for, the flight attendant insisted I take extra snacks as well. (Bonus!) When I got off the flight, she told me how impressed she was that I was walking straight. Truth was, I wasn’t even buzzed. Something about airplanes or flying prevents me from getting drunk. All I know is, when alcohol is always free on this airline and I can impress those flight attendants with my drinking ability, well, it’s probably time to lower my tolerance. Although, these people have never heard of Chico State.

My layover was in Qatar, a Middle Eastern country I didn’t know existed before I bought my plane ticket. Needless to say, there was some culture shock involved as I traveled from Europe to the Middle East to Asia, all in one day. My layover was short but required a cigarette and I was surprised to find I was the only female in the compact yet very full smoking lounge.

Right after I entered, three girls followed quickly, one sitting next to me. She was from South Africa and expressed being uncomfortable the previous time she was there. There were stares and scowls, but I’m used to Western women getting excused from certain societal norms. And I really needed that cigarette.

I spent my layover getting to know this woman and appreciating that no matter where you are or what you’re doing, you can meet interesting and wonderful people. I’ll never see her again but our conversation will sit with me forever. It was also really nice to people watch and make commentary with a fellow independent woman in a Muslim country.

Soon enough I was in South Korea, a country much more beautiful than I could ever have imagined. I had over six weeks to get comfortable and relax, which is exactly what I’ve been doing. In the next blog I’ll describe the food, the culture, and my favorite part, living with my friend and fellow Chico chick, Mandy.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

rollin' with my homies

The moment I arrived in Amsterdam I was hurried to leave it. Not entirely; just for the weekend. Sophie, my host whom I met in Peru last year, had planned a hippie camping trip out to the woods with some friends and I had been eagerly awaiting this weekend for a long time. Sophie had met me at the train station and brought me to her house for a quick shower and to empty/pack my backpack with camping supplies. Within two hours we were back at the train station and on our way out to nature.

Being that it was quite late, the trains weren’t as frequent so it took quite a bit of time until we got to the town we needed to stop in. When we finally arrived we were beyond ready to sit and enjoy our first spliff together. Probably not the greatest idea as it was 1:30 am, dark, and not a soul in sight to help us if something were to happen like, oh, I don’t know, let’s say… we got lost. Because that’s exactly what happened.

After some time walking with large, heavy, and awkwardly shaped bags/housing equipment for awhile, Sophie realized she didn’t know where we were. Luckily we live in the era of technology and with some cell phone calls to her friends, who already made camp, we were set in the right direction. And since it was late and we weren’t to be trusted, two of the guys walked to come meet us and make sure we got there ok. And to help carry our bags, or at least that’s what I made them do once we met. We didn’t get to camp until 3:30 am. Thankfully we were able to crash in the other’s tents as setting ours up seemed ridiculous.

All that effort was not wasted though. It was truly glorious to wake with the sounds of birds chirping and the crisp, fresh air in my face. We were already there. Our Friday was not ruined with getting to camp and we could simply start our morning the hippie way: with Mikado and spliffs. (Mikado is basically a pick up sticks I grew to love.)

And thus began a weekend of utter indulgence with food, smoke, and drinks. Sophie was even amazing enough to prepare space brownies which made Saturday much spacier and that much better.

I could write about his weekend alone for pages. Seriously. But being that my whole time in Amsterdam was truly amazing I’ll try to keep it short. (Try.) People came and went throughout the weekend but I was thrilled there was a core group of relaxed and fun people I instantly felt comfortable with. It was the perfect initiation weekend.

We went on long walks through the woods, discovered a rad island, played games, chatted, smoked a lot, and also made our way into town both days to pick up supplies. Both nights we had to put on dinner for around 10 people and, I have to admit, we made delicious and inspirational dinners. And the fire roared the whole while which made me very, very happy.

It unfortunately started raining Saturday evening but that didn’t stop us form curling up by the fire, even if it was under tarps. Tee-pee tarps actually. You see, these boys were well adept at creating tee-pees out of logs so we had a massive tree tee-pee to hang out in, smoke under, store out kitchen supplies, and even hide from the rain when necessary. We even had a trash tee-pee and other tee-pees just for fun, which came in handy with the rain.

