It seems we’ve started a tradition of booking destinations we know nothing about. I love it, heading to a place unknown. While last December, we spent the holiday season away from our families, in Vietnam; this year, we took a short (and sweet) trip to St. Maarten, part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. It’s in the gorgeous Caribbean and the small island is half French, half Dutch. We stayed on the Dutch side, enjoying four lovely nights. The highlights had to be Maho Beach, where the airport landing strip is just insane, and the crystal clear waters of Mullet Bay. And of course, I enjoyed the “all inclusive” resort life, which was a first for me. I normally shoot for authentic, “road less traveled” sorts of adventures, but I totally understand why people like this lounging by infinity pools sipping Piña Coladas-thing. For now, I’m happy to be back in my own comfy bed and thankful for the incredible year 2016 has been.
During my three month stint as a remote worker, I took a few weeks vacation in Brazil. I studied abroad there as a college student (7 years ago) and have longed to return ever since.
While I was only on vacation for just under three weeks, I actually spent a full month and a half in Brazil, working Monday-Friday and exploring on the weekends. Towards the end of my time testing the digital nomad lifestyle, I got lonely. While I wasn’t complaining, my perfect situation would be to end the trip with company… so I did.
I found a cheap flight and my amazing mom decided to come visit on a whim. I offered to pay the ticket to make it really enticing for her. We spent my last 12 days in Brazil together. While I had to work for most of it, we enjoyed three nights in Jericoacoara (aka Jeri), a sandy beach town in the eastern Brazilian state of Ceará.
Mom is the least outdoorsy lady ever, so it was a once in a lifetime experience to see her ride in on a sand buggy– the only way into the national park! This was an adventure; we had to get to the city of Fortaleza, then bus for 7 hours, then buggy in for the final stretch. It was worth the effort to see and feel some of the most pristine freshwater lakes I’ve laid eyes on. It’s a memory we’ll have forever and why I spend my money on experiences over things.
I realized that I had a long weekend coming up for July 4th, but yet, hadn’t made any special plans. It sure would have been a waste of precious time off to not get out of Medellín and get to know a new side of Colombia.
Crunched for time, I decided on making a trip to San Andrés Island, a 2 hour plan ride from Medellín. All I had to do was look at a few images and I was sold!
I really want to get SCUBA certified? Can I do it without freaking out?
I quickly learned that San Andrés Island is primetime scuba diving territory! Given that over 70% of the world is water, can I really call myself a world traveler without exploring the underwater world? Getting my open water certification was an exhilarating thought. One of those ideas that I know I want and that I would be so proud of myself for doing, but one I was terribly scared of.
Diving with Anxiety
When I started emailing dive centers, I didn’t really think anyone would be willing to dive with me on my timeline. I needed to get it done Saturday, Sunday, and Monday, and it was also a holiday weekend in Colombia…. what are the odds? Luck was on my side but interestingly enough, when I arrived for my first pool training session, I was already thinking I couldn’t do it. I am a confident swimmer and love the pool, but even doing the four laps with the snorkel (no coming up) scared me. My heart was racing the whole time while in a tiny, shallow pool. How was I going to be in open water? This was not a great start but I promised myself I could make it through the pool laps and took it one step at a time.
What am I scared of, anyway?
On day two, I tried to pin point exactly what fear I had. Some might worry that the air won’t work, or even that they’ll see a shark…. so what was my fear? I had full confidence in my gear and identified that I was scared of me. I thought I wouldn’t be able to control my breathing and possibly get a full-blown panic attack under water.
Luckily, this fear is something I have control over; just breathe
Once I thought about it a bit longer, I built confidence I could do this. All I needed was to breathe in and breath out at a relaxed pace. Do-able.
Even the other examples are things you can work around. For example, you test your gear; you know it works as you inspect it several times before going out and so does your buddy! You also practice tons of “what if” scenarios, and while this made me even more worried, to learn about every little thing that could go wrong, I was prepared for the unexpected! If you see a shark; wow, that’s rare; stay calm and enjoy the view.
