Berlin.

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“The Wave,” an off the beaten path hike at Coyote Buttes near the border of Utah and Arizona.

The last time I had written I had just returned to New York, and was reflecting on my time backpacking for more than half the year. I now write to you at the eleventh hour, again. I am leaving New York, but it won’t be a temporary adventure this time around. For the first time in my life I truly have no return date. I’m moving to the European continent to start a new phase of my life in Berlin, Germany.

My adventures didn’t end when I came back to the United States. In fact, I had a very busy summer, one of the busiest in recent years. After landing in New York I had some of June and the month of July to reconnect with my family and friends and with my beloved city before heading back to south america, where my mother, stepfather, stepbrother and I made a family trip to the Summer Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. It was a bucket-list moment to be able to watch the opening ceremony live at Maracanã Stadium, and to attend a variety of Olympic games in the days after the opening. Although chaotic as expected, it was truly incredible to see the world come together in one of the world’s most beautiful cities. While I was in Brasil I made a last-minute surprise trip to see my family in Recife, and to see my cousin’s newborn baby. Even though I had just seen my family in February, I knew I couldn’t exactly say when it would be the next time that I would return to visit them.

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Opening Ceremony for the Summer Olympic Games in Rio.
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My mother and I at the Lagoa Rodrigo de Freitas, the venue hosting the rowing matches during the Olympics.
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View from the Sugarloaf Mountain, overlooking Rio’s famous skyline.
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At the Opening Ceremony in Maracanã Stadium.

I was in New York less than a week before I found myself exploring the exotic landscapes of the USA. I took a road trip to California, Utah, and Arizona, where I realized I needn’t even leave my own country to immerse myself in hikers’ paradise. However exotic it may be to see vast, contrasting landscapes in places as Bolivia, Brasil, and Argentina, the beauty of the north american southwest and west coast rivals that of its south and central american counterparts. Five thousand miles on the road, more than 90 miles of hiking, and a busy three weeks visiting Sonoma Valley, Big Sur, Yosemite National Park, Lake Tahoe, and Sequoia National Park in California, Bryce Canyon, Zion National Park, and Arches National Park in Utah, and the Grand Canyon, Page, Horseshoe Bend, Lake Powell, and Antelope Canyon in Arizona, along with a one-night stop in Las Vegas. I felt so fortunate to have been able to take the time to visit the USA’s National Parks and to intensify my relationship with the outdoors. If I have a moment I will try and write a post about how to conquer the “American Road Trip,” an adventure markedly different from that of a nomadic backpacker, yet in a similar vein a time of personal growth and a test of physical and mental strength.

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16 mile hike to “Cloud’s Rest” at Yosemite National Park, California.
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Arches National Park, Utah.
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Camping at Lake Tahoe, California.
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Horseshoe Bend in Page, Arizona.
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Antelope Canyon in Page, Arizona.
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Bryce National Park, Utah.
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View from Observation Point, a 6 mile hike at Zion National Park, Utah.

I’ve neglected to mention one last piece to the puzzle that would explain with whom I was traveling with in various parts of south america, and who it was that came with me on my road trip on the west coast. Andy, the English backpacker who agreed to travel in northern Peru with me seven months ago, became more than just my travel partner. He and I are now dating, and it seems we couldn’t shirk that traveling spirit once he and I returned home to our respective countries. We decided to take the road trip together so that he could also visit the United States for the first time, and because frankly it wasn’t easy going from spending day-in and day-out traveling together to living in very different time zones. He is back in England now, and we’re both happy that in light of my upcoming move we will at least be a much shorter, 2 hour flight away from one another.

So where did Germany come from? In some older posts I had mentioned that I was considering going to graduate school and living in Berlin as early as the days when  backpacking in Bolivia in late March. After applying for and getting accepted to a graduate program in Berlin, I knew I was headed for Europe within the year. But I felt called to moving sooner than September 2017. I wanted to start working beforehand to settle into the city I would call home for an indeterminate amount of time. And in the back of my mind I also knew that if I began working within Berlin’s startup scene, I would have the opportunity to become more involved with the tech community there, and to then be able to lay out all my options on the table and make a more educated decision about what my next step should be.

