Chapter 8 - Mexico

Play this while reading
Maluma -  Carnaval

07.04.15 - Valladolid, Mexico

I literally had to double check to make sure this really is 2015. Talk about feeling detached. 
          We are currently in Valladolid. Our fourth stop in Mexico. The first was Cancun, which was every bit as advertised; a touristy party town with great malls, expensive restaurants and the whitest, longest beaches on the planet. We lived in the local part though, and it took us half an hour to get to the beach every day. In each place we go, we fall into a certain routine to match that specific place. In Mexico our working hours are pretty much normal since US EST time is only one hour behind us. So in Cancun we'd be working in our cavelike Airbnb, positioned in the middle of nothing but dirty, local food shops (calling them restaurants would be insulting towards the service industry), all day. Then on the way out to catch a bus we'd check if the pastry guy next door was baking. I think he was distributing to restaurants and other businesses, but if you caught him in his baking hours you could get steaming fresh croissants. On the bus to the beach we'd listen to audio books - psychology themed on my part. Then we'd be on the beach, go pee in a mall and otherwise search for those infamous beach parties. With few exeptions there didn't seem to be much happening. Getting off of the beach was a huge hassle, as walking through the hotels to get back on the main road was impossible. When we tried, we didn't even make it halfway to the lobby before being politely escorted back to the beachside. At night, the party district lit up and it was easy to see where all the spring breakers spent their evenings. The extraordinary nightclub "CoCo Bongo", owned by Jim Carrey himself, had "The Mask" dressed street performers lining the streets, selling tickets and charging tourists for pictures. We never went to a club in the party district. We didn't even go to a restaurant. Actually, we stuck to the food shops back home throughout our stay. Especially since we'd been hugely overcharged by accident for our Airbnb, we didn't really feel like paying for western comfort and cheap bar food, served from expensive looking menus with an actual design. Ordering something written on a piece of cardboard with awkward capital letters tend to be 10% of the price. What else is there to say about Cancun... It wasn't a great first impression of Mexico, that's for sure. 

Second stop was Playa Del Carmen. This turned out to be where the real parties and vacation atmosphere was hiding. It seemed all the non-spring-breakers had decided to skip the anticipated chaos in Cancun and headed to this neighbouring resort town instead. Playa was very touristy too, but actually pretty comfortably so. It has that air of holiday spirit without too much of the commercialized bullshit. It was easily walkable, there was a Wallmart (it's always hard to find big grocery stores), we lived right next to the beach and it had three Starbucks to choose from to work in (no - we don't like Starbucks. But they tend to have wifi...). That's pretty much all a digital nomad needs in life. Now in Playa, our routine was as follows: Getting up from each our narrow, sterile hostel bed, we'd attempt not to wake up the only other guy in the 10 person dorm - a specimen looking somewhat like a caveman and somewhat like a serial killer, sleeping all day, every day, scowling whenever he was awake and hiding in a cave he had made out of bed linen around his bunk. It seemed he lived permanently in the hostel. In the kitchen - which had a bowl of cold water, house cleaning soap and a cloth instead of dish washing amenities - we'd make our toast with avocado and tomato + half a grapefruit. We'd work in Starbucks, go to the beach and then walk around, searching for one or another restaurant which we'd looked up on Yelp and wanted to go to. It was a pretty nice routine. With exception of the days when the wifi was crapping out everywhere and we had to work at home in the hostel, that is. See - this hostel had decided it was a good idea to keep roosters in the yard, right outside the dorms and next to the tables. Three roosters to be precise. Alex grew a tad more bit bitter for every time he'd been in a meeting or on call and people suddenly asked "is that... a rooster?". The roosters also seemed to have a very confused perception as to what's night and day, but then again roosters are still a model 1.0, designed to make loud noises at the sight of any light, as they were engineered before artificial light.

          It was Alex's birthday the weekend we arrived in Playa and we celebrated all weekend. First, we went to our very first cenote - an underground sinkhole of the kind that forms only in middle America. It was a really hardcore one, we learned later. With a guide and wearing wet suits we dived into the water of this unlit underground cenote, experiencing the wonders of this exceptional natural phenomena. Basically we were swimming around in bottomless clear water, looking up at the beautiful ceilings of the cave system. Our guide was an adventurous one and we were a tour-group of nothing but young people, so we got more than what we'd paid for...
         The guide placed (our) flash light on the cave-floor at the other side of an underwater tunnel and then resurfaced in the little cave we were all floating around in, carefully avoiding the long limestone formations hovering inches over our heads. Then he explained to us how all we needed to do was hold our breath, dive down towards the light and come back up when we were right above it. If we tried to resurface before making it all the way to the light we'd crash with the sharp formations in the roof of the tunnel... But the dive would lead us to a "secret" room with the a high ceiling and deep pits underneath. As Alex agreed to go first I felt a surge of fear. When the guide came back up after having pushed him into the underwater passage, I was eager to go next, feeling a sensation close to panic at the thought of Alex being on the other side of a dangerous, pointy cave wall. As I dived under, unable to see anything but a blinding light, I moved my legs frantically in an attempt to go straight through the short tunnel without hitting the sharp formations. Only when I was right above the flashlight I let myself float upwards, hoping our guide had put the flash light in the right spot. Breaking the water surface, everything was pitch black. The weak light underneath me was pointing the opposite direction, into the tunnel, and didn't provide much, if any, light to the giant black cave I found myself in. Calling out Alex's name, I could see his dark outline move somewhere, and swam to him as fast as I could. As he caught me I felt like someone had poured a bucket of hot water over my head and everything was OK again. Kissing his lips we both laughed out in relief. As I looked around me, I was about to ask Alex to turn on our flashlight when I realized we didn't have one. I couldn't see the ceiling, I couldn't see the bottom beneath us and I couldn't see any other walls than a slightly rounded one behind us. The low light from our emerging point only allowed us to see the contours of a few formations around us, everything else was bathed in impenetrable darkness.  

          "Just pretend it's just you an me on an adventure."
          I smiled into the ceiling at his words, and let myself float on top of the water, letting go of his arms. We listened to the unbroken silence and felt like we were alone in the world for a minute. As more of our tour group members broke the surface, lights started flashing over the walls, revealing just how gigantic of a cave we were in. And so beautiful. Underneath us, fish that were made for eternal darkness moved away from our moving feet and above us a flock of around 500 sleeping bats were starting to come alive at the sudden flashes of light and bursts of sound.
          We had ceviche for dinner, one of Alex's favorite dishes and a Peruvian one, possibly making up one of the only reasons I am sad to miss out on Peru. The next day we went scuba diving by the reef, accompanied by an elderly British couple and a very old but extremely sparkly French guide. He'd been diving those reefs long before they'd invented a divers vest, back when you had to carry your oxygen in a backpack. The water was clear and warm and the reef was beautiful. Only a sunnier day would've made the colors come a bit more to life. The only misfortune was, that somewhere along the way the little compass charm Alex's parents had given to me slipped away into the colorful underwater world. Maybe some day it will be someone's treasure.

On the day we left Playa del Carmen, Yucatan was seeing the first rain in months. The bright side was we'd made it to the bus station before the first drop fell. The not so bright one was that the storm peaked during our two-hour ride and our second-class bus driver must've been either really drunk or really determined to be ahead of time, because while other busses and cars were pulling to the side of the road, waiting for the worst of the storm to pass, our bus-driver rode so recklessly we were quite seriously considering which sitting position would be the best in case of a crash and where to hold on in case the bus suddenly tipped over.
          When the bus arrived in Tulum it literally took a turn around the entire city in order to hit the back-road leading into the station. This little detour around the whole city took two minutes. Following the instructions our Airbnb host, Nadia, had left us we made our way through the rain - me with my shirt in front of my body, protecting the daypack containing my computer, and Alex with a towel over his head. As we made it to the described house (black gate and jungly garden) we were greeted by a very Scottish guy with a full beard. This other airbnb guest was greeting us since Nadia was DJ'ing on the beach. His name was Colin and he'd grown up in a farmer's village in Scotland, smaller than Tulum. He completely lived up to the stereotype of friendly, smiley and fast-talking and he made our first impression of the house a million times better than it would've otherwise been, because the minute we stepped through the door we were immediately attacked by two very aggressive dogs. Colin managed to calm them down (he repeated this procedure every two minutes for an hour since the dogs kept re-attacking us) and told us they were very nervous, as they were rescue dogs. We would learn later that the two dogs, Max and Nena, were both rescued from an abusive household. Max was mostly the quieter one but had an aversion against tall guys, which didn't make our stay easy for Alex. Nena was so traumatized she never stopped twitching. Even in her sleep her head would bounce rhythmically up and down in a ducking movement while her tail would crunch in towards her stomach. They got used to us (for the most part) after a couple of days, but on that first rainy night, when Colin left and the electricity went out two minutes later, Alex and I quickly barricaded ourselves in our room, which was pretty nice and had a hammock by the way.

          Needless to say we got familiar with the single main street, cutting through the city, in a couple hours. We rented bikes for our stay, as the beach, ruins and cenotes were all bikeable. The ruins weren't too exciting, although closing our eyes and imagining the native Mayan life, which had once played out where we stood, did give us a kick. The beach sucked compared to the ones in Playa del Carmen and Cancun, supposedly due to the storm which had fled the white sand with rotten seaweed. The cenote was cool, open and blue and very, very overrun by tourists, and we quickly realized our first cenote had definitely been for the more daring souls. There was a moment, though, when I glanced down underneath the water surface though my goggles, expecting to see a wall and instead saw an endless deep stretching so far down an underwater hill beneath me that the sunlight couldn't reach the bottom. For a second I felt myself being sucked into it and had an ironic surge of a fear of heights. The extensiveness of the underwater cave was awe-inspiring.

          Tulum is in the middle of the jungle, and although the wifi speed was pretty good, the stability was absolute crap. Both in the local coffee shop and at home the wifi would simply switch off. Not just go on an off, no, it would turn off for hours at a time. Not great for digital nomads. In one very interesting instance, I was sitting in the living room around 10AM in the morning while Alex was working by the desk in our room when the wifi suddenly turned off with a message saying the latest bill had not been paid. In the very quiet house I could easily hear the sound of rapid movement as Alex got up from a chair in our room. A fraction of a second later, he entered the living room with the most ironic smile scattered across his face.
          "Do you know what's fun? It's fun when the FUCKING internet craps out in the middle of an important FUCKING phone call with my internship!" Knowing that Nadia was still asleep, I shushed him and slowly got up, holding my arms out in a calming gesture.
          "Goddamn it!" "FUCK" He hit his arm hard against the wall with a loud bang. Still shushing, I moved towards him, forcing him back into our room and begged him to calm down. Instead he turned towards the door and I only just caught it before he smacked it loudly behind us. I closed the door quietly and said, "Alex, stop screaming, Nadia will hear you"
          "I FUCKING want her to hear me! I could lose my internship because this BITCH didn't pay her FUCKING internet bill!"
          "Alex, she is NOT a bitch and will you please be quiet!"
          "I DON'T FUCKING CARE! I hope she hears me and learns to pay her FUCKING BILLS. She is responsible for us and she's just FUCKING us right in the butt. BITCH!"
          "We'll pack up and go to the coffee shop, all right, stop yelling, let's go". As Alex packed up his computer in the room I packed up mine in the living room as Nadia came out from her room, obviously having just been woken up, looking very confused.
          "What is going on out here?"
          "I think your wifi just dropped out"
          "Is that so bad that he has to run around the house screaming?"
          "I think he was in a very important phone call so he could loose his internship. It's just bad timing really..."
          Nadia went to the bathroom just as Alex came out from the room. I quickly dragged him out of the house, thankful he didn't run into Nadia on the way. Once he calmed down he agreed that calling Nadia a bitch was obviously wrong. He never ever got that angry, but this one time the wifi shutting down had been extremely inconvenient and it was only one event in a series of Mexican-shitty-wifi events. He had just taken it out on Nadia. To his defence she did admit to having paid her bill late. He apologized to her later.
          As if this one event didn't make us unpopular enough, we also managed to flood her toilet (she'd forgotten to tell us not to flush toilet paper), get two noise complaints from the neighbours (It seemed Colin had a habit of slamming doors but we got the blame) and making her deal with a frantic bike-shop owner coming to our house because he'd forgotten to tell us the day we were supposed to return the bikes was an Easter holiday and the shop would be closed. In the end it all worked out, but we were quite happy when we left Nadia's underequipped college-room like house and the small-town-with-more-tourists-than-locals city of Tulum on Good Friday.

At the first sight of Valladolid we were sold. So this was where the real Mexican feel was hiding. Free of tourists and with endless colorful streets and burning sun this is one of our favorite cities. On Saturday we took the ride to Chichen Itza, a Mayan city, which is now one of the 7 wonders of the world. The amount of advantage that was taken of the tourism on the venue almost made us puke, but the giant fortress was awe inspiring and so worth it. In the burning heat, the sound of hissing vendors selling "panther flutes" quickly got old though.

