SOL: 2015

For last year’s words belong to last year’s language
And next year’s words await another voice.

// T.S. Eliot

I’m a sucker for a fresh start, or perhaps more accurately, I am inclined to be perpetually changing and for that reason I look forward to each New Year as a chance to start fresh and keep working towards my goals.

Last year started off rockier than I would have liked, but over the course of the past twelve months I feel as though I have taken the appropriate steps to ensure I mature emotionally, mentally and spiritually. During my vagabonding excursion in Europe I was able slough off layers of resentment and self-loathing and as a result my life has taken on a more promising hue. That said, I have clearly defined my goals for this year and I hope to achieve all of them. If I can’t, then I hope to fail so spectacularly that I will learn a bunch of new things along the way. I’ll be happy with either.

Looking forward in 2015, I will be embarking on yet another extended voyage to Europe. Starting in April I will be residing in Sant Pol de Mar (up the coast from Barcelona) teaching a young boy English through a placement secured using Workaway. Aside from a whirlwind weekend in Barcelona in April of last year, I have not experienced much of Catalan lifestyle, but I feel that it will be an amazing opportunity.

Spain

The coast of Sant Pol de Mar!

Once again I am faced with the smothering fear of leaving, but deep down I know that staying is impossible. I am eternally torn between a life of societal conformity (read: the house, the husband, the kids) and one of wanderlust indulgence. I hope this year brings more love, experiences, laughter, growth and wisdom.

Safe travels,
AS

SOL: À Bientôt Europe!

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Et voilà – approximately twenty two weeks after I left Canada I am awaiting a plane to bring me home.

I am at a loss for words to express the depth of my appreciation for this experience. I am tempted to say that these months have flown by but each month and sometimes each week presented its own challenges.

From start to finish, this was a personal struggle; my goal was more “deep rehab of the soul” than “I bet I can drink my way across Europe.” I came here to see the world, yes, but also to fix the cracks in my soul. It is not an exaggeration to say that when I arrived in France this April I was a broken and extremely depressed individual. I felt increasingly unstable, unhappy and panicked about life and more specifically, my place in life. I can honestly say I was a nervous wreck and for lack of a more eloquent description, I felt like an all-around piece of shit.

Having said that I must confess that on this trip three wonderful things happened:

1) I fell out of love with the people and memories I was holding onto with the toxic hope I would one day have them back again. In doing so I realized that without the grey tinge of the past haunting me my present life became more beautiful.

2) I slowly realized that although I have done terrible things in the past I am actually (and it feels odd to acknowledge this) proud of the person I have become. I realized that my past does not define the person I am today and in doing so I shook off years of angst and guilt and made a home out of my body.

3) I woke up one morning and realized that I had shaken my plaguing depression and had fallen in love with both myself and my life. This is not to say I do not still have lows, but I am much better equipped to deal with them; I now see each low as preparation for a new high and that alone is a beautiful thing.

It is a wonderful moment when you realize that the love you put into your life will be returned. Obviously I still struggle; I still have bad days and shitty moods, but I have embraced the wonderful complexity of life and relish each event, both good and bad. I do not expect myself or my life to be perfect; the bad days and my worst traits only make me value the positive that much more.

It feels bittersweet to be leaving this beautiful country but I am comforted by the fact that I will soon be able to see my family and friends. This trip has utterly revolutionized my worldview and travel itself. When I first voiced my desire to embark on this trip I had numerous people tell me it would be too difficult to do by myself, that I’d get scared or lonely, that I’d be back before the five months were up or that I was completely deluded as to how expensive and confusing traveling can be. I was admittedly petrified that I was biting off more than I could chew but I realized that people often have more tenacity than they give themselves credit for. Humans are resilient – we are durable and capable of much more than the limits we impose upon ourselves. While at times it was difficult to navigate solo-travel I am proud of myself for being strong enough to do it on my own.

My takeaway from this journey is simple:

DO MORE OF WHAT MAKES YOU HAPPY.

Life is too short to be miserable. Be honest with yourself about what you want. If you wait for the right time you will be waiting your whole life – do it now! Always remember the best things in life happen when you step outside your comfort zone.