Hustle: the best word to describe my two months spent this fall after returning from the west coast. And indeed I had been hustling, with a daily commitment to studying for my GRE exams, applying for jobs, and seeking out as many connections in Berlin as I could. People did have their doubts; I was told that I didn’t have much of a chance to find my dream job, and that I should expect to wait tables when I arrived. After all, I don’t speak a word of German, I don’t have EU citizenship, and there aren’t enough jobs in Berlin even for Germans. But I didn’t let any of those things deter me. I kept at it, and the initial hurdle gave way to one opportunity after another. It still amazes me how almost overnight, with a flip of a switch I became not just one of many job applicants but a singular, highly desired applicant. I was shown that with hard work, unwavering dedication, and not giving up truly paves the way for exactly what is supposed to happen, when it’s supposed to happen.

And now, just one day shy of exactly five months after returning to New York from Tulum, I’m getting on a plane once again. It took me some time to get my things together, as I knew I couldn’t pack with the mentality of a backpacker anymore. I was really moving, and I needed clothes that functioned in the real world and in the extreme cold. I spent hours ridding myself of years of personal belongings that have outlived its purpose. I said my metaphorical goodbyes to childhood treasures and keepsakes, and placing those items I wanted to keep in their proper places in my room. As I write this, I notice that my bedroom finally looks like home; I have yet to understand why it has to be right now, when I am ready to leave, that my room has become its most welcoming, its most authentically me. After all the mental and physical purging, I condensed my future life into one large suitcase and two carry-on suitcases, plus a small backpack to hold my computer.

Yes, this new phase of my life is scary and stressful and nerve-wracking. But in a good way. I’m about to jump head-first into a completely new urban cultural and artistic center, whose people will be chatting away in a language I don’t speak, in a country I’ve never lived in before, on a continent I’ve only lived in previously for a total of six months. I hope that Berlin will accept me in the same ways that New York has embraced me. I hope in the not so distant future that I will be able to comfortably call Europe home in the same way that I’ve called the USA home for almost my entire life. Only time will tell; as of now, I have no expectations and no timeline. Traveling has always tried to bring me back to the present and has nudged me to live in the moment. In many ways this will be a great way to put this practice to the test, in the real-world, and with more permanence. I’ll be given the chance to begin at zero. And without the vestiges of New York to find its way into the fabric of my daily routine, as it had done so each time I came home from traveling, in the truest sense of the phrase, I have a fresh start.

It’s overwhelming and amazing, as in this photo of me standing below the world’s tallest trees, in Sequoia National Park, but at the same time I wouldn’t want life to be any other way.

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Jericoacoara.

My pre-departure letter was where I first mentioned that my writing in South America were going to be part of a social experiment. I wrote that this blog is a device I intend to use in place of a private journal, so that I can learn the effects of exposing my writing to the public and with the internet as it’s medium. And thus far my writing has been honest, yet tame. However, while in Jericoacoara, the remote beach town 300 km away from Fortaleza in the northeast of Brazil, I experienced for the first time extreme reactions to my post about Recife, linked here. Staying true to the uncensored quality of this blog, I would like to elaborate.(Some commentary and photos of my time in “Jeri” are at the end of the post).

The post entitled “Recife” is the most provocative I have written thus far, yet if you read it now you probably wouldn’t agree with me. That’s because, being completely contrary to the self-imposed rules I’ve created, I had to delete some paragraphs. Before I hit “publish” I had written a much longer post, one that included commentary about my visit to see my maternal grandfather and my views about his marital status, observations of household values that were in reference to specific members of my family, and a reflection on the varying degrees of meaningful exchange I have with family and with travelers on the road. I slept on it and decided in the morning to trim these portions, but also with the intention of adding them back in at a later date, after the potential initial rush of family members read the post as soon as it was published. My intention was to subtly make the changes so that few would notice, and also to indirectly avoid any conflict or hurt feelings between the parties involved.

