A sunrise hike up Diamond Head crater
What would you do if you had more time? Would you travel more? Visit the friends and family you don’t see enough? Maybe try to learn something new?

During a prolonged vacation I did all of the above.

I arrived back to the US from Costa Rica (see previous post) thinking I would fly to France a few days later. Instead, there was some confusion about my start date and I ended up with five more weeks of vacation.

Let me clarify. By ‘vacation’ I mean unpaid time off between contracts. Normally, my contract in Florida would finish Oct. 30. I was given the estimated start date of November 8 for the following one in France. The correct date, I discovered, is Dec. 11.

Before crossing the Atlantic mid-winter, I did want some time off. The trade offs for two weeks of vacation were:
  • Reducing French teaching in the Bahamas from three weeks to two;
  • Decreasing my personal front desk training from one month to barely one week; and
  • Ending my contract on Oct. 25 instead of the 30.
To find out I could have avoided all this two weeks after making these decisions was frustrating to say the least.

There were also some other things to consider: I would be homeless for five weeks. In addition, this was unpaid time off so the funds in my bank account would only dwindle or worse, cease to exist.

For the first week I analyzed my options and tried to make plans. All my efforts reading books, sending e-mails, and conducting absurd amounts of Internet research felt like it went nowhere. Then, I stepped onto a plane to Honolulu.

A view of Honolulu, rainbow and all
I left on a one-way ticket and only two days booked at a hostel. The rest I would figure out depending on how things progressed.

This was probably the craziest thing I’ve done to date. Somehow though, it all worked out.

After a week I started working at a hostel in exchange for housing. The job came with other great perks too: free tours, free laundry, and even free stays at other hostels.

Now, two weeks later, my vacation is coming to a close and I should be in France this time next week. It feels like I’ve been living a dream and reality is slowly creeping back in. 

Truth be told, this vacation came with many great experiences. I got to travel to paradise, visit my family, and become part of new ones, like the Hawaii Team Drum Line. I even tried to tap into my artsy side with Ukelele and Hula lessons.

You never know when it will happen to you, so I suggest thinking about it now. What would you do with more time?

Check out all my photos from Hawaii here.

As I waited in the departure terminal for Costa Rica, I was joined by some interesting travelers. Their styles channeled Rasta, surfer, Bohemian, and hippie-chic fashion.

They sported ex-Officio gear, packs filled taller than themselves, and the occasional butt-length dread locks. Some “typical” travelers were also scattered about—business men and women, families, and school-aged groups.

I toted an oversized backpack alongside my casual travel suitcase. I was styled with a scarf wrapped around my mini-afro and my nice, dark wash jeans were rolled up to prevent fraying. I had no trouble finding my place on the flight; and I sat day-dreaming about the things we would discover in the land of pura vida

I came with no concrete plans —my sole intention was to relax. Still, I did a few activities, including:

1. Wandering around cities outside the capital;
2. Touring an active volcano and its hot springs;
3. Attending a live musical performance at the National Theater; and most importantly,
Volcano Arenal
4. Spending time alone to clear my head.

I enjoyed everything but felt the greatest benefit from having time alone. I was not anti-social; I comfortably nestled myself among the varied groups of people I came across, but I did spend a lot of time in solitude. 

Sometimes I sat alone in public parks. Other times, 

I lacked solitude in physical space but remained concentrated on my thoughts during long bus rides.

There was ample time to do so in Costa Rica, or so it seemed. The hours felt endless and I found myself writing, then scratching many things off to-do lists. My biggest feat was creating an extensive series of spreadsheets for my five year plan. 

Above all else, getting organized was pura vida for me. I wonder what the other travelers discovered...

Jaco Beach

Check out the rest of the photos from my trip here.

I once heard a story about two nomads who left the same town:

When the first arrived in a new place he asked a stranger, “What are the people like here?”

“Well”, the stranger responded, “What were they like where you came from?”
“They were hateful, greedy, rude, and impolite. That’s why I decided to leave.
“Well,” said the stranger, “They are the same here.”
“Alright, I’ll continue looking for a perfect place.” Said the nomad.

