Tag Archives: ex pat

How to End a Series

We interrupt this four-month hiatus to bring you a post that has little to do with travel and everything to do with adventure.

Growing up, I had a very hard time separating fact from fiction. Whilst sitting less than two feet away from the TV screen on a Friday night watching Boy Meets World, I would wonder if the cast members were as bored as I was during commercial breaks, waiting for their show to come back on so that they could finish the episode and go home. With all of my worldly experience, I’ve since gathered that this is not the way television shows are made but I still have difficulty distinguishing what’s real from what’s not.

Source, NBC Parks & Rec Tumblr

The series finale of Parks & Recreation was last night.

I became addicted to the show as recently as a year ago when living abroad and running out of things to do while living in a town of only 15,000. I’d tried starting the show several times before but couldn’t get past Leslie Knope’s cringe-worthy, unabashed enthusiasm.

But this time, something clicked. Maybe it was my piso’s lack of insulation and Pawnee’s burning passion for Paunch Burger and Lil’ Sebastian were what would keep me warm. Maybe it was my desire for a taste of something so characteristically American. Whatever it was, I fell in love.

Parks & Recreation has taught me a whole slew of things. It taught me that you can be earnest and enthusiastic and still be realistic (though, admittedly, Leslie Knope’s idea of what was realistic often differed from normal views). It taught me the meaning of feminism. It taught me that the world needs more humans like Leslie Knope, who are passionate and unapologetic and would do anything for her friends.

As if it hadn’t done enough, Parks & Rec taught me one more thing last night. It taught me what it looks like to move on gracefully.

When April looks to Leslie for the advice and the courage to take a chance on everything (the new job, having a kid)? I die. Source, NBC Parks & Rec Tumblr

I had a great year after college. I lived in Spain! I traveled around Europe! I made some of the best friends I never could’ve dreamed of!

And now, I’m two years out of college and I’m having a not-as-great year. I moved out to California. I came back. I tried to find a job. I went back to nannying to pay my bills and I’m still trying to figure out what to do with my life. I keep thinking that, the further away I get from Spain, the less I’ll miss it and the easier it will be to move forward.

The opposite is true. The further I get from my time in Spain, the more pressure I feel to figure things out, the more I want to recreate the happiness that came so easily living on the Costa del Sol.

To me, the ending of Parks & Rec is as poignant and harsh as the ending to my time in Spain. How did they all not fall into a dark hole of depression where all they did was eat Chipotle for every meal and gain twenty pounds? That’s what I did! Isn’t that the only logical response to (what seemed to be) the happiest time of your life ending?

But wait! Happier times lie ahead for one and for all! April and Andy have a kid! Ron becomes a park manager! Leslie runs for governor!

If I was part of the Pawnee Parks & Rec department under Leslie Knope, I would be convinced that nothing would ever be as good as working with her. Her wisdom, her passion, her stubbornness and her shenanigans could never be matched at any job, dream or otherwise, that I would move on to find.

But life goes on. Shows–and teaching contracts, along with temporary residencies–end. And new adventures begin.

So thank you, Parks & Rec, for once again teaching me that moving on is never easy, but there are far, far better things ahead than any we leave behind. Or maybe that was C.S. Lewis? Either way, the sentiment (and the adventures that await) are the same.

What was something that you learned from Parks & Rec?

Thanks for the memories! Source, NBC Parks & Rec Tumblr

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A Special Set of Skills

I’ve been applying for a whole slew of jobs lately, particularly in the field of hospitality and customer service. While my actual work experience is rather limited, I’m playing up other skills, like my success in completely random and unrelated fields (pottery painting, horse wrangling, whitewater rafting), my dubious Spanish skills, and things I’ve learned from this past year. Somewhere after “functional-ish Spanish” and “traveling hungover,” is the skill of flexibility.

On no trip was my flexibility tested more than my time in Italy. Here is a short list of setbacks that required flexibility whilst journeying across the Italian countryside:

1. That time my flight got canceled three days before I was supposed to leave.

2. That time I had to book a new flight and bump up my departure time, giving me 24 hours to pack, give notice at work, and get ready for a week in Italy.

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This is what last-minute packing looks like.

3. That time that I got all the way to Malaga and found an email from EasyJet that basically said, “JK, original flight back on. All that drama from the last 24 hrs? It was for naught.”

4. That time I had to beg EasyJet at 6 AM to let me on the plane.

5. That time that Laurel and I arrived in Milan and got lost right out of the gate because we spoke no Italian.

6. The time immediately following that when we bought the wrong train tickets in an effort to get to Como.

7. That time that Laurel and I successfully made it to Saronno, transfer to a new train for the last leg of the journey to Como, take that train all the way to the end of the line, find out that its not the right train, head back to Saronno and try again.

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Oh hello, Saronno train station, you look familiar!

8. After getting on the right train, finding the water taxi, spending too much on the water taxi, getting to Menaggio, Laur and I read the sign pointing towards the hostel, then walked in the opposite direction for twenty minutes.

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The expensive, but worthwhile, water taxi.

9. That time that we hiked several hours up a mountain and to a waterfall and then got lost on the way back down.

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The waterfall in Val Sangra. Worth it? The near-heart attack given by the sight of the world’s largest cows that live in this part of the mountains might beg to differ.

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Ehh. In Val Sanagra.

10. When there was a train strike (naturally) and we couldn’t make it to Venice.

This is what cancelling your trip to Venice looks like: sailing on Lake Como with new friends from Australia.

This is what cancelling your trip to Venice looks like: sailing on Lake Como with new friends from Australia.

