Uruguay’s Coastal Charm

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“Somehow it just never gets old. I sit here watching each wave take it’s turn smashing against the rocks in front if me; all patiently making their long journey from somewhere out in the vast endless blue skyline to the shore. A force so powerful, it’s hard to fathom. The sunlight glistening off the rocks wet from the constant intrusion of water, awake in the golden hour as the sun descends behind me. Waves toppling over each other to join as one powerful force, knocking down anything in its path. The rocks have been shaped and molded because the ocean has no mercy for its existence. The explosions mimic champagne bottles being popped, only the occasion is more special than any holiday or celebration; it’s the daily life for the ocean. It’s what drives the planet and it doesn’t get the chance to clock out. The movement of each wave holds an intricate design; each unique in it’s power, direction, size, and break. They fold into each other as they pass by, once distant strangers from elsewhere coming together. An ironic relationship that holds a particular current and pattern, while at the same time being so free and unpredictable.”

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Santa Theresa National Park

Sitting on some of the oldest geological formations looking out over the vast ocean, I sat and wrote down my emotions as I watched the surfers attempting to catch the waves crashing passionately into the rocks surrounding me in La Pedrera, Uruguay.

La Paloma

La Paloma

My deep infatuation with the ocean is not a new romance and these words can transcend all destinations where the ocean meets the shoreline. However, there was something about the beaches in Uruguay that captured my heart and soul in a unique way that left me craving the Atlantic coast upon our departure from the small South American country. Although Uruguay held many memories that spanned across all the geographic locations the land had to offer, the shoreline occupied a majority of our travels through the country.

Punta del Diablo

Punta del Diablo

Beginning our explorations where the Río de la Plata consumed the shorelines and harbors of Montevideo and Maldonado, we continued our journey eastward where the freshwater was corrupted by the salinity of the Atlantic Ocean. We spent about three weeks moving from one small beach town to the next, making our way up the east coast until the border of Brazil trekking, hitchhiking, or by bus. Escaping the upcoming summer season, we found ourselves walking along mostly deserted ocean landscapes. Prior to the madness that engrosses Uruguay’s beaches come mid-December and continuing through January, the shorelines remain relatively dead and the small beach towns almost completely empty. Perhaps it was the tranquil beach environment that was so captivating. Looking ahead at the kilometers to come as we trekked from La Paloma to La Pedrera and from Cabo Polonio to Valizas to Punta del Diablo to Santa Theresa, the vast emptiness created a strong bond between us and the ocean. We were all alone with her; listening to her every sound, watching her every move, feeling her warmth in the sand between our toes, her refreshing breath in the wind gently harassing our faces and her loving embrace with every wave that caressed our feet. Never for a second did she get old or boring. Our love grew deeper for her every day.

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La Pedrera

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Maldonado

But it wasn’t just the ocean and the beach environment in itself that made our Uruguayan adventures so lustful; we came across some extraordinary souls that enhanced every experience. Whether they were other international travelers sharing a beer and good conversation at the beach hostels or some Uruguayan locals, we met some amazing people that made every experience a memory for the books. It didn’t take long into our Uruguayan travels to convince us that the people of Uruguay are simply beautiful all the way down to their core. The constant help and love we received from all the people of Uruguay, including complete strangers, left us in constant awe at the generosity of the country’s citizens.

First time surfing, La Pedrera

First time surfing, La Pedrera

Uruguay is beautiful from its people to its beaches to its interior campo landscape. Still somewhat off the maps as tourism is still developing there, the country is well worth a visit. It captured my heart instantly and will hold a significant spot in my South American memories, especially our shoreline experiences. Uruguay’s beaches were something special; I have yearned for the ocean from the moment we left and continue to anticipate the next moment I can feel her affection once again.

Punta del Este

Punta del Este

Life is Reggea

 