Sunday it was obvious the rain wouldn’t quit, even if it wasn’t constant. And we had plenty of weed left and no desire to leave quickly. So someone had the brilliant idea that since there were six of us, we should roll six joints and smoke them all at the same time. In one tent.

Everyone seemed to like the idea and so we crawled into a two-person tent, and everyone went to work. Except me. At this point I possessed no rolling skills, as it was something I’ve tried and quit several times in my life. It was only at this moment it became obvious to me how much I needed to learn. Sophie’s friend Gert-Jan was apparently the best and I was told to take classes with him. When I argued I’d been taught before, it was brought to my attention I had never learned in Amsterdam from a local. It was now or never. Good point. So I had Gert-Jan roll one for the moment for me and I was enrolled in his “class” the following week.

But this 6 person-6 joint-1 tent dream has a surprise twist ending. First, let me tell you this forest was covered in caterpillars. No joke. I was walking into them hanging from trees constantly and they actually did make it home in some of our stuff. Creepy. But while hot-boxing the tent we could hear the rain roar on outside and were super bummed we couldn’t go out for one last walk in nature. Then we saw a caterpillar in the tent.

I’m not exactly sure how A led to B but marijuana is truly inspirational and someone said we should make a human caterpillar. Meaning we hold a tarp above our heads with sticks and walk through the forest as one group, under a giant makeshift umbrella. Everyone was onboard with the obscure idea and so we set out for an adventure.

It took some time to sort ourselves out but soon enough we were marching through the forest, wet, muddy, and stoned, but happy little hippies nonetheless. We were so badass that we even managed to roll one while walking. True teamwork that was.

Pretty much as soon as we made it back to camp the rain let up. Annoying, but also convenient because we could finally put our tents away and prepare to leave. We didn’t end up leaving until much later and I was sad to say goodbye to that special place I called home for a few days.

Once safe and dry back in Amsterdam Sophie had to return (somewhat) to normal life. Sophie works with special needs kids before and after the school day and luckily had some time off while I was there and only needed to work a few days a week. She also had plans with friends and some things to take care of. Thankfully Amsterdam is a city I could never get bored in.

The sun had luckily decided to come out and play for the week and I spent most my days relaxing in the rays while smoking freely outdoors. To say my time in Amsterdam was utterly and completely relaxed would be an understatement. I loved every second of the time I wasted and appreciated the convenience and laid-back attitude about marijuana in public.

The Dutch have a “live and let live” sort of attitude and as long as you’re not harming anyone, you are free to enjoy life as you choose. No, the streets aren’t crawling with stoners. The city isn’t slow moving or constantly having munchie binges (although it really is the best place to get the munchies). Locals have simply grown up accustomed to the idea that some people like to smoke pot sometimes. Technically, it’s not legal, but most definitely is tolerated. Tolerance people; we could stand to learn some enlightenment. Californians, you need vote pro-cannabis in November!!! 

Anywho, by this point I had made my way into Sophie’s gang as a regular and I loved how comfortable I was with all of them. We would have smoking nights at their apartments and end up crashing the night, and inevitably most of the following day. Times were good.

Sophie lived with her family in a very nice place just a tad outside of the center of the city and luckily for me, her little brother just bought a new scooter and was so over his bicycle currently. So for my entire time there I had what might as well have been a car considering no local travels in one around town. Fact: everyone has a bike. And they use them too. For grocery shopping, going out on the town, and even picking up the kids. (Yes, kids; as in multiples. They have wheelbarrow-bikes for this. It’s the Dutch SUV.)

Finally I was in a place where I felt understood. Oddly enough, I was the amateur bike rider. But it didn’t matter because I truly relished cruising around town on my bike in the sun. Such a great form of transportation. The only problem was during rush hour in the center there are massive traffic jams that scared the life out of me, particularly when I was stoned and not sure where I was going. It was actually much safer and more efficient if I just got off and walked at some points. But in general I always looked forward to the bike ride home at the end of the night. Especially when I discovered the dance floor.

One of the many great things about Amsterdam is the fact that everything, literally everything, is art. From apartment buildings to ponds in the park; there is beautiful and interesting art everywhere you look in that city. Somewhere near Sophie’s house was an office/apartment complex next to the road that had a very interesting floor out front. It was a large open space area with a checkerboard of lights on the ground. During the day you would hardly notice, but at night, they flickered on and off to create a stunning light show that no stoner could pass by.