When the post finally went live on my birthday I didn’t think that anyone would have any concern with this unknowingly edited version. But, the edited version is not what is available now. I removed one paragraph, which I’ve pasted here:

“But I see it differently. I see it as a reflection of ignorance. The more I travel, the more I come back to this notion of ignorance. I see just how different my life is from theirs, not so much in the day-to-day but in the grander scheme of how different my life is just because of the place where I grew up. Because of how different my mother’s life became after she moved to New York.”

I will not describe exactly where this was placed, but it’s not difficult to figure out the context. What I can say is that it was removed after receiving an email from a friend of the family, one that I have known most of my life and who has always been a very important part of my “New York family.” I was told that the entire post, if read by members of my family, would be hurtful to them and that it was in my best interest to take it down immediately. I was also told that much of what I wrote needed to be shared personally with a therapist. I wanted to confirm if any of these sentiments were felt by the person who reads my blog the most and whose family is in question, my mom. And so after several whatsapp audio exchanges I decided to take only this particular paragraph down. I asked my mom if she was ashamed or embarrassed by my honesty and of what I wrote, and she said that she was not. Rather she didn’t feel comfortable with my using the word “ignorance” in the context I had placed it in. It was solely because of her that I removed this portion, but I also made her aware that my next post would be discussing this in great detail. Although very personal and detailed, my recollection of both this email and the exchange with my mother publicly to you, the reader, is all part of this experiment.

While I will not privately respond to this person, I will say publicly that I welcome all reactions to my posts and I encourage them to be made publicly in the comments section, the way others have done so far. After all, if any reader of my blog truly understands the point of it all by not only reading that pre-departure letter but by reading all of my previous posts, they would know that this is the blog’s purpose. There is a deliberate and thoughtful reason to why I write in this way. And as a result, I want to read not only the encouragement and the love but also the frustration, the anger, the shame. I want to create the dialogue that I wish I could’ve had with my family in Recife. I want to arouse in others the raw emotions that I yearn to feel every single day while I travel. I want people to know that travel is all about feeling things across the entire spectrum: the good and the bad, the beautiful and the ugly, the right and the wrong, the selflessness and the egotism, the strengths and the weaknesses. It is no surprise to me that along with this reactive email I also received extreme praise from other loved ones about this very post, both privately and publicly. The post was also re-blogged by a complete stranger to his blog of 800+ followers. It is a well known fact that with every piece of art made, every article written, every speech given, every opinion expressed, there will be varying interpretations. There will be conflict. There will be as much of a divide as there will be unity. And as such, all of the effects of my writings are welcome.

And so, the experiment continues.

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“Pedra Furada”

Jericoacoara Beach one of the most beautiful parts of Brasil that I have ever been to, and I was so grateful to spend four and a half days enjoying this paradise. To get there is not easy: you either take a 6 hour bus followed by a 1.5 hour 4×4 transfer or a private, 4.5 hour 4×4 truck from Fortaleza airport. The roads for the last 45 minutes are bumpy and unlit: the nature of one’s arrival makes almost all visitors feel as if they’re on an island. Jeri is known for it’s vast expanse of sand dunes and fresh water lagoons. Nearest to the town are sand dunes that hover a long stretch of beach and calm ocean, oftentimes windy enough for the kite surfers to play. These dunes are the backdrop to the lush greenery of the town itself. Everyone within town by foot; motor vehicles aren’t allowed except the dune buggys that are used for day trips to the nearby lagoons. In Jeri you’ll find fresh fish, açai and vegetable juices, yoga classes, and stores whose floors are covered in sand selling all sorts of beachwear. Along the streets women crochet beautiful summer tops and bikinis while tattoo-covered hippies sell handmade jewelry with feathers and stones. There aren’t any ATMs in Jeri, but I did go to a Thai restaurant run by a French owner who brought in a chef from Thailand five months ago. The food was so authentic it brought me right back to Chiang-Mai.  At 5:30pm everyone climbs the dunes to see the gorgeous sunset that is followed by a local capoeira group. Practicing to the music and songs of a berimbau and drums, the all white-clad dancers and musicians almost glow in the dark, evoking the traditional customs of Bahia. All night forró happens on Thursday and Saturday nights, with traditional Samba on Friday nights. Every night of the week there is a beach party with some local DJs, where you can order caipifrutas made from fresh maracujá, kiwi, abacaxi, caju, siriguela, and various other tropical fruits from endless number of drink stands at the beach’s entrance. It’s no wonder that you’ll find visitors from all over the world here to enjoy the warmth and spirit of the northeast of Brasil.