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Nestled in between the two very quaint and humble towns of Verónica and Punta Indio, I spent a month living on a small farm in a house built entirely out of adobe mud on a work exchange program through World Wide Opporunities on Organic Farms (WOOF). Surrounded by a bright green landscape, spotted with sporadic trees, shrubs and wildflowers and home to neighboring cows and horses, the property didn’t take long to fall in love with. I had come to live in this small town in the middle of nowhere, Argentina, for a life change. When Buenos Aires proved to embody a much more modern and progressive scene than I had in mind, I was pleasantly surprised to find, upon my arrival to the little town of Verónica, the exact atmosphere and simple lifestyle I had come to South America in search of. A few hours outside of Buenos Aires, Verónica holds a magical, small town vibe and it is impossible to walk through town without saying hello to everyone–including complete strangers. Men and women looking to be well into their seventies or even eighties pass by on bicycles carrying their daily bags of groceries from local specialty shops and children looking to be as young as seven or eight walk through the streets without the need of parental supervision in a relatively safe town where everybody knows everybody. It took but a few days for me to learn how to navigate my way around Verónica, selling homemade bread baked fresh on the farm every morning; offering the delicious and still warm “pan casero con semillas” to locals around town for only 20 pesos (about $2.00 US.)lo11 It wasn’t long before I began to feel at home and like another local because of the warm and welcoming vibe Verónica emitts. It also helps when you stand out like a sore thumb and people are interested in who you are and where you are from the moment you utter a word in Spanish that immediately pin points you as a foreigner.

Verónica and the local people most certainly enhanced this experience, but the life itself I began to live there on the farm had been exactly what I wanted, and even more so, exactly what I needed. I stayed with an Argentine man named Cesar who left his big city life five years ago to start completely from scratch and build from the ground up, literally, on a small plot of land on the outskirts of Verónica. The small piece of land that Cesar has come to call home stands out amongst the cow pastures that span beyond his fence line. The house he built completely out of an adobe mixture of mud, sand, wood, hay, cow manure, and speckled with glass bottles and windows, stands strong within the long grass booming with life and color surrounding it. He has worked hard over the past half decade to get this farm to be where it is today, bringing life to his home with small trees, wildflowers and grasses, and a variety of fruits and vegetables. Everything continued to remain small during my time on the farm, awaiting the arrival of the warm sun brought in with the summer season.

The well-constructed house was rather large with a total of five rooms including a bathroom with a dry toilet and shower with running water (kind of). The house was very simple, yet extremely cozy and completely natural. Just like any other modern home, it came equipt with a refrigerator, gas stove, running water pumped from the ground, and even an internet connection. However, everything about this house was as simple as life gets down to the unmatching dishes, the woobly kitchen table, and the room that held the kitchen, my bedroom, the dining room, Cesar’s closet, and the computer all in one. The windows were held up by sticks wedged inbetween the side of the house and the window frame, the gas stove with only one working burner was fed by a propane tank that needed to be turned on and off in the other room, and water was pumped each night to fill the containers for the sink, shower, and garden hose.

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Everything was very simple; however, it was simply perfect. As I sat outside originally documenting my experience in my journal, leaning against the side of the house, posted up under the shade to escape the summer sun, with the cute cat named Puma cuddled on my lap, looking at my beautiful surroundings, and the cool summer breeze smacking me right in the face with the perfect temperature, I couldn’t help but wonder how anything else could paint a picture of such perfection. It was pure bliss stemming from pure simplicity. But don’t be fooled, living the simple life is much more difficult than it seems and Cesar works very hard day in and day out to achieve such tremendous results.

It was not just the town and the natural surroundings that made my time living in Verónica so memorable. I must say that a majority of what made my time there so special was thanks to my new companion and wonderful WOOFing host, Cesar. A dashing Argentine man in his early thirties, with the witty sense of humor and playfulness of a college kid and the intelligence and wisdom of an elderly man, Cesar has become one of the most influential beings that has ever come into my life. He was the first of the many people sharing similar living styles and mentalities I would come across in my travels around South America who would serve as vital inspirations on this new life journey in which I am currently embarking. He was the exact person I needed to get my life on the track I was hoping for. We ate mostly vegan–consuming fresh fruits and vegetables every day and mixing it up with rice, beans, lentils, oatmeal, and fresh bread–and getting our fair share of exercise doing various tasks aroun the farm each day. We were up at the crack of dawn and the day wasn’t over until our final Tai Chi lesson and late night music session at 10 or 11 pm (with a few naps inbetween). For the first time in a while, I was experiencing a full day. No longer was I sleeping in until noon, taking adderall to keep myself awake and functioning, smoking a bunch of weed and drinking beer, eating incredibly unhealthy, and sitting behind a computer or phone screen for a good part of my day. I was experiencing life in the fullest for the first time in a while. Maybe ever. And I felt great. I felt healthy.

