Finale

My sister Mary is a huge fan of black and white photos. When I saw this quote I thought of her and it made perfect sense. When there is a distraction of color you are drawn away from looking someone in the eyes. That, however, is the gateway to what lies within. It is for that reason from an age early on that I have always made eye contact first when meeting someone new. It is all I need to know. It is how I connect. If you cannot look yourself in the eye you most likely have work to do. I realized that while I was looking at everyone else so directly I was neglecting my own reflection. It turned out to be the majority of what this journey has been all about. I took the above selfie on my recent birthday. I am finally very happy and proud of what I see in my eyes and to me it is all that really matters.

I went back to read the My Story page of this blog. Bored with the monotony, excess and distractions it is time to shake things up. Hold myself accountable and create a challenge to wake me up. I want the ocean, simplicity and adventure. It feels like lifetimes ago. I love that she knew what she needed and made it happen. Finally, after nearly three years I can admit that I am brave. I was ruthless in my pursuit of happiness and if possible I am even more so now. Now that I own the fact that I defied the odds. It is still a bit uncomfortable to stand in my own power but I am now confident it is there. I have shed more layers of fear, doubt and pain than I believed humanly possible. I have found my true self and I will no longer pursue or engage in anything that does not reflect my authenticity. I have worked diligently on myself in this time and it is the best investment I have ever made. I knew I needed space and nature to be brutally honest with myself. I had allowed my life to become what it was. No one ever wants to admit they are at the core of their reality but it is a fact. Everything lies within. If you are not happy with your life then you have to be bold enough to look in the mirror and make changes.

My handsome hubby MC sent me this quote last week and it is the perfect way to describe my journey. I have replaced my conditioned thoughts of doubt, negativity and sarcasm. I literally moved mountains inside my head. I recall being proud of entering annual employee reviews and telling my superiors that I could point out all my shortcomings. That they could never be harder on me than I was on myself. What a crock of crap. I believed boasting was egotistical. I consistently gave credit away for my achievements and shuttered at any attention given to me. How did I not see that I am perfect as my own crazy fun self? I cared too much because that is who I am. I was passionate and emotional because I was not feeling heard. Now I know the only person that needed to hear me was myself. I was feeling incomplete and thus that is what I had become. By digging deep I have uncovered the insecurities. I have faced and released them one by one. I have begun to place boundaries for what is acceptable to be given away. I fill my own cup first now. I think in terms of gratitude. For my health and happiness. For my loving husband. For laughter, fun and the stunning nature that surrounds me. I am grateful for all that have supported me in my blind journey. I knew only those three sentences and had no answers but I was pulled and embraced by the unknown. It has been rewarding beyond my wildest dreams and it is all because I changed my thoughts.

What I felt back then was lack and exhaustion. I was not feeling fulfilled in any area of my life and I continued to attract more of it which only added to my emotional and physical exhaustion. I suppose it is obvious that in order to do something as drastic as moving to an unknown country halfway around the world I must have reached a breaking point. I see it now as more of a starting point. The point where I decided to take back control of my life. To realize that I owned the power to create my reality. I do not expect anyone to understand or believe this and that is okay because it my journey and mine alone. Walking away from my career was the scariest and most freeing thing I have ever done. It forced me to face what was most important and live only that. It required me to find true value in myself and not the numbers I produced or the budgets and teams I managed. Health and happiness were my only goals. Upon arrival I think I blamed most of my sleep on the time change but I know that the twelve hours a day I was getting for awhile was exactly what my body needed to finally feel healthy again. With my new found strength I found true happiness in my surroundings and well low and behold I attracted MC. The truth is I would not have been ready for him a day sooner than I met him. I needed to begin my healing before I could keep myself from sabotaging such a beautiful gift of love. We both see very vividly the divine timing that took place. I have had to diligently own what prevented my prior relationships from being successful and let go of what I believed to be right for the beauty of what is. No protected heart will ever truly experience love. So often we stand stubbornly in what we think we know instead of considering the bird’s eye view that changes the perspective completely. We must be open and vulnerable to accept unconditional love and if we do not first give it to ourselves we are incapable of extending it to others. I am so incredibly grateful for what I have learned from MC and from what my own reflection in him shows me daily. It allows me to continually evolve and become a better person. I have attracted this amazing love because it is exactly what I now feel.

Oh my imagination! MC perhaps wants to reign mine in from time to time but he willingly admits it is also exactly what got me here and for that he is grateful. Somewhere in my early teens I think mine slowed down to a mere faucet drip. So much pressure to grow up and be responsible, albeit mostly self induced. In so many ways I skipped my childhood. I am thankfully reliving it now. Full on power washer force. Gifting myself the education with my own personalized curriculum of culinary travel. Dreaming of dozens of different adventurous scenarios. It is not only just plain fun to dream but it absolutely becomes the reality you create for yourself. I say this from experience as the little Minnesota girl who used to daydream about living on Fantasy Island and now I stand on a veranda overlooking the airport and Indian Ocean chanting to myself Ze plane! Ze plane!

