Halfway Through the Beautiful Chaos

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Six different apartments, six coworking spaces, six cities, four countries, two continents, all in six months with 75 people. Life has been a true whirlwind of change and excitement and newness. Each month I’ve settled in a new city, exploring its cafes and traditional street food, marveling at centuries-old architecture and color, finding swanky hipster bars and speakeasies, hiking and adventuring in nature, meeting passionate locals and listening to their fascinating stories. No day or moment is the same. And still, even after six months of this, I still feel like I’m holding a snow globe in the palm of my hands wondrously staring at myself as I journey through the year – and when I give it a shake, I’m suddenly settled in a new place. It’s become a chaotic yet harmonious life that I never want to end. I’m eager for more, but I’m also so full – full of curiosity, growth, empathy, and love.

Month six of Remote Year brought us to Buenos Aires or the ‘New York of South America’. June marked the start of the winter season in the big city – which is more like fall if you’re from the U.S. east coast with temps in the 50’s – and we were greeted with windy streets and tall trees shedding the last of their amber-colored leaves. My accommodation for the month was a small studio apartment (in a former hotel) with a small kitchenette and a cozy California king bed that was perfect to warm up in.

Similar to New York, Buenos Aires has countless places to explore – parks, restaurants, nightlife, markets, themed-bars and more. We lived in the creative and trendy barrio Palermo SoHo, and I quickly fell in love with the look and feel of the neighborhood.

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As most wine lovers know, Argentina is the holy grail of fine vino, especially Malbec and other red varieties. I enjoyed a couple wine tastings while in BA – my favorite was at Il Posto Mercato where I tasted some of the best wines I’ve ever had, and learned all about the flavors of Argentinian vino from our local friend and wine master, Tomasz (see this cool video recap of the tasting).

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I ventured out of the Palermo area a few times to explore other historical and cultural neighborhoods in the city. With bright buildings and murals, I enjoyed the vibrant barrio of La Boca the most – a working-class community that used to be the home of shipyards as it is situated at the mouth of the Riachuelo river. The main lure of La Boca is Caminito, a colorful artists’ street near the water.

La Boca

A few of the other areas worth exploring are Recoleta and San Telmo. Recoleta, BA’s upscale historical district, is home to the famous La Recoleta Cemetary – a massive cemetery that feels like the size of a small town, and is the final resting place of Eva Peron, former first lady of Argentina (1946-1952) who played a powerful role in Argentina’s women’s suffrage movement and improving the lives of the poor. San Telmo is the oldest barrio in all of BA, and is a great place to stroll through for cute markets, live music, antique shops, and cafes.

Recoleta Cemetary

San Telmo

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On the last day before leaving, I knocked the last few must-sees off of my Buenos Aires list – Palacio Barolo, the Obelisk, and El Ateneo Grand Splendid – the largest bookstore in the city. Not only was it our last day in BA, but also the last one in Latin America, and after six months of connecting with all of the places and its people, I became a little devastated that the time had come to leave. Heading to Europe for the next three months of Remote Year meant no more speaking Spanish, no more empanadas, no more late nights dancing to reggaeton, and a bunch of other little things that made us all fall in love with the culture of each city and country.

The Obelisk

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El Ateneo Grand Splendid

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I went home that night and blasted Despacito (aka the Meraki anthem) on repeat with a glass of my cheap Malbec in hand while I packed up my two bags. I scrolled through the hundreds of photos I’d taken throughout the year and read my old blogs, letting myself feel every emotion and reflecting on all the growth I’ve had in only six months. I sat in the middle of my bed and wrote one last journal entry, and reminded myself that I would come back to this beautiful place many, many times in the future. This was just another bittersweet “see ya later.”

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We’re now more than halfway through our month in the wonderful city of Prague! Will be sharing deets soon. 😉

 

Xoxo, 

Ash

The Breakthrough

The view from our Córdoba coworking space.

For you wonderful souls who’ve been awaiting updates on my travel journey, I’ve finally preserved some special time to share what’s been going on in recent weeks (I also went on a really cool writer’s retreat this past weekend in the Argentinian countryside and couldn’t avoid writing this any longer).

So, alas, here we are – enjoyyy.

Month five of Remote Year brought me to Córdoba, Argentina just as the country entered its brisk winter season. With temperatures in the low 50’s, dreary streets filled with stray dog sh*t, and locals that initially struck me as unwelcoming, I was ready for May to be over before giving the city a fair chance.