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SAIL.

11. Even though it didn’t happen to me, that time that Christina missed her flight out of Barcelona, booked a new flight to Milan, couldn’t catch a train to Como because of the strike, got on a bus that left her at the Swiss border, and joined us for a brief 24-hour stint in Menaggio.

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Reunited and it feels so gooooooood.

12. When the train strike ended, we cut Venice from our trip itinerary, and made it to Milan, we bought the wrong train tickets and made it to the right train to Cinque Terre with a few minutes to spare.

13. That time we got lost in Vernazza, an Italian town with exactly one road, and couldn’t find our lodging because we couldn’t find a street sign.

Vernazza

Vernazza

14. That time Christina wanted to wear her hiking boots with her sundress and Laurel and I outvoted her and then we ended up hiking for an hour and a half.

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I see Italian trail markers every time I close my eyes.

15. Whilst hiking the trails connecting the cities of Cinque Terre, we were finally coming down from the mountain that we had to climb to get to Manarola and came to a fork in the road. Naturally, we took the path that led us along the cliff with no handrail.

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Quick, 2-hour accidental hike. Corniglia in the distance

 

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Manarola, as viewed from the edge of a cliff.

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The end of Cinque Terre, Riomaggiore

16. The time when, taking the train back from Riomaggiore, we didn’t buy tickets since we hadn’t had our tickets checked the entire time we’d been in Italy, and this happened to be the one train where they were checking tickets. We were also on the wrong train.

17. The time that I packed only skirts and dresses (and one pair of pants) for a week in Italy and then it was rainy and miserable the three days we spent in Rome.

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The colosseum is smaller than expected #secfootballproblems

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The most breathtaking landmark I’ve seen to date.

With the year wrapping up, my fellow ex-pats and I are making plans for the future. The majority are coming back for a second year in Spain, while others are pursuing new paths back in the States. For them, Spain helped them figure out what kind of career they want and what they want to do with their lives. Me, I’m still trying to sort out my emotions from New Year’s.

But one thing I have figured out is this: I want to work for a company whose creativity and passion matches my own. One thing that my scattered work experience has in common is that I’m at my best when I’m being challenged.

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Saturday market in Como

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Watermelon bike in Florence

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Lemon tree in the mountains that run along the Mediterranean

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Ruins in Val Sanagra

I was watching Charlie Day’s commencement address this morning and, if anything, it resonates more with me a year out from college than it would’ve a year ago. Because when you’re sitting in an auditorium in a funny hat and gown, anything seems possible. The future is a big uncertain thing and you don’t know what the next adventure holds.

Well, I’ve made it through the next adventure after college. Sometimes, it felt like a continuation of college. Sometimes, it felt like I was just born and living for the first time. Sometimes, I feel like I’m back in that auditorium wondering what the hell is going to happen next.

So I’m staying flexible. I’m taking a bus to Switzerland and skipping Venice and hiding in a bathroom from the man who’s come to check my non-existent ticket. I’m applying for any and everything and I’m refusing to settle for a job, a career, a new life in a new city, that doesn’t excite or impress or inspire me. I’m terrified, but I’m going with it.

“You do not have to be fearless, just don’t let fear stop you.” –Charlie Day’s Merrimack College Commencement Address

 

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The Last Month

If you’ve noticed a lack of silence around The Accidental Adventurer, that would be because I’m trying to break some non-existent record (that only exists in my head, like many of my travel games, apparently) by traveling for the last 9 weekends straight (in backwards-chronological order: Almeria, Cabo de Gata, Barcelona, Madrid, Rome, Lake Como, Almeria, Granada). The blog posts have been piling up and I still haven’t even finished my damn post about the trip to the (grand)motherland (aka Holland) that occurred back in February and has been hiding in my drafts folder for the last few months.

So, in an effort to procrastinate even more, I thought I’d pull together a list of things that, with only a month left to go, I’m just now realizing.

1. I’m a competitive traveler.

This was brought to my attention whilst abroad in Italy, specifically Rome. I like to think of myself a student of crowd dynamics: it’s all about reading the bodies, seeing a break in the crowd, and going for it. When I get into a metro station or historical monument, I don’t dilly-dally. It’s a get-in, get-out mentality and I’m blazing a path that all others in my party must scurry to keep up with (sorry Christina and Collin). In my mind, I’m racing (against myself? Who else is playing this game, Madelyne?) to make it through the crowded situation as quickly and as smoothly as possible. Another explanation besides OIC (Obsessive Internal Competitiveness; don’t look it up, I just coined it), could be the fact that I’ve got a bubble and I like to keep it intact. Fun fact: having a bubble is how I avoided getting pickpocketed on a metro in Rome (um, why are you standing so close to me? Oh, it’s because your hand’s in my purse? That makes sense.)

Another game I like to play when traveling is called Get Me the Heck Out of This Security Line Without Any Hangups. Hangups include: forgetting to take off belts, being told you can go through with your shoes on but then going through with your shoes on and setting off the detector and having to go back through and take off your shoes, forgetting to wear a tight enough shirt so that the security guards can visibly see that you’re not hiding anything under your shirt and therefore can refrain from doing the awkward credit-card-swipe-between-your-boobs thing.

2. My couch is more comfortable than my bed. 

Figured this one out when my friend since forever, Luke, came to visit and I “selflessly” gave up my bed for the few days that we spent in Huercal. Score one for manners!

We're pretty much an old married couple.

We’re pretty much an old married couple.