In the middle of the city is a huge cenote. It is open to the public at a very low charge, and entering through a restaurant, Alex and I accidentally got in for free. This one was just a huge open-air pool with lots of protrusions on the high walls, allowing people to jump into the water from great heights. While Alex was "digesting" the taco we'd just eaten, I went for the highest vantage point. It wasn't so much because I was extremely eager to face the 30 feet fall, but because Alex had looked at me with a spark in his eyes saying "do you dare?" As soon as those words were uttered, every trace of fear left my conscience as my brain went into brave-mode, and the fear resigned to the pit of my stomach where I let it simmer around with the taco as I walked determinately towards the point where a few locals took turn looking over the edge - someone occasionally leaping into the blue water after careful consideration and a heavy amount of group pressure.
          Reaching my destination I didn't even take time to look down. I felt the fear swimming around in my body, aching to have some influence on my legs that were rapidly carrying me towards the edge, but I didn't let it. I. Am. Brave. I need to be. Moreover, I need to believe I am. That's why I cannot let myself hesitate for a moment before leaping over the edge, riding the roller coaster, crashing with the waves or facing pain. If even for a second I let myself hesitate, I am afraid my fear will get a hold of me, leaving me to struggle with it for eternity and even keep me from doing certain things.
          It was a lot higher than you'd think from below, I thought to myself as my body fell towards the bluish green water. Usually, when you fall from a high place, you feel a surge in your stomach. But I had never before jumped so far the surge reached all the way up to my throat and then gave way to another surge before I hit the surface. Having jumped straight onto my feet I shot through the surface, feeling how the water slowed me down. By the time I had come to a halt in the water, it was completely dark around me. I started the upwards swim towards the surface. After a few moments I was wondering exactly how far down I had gone - why had I not yet reached the light? I remembered once reading a passage in a book about someone drowning. It said he simply couldn't tell which way was up and just swam around in blindness and panic. I hadn't understood at all, how can you not know which way is up? But for a fraction of a second I really was wondering if I was swimming upwards or not. If I wasn't, I'd run out of oxygen before reaching the surface, even if I turned around. Then the air exploded around me and I regained my hearing as I wiped drops of water out of my eyes, letting my jell-o legs take me towards the only exit from the big pool. From down there the cliff looked just as high as it had from up there.

29.04.15 - Isla de Cozumel, Mexico

God, I'm so hungry. I've begun a new interesting regimen, one of needing progress. Or something. I have been tracking every penny we've spent for this whole trip, and I've written a note for every single day (both on my phone and in a written notebook). These days I also keep track of what I eat, because I've decided I want to be healthy. I really mean it when I say it is because I want to be healthy - I can feel the urge to lose weight somewhere in my motivation, but it feels very much like a conscious decision, and my conscious brain just wants a healthy body.
          The past few weeks have been very very productive. Merida was a huge disappointment. We'd heard all sorts of good things about it, so we had booked accommodation there for two weeks, expecting something like Chiang Mai or Santiago - an active expat community and a lot going on. Instead it was an exhaustingly large version of Valladolid. Endless similar streets with pretty yet worn down buildings and absolutely nothing going on except in the tourist center, which we mostly stayed out of. We have developed this theory about Mexico - that Mexican culture is a sort of kliché culture in which everything is too bold and not very elegant. For example, French culture is very sophisticated with an experimental and balanced cuisine, a general open-mindedness, a productive population and a flawless sense of fashion. On the contrary, Mexico has a lazy government, zero sense of fashion (unless rainbow colors and glitter ever becomes fashionable), a cuisine based off of bread, pork and a lot of spices in different combinations and close to no initiative when it comes to business planning, transportation and general efficiency. The buildings and roads are deteriorating and tourists are taken advantage of to the point of harassment in a desperate attempt from the locals to keep money coming when the government seems to have forgotten how to do so.
          In the longer run this kind of culture is very frustrating to exist within. At least when you didn't grow up with it. In Merida we would walk the endless streets only to find a city square in which every single local is screaming at you in broken English in an attempt to squeeze every last penny out of the "gringos". In spite of this fact, we would walk the 30 minutes to city center only to at least see something, SOME change of scenery. Because little was going on 12 streets from center where we lived.
          In the end, what saved our stay in Merida was a vegan restaurant. This venue, situated in a beautiful courtyard full of palm trees and candles, had a new menu each night; always with a new theme and always vegan. Out of 13 nights in Merida we went there 5 times and each got a half-sized menu (with 4 courses and a drink included, half size was plenty for me) of their mediterranean, raw, indian, mexican and simply "green" themed delicious dishes. At 80-100 pesos (around 7 dollars) for the 4 courses plus drink, this place blew us away completely. If you ever go to Merida, seriously, visit "Lo Que Hay!" - don't let the fact that you have to ring a bell to enter scare you off - it just makes it more secret!


          The only other thing keeping us sane was our daytrips to surrounding cities. The yellow city of "Izamal" had Mayan ruins strewn all across it, and you were allowed to climb them unlike the popular ones in Tulum and Chichen Itza. Our stay there was a bit short though, as we had to give in to the heat and make our way back home to our air-conditioned room before we passed out. "Progresso" was an hour bus ride away with an extremely cheap local bus company and it had a beach. The beach was originally the only reason we went there for a daytrip, but when we arrived we realized we had landed in vacation heaven for Mexicans - this was the place where all the locals went on holiday. As a result it was an authentic feeling vacation city with a beautiful stretch of beach. What really made it awesome though, was the large amount of street stands selling alcoholic drinks like margaritas and Michaladas and the fact that it seemed to be legal to drink these beverages on the beach and in the streets. The day we got there was apparently the date for the "Corona Sunset Party" which meant you only had to buy 2 beers and then you'd gain access to a concert venue where DJ's played in the light of the sunset and people dressed from top to toe in Corona merchandise were advertising the beer brand on their very low cut t-shirts. It was the first real beach party we'd seen in Mexico.

          So, Merida was really where our "productive" regimen started. With too high temperatures and a city with nothing to do, we sought shelter in the local Starbucks (located an excruciating half hour walk away from our house) where I read psychology books and worked my translation job while Alex worked his online research job and his internship as a digital marketer. At the end of the two weeks Alex quit his research job as the remote digital marketing company hired him on, and I had started working on our website again, tracking my calories, reading as much as possible and meditating every day. As we made our way to the island of Cozumel, this routine would turn out to come with us.

12.05.15 - Playa del Carmen, Mexico

Cozumel was a more expensive, less fun and less populated version of playa del Carmen. We spent our week there killing ants with a febreeze spray in our room and looking for non-existing beaches. It was quite ironic how we were on an island with beautiful ocean all around but absolutely no spots for lying down next to it - unless you rented a car or a scooter to drive across the entire island. Well, we found ourselves a little local juice-place where a guy named nacho would fix up any healthy, unhealthy or spicy drink you'd like as long as it was alcohol free. We also stumbled upon the first decent bakery we've seen in Mexico, which is otherwise a country indulging in different versions of bread with sugar on it instead of advanced pastries. Guess they have enough in their spicy sweets and fatty meats. The overwhelming amount of obese people of all ages definitely suggest that they know how to indulge. It is interesting to be in a country where I am quite obviously one of the lightest and tallest females. Especially tall is something I've never been able to call myself before.
          Anyway, it was a relief taking the ferry back to Playa del Carmen to spend our last two weeks. Although we're usually not very into spending forever in the same place, we both agree that we could have easily spent all three of our last weeks in Mexico here. The hostel we're staying in is one of the best we've ever been in, with everything you need and a huge rooftop with a pool, lounging chairs and DJ's and open bar for ladies every night.

Last Sunday there was a huge party on the rooftop and we were really excited. I think I was maybe a bit more excited - although neither of us are really party people, I think Alex is a bit more cynical about this kind of party clientele than I am... Granted, they're not generally "our type of people" but I pride myself upon not judging the book by its cover and I am always open to the possibility of people surprising me and disproving my stereotype-based biases. I am not sure whether this openness is simply due to the fact that I don't have as much experience with people as Alex does. Anyhow he is very convinced about the accuracy of stereotypes and I am not. So I was excited to meet some people for once! Alex and I were having drinks while laughing at a little naked kid being thrown around by strangers in the pool while his dad was flirting with a mom whose daughter was also playing around. They probably would've made a perfect couple, because I think very few people would think to bring their little kids to a rooftop pool party involving heavy music, alcohol and occasional weed... Well, the kids seemed to enjoy themselves and the little girl was even on my team for a round of beer pong.

Chapter 7 - Chile

Play this while reading
Broiler - Wild Eyes

20.02.15 - Santiago, Chile

Santiago reminds me a lot of Copenhagen. Very safe and clean and with a moderate amount of things to do. A lot of people think this place is boring, but for slow travellers like us it is pretty ideal. With the exception of the lack of Wi-Fi. Considering how nice and clean this city is, the Wi-Fi speed is surprisingly aggravating. Luckily we’ve had pretty descent Wi-Fi in our houses.

For Valentine’s Day, someone made it tradition in Santiago to hollow out melons, fill them with white wine and get drunk in the park. Of course we wanted to participate in this “melon-con-vino” festival, so we got the ingredients and headed to the large park in the dodgy end of town. When we found the park and began looking for an entrance, something amusing happened. Two cops that both looked younger than us and very inexperienced awkwardly shuffled back and forth, looking like they were considering whether or not to approach us. We knew that drinking in public was illegal in Chile, but we also knew that there were around 1000 people who were about to do so, and I’d like to see those two rookie policemen stop them. In the end it seems they decided they should try and do their job and they walked up to us, asking us what we were up to in Spanish. All of a sudden I turned into a little Danish girl with no idea what they said, even though the truth was I understood perfectly. They were just so awkward I hoped they’d leave us alone if we just looked at them in confusion. Actually they almost did. If I hadn’t felt so bad for them, blushing and smiling awkwardly flashing braces, I would probably have kept acting like I didn’t understand a word of what they said. But through broken Spanglish we eventually came to an understanding that were not supposed to let our melon and wine into the park. So Alex and I headed back to city center, disappointed that the police had apparently decided to try and stop the melon-con-vino event. If only we had shown up later along with all the locals. But it was ok, we just went home to our rooftop and got happily buzzed in the sun with our feet in the pool. In the evening I surprised Alex with a Peruvian valentines dinner.

06.03.15 - Valparaiso, Chile

I actually already wrote this once, but then my Word fucked up after half a page and now I’m starting over. So. Fun. Valparaiso. A large hub of sheet metal and wavy hills that someone accidentally dropped two tons of paint on. This city is like no other, a magical place with art and colors on all walls, staircases, dogs and roofs. Alex is convinced this place is his spirit animal. Although I love the mystery of it and the way new hidden gems lie behind every corner and on every unexplored hilltop, I am not sure he really knows what he’s saying. Yes, it is beautiful and unique. It has the beach a 15 min busride away. It is stuffed with alternative colorful latinos eating empanadas and completos while looking bored with the world and too cool for school. Maybe if I was Chilean and had grown up with the Chilean cuisine and culture I would choose to live here, but I really don’t feel like this city is varied enough that I could see myself living here. I would get so tired of the Chilean food (mainly hotdogs and empanadas – healthy) and stepping over sleeping stray dogs all the time. I think my butt would hurt a lot from all the mountain climbing after a while too…

I’m reading a lot of books about psychology lately, and the more I dive into environmental, developmental, linguistic, character, and sociological psychology, the more sure I am that I want to study psychology. Alex always talks about all these ways you can make money online, and although I put up an interested expression and try to listen carefully I must admit I find it extremely dull. Not only the actual act of creating an online business or website or whatever but also the whole idea of working from a computer the rest of my life. I know you can go to a “shared office space” and get sort of the feeling you’re in a regular office while you do your thing, but that’s not the point. It’s not that I mind working on my computer alone, it’s that I don’t want to work on a computer at all. I know it means I could do what I wanted: travel the world and wake up whenever i please. And I do love it for now. I am getting a whole lot of translation work as I gain experience, clients and good ratings. It's fun to log out after 5 hours and head straight to the beach, but that’s not what I want to do with my life. I know. It’s a mystery to me why the idea of a stable apartment, a home address and the same route to work every day sounds tempting to me, but it truly does.

We’re headed up to Mexico next – we realized the charm of South America really persists in it’s natural wonders and interesting nature. Such as the salt lakes, the Matchu Pitchu, and the mountains of Patagonia. Being digital nomads we're forced to stick to the cities, and they really aren’t all that inspiring. Southern Mexico looks beautiful and cheap and we’re really looking forward to it. Of course there’s the detail of safety, but in spite of all the scary stories of human trafficking and the cartel killing innocents, I’m not too worried. In general it seems that everywhere is relatively safe as long as you're careful. And as long as you travel in a pair that includes a 2 meter tall giant of course...