The first time I saw this landmark I nearly fell off my bike mesmerized. We stopped to watch for a few minutes and it wasn’t long before we decided we had to smoke there. Somewhere during the process we realized we didn’t have a lighter. After some of flagging down of the very few bikers or drivers without any luck we just decided to head back home.

Finally there was someone walking and low and behold, he had a lighter! He started to tell a story in Dutch and it wasn’t long before Sophie interrupted him and said “This story is too good! Tell it in English, she doesn’t speak Dutch” motioning to me. Now I only mention this because the Netherlands might be the only country you could demand a total stranger to speak in a foreign tongue and know for a fact they can speak that second language.

You see, the Dutch start learning English at such a young age and don’t bother translating most movies and shows, which basically means you can assume 98% of Dutch people speak good English. They don’t think they do, but they’re just out of practice. One day with a native speaker and they can all keep up, trust me.

Anywho, all that was to say in this conversation with this random guy, he asked us where we were going after our smoke. Mind you, it was late night/early morning and we were already stoned. I’m not sure why but I blurted out we were going back to the dance floor. He looked confused and a bit frightened as he quickly bid us farewell and made his way far from the weird hippie girls who wanted to smoke and stare at some lights on the ground and called it ‘the dance floor’. Understandable, but I didn’t think what I said was weird… the time. And that’s how the dance floor was christened its name.

We decided the dance floor would be better used if we had our ipods so we actually planned on bringing them out the next time for this purpose. We actually did a few times; it was how I wanted to spend my final night as well. The dance floor is truly amazing because while there are a few random passersbys, for the most part it is isolated and alone (minus the hundred apartments looking down on it. (If I can’t see them they don’t exist; I only hope they enjoyed the show.)

So we returned to smoke, chat, and then dance our asses off. And I mean really dance our asses off. We had a silent disco in which we both listened to our ipods (different songs but in general, Michael Jackson) and both let go entirely of our inhibitions and concerns for what others thought and just danced. Out in the open, by ourselves, for the entire world to watch. Sure there were a couple of awkward pedestrian moments, but I just smiled and laughed as I’m sure I made some people’s nights.

When we were done we always listened to chill comedown music and simply sat on the ground captivated by the lightshow. I can’t tell you how happy the dance floor made me. Funnily enough, the night after our first dance off, I saw three girls sitting on the ground there listening to their ipods. Maybe we started a trend. When you throw a rock in a still pond, it’s hard to predict where and how the ripples will flow.

Another important part of this trip was reconnecting with Phil… yet again. Remember that crazy Brit I stayed with in Liverpool and then partied twice with in London? Well, there’s no getting rid of him and that’s the way I like it. Phil booked his ticket for Amsterdam while I was still in England and I was looking very forward to meeting up in the magical and amazing land of Amsterdam; and I expected nothing short of trouble.

The first day we had together we attempted to visit a museum, a photo exhibition, and be semi-productive. Yet, as somewhat expected, we simply smoked and ate all day. But it was a great day. And at some point, when passing a magic mushroom shop, I mentioned I was finally ready to try mushrooms. (Background info: I decided if I could make it to 25 without trying any drugs, I was then open to trying them after. Last year, when I turned 25, Phil was there to trip out with me on San Pedro, a strong hallucinogenic and cousin of peyote. We had a damn good time. Which is why I mentioned the mushroom idea to him.)

So naturally Phil was open and eager to buy some “chocolate” and we dedicated the following the day to pure hedonism. He rented a bike and we set out for a small island nearby to lie on the beach. We did this knowing it might rain later that day but at least we found a place with a bar nearby.

The stuff we bought was very light and told it would just give “happy feelings and giggles”; perfect for a first timer. And it did exactly that. We were enjoying ourselves very much until it started sprinkling rain. We are not people who give up easily so we just busted out an umbrella as the rest of the people on the beach went running for cover. It wasn’t until it was obviously a serious storm rolling in that we packed up and darted for the newly opened bar.

Soon enough the wind roared, the rain pounded in sideways, and all the locals around us were baffled by the storm that had quickly overtaken us. “What lovely beach weather,” we sarcastically admired and did our best to act normal as we were now in ‘society’, something I was not planning on being apart of that day.