lo1However, it was not just the dramatic lifestyle change that Cesar had brought into my life, it was the simple gratification that came from a successful day of selling bread or the end of a long day’s work. It was the being in the company of another person and not a televsision screen or some other electrionic device; sharing a mate over the magical sunset that spanned across the fields of green surrounding the house each night. But of the million and one amazing things this lifestyle had influenced upon me, I have to say, the best things it had brought was the positive energy and the constant learning. And of the many things Cesar had taught me from making a bomb homemade bread, to building an entire house constructed out of mud, to speaking Spanish, to permaculture, to politics, music, and culture…the most important lesson he had worked so hard to embed deeply into my brain was that “Life is Reggea”. A phrase he coined from another WOOFer, he used this statement to remind me that life is great whenever I was in any negative state of mind. When he saw me sad, angry, anxious, or frustrated, he just uttered that “Life is Reggea,” as a friendly reminder that everything was alright. We spent a majority of our time listening to the motivational words of  reggae musicians that emphasize the importance of healthy living and respect for life. Throughout my life, I have come across many people that preach one thing or another, but do not necessarily act on their words–including myself from time to time. But Cesar fully practiced what he preached and was able to inspire me to want to do the same. I had had all these ideas and plans for myself for a long time;  that I would someday give up meats, dairy, processed foods, maybe even gluten. I would quit smoking weed, stop with the beer and alcohol leading me into blackouts. I would exercise regularly, wake up early, read my books, write in my journal, meditate, do more yoga, and, most importantly, I would practice what I preach. One of the major goals of my trip to South America is to work on myself; grow as a person. At 23, I am proud to say that I am very comfortable in my own skin, I am happy with the person I’ve become and extremely satisfied with the life path I have chosen to live thus far. But naturally, there are some things that need work, and changing oneself is not exactly the easiest process. I would like to have more patience, more control over my attitude, be more go- with-the- flowy, more open-minded, and less opinionated. I found that changing the inner self is not just a mental process, but a physical too. Each long day of work at the farm, each time I did Tai Chi, each full night’s rest independent of needing marijuana to make me sleep, and with each healthy meal, I could feel the differences in my attitude and mentality. I had more natural energy, more motivation, and was able to stay more positive in frustrating situations. Life was just more reggae.

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The dramatic lifestyle change that  immediately influenced  me the moment I stepped onto that farm and Cesar stepped into my life, brought about a whole new me. The me I had been wanting to be, but was too scared to make the change. Although a month was most certainly not enough time to change me completely as a person, it served as a rude awakening to the lifestyle I was living and the poor choices I was making. It opened a new door that proved exactly what I had always known; that if I actually lived the lifestyle I wanted to and actively practiced this alternative way of living (eating healthy, exercising, working on my mental and spiritual being), I would most definetly be a  happier person inside and out. But this is a long journey, as overcoming the temptations and freedom of choice has proved to be extremely difficult even after leaving the farm. But I realized that when I am fully ready to commit to this lifestyle, it is there waiting for me with open arms, and so is the feeling it creates inside. I’m of course still working on it like I have been for years and even more so now. However, living on that farm and the influences of Cesar were an inspiration and  served as a fundamental learning experience. I try now to take each day one day at a time and remind myself that “life is reggae” because in all honesty, it is.

I was sad to leave the farm after one month, but it was the perfect first stop for my journey across South America.

Some Seriously Blessed Sperm

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My parents at my University graduation ceremony. Connecticut, United States

One of the most valuable lessons I have come to learn in the short 23 years I have lived in the world is that there is no location on this entire planet that doesn’t have something special to offer. Whether its a combination of magical colors that take up the sky during a sunset or just one person that brings a smile to your face for just a moment, every place has its quirks and its attractions–no matter how miniscule. I found that coming to this realization requires three fundamental abilities: possessing the ability to see beauty in even the ugliest things, to have a divine appreciation for all of the wonderful things that surround you at any given moment, and most importantly, having the ability to make the best of whatever situation you’ve been placed in, even if it’s incredibly unfortunate. Of course you can shake your head and disagree because not everyone has the mentality to think in this way. But I must tell you, coming to this realization over the past few years has truly enlightened my life and I have never been happier. In fact, I couldn’t imagine it being possible to be a happier person. Even in life’s cruelest moment, I have a million things to be thankful for from the friends and family that love and support me, even if at times I feel alone, to the pristine beauty of nature’s simplest things like the trees outside or the water that keeps me alive. At times when I feel angry, sad, lost, afraid, or anything at all negative, all I have to do is remind myself how blessed I am and then I begin to feel stupid for being upset over little, unimportant things. I remind myself that I have so much to be thankful for and how fortunate my life is. For example, even just that I have the ability to see color for I am not color blind or blind, deaf, or crippled at all. From that, I can then appreciate that my eyes can see every blade of grass that lights up green, my ears can hear the sounds of instruments and voices, and I can walk, skip, hop, and run whenever and wherever I please.