Chapter 6 - Argentina

Play this while reading
Dr. Bellido - La conocí bailando

21.01.15 Buenos Aires, Argentina

So that was that. A month in Denmark gone. I had so looked forward to it. I really had. And I loved every moment, even the ones where the walls fell apart. Now we’re in Buenos Aires, a giant city with too much… distance. Too many streets, too big. It's really cute here in Palermo Soho, but also really expensive. The best thing about Buenos Aires is the smell. The air is warm but fresh and clean and it smells like memories. It smells like stepping out into the sunlight from my dad’s mobile home when I was twelve, realizing that cold Denmark was long behind me and I was facing an entire 6 weeks of summer vacation. That is how the air smells here. As long as you stay out of the grocery stores that smell like feces and the streets that smell like urine. It is really beautiful; just don’t bring anything of value out of the house.

I feel like there’s always something missing about my favorite cities. Granada lacked coffee shops. Lisbon lacked good weather. Barcelona lacked grocery stores. Istanbul lacked freedom. Chiang Mai lacked parks. Bangkok lacked air. The latter is not really one of my favorites. It lacked air! Anyhow, Buenos Aires is another good example. The moment you arrive it’s a world of opportunities and you feel like it’s the perfect place. Perfect weather, nice parks an grocery stores, freedom, amazing air and cute coffee shops. And then you realize you’re missing safety for it to be a home. Safety and maybe open water, but the ocean I can live without. Also everything is crazy expensive and I am back in my I-would-rather-starve-than-spend-12USD-on-dinner-mode.

That aside I am actually beginning to make at least some money. Translating on oDesk is becoming a 4-hr-a-day job, soon-to-be full-time and I am filling the gaps writing articles for a travel website. This does mean the whole Sweet Distance thing has come to a halt, but right now I am not sure I need it. Right now it is becoming more and more evident that I want to spend my life with the guy by my side, and if I want to do that, I’ll be travelling for at least another year and a half. Better spend our time staying funded, right? So I guess putting time into work that pays off makes more sense.

01.02.15 Buenos Aires, Argentina

We stayed waaay too long in Buenos Aires. For every new place you make a certain amount of memories, and it seems the amount of memories that stuck with you determines how you rate that place in your mind. Here we saw a drumming show. We walked really far to the cemetery and saw China town and Recoleta, which was indeed colorful but also exploited tourism to a point where the authentic feeling we had hoped for was gone. We also went to iLatina, an amazing gourmet restaurant - Alex's birthday present for me. Oh, and moved houses three times, the last time to an apartment right next to a bridge under which most of the city's homeless had settled down. One of the first nights we stayed in that apartment we had had a few glasses of wine and were walking to get Alex a pizza. Passing under the bridge we weren't really scared - we never brought any valuables out with us anyway, and we looked almost as grimy as them. Our conversation came to a sudden halt as a terrifying scenario played out in front of us.

The woman looked like she was just a bit older than us and had had at least three times as manu units of alcohol as we had. In the dull yellow light from the street lights her mocking facial expression was intensified as every shadow seemed to settle deep into her skin. Yelling something in Spanish and flinging out an arm in aggravation the guy waved her off and forced her outstretched arm back down as he approached her with threatening steps. Without a warning he pushed her hard on the shoulders and she fell backwards onto a mattress on the ground. It wasn't until the guy started pulling down his pants that I realized in horror what was happening. The scenario seemed out of place. The mattress was fully exposed and more than 20 other homeless people were sitting right nearby. Considering their interaction, I assumed the woman knew the man. The woman didn't scream for help but just kept yelling at him while struggling to push him off of her. Zooming out for a second the terrifying truth hit me; the mattress was strategically placed right next to one of the pillars of the bridge, and only one side of it - the one facing the little group of kids at the far end of the pavement - was blocked off with a large piece of cardboard. None of the people sitting and talking next to the little love-corner even looked at the couple. It seemed the mattress was there with sole purpose of having sex on it. Voluntary or not. 

We kept walking. What else could we do? It was a world with different rules, rules we'd never understand. They were people living in a world where a human life was worth less than any amount of money. I felt sick to my stomach and thankful for the world I was born into as we walked through the last few sketchy streets in silence to our house. I felt thankful that I am privileged enough to be born a life that matters to someone.

Another interesting dynamic in Buenos Aires was the cash system. Because the country is in big trouble and the government decided to screw everyone over, the Argentinean peso had completely lost its value. As a result, the exchange rates were ridiculously high, and an underground movement called the "blue dollar" had been established. Basically, some Argentineans believe (most likely rightfully) that at some point a balance will be regained and the peso will once again be worth more. Therefore, they established the blue dollar movement, exchanging American dollars for Argentinean pesos at a way higher rate than tourists can get in banks. Exchanging in banks, each of our American dollars could buy us 9 pesos. On the blue marked, each could buy us 13. When/if the Argentinean peso becomes valuable again, the locals that bought our dollars for 13 pesos will be able to exchange their american dollars for maybe up to 20 pesos. In this way locals invest in dollars through tourists and it is a win/win for all. That doesn't make the process of exchanging less illegal though...
          On the street "Florida" in inner city, old and young, men and women were whispering "cambio, cambio" (change) from every doorway, corner and shadow. With our 100$ in our pockets we scouted for someone who seemed likely to speak English. The guy we ended up talking to didn't, but that really didn't matter much. He just showed us a phone with a cracked display showing a calculator displaying "100x12,5=1250". We nodded and he waved his hand for us to follow him. Looking around nervously, we were lead into something that looked like a shit down indoor mall where all the storefronts were covered up with paper or plastic. Muffled voices reached us from behind the glass, and the man pushed a door aside to lead us into one of the stores. Inside a family of a local man and a woman with a kid were sitting, looking just as nervous as us. An awkward curtain had been made out of a faded piece of plastic and functioned as a wall, splitting the room in half. The guy who'd lead us there gestured for us to wait and left. Looking around the empty room with paper on all walls, I tried to understand what was being said on the other side of the curtain, but failed. Eventually someone drew the curtain aside and a man came out, sticking a thick pile of notes into his back pocket before leaving the place in silence. Behind the curtain was a single desk with several calculators and a metal box on it, and a suspicious looking older Argentinean man with faded sunglasses behind it. He waved for us to enter and greeted us with a business voice and broken English. Communicating in Spanglish the man showed us the number 1250 on a calculator and reached our 100$ over his shoulder when we nodded. A young guy grabbed the notes and clumsily counted them and the new amount in Argentinean pesos. The old man, who looked like he's jumped straight out of a gangster movie, didn't look back at the young guy, and simply held his hand up until the Argentinean notes were placed in it by the young guy. Without ever looking away from our faces he handed us the money and waved for us to get lost.
          Emerging out into the sunlight we felt both uncomfortable, paranoid and happy. We were half expecting to be greeted by a cop ready to cuff us and half expecting to be ambushed and robbed by a bunch of locals who'd seen us coming out of the money exchange center. Luckily nothing happened and we were an interesting experience richer. 

So I guess we're leaving this place with a lot less memories than what you'd expect from an entire month in one place and with a remarkably high ratio of sketchy experienced to non-sketchy ones. I really don't understand why so many people love Buenos Aires. Did we miss something? Or is it that we're not really party people? I don't know. But I'm definitely happy to move on.

03.02.15 Mendoza, Argentina

We only really went to Mendoza because there's no bus that goes all the way from Buenos Aires to Santiago, the capital of Chile. But we never regretted stopping for a few days in Mendoza at all! Situated in the center of the Argentinean wine country, you have access to endless amounts of vineyards from this cozy little city. We had fun taking a wine tour, eating lots and lots of fresh grapes straight from the vines. Also it was a nice change, after BA, to stay in a tiny little city that was easily walkable. However, even though the main square was right next to our hostel and the whole city could be reached on foot, it was extremely difficult to find food. Everything was either the local Argentinean food we'd gotten really tired of after our stay in Buenos Aires or it was very expensive food catered towards rich tourists. And that is how it happened that we ended up eating sandwiches from a Scandinavian bakery three times in three days. Hold up for a moment - Scandinavian?? Yes, in this tiny little city where we could barely find wifi, someone had opened a stylish, clean and authentic Swedish bakery. My second best memory from Mendoza was eating amazing rye-bread sandwiches from "Bröd" in the park as a local approached us and placed a lit inscent stick in the grass in front of us for good luck, only to smile and leave. The best memory was a grill out in the hostel with a bunch of awesome British people.

The hostel offered free wine every night. Yes, you heard me. Free. Wine. Every. Night. It wont come as a surprise that we spent all of our three nights in Mendoza floating around in a happy haze. The grill-out night was no exception and we had so much fun talking to the two British guys and one girl, completely unable to understand a word of what one of the guys said due to his heavy Northern English accent. A kitten had snuck into the hostel on the day we arrived and I had named her "Mille" and fed her milk every day while working on my computer in the hostel common room. Now Mille had joined the grill party and enjoyed all the small pieces of Argentinean steak we fed her off of our plates. As the night came to an end I brought the little skinny creature with me to bed. Waking up the next morning I regretted that decision. She'd puked all over Alex's tank top on the floor. Lesson learned: Never feed steak to a kitten. Or maybe the lesson was more like "never bring a stray cat to bed"...



Chapter 5 - Thailand

Play this while reading
Adam Levine - Lost Stars 

29.10.14 - Phuket, Thailand

I’ve come to really like it here. We’re staying in our own apartment, the most luxurious one I could imagine and we’re only paying a total of 13$ pr day. We got lucky though, Eddie just got the listing up on Airbnb the minute before I found it and so we got an intro price. The place is completely new. So new there’s a sticker in the sink. And so new that a few essential things like… Anything that is not plates and cutlery is missing. Also the location is bad in that we’re on the middle of Phuket island rather than Phuket town (Authentic mess) or Patong Beach (Touristy mess). To be honest that doesn’t bother us that much. Every time we go to one of the above we’re overwhelmed with the chaos and tourism. We only went a couple of times though, since driving our scooter around these crazy roads is beyond dangerous and there are no busses. We did it a couple of times and truly almost died so we agreed to lie off on that. Not worth the risk.
          I couldn’t imagine a better place to be stuck though. Our apartment complex has an infinity pool and a gym and we have amazing air-condition and WiFi. Right next door is a 7-eleven, a coffee shop and an authentic restaurant. Pretty much all you need, right? We spend our days exploring a bit (but not too much since there’s not much but buggy rainforest and dangerous roads without sidewalks out here), working out and working late. Because of the time difference we go to bed around 4 am and wake up at 12 pm. I actually almost like it although it feels like the days are passing by really fast. I wouldn’t mind living here. We’re eating really weird stuff and I love that. Tamarind candies and roasted seaweed are examples of our favorite snacks. I really love the whole seaweed flavor and at this point it doesn’t even seem weird that they’re using seaweed flavor for teas, crisps and popcorn. It makes everything awesome. It does suck that there aren’t many chocolaty snacks though, and everything is overly sweet, even when they aren’t sweets. Like their coffee and bread. An Americano here can be like syrup. Their selection of pre-made food is not the greatest either. Let me break the 7-eleven down for you:

Prepared/microwavable meals: 
With the exception of burgers, you can choose from rice dishes, noodle dishes, cup noodles and prepared bread-with-stuffing (the bread is as sweet as cake even when the stuffing is tuna or beans)

Savory snacks: 
Seaweed/seafood flavored chips, 100 types of roasted seaweed, dried fruit and nuts.

Sweet snacks: 
Pure sugar in different forms (candies, chewy candies, hard candies, drops) and different flavors (fruit or milk).

Drinks: 
A huge selection of juices and teas. A large selection of flavored milks. A small corner with beer and soda, one shelf of overly sweet iced coffee

So what’s missing here? How about müsli bars or chocolate bars? How about sugar free sodas? How about salads and sandwiches and salted peanuts? Chocolate? Coffee? Baby bites, cookies and muffins? I’ve kinda substituted my eating habits a bit…
Coffee – juice
Chips – roasted seaweed
Soda – tea
Sandwiches – rice dishes
Cake – any snack that looks so weird I can’t imagine what it tastes like (pumpkin in coconutcream, ricepudding with milk, spicy tamarid candies)
         Hmm, I guess overall these snacks do look healthier than my previous alternatives. And we have been working out a lot. I think we’re generally at a bit of a calorie deficit here and I like it as I know I reached a higher weight than ever in Istanbul. Didn’t go on the scale but I just know. It is really really nice working out, makes me feel so much better in general.

In a few days it’s Halloween. The second one Alex and I will celebrate together. That really satisfies me for some reason. It feels like we’ve been together forever; I know him better than myself and visa versa. It feels as if I have this extension of myself that happens to be able to satisfy all the needs I couldn’t satisfy on my own. Like company, artistic inspiration and human touch. I don’t mind that there is nothing left to explore, I feel like I saw all there was to see of this person and I saw nothing that could even begin to scare me away. I only saw beauty and passion and so I will nestle in here in his embrace, having found my perfect place.