3. My TV does speak English!

Also a realization from the Visit of Luke. Whilst trying to find the Bayern-Real Madrid match on the telly, I got distracted, as I do every time I turn on my television here in Spain (a thing that’s only happened a handful of times since I moved in), with trying to switch the language to English. And this time it worked! So Luke and I chowed down on burrito bowls and watched terrible celebrity news about the richest babies and a really bad Charlize Theron movie and I fell asleep on my mega-comfortable couch and it was all so American I could’ve cried.

4. Spain doesn’t scare me anymore.

I was walking to school sometime in early May when it hit me.

I remember the first day I arrived here. Saying I was cautiously optimistic would’ve been a stretch; I was convinced that this was going to be the biggest mistake of my life to date and I would have to just grit my teeth and suffer through the next 8 months. I had a survival strategy: drown myself in Friends episodes, write copious amounts, and travel to Almeria to see my friends on the weekends every chance I got. And that’s actually pretty much how it went down. But, also, it became my home.

When I first arrived, everything was a Big Deal. Going to the supermarket for the first time left me soaked in sweat, for the first month I had to force myself to make my daily visit to the bank to try and sort out my bank account yet again, and every so often I’d reward myself with a walk to the British goods store and a Dr. Pepper: I’d run these errands then I’d scamper home and stay there until it was time to work.

And now, it’s not. I know people, I know places, I know words in Spanish necessary for communicating. Spain doesn’t scare me anymore. It’s going home that’s got me terrified.

boat jump

Things that don’t scare me: Spain. Things that do scare me: a two foot drop and a three foot gap between my toes and this boat. In Barcelona.

5. I’m good at simple.

I figured this one out a little over a month ago, when I was packing for Italy. One week spent on trains, planes, and automobiles starting in Milan and working our way down to Rome, and I’d crammed all of my necessities into a smaller-than-necessary backpacking backpack. Much credit is due to H&M’s pañuelo-sized tank tops, but more credit is due to my winter break training when I made it through 2 weeks and 2 major holidays in 2 different countries with a slightly-bigger-than-said-smaller-than-necessary-backpacking-backpack-but-still-impressively-restrained suitcase. One pair of pants, no jacket, and too many skirts meant I was often ill equipped for the springtime weather but not throwing out my back with a child-sized backpack that also doubles an effective weapon and shield (ahem, Laurel) (broma, Laurel, I actually really want to make the Purple Beast my own).

But this has spilled over into other areas of my life. I can sleep on almost any surface you give me, I can stay up at a disco until 5 and I can wake up at 7 to catch a train, I can survive a weekend in Barcelona with a pair of shorts, two skirts, and a tank top (not that I did, I’m just trying to prove a point).

And it’s freeing (not just because I’m confidently striding ten feet ahead while Laurel is crushed under the weight of the Purple Beast). Less money spent on clothes and extravagances like a bed (because I really should’ve just been sleeping on my couch the whole summer) mean more money spent on the important things, like plane tickets and beer and books.

backpack

Simplicity personified

6. This is the end. 

With one week to go, I’m finally starting to realize what this all means. Hint: it means that I’m leaving in a week.

As in, no more Spain. As in, no more weekend trips to Almeria. As in, no more puentes in Barcelona. As in, no more cheap RyanAir flights to Dublin. As in, no more binge shopping at H&M.

When we were hiking in Italy, Christina (or was it Laurel), asked the other two of us what we were going to say when we got back to the States and people asked about our time abroad. I had a dialogue ready in my head.

Well-Meaning Person: So, Madelyne, what’s changed since you’ve been back?

Madelyne: [Gaze off into the sunset dramatically. Whisper:] Everything.

Well-Meaning Person: [naively chuckles] What’s that supposed to-

Madelyne: EVERYTHING.

It has. It has changed everything. It’s changed the way I talk, the way I think, the way I cook, the way I dress, the way I look, the way I walk, the way I feel. Everything.

There’s really no good way to end this post because there’s really no good way to end this year. I’m gonna shoot for going out with grace and dignity but will DEFINITELY fall short of the way. In the mean time, I leave you with this picture of a Spanish sunset and the promise of tears.

Sunsets in Almeria

Sunsets in Almeria

 

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The Empty Seat

Growing up, 203 Nottingham was a nest of chaos. I mean, it’s not that surprising. With five kids, ages ranging over a 12 year span, there was always something: soccer practice, Boy Scouts, PTA meetings, school projects, and then the usual scuffle and bustle of everyday life with seven people living in one house. To get my alone time I used to spend it reading books in closets and playing with Barbies in the sliver of space between my bed and my wall.

Sometimes I feel like I’m making up for a lifetime of alone time. A pueblo of 16,000 in a foreign country is a pretty good place to start.

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New graffiti find. Photo courtesy of Kristen DuFour.

I like traveling alone. It’s easy. When you’re in a state of anxiety because you missed your bus, there’s no one to calm down but yourself (and no one knows how to calm yourself down better than yourself; for me, it is a book and maybe a piece of candy). You can drown the world out with a pair of earbuds and the latest Beyonce, pretending that she is the soundtrack to the movie that is your life.

I spend a lot of time in Spain traveling alone. Not necessarily at the destination but usually on the journey there. I live about 2 hours away from the capital of my province and the hub of all things transportation. Before I can take a weekend trip anywhere, I first have to get to Almeria. Those 2 hours on the bus are my zen time, better than any yoga. I pull out my green notebook and my To Do list of writing (finish this chapter, plot out that storyline, brainstorm for this blog post, jot down some notes about that revelation), plug in a playlist and get to working. Two hours later I have a cramp in my hand and a peace in my soul that I couldn’t get if I was traveling with someone else.