Family and friends from home often envision my year abroad as a blissful fantasy where “normal” life problems are put on pause. They think my days are filled with adventure sports, dining at top-rated Trip Advisor restaurants, and snapping perfect Instagram photos – and while some days do feel like I’m in a fantasy world, so many days are not. Our Remote Year program leaders warned us that the extreme elation we had been feeling since January would soon turn into a mid-year reality check for most of the group, leaving us questioning why we were doing this, if we were truly fulfilling our purpose, and if we even really knew what our purpose was.

It’s hard to put into real words the things I was feeling last month. More often than not I felt lonely, overly anxious, and a deep sadness where I could’ve burst into tears at any second. For me, it had little to do with questioning my life purpose and more to do with a dark period of growth and detachment I needed to finally face. I didn’t fully blame Córdoba for my melancholy spirit, but the gloom of the city couldn’t have matched my mood any better. Here’s what played a bigger part: one of my best friends from home who began Remote Year with me headed back to the U.S. at the end of April on very short notice; I had stopped receiving frequent check-in calls from home and felt forgotten about; and a confusing 5-year relationship-turned-friendship that I had held onto by its very last strings finally went sour. I became fragile. The girl who was always so strong and constantly holding it together for everyone around her was crumbling.

If there’s one thing I’ve mastered, it’s the art of distracting myself on more emotional days by drowning myself in work – so it was perfect when I was hit with a heavy project load for my job last month. I enjoyed the stress of it. It hushed all of the negative noise going on in my conscious mind. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t…and many afternoons I’d leave our coworking space to go sit in my cold apartment bedroom and let the depression take over. My mind would spin in nonstop circles and it consumed every ounce of my energy, leaving me appetite-less and antisocial.

After about three weeks of this, I decided I couldn’t waste any more of my precious time in this weird, unhappy head space. I’m entirely too grateful and humbled by the opportunities given to me this year, who was I to self-sabotage these moments that I’ll never get back? I began to slowly pull myself out of the funk I had been in – daily morning meditations and writing down positive affirmations were my saving grace. Oh, and finally letting go.

For our last weekend in Córdoba, about 20 of us went on a one-night camping trip in the hills to enjoy nature, cook up an authentic asado, and simply recharge. We stopped about midway through the mountainous ride to our cabin for a photo-op from the perfect vantage point overlooking the vast, cascading valleys. While perched on the edge of the mountain taking it all in, the universe suddenly spoke to me…God spoke to me. I was reassured that I’d be okay. For the ten minutes spent admiring the deep, low valleys in front of us, I was reminded to appreciate my own lows. And in this calm moment, a new energy entered me as I shed all of the heaviness that had been exhausting my mind and body. I left it all right there on that mountainside, and I’d never felt so free.

I hit an unexpected spiritual breakthrough during our month in Cordoba, and on the day we took a 10-hour bus ride to our next city, Buenos Aires, I let go of all the anchors that were holding me hostage for year and years.

I learned to quiet my stubborn ego, which was too prideful to let my emotions take over, and two important notes were added my list of positive affirmations — 1.) Take all the time you need to just feel, but be weary of energy you allow to consume you; 2.) Prioritize self-love, self-healing, and be open to rediscovering you and your happiness. Your future self will thank you endlessly.

Now! To recap the memorable moments + places I did experience in May (it wasn’t all shitty), I have some photo galleries to share:

Horseback riding in the Sierras

A day at ‘Cabezas de Tormenta‘ (a local creative co-living house)

Favorite Cordoba cafe ‘Almacen de Meriendas

A visit to Proyecto Caraya Monkey Sanctuary

Some gorgeous sunset shots from our camping trip

 

Xoxo, 

Ash

Letting Go

Being by the ocean makes you reflect. The movement and tranquil sound of its waves quickly pull you into a meditation where you can be alone with your thoughts. It’s an easy escape from all the noise and chaos of the world – at least for a little while.

This month I’m living in the lovely city of Lima that sits right on the western Pacific coast of Peru. I didn’t realize how much my soul missed being near the ocean, and I’ve been feeling especially grateful and humble since we arrived here a little over a week ago. As I swoon over the stunning cotton-candy sunsets and the refreshing smell of salty ocean water every evening in my new city, I can’t help but think “how in the hell is this my life.”