Diving is quite therapeutic
Once I got the swing of things, I felt at peace, enjoying the beautiful underwater scenery. I felt like an uninvited guest but I was thankful because the sea creatures didn’t mind my being there!
Think about the source of anxiety. What can you do about it? Is it the reward worth the trouble?
Once I thought through the fear, I focused my efforts on what I needed to do… breath in and out and relax. Plus, the beauty of the ocean really helped.
In my case, my heart was set on becoming a scuba diver and the risk was small enough to be worth it. Now, does that mean you are going to find me bungie jumping and conquering my fear of heights? No way, not interested in that one! Am I going to go off and start scuba diving with a buddy or two? No, not that one either. Even though I’m now qualified to open water dive with another fellow certified diver, I’ll be sticking to dives with a scuba trainer or dive master that I can trust until I have a lot more dives under my belt. I will probably even tell the instructor something along the lines of:
I just did my certification but just so you know, I am anxiety prone. Can you pay special attention to me in case I get worried underwater?
I know my limits and will stay within them but I’m thrilled to have pushed past a fear for something I really wanted! You might find me planning a lot of diving focused trips!
I am one month into my 3-month period of remote work. While my base is Medellín, I decided make the 1-hour plane ride to explore the historic city of Cartagena. I took a Friday evening flight and arrived at my hostel a couple of hours later! I spent my weekend “days off” at a hostel in hopes of meeting fellow travelers, but sadly, I arrived too late to actually pull this off. By the time I arrived, everyone was out and about and I hit the neighborhood solo.
It’s really intimidating for me to go out to a bar alone, but I was glad I did it. I didn’t chat with anyone that first night but I enjoyed taking in the wifi and catching up with my friends back home over a cocktail.
Day 1 – The Walled City
Cartagena is a beautiful costal city full of history! My first two nights I stayed in the Old Town which is where all the action is at, filled with cobblestone streets and vibrant colors everywhere.
I had no idea where I was going and it’s small and cute enough to just enjoy getting lost, snapping photos along the way. The castle (Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas) is a huge tourist spot, but I opted to not actually go in. I hear great things but I was more in a “walk around and chill” kind of mood and saw the castle from afar.
Day 2 – Beach Bumming in Bocagrande & Sunset from the walls of the Old City
I know there are beautiful beaches in the area (Play Blanca got talked up) but since I did only have a few days and really wanted to soak up R.E.L.A.X.A.T.I.O.N. vibes, I took a 10-minute cab to the Bocagrande neighborhood. Being from Northern California, I’m a fan of any beach warm enough to jump into in winter, and this water was warm! Some might call it mediocre, I call it easy “vacation-mode.” I enjoyed a nice beach massage which I had to haggle hard for and apparently I still got way ripped off according to my Colombian friends 🙂
One thing I noticed quickly here is that it is HOT. I was literally drenched in sweat the entire trip and this is during the June winter. There is zero reason to ever consider wearing makeup here so enjoy the natural life.
In the evening I went back to the wall and sat there for a couple hours by my lonesome enjoying a beautiful sunset and the view of the Caribbean ocean.
Day 3- NBA Finals. Enough said, right?
Again, this was a wandering trip for me so I got up early and visited a local Crossfit box, before going back to wander the colorful Old City again!
In the evening, I had nothing on my mind but watching Game 7 of the NBA finals and cheering on my Warriors. It was easy to spot fans on the street and I made some buddies this way. After the loss, I brushed it off and kept enjoying the beautiful night.
Day 4- Snorkeling at Islas del Rosario
Luckily, I got Monday off so I got to make a nice, long weekend out of this trip. I woke up bright and early for snorkeling. This place was absolutely gorgeous and I have never been surrounded by so many fish on a snorkeling trip! The divers mentioned the visibility wasn’t great for them, but I honestly loved it and worked up quite the tan.
Since I did have to be ready to hit the ticket queue come Tuesday morning, I opted to “work from hotel” for my actual “non-vacation days.” I didn’t want to be that awkward person on the computer at the hostel all day and I was ready for privacy, solid, fast wifi, and A/C. Doing my work from “hotel rooftop” was refreshing and I learned I can pull of the travel trip well.