Our bed is as hard as a rock. They’re building a road right outside our window. Every night the strays bark like crazy. In the distance, clouds of humidity get stuck on a mountain. The lock turns twice. Alex learned how to use the hose in the bathroom. There’s no toilet paper, we steal it from the pool area. The guards say kah-puhn-kap. We have a serious ant-problem in here. We keep running out of straws but started to not care about touching our lips to the cans. There’s a flattening iron and a hairdryer but no stove or water-heater. Leftover microwaved eggs are hard to wash off a plastic plate using only a cloth and body wash. Thai babies all know how to say bye-bye. We get stickers when we buy stuff at our 7-eleven. Our red towels are so new they cover our bodies in red threads. It took us a day to figure out the warm water. The elevator doors close aggressively. There’s artificial (wet) grass on top of the gym. Electrical chords regularly create the sound of fireworks in the distance. We already love Thailand. 

03.11.14 - Chiang Mai, Thailand

Why is it that it is so hard to be anywhere but in the country you were born in? Chiang Mai is perfect. Perfect for us with all its busy streets and chill coffee shops. It has life, passion, warmth and cheap stuff. Everything we need. People are smiling and speak surprisingly good English. In addition, there are approximately one expat for every 10 Thai people (at least in the old town) making it easy to feel at home and finding fellow travelers to talk to. Attending the lantern festival we were randomly approached by another blogger couple and have since then run into them once more. Chain Mai seems to have accommodated well to the large expat scene by integrating 24-hour coffee shops with good WiFi and nice modern décor. The old city is dusted with cheap guesthouses and used bookstores. Surrounding the city are endless green hills with elephant camps, tiger farms and hiking tracks. If it’d had a beach I might have been tricked into thinking I was in paradise.

Having already spent 3 weeks in Thailand we made our way to the Chiang Mai immigration office a few days into our stay here. Alex had laughed at me for insisting on being there at 6:45AM (the office opened at 7.00AM) but as we approached the scene he became utterly silent. A wall of people materialized as we turned the corner. Making our way to the end of the line I curiously looked at everyone and found only tired and impatient expressions on the faces of all ages and sizes of both foreigners and Thai people. When the tattered looking doors to the building finally opened and seven different people started handing out small and big pieces of papers and navigating people into non-existing queues, an air of confusion and desperation unfolded. This bewildered atmosphere persisted for the three hours we spent there asking ourselves questions like: “Why is our number purple?” “Why is that girl not in our line?” and “Where did they take our passports?” Escaping the scene with the correct stamps in our American and Danish passports, we felt relieved to have another month of legal stay in Thailand. It occurred to me on the unbearably hot walk from the immigration office to the city (paying 5$ for a tuc-tuc didn’t seem worth it at the time) that it had been an ‘easy’ round. Thailand had fairly open visa regulations and it would be much harder to stay anywhere else for long.
          “Do you realize that we can’t keep doing this?” I asked Alex in an uncertain voice. I knew he would disagree and surely he immediately put up his guards. He seemed to flinch every time an end to traveling or a commitment to any occupation or location was mentioned.
          “Of course we can! There are millions of travel bloggers out there and they’re all doing the same. When we can’t stay here anymore we’ll just move onto somewhere else.”
          There were several aspects of this statement that concerned me and recently they’d all been rumbling around in the back of my head. Having just left the immigration office I grabbed for the closest one:
          “You saw how hard it was to get a single month in Thailand. It’s going to be like this everywhere; we’ll be able to get a month of visa-free entry for each country and possibly less for some. And although the world is big, there are only so many places we can go when we need the security of permanently accessible Wi-Fi. We can only be in Europe for three months. Then there’s Turkey, South-east Asia and Australia, which is both too expensive to go to and too expensive to live in. Then there’s South America and god knows what visa rules they have over there.”
          “Come on Tamara, you know there are endless places to go…”
          I knew that he was somewhat right, but I also knew that we couldn’t afford to go endless places. I only had my savings and although they could technically last for another year, maybe two years, I would need money for whatever came after. After. Above funding, above visas and above missing having a home I was concerned with the ‘after’. Thinking about it formed clusters of worry in the pit of my stomach and made my head swirl so much it made me dizzy.

          I didn’t know. Not only did I not know what we’d do after traveling, I also could not think of any possible solution which would involve not leaving Alex’s side. Discussing our options on a few occasions we’d jokingly agreed that marrying was always a last resort. But although we’d said it jokingly, the truth was that marrying wouldn’t even be a solution. I’d have to be 24 for the marriage to validate Danish residency for my spouse. Alex didn’t qualify for any other type of visa for my country. And visa versa. There was no last resort. Other than traveling until I was past 24. Being 21 years old this honestly scared me. But I knew that Alex secretly liked this excuse to keep going. I knew if he had the option he’d travel until the day he died. This scared me even more.
          I clenched his hand hard and shut my lips tight, holding in the worries that were about to spill like a waterfall from my worried heart. He knew it and I knew it, no reason to grind salt into the wound. The only solution was to wait it out, keep traveling and not worrying until… later. Telling myself over and over not to worry, I settled the storm and tried to ignore the growing knot in my stomach.

29.11.14 - Somewhere in the jungle, Thailand

Alex had two days off for thanksgiving and the bus not leaving from Chiang Mai to Bangkok until Saturday evening gave us three full days of WiFi-freedom. Determined to take advantage of this vacation, we decided to take a little retreat to the jungle; getting away from bustling cities for once.

The little cabin guesthouse was a fairytale world. With 5-6 out-rented cabins scattered around a large complex of organized jungle in the middle of a very gigantic, wild and disorganized jungle, the guesthouse felt like a beautiful movie setting. Inside the grounds were wooden swings, small stone paths, waterfalls, fountains and pet rabbits running wildly. There even was a yoga hall, which was the point; we wanted a short yoga retreat in the beautiful jungle. Our cabin was otherworldly. Completely kept in wood, it was hidden in a cluster of palm trees and wild bushes. As the hut was in shadow all day it was filled with cold humid air that smelled like freshly chopped wood and green leaves. Opening the door to the bathroom I exclaimed, “Honeeeey! Someone let the jungle into out bathroom!” in a joking British accent. I meant it literally though. Branches from the trees hung down from the ceiling, which consisted of a holey plastic sheet. The floor was made of big stones dug straight into the dirt ground and in the corner a palm tree was growing out of it. The showerhead was literally tied to the trunk of tree and I literally drew vines aside to look at myself in the mirror. We loved it. We had our own bed in our own little jungle cabin. What more can you ask for?

On our single full day in the jungle we set out on a trip to a nearby waterfall. Located 7 kilometers (4,5 miles) from our house, we knew it was too far to walk both ways. So of course we decided to hitchhike – Thai people are the most helpful people of the world; if everyone was as willing to help hitchhikers out as them we could save the ozone layer! The first car we encountered stopped and took us halfway to the waterfall. The second one stopped too and took us the rest of the way. The waterfall was bigger than we’d expected and I had a lot of fun counting my steps (we reached the top of the hill after around 900 steep steps). Eventually the steep path was no more than a tiny streak of trotted down grass in between bushes covered in spider webs and we decided to head back down. At that point we were way above the waterfall anyway and it was only about an hour or two until sunset. Making our way down, we named our spider-stick (the stick we used to wave in front of us to avoid walking into any spider webs) Jerry and embraced the 7 km walk home through the silent jungle, making loud Tarzan sounds and throwing leaves into the air.
          Looking up at Alex’s face while walking next to him down the little back road surrounded by jungle, I smiled widely. He looked so beautiful in the soft evening light fluttering through the leaves and scattering over his content face. I couldn’t wait to cuddle up with him in our own little fairytale cabin. As I looked back at the road, the head of a large sand-colored dog appeared from the bushes. Before I even registered what was happening, three other dogs had emerged from the dark branches and Alex had made the two of come to a halt, letting out a quiet “whoa…” Next thing I knew the dogs were starting towards us looking anything but friendly and Alex was tugging my hand. Walking as fast as we could without running, we made our way back the way we’d come from, continuing until we reached a little piece of road which was still soaked in sunlight and from where we could see the next turn of the road where the dogs had disappeared around the bend. It seemed we had out-walked the dogs since they still hadn't appeared after a few minutes. We looked around us confused for a second and then a feeling of anxiety very similar to claustrophobia suddenly paralyzed me. Fixing my eyes on the turn of the road, I listened to the endless silence and my breathing picked up.
          “Now what?” I said, my voice betraying me and showing distinct hints of panic.
          “Now we wait for a car” Alex said, sounding way more calm than I was. I looked around us, at the worn out little road with a faded white stripe in the middle but barely space for two cars to pass by each other. I knew as well as he did how few cars we’d encountered on our way out here. Only one or two more than the ones we were riding with. My panic increased as my eyes once again shot towards the sun, which was now disappearing in between the branches.
          “What if no one comes? We only have half an hour before it’ll be completely dark out here” I really wasn’t exaggerating. My panic wasn’t unjustified. A few minutes before we’d had our bodies, our legs capable of walking in case no cars turned up. I’d felt completely safe, knowing that no matter what we could always walk home. But now we could no longer continue down the road as the pack of wild dogs surely wouldn’t take it lightly if we tried to cross their territory for the second time. Speaking of the dogs, they might as well have popped out from the jungle from a different angle at any moment. I felt trapped. Our phones didn't have any signal. There was nothing behind us other than the waterfall. No city, no exit. In front of us were sharp teeth and fearless jungle strays. The shadows got longer as we spoke. As Alex waved Jerry around the air, aiming for an invisible dog I yelled at him;
          “It’s NOT funny! Don’t you see, there’s nothing we can do? If no car comes we’ll be stuck right here in the dark with wild dogs luring all around us. The sun is almost gone! How can you take this so lightly?”
          “A car must come…” he answered, but a tinge of hesitation and fear leaked through his otherwise confident demeanor. “Pick up a stick too” he commanded. I didn’t move but looked to both sides a couple more times before sitting down on the warm asphalt, whispering “No… I don’t know what to do.” I felt a lump in my throat and could do nothing but surrender to the feeling of claustrophobia. For the very first time ever I sincerely feared for my life and I could neither fight nor flight. Running wasn’t an option. Facing the dogs was downright stupid. We could do nothing but wait there in the last rays of sunlight, hoping that someone, anyone would pass by. Luckily someone did.

          The car was packed and going in the opposite direction of where we were trying to go, coming around the corner that I was still watching like a hawk. This didn’t stop us though. We waved them down and the nice driver stopped and asked us where we were going. Holding back tears of relief I explained our situation to him; how we couldn’t move any further because of the dogs and were stuck out there. I hoped with all my heart that he’d offer to call someone or maybe let us ride with him to the next town from where we could arrange a ride ourselves. To our surprise the family discussed something in Thai for a few seconds and then the three old women in the back swiftly jumped out of the car. “We’ll drive you back,” the old man said. We were both confused and extremely thankful as we watched him turn the car around while the old women sat down at the side of the road, sharing a bag of dried fruit.
          Alex kept the chitchatting going while I was recovering from the intense fear I had just lived through. The man drove us all the way home, 20 minutes through the tiny, steep jungle roads and never asked for anything in return. His family waited for him in the woods, apparently happy to breathe a bit of fresh air and see the waterfall while waiting for him to come back. Apparently old Thai ladies are not afraid of aggressive jungle dogs. In any case, I was more thankful than ever that night when I got to cuddle up next to my love, both of us unharmed, in our enchanted hut.

01.12.14 - Bangkok, Thailand

And then it was December. And we were in Bangkok. Do I feel inspired to write? Well I don’t have an Internet connection, so I guess I’ll have to leave off the social media, chatting and browsing for a second. I really don’t like Bangkok. The bus ride from Chiang Mai was 10 hours of luxury (leaning seats, air-condition, free Oreos and almost WIFI) followed by an hour of pure hell.
          We were supposed to arrive at 9am. During the night I had noticed that the driver was driving rather recklessly since I kept waking up form large bumps and extremely sharp turns. I hadn’t anticipated that it would make us 2,5 hours early though. So when someone screamed into the microphone “LAST STOP BANGKOK EVERYBODY OUT, OUT, OUT” at 6.30AM I was still asleep. Confused and disturbed I opened my eyes to the sight of Alex collecting cookies, water and stuff from his seat, throwing it into his bag while rushing me to get out. Whoever was screaming kept going, repeating “OUT, OUT, OUT, FASTER, FASTER!” Still half asleep, my body was scared into a state of alarm and I collected my stuff and almost ran out of the bus, not realizing that I had no reason to hurry. Outside a man was immediately in my face, asking, “Where’s your hotel?” in a persistent, aggressive voice. My eyes were still getting used to being open and in the morning light I could barely see his face through the sheet of blur that seemed to cover my vision. I was confused about his question as I was pretty sure the bus stop was at the other end of the city, and it surely wouldn’t drive us to the door? I answered “Loftel 22” under my breath and looked around, trying to remember what my purpose was outside of the bus in a hub of screaming men and drowsy travelers. In a state of half sleep I absentmindedly watched a pile of bags and backpacks grow larger and larger in front of me when I heard Alex call my name. Searching out his face, I saw him looking at me with an annoyed expression while pointing to my beige backpack at the top of the pile. Remembering how to move, I picked up my bag and said “Loftel 22” to the third man asking me the name of my hotel. Following Alex out of the crowd he asked me why I was even answering those guys who were obviously trying to scam tired rich white people into paying twice the actual price of a tuc tuc to get to their accommodation. I hadn’t actually realized that was what those guys were doing until that moment and felt a bit stupid.
          After walking a few meters out of the crowd my brain slowly rebooted. Okay, so we were in Bangkok and our hostel was across the city. There was no metro. What was the next step? Wow, that was an incredibly large road. Wow, I was incredibly tired. After quickly stating that our only way to get to the hostel was a tuc tuc or walking, Alex said he didn’t want to deal with those drivers. I really didn’t feel like it either so we silently agreed to walk the 50 minutes to our hostel. My backpack is not made for walking. Needless to say, Bangkok isn’t made for walking either. Everybody seemed genuinely surprised to find us walking down the streets, one tuc tuc driver after the other convinced he’d found a costumer and looking very confused when we claimed to not need a ride. We could barely breathe in the smoggy air and in spite of the fact that it was 6.30 in the morning people were setting up food-stalls with boiling grease and rotting seafood already. The buildings were run-down and dirty and so were the people. After 30 minutes of walking our shirts were soaked from the humidity and our sweat and after 45 minutes we could scrape black stuff off of our faces. By the time we reached our hostel, a nice and clean property in the least clean part of town, we agreed that we’d reached new levels of grime.