Safe travels,
AS

SOL: Travel Updates

“I Don’t Speak Freaky-Deaky Dutch.”

Unexpected travel surprise; upon accepting placement at a campsite in the south of France I assumed I would be forced to flex my française chops all the time. Erroneous on all counts! Turns out not only is there a massive influx of Dutch and English expats to the southern regions of France it’s also a popular vacation destination. As it is I have been hearing more Dutch than I ever expected to hear in my life over the past six weeks of high season. With my blonde hair and fair skin they automatically assume I am of Dutch descent which leaves me nodding frantically as they ramble on in their Netherlands tongue. Sadly, I have picked up zero Dutch language skills while here.

Packing Woes

A month or so before I embarked on this trip I posted a brief description of what I’d packed. I’ve since reread said post, and I would like to make one addendum: I AM A BONAFIDE IDIOT. All the items I painstakingly purchased and packed have been collecting dust in my suitcase. I’ve been wearing the same pair of flip-flips to work on the pool every morning; I hit up a few Vide Greniers (basically an open-air thrift store that circulates from village to village each weekend AKA my utopia) and grabbed tees and hippie digs for 50 centimes each. They have been my lifesavers while coping with the intense humidity of the region AND they carry the added bonus of being tossed without remorse at the end of my trip. I could have easily, and I cannot stress this enough, cut out at least half of what I brought with me, but if I’m being brutally honest with myself 3/4 of my precious packing could have been left behind. This travel rookie is slowly learning the ropes. When travel blogs tell you, “Take whatever you’ve packed and remove half,” they are not messing around. Oh, how the ignorant flounder.

Reaffirming My Faith in the Kindness of Strangers

I mentioned earlier that a lot of people voiced their concerns about me partaking on this long trip by myself. Admittedly I worried I was going to have a complete mental breakdown after months of solitude, but it never happened. By traveling alone, especially with the Workaway positions I have taken, you are welcomed into people’s homes and lives with open arms. I am forever in awe of the acceptance I have received while on this trip. It is a sweet reminder that beautiful souls reside all over the world. We are conditioned to live in a state of perpetual fear (have you seen the news lately?) but when you step outside your comfort zone and experience the world you realize how many truly spectacular people are on this planet. The people I’ve had the pleasure of meeting during my trip have been so accommodating and gracious I cannot believe my good luck. I have had such an amazing first experience with Workaway I am already planning out another adventure!

In a few days time, I will leave my hosts in the Lot Valley and spent a few days visiting family near Dijon. Afterwards, I cap off my trip with a few foolish days in Amsterdam and then before I know it, I will be back on home turf.

Safe travels.

Namaste,
AS

MIND: The Wanderlust Effect

It’s funny. When you leave your home and wander really far, you always think, “I want to go home.” But then you come home, and of course it’s not the same. You can’t live with it, you can’t live away from it. And it seems like from then on there’s always this yearning for some place that doesn’t exist. I felt that. Still do. I’m never completely at home anywhere.

// Danzy Senna

SOL: Travel Updates

I have officially started my placement with my new travel hosts in the Midi-Pyrenees. I started off loads better than I did at my first place and the British/Dutch couple hosting me have quickly assumed the role of my “surrogate parents.” Here’s a quick rundown of what has happened in the past week and a half:

Curry Night Debauchery and Clutching the Stick

My last night at my first host ended as it started – on a Monday night (Curry Night) celebration that was one for the books. Curry Nights are always filled with drunken escapades and this one was no exception. We started pre-drinking G&T’s before the table was set at 7PM, so by the time we were served our Daal we were already half in the bag and enjoying ourselves immensely. I was seated next to my favourite Frenchman (as per usual) and by the second course I had convinced him to take swigs of the mixed drink in my Thermos and shun the Bio Bordeaux that we had been served.

