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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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

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

Pueblo Mágico

Tepoztlán, a colorful and cozy town about 1.5 hours south of Mexico City, greeted us this past Sunday morning with its cobblestone streets and little unique shops. It is said to be the birthplace of the Aztec serpent god, Quetzalcoatl, and is popular for its weekly craft market – full of a plethora of handmade trinkets, fragrant foods, and live music.

Avenido del Tepozteco

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Street Market

With our hibiscus-water filled gourds in hand, we started the day with a long hike up the town’s sacred mountain called Tepozteco – a hike that was so extremely steep and intense it felt like an Olympic game (or maybe I’m excessively out of shape.) After stopping maybe 20 different times to catch my breath and chug hella water, I made it to the top of the mountain.

The view was more than worth the climb.

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Gourds for water

We got barefoot on woven wicker mats and began a guided chakra-healing yoga session. The sun was hot enough that it gave us all a little sunburn but we absorbed all the vibrant energy it sent down as we changed poses.

The session left me feeling recharged, balanced and relaxed.

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yoga-tepoztlan

On the highest peak of the mountain was an ancient Aztec pyramid that we all climbed after yoga – we joined locals sitting on top of the pyramid, who also came to admire the vast view in front.

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After a terrifying climb back down the mountain with slippery, uneven rocks – which I’m still eternally thankful I made it down without an awkward fall – we all broke bread at a delicious lunch at Los Colorines. Every inch of the restaurant had a bright pop of color and walls were covered with intricate pottery pieces.

Later, we spent a bit of time exploring the street markets, the local cathedral grounds and enjoyed a refreshing scoop of Mexican ice cream.

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Tepoztlan gave us a taste of a beautiful, small-knit community with a mountain that took us away from the bustling sounds of daily life in Mexico City. Even the ice cream shop was run by a family with an inspiring story. I didn’t want to leave, but it’ll be added to my list of travel faves for now.

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