I have written 129 posts with over 170,000 words. If you have followed my journey from the beginning I have essentially gifted you two whole novels! I have grown exponentially as a person and as a writer. This blog began as a way to share my adventure with my large family and group of friends in one fell swoop. It grew in to a vision of sharing these beautiful islands, their culture and their amazing food with others who will most likely never get the opportunity I have created for myself. Next it expanded in to the fairy tale love story I least expected to find. I am incredibly proud to say I have accomplished far more than I ever set out to do. My stories have been read in more than a hundred countries. It blows my mind! The beauty of technology is it can keep us connected. The choice however is our own and I am now choosing to let it go. To make room for something new. The unknown of course! I faced a huge fear in being visible here and I am forever grateful for your support and kind words. Writing was therapeutic for me and absolutely assisted in my healing.

It feels like the perfect time for change. To take back our privacy and live in the moment. To eat a meal without having to take a photo first and to focus my eyes on the view and not a phone camera lens. I also challenge you to make a change. Find your own path for growth. Think, feel and imagine it and your dreams too will become your reality!

I don’t know Sis. I think there is also a strong defense for color photos. I will leave you with a personal favorite from our wedding on LaDigue and you can decide for yourselves. How can it get any better than this?


You are welcome to see any future food and travels I feel inspired to post @abroadinseychelles on Instagram. If you have any questions or comments I can also be reached at abroadinseychelles@gmail.com.

Please do yourself proud. Look yourself in the eyes and live your best life. You deserve it!

Plot Twist

Life has a way of throwing us curve balls. In my days of business management, I used to obsess about planning so the occasional curve ball did not upset the flow any more than necessary. If all your ducks are in a row one little duckling straying is no big deal right? I have learned through the years that those minor emergencies are enormous opportunities to learn. They are a sign that something is not happening as it should and serve as a warning to choose differently. Once you change the mindset you allow yourself the ability to sit back and calmly figure out how to use the opportunity of change to your advantage. There is no need for stress or panic. We create that in our lives and we can correct that automatic reflex with a little effort. It makes an enormous difference in the outcome. We choose to think differently and we are rewarded for our efforts.

Case in point our recent adventure. A few days before departure I received an email that one of our flights had been canceled. I recognized that my old initial reaction may have been frustration or panic. This time around I took a deep breath knowing that everything was going to work out as it should. I looked into other flights and found one that would work so I booked it immediately. It seemed so simple my initial thought was This is too easy! The morning we were set to leave I received an email stating that the flight was confirmed but not ticketed, as they were attempting to verify my credit card address. This happens often living abroad and so again, I chose to take a deep breath and send them an email. I informed them that my IP address in Seychelles is most likely triggering an alert and I confirmed details that should have resolved the issue. The morning after we arrived in Hanoi however I received a second email requesting a phone call. I had no means to call internationally. I emailed them again and ran a quick Google search to see what other airports Hanoi connected to. Bingo! Here was my sign.

When I originally booked the trip MC had commented that four to five days in a city was enough to experience it. I completely agreed and yet the idea of spending an entire day of travel each way seemed to warrant more down time in between. When all was said and done the flight prices were best for nine days. The opportunity I was meant to find was that Chiang Mai was a mere hour and fifteen minute flight away. Having had what felt like a dream trip over Christmas, why not go back for a few days? When Saturday morning delivered yet another automated email I ran the crazy plot twist by MC and while he went out to fetch banh mis and coffee I canceled the flight and rebooked a four day itinerary for Thailand that was immediately approved and ticketed. Viola! As it turned out the timing was perfect as we were both catching sinus infections from the air quality in Hanoi. I would not have traded the Vietnam experience despite that and yet we were certainly grateful to have this opportunity to turn one holiday in to two! For anyone considering Hanoi, there are day trips offered to villages and Halong Bay that are reviewed very highly and would offer a break from being in the city center. We personally chose to opt out as we live on the water and are not fond of tours or spending long days on the road during our holiday. Every vacation is personal. We do what works for us and thankfully we seem to often share the same ideas as to what we consider enjoyable.

Landing in Chiang Mai was most definitely exactly what the doctor ordered! Within minutes we were settled in to an Airbnb in the same building we stayed in back in December and headed to our favorite street vendor a minute away. Does this look like street food to you? Those pork wontons, rich broth and chili sauce were the cure! We laughed as though we were back home again and toasted the blessing with an ice cold local Chang beer. We wandered the mall a bit for a break from the 102° temperature(39°C) and then took the red truck taxi to the night market. Our last visit included cooler weather so we only utilized this service a time or two as the city is easily walkable but I have to say these red trucks make me feel like a kid again! They are a shared taxi service with a high topper on the back and bench seating. There are even convenient steps to get in for those not used to this somewhat redneck form of transportation. You can go just about anywhere within the city for less than a dollar. We gratefully finished off our night with the cowboy hat lady’s succulent pork, my favorite fried chicken and a crispy banana roti topped with Nutella. Pure sweet heaven!