There was a new Swedish WWOOFer who got into town at 8:30 and called to say she was ready to be picked up – unfortunately our host had drunk too much wine and was in no position to drive. “Have no fear!” I shouted as I planted myself behind the wheel of the car before I realized I have no idea how to drive stick. Luckily her son took it upon himself to teach me, which left him yelling in panicked, heavily accented English, “Bloody hell, press the clutch ALL the way down!” and me shouting back, “Shut up I’m CLUTCHING!” After stalling several times and a suspicious cranking sound that made it seem like the transmission had given up and committed suicide halfway through our journey, we made it to the village and successfully nabbed the Swede. I think we terrified her on the drive back, but we managed to arrive back at the party unscathed.

Considering my family will read this, I’ll leave the naughtier bits of the night out, but suffice to say I woke up the next morning to catch my train still heavily intoxicated. It was worth it.

Peanut Butter and Chalets

I had a good feeling about my new hosts after our several months of email interaction, but nothing endeared me to them faster than peanut butter.

During our drive from the train station to the campsite, my new host and I were discussing the finer points of French cuisine and I began my well-rehearsed rant about the cost and availability of peanut butter.

Within minutes of arriving at the campsite he placed the Holy Grail in my hands – a 1KG jar of peanut butter that I could have all to myself. Have I died and gone to heaven?

Not only did he bestow chunky PB upon me, but he and his wife have given me my own private accommodation in the form of a chalet on the campsite – basically a small apartment with two bedrooms, a dining room, a bathroom and a kitchen. I also have a weekly stipend to cover my food and a porch that overlooks the Lot River. Life is GOOD. 

One-Horse Towns and Poker

The village where the campsite is located is something of a “one-horse town” – there is a post office and a bar and that’s about it. My host explained that when he isn’t running the campsite his social life consists of a poker league of about 30 people who play on Fridays. Damned if I wasn’t registered as a player in the league within 24 hours of landing in town. I signed in under the alias “Triumph” (AKA my dream bike-brand) and donned my motorcycle tee as my signature outfit. Sue me – I like to play the part.

Friday night rolled around and I marched into the bar for the tournament like I knew what I was doing and sat down to play some Texas Hold’em (in French) with absolute strangers. Mega-nerd that I am, I downloaded “Hold’em for Dummies” to my Kindle the previous night and spent an hour reading up on winning techniques. My party trick of a slick shuffle won me some street cred – so did a ballsy bet and a Royal Flush that cleaned out the old guy next to me. I ended up finishing 7th out of 30 players and caused two men to go ballistic when I beat them. Not exactly a “Triumph,” but hopefully not beginner’s luck either.

Safe travels,
AS

SOL: Tampons, Ice Cubes, Accents, PB & Boobs

There have been a few clashes between Canuck and French living in the past few weeks that I feel can no longer go unnoticed.

SOL: Tampons, Ice Cubes, Accents, PB & Boobs

Marcel Marceau I Am Not

For the past week Chez Quinta has had family staying over in the form of a daughter and granddaughter which has been a lovely addition for me since I am still the only WWOOFer here. The thirteen year old granddaughter reminds me of my sister so I’ve been attempting interaction with her in my broken French. She’s quite confused as to why I’m here, initially she thought I was my host’s daughter and then she assumed I was some sort of maid. Wrong on all counts doll, I’m just a lost and weary traveller… Sort of. She came up to me in the hall a few days ago and told me she had run out of pads and wanted to know if I had any to spare. Since I a) have not used a pad since I was 12 and b) would rather skewer myself than sit in a blood diaper, I had to search for the French word for “tampon” in my mental dictionary. I had seen the word tampon used on a printing store window, so I knew the exact translation didn’t fit, and since in the heat of the moment I’m not known for being too suave my mime skills took over and I was creating an elaborate finger-and-sound motion of a tampon. Needless to say she did not, in fact, take any of my tampons. I can’t say I blame her.

Ice Ice Baby

A slight issue, but an annoyance to me all the same – several Europeans have informed me that ice cubes are not popular in Europe. I seem to recall having this problem last time I toured France, but since I drink a lot heavier this time around, it has been a growing nuisance for me. I’m lusting after a big glass half-filled with clinking and cracking ice cubes, half-filled with tequila and tonic. Forget men; just give me frozen chunks of water in a jumbo cup of alcohol to satiate my desire.

