Review – The Good Girl’s Guide to Getting Lost

Oct 06

Review – The Good Girl’s Guide to Getting Lost

When I started this book, I had already heard the author, Rachel Friedman, read two excerpts from it aloud – one of which I completely connected to because of the way she described the feeling of de-boarding an airplane in a foreign country with no job and no place to live. I’ve done that – so I instantly liked her.

But reading further into this memoir of self-discovery through travel, I found her experiences to be way more varied and adventurous than mine were. And I found myself becoming… well, a little bit jealous.

That’s not to say I regret anything I did or didn’t do while living and traveling in foreign countries – I did what I could within my means. But there was that month when, after returning home from London, I thought of leaving for an additional four months in Australia, and ultimately decided not to. But Rachel did – and that’s where our lives diverged.

Rachel’s journey starts in Ireland, where she finds herself avoiding her life back home. Her parents’ divorce, pressure to go to graduate school right after undergrad, and the sea of voices saying “welcome to the real world” were the inciting incidents, telling her to escape. She found an Australian roommate, a job at a bar, and a climate that invited her to stay in on rainy afternoons and read – something she relished. But during this first third of the book, I really didn’t feel that she found her footing as a traveler – as an explorer. She was more focused on running away from her life back home – and less able to articulate where it was she wanted to GO and WHY she wanted to go there.

This all changes when she gets to Australia. It is on this wild continent (that does in fact inspire the most sloth-like of homebodies to HAVE A FUCKING ADVENTURE OR GO HOME) she finally ventures out alone. She views sunrises and sunsets over the red earth at Uluru, she sees dangerous creatures that she never knew existed, and she realizes that she is way more daring than she thought she was capable of being. And she likes it.

In the last third of the book, she really makes peace with who she is as a person – the good and the bad. The adventurer and the one who longs for safety. As her and her daredevil friend Carly traverse “Death Road” – you witness Rachel growing more uneasy with her journey and more at home with the fact that some things about herself will never change. But she’s still up for the ride.

I found myself feeling lots of… feelings while reading this book. Some of it was almost painful in that way that things you miss ever so delicately pull at your heartstrings and make you want to leap from your couch and GO BACK! I kept saying to John, “Really, we need to make sure we can travel somewhere cool and interesting at least ONCE A YEAR. Otherwise, we can’t live a happy life.” I was making inane, silly statements like that during the entire two-week period I was reading this book. John went along with it, of course, but even he could sense the odd desperation in my voice. Because one thing this book does make you want to do is go on an adventure. The way she describes the life she is leading in opposition to her friends back home in 9-5 jobs literally puts a lump in your throat and forces to re-evaluate every step you’ve taken since getting off the plane back to America.

I kept wanting her to come out on the other side of this journey and have some answer for me. Because those parts of myself I found while in London are my most precious parts, and I try desperately every day to hang on to them. And I was sure she would be able to tell me how to live a stable life and still have that sense of adventure – to keep her traveler’s mentality intact while saving for retirement. But she couldn’t. And I think it’s because no one can. The solace that she was able to provide me with was that it is the search – it is the adventure of life that you have to be willing to accept – and it is the everyday challenges that can sometimes be just as harrowing and exciting as riding a bike down Bolivia’s Death Road. It all comes down to how you decide to navigate it.

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Honeymoon in Costa Rica

Sep 30

Honeymoon in Costa Rica

As John and I were considering where to spend the first week or so of wedded bliss, many different locations crossed our minds. Our first choice was Iceland, which we both thought seemed exotic and different and unexpected. And then we looked for flights – Iceland wasn’t going to happen on our budget.

Our thoughts then fell to locations in the Caribbean (therefore cheaper to get to), so we could splurge on accommodations, which was super important, because when else in our lives will it be totally acceptable to book a room with a private jacuzzi AND full size swimming pool on our patio? We looked at Jamaica, Bermuda, St. Lucia – all the regulars. But nothing really stuck out. Costa Rica arrived as a thought, without either of us knowing what was appealing about it. Neither of us had been there before, and we didn’t know much about Central America. But we saw pictures of people flying through rain forests hooked to nothing but a cable the size of my pinkie, paired with amazing beaches and monkeys swinging from trees – and we knew we had found our honeymoon location. We had 7 days to spend there – and we decided to divide our time between the sunny, beachy Manuel Antonio on the Pacific Coast, and the rainy, green Arenal/Monteverde area in the northern central part of the country. Our flights from Orlando to San Jose, and then back to Los Angeles, were less than $400 each – which allowed us to focus our budget on the perks of fancy resorts.