Despite the fact that we’d promised ourselves to never judge a city from our first impression, we were pretty convinced that we hated Bangkok. We managed to find an unclean but empty bunk in a dorm with a door that was left open and snuck in to take a nap before making our way to the lobby to actually check in at 12. Then we went straight to the weekend marked where I bought a dress and decided that Bangkok is nothing but grime on top of grime with tourists on top. Great. At least we found a big and clean mall and had fun hating ourselves for being such white people. But seriously. Sometimes it is all right to love a mall.

03.01.15 Ølstykke, Denmark

And then christmas was gone. I just said goodbye to my family again, as we're headed to South America. The month in Denmark was lovely, cozy and interesting. Interesting because I don’t know what happened to me, or to us. I didn’t feel like me, and we didn’t feel like us for some time there. Being in my old house with my family was both comforting and weird. A bit of the new me, a bit of the calm, understanding and patient person I consider myself to be, crumbled under the roof that I used to scream and cry under as a teenager. Interesting how you can so easily fall back into familiar personality patterns in a familiar environment. 

It was also amazing, heartwarming and beautiful. I got to spend Christmas and New Years, not only with my family, but also with my family that I choose: Alex. Showing him all the traditions of my country was the peak of my Christmas. Other peaks to be mentioned are; holding my sister tight and telling her that our mom is just not always right and that she’s a good and beautiful person. Teaming up with Fred in a snow-fight against Alex. Explaining to Alex that my grandma thinks yelling just one Danish word really loud will make him understand it, and hugging her because she is such a sweet human being. Carrying my baby-cousin, Caroline, around the room making airplane noises. Seeing my cousin Sarah’s eyes light up our travel tales. Watching my stepdad John hugging Alex’s arm saying it’s too bad the poor guy doesn’t speak Danish. Having coffee one last time with my dad after already saying goodbye to him in a teary silence because he though we’d not see each other again for a year. Holding my mothers hand and finally feeling like we're on the same level. Telling her that I love her and telling her to shut up when she claims the opposite. Talking to her for hours without flinching and leaving in silence rather than in screams or tears. Seeing how Jonas has turned into a real young man, a confident and outgoing character without stutters and strange grammar. Watching Tobias’ advanced fireworks show in my honor at my birthday.

Kissing Alex on top of the Viking hill while fireworks were exploding all around us, lighting up the entire landscape. Kissing Alex a million times in my very own bed. Hearing him yell “DU HAR STORE BRYSTER” on stroeget to the point where people turned around and pointed after us because I’d told him it was a compliment and meant “you have soft hair” when it really means "you have giant boobs".  Folding Julehjerter on the floor. Watching VSH tapes of poor quality. Patting his back while he vomited into my mother’s vase after having a great brunch and going to the movies. Finding him huddled up next to Fred in Fred’s bed, playing LOL.

And watching the pain on Frederik’s face when he came silently up to me on that last night, asking if he could please sleep on the floor next to my bed tonight. If he could please, please. He held my hand while falling asleep and I watched his face grow peaceful in the moonlight. In the morning I left. I'm realizing that when you love someone it's a million harder to say goodbye the second time, after already having been gone and having come back.


Chapter 4 - Turkey

Play this while reading
Sıla - Acısa Da Ölmez

10.10.14 – ISTANBUL, TURKEY

Istanbul turned out to be better than we could have ever imagined. Never before had we felt so out of place, to a point where it would sometimes be uncomfortable. That was exactly what we craved; feeling out of our comfort zones. We wanted to feel lost, wanted to experience a world dramatically different from anything we’d ever seen before. It was not so much the city as it was the people that made us feel like outcasts. Being placed in the middle of a culture where religion and tradition penetrated every aspect of interaction and appearance was mind blowing. It was disturbing and enlightening and strangely humbling.

We had agreed to couchsurf because it was a city and a culture so new and interesting that we wanted a local ‘in the know’ to show it to us. I’m not exaggerating when I say we got 50+ people sending requests for us to stay with them. I chose to believe that this had to do with the mere population of Istanbul, and ignore the fact that all those people were men seeming to think they’d be hosting me and another girl... 
          I decided on a host really fast – Omer had amazing reviews and seemed fun and genuine. Living with him and his two roommates in a local and cozy part of the city was an experience we’ll never forget. He turned out to be an absurdly giving and caring person, spending as much time with us as he could and showing us subtle sides of his culture that we would’ve otherwise overlooked. He was a musical genius and he always lent us everything we needed (nose-spray, sweaters, umbrellas, SIM-cards). Even when Alex stubbornly claimed he wouldn’t need a jacket, Omer looked him up and down and then threw a leather jacket at him, saying: “No. Put this on.”

After getting used to the different way of interacting with strangers and the different atmosphere in the society around us we started to feel both safe and at home in Istanbul. At least I did. Alex loved it but he was always aware that we really weren’t too safe there. It wasn’t that he was being paranoid. He had received two notices from the American government asking him to please stay out of Turkey. Every morning he would casually tell me how many people died in Istanbul due to demonstrations and random acts of violence the past 24 hours and I’d always wave him off. For the time we spent in Istanbul I stayed happily ignorant (until the end that is) and he just let me do all the talking never telling me that it was only because of my lack of American accent.

On our last full day in Istanbul we finally went to the Grand Bazaar and the spice market. They were as crowded and touristy as we’d expected and we quickly made it out of there, deciding to get off the tram in Fatih, a local neighborhood, on the way back. We got off and were making our way to the nearest metro stop when we noticed the crowds. Across the street from us a swarm of people carrying flags and signs were gathered on a large square. Noticing the line of spectators on our side of the street we knew that something was going on. A few feet later we saw the military trucks. The armed soldiers and policemen… The large guns and shields... We stopped suddenly, startled by this unexpected scenario unfolding before us. Suddenly Alex tugged my arm, saying we should get going, that it wasn’t our place to be. We went under the road in an underground passage and as we made it to the other side we realized that the stairway to the metro station was blocked. Getting closer I was shocked to see that what was blocking it was an impenetrable wall of plastic shields saying “polis”. The only way out was the stairway onto the square. 
          Hesitantly we climbed the stairs. Entering the afternoon light, I found myself in an unreal scenario. All around us were cops demonstratively holding onto their big guns ordering everybody that came out through the exit to open their bags. Behind them began the big cluster of people that we’d seen form the other side of the road. The black dressed crowd was chanting and clapping and someone was talking from a stage. Looking confused and not knowing where to turn, someone pointed for us to continue down a small passage to the left leading away from the crowd and towards the metro station. Turning the corner we once again came to a sudden halt. The crowd and the security was one thing. But the sight meeting us around the corner was one I’d never seen in my life and never had imagined I would see except for in the news. Blocking the square in all directions and escapes were hundreds of policemen looking ready to fight. They stood in what seemed endless rows of neatly planned out lines of armored, masked, shielded, uniformed cops and special forces. Continuing down the small passage they had left open all of their eyes were on us; it was obvious that a little blonde girl and a tall American had no place there. Passing one row after the other the reality of the situation started to dawn upon me. These policemen were ready for a riot. They were preparing to fight a raging crowd. Right there in front of us.
          Finally reaching the final row of armor, Alex and I stopped to look at each other. We both had fire in our eyes. After quickly agreeing that we wouldn’t actually enter the crowd we turned around. Walking swiftly back to the square we made our way around the chanting people and black dressed men to descend into the underground passage and resurface on the other side of the road once more. From there it seemed we could see most of the large square. We joined the rows of local spectators staring intensely across the road with worried looks on their faces. 
          Finding a spot on a wall we sat down, trying to wrap our heads around the whole thing. Focusing our minds on the tension in the air and the chanting growing louder I felt my heart rate rise. It was too real. We shouldn’t let ourselves get carried away by curiosity like that. I was about to ask Alex if he wanted to get out of there when we heard the gunshots. Two loud bangs right after each other broke the rhythmic chanting and a few screams reached us from across the road. Seconds later the chanting picked up again as if nothing had happened. When I recovered from the shock I looked around me. No one had even moved. Everybody just stood there as if they hadn’t heard. A lady on the sidewalk in front of us was pushing a stroller down the street and she not as much as missed a beat. Alex’s face was the only one painted with horror like my own. Meeting his eyes I panicked. This was real. And we were in the middle of it. Alex was right in the middle of it. The center of my world, sitting there on a wall with a gun being fired across the street. I had to get him away from there. We grabbed each other’s hands and walked away as casually as we could manage, trying to ignore the hard glances from the audience of men and their sons. Walking along the road we continued until we found another crossing far from the square. In silence we hurried into the metro all the while clenching each other’s hands. The next morning Alex could give me the news on Istanbul: 6 deaths due to riots in Fatih.


14.10.14 - MAHMUTLAR, TURKEY

The morning we left Istanbul, Omer was packing his bags too. He was going on his first trip out of Turkey, to Budapest for a couple of weeks. As he told us goodbye he casually said: “Now is a good time to get out of Istanbul. I mean the last weeks were no good, but it will be very bad from now on… It is a good thing you leave and me too.”

Knowing that we weren’t actually leaving Turkey but just going further east, towards the center of chaos, we were a bit nervous. On the other hand we were going to a resort city and we quickly forgot that we were even in Turkey. Oh the convenience of charter traveling… The reason we went to Mahmutlar, a small city outside of Antalya, was to meet up with my family. They’d booked a week in a nice hotel for autumn break and they’d offered to pay for us to come too. 
          It was so nice to see my family again. It was a week of all-day buffets, pools, sports and evening entertainment; just like I remember it from my childhood. It was a week of soaking in my mother and little brother and a week of missing my little sister who couldn’t come and my father's family who was obviously still back home. It was strange how everything felt like it always had, my uncle complaining about the service at the hotel and my brother playing ping-pong with strangers. And at the same time it was so different, all the time switching in between English and Danish and sharing a room with Alex rather than my siblings. And wow, that bed was heavenly after all those bunk-beds/couches/uneven surfaces we’d slept on. 
          Suddenly having everything and never worrying about food or safety or accommodation was very freeing. It was like a vacation from traveling. It was also kind of unsettling, witnessing the overflow of wealth, the giant buffets and never ending fountains of wine. It made me sick to my core to see obnoxious Russians bring giant plates of desserts to their tables just to try a bite or two. But how thankful we were that my family had paid for us to come and enjoy the luxury of real beds, clean bathrooms and actual food just so they could spend time with us. I enjoyed every second and was reminded just how much I love my family.

On our last night my grandparents told us they’d decided they would pay one of the tickets if we would come home for Christmas. Immediately my mother declared that she and my stepfather would pay the other. It would be our Christmas present. Suddenly our plans turned around completely and I felt like a huge burden, which I hadn't even noticed in the first place, was lifted from my shoulders. It wasn’t hard at all to say goodbye to everybody as we headed towards Thailand the next morning; we knew we’d be spending Christmas in Denmark!


