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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Rio de Janeiro.

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Ipanema Beach

I arrived in Rio de Janeiro ready to take on Carnaval, which this year began on February 5th. It was my third time in Rio but my first time visiting during the city’s largest and wildest week of the year. I have little to say other then that I had an incredible time not only partying with the blocos on the streets, but also of having the priviledge of parading in costume with a samba school at Sapucaí, the world famous Carnaval parade. I was also able to watch up close the other samba schools parade until morning in one of the Sambodromo’s exclusive camarotes. Here are some photos from my time in Rio!

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View of Rio from the top of Morro dois Irmaos.

 

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Street art at the Vidiga Favela
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Behind the scenes waiting to parade in the Sambodromo.
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My costume!

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Florianopolis.

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Praia Mole

I fell in love with Florianopolis, which was my first introduction to the south of Brazil. The capital city of the state of Santa Catarina, “Floripa” is made up mostly of an island called Ilha de Santa Catarina, which is 54km long. With a population of under 500,000, it has the third highest Human Development Index score among all Brazilian cities. I was fortunate to couch surf with an actual surfer who lived just off Lagoa da Conceição, the heart of the island, next to Praia Joaquina. The beaches are undoubtedly the most beautiful that I have seen in the entire country. I quickly learned that just one weekend was not enough to explore the island, and so I kept extending my stay. One week later, I realized I had to move on so that I could make it in time to Rio de Janeiro for Carnaval in the first week of February. After Florianopolis I planned to visit Ilha do Mel in Paraná and Ilha Grande in the state of Rio de Janeiro before going to it’s capital city. I was incredibly sad to leave, for it was the first city in Brazil where I felt that I could truly live in.

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Praia Matadeiro

I lived life in Floripa in the style of a local spending their summer weekends on the island. Late mornings at the beach, açai na tigela in the small town center as a late afternoon snack, and staying until sunset at yet another beach, watching surfers catch the last waves of the day. Over the weekend, spending all afternoon and evening at the beach until we reached a beach party, followed by a party at a club in the wealthy Jurerê neighborhood until morning. Sounds like the Hamptons in New York, or Miami, doesn’t it? It’s a privileged lifestyle, a bubble in the country currently in an economic crisis and abundant in corruption, skyrocketing unemployment rates, a widening income gap, and an entirely basic quality of life. Floripa is an extremely wealthy city, and most people who live specifically around the Lagoa da Conceição are staying at their summer home. Ferraris, Porsches, and Range Rovers are comfortably parked outside the clubs in Jurerê. There isn’t any problem walking in the streets at night. Assault and theft is rare. People respect the rules and have respect for others, and are generally considered law-abiding citizens. Yes, this may be a slightly distorted perception given that it is summer, and along with that comes tourists from all over the world and creating a densely populated center. But this doesn’t mean that everything changes when the tourists leave; the heavy traffic may subside, but the buses will still be clean, orderly, and function on schedule. People will still be nice and courteous. The restaurants will still have vegetarian and organic options. The people and the beaches will still be as gorgeous as ever, and the surfers will still wake up at dawn to catch the best waves. People will still work to live and to travel, and not the other way around.

It took 30 minutes to hike through the hill and down to "Secret Beach." It was well worth the trek - we had the beach to ourselves!
It took 30 minutes to hike through the hill and down to “Secret Beach.” It was well worth the trek – we had the beach to ourselves!

It comes as no surprise that Brazilians want to live here. Most of locals I met were transplants from the states of Rio de Janeiro, Paraná, São Paulo, or Rio Grande do Sul, all living in Floripa for five years or more. They moved for a host of reasons: to surf, for more temperate weather, to live in a small town with the infrastructure of a big city, for the more relaxed lifestyle, for the athletic and beautiful people.

Visiting this city was a shock to my system – it was the biggest surprises in my travels so far. Coming from the northeast of Brazil, I had this perception of the country that was far more homogeneous. I thought that the third-world qualities of the state of Pernambuco, although more severe, were also characteristic of the rest of the country. My first thoughts were why I hadn’t been to Florianopolis before, and why my mother didn’t think to bring me here when I came to the country to visit family. Geographically Floripa is very far from Recife and a flight, usually unnecessarily expensive, is the only option. Those in the south such as in São Paulo can easily drive or take an overnight bus. But what I still couldn’t grasp is how Brazilians from the northeast didn’t make it a point to visit this part of the country. Only one person in my immediate family has ever been there. More foreigners have set foot onto its beaches than people from my region of Brazil. Perhaps it’s because they’ll only feel the similar frustration and anger that I felt: why can’t where I come from be like this too?

Ignorance is bliss, but ignorance also stunts our awareness and prevents change. It’s a micro example of what happens when we travel: the more you know, the more you’ll feel. And you won’t only feel joy. You’ll feel frustration, sadness, anger, surprise, jealousy, numbness, disenchantment, and indifference. And with all of those feelings you’ll become smarter. You’ll relate to more people, to feel more of what they feel. You’ll sympathize with where they come from, and where they want to go. You’ll learn to judge with compassion. You’ll begin to understand just how complex societies are and how they can differ even within the same city. In my ignorance, I thought I knew what Brazil was all about. I didn’t even plan on coming to Brazil on this trip – it was a last minute decision, one that I am so happy I made. I still haven’t come close to truly understanding this country, but I am slowly learning just how complex and beautiful it is.

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Praia Jurerê