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When you travel alone, there are a lot of artsy pics of cats and landscapes. Photo courtesy of Laurel Hess.

I’ve never loved Granada the way you’re supposed to love a city, like the way I love Madrid. What I do love about Granada are the trips that I’ve taken there: with my parents, with Belen, with friends. I do love that I’ve been here so many times there’s none of the usual pressure to run around and see every sight possible in 48 hours. I do love that I have my favorite places–Cuatro Gatos for carrot cake, Little Morocco for souvenirs, the road along the Darro for art, the Makuto for lodging–that I can single out and revisit.

do love sunsets over the Alhambra, I love taking it easy in a familiar place, I love finding new graffiti and trying on harem pants and giving in to the notion that purchasing said harem pants might be the greatest decision I will ever make in this city. I do love listening to the rain and snuggling up in “salas de chill-out” and triple bunk beds (I actually only love these in theory; middle bunks seem like a good idea but are actually the worst idea ever) and watching We’re the Millers and conversations on Sunday mornings in a room full of bunk beds that makes me feel like we’re a family at a ski lodge.

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Solid purchase. Photo credit Kristen DuFour.

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Too many possibilities to choose just one in the stereotypical, chill-out-room-at-hippie-backpacker-hostel photoshoot #noragrets. Photo courtesy of ME, via Kristen DuFour’s phone.

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If there is an Irish pub, you must go. Photo courtesy of Jenna Cranston.

In Washington D.C. in the main greenhouse of the National Botanical Gardens, there is planted a ravenala madagascariensis, or a traveller’s tree. Said to get it’s name from it’s storage of water and alignment of leaves from east-to-west giving travelers nourishment and bearing, there is an accompanying sign that says “Stand in front of a traveler’s tree and make a wish in good spirit and it will come true.”

And so, standing under the tree of my future, four months before I was getting ready to leave and practically catatonic with peace at being engulfed by so much green, I made my wish.

I wished for someone travel with. At the time, what I’m really thinking is, “Please let me walk out of here and bump into some gorgeous young senator who’s going to make it impossible for me to want to leave but will fund a fabulous 2 month tour of Europe as our honeymoon.” Or, given the shortage of eligible young senators that look like Corey Stoll, maybe more realistically, “Please let the empty seat on my flight back to Texas be inhabited by someone who is intelligent, single, travel-hungry, and gifted with a beard.”

Just three months shy of the anniversary of this wish, I realize that I already got it.

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The Traveller’s Tree

The question has come up recently, “Madelyne, what is the favorite place you’ve been so far?” My knee jerk reaction is to shout, “ICELAND!” but then I remind myself that I haven’t actually been there yet so it doesn’t count (ONLY 4 MORE MONTHS, THOUGH!). And then my second thought isn’t where but with who.

After 13 miles and 24 hours in Cabo de Gata, we were running to catch the bus back to Almeria (shouting “Americans, assemble!” in an attempt to leave no man behind but also an attempt to avoid being that man left behind). Not a crowded bus, we had our choices of seats and so the nine of us dominated the back five rows with our obnoxious English chattering and our overstuffed backpacks.

Listening to these friends I had never imagined making, I realized that this is my favorite place I’ve been so far: the in-between of Leaving and Being There with people that you know.

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Another important thing about traveling with friends: they can call you out on it when you say “I’m going to go take a nap” and then find you fifteen minutes later awake and snacking. Photo courtesy of Laurel Hess, that snitch.

It’s weird to say that we’re friends. We’re somewhere between and a combination of friends and colleagues and family and confidants and passport booty calls and therapists and the American embassy and a gang and not even close to being acquaintances. And when I wished for someone to travel with, I was thinking of someone that I could share my hopes and secrets and faults and weaknesses and strengths and wanderlust with and not a damn one of y’all has a beard.

But still. They are my traveller’s tree, my water and my bearings, and they’ve saved me countless times since I’ve been abroad with tea and travel tips and an American accent.

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“Not all who wander are lost…”

On my very first day in Huercal, my home for the next nine months, I got lost. I was trying to find the school where I would be teaching so that I could meet the principal. I followed the directions given to me by Google maps using the address sent to me by my new principal and I landed up maybe 20 minutes from where I was supposed to be: Huercal-Overa, the pueblo so tiny that Google Maps doesn’t even bother getting it right. It turns out that the street that I was on, Guillermo Reina, is actually 2 different streets. Let me repeat that: there are 2 different 35 Calle Guillermo Reinas in my town. I happened to stumble upon the one that was someone’s private residence.

So I decamped to the cafe across the street where I bought a croissant coated in sugar for 40 centimos and bummed off their wifi to try and communicate with my future employer. I waited for about an hour and finished The Paris Wife by Paula McLain, started and finished the short story Eve in Hollywood by Amor Towles, and began another, Where’d You Go Bernadette? by Maria Semple. I bought a pizza baguette and gave up on hearing back from my principal (later, I found out that she came into the cafe only ten minutes after I had left. I was sitting underneath her apartment and she received my e-mail and stopped to pick me up on her way from lunch. The shop attendants informed her that, yes, there had been a blonde American waiting for some time but that, unfortunately, Laura had just missed me).

I strolled down the imposter Guillermo Reina and found a British goods shop where, miracle of miracles, they spoke English and sold Dr. Pepper. I kind of lurked by the pastry case just marveling in my good luck and letting the accents wash over me. I bought a bottle of water and a Dr. Pepper to go with my pizza, paid for my purchases, and left again.