The following morning included a visit to Tikky Cafe which has never failed to impress. With every fruit under the sun available in smoothie form I settled on a mango, passion fruit and coconut combination that felt like liquid gold running through my veins. We ordered their Tom Yum Thai spicy and reminisced about how we felt ten times healthier than when we walked in the place. Chili to kill what ailed us and fruit to rebuild the immune system. I added a second round of fruity goodness to seal the deal and decided I had nailed my daily intake of nutrients in one sitting. What more could a girl ask for? A dirt cheap but high quality massage of course! Once again relieved to get a break from the heat, MC jokingly informed the woman cleansing our hot toes with a cool water sea salt and kefir lime bath that they were going to have to pay us to leave. Massage is always a wonderful indulgence but when your sinuses are suffering and you’ve spent a recent full day in the air traveling in addition to miles of walking in Hanoi it takes on a whole new level of bliss. We must have looked like two Gumby dolls walking out of there! All loose and relaxed there was no other option than to enjoy our pork noodle soup and hit up the convenience store for snacks, water and beer to enjoy an evening in of Netflix. I have no recollection of what we watched that night but I do remember sleeping like a baby.

The next few days confirmed for us that Chiang Mai was not just the illusion that a first time dream experience can be when you are on holiday. The food was just as beautiful and delicious, the people were just as kind and friendly and the atmosphere was our perfect vibe. Two things sealed the deal. The first was our favorite street food vendor. They are a young Thai couple whose clientele is, with the exception of us, all locals. We point to what we want and say Khob khun ka! when we pay. They offer, like many others, a multitude of options on their tables to add to your dish. Despite our grocery shopping attempts we had not found a chili sauce remotely close to theirs. On a whim I used Google translate to inquire about their source, hoping to find it during our visit. To no surprise of course, she makes it herself. When I typed in May I purchase some to take home with us tomorrow? her response was an apology that she would not have time to make it. I thanked her again, letting her know that it was our favorite and that it is obvious that she makes it with love. The translation must have been somewhat close as I could tell she was touched. The following day when I got up to pay the man handed me a plastic container in a bag. I thought he was mistaking me for a takeaway order and then I realized it was the chili sauce. I lost it. How sweet of this woman! I glanced up at her with tears in my eyes and repeated Thank You! in Thai multiple times. Language is no barrier for kindness.

The second incident was equally as heart warming but a bit more shocking. We had one last delicious meal at Tikky Cafe and were headed back to the Airbnb to shower, pack and head to the airport. We had admired the local set up for their Thai New Year celebration which was beginning the following day. Streets were lined for the festival of Songkran in which tradition calls for dousing each other with water which symbolizes the washing away of the old in preparation for the new. Do you see where this is going? We were seated at the back of a red taxi truck at a stop light like sitting ducks. Two teenagers seized the golden opportunity to practice on us with buckets of water. While I had a slight visual warning, MC was caught completely offguard from behind. After the initial chill in 104°(40°C) sunshine we busted out laughing and decided we had been cleansed. What a perfect way to end our holiday. We felt officially initiated in to the Thai community and could not have felt more blessed!

Hanoi

Travel is the best education! It inspires me, continuously humbles me to new levels and pushes me outside my comfort zone. In the planning process I am always thirsting for knowledge and guessing what my take aways may be. In the moment, I am like a student enthralled with her favorite subject and hanging on her professor’s every word. In reflection, I am grateful for the opportunity to have captured pieces of a culture that will forever change who I am.

My first lesson was in Vietnamese coffee. It seems we are stuck these days on not comparing things. Perhaps it is because it can be unfair? It does not have to be. When it comes to travel I think comparison is what brings out the greatest level of gratitude. Coffee is a fine example in this case. As you may recall me mentioning, Seychelles sells primarily instant coffee. MC and I are diehard coffee lovers. It is often the first word we speak to each other in the morning. Coffee? As if there is really no other reason to get out of bed! In that regard, Vietnam by comparison is heaven. We likely appreciated it far more than others may as we knew what a unique pleasure it was for us to enjoy people watching at a new cafe daily.