Shortly thereafter, the second nomad arrived and came across the same stranger.
“What are people like here?” he asked.
The stranger asked again, “What are the people like where you came from?”
“They were loving, kind, welcoming, and gracious.”
“Well,” the stranger responded again, “They are the same here.”

This was shared with me the day before I would leave the United States for the first time. It was the example the Peace Corps provided to prepare volunteers for service in places we eventually call home.
The work goal I created six months ago.

Getting to that point is not easy, however. The Peace Corps was actually one of the most challenging adventures I have experienced thus far, especially at the end. It was during the last three months in Togo that I really began to doubt my impact and wonder if anything I did made a difference.

Leaving my job this week brought back many of the same feelings. In the months prior, as I started to phase myself out, I felt like my place had been insignificant. I thought that memories of my year here would easily be overwritten in my co-workers’ minds. Yet, I was not upset by this; it just meant I could continue on in search of my perfect home.

What a mistake. I forgot to reflect on how the year impacted me. I could speculate the feelings of others until the end of time but the only things I could be sure of are the experiences that I felt

So many of them came back today. Each goodbye gave me a moment to reflect on some positive experience I shared with the person looking back at me. Eventually, I was brought to tears and by my 5 a.m. departure, I struggled through sobs. I am glad hugs are a universal language.

This year was a good one. Challenging at times, yes, but I would repeat it in a heart beat. I have a new place to call home and this is quite comforting given my current state of "homelessness" until France. 

I left a place filled with loving, kind, welcoming and gracious people. At least I know that wherever I go, the people will be the same there.

Part of the loving, kind, gracious and welcoming team.

It has been months since my last post but not for a lack of things to say. Time just sped by and still shows no signs of letting up. In an attempt to catch up, I will back track through some exciting highlights then share the exciting things next to come.

Stepping back - 

My performance as a Scary Spice in one of the shows.
The major reason I have not updated is because I am involved in the resort in many new ways. I started performing in a couple of shows, teaching fitness classes, and attending regular cocktails/socials. I also took on new responsibilities in my primary jobs of HR and training.

I enjoy it all but helping other departments takes a lot of energy and precious free time. Luckily, the department managers appreciate the help and take notice. Just a few weeks ago I was selected as the employee of the month. During the announcement they mentioned it was a unanimous decision from the selection committee.

I was honored, of course, but the award did not lighten my workload. I continued at the same pace until I began to worry it was too much. Then it was time for a vacation. 

It was four months overdue but I finally got one week off. I decided to spend it at the Cancun resort with a co-worker and we were joined by two others during the trip. 

Mexico was amazing. I do n't think I did enough relaxing but I did things I never thought to plan. I went snorkeling, visited Mayan ruins, and practiced a whole lot of Spanish.

Jumping ahead -

I came back from Cancun almost as busy as before. Fortunately, soon after my return came some exciting news to look forward to:

1. I will be traveling to the Bahamas to teach the local staff French...and...

2. My next season will be spent in the country I've wanted since the beginning---La France!!

There are a couple of drawbacks though. 

As I am not a native French speaker, nor have I taught it before, I am a bit worried about how everything will turn out in the Bahamas. The same goes for my next season in France. I switched to reception to widen my travel possibilities which means I have to learn a new job while perfecting my French for our upscale clientele.

Nevertheless, I am honored. I am grateful and I am in disbelief. Both places have been written down in my notebook of "locations to visit" since I started working here--my scribbles are becoming reality. T.S. Eliot must have felt these feelings when he said "Sometimes things become possible if we want them bad enough."
I stopped eating meat more than four years ago. Even when I was in Togo and it was culturally unacceptable to reject meat when offered, I managed to avoid it. 

The only compromises I made were if I was not told something was prepared with meat until after I consumed it; and occasionally when a sauce was prepared with meat but it had since been removed.

However, a lot about my lifestyle has changed since Togo. My job comes with a busy schedule and limited control over things like my diet. Sure, I am pampered with three fabulous meals per day but sometimes I wish I had more control.