Unknowingly, I found my way to the real Calle Guillermo Reina, passed the school that was, by now, baffled about how they lost one American girl in a town that only has 18,000 people (less than half of the total number of students at my alma mater and I still ran into a surprising number of familiar faces within the space of a day), and found a park. Or a zoo. After 4 months, I’m still unclear which it is. Locals just call it the park with the animals but it also involves pens and recently open a bar and I think they might be trying to add a water feature.

I found a park bench in the sun (I’m practically a lizard) and, in the space of a few hours, finished Where’d You Go Bernadette?devoured my pizza and sipped my blissful way through a Dr. Pepper that, after Shiner Bock, is the drink of my people. I still had a lot of problems: I had nowhere to live, I didn’t speak the language, all of the friends I had made over the last 3 weeks had scattered to the far reaches of Andalucia, and I had just finished an amazing novel and had nothing to read next. But, sitting there, lost in a foreign country, I realized that I could see myself living there (which was good because I really didn’t have much of a choice).

Four months later, I go to that park as often as I can. I’ve written odes to that park and the peacocks that sneak up behind me, investigate what I’m writing, then shuffle along, leaving me with an increased heart rate and a sense of blessing for my unconventional editors.

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Is it a zoo? Is it a park? Is it a bar? The answer is yes to all of these things!

I’m not saying that I’m not lost. In fact, most of the time, I am. That probably defeats the purpose of the quote and the prompt but I embrace my lost-ness for the accidental adventure that it is. My favorite thing to do in a new city is set out with a vague idea of where I’m going and then get lost along the way. Some of my best finds, my best stories, my best memories, have come from this method. No good or interesting story started with, “So I had the whole thing planned out and then nothing went wrong.”

Is it still considered being lost if you willing lead yourself astray? Looking back, I don’t think that I was lost. Sure, I had no clue what street, what park, what place I was in, but I think I was where I was supposed to be. When I’m feeling lost, I walk back to the park and sit in the sunshine and drink a Dr. Pepper and remind myself of the time that I knew that it was all going to be okay.

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13 Miles Later

Whenever I have to plan a trip that involves more than a one-way flight home, I get anxious. I’m like that hobbit (dwarf? Troll?) who doesn’t want to leave New Zealand (this might actually be an incorrect metaphor; I never saw the movie). A better metaphor is that my life aspiration is to be a crotchety old grandpa. I love that I get to travel as much as I do and have these awesome adventures, but I am also really looking forward to the day when I can settle down and yell at kids to keep off of my lawn and read things like Nanotechnology for Dummies ’cause I got nothin’ but time.

Sometimes, my mind gets the better of me. It’s like when you go grocery shopping on an empty stomach and your eyes are bigger than your belly and you land up spending $300 on candy and ham and fresh-baked bread, only I’m doing my grocery shopping on Skyscanner, Renfe, and Alsa. I’ll be tumblrin’ along when I’ll come across a post-card quality photo of fog on a lake in the mountain of northern Italy and think, ‘Man, it’d sure be swell if I could go there.’ Some shoddily down research and a Skype call home to Mama (“Ma, I’m going to Italy? I think? I mean, is that crazy?”) later and I have a 30 € plane ticket to Milan and I’m familiarizing myself with Trenitalia’s website.

And then, two days before I depart for Ireland or England or Italy or Portugal, I start to think about all of the work it’s going to take to get there–a bus to Almeria, a different bus to Malaga, a train to the airport, a plane to my destination country, another bus from that airport into the city, a metro from the bus stop to the hostel–and I think, ‘Wouldn’t it just be better if I stay home?’

(The answer is, obviously, of course not, but, for the sake of the story, let’s pretend like this is an actual struggle and I really am contemplating giving up a week in Dublin to just stay home.)

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Cabo de Gata coastline.

So you guys know by now that I don’t run. Despite the language barrier at my new gimnasio, I’m sure to let my instructor know how I feel about the more bouncy of our activities in Bodypump, like running in place or jumping jacks, by either making a really gross face in the mirror or just by not doing it. I’m not about that up-and-down, lots of fast-paced movement life BUT, put me on a treadmill set to a high incline and a low speed, and I can walk for days. This weekend I got to put that theory to test.

I live in, undoubtedly, one of the prettiest parts of Spain. Situated along the Mediterranean coast, we’ve got mountains, we’ve got beaches, we’ve got Moorish culture; it’s sort of like the Florida of Europe for those of you well-versed in the American culture of geriatric snowbirds. Andalucía is divided into 8 provinces and I live in the province of Almeria in a pueblo at the easternmost part of the easternmost province. The south of the province abuts the Mediterranean and houses the capital of the province, Almeria City, as well as Cabo de Gata National Park (traveler tip: it is not Cabo de Gato National Park as a gato is a cat and a gata, whatever it is, is not that).

My friend Kristen, blogger/marketing/tech-and-travel-savvy guru that she is, found the blog of a fellow Southern Spain adventurer where he regales his audience with the tale of the hike through Cabo de Gata.

(Before we get too deep into this, I’d like to make it clear that Cabo de Gata refers to three things: it is a pueblo, it is a beach, and it is also the name of the national park. All clear? Story time re-commence.)

Anyways, Kristen finds this blog post and expresses interest in hiking along the majestic coastline of Andalucía. As her fellow auxiliars, always up for new experiences, particularly ones off the beaten path, we are likewise intrigued by this opportunity to do some recreational hiking.