My, what a sight it was! Our neighborhood in Hanoi is the craziest traffic I have ever witnessed. This is coming from someone who has been to Bangkok. Again, a comparison for reference. The intersections of the Old Quarter are all uncontrolled. Scooters outnumber vehicles by at least thirty to one and often contain more merchandise or occupants than a flat bed truck or minivan would in the United States. Whereas horns are utilized in Seychelles primarily as a friendly tap to let someone know you can pull out in front of them, in Hanoi it is a full-on constant blast to tell people to get the hell out of your way. I pondered whether if your horn broke in Hanoi it would be the equivalent of a flat tire. You simply could not drive without it! Maneuvering traffic as a pedestrian is definitely dangerous so thankfully it was a tip I had read about and expected. The sidewalks are consumed by scooter parking and nearly nonexistent so it is vital to walk with complete awareness and confidence. Make eye contact and go for it!

The destination of coffee was well worth fending for our lives, we decided immediately upon arrival. In addition to the Seychelles comparison I am going out on a very dangerous limb as my sister works for an amazing major coffee company in the United States, and say this was the best coffee I have ever tasted. Not any one particular cup either. Every single experience we had was incredibly amazing. They are well known for their egg coffee which is an obscenely decadent dark and mildly bitter blend topped with a foamy concoction of whipped egg yolk and sweetened condensed milk. I could easily fly high for four hours after one of these and I am not generally affected heavily by caffeine other than my first cup of the morning that opens my brain waves. The other option amongst many that won me over was a frozen coconut milk topped with coffee. It reminded me of my favorite Italian affagato only this one seemed to be on steroids.

There are truly no words for how coffee alone would have made this trip a winner for us. The rich dark mocha-like essence is without a doubt addictive. We enjoyed it multiple times daily and loaded up a suitcase with what we believe to be a six month supply. This is our idea of souvenirs! Equally as entertaining is that the bill in Vietnamese Dong was just shy of a million. High currency conversions rates made it both amusing and confusing to play around with what felt like Monopoly money. A million Dong is equivalent to around forty-two dollars.

Next up was a bit of a surprise if I am being honest. I thoroughly appreciated the rich pho broth like none I had ever tasted before and the bun cha with its combination of fresh herbs, vegetables and chilis mixed with perfectly cooked noodles and succulent, flavorful pork doused in a fish sauce and lime juice bath became a quick favorite. But out of the dugout came the grand slam that made the game legendary. The bahn mi.

It was this simply perfected little sandwich for about a dollar that we did not go without a single day in Vietnam. The bread. It was everything a perfectly executed French roll should be. Crisp and flakey to the tooth and then immediately giving way to soft and chewy. I still dream about that bread. The funny thing is I am not much of a bread or sandwich fan so this was a fun discovery. I had certainly not imagined it to woo me as it did. The fillings were quite simple. A light spread of pate, fresh cucumber, carrot, coriander(cilantro), and your choice of meat. Last but not least, egg or no egg. MC could eat an egg at every meal and we often do so this was a no brainer for him. I chose to opt out but we both added chili sauce. So darn good I can almost taste it again! Deceivingly delicious!

The last gift of this journey for me was by far the most impactful. As an individual I do not support war or weapons. As an American, I am deeply saddened by the horrific human and environmental impact my country is responsible for waging on Vietnam. I had no idea what to expect in terms of how I may be treated and perhaps that is precisely what drew me there. The unknown. The need to represent in my own little way that no one is anything more than human. We are all connected if we choose to be.

What I discovered was an incredibly beautiful ray of hope. I was impressed by their calm energy and their impeccably executed cohabitation of old and new. Shopkeepers of name brands and new electronics sat on small sidewalk stools next to ladies skillfully operating tiny charcoal grills. Women pushing bicycles laden with fresh fruits and vegetables amongst the insanity of scooter traffic whizzing by. That scene the first night moved me immensely. It instilled in me a whole new level of respect for not only their ability to survive and overcome but to thrive. Perhaps on the simplest terms it provided me with a sense of relief. Perhaps I was guided there by my father, a proud Navy man and devout Catholic. It seems to be an oxymoron. Whatever the reason, I knew I was meant to see it and I was extremely grateful for the opportunity to witness the beauty of their culture.

As if confirming my intuition, the final evening while out to dinner we were approached by a young boy of no more than ten years of age. He politely requested a few minutes of our time to practice his English. I glanced up to see his proud father looking on from a table across the restaurant. What a brave little boy! was my initial thought. He went on to impress me with his questions of where I was from and had I been to Washington DC? When I mentioned that I had lived briefly in California he immediately chimed in excitedly inquiring whether I had seen the Golden Gate Bridge or Alcatraz. At this point I was both amazed and amused. He chatted through our appetizer being delivered and we answered between bites of a dish I cannot recall. When I told him how much we were enjoying his country’s cuisine he asked what we had tried thus far and then pointed to the rose-shaped carrot garnish that was the only thing left on the plate and said, Oh we learned how to make those in school! In that moment it was the woman whose jaw dropped and suddenly she felt like a little girl in the presence of this wise old bilingual soul. We never stop learning if we choose to see the education right before our very eyes.