I keep wondering what I’d be doing if I was home in D.C. I’d probably still be stuck in the unfulfilling routine of rushing to my media relations job at 8:30 AM each morning – riding on unreliable, cramped metro trains full of grumpy government workers who desperately need their cup of morning coffee, sitting at an uncomfortable desk surrounded by cold gray cubicle walls, dreading the forced office small talk, and counting down the hours until lunch where I would splurge on meals out of my budget because it was honestly the highlight of my boring days. Oh, and my weekends would, of course, involve some hyped-up day party or boozy brunch where I always ordered my shrimp-n-grits and too many cheap mimosas. I’d be putting off any “creative me time” because I’d still be overextending myself for people and showing up to places I absolutely “needed to be”. Yea, I know I wouldn’t have escaped that cycle – because it felt normal, but mostly because I felt in control.

My number one constant goal for this year’s journey has been to let go. I started with leaving my full-time job and beginning 2017 unemployed with no new offers or prospects, and really had no idea how I would pay for the Remote Year program after plowing through my savings. Let’s just say January through March was humble-season for me (I am now thankfully working a remote job that combines my profession + passion, #praiseHim). Throughout my life, I’ve liked to think that I enjoy “going with the flow” but I can now honestly admit that I’m obsessed with controlling every detail of my career + life – and having any uncertainty about tomorrow, the next week or even the next month freaks me the f*ck out. I hate it, but traveling has for sure calmed my little ego down and has pushed me to build my faith in the unknown and put trust in all my experiences.

In the past few months, I’ve exceeded any expectation I’ve had for myself – I’m way less introverted, I’ve stopped being so damn scared of everything (went surfing three days ago and kind of chickened out but I am going back I swear, for real), and I don’t try to look “perfect” all the time with freshly done hair + nails because I’m too busy climbing up mountains and getting in muddy alien lagoons. So far, I think I’m doing a pretty good job at letting go and being content with the present moment. I will never go back to the life I had in D.C. – I know I’m not that Ashley anymore. And it feels really, really good.

Here are some shots of the Lima coast, ocean, and sunsets for you guys to swoon over, enjoyyy!

 

Xoxo,

Ash

Not a Goodbye

Tomorrow morning around 10 a.m. I’ll be leaving Colombia and heading to Lima, Peru for month four of my journey with Remote Year. The faster my last hours in this perfect country speed by, the sadder I get – Colombia feels like home, its people feel like family, its mountains have become my peace, and all of its details have sparked creative depths in me that I was sure were dead. I’m not ready to go.

It’s been pretty interesting the conversations I’ve had with family and friends back home while living here. “Get those Pablo connects while you’re out there girl!”, “Don’t EVER walk alone no matter the time of day”, “Man, you’re so bad ass to spend that amount of time in Colombia…you’re not scared?!,” and so on…*rolls eyes*. I often cringed at the ignorance, but at one point I, too, had no idea what Colombia would be like other than what I’d watched in the glamorized, ruthless drug-world portrayed in Netflix’s Narcos series.

Long story short: If you’ve never been here, it’s easy to put the idea and perception of the entire country into a tight box — the terror and cocaine-filled 80’s and 90’s Pablo Escobar era is a time that Colombians work extremely hard to move past, and they’re constantly trying to climb out of the stereotyped bubble many outsiders place them into. For anyone visiting, whether it be for a weekend or a month, I cannot stress enough how important it is to enter with an open mind, and an open heart. Colombia is SO much more than the negative weight it has carried on its shoulders, and it deserves more than the insulting Pablo jokes and comments that many U.S. natives casually laugh over. The people take extreme pride in their beautiful country, and my respect runs deep for them.

I’ve spent the past month living and experiencing the gorgeous Colombian city of Medellin. The nicknamed “City of Eternal Spring” is nestled in the center of a deep, wide valley with mountains in literally every distant view. To me, it feels like some kind of fairy tale utopia floating high up in the clouds. Minus the daily battle between the loud thunderstorms and the sunshine, I’m pretty obsessed with the entire place. Upon my arrival here, I immediately felt overwhelming comfort and that strong sense of “I’ve been here before.”

I haven’t blogged all month because the past few weeks have probably been my most busy ones all year – I’ve hiked through super lush jungles & forests, visited a mountain coffee farm and a woman-owned agroecological farm, went on a “tienda crawl” at traditional Colombian corner stores (that serve amazing beer and food), learned about & tasted juicy exotic fruits only grown here, toured the Afro-Colombian neighborhood of Moravia (a city built on what used to be a trash dump), and even visited a cannabis connoisseur.  Aside from all of these adventures, I’ve spent time working and creating in the cutest, perfectly-decorated cafes and bistros that I’ve ever seen. You can say I’ve been busy falling crazy in love with Medellin.