Luckily the weird hippie kids were barely noticed and the bar turned out to be an amazing sanctuary. Good music, good food, beer on tap, and even a fireplace made our mushroom adventure amazing. We could even have ‘office meetings’ to help pass the time.

Eventually, when the skies cleared up, we hopped on our bikes and made our way to the far side of Amsterdam to meet up with friends. It was already arranged we would have a major smoke and chill session at the boys’ place; not exactly the greatest of plans on mushroom adventure day. But the real mistake was me asking for a Dutch windmill.

Dutch people are very kind and helpful and this group of friends was especially so. So when my request was made it was without hesitation that construction began on this incredible project. What’s a Dutch windmill you ask? Simply, it’s a device made out of paper that allows you to smoke four joints at once. It’s not an easy task, and I did not know this beforehand. But eventually, and many warm up rounds later, the Dutch windmill was completed with a tulip and placed in a bong. This was new to the locals and we were all excited to smoke the masterpiece. I was quite impressed with their teamwork and rolling skills. And then I was put on my ass.

The day came swirling around me and for about 10 minutes I sunk into the couch unable to move or speak. I was uncontrollably sweating and not understanding why no one else had this horrific reaction. Then I snapped back to reality and realized that there is indeed a way to smoke too much. There is also nothing I regret about that wonderful and wasteful day dedicated to drugs.

Now I’m sure at this point I come off as ridiculous and immature, which is probably true, but sometimes in life we all do stupid stuff. Usually it’s done around the age of 16 but being that I’m growing down rather than growing up this makes total sense. You’re probably wondering if I did anything other than waste my mind and body away and the answer is yes (kind of).

I participated in an all day soccer tournament between bars and restaurants. It was the most physical activity I had seen in awhile, not to mention the fact that I haven’t touched a soccer ball in 10 years. I am happy to report I didn’t suck and actually did a decent job controlling the field and ball. In fact, I was one of the better ones out there and it’s obvious sports bring out the competitive side in me that has been dormant since my days of lacrosse. It was a great day. (I guess I forgot to mention the free beer and food we were given. It made the games more fun and relaxed.)

There was also a concert I attended that was a tribute to Sophie’s father’s band from the 70’s. He was in an ensemble group that told stories with songs and made a huge impact on the local community. Even nearly 40 years later there are still fans that came out to enjoy the tribute and cheer on as the original members went up for a song. It reminded me how lucky I am to know so many amazing people around the world and how by default I get to participate in so many wonderful events.

The World Cup began while I was in the Netherlands and it was really the first time I paid any attention. Excitement was in the air as people constantly discussed the match-ups and sported their country’s (ugly) color of orange. For their first game, Sophie and I met up with friends at an outdoor pub in the park which had erected a large screen. We drank beer and cheered the afternoon away as the Netherlands defeated Denmark and I was psyched to be apart of the winning team. (Side note: I seem to be some unlucky charm and doom whatever local team I am rooting for. This was the first time I didn’t experience a loss. Sorry France.)

The last thing I don’t want to forget to mention is the boat rides I was able to take through the winding canals of Amsterdam. Sophie’s friend lived on a houseboat and had a small motorboat in which she loved to just cruise around and people-watch on a sunny day. We went out several times and I loved every minute of relaxing and enjoying the scenery. Before, I had only been on those massive tourist boats and this time I was doing it local-style aka picking up people along the way and making snack stops. Priceless.

Of course by this point I had taken a couple of spliff rolling classes with Gert-Jan and, as promised, I had conquered this demon of mine. Sure I haven’t mastered rolling yet, but have acquired survival skills that I could use on a boat, in a windy park, or anywhere need be. I am proud to say my teacher, both patient and strict, did a wonderful job with my lessons. At least I accomplished something in Amsterdam.

If you’ve made it to the end of this blog: congratulations. It’s nearly as great of a feat as me surviving Amsterdam myself with my lungs and liver intact. Really, I didn’t even board the train without a couple of spliffs and a snack bag. I was on my way to Paris and ready for my final week in Europe. I had a plane ticket to South Korea with my name on it and I’ve been waiting to go to Asia for a very long time. But those stories will have to wait (and be edited to a shorter length). It took a long time to post this because even I was sick of looking at it. That and I procrastinate better than anyone I’ve ever met.