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Children fetching water in Granada, Nicaragua.

Having the ability to understand how amazing life is and exactly how remarkable everything around me is just in its very existence, is what makes my brain explode with appreciation and true happiness. Sometimes things are so unbelievable, I can’t even fathom it. So I am living This Unfathomable Life every day, all day and I am incredibly grateful. Not just for the all the things life has to offer in general, be they big, little, simple, or intricate, but I happen to live in a special world. A world only a fraction of the global population has the capacity to understand and the resources to live in. I am part of a small global population in which I refer to as “some seriously blessed sperm.”

Children and young men and women running without shoes at a local track meet. Haputale, Sri Lanka

Children and young men and women running without shoes at a local track meet. Haputale, Sri Lanka

I grew up in a nice, suburban town, surrounded by a family that loves me, in a middle-class household, with shoes on my feet, food in my fridge, and a roof over my head. I went to a good public school that had an abundance of school supplies and a library full of books to be used at my disposal. You know you’ve got it good when education is the enemy at a young age and you would much rather spend your time playing outside or playing games instead. If you were one of those kids that couldn’t wait to get out of school to join your parents laboring on “take your kids to work day” in a elementary school (or even know what that is), played hookey, or pretended to be sick so you could stay home and watch TV all day, then you too, were one seriously blessed sperm. Not enough people recognize just how lucky they are for everything they have, particularly the fact that they have things like opportunities for education that many children in the world would give their left leg for. Once you whole-heartedly appreciate everything you have been given in life, including your own very existence because that one sperm that happened to have made it to that egg at that exact moment created you, then you become a happier person. Stupid things begin to matter less and less and you develop a certain ability to see beyond what you don’t have.

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Volunteering at Camillian Home for Children Living with Disabilities and HIV/AIDS where many kids were abandoned and orphaned and could not get adequate resources necessary for survival. The kids and employees here were some of the most amazing people and happiest children I have ever come across. Bangkok, Thailand

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Working with some children who had never seen a playground before. Granada, Nicaragua

This was not just something I came across in general growing as a person. This is something I learned when I left my small town in Connecticut and ventured out by myself into the great big world. I realized I was a mere speck of existence in a planet booming with a vast spectrum of life and wonders to be appreciated. And don’t get the wrong idea, I wasn’t some hoity-toity spoiled biotch that had never been grateful before. Both my parents spent a great deal of time teaching my siblings and I about appreciation and understanding how lucky we are. They also both worked their butts off to ensure that the life they provided to us was to the very best of their ability. And in that, I owe a lot of my personal growth and positive mentality to my parents who showed me these things from a young age. But there is something about being raised in a typical American culture that makes you ignore these great life lessons our mentors spend such so much time teaching us. I have never not been thankful for what I have, but I most certainly did not quite grasp just how lucky I was until I was traveling through small villages in Southeast Asian countries like Myanmar where children dragged around wooden blocks attached to a piece of string as their toy cars. And most importantly, they were completely content. They did not need remote control cars or expensive, fancy toys to satisfy their imagination. During my own childhood, and even more so nowadays, tangible toys have somehow been deemed as a vital part of childhood, rather than stressing the significance of imagination.

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Children playing with toy cars in a small village in the hills. Myanmar

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Children working with their families in the fields instead of being in school. Myanmar

There is something incredibly humbling about traveling around the world that makes a part of me feel genuinely bad for those who feel they need these things to keep themselves happy. In reality, the opportunities for happiness are endless and are all around you at all times. It really just depends on you and what you make of what you are seeing and experiencing. They are in every star in the sky that makes you wonder how the hell space is a real thing. They are in every stranger you pass by that could be your new best friend or soulmate if you would just look up from your goddamn cell phone and share a smile. They are in literally anything that heightens any one of your five senses at any moment. I have come to the conclusion that no matter how unfortunate the circumstances in my life, my life is pretty fucking good. This is why I spend so much of my time trying to give back to the world. Honestly, I couldn’t ask for anything more and I don’t mind living with much less. Traveling stole my heart and I don’t mind living on less than a few dollars a day at times because I am happy regardless of the tangible possessions that surround me. Furthermore, I am happy because I do what is in my power to surround myself with beautiful people, places, and experiences that make even the most boring or miserable experience something for the books. It is all about mentality. If you find yourself not satisfied with life, well get satisfied because there is an awful lot to be wowed by and grateful for, just look around. Especially if you are reading this. It means your starring at some kind of device that connects you to the rest of the world, that probably costs a great deal of money, and that a large part of the global population will never get the opportunity to use whenever they want. That means, you my friend, are also, some seriously blessed sperm…so be grateful.