Right now, I sort of feel like a bratty five-year-old leaving my favorite childhood stuffed animal behind – I want to pack up all the greatness of Medellin and keep it all for myself. I’m not at all ready to leave – but I know this is not a goodbye, simply a quick ‘see you later’ – and I’m currently adding Medellin to my “places I would live” list. Colombia has certainly set the tone for my expectations of South America, and I’m freakin’ thrilled to explore more of its wonderful gems.

Enjoy my photo collection & highlight reel from my favorite moments + places in Medellin, I hope it inspires you to visit the lovely & extraordinary City of Eternal Spring (click on individual image to see the full-size):

Cafes & Bistros

Parque Arvi Hike:

Coffee Farm:

Moravia ‘Route of Hope’

Cannabis Tour

Next up on the itinerary is Lima, Peru – til next time!

Xoxo,

Ash

Worth the Climb

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During my time in Bogota, Colombia I embarked on two gorgeous hikes in the Andes mountains. The views were breathtaking, and I was often lulled into a long, peaceful trance as the green hills cascaded in front of me for miles and miles. The air was clean and crisp, and the physical challenge of it all was strenuous, yet rejuvenating.

Hike number one was through the town of Guatavita, a sacred place about 1.5 hours outside of Bogota where the ancient Muisca tribe once reigned from 600 to 1600 C.E. Before the hike began, we were taught all about the Muisca – they worshipped Zue the sun god and Chie the moon goddess, believed that we should spend vast amounts of time in self-reflection, and were extremely creative.

On a guided park tour through all of the mountain’s lushness, we were lead up to Lake Guatavita – a beautiful blue lagoon that was a powerful, spiritual place where the Muisca people performed many rituals, and it is where the legend of El Dorado was birthed. To this day, many believe there are gold treasures nestled in the bottom of the lake.

After the hike down from the lake we briefly visited the local town, which offered a few small restaurants, shops, and vendors. Here is a bit of what I captured during our trek:

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View from the top of the hike
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Lake Guatavita

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Hike number two consisted of a longer expedition through the rugged forests, vast plains, and sky-high mountains of Suesca – we climbed rocks & boulders, crawled through cold & claustrophobic Colombian caves, and walked for a total of about ten miles.

About these caves…IT. WAS. NOT. EASY.*deep sigh of relief* I will say this was one of the most challenging things I’ve had to do both physically and mentally in my adult lifetime. Navigating through the caves required a decent level of skill, upper body strength, and mental discipline.

We had a total of five major physical tasks we had to complete to proceed to the next part of each cave – this included scaling and squeezing through rocks, swimming through ice-cold water, and climbing rickety ladders made of wood. Think of American Ninja Warrior but inside of pitch black caves deep under the ground.

About 12 of us did this insane activity together and we were each others’ cheerleaders. There were tears, moments of frustration and panic, and finally a sweet feeling of accomplishment at the end.

Views from the hike and inside the caves:

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For me, making it through to the light of day at the end of the caves filled me with overwhelming elation. It was a pristine moment of growth, and I felt it in every inch of my bones. I now feel like I can do absolutely anything in this world – maybe even skydive, and that’s saying A LOT (I have a crazy lifelong fear of heights).

The whole thing was an obvious metaphor for life, really – you’ll have to push through places and moments that seem totally impossible. You’ll have to gather every ounce of your strength, and even dig deeper for more that you didn’t know was there, while riding the wildest emotional rollercoaster. But in the end, you’ll absolutely always make it out.

I’m now in Medellin, Colombia for the month of March, so new posts coming soon!

Besos,

Ash

A City Wrapped in Symbolism

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The streets of Bogota are veiled with never-ending displays of symbolic graffiti. Vast murals share stories of political corruption, spirituality, and expressions of love on nearly every building side. The city recently stopped the criminalization commonly associated with graffiti, which has allowed artists to spend much more time working on their pieces. In result, Bogota is now a true showcase of modern street art.

Last weekend I went on the city’s most popular graffiti tourstarted by Australian street artist Crisp in 2009, to learn more about the street artists and the messages behind their work.

I expected our guide to recite a long list of fun facts that I would likely ignore while snapping a ton of photos, but instead I was immensely intrigued with every carefully crafted narrative layered into each piece of work.

Street artist Dj Lu, often called Bogota’s Banksy, is known for his powerful, politically charged stenciled murals throughout the city. His work is raw and real – portraying dark tales of corruption, warfare, and globalism. Below are different shots that all comprise one huge mural done by himself, in collaboration with other street artists.

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Capitalism being carried on the backs of the poor; the poor holding onto nature as a form of hope.