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the fallen tree
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Paradise Lagoon
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Panorama of the sand dunes
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Capoeira

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One of Jeri’s beautiful sunsets
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Horseback riding on the sand dunes
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View of the lush, green town center from the dunes
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Caipirinhas made from a variety of tropical fruits
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Recife.

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Palm Trees in Porto de Galinhas

This is the post I have been putting off writing for a number of reasons. One is that it forces me to confront this city through the eyes of what feels like two different people. The first is through the eyes of someone who has been visiting Recife at least once per year since she was six months old, and who lived here when she was young. The other is from the viewpoint of someone so far removed from the day-to-day lives of her family, someone who grew up in New York accustomed to the American way of life. I am confronted with so many emotions each time I come to Recife, oftentimes conflicting with one another and lasting well into my return to the states. With each visit it becomes more difficult to adapt and to blend in with my family’s habits and underlying ethos. I should mention that my mother knows all too well the roller coaster of scenarios thrown at me in Recife and of all the emotions that result from it, for she has been either present to witness my experiences or she has been my soundboard to listen to the variations of my distress when I come here on my own. I know she struggles with seeing her daughter go through a partial identity crisis as she probably feels many of the same things as I do as a woman who left her home country at my current age.

This trip to Recife is the first time I visit while traveling for an extended period of time. It was originally meant to serve has a 2 week break from backpacking –  a way to rest and not worry about where I was going to sleep or how I was going to get to my next destination. I would have homemade food and family members to drive me from one place to another. I would have clothes to borrow so I wouldn’t tire of the ones I had been traveling with. I would have the comforts of home.

I am nearing the end of these two weeks, and I find that this was the most difficult trip to Recife thus far. At first I thought it was a mistake to come here – I knew some of the issues that I would face from past experiences, and I was afraid being here would throw me out of travel-mode and make me too dependent on others. But in my heart I knew a break was needed; I had been traveling two and a half months and planned to continue another three to four months.  Being here has taught me a lot of difficult things about my place within my family and my association with being a Brasilian citizen. I’ve learned just how much my lifetime of travels have affected how I perceive my family and my country, as well as how almost everything else is interconnected and shaping me every single day.

My mom was the only child in the family to move away from home. She has been living in New York for 29 years, officially longer than the amount of time she lived in Recife. She became accustomed to life as an American citizen. She raised a daughter as an American – more specifically, as a New Yorker. I am an only child. I always felt the closest thing I had to siblings were my first cousins in Brasil. And so when I visit I have this expectation that because we are related and because I grew up spending time with them, that we have much in common and we will always have much to discuss. I see them the way I do some of my oldest friends, people that no matter how much time passes I can still talk to as if I saw them only yesterday.