Chapter 3 - Portugal

Play this while reading
Tycho - Awake

07.09.14 - Lisbon, Portugal

We somehow managed to make it all the way to Lisbon, Portugal through rideshare programs – aka basically glorified hitchhiking. Our driver showed up in a large van with giant blue waves painted on the side. He was a quirky guy with a surfer dude attitude. For the entire 6 hour drive he blasted ambient music that resembled the type of music they play in a dentist’s office. He got so passionate about the sounds of crashing oceans and rainfall it was almost creepy. The entire drive we gripped one another’s hand tightly, hoping to god that this guy wouldn’t force us off somewhere and leave with everything we own in his trunk.
            Luckily he turned out to be pretty cool and we made it all the way to Lisbon without a scratch. Arriving there in the early evening we immediately felt at home. The weather wasn’t great, actually it was a bit grey which was not usually our style. But the houses had funny colors and strange patterns on the walls. The people were friendly and spoke good English. The local food… was mostly salt cod prepared in different ways and we weren’t big fans. But other than that, everything about Lisbon felt like a home. Especially our accommodation: A large old-fashioned apartment with 5 different rooms all rented out. The owner and his wife basically ran the place like a classy hostel, cleaning and leaving goodies for their guests in the kitchen every day. There was even free traditional Port wine in the living room. Most of the other guests were French middle-aged couples. The living room had soft couches and an ornamented dining set all kept in dark wood. White lacy curtains were draped in front of the big windows opening to small French balconies and the chandelier soaked the room in calm yellow light. Opening the door to our room it greatly contrasted the rest of the place; on one side of the room there was a bunk bed underneath a window leading to the kitchen. On the other side an old broken cabinet looked like it might as well have been the entrance to Narnia. It was perfect for us. It was the cheapest in Lisbon and we never minded sleeping in the same bunk. If anything that brought back memories from when we initially met sleeping on the bottom bunk of a dirty hostel in Barcelona.

We couldn’t quite figure out what it was about Lisbon but it was like nowhere else. It had the laid-back Spanish atmosphere, a nightlife full of colors and chaos like in Rio, calm and friendly people like in Copenhagen and narrow streets with half dirty-half clean architecture reminiscent to Amsterdam. The weather was semi-warm and semi-cloudy which was my kind of weather, although Alex preferred a raging sun and extreme heat. Over all we picked up a strange mix of the southern European feeling of summer and the Nordic cool and productive vibe. In Spain you could look for hours for a coffee place that wasn’t closed for the siesta but in Lisbon small ‘hipster’ coffee shops popped up everywhere. 


  14.09.14 – Cascais, PORTUGAL

Knowing that we would be in Lisbon for almost a month we planned day-trips to beautiful small Portuguese cities. Among these were the old royal city "Sintra" which turned out to be filled with beautiful castles that all had an entrance fee of +25$. Luckily we had fun climbing the surrounding mountains instead. Cascais on the other hand, a small beach town on the south coast of Portugal, turned out to be one of the most memorable stops on our trip.
            Conveniently overlooking all signs saying "Danger" and "Climbing at your own risk" we jumped the small wall next to a neat and clean road to make our way onto the coastal cliffs. Only after we were too far out to turn back did we realize just how dangerous our quest was. Jumping from one razor sharp rock to the next, deliberately trying to ignore the endless dark holes in between, I finally reached the edge. Stunned by the 50 foot fall below me I clenched onto the nearest rock, discovering that I was standing on a giant protrusion of the cliff. Afraid to move an inch out of fear that the rocks beneath me would crumble and throw me face first into the raging ocean I sat as still as possible. Adrenalin was roaming through my body as I as calmly as I could manage called out for Alex to not come any closer. Seconds later a wave crashed in. The mere force of the water created a sound as loud as thunder as the ocean culminated with the hard rocks. A 20 foot reversed waterfall appeared above me and the white drops spread in the wind only to fall back down like heavy rain. Blinking my eyes, completely awestruck by this vision, I found myself soaking wet. In a second all of my fears went away. I slowly got to my feet and looked out at the waters moving like a giant animal with the power to consume the world. I saw the next huge wave approach me and secured my feet in between a few rocks and spread my arms as wide as I could. As the blow of the water hit my face I felt my body being shaken by this unstoppable force of nature. Clenching every muscle in my body I held my position screaming out in happiness into this direct confrontation with raw nature. I'd never felt more alive.


18.09.14 LISBON - PORTUGAL

It had been exactly one year since I’d gotten lost in the small streets of Granada with a mysterious American. An entire year since we’d talked about taking chances while dangling our feet over a river outside a flamenco venue. So much had changed. Back then I thought I was going to backpack for a few months and then go back home to study and be a proper person. I could never have imagined that one year from then I’d find myself wearing my best clothes walking down an empty street in Lisbon about to celebrate that specific Granada night one year ago. In Alex’s case ‘best clothes’ meant an extremely wrinkly shirt and a vest with holes in it. He definitely looked like he was just trying to be cool and had gone with the grimy look on purpose, but they were really the most fancy clothes he owned. I wore a simple thin summer dress, something you could have worn for the beach, and my sandal flats. The big difference was that I’d actually put on make-up. As I had reentered our room after doing so, Alex had looked at me with a feigned stunned expression and said:
            “Duuuude, you’re a giiiiirl!” while punching my shoulder.
            We laughed and I felt a bit self-conscious about wearing make up – I knew that Alex honestly preferred me without it and I could feel him scrutinizing my face.
            “No seriously Tama, you look so beautiful. It is so hard to believe that you can be so smart or such a badass sometimes and then at the same time you’re just so pretty. I almost forget that you are a girl. Not because you’re a dude, just because I forget that you’re human.”
            “Thank you…” I said in a hesitant voice. I was about to argue against my ‘prettiness’ but fought the urge. He looked at me half in surprise that I’d actually taken a compliment for once so I quickly changed the subject to his wrinkly shirt and general griminess.

After walking around for about an hour we found a half-fancy looking reasonably priced gourmet burger restaurant that we liked. Sitting at the table after eating most of my burger (another first – getting two main dishes instead of sharing one) there was a pause in our conversation. I was looking at the walls made of sand colored rocks giving the room a rustic but modern look while absentmindedly touching both of Alex’s hands. I felt the contours of his fingerprints one by one and slid my fingers in and out between his in a calm slow dance.
            “What are you thinking right now?” he asked me in a very familiar tone. Whenever one of us was clearly preoccupied with silent thoughts the other could never help but to ask that question. Most of the time we’d speak our thoughts out loud, completely unfiltered. Our conversations seemed like a single thought stream and might as well have taken place in one mind, one person sitting alone by the ocean wondering about the world.
            “I was thinking how it is sad that all moments have to end.” I sat silently with emotion rushing through me, slowly stroking his hands again and again even though I wanted to scream and run and throw things around out of mere happiness and fear that the happiness would ever stop. Alex looked like he was digesting my words for a moment and was opening his mouth with a half pained expression when the nice waiter abruptly ended our moment. Sneaking up from behind he asked energetically if we liked the burgers. I blushed in surprise and embarrassment of how mushy this must seem and Alex quickly smiled widely and said in his ‘American voice’;
            “Yeah, they’re awesome, thanks man.”


29.09.14 BARCELONA - SPAIN

I was starting to miss home. Not as in wanting to go home, but just little pieces. We had moved on to Barcelona, a one-week stop before flying to Turkey, and it was even better than we both remembered from the previous summer. So many things to do, people everywhere and various different areas to explore. The only minus was having to hold tightly onto our bags every single time we left the house. I loved the vibe of Barcelona, the exoticness and the excitement in the air. I loved the gypsy looking locals and the noise in the streets. But in all honesty it didn’t feel like a real city. The exoticness and excitement was due to an artificial beach, a fair and several markets all placed in honor of the plentiful tourists excitedly taking pictures of everything Goudi ever touched.
            The laid-back hippie locals weren’t real locals either. They were students and slackers form all over the world, living in the party capital for a year or two. The actual locals were relatively poor and not very happy looking.
            Nevertheless it was awesome to be back there, seeing the familiar places again, the setting of the beginning of our love story.

After two days Alex proclaimed loudly; “Oh Tama. Let’s just live here! Let’s move to Barcelona!” He had said the same thing about 4 out of the 7 places we had visited so far so I just laughed and agreed, loving the sound of it. Saying that kind of thing out loud gave me a feeling of lightness and freedom but in my heart I couldn’t help but actually imagining it and the idea made me kind of sad.
            Barcelona felt too crowded, too unsafe and too unreal to be a home. Spain just felt too unproductive in general. So did all the other southern Europe countries. I couldn’t see myself moving out of Europe though… Oh wait. What was left? Nowhere. I couldn’t imagine sincerely feeling at home anywhere but home. Scandinavia.
            I began to think I wasn’t a traveler at heart the way Alex was. What if we could never find a place for the both of us? I wanted him above everything else and I’d live anywhere he wanted I couldn’t have him any other way. But I could already feel myself turning uneasy, unsettled by the constant lack of security and familiarity. Unsettled by the constantly shifting bathrooms, kitchens, supermarkets, keys. One week we had to remember to switch the fan on every night and make a habit of turning the handle of the bathroom door the other way because it was broken. The next week had to sit on the floor in a hallway every time we needed Wi-Fi. That week we had to recycle the toilet paper instead of throwing it in the toilet because our hosts were hippies. That home, that week. I missed my own systems. I missed eating microwaved oatmeal with frozen blueberries… We lived off of chorizo sandwiches and tuna salads, occasionally cooking a frozen lasagna or pizza.
            In the situation it was fun to figure out how to make a lasagna with only four ingredients and no oven, but on the longer run I really truly missed having a real home. Thinking about it just made it worse. Shaking my head I reminded myself what Alex always said: It is only when you are missing a place that you forget all the bad times and make it something beautiful and perfect in your head. I wanted to make new homes with Alex, and I hoped it would feel more like home once we settled down in Thailand for a while, once all the moving around slowed down a bit. I put a lid on the serious questions forming in my mind and forced myself to focus on the interesting street markets on La Rambla.


Chapter 2 - Spain

Play this while reading
Twin Peaks - Irene

12.08.14 - Granada, Spain   

         It had been six days since we left and I couldn’t help but feeling guilty that I had been so calm about leaving. In the airport I was smiling while saying goodbye. When Alex and I turned the corner and left my crying sister and mom behind, I took a few deep breaths but that was all. I clenched his hand tight and looked into the ceiling. Two minutes later I was fine, laughing with him about the airport security. I was still waiting for it to dawn upon me just how long it would be before returning home... I was waiting to break down in tears, realizing that I would not see my sister turn 18 or see my brother grow taller than me. My family meant everything to me, and my childhood home had been my safe-base my entire life. Maybe it was still just a matter of time. It was really strange to witness first hand how your mind can sometimes be completely incapable of grasping things, especially the big stuff.

Alex Tamara Copenhagen Airport

          Visiting all of our favorite places in Granada was a surreal experience. Those five days we spent there a year ago really made an impression. It almost felt like we knew the city in and out even before we arrived. Then we learned that you don’t really get a full impression of a city until you go without being a tourist. The last time we went it was all about tapas tours, flamenco shows and having fun with people we met at the hostel. But living there for a while trying to live a local life and working everyday was quite a different story. The city was beautiful and vibrant but had a severe lack of coffee shops, an overflow of obnoxious tourists and an unbearably lazy and unproductive atmosphere. The city was like a drowsy little bubble filled with laid back Spaniards and stoned cave-gypsies all looking up into the sky humming “manana, manana” (tomorrow, tomorrow) religiously honoring their ‘siesta’ – a 4 hour break in the middle of the day. As a result a lot of shops closed at 2pm and never re-opened because the owner fell asleep at home...

Tamara Alhambra Granada

          Every morning I smiled first thing when I resurfaced from my dreams. Waking up next to him used to mean that we had one day less together, that another yesterday had disappeared in laughter and beautiful moments and that there was one less tomorrow to come. Now we had endless tomorrows and I could fully enjoy every dawn. Anyway it felt endless, like I’d finally gotten him for real and not just for rent.


24.08.14 – Sevilla, Spain

            After saying goodbye to our beloved Granada we looked forward to spending a weekend in nearby Sevilla. It was only a short stop before moving on to the beach town Marbella where I had found a couch surfing host that seemed perfect for us. Alex had told me he wanted to see as much of Spain as possible within the limits of our budget, and so I made it a personal goal to find a way for us to stop at as many cities as possible. Those two days we spent in Seville we lived like actual backpackers, just walking around admiring the tourist attractions and having fun, not worrying about work or where to go next. It was refreshing.
            Seville was beautiful, there’s no denying that. The city is very wealthy and as a result extremely clean. We might have been poor travelers living on a tight budget but I think anyone can’t help but feel that certain amount of calm when surrounded by beautiful buildings and clean streets. We both felt a bit self-conscious admitting this, hoping that one day we’d feel just as much at home in a favela in Rio. Never the less, we played tourists in a beautiful and wealthy city for a couple of days.


28.10.14 – Marbella, Spain

Marbella was not a big or historical city like the previous two had been but a small retirement city by the ocean. At that point it was just what we needed. The atmosphere there was very laid back and local, but if you took a closer look you’d realize that the so-called “locals” were more so tanned old Englishmen than actual Spaniards. Also the wealth of the city was screaming at us from every little designer store and black-an-white themed tapas place, making the whole city seem like a resort. Although this wasn’t really our thing we both loved to people watch in wealthy areas. Watching people buy 25$ drinks and wondering how much they paid for their noses could entertain us for days. It was not like we were holding a grudge against them, heck who wouldn’t want to be rich and have the ability to tip the waiter 100$?
            In contrast we were actually staying in Marbella for free. We were Couch Surfing with a lively Brazilian couple, Hell and William. Hell worked from home writing screenplays for a TV channel and managing a comedy YouTube channel. She had a great sense of humor that made her personality colorful and frisky with an undertone of knowledge and awareness of the world. As a bonus she was an amazing chef. Her husband William brought a cloud of calm with him every time he entered a room. With his wide smile and deep laughter he could easily make anyone relax. The two of them had us feeling at home on their couch in a matter of minutes. In Granada we had picked up a branch of fake green leaves that we would bring around and hang in all of our ‘homes’. Our green garland looked perfect next to their little yellow teletubby teddy bear.