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Debunking western standards of beauty.

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The cost of war – “seca y reza” meaning “sins and prayer”. The details include insects with machine guns as wings.

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A wider shot of the mural.
Another mural from Dj Lu:

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Notice the woman in the middle carrying a baby, holding a tic-tac-toe sign with weaponry images; signifies that nobody wins in war.
APC (Animal Poder Crew), also popular in the Bogota graffiti scene, has tons of prolific pieces plastered throughout La Candelaria. The crew was started more than 10 years ago by graffiti artist Stinkfish – known for his stunning mixed media work – and has grown to be an international collective of artists throughout Latin America and Europe.

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‘The Indigenous Metamorphosis’ – APC

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Cats – Animalez (part of APC)

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A piece by Stinkfish that combines photography, stencil work, and traditional freeform street spray painting.
Well-known Los Angeles-based artist Kiptoe has several murals in La Candelaria, with more of his work featured in various major cities throughout the world – including Italy, Tanzania, and Brazil. His work is bright, big and captivating. The mural shown below was completed in under four hours and portrays the lusty story of two lovers separating and saying their goodbyes.

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“Hasta Que Nos Encontremos De Nuevo” or “Until We Meet Again” – Kiptoe
Nomadathe son of Colombian illustrator Rodez, is known for his colorful, multidimensional work. Below you’ll see his image of a large beetle type of bug, which uses bright blues, greens, and purples.

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Nomada
The brother of Nomada, Malegria, is also a street artist but offers a much different style of work. High contrast black and white murals often have one pop of metallic color (like the gold accents below) and feature lots of eyes. His style is said to be similar to ancient Aztec-style pieces that use many small lines to convey one big illustration.

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Malegria

More beautiful street art we saw during the tour:

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For more about the Bogota Graffiti Tour, visit their site here: http://bogotagraffiti.com/

XOXO,

Ash

Bogotá Views & D.C. Blues

Waking up to a dreamlike view of the Andes mountains and the fresh air in Bogotá every morning has offered a nice contrast to the heaviness of Mexico City. I no longer hear the tamale man circling around our block with a megaphone trying to sell his delicacies or the echoing of dozens of dogs barking in the street. My chest also feels way less tight from all the pollution we were living in. But mannn, I’m missing those Nutella stuffed churros that were just a three-minute walk away.

The layout of our new apartment has us feeling like we could be in any major U.S. city or spending a spontaneous weekend in South Beach, Miami – we have a white leather couch with two matching dining chairs, a lime green ottoman, large shag rug, with accent pillows and chair to match. It’s all bright as hell and modern, and it’s much better than the falling bedroom ceiling and the God-awful sulfur smells we dealt with in our Mexico City spot.

Our small balcony offers a vivid view of the regal mountains on the upper left of us with tons of business and apartment buildings down below. It’s been 10 days and we like it here – the only beef I have with Bogotá is that I have yet to find the perfect empanada. *sigh*

Lately, I’ve been really missing home. I’ve even made my favorite Nigerian stew with fried plantains twice in the past week to fill the little void I’ve been battling. My Facetime dates with my three younger siblings are bittersweet – I do love seeing their faces and answering their redundant questions, but they’re getting even taller, started cooking their own dinners, and are writing essays about going to college in five years. I’m super proud but want them to slowww downnn. At least while I’m gone.

Practically every day since January 1st has offered perfect weather. With sunny days and cool, crisp evenings, I forget what rain and snow and bitter winter winds feel like. The most I’ll need at night is my light leather jacket. But oddly, I miss my east coast winter days – wrapping up in my chunky scarves and throwing on my long black boots with every outfit. I would also kill for a boozy Sunday brunch with a delicious bowl of southern shrimp-n-grits. Gahh.

D.C. isn’t going anywhere, and it’ll surely be the same when I get back in December. I’m working hard on being present, and fully immersing myself in the now.

Favorite Bogotá moments so far: taking a cable car up the Monserrate mountain and obsessing over the views, finding the perfect sushi spot, and dancing to live Afrolatina music at El Campanario.

Not so favorite moments: playing a dangerous traditional Colombian game called Tejo (it uses explosives WTF), walking miles around dusty construction, and being stared at blankly when speaking pretty damn good Spanish.

I’ve been spending most of my time this week in my apartment, mostly because I have a stupid little cold. But I plan on exploring much more of the beautiful city of Bogotá. Here’s some of what I’ve captured so far:

Downtown Bogotá  & Museum District

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Day trip to Monserrate

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XOXO,

Ash