Accents

I’ve always been a fan of accents. I’m envious of people who speak with Cajun peppering their words and honey coating certain phrases that sound bland coming out of my mouth. It never occurred to me that in France I would have the accent. Unfortunately I’m certain I sound like a valley-girl-hillbilly mash-up to the cultured French tongue, but when someone asks me, “And where is your accent from?” I die a little inside. I’ve been told that I speak very hard “English” French, and that when I’m drunk I sound like a Spaniard – must be the wine rolling all my R’s for me.

Where Art Thou Skippy?

Another slight cultural nuisance I have encountered – PEANUT BUTTER. If you thought my lust for ice cubes was borderline raunchy, don’t even get me started on Skippy. I have searched high and low, even scoured my beloved Carrefour, and all I’ve found is the smallest jar possible of PB for a whopping six Euros. What the hell? Namua has informed me that peanut butter is regarded as an exotic food and that my best bet is to try the bio health food stores – or to make my own. I have a love affair with peanut butter, which has peaked ever since I came home drunk-as-a-skunk in university, passed out and woke up only to find out that in my intoxicated state I had a little peanut-butter-party and covered everything in my room, including myself, with a coating of Kraft’s Whipped PB. I’m not even sure if I got any in my mouth, but it turns out it’s hard to get peanut butter out of hair. Where art thou Skippy? I’ll find you.

DD Dilemma

And now for the grand finale of cultures mixing – breasts.

Breasts are everywhere in Europe. On beaches, on magazines, on advertisements – there are bare breasts and bodies everywhere! I would like to think I’m not a prude by any means, but I’ve yet to yearn for the wind on my nipples at the beach.

“You know America was founded by prudes. Prudes who left Europe because they hated all the kinky, steamy European sex that was going on. And now I will return to the land of my perverted forefathers and claim my birthright… which is a series of erotic and sexually challenging adventures.” (Eurotrip, 2004)

It was bright and sunny here in Laroque today so after lunch I decided to sit by the pool with a book and try to soak up some sun. I’m just getting settled into the chaise when I hear an upbeat “Cou-cou!” I swing around to face Sabine, one of our guests, and my smile freezes on my face as I find myself making direct eye contact with her areolae.

Let’s get one thing straight – I have breasts. It’s not like I’ve never seen boobs before. But even among my closest girlfriends we have never once whipped off our tops devil-may-care and pranced around with our breasts flying in the wind. Goddamn these French people and their nonchalant attitude towards women being topless. I envy it! I also fear it. She resumed her tanning place and I felt compelled to caution her against nipple-burn, but decided against it. Just like drinking on the street, (banned in Canada, allowed here), the thought of sunbathing on a beach, or anywhere, topless just feels so naughty.

Cultural clashes aside, I’ve reached my one month milestone in France and I’ve loved every minute. The adventure is just beginning!

Namaste,
AS

SOL: Solo Travels

There came a point in my pre-departure lifestyle where amongst all the planning and saving I realized that I should probably start telling people that I was leaving. Those closest to me had known for several months, but as I told more people there was one sentence they would all invariably utter, “You’re going alone?

They’d lower their voice as they said it, as if taking this journey solo was too troublesome to say out loud. Alone – as if it was a dirty or unpleasant word. Then they would raise the topic of my safety, (because a young woman travelling alone is apparently a target) or tell me that I would get lonely and want to come home within a week. I politely listened to all of it, while within my head all I could focus on was the gentle, reassuring thrum that was pushing me out the door and propelling me to a foreign country.

I feel like it’s important to address these inaccuracies. I’m rapidly approaching my one month mark in France and I can honestly attest to the fact that I have not once felt lonely. If anything, I’ve felt swamped with company and I find myself constantly surrounded by friendly faces. I’m not sure if it’s an auric radiation or France in general, but even my quiet moments result in new acquaintances, whether it’s an elderly gentleman in a café (who overheard I was Canadian and promptly whipped out photos of his own daughter who is teaching in Toronto) or a young American woman (who heard my “accent” and quickly bonded with me over our mutual interest in Thailand and discussed the best places to get Thai food in France). Each interaction leaves me feeling charmed and blessed by life. I am never lonely, but I relish the moments when I am alone.

