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

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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

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

The Revival

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We entered a lush garden that quickly eased our uncertainty and opened our eyes to the trip we were about to embark on. It was time for a rebirth.

Our spiritual guide, Rosalinda, was a peaceful, gentle woman, who led us to a small room to share details about the ancient Mayan Temazcal experience. We were all first-timers to this detoxing sweat lodge ceremony which happened inside of a small, 4-feet-tall red clay dome – we psyched ourselves out of any claustrophobic fears, received a cleanse with herbal smoke and crawled inside the tiny wooden door.

The 11 of us sat shoulder to shoulder for about 10 minutes, mentally preparing as Rosalinda talked us through the four-stage Tezmacal process that focused on four universal elements: 1) Mother Earth, 2) Fire,  3) Water, 4) Air.

Fresh, fragrant herbs that smelled like a dream and a pitcher of water were poured over scalding hot stones which ignited the first wave of heat that rapidly filled the limited pockets of air surrounding us. We entered the Mother Earth stage with our eyes closed, taking slow, deep breaths to relax.

Rosalinda guided us further and further into a place of pure meditation – she patted our backs with long sage leaves as we sat curled into a fetal position, and as we returned to a seated position sprinkled with water as she chanted softly.

“Release all the fears that consume you, this is the time to kill all of those fears,” Rosalinda said as we entered the Fire stage. The second wave of herbal steam was released, this time hotter and much more overwhelming.

Our deep breaths grew long and powerful as we released the sound of “ahua” loudly over and over, getting rid of our demons and life frustrations. In that moment, I pushed out all fears that have consumed me. Fear of loneliness, fear of change, of hurt and of worry. I was letting it all go, and leaving it right there.

Maybe an hour had passed by, and it was time for some herbal detox tea and a little fresh air – which had never felt like such a relief after sweating out ounces upon ounces of water.

It was time for the Water stage – calmer and cooler than the fire. We switched to a new position with our backs to the floor and our feet towards the wall in a way that our 11 heads were side by side in a circle. Our guide then shocked us by pouring cold water over our faces, then our feet. She rinsed away any final fears we had left, leaving us elevated in tranquility and positive energy.

I’d never felt more free than in these moments.

Now, it was time to imagine we were eagles soaring high,  envisioning ourselves in a place surrounded by hues of our favorite color – this was the Air stage, which completed our first Temazcal spiritual cleansing. I envisioned clouds of turquoise and light blues, with no force of gravity under me. I was ethereal.

Before we exited the dome, we meditated some more, finding our sweet and sacred spot of final peace. Slowly, we began crawling out of the lodge one by one as Rosalinda’s assistant, Tonita, cleaned the leaves and sweat off of us with fresh warm water and wrapped us cocoon-style in a warm woven blanket.

We all eventually closed our eyes as serenity enveloped the room, hugging us each tightly.

I knew my soul experienced what felt like a small rebirth, and I wouldn’t go back into the world the same. My energy was free of any negativity and my intentions would be perfectly pure. I wanted to share all of this peace with the world, with my loved ones.

My spirit was, and is, rejuvenated. It’s revived.

If you ever have the opportunity in your travels, please take part in a sacred Temazcal ceremony – you will appreciate yourself, every living thing and every moment so much more. It’s a true pure cleansing I believe we all need.

XOXO,
Ash

Taking the Leap

January 1, 2017 marked the first day of a new year and a new life venture for me – I hopped on a 6 a.m. Southwest Airlines flight at Baltimore-Washington International Airport (still feeling a little boozy from cognac shots with my papa the night before) and headed to Mexico City, where I would anxiously arrive about seven hours later after a brief pit stop in Houston, Texas.

On this day, I began my 12-month journey with a group of 80 other digital nomads in a program called Remote Year. Moving, living and adjusting to a new “home” each month, our travels would stretch across 4 continents, 10 countries and 12 cities throughout the year. As a girl who has never left the DC-MD-VA area for more than a two weeks at a time, committing to Remote Year struck as both enthralling and terrifying.

Despite my love for people, I’m known to be pretty introverted and prefer to be around large groups only every now and then – but I would now be learning dozens of new names, faces, and 30-second long biographies of those I would be spending the next 365 days with – people who would become friends, and eventually family. I knew from the start that Remote Year would be a challenge as well as a growth experience in its most organic form.

My luggage consisted of layers of both clothes and overwhelming emotion – excitement, joy, determination, fear, anticipation, and a little uncertainty. One of my bags weighed in 2.8 pounds over the airline weight max, but taking out a couple pairs of jeans was enough to bring it back within the limit. I’d like to believe those two-and-a-half pounds were really shed once I took a deep breath, exhaling the nervousness that had built itself up in my chest.

My flight touched down in my new city around 1:30 p.m. – my luggage, however, did not. After a mini heart attack I was reassured that my bags would arrive in the evening, and I eventually retrieved them the next morning. In a way, I think the universe was reminding me to pack light for this year-long journey, and to let go of a lifetime of over planning and worry-filled doubt…I listened.

It only took a week for me to fall in love with Mexico City – the intricate architecture, the genuine character, the local fresh foods – all of its little details captivate you and overwhelm you at the very same time. Once I fully settled into an old apartment that would be home for next 28-days, I delved into my neighborhood with curious eyes and an open mind. The past week has felt like a month’s worth of time, maybe even more. But I’m loving every second, and my longing for the year ahead has only grown.

Here are bits and pieces from my time in Mexico City thus far, all captured on my iPhone 7.

The Streets

The buildings and homes here are full of color, unique style and just the right amount of detail. Even a quick walk to your destination is satisfying as the streets (especially in my neighborhood, La Condesa) evoke an energetic vibe.

The Eats

One of the best things about traveling is experiencing all the vibrant flavors and being a foodie, or just pretending to be one. Yum!

I had a delicious vegan lunch at Los Loosers with some fellow remotes last week. The owner, Mariana, opened the trendy vegan bike delivery service in 2011 and it became the first vegan-only restaurant in Mexico City. For lunch we enjoyed spicy mushroom, olive and yucca tacos (shown above), a side of fresh avocado with roasted tomato salsa, and a refreshing cucumber, ginger and chia drink – aaamazing.

El Pescadito ordering line

El Pescadito is a fast-casual seafood taco spot about 10 minutes from our apartment in La Condesa. We were lucky enough not to wait in a long line, and got to see our food made fresh in front of us in what seemed to be a wok-fryer. You can then dress your tacos in all the toppings you want at what they call a “salad bar”. Perfect place for a quick lunch.

Here are more foodie photos of the meals I’ve been enjoying in CDMX:

The Architecture

The buildings in Mexico City will leave you in awe with their detail and carefully crafted design. I’ve spent some free time wandering around and observing places like the Mexico City Metropolitan Cathedral, the Chapultepec Castle and the Secretariat of Public Education, which features beautiful murals painted by Diego Rivera in the 1920’s.

Mexico City Metropolitan Cathedral
Mexico City Metropolitan Cathedral, opened 1813
Mexico City Metropolitan Cathedral

Historic CDMX
Inside Chapultepec Castle
City wide view from Chapultepec Castle
Secretariat of Public Education

Diego Rivera, 1924
Diego Rivera, 1926

I’ll be sure to post more from my time in la cuidad de Mexico throughout the rest of January, adios!

Xoxo,

Ash