This was most difficult as I revved up my running to train for a half marathon. For several weeks, I found myself hungry and tired more often but still had to stick with the three meals a day routine. I could not just whip up homemade protein snacks like I did in Togo, so I began to glance at other items on the buffet to supplement my higher protein and iron needs.

The meat section tempted me most. At first I dismissed the idea and piled the beans, tofu, and quinoa a little higher on my plate. Then, after a few weeks of soul searching and inner debate, I decided to give meat a one month trial. 

I ate exactly two lamb-beef gyros and several varieties of fish. I tried mahi-mahi, tilapia, salmon, and swordfish, at none of my own expense. 

Contrary to what I was told, adding meat to my diet marked no adverse reactions. I experienced no noticeable digestion problems nor did it change my running performance or overall health.

The major change I noticed was my perception of meat consumption. Each time I laid a piece of meat on my plate I felt guilty. I felt bad for eating an animal and worst of all, I felt like I failed as a vegetarian.

The funny thing is, I had nothing to prove--to myself or anyone else. Most of my friends actually encouraged my meat consumption. 

Still, each time I ate meat I felt like I was letting myself down.

I continued like this for a few weeks until I had another realization: I missed my beans. Fish was delicious too but I missed the good old beans, grains, and legumes that functioned as my only protein/iron sources for so long.

I did not finish the month before I went back to a vegetarian lifestyle.

Now, I have no plans to eat meat in the near future--I actually want to experiment with limiting all animal products, including dairy, honey, and eggs. 

However, I realize now that four years of labeling myself as  a vegetarian might have pigeon holed my beliefs too tight. 

Instead, I plan to live with new rules. I will eat what I want whenever I feel it is right. That might include some meat or none at all---but let's be honest, my plate will probably always include lots of vegetables.

Today I completed my first half marathon. That is to say, I ran the farthest I ever have in my life 13.1 miles nonstop.

My manager, Laura, also completed the race.
I was not in the race to win a prize or for the glory. I paid the $99.20 race fee simply to challenge myself and see if I could do it. Just making it through the race was enough for me; I finished with an unimpressive time of 2 hours and 42 minutes.

Of course, I prepared for it over last few months but I think my training actually began two years ago. Before January 2012 I could not run at all. It was that year I made it my New Year’s resolution to start exercising regularly. 

I followed a zero to 5k plan, essentially doing walk/run intervals for eight weeks until I could run the whole thing. Sadly, a week after I completed the program I started to backtrack. I felt so discouraged that I almost gave up on running all together.

Instead, I opted to try P90X. I made it to around 45 days of the 90 before I longed to run again. At that point, I did not want to do it for exercise alone. I realized that missing my morning run changed my entire day. Even on the hard runs, when my performance was not at its best, I felt great afterward. 

That is exactly how I felt today. In no way did I find the half marathon to be easy. It was challenging especially during the last few miles. It is just that the feeling at the end is worth the discipline and occasional struggle. 

Two years ago I could not run one minute. Today I ran almost three hours (though slowly) and it sure does feel great.

The end.
Lately I find myself at the end of many relationships. Sure, nothing lasts forever but these days it seems like I end more relationships than I start.
Even the best year of my life so far, 2013, included more goodbyes than ever major ones in fact. When I left Togo I said goodbye to people I might never see again. I also severed ties with my largest social network when I deleted Facebook account.
Still, the goodbyes have not stopped. I said a lot of goodbyes to get to Club Med and here it is a part of my job. I become friends with the guests during their stay only to end our relationship with their departure a few days later.
My role in human resources also makes me one of the last to see my co-workers leave. Unlike a normal work relationship, employees here are the people who I work and live with.
Letting go is hard each and every time. In their own way, individual relationships combine to make me who I am. 

Even the ones that suck, the ones that were full of bliss, and the ones that just slip away. It is a sad realization that they have to end.
Fortunately, not all goodbyes are sad. Leaving Togo marked the beginning of my next journey at Club Med. I also discovered that without 1,000+ people to keep up with on Facebook, I can invest more heavily in the relationships that really count.
No matter how many times I do it I am still an amateur in the the art of saying goodbye. It is one of the few skills I may never want master and I am okay with that. 
I just wish there were fewer goodbyes.