“It’s 4 miles,” Kristen tells us. “Easy peasy.” (She might not have said ‘easy peasy.’ When I retell stories I like to use super-hip slang like ‘swell,’ ‘hella fresh,’ and ‘easy peasy’ for dramatic, storytelling effect. Sorry for putting out-of-date, cheesy words in your mouth, Kris.)

She pulls out a map and points to the bus stop in Cabo de Gata, then wiggles her finger along the coastline. It is, on the map, a hop, skip, and a jump from Cabo de Gata (the city) to Cabo de Gata (the beach) and then straight through Cabo de Gata (the park) to reach San Jose. We’re set to arrive in Cabo de Gata by noon and to reach San Jose by 3 or 4.

Kristen, Kellie, Colin, Macy, Sarah, and Laurel did an abbreviated version of this hike back in the fall when they traveled (and got lost; honestly, this should have been foreshadowing) from San Jose to Playa de Monsul. Their expertise covered the latter half of the journey and I myself had made the trek from Cabo de Gata (the town), along Cabo de Gata (the beach), and up to the Mirador de las Sirenas in a car with my parents when they visited in December. Together, we covered the first and last third of the journey with some vague notions of what the middle held for us.

I’ll spare you the gory details—the trekking along the beach, the first mountain with the one-lane road and the sheer drop on the other side of a barely-there guardrail, busting out I’ll Make a Man Out of You at the front of the pack with Kellie and Macy, some frolicking around the mirador (breathtaking views)—and cut straight to the Big Climb.

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This is the frolicking part of the journey.

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Me, frolicking, on the far left about 2/3 up.

 

There are switchbacks up this mountain and, at the very top, a gap wide enough for a road to pass through and take us to the other side with the promised land of beaches and a downhill slope. We are maybe a quarter of the way up, all of us puzzling what those white specks on that cliff up there might be (MOUNTAIN GOATS!!) and why the hell is this taking so damn long, when Kristen does some fancy tippy-tapping on her iPhone and informs the group that this is not actually a 4-mile hike but a 12-mile hike. We have only gone 6 miles; we have another 7 to go.

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At the top of Realization Mountain.

Needless to say, we make it up the mountain. We make it down the mountain. We slay a dragon and fight some trolls and trek through a valley and see the same car full of attractive Spaniards that passed us on our first mountain (“Venga! Venga!”) and consider stopping to die on the side of the road. We make it to San Jose where our friend Christina, the dear, has been waiting for us since 3 p.m.—it is now 6:30—and has called the hostel where we’d planned on staying, which was closed for the winter, and gotten the proprietor to open it up for a group of 8 weary, foot-and-heart sore Americans and one kid from New Zealand (guys! I learned so much about New Zealand on this hike!).

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It eventually flattened out so that’s nice, I guess.

And it wouldn’t be an ex-pat backpacking trip if we didn’t find the nearest convenience store and stock up on the essentials like giant bottles of water, shampoo and conditioner for much-needed and not-anticipated showers, and an 8-pack of Heineken each.

Alas, our plans for debauchery and drinking were not to be. Sunburn and surprise 13-mile hikes strike again! After dinner in town, we pulled three extra mattresses into a 6-person room and barely made it through our first beer before drifting off like a pack of babes, all tuckered out by some sun and a few sips of beer.

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Tuckered out babes.

At some point in my younger, formative years, I came up with this theory that, if you don’t move, if you hold your breath and do the right thing like go to work and study hard in school and stay at home on Saturday nights, nothing bad can happen to you. Routine is safe, change is scary, and normal is aspirational. I even went through a phase my sophomore year of college where I was literally too scared to leave my dorm room.

But bad things happen everywhere. They happen when you’re standing still and holding your breath, they happen when you’re walking down the street and when you’re exploring new countries. They happen to good people and bad people and scared people and brave people and people who definitely don’t deserve it. Bad things happen every day.

Sometimes the bad thing that happens is standing still and missing out on the potential to push yourself. Ever since that semester of Multiple Phone Calls Home a Day While Crying & Binge Watching Grey’s Anatomy While Knitting (lots of crying, all the Grey’s Anatomy), I push myself. I push myself past what is comfortable and what is familiar because bad things happen. And you can’t hide from that. But when you embrace it, when you charge on regardless, you find that it’s worth it. There is always another mountain. There are always another seven miles.

But there are eight other people on this mountain with me. At the end of the hike, we make it to the beach in San Jose to watch the sunset and collapse on a blanket that Kristen was wise enough to think of bringing. We all throw our goods into a pile in the middle—potato chips, tostadas, strawberries, cheese, oranges and apples and granola bars, chocolate chip cookies—and have a feast. We stay out until the sun is gone and the wind picks up and people are starting to complain of cold. We limp up to the hostel (after a pit stop for necessary goods) and we run around the empty hostel like kids left unsupervised for the first time. And we are happy.

Bad things happen. Good things happen, too. And good things can be scary. Staying still seems safe. If you stay still, nothing can happen, good or bad. I’d like to take my chances with normal, to stand still and enjoy life on a routine, but, at the end of the day, I’m more scared of what happens if I don’t get on that bus/train/plane/horse/scooter/bike/various other modes of transportation, than what happens if I do.

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Post-trek, re-fueling exhaustion.

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Thankfulness

You’ve never experienced being thankful until you’re in a foreign country, you haven’t seen your family in three months, and someone shows up with a can of cranberries.