            Will knew about photography and design and by the end of the week he had designed our first logo and done a big photo shoot with Alex and me in the city. His photos of the both of us (up until then we’d had to do with selfies and pictures of each of us) and Hell’s valuable advice on how to manage an online ‘business’ really helped us to take the final steps and get serious about our website. Sleeping on a couch with a humongous hole in the middle was definitely worth hanging out with such cool people in a beautiful beach town.


02.09.14 – Jerez de la Frontera, Spain

Alex told me Cadiz was at the top of his list to see on our Spain trip. He said it was his dream and I had to give it to him. Cadiz is a white city with narrow streets and stonewalls as old as Homer. Famous for it’s succulent fried fish, it truly feels like one of the last genuine classical cities of Spain. It’s situated on a narrow island giving it a timeless air of historic mysterious luster. So I searched through all of the AirBnb’s in the area and sent out Couch Surfing requests to what seemed like an endless stream of locals, begging the universe for a chance to stay in the city of dreams. When the time came for us to say our goodbyes to Hell and Will we were forced to head onto a train to Jerez de la Frontera. Jerez was close to Cadiz and we managed to find good accommodation so we hoped it could be a half decent alternative for now.
            Our host Paulo’s voice was high pitched and had a quivering confidence I’d never encountered before. His demeanour can be described as a tender mix of socially awkward and overly optimistic. “So here’s what you need to know about Jerez. The city is famous for dancing horses, running bulls and a very extraordinary type of Flamenco. It’s also famous for sherry – a sweet and thick type of wine! We have the best sherry in the world, you have to try…”
            He brought out a sampling of his treasured sherry and we got excited. Six shades of sherry lay before us and we began sipping the fluid eagerly. Instantly we cringe in disappointed puckers by its bitter and sour aroma. Sherry just sucks.

This first impression became rather symbolic of our impression of Jerez. All of the other ‘attractions’ cost a fortune and there was no way we could afford the 60$ tours our host was trying to sell us. After a long walk around the city between seemingly endless white walls we concluded that Jerez was a ghost town. We came across what seemed to be an abandoned building with a half open door. Naturally we squeezed past it’s rusted chain lock and explored it’s crumbling surroundings. After scavenging through the rubble of it’s collapsed roof we heard a noise in the upper floor that resembled footsteps and ran for our lives. Rule No 1. of urban exploring is ‘run if you hear someone coming’. Alex has had one too many bad experiences with angry squatters not being very welcoming towards adventurers intruding in their homes. At least I got a unique souvenir - an illustrated Spanish dictionary from the 60's.

So, we concluded on the very first day that Jerez was the ‘ass of Europe’. For the week we spent in Jerez we went to Cadiz twice both times unable to stop saying “why aren’t we staying here” every 5 minutes.

Alex and I were never together without ‘living together’. By that I mean that whenever I visited him in the states I would live in his house and visa versa, with the exception of a few days when we first met and stayed in a hostel in Spain of course. This is why I never thought twice about the whole living situation part of our traveling. A lot of fairly ‘new’ couples would maybe have hesitated before committing to spending every second together but Alex and I always loved spending 24 hours a day in each other’s company and never really needed our own space. After a month of traveling I had never once felt sick of him. I was nothing but awestruck every time I woke up next to his beautiful face. Still, it was different than it had been before when we’d been visiting each other: This time there was no putting off shaving legs or calling my parents until after he left. There was no end to it; we were truly living together, although not in the traditional way.


Chapter 1 - Denmark

Play this while reading
Mutual Benefit - Advanced Falconry

25.07.14 - Copenhagen, Denmark

            Those were the two longest months of my life. More precisely 1 month and 22 days. After leaving Alex and his family in Ohio on the 12th of June I faced what seemed like a million things to do in preparation for finally leaving for my yearlong world trip with Alex on the 6th of August. At the same time I would have to endure an eternity of waiting around and missing him.

            During that time I reduced my life to a few cardboard boxes labeled things like “kitchen” “office” and “memories”. I moved my 9 pieces of furniture into the 1st floor of my mom and stepfather’s house, 30 kilometers from Copenhagen, Denmark. It took 4 people 5 hours to paint my entire apartment using 10 liters of bright white paint and unintentionally 1,5 liters of light gray paint. We didn’t realize that my kitchen suddenly had a suspiciously uneven grayish surface until I was already done painting it. After scrutinizing it for a few minutes we ultimately decided to ignore it and went on to removing my nametags from the hallway before silently closing the door behind us.

Lakes of Copenhagen

            For a total of 5 weeks I worked in the closed psych ward 8 hours pr night, 6 nights a week. Going to work I spent 1,5 hours on trains, buses and metros traveling the 9 zones from my childhood home to the 16 story tall complex of the Hospital of Copenhagen. At 7.30AM every morning I got off work and faced another 1,5 hours of public transportation.
            Luckily I had a gift-card to a coffee shop chain, and this bought me around 10 single-shot skim-milk lattes on 10 different drowsy mornings. Until the shop opened I usually biked around the 4 lakes of Copenhagen, soaking in my homeland and culture, knowing that I would soon leave it all behind. One morning Alex called me from a party and entertained me with drunk talking and interesting soundtracks for a while. He let me listen in on conversations he had with other people and I think he actually forgot at one point that I was listening from his pocket.

My home town in the province of Copenhagen

            Every single day I went without him was spent wishing that I could somehow teleport myself the 5000 miles to where he was, or wanting to close my eyes and fast-forward in time. Initially it was a very immediate and present pain, a throbbing ache in my chest and a lump in my throat. For the first two weeks his absence felt like a deafening silence screaming out from the empty air all around me. I was extremely aware of the fact that I could not hear his voice, ask about his thoughts or see his beautiful face react to his surroundings. I could not even know who or what surrounded him. It felt as if I had left all the best sides of my personality - my appreciation of small things, my eternal optimism and my ability to see the beauty in rain - on the living room floor of his parent’s house in North Olmstead, Ohio. The floor on which I had wrapped myself around his body, fighting the dawn of that last night. First desperately and fiercely and since apathetically and limply when the hands of the clock refused to halt in spite of our whispering declarations of love and promises of more hours.

View from the hospital of Copenhagen

            The bike-ride on that morning was a roller coaster of emotions. When I first saw his name on my screen I felt a rush of adrenalin and happiness. Shortly after I am pretty sure more than one pedestrian mistook me for a crazy person when I biked past them laughing loudly with headphones in my ears. An outsider would not have known that I was in fact in that moment listening to people making jokes and tripping over doorsteps. Later I raced angrily past strangers with tears running down my cheeks, because Alex had picked up the phone and declared that he would have to hang up. Listening to his surroundings I had felt like I was next to him for a second and the scenery in front of my eyes had almost disappeared, replaced by a dark street in front of a crowded bar. When we said goodbye and the only sound remaining was the noise from my rusty bike I was overwhelmed by anger.
            So many goodbyes. Back when we first met in Granada, Spain. A week later in Barcelona. Then Texas. Denmark. Ohio. Over and over again. Every time I felt a chunk of myself being ripped apart. But no matter how many times we’d been apart, the separation never got easier. 


28.07.14 - Ølstykke, Denmark

My tree in my mothers garden

            I was sitting on the patio in my mother’s garden. An empty house sat behind me, my entire family on vacation leaving me completely alone. In a matter of days our journey would start. I was exited to the point of exploding, but it is was slowly dawning on me what I was leaving behind. It was only nostalgia, I knew, but suddenly the sound of the birds out there in the garden, the straws swaying in the endless Danish fields and the smell of the metro in Copenhagen all seemed precious. Like small little gifts that I was given without ever knowing. I suddenly saw them all clearly. I loved the tiny innocent bugs, the one-lane roads, the healthy grocery stores, the beautiful people, the strollers in the streets, the hipsters by the lakes, wild berries, white haired children, clean air and the red sunsets behind the neighbouring houses. Those were small things that were merely characteristics of a place that I knew and loved, and as so they seemed to have a value in themselves. In reality you could find certain smells, sounds and things that characterize any place in the world. You could notice these small hidden beauties everywhere and I knew I would. I knew I would find so much beauty, but all of a sudden it seemed hard to give up the beauty of that specific place. That home.

The ocean in my home town

            Maybe it’s easier to go through change when it’s unseen. Throughout life you give up people and places all the time as you move forward. But you rarely know “this is the last time I will see my high-school sweetheart” or “this is the last time I will ride the bus from my childhood home”. When you aren’t aware of all those “last times” occurring, you don’t give any thought to it. Only years after will you think back and realize that you don’t remember the last time you rode that bus. You will feel nostalgic for a second, but that’s it.
            The change that I was going through right then was huge. This time I was not cutting a rope or two. I was cutting all of them at once, watching all my bridges go up in flames behind me. Everything was burning and in two weeks I would be in a complete darkness, my current world ashes beneath my feet. Alex and I would find new worlds together, I truly believed that. But it was a huge risk. What if he decided to let go of me? I would be completely lost, floating away in nothingness.
            I decided it was a risk I was willing to take. My life changed the day I walked onto that patio in Granada. Ever since I fell for him my life had been a struggle to keep his hand in mine, figuring out how to make the ground stop shaking. Fearing that an earthquake would at any moment crack the ground beneath us, ripping us apart. It was terrifying; it was risky and reckless and immature, some would say. But leaving was a decision I would never regret. No matter what happened from then on, I would never regret pursuing love. I had to face those fears and jump off the bridge, leap into the unknown. In other words: throw myself at life.

            As the last ray of sun disappeared behind the roof of a house, I closed my eyes and observed the mark it left on the inside of my eyelids. I smelled fall in the air as I got off of the hard garden chair. Time for coffee before work.


04.08.14 - Copenhagen, Denmark

            7 weeks before, I felt so sick I couldn’t even eat. I was sitting in a tiny hostel in Brooklyn, caught in between Alex and Denmark. I had visited him and his family in Cleveland and was going through NYC on my way back. I was panicking and honestly didn’t know how to be there. In desperation I went on to breathing uncontrollably, as if I could breathe out my soul and leave it in the American air, not bringing it with the body that moved further and further away from its energy source. 

Alex in Copenhagen

            7 days before, I could barely wait any longer. At first a week seemed like a very short time, and I was almost jumping up and down screaming “one week, one week”. Then suddenly it seemed like forever. It was so hard to believe that in seven days I would go to the airport and he would walk through the automatic doors. I was walking on water and running the speed of light those days, feeling invincible. The reunion was so close I could taste it, and I was incredibly happy.

            7 hours before, I was trying to figure out what to wear for the airport. I had a list of things to do (empty the mail-box, water the flowers, buy milk) in preparation for my parent’s return from vacation the next day. On my list was “pick up Alex”. I felt completely numb. It was a point on the list, a task to tick off, and even though I really tried to understand it, my mind couldn’t grasp the fact that he was actually coming. I felt like I had forgotten so many things about him, I might as well have made him up. Everything I remembered was too good to be true. As I flooded my mom’s orchids I was actively searching for a feeling – a tinge of excitement or nervousness, but my mind simply refused to respond. I wondered if it was a defence mechanism; maybe my brain knew that if I actually let myself feel everything I’d be too overwhelmed to function and forget how to water flowers. In 7 hours my life would begin.

            7 minutes before, I was waiting in the airport. I had been standing in the exact same spot for an hour, unmoving and staring intently at the automatic doors. My feet were aching but refused to move and in my head I was cursing Danish people for being so tall that they blocked my view. I scanned the crowd constantly moving like a never-ending stream of faces,  jumping every time some tall guy with glasses appeared. I could hear the blood pump in my ears and my breathing was remarkably fast considering I was frozen in my shoes. I was extremely aware of the fact that within mere minutes I would see his face right there in front of me. As my eyes locked on the giant clock on the wall for the billionth time I was almost positive that the hands were moving backwards.

            7 seconds before, I finally saw him in the crowd. He appeared at the back of the moving sea of people, his face the only thing in focus in the wild blur of colors. The pain in my shoulder from holding my bag in the same hand and the pain in my feet from standing still for an hour immediately went away. He was looking around with a confused expression so I had a second to compose myself before he saw me. When his eyes caught mine I completely lost composure though, and I don’t know what expressions went over my face or what emotions got stuck in my throat. The world turned black around me and I could only see his smile coming towards me.

Packing our carry on bags...

Packing our carry on bags...

            The moment he touched me I felt like I came back to life. As he held me close, the world reappeared around me. All the colors, smells and sounds came back on full force. Until that moment I had not even realized that everything had been quiet, grey and passionless. Without him my world was a black and white mute movie. Now that he touched his lips to my neck beautiful people with singing voices and smiles on their faces surrounded me. I buried my face in his shoulder and was determined to never let him go again. We were leaving together from now on.