Why I Cut Off All My Hair

         No, it wasn’t some crazy Britney Spears stunt or a moment of weakness when losing my mind. It most certainly was not because I thought it was a cute look for me or that I was sick of having long hair. And it was not because I needed some kind of dramatic change in my life. Well, I needed some dramatic change, but chopping off all my hair was not the answer to satisfy that desire. However, hopping on a plane to move to South America for an open-ended trip filled with spontaneity and adventure, living out of a backpack, most certainly was. And this is why I made the decision to take the hair that I had spent over a decade of my life growing out all the way down to my belly-button and chop it off into a boyish crew cut.

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Before

              As much as I absolutely loved my hair and the beautiful ringlets that formed naturally at the bottom, I have traveled with my long hair before and the word “misery” doesn’t even cut it. When you’re backpacking and being put in situations where you cannot shower for multiple days at a time, having hair that goes from lovely natural, curls immediately to dreads and a complete rat’s nest is obviously not ideal. Day one is always fine, but day two and three’s side braid that gets turned into day four’s awkward and nasty bun sitting on top of my head in one giant knot made for the most inconvenient traveling. Not to mention the weight of the products and devices necessary to keep my hair looking decent and styled once in a while added into a backpack already overflowing with things I need to survive relatively comfortably. Even just the minor subtraction of the large amounts of hair conditioner and detangler that was imperative to my travels in Southeast Asia, Australia, and New Zealand have already made this traveling experience just that much easier and my backpack just that much lighter. Sitting and trying to comb out layers and layers of dreads and knots that have turned your hair into one massive mess with pounds of conditioner in the shower after four days of not showering is not a pleasant experience. It is also super time consuming, requires a large amount of relatively expensive hair products and a lot of hair comes out in the process. Now add in the straightener and blow dryer I had required to be able to go out in public and all the little hair clips and hair ties that were always a total day-ruiner to lose or break while traveling and embarking on adventures, and cutting off all my hair was beginning to look more and more appealing. Because if you are not a person with long hair, then it may be hard to understand the pain and annoyance that losing your last hair tie can cause when you’re attempting to climb up a mountain in 100 degree weather or trying to keep your hair contained after exposing it to salt water while scuba diving 30 meters deep. And when improvising proves impossible, hair ties can make or break an overall experience. But it was more or less the showering situations I had come across while traveling that really pushed me to make the cut. Sometimes I wasn’t able to shower at all or had to use a water bottle or a cup to wash my entire body with. And having hair nearly down to your butt that is curly, frizzy, and more like an afro does not prove easy with a small cup of water being poured over your head. Time was also an issue. My showers frequently lasted a minimum of 15-20 minutes because of all the maintenance my hair required and I envied my male friends that took 5 minute showers. When you’re backpacking and staying at either hostels where you’re sharing a shower space or even just couchsurfing on a generous stranger’s couch, time is of the essence and taking a quicker shower can make even the smallest difference when trying to respect the space you’re sharing with others.

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After

                And now here I am, a few days after cutting off all my hair, still trying to convince myself it was the best decision for the backpacking adventure I have just started. It has already proved itself to be much more convenient, despite the fact that I still feel like I’m looking at a complete stranger in the mirror. It may not be the best look for me and I obviously miss the long hair which I loved so dearly, but if traveling has taught me anything, it’s that sacrifices have to be made sometimes. If I wanted to go through what I had gone through the last time around just to look cuter when I happened to be around a shower, blow dyer, straightener, and mirror, then I could have suffered the other days spent in transit, on a farm with no bathroom or running water, or sleeping in a tent hiking the Torres Del Plaine. But it seemed stupid to put looks over convenience and basically in other words, stupid over smart. It took guts and I may have teared up a little watching my hair being hacked off, but I know I won’t regret it next week when I’m living on a farm in the middle of nowhere, using a water bottle to wash the mud out of my hair. In fact, I will probably thank myself for being so brave, even if I may not look all that cute pulling weeds out of the ground or constructing adobe buildings out of mud.