Once you sit down and it’s time for a round of “This year I’m thankful for…” someone always covers the basics in the first minute: family, food, friends, shelter, a job, etc, etc. The words are mostly true; at some point in the past year, I’m sure I’ve been thankful for my family, but usually, it’s just another thing I take for granted. Each year, I say the things I know I will get in trouble with my mother if I don’t. But this year my mother wasn’t there to judge and I still don’t think I’ve ever been half this thankful. You don’t really know thankfulness until you leave all that you love and all that is familiar and you start over in a foreign country with a foreign language and, after resigning yourself to the fact that this will be the first Thanksgiving in 22 years that you won’t have cranberries, someone shows up with a can of cranberries.

These are the things I’m thankful for.

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#expatthanksgiving
(Not featured: #expatwasted)

This program, These People, This City

I love Almeria. It’s not the prettiest or the biggest or the oldest of the grandest of cities along the Mediterranean coast but it has kind people who’ve opened their apartments to me so many times. It’s simple and it’s home.

Chris said it first at dinner but it rings so true for all of us: I’m so grateful I took the chance and applied for this program and said yes and moved to Spain and had these adventures.

Dev’n sent me this on Sunday afternoon, reminding me of a talk we had two days after I arrived in Spain:

Hey! Remember when you told me how nervous you were about coming late and us already having developed friendships. I saw some great photos this weekend that showcased how awesome you are as a person- people don’t need a long time, your greatness shines through from the beginning and we’re smart enough not to miss out. Hope you had a great Thanksgiving!

How did I get so lucky with these people? What started out as a family of necessity–people to travel with so you wouldn’t be completely alone during the holidays–turned into an actual family. On Sunday, after leftovers and brunch, it hit me that I would never have become friends with half of these people if we hadn’t all made the simultaneous choice to use this program in this country at this time. The people in this program, we’ve become an unlikely family of sorts, bound together by necessity, citizenship, and a shared language. I wouldn’t have met any of these people if I’d stayed in the States, let alone become as close as I am with most of them. That makes me really anxious about what happens when we all return to real life, but it also makes me extra thankful that we at least got these 10 months together.

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Hangin’ out, bein’ thankful

Traditions: Drinking Games, & Discotecas

Traditions, the kind you bring–the recipes, the being thankful, the twenty minute heated arguments (topic notwithstanding though I have to say that’s the first time I’ve ever born witness to that impassioned of a debate over rhyming), lazy Saturdays–and the kind you make–telephone pictionary and King’s Cup, Sunday morning brunch, not having the need for a kid’s table (what do you mean I sit with the adults? What do you mean we’re the adults?). Wherever I am next year, I’m not sure how it’s going to compare to rounds of drinking games, telephone pictionary, and a (seemingly) endless supply of alcohol (seemingly until, suddenly, it’s Sunday morning and everyone’s ready to cry uncle).

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Cranberries

And Americans who are resourceful enough to find them and pay extra.

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Leftover from #expatthanksgiving

Sundays

Brunch on Sunday in yesterday’s clothes and last night’s hangovers, spending the afternoon playing rounds of Telephone Pictionary, then walking down to the beach, stopping to play on swing sets, sending people off to the bus station, ending with an impromptu kabob dinner in the sand watching the sun set.

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The Brunch Club

Goodbyes

Whenever I go to the bus station, I remind myself not to but always land up staring at the couples and families saying goodbye. It’s that interaction, so simple and sweet, that I’ve been away from for so long that I can’t help but gawk. So when it comes to say our goodbyes for the weekend, I insist on walking to the bus station. I insist on seeing them off at their gate. I insist on hugs and get a giddy thrill at the exchange of “See you in Dublin!”s. I insist on waiting until they’re on the bus and waving until they leave. Yeah, goodbyes suck, but isn’t it kind of neat that you have someone who means enough to you that saying goodbye isn’t easy?

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See you in Dublin!

All these things and a few extra:

swing sets, sour cream, H&M, first impressions, Saved by the Bell on Netflix, ALSA buses, 24-hr LSD, and, most importantly, boats that are metaphors of life (I didn’t understand the metaphor, much like life, and maybe that’s the metaphor?).

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I’m pretty gosh darn thankful for this view.

OH! And being a legal temporary resident of Spain! DEF thankful for that.

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NIE!

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A List of Lists

Reasons Why I Love Lists

1. They’re just great, they really are. They need little to no prelude. Everyone knows what a list is, what happens when you make a list. The title explains it what may need to be explained so you skip lines of introductory bullshit and dive right in.

2. The titles can be as long or as ridiculous as you want. There is a freedom in titling something that far too few people take advantage of. Here are some great examples of when people have taken full advantage of titles.

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“Tagram or The Storm or The Word of the Monkey or High Jumps or No One’s Eyes or Life of Another” or Indecisive or The Title is Better Than the Art

 

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I call it, ‘Madelyne Travels Places and People Stand Behind Her with Cameras.’

3. Lists can be as brief or long-winded as you prefer. And, if you’re clueless on how to end an idea, you can always

4. Quit while you’re ahead and start over with a new number.

5. Going grocery shopping? Make a list! Procrastinating to the max? Make a list! Don’t know where to start or what to write about? Make a list! A list for every reason, for every seasons. Lists for all!

Things I Should Be Doing Instead of Writing This Post

1. Studying French.

2. Doing crunches.

3. Skyping with my family (Ma, we said 8 my time! It’s currently 9:30!)

4. Socializing with the world outside of the sporadically-heated living room.

5. Figuring out how to pay my credit card bill/working on getting my bank account unfrozen.

6. Buying a plane ticket home from Paris before I actually go to Paris and become stuck with no way home.

7. Not much else because this post has been long overdue so I should stop updating my Facebook status and just finish the damn thing.