However as the years pass and as we grow older, the more I see that this is not the case. My cousins have lived in this city their entire lives, and some of them have married and even one of them has an incredible little son. They are finding their place in this world. I am also finding my way, but our paths are moving in opposite directions. There is little I can hold on to, so little to talk about. Part of the reason is because I have a general sense of what they’re doing with their lives, but for some reason most of my family hasn’t any clue what I have been doing with my life beyond the photos I post to Instagram. Some of them are so out of touch they don’t even realize I am visiting them halfway between a six month backpacking journey across their own continent. Never-mind that most of them know little beyond the northeast of Brasil – I am not one to judge how far they’ve traveled or their reasons for traveling or not traveling to a particular place. What I do know is what I value in my relationships. I value conversation – a dialogue where we can learn from one another about where we’ve come from and where we are going next – both literally and figuratively. In a literal sense, no one seems to have an interest in where I travel to next on my journey. They don’t ask how my past two months have been, where I have gone, what I have learned. They don’t ask why I even chose to travel, and what I was doing beforehand that prompted this need to get out of New York. Perhaps it’s because they think they know me. They’ve seen me travel before, they know I have difficulty deciding what I am doing with my life. They know I am never tied down to any relationship, that I don’t have a child or even a pet to take care of. Maybe for them this is just the “same-old” for their niece, the same unorthodox routine for their cousin.

I have an increasingly more profound respect for my mom as I see what life could have been like for her, and what path she chose instead. I am steadily grateful that I was given the chance to experience so much just because of the city that I was born and raised in. And because I grew up in a liberal, open household. In a home where men and women are treated equally, where homosexuals are accepted exactly as they are, and where different religions are not only embraced but explored. Where doing things a little differently from everyone else is perfectly okay. Where speaking different languages is encouraged and where going to museums and shows are integrated into the monthly cultural calendar. Where travel is valued above all material possessions. I am acutely aware of how it could have been different.

Is my Brasilian family really home? My mother is my home until this day. My paternal grandmother was part of my childhood home. My father and his beloved partner of ten years were part of my childhood home. Recife is the other me that wants to try and be Brasilian too, who wants to fit in the mold of a Brasilian household. But it’s not really home. It’s a place where I can try and quench my thirst for nostalgia, for childhood, for preserving my Brasilian culture. Recife will always be here, and I know that I am always welcome. I come back each time with a blank slate, like a loyal dog that forgets its owner’s past faults and transgressions. Yet I keep thinking how every time I leave, I tell myself that I won’t be coming back unless it’s for an unmissable moment in my family’s lives, whether it be a wedding or a new baby. I always have hope that we have all grown up and reached a point where we can move towards crossing one another’s paths to find commonalities, but now I realize that my outlook may be too high. This is by no means my last time in Recife, but it is my last time here with the same expectations as before.

No one chooses their family. But they will always be simply that — my family. What I’ve tried so many times before was to reconcile the cultural differences and values I have with them and assume that we are not just family. Rather we can be a cohesive unit, one that can break the chains of ignorance together, one that can take the unique situation of having relatives from another culture and learn from one another. I wish that we could be friends, have commonalities, share what’s going on beyond the trivialities of our day-to-day. That conversations could crack the surface. Unfortunately I have not been able to do this at the level I had hoped. I feel sad that this is the case, but at the same time I accept that it is what life has given me. I can only take what I’ve learned and impart the same values that I hold true onto a future family of mine.

Despite all of this, my family is still there for me – whether I realize it or not, they think of me and care about me on a profoundly deep level. They are my blood and always will be. And they are truly incredible and beautiful people – despite our differences, I still hold them dear to me and I want to be as present as I can be in their lives.

Today is my birthday. The past few birthdays my thoughts seemed to center around this concept of family that currently I’m reflecting on in this post. It’s not any surprise that I chose to celebrate my birthday here. It’s as if I am deliberately celebrating this moment of significance in my life in a city and with people with whom I struggle greatly with. Birthdays are not just about the party: they are reminders of where we’ve come from and they guide us as we decide which door to open next.

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Celebrating my Birthday with my family
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Carnaval in the streets of Olinda

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Colorful houses in Olinda
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Street art in Olinda
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Porto de Galinhas
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Pipa Beach
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View of Pipa
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Low Tide at Praia do Amor, Pipa

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