Even while in Barcelona, which is notorious for pick-pockets and chock-full of warnings for young women, I never once felt threatened or worried about my safety. In fact, as a young woman I find people are more likely to take you under their wing and protect you. As we checked into our hostel we experienced a brief moment of panic because we had booked into a “Mixed Dorm” (8 bunks, male and female). We agreed that if we walked in and felt unsafe or threatened, we would demand to be switched to an all-female dorm. As it turns out, we were in a room with two couples and one 22 year old Dutch guy who turned out to be excellent company while we stayed in Barcelona. Hostels are great places to meet like-minded travellers and I could have easily stayed a few extra nights for the social aspect alone.

Travelling alone can be more stressful, and I can certainly see the benefit to splitting the costs of luggage lockers and taxi’s, but successfully arriving at each destination fills me with a sense of pride and independence that I can scarcely put into words.

As much as I love the people in my life, I cannot imagine taking this trip with anyone but myself. I’ve been incredibly lucky thus far to have had my experience enriched by so many colourful characters.

I’m looking forward to the next few months of travel I have ahead.

Namaste,
AS

SOL: Spontaneity

SOL: Spontaneity

When the perfect opportunity presents itself, grab on with both hands and don’t let go.

A few days ago a fellow WWOOFer offered me a free ride into Barcelona, and without questioning the pros and cons I immediately agreed.

As it is, the train back has been booked and we are staying at Urbany Hostel in Barcelona (UrbanyHostels.com) on Tuesday night.

I’ve never been to Spain or stayed in a hostel, so we’re knocking two things off my bucket list in just a few days!

The photo, not mine, is of La Rambla street in Spain which is apparently a must-see for tourists. I’m very excited to take two days off and visit a new country.

Stay tuned.

Namaste,
AS

SOL: Running in the Mountains and Sunday Roast

SOL: Running in the Mountains and Sunday Roast

Sunday was spent in a state of semi-relaxation. We managed to finish all the morning tasks fairly early on and then did some gardening until lunch.

Afterwards we drove to a local street market which is essentially a city-wide thrift store. Overall it was a bunch of random junk, but there were some cool old trunks and vintage furniture that would have been nice to buy. Alas, I only walked away with two new scarves.

Afterwards I sat by the pool and finished reading The Alchemist and then decided to go for a run. It’s so beautiful running here and I’m continuously stopping to look at the mountains and the view. Naturally I got lost and I’m fairly certain my legs will be dead tomorrow.

Sunday dinner is consistently modeled after a “Vegan Roast” and we ate garlic-roasted potatoes, pea soup, cauliflower, oat loaf, homemade bread and cake. Namua’s cooking is going to kill me; not to mention the pitcher of wine that we manage to go through every evening.

French living is truly in a league of its own.

AS

SOL: Compost Toilets, 7 Days & Gardening

SOL: Compost Toilets, 7 Days & Gardening

One week of the WWOOF lifestyle has officially been completed. After arriving at the permaculture farm and seeing the compost toilet, hippie digs, and the chores list, I will admit I wanted to hightail it to the nearest hotel and fly home. However, I told myself to shut up and make do, and now, while going to the bathroom like a gerbil will never appeal to me, I can see the appeal of living a sustainable lifestyle.

I’m lucky to have two other female WWOOFers here, as they’re both keeping me sane. We’ve started sneaking “contraband items” into the house, (read: our own personal vices of cheese, baguette, chocolate and alcohol), and somehow we’re able to joke around while shoveling 100 pounds of composted human waste. Ah, how one week can change your perspective. That’s not to say we don’t use the fancy water-flushing toilets every chance we get, but we can see the humor of the compost situation chez nous.

Today we were pulling weeds and ripping up the garden for two hours under the hot southern sun. It’s definitely not how I’m used to spending my afternoons, but after stabbing the soil with zest for awhile I can understand the therapeutic aspect.

One week down. One day at a time.

I’m so glad I started this journey.

Namaste,
AS