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Excitement and Expectations

It all started with a promise. A pinkie promise to be specific. I think we need context here, so let’s back up… not to the age of dinosaurs just to an age of change.


I’ve worked at the same restaurant for four years, watched the predictable parade of characters waltz in and out knowing they were never meant to stay. Somewhere along the way, this “authentic” Mexican restaurant became my home away from home, in some ways it still is. It became my comfort zone, and its bright, slightly tacky decorations were enough for me. But life has other plans, it comes at us fast and shifts the world beneath us until we end up right back at square one. These plot twists tend to leave us recovering, rebuilding, and re-discovering ourselves. At least that’s what I was doing when I met this charismatic, slightly insane bartender who would throw tickets at my face while speaking rapid Spanish. I had no idea then that I just met my best friend. Flash forward five months later, one too many beers, more than enough existential conversations (for Shannon anyway), approximately 500 hand hugs and here we are, at the bar making plans to go to Puerto Rico.

Traveling has never been my passion. Looking at restaurant décor was as close as I’ve allowed myself to see the world. So when I was asked to travel with my friend back to her home, I was shocked that I said “yes.” In hindsight, I think the initial answer was not so much for my benefit. I read about Hurricane Maria, saw news footage of destroyed homes and flattened forests, but its the stories that I heard were too much. Too much sadness but they were strangely laced with hope for the future and filled with love for a home that could never really be destroyed. So I made a pinkie promise.

As the countdown to the trip hit single digits, my excitement began to increase exponentially. Maybe it was the names in the stories that I didn’t recognize (Karen & Kelly), or the pictures of mountains looming over turquoise water, or maybe it was just the idea of going somewhere unexplored. My bags were packed, my ticket was ready, and so were my friends. Only one mildly horrifying challenge remained: the plane ride. I fully expected to kick the bucket at 30,000 feet, but I made it through (unless my spirit is writing this) with the help of liquid courage, plenty of hugs, and ocean sounds weaving their way through my mind. Before I knew it, we were in PR a place I’ve heard so much about and I was ecstatic. Then I peeked over to see my friend excited for an entirely different reason that had everything to do with coming home. That’s when I knew I was somewhere special.

The first sight I registered was a palm tree. I have never EVER seen a real palm tree before, I didn’t realize they were so tall. It seems quite silly that a tree so tall should have so little branches. Despite this confusing conundrum, I was so thrilled by its island like presence that I went right over to touch it. I guess we can check that off the bucket list.

My excitement was unparalleled in that moment, and honestly, it got so much better from there if you can believe it. I still can’t. Expectations are something else entirely, too great and we risk being disappointed. If they are too little, we need to question why we even bothered in the first place.  So what were my expectations traveling to PR? I had none, not because I didn’t want to be over or underwhelmed, but because I had never really traveled anywhere before. All I hoped was that my friend would be happier and maybe I would swim in the ocean because I heard it was warm. I’ll be the first to admit, I never expected this.

Travel Gap

I was on the couch one day with my Grampa. I had just returned from Europe. He says “I don’t understand why you women are always out of the house now. Always doing something.” I say “We are catching up on the years we couldn’t.”

“Fair enough,” is his response.

I haven’t traveled everywhere yet, but there’s time and I frequently use books to fuel my travel obsession. Yet there’s something that I’ve noticed that continues to bother me as I wander through the Barnes and Nobles travel section. This week looking for Miami and Thailand information. Where’s all the books from women? I find a total of two.

-Wanderful, a book about how to look good in various cities, i.e, Stevie Nicks type wraps in New Orleans. (P.S. having been to NOLA I don’t suggest those type wraps on Bourbon Street or Jackson Square)

-We’ll always have Paris, a book I can only assume is about the enigma that is the famous city and one girls romance with the city or a man or both.

This week I settle with the books Havana by Mark Kurlansky and Travel as a Political Act by Rick Steves. But I’m still perplexed. What is the system that is making it so there aren’t more books written by women in travel? Or simply more books of substance by women? Women have stories to tell. Especially about travel. Are women simply not writing about their experiences? Or are they being written and told by a publisher that unless it coincides with the typical gender expectations that it won’t make it to the shelves. The female gender has made it past the point of being able to write only home and garden type columns, or what to wear to fit a certain body type.

Now it may sound like I am bashing the women who have books on the shelves. My response is no I’m not. I am simply stating that the whole picture of female travel is incomplete. Yes, there are women who go to these places and make it a top priority to look good, you can take a look back to when I had photoshoots done in Paris and Barcelona. But there are also female travelers who run around wearing the same pants for days on end, whose hair is matted into dreads and has blades of grass wrapped inside. There are women who travel with children and raise families on the road while being a digital nomad and supporting her two loves. These are stories that could inspire an entirely different group to see the world.

Women have stories and they should be heard. In the past 5 years I have had the pleasure of meeting a variety of female travelers, they create their own maps and guides. Women who have sailed around the Caribbean at eighteen, women who have hiked to Machu Picchu, women that pack up and move to Japan all while raising a child, and women that move to Australia just because her instincts told her to. To miss out on these stories is to miss out on half of the big picture. We are out there and we are seeing the same countries as men, but from a woman’s perspective the same country could be a different world altogether.

Naturally Urban

Many have heard of random places throughout Japan that boast an uncommon amount of wildlife like foxes, rabbits, cats. In Nara, it’s deer. The deer have been a staple part of the cities life that without them the city wouldn’t be the same. What has caused such a high population? Legends, of course.

The legends go like this, when the city was built the god Takemikazuchi arrived on a white deer to protect the city. They are the steeds of the Gods and messing with them comes with consequences. Up until the good ol days of 1637 it was punishable by death to harm one of these deer, unfortunately after World War II they were no longer considered sacred and were stripped of the status, which I’m sure the deer themselves didn’t notice….but they are still national treasures. Talk about a demotion though.

The deer themselves are considered wild but act quite tame. They mind their business unless they want something and that something is usually always food. Shika-Senbei are available for purchase all throughout Nara park, these are essentially deer crackers. Pretty tasteless and have a cardboard consistency which I learned through trial and error the same way I learned to not put them in my back pocket or you might find a deer trying to get too friendly. But the deer go crazy and will chase you down for them, the more polite deer will kindly bow for the crackers, a lovely trick I’m sure was taught by the humans around them.

This city is a must do for any animal lover! The day I spent in Nara Park was completely magical and left me feeling like a modern Snow White. All in all if you find yourself in Japan take a weekend and go down to Nara, won’t regret it.