Where It All Began

Play this while reading
Brian Eno - Becalmed

  …But sometimes a few words, a few random moments in no particular order happen to be the exact words and the exact order of events that will change your life forever.

My name is Tamara Hansen, born and raised in Denmark. I want to share our story with you, honest and real. This story is about sacrificing everything to pursue love and life. It is about gaining the courage to leave safety behind and travel the world. It involves eating disorders, money problems and family issues. Because we are real people. We are us.
This is Complete Honesty Mode.

             For most of my life I thought I had my future figured out. I decided early on that I was going to be a doctor. In high school I was smiling to myself at my peer’s frantic expressions whenever the issue of ‘what to do with your life’ popped up. There was simply no question about it for me. I finished high school with one of the highest scores of my year and applied to med school immediately after. I got a job at a startup Jewelry Company, wearing heels and sparkly rings every day. I moved to an apartment in Copenhagen, the capital, and started studying one of the most prestigious degrees in Denmark. I found myself saying the line “I do distribution in a jewelry company, work part time as a substitute nurse and study medicine” over and over again. I was always perceived as ‘a successful girl with a lot of potential’. I was a sharp and determined personality with an intimidating drive, priding myself on my so-called ‘intelligence’ and ‘promising future’. I also had a habit of organizing everything, wearing black and white clothes and counting calories. 

Tamara Feb 2012, Havmøller Design.

Turn back time a few years and I will tell you my story once more:
My parents were divorced when I was little and I found myself caught in between them for most of my childhood, feeling like a bad child for not being able to make them both happy. I was a rebellious teenager, picking fights over nothing because I didn’t know how to react to the emotional chaos burning inside of me. In an attempt to feel like my life was in my control I would settle for nothing less than perfection and decided to become a doctor because who could possibly look down on that. I also decided that I needed to loose weight because thin equals success. Graduating from high school I felt like I was thrown forcefully out of my comfort zone. I moved out of my childhood home, got a demanding adult job, broke up with a boyfriend and started a new school in a matter of months. My obsession with losing weight went from a half-hearted attempt to eat healthier to a full-on phobia of gaining a single gram. I suffered from the delusion that I would gain weight from eating more than 1000 calories a day and started throwing up most of my meals as a result. For weeks I ate nothing but Greek salad with 7 olives for dinner. Breakfast was 50 grams of frozen blueberries, 35 grams of oatmeal, 180 grams of water, 10 drops of 0 cal sweetener and 7 shakes of salt. The majority of my money was spent on chocolate crackers, which I flushed out in the toilet precisely 30 minutes after consuming them. Med school was as hard as I had imagined but of course no such thing as average existed in my head. I met a lot of nice and cool people but my eating disorder had made me completely isolated and I dreaded all social gatherings and the food/alcohol they would involve. Better to just not let anyone come close enough to see the cracks in my white-polished façade.
               The next summer I was admitted to a small hospital on a Spanish island. During a vacation with my mother’s family I suddenly got acute heart arrhythmia as a result of purging everything I had eaten for weeks. Being around my family I was forced to eat for the sake of pretense, and of course eating three meals a day would have had ‘chaotic consequences’ if I didn’t get rid of the food again... Coming home I was diagnosed with “Anorexia Nervosa with severe bulimic tendencies”. Suddenly I was no longer the ‘good girl’ but the object of whispering conversations at family gatherings. “There she is, the proof that too much of the good is no good.” I lost every concept I had ever had of myself as was forced into treatment by winter. My body and mind had become cold and I could no longer trust my memory or sense of logic.
               While my studies where temporarily paused, I spent half a year sitting in a circle with other girls, figuring out how this obsession had come to seem like a solution to all of us. When it came down to it, for me it was a type of escapism. It seems that we grow complacent in the world we are born into and the world we know. I was afraid to take a chance at something different, risking losing what little I had. As a result I tried the best I could to fit in instead of attempting to find myself and my own place in the world. It is so easy to convince yourself that being unhappy is a part of life, that the best thing to do is the same as everyone else, because that is the safe option.

First time solo traveller...

               After six months I had not only gained an almost healthy weight, I had also decided not to go back to studying medicine. I had stopped organizing the food in my fridge according to calorie content, and stopped choosing soup flavor based on cals pr serving. I felt like a white blank page and was determined to get away, determined to fill myself in again with new places and new people. So I packed a backpack and took a flight to London from where I started my trip around Europe. “Oh me? I used to study medicine but kinda quit everything and went traveling.”


             Alex had lived a life in America that contrasted mine quite a bit. He was more carefree and open about practically everything. Whereas I was counting calories and organizing my wardrobe Alex was wearing the same shirt for days in a row and throwing house parties going until the next morning.  He owned a house with four friends in a college town and every night was an attempt to outdo the last. He would invite local bands to play live shows in his basement every weekend. The entire city would gather at his house and dance wildly into the night with Alex laughing and hugging each person that came. He did everything he could to fight time, taking chances and laying on rooftops with the people he loved, constantly aware of the passing minutes stealing his youth. One of his favorite hobbies was running across the city, finding his way into abandoned buildings with friends, always pursuing the next great adventure.

               However the adventure he was seeking never seemed to exist. He searched for it in crowded basements, long conversations and moonlit rooftops but he never really found what he was looking for. What he needed couldn’t be found in America. This country, while safe, never truly felt like home to him. A value system based on consumerism and the size of your house tasted bitter on his tongue from the day of his birth. There was always a small itch telling him something wasn’t right but he could quite find what. It all changed in 2010 when his family took him to Italy. This was the first time he had left America in his life and the experience left him shaking with the desire for more. The small things mattered here. Rather than talk about income and mortgages people would teach you a new recipe or tell a story of their youth. Two weeks away from the busy indulgent American lifestyle changed him to his core. What he really needed to be content was not a raging party but simply a calm interesting culture to surround himself with. True adventure can be found walking the ancient streets of a quiet village and eating in a restaurant built into the house of a local.  True adventure is feeling lost with a girl you met in a hostel and trusting strangers with everything you own. He felt a calling to be lost in the world and to run as fast as he could into a raging river of experiences far from home.
               When he graduated college and found that it was time for him to be a part of the adult routine he felt more lost than he ever had. When you meet with relatives they stop asking how you are and instead ask ‘What do you do?’ That dreaded phrase… ‘What. Do. You. Do?’ He never knew how to answer. Yes he had an “adult job” and yes he had a respectable degree but how can that be all there is to this life? He saw his future laid out before him one long passionless year after the other. The value of his life, his precious minutes and his limited hours, being broken down to a number on a pay slip. He didn’t know what he was doing, but it felt wrong.  It’s so easy to lay back and let life take you where it wants you to go. Getting a healthy paycheck every month and settling into that daily routine, it can be almost impossible to leave. But he had an absolute need to address his passions before committing to adult life and a carrier. There was too much fire rattling in his bones, begging him to get lost in the world.

When we first met in Granada and explored the Alhambra together.

            About a month and a half into my trip I came to Granada, Spain. From the very first night Alex caught my eye, and after only talking to him for a few minutes I knew that he was nothing like anyone I had ever met before. He was a good-looking American, so I had expected him to be arrogant and obnoxious. Instead he turned out to be empathetic, intelligent and extremely passionate. He heard the colors in music and touched the smell of rain. He inspired me to jump off bridges and explore abandoned places. It only took five minutes of conversation waiting in line for the bathroom with him for me to realize this was something amazing. Within minutes of meeting we were talking about my anorexia and his beliefs on travel and love. There were no walls to climb and no secrets to reveal, I was honest and interested from the moment his mouth opened. With his usual confidence he whispered 'let's get lost' and we ran as fast as possible into the labyrinth streets of the Albayzín. We found a viewpoint perched on the edge of the city and listened to his favorite music. He turned to me and asked what I was thinking as I looked out over the city. Shyly and shaking, I told him the truth: I was thinking about how beautiful the moment was and how much more beautiful it would be if he kissed me. It was in that moment that everything in my life changed forever. That night it seemed we talked about everything that mattered to us. I was speaking as fast as I could, trying to cover every possible topic imaginable before our time together ran out. 

The beach on our one day in Barcelona.

          He left Granada a couple of days later but I changed my travel plans to meet him for a single day in Barcelona. That single day was one of the best of my life and seemed to last forever. It was spent soaking each other on the beach, absorbing smells and touches and unending conversation in an attempt to make up for all the years we had not known each other. When the sun rose the next morning he got on a train to go back to America and I felt as if I had lost a part of me. We talked online every day and I craved him with every inch of my soul.
         Just one month later I flew into Austin airport and was greeted by Alex in his green Saturn. We had only known each other for 4 days in Spain, but during the month of separation I had decided that I needed more of him. I was originally going to move on to Italy after Spain, but I knew in my heart that if I did not chase him I would forever wonder ‘what if?’ The plan was to simply not think, go to Austin, to where he had moved after traveling, and see what would happen. I could always travel on. I always liked America, so why not? As it turned out we spent every waking (and eventually sleeping) moment together in Austin, exploring the city and making it ours. Every second with him was as amazing as I had imagined. I went through a long battle against my controlling side, which kept pointing out the lack of logic in starting a serious relationship with a guy living halfway across the globe. I tried as hard as I could to fight the attraction, knowing how much it would hurt to not be able to actually be together. There was no denying it though. His canvas was painted with the colors of the world and I had never seen anything so perfect. I fell madly and irrevocably in love with the beautiful tall American I had met in Spain.

Austin, Texas

Austin, Texas

            After our initial time in Austin we had to put up with an excruciating three months of distance. We would text and call constantly. He'd fall asleep with the phone by his ear so he could listen to my life go by. Finally I ran back to Austin to take in a breath of air after feeling like I had been holding it for months. Once again I felt everything fall into place as soon as I was in his arms. Every moment with him seemed precious and I had never been happier. Underneath the surface there was always the looming fear, the knowledge that I would have to leave again. I could only be in America for 3 months on a tourist visa  and it was the same for him coming to Europe. And of course, both trying to lead “normal” lives with jobs and apartments in our relative countries, neither of us could actually leave for three months at a time. We also couldn’t afford the $1000 flight ticket across the Atlantic over and over again. As the date of my departure came closer, this knowledge grew to a dark presence that loaded every word and every embrace. If I had not been so happy the whole time I would have broken down crying every five minutes because of the hopelessness. The more time we spent together the more aware I became that he was the one I wanted, the one I wanted to be with. All my other priorities seemed to shrink in to the size of a coin next to him.


               "Tell me why is it hard to make arrangements with yourself when your old enough to repay and young enough to sell"

SXSW 2014


               We were discussing this Neil Young quote by Ladybird Lake when we both realized that the only thing keeping us apart was fear. The same fear that had made it hard to leave home the first time and ‘waste time’ on traveling. The same fear that had lead me to work hard doing things I was not passionate about. The fear of not succeeding and the fear of not progressing in life. Visa laws might seem the major obstacle, but all we had to do was leave. If we were traveling, no one could tell us not to be together. Looking into his deep hazel eyes I rephrased Neil Young’s question and asked;
               “Why is it hard to just leave when we are old enough to give what it takes, and young enough to give up what it takes?”
We both had a bit of money saved up. We could pay for it. Neither of us had any huge obligations. We would just have to quit our jobs and sell our apartments. This was the only time in our lives when we would be in a position to simply do this. The value of an hour lived fully cannot be given a number. Traveling we could make the hours infinitely invaluable.
               I remember holding him close, for the first time feeling a spark of hope in my heart, that maybe, just maybe, I could really have him. Not borrow him for a while but really have him and stay with him.

Going to a wedding together while Alex was in Denmark for the first time.

            It seemed unreal at first but we started planning the leave. I gave out my three-month notice for my apartment and Alex gave out his as well. After having been apart for another two excruciating months he flew into Copenhagen with a small bag holding almost everything he owned. The rest was shipped to his parents in Cleveland or mercilessly sold on Craigslist. He stayed with me in my apartment in Copenhagen for a month, working his online research job while I was working full time as a substitute nurse in the closed psych ward. Even though Copenhagen was too cold for his taste, he seemed to like it and again it almost felt like we lived together for a while. Technically we did, because Alex was now per definition homeless with a home address at his parents place in Cleveland. When the month was up I went back to America with him, for the first time going to Ohio. For two weeks we lived in his parents house and I adored his loving family and three cool brothers. The last time I left him was the most painful ever. We had both met each other’s families and we had already planned to go traveling for the sake of being together. Everything was planned out and we only had to get through another two months of distance before our final departure date.  Maybe that is why it hurt worse than ever. He was at that point an extension of myself: my love and my home. Getting onto the Megabus to New York City I noticed that Alex’s grand mom had put a box of Kleenex in my snack bag. I sent her a mental ‘thank you’ as I broke down in tears, only comforted by the fact that I would never have to leave him again after that. Hopefully. If the world is kind.