Things I Have Been Doing Instead of Writing This Post

1. Writing. Lots and lots of writing. Writing in notebooks, writing e-mails and letters and postcards, writing on job applications, writing notes to my roommates, writing on Tumblr, writing Tweets, writing Facebook messages to friends near and dear to my heart who, much to my surprise, did not suddenly forget me as soon as I left the country. At the beginning of the year I set two resolutions for myself: become a runner and finish a novel. The first wasn’t a failure but it wasn’t really a success either. I was a runner for a short while, I still run on occasion. I’m powering through the second resolution as fast as my little fingers can take me before December 31st. (I will inevitably fail; I’ve spent more time traveling and Instagramming and riding horses and being distracted by general living than I have working towards either of these resolutions.)

2. Reading, widely and voraciously per usual. I’m growing a collection of books I am impervious to purchasing when I find them in English: An American by Henry James, 2 new Carlos Ruiz Zafon’s, a book of essays by David Foster Wallace that I spent 7 happy hours annotating on the bus home from Madrid. On the Kindle, I’ve recently finished Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore (um, WOW), and have on deck The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood (happy belated MAt!) as well as The Empress Dowager Cixi: The Concubine Who Launched Modern China by Jung Chang (a surprisingly compelling work of non-fiction, which is normally not my cup of tea). Mom found two Barnes & Noble giftcards that some of my girls from camp sent me and three brand new books (Someone Else’s Love Story, Joshilyn Jackson; The Goldfinch, Donna Tartt; The Sun Also Rises, Ernest Hemingway) are on their way to me via my parents’ suitcase.  

3. Figuring out how I can be warmer. This includes thinking of something new every five minutes that my parents can bring whenever they visit in two weeks (Tresemme hair products, fuzzy socks, blue sweatpants I was forced to leave behind when my bag weighed too much at the airport). This also includes pushing my limits of how many layers I can stand to have on my body at one time (I’m notorious for eschewing pants; I am currently wearing two pairs and my soul dies a little bit with each layer). Last night, for example, I wore to bed: 1 long-sleeved shirt; 1 Cowboy’s vs Crohn’s sweatshirt, hood up; 1 pair of yoga pants over 1 pair of leggings; four pairs of socks with said yoga pants tucked inside sock layer number 4; 1 pair of gloves. Spanish insulation is no joke because there is no insulation there to even joke about. We do have a heater but I like to call it The Gas Box of Death because it involves an open flame and reeks of gasoline. There’s a heater in the living room but, if you run it for too long, you can blow a fuse and the entire apartment loses electricity (oops).

4. Compiling a musical playlist called ‘Sweater Weather.’ (This is obviously the most important of all my endeavors.)

Things I Will Be Doing Instead of Writing More Posts

1. Thanksgiving! Not real Thanksgiving, but an amended, ex-pat version in Almeria on Friday night with lots of American friends from Sevilla. I’m bringing mashed potatoes and sweet potatoes and I’m only just now realizing how much pressure that is considering the only thing I’m certain I can buy at the grocery store are potatoes and yams and what else goes in those dishes?

2. Parents! My parents are coming in 12 days! They’ll be here for 10 days. We’re spending the first weekend in Granada, the second weekend in Madrid, and I’m sure I’ll be a sulky baby by the end of the trip because I won’t want them to leave and we all know how great I am at expressing my feelings.

3. Dublin! Did I mention I’m spending Christmas in Dublin? I’ll be entirely unreachable for two weeks because I’ll be doing things like finding an Irish husband, drooling over the Trinity College library, spending too much time in pubs trying to find an Irish husband, and crying because it’s so cold and my poor, thin Southern blood can’t take it. Oh! And visiting with friends from the summer like Sam and (maybe) Dean and Hannah Mae!

4. Paris! Did I mention I’m spending New Year’s in Paris? Did I mention that Midnight in Paris is only one of my most favorite movies of all time? Did I mention that I’m obsessed with ex-pat writers of the 20s? Did I mention that we found a great apartment to rent on the Right Bank? Did I mention that I’m just writing more questions because I can’t find enough words to truly express how excited I am and every time I start to think about it I kind of scream a little and my brain stops thinking and doing the words making thing and I kind of just incoherent and processing becomes difficult? Did I mention that I will live in this apartment in the third arrondissement for seven days and pretend like it’s seven years and eat too many baguettes and read The Sun Also Rises (you didn’t think I ordered it from B&N for its literary value did you?)? Did I mention I haven’t bought my plane ticket back to Spain because I haven’t gotten around to it yet but I joke it’s because maybe I’ll never leave but it’s also kind of not a joke?

Things

1. Art

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It’s like the Where’s Waldo of paintings except, instead of looking for Waldo, you’re looking for any shape that makes sense. Also, if my posture looks contrived in any way, it’s because I’m falling over; I tripped over my own feet.

2. Palacio de Cristal

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Fall leaves are a foreign concept to me.

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Self-proclaimed architecture nerd.

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Sweet mother of mercy, can I die here?

3. Belen

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Belen’s hobbies include practicing English, keeping it tight, and adopting wayward and lonely Americans. (All trips to Granada provided by The Kindness of Belen’s Heart)

4. River feet

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Barefoot in the Rio Darro in mid-November, there have been better life choices made.

5. Secret passageways

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Doin’ the secret cave dance, yah yah yah!

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