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

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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

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