Once in San Jose, we rented a car from Budget for the entire 7-day trip – all total about $500 – and completely and totally worth it. We had to do ALOT of driving to get around in Costa Rica, and I don’t think that we would have experienced the country in the same way if we were on a tour bus. And from what I’ve read, public transportation in Costa Rica is not something you can rely on. We didn’t do anything in San Jose – by the time we landed we had been in wedding-land for 3 days straight and we were ready to be either on a beach or in a bed – or in a bed on the beach…

So, we picked up our car and headed out of the capital city on the teeny, tiny, confusing roads taking us to Manuel Antonio. Oh, and a GPS is really important there – because the roads do not have names. Not kidding, the roads actually don’t have names. You look at a map, it’s lines. There are no names. I cannot emphasize this enough. The mainland part of our trip to Manuel Antonio was slightly tedious, but the payoff came when our route made a sharp turn and all of a sudden, there was the glistening Pacific to our right. It’s akin to the PCH here in California, but untouched, serene, and so much… wilder. We passed through groves upon groves of palm trees, farmed specifically for an oil that is then used in a wide range of cosmetics and beauty products. They are called African Oil Palms, have a very distinct smell, and apparently have proved quite a profitable and controversial industry in Costa Rica. While they do create many jobs, these trees aren’t native, and are thought to threaten the biodiversity of the land.

We passed through Quepos (the town just outside of Manuel Antonio), got lost at least twice on the one-way roads big enough for about three bikes, and started our ascent up to Issimo Suites, about a quarter of a mile from the entrance to the National Park. Issimo Suites, along with Tabåcon, where we stayed later, is the product of HOURS of internet searching and comparing amenities and prices, mostly by John. Issimo Suites rests on a cliff overlooking the Pacific Ocean, is about a 10 minute walk from the entrance to the nearest beach (by entrance I mean a barely discernable pathway through the woods), and about a 3 minute drive to the entrance to the National Park. It has less than 10 suites, meaning that you feel like you are alone there all the time, which is WONDERFUL.

The staff of 3 does EVERYTHING, from bartending, cooking, cleaning, working the front desk, and making repairs. And they are so incredibly friendly. Our suite was, of course, the Honeymoon Suite, and featured a bathroom that looked like it had been carved out of an ancient grotto, a full kitchen and dining area, floor to ceiling windows overlooking the Pacific Ocean, and an enormous patio complete with a full sized pool AND hot tub. It was, in one word, heaven. Once we saw the inside of our suite, we pretty much decided that we didn’t need to go anywhere else for the remainder of the trip, and we really didn’t need to return to the United States… ever.

But we did venture out the next day, after a refreshing dip in the pool, to explore the rocky beaches and swim in the Pacific (I swam while John watched, he’s seen too much Shark Week). We also spent an entire day at Parque Nacional Manuel Antonio, where we walked 3 miles along the coast and through the forest, saw white faced monkeys, iguanas, and what can best be described as crabs that looked like satan.

When our time drew to a close in Manuel Antonio, we were sad to leave, and wary about the next destination. What if it wasn’t as great as Issimo? Should we have just stayed here the full 7 days? How could anything possibly top the luxury we had just immersed ourselves in for the past 3 days?

The answer, Tabåcon. On the trip from Manuel Antonio to Arenal (about 5 hours, but really entertaining since you think you are going to either die or kill someone else around every curve), we kept trying to psyche ourselves up for our destination by repeating a chant that goes like this: “Tabåcon, Tabåcon, everybody Tabåcon!” As if Tabåcon was something someone could actively DO, or a state of mind that we recommended everybody else get on board with. We were determined that it was going to be amazing, and that it was going to TOP Issimo. The happiness of our honeymoon depended on it!

And it was, and it did. Tabåcon is a FIVE STAR RESORT, and when I put that in all caps I mean to say, “I have never been anywhere this fancy and probably never will be again because this place is the closest to perfection that ever existed.” The resort is in the middle of the rain forest. It’s quiet, green, and spread out over about 3 acres of land. The rooms are modern and luxurious, with fluffy robes & slippers, hot tubs in your living room, and again, the floor to ceiling windows.

Perhaps the coolest part of Tabåcon is the spa – complete with pools upon pools created by natural hot springs buried deep in the jungle, and a full-menu spa featuring massages, facials, and mud wraps. John and I swam in all the pools at least once, some 3 or 4 times, sat behind the waterfall and people watched through the crashing wall of water coming down over our heads, and ordered cocktails at the swim up bar in the large pool with the view of the Volcan Arenal – the active Volcano about a mile away from Tabåcon. We also participated in a Temezcal – an ancient ritual descending from Mayan culture where you sit in a small mud hut with volcanic rock having water poured over it while you breathe in the steam. You are supposed to go four rounds of this ritual, with only small breaks in between, while the whole ceremony is lead by a Shaman. I wimped out after two rounds because I started to hallucinate and thought I might die. John pridefully made it all the way through to the fourth round, after which he and the other two participants (an older couple from Wisconsin) emerged from the hut and collapsed to the ground in wet heaps. The Shaman and her assistant seemed completely unfazed.

We took one “adventure trip” while staying at Tabåcon. Early one morning we stumbled into a van with a motley crew of other folks from the resort, including a 70 year old man from Mississippi and a very young girl who spoke no English and appeared to be his Colombian mistress/escort/prostitute. The van climbed a dirt road to Volcan Arenal, and just at the base of the volcano, we were strapped up and sent to zip line through the trees, over a huge lake that appeared to go on for miles. Many of the cables were over 400ft in the air, and it was exhilirating and scary, but probably one of the most exciting things I’ve ever done. I looked to my left as I was careening through the trees, and I could see the sunlight breaking over the water, and the vast landscape that went beyond it. The view was breathtaking from up there, and if I could have let go of my cable and taken pictures and videos without dying, I would have. But the image will be imprinted into my memory forever.

We caught an early flight back to Los Angeles the next morning. Exhausted and weary, but SO HAPPY with our honeymoon, and SO HAPPY that we had just had the wedding of our dreams, we stumbled back into our apartment, resolving to take an anniversary trip back to Costa Rica. The thing is – although I am sure the rest of the country is beautiful and amazing – I would want to go back to the two spots we visited first and foremost. They were perfection, and I don’t think that it’s because I was looking at them through honeymoon-colored glasses.

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Thoughts on home

Sep 26

Thoughts on home

I am currently reading this memoir, The Good Girl’s Guide to Getting Lost (I hate the title just as much as you do… but the book is really a good read). Author Rachel Friedman did a reading at my favorite bookshop here in LA – The Traveler’s Bookcase, and I was able to pick up a copy. During the reading, I literally caught myself gasping during several passages, because as she read, her words were almost exactly conveying the feelings that I had while living abroad after college.

She talks a lot in the book about the indecision she felt after graduation, and how that feeling, even after all of her travels, still lingered on for many years – and even still today. She talks also about feeling a bit lost, and even though she’s always enjoying her adventures, she wonders how to establish her life in a way that will bring her contentment and peace well into her old age. This is just one quote from the book that I particularly love. I am only about half-way through, and a complete review is forthcoming.

“Even the homes we leave on purpose, the families we break away from to be ourselves or someone else, call us back again and again, to a place that has long since ceased to be home yet still holds power over us. I know this myself now that I have left this place behind and have not yet created anything to replace it, if such a thing is even possible.” Chapter 10, pg. 134

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Summer in Fowler, CA

Aug 18

Summer in Fowler, CA

I’m not sure that I can describe with any semblance of accuracy the experience that I had this summer working and creating theater in Fowler, CA. Cornerstone goes into a different California community every summer and takes up residence in the town, asking community members of all types to be a part of a production. Simultaneously, students come from all over the country, and the world, to be a part of the process and learn Cornerstone’s methodology through classes and first-hand experience. Having worked at Cornerstone for 3 years, I had the unique experience of also being a student at the Institute – with all of this prior knowledge of the company’s work – and looking with new eyes at the practice of community-engaged theater.

There were many frustrations – during tech week particularly. At one point I was in my wardrobe tent behind the audience attempting to help 4 different people with quick changes, sweat running down my face, shakily pressing bobby pins into the wig of one of the community members. It seemed impossible to make this thing work – in all of its beastly glory.

There were moments that brought me to tears – in the circle on opening night – seeing the local children who were members of the cast become emotional when they were talking about how they didn’t want this experience to end. Seeing them shine and be loved and appreciated, and seeing them realize their own potential and grow in their confidence.

And there were moments where I questioned absolutely everything. Why are we doing this work? Does it matter to this community as much as we hope it will? Will it make a difference?

I hope so. It made a difference within me, and I think it’s safe to say it made a difference to the 35 members of the cast, and the crew, and the other Institute students. It was amazing, and insane, and thrilling, and scary.

And now off! To Baltimore for Jacquelyn’s wedding and to look at schools. And then when I come back, it’s application time. Teach for America, Johns Hopkins, Towson, George Washington, among others. Wish me luck!

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