Tuesday, August 16, 2016

The end of a Sabbatical

It was about June last year when we were discussing the concept of this entire plan.

“A year? You want to take a year off?”
“At least.” he said.

Where is this coming from? I said more to myself than to him because I knew his answer would be, I don’t know. He is not the introspective type. But despite where it came from, the pebble was rolling and quickly picking up weight on the way down. By July, it was a boulder and there was no stopping it.

I was hesitant. I was very hesitant. Italy felt more and more like home. I finally lived in an apartment of my own furnishings and decoration. I had a job where I felt needed. And though it had been a hard year for a variety of reasons, I was more in the mindset of keep your head down, and work harder. I had been doing that for months.

Most of the time, when there's a will, there is a way. But sometimes willing it, is just not enough. I couldn’t change all of my circumstances by willing them. So I finally agreed to stop the current tide and start something new. Who knew, maybe it would create a different, welcomed ripple in our future.

Our emptied apartment in Rome
So in Summer 2015 we told our work places that we were leaving Rome. We gave up our apartment, sold our car and furniture, packed up most of our possessions, threw out the rest, closed our bank accounts, shipped 400 kilos of stuff to North America, put it in a U-haul towed it 10 hours to Montreal to set up a new condo that we had bought in pre-construction, bought new furniture, unpacked the 400 kilos of stuff and probably another 100 kilos of my childhood things. Stopped everything and went to Vancouver, then came back to Montreal, then back to Baltimore. Went onto Central America: Guatemala, Honduras, Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, then went back to Baltimore, collected my cat, drove back up to Montreal, finished setting up our condo, drove back to Baltimore, dropped off my cat, flew to Haiti, attended a wedding, then went down to South America: Cartagena, Bogota, Buenos Aires, Colonia, Santiago, Valparaiso, Vina del Mar, Mendoza, Santiago, Lima, Pisco, Paracas, Huacachina, Lima, Cusco, Aguas Calientes, Machu Pichu, Cusco, Lima, ended the trip with a week in Charleston, SC. Drove 10 hours back to Baltimore, picked up my kitty, drove another 10 hours back to Montreal, put up the last frames and touches on the apartment, and then undid it all to pack for Rome and start a shipment to go back to Italy.

Unpacking the shipments

Which is where we are now. 9 months later, it is all over. We went full circle and are back in Rome once more. Mind you, that was not the intention. The intention, as aforementioned, was to do something new after this sabbatical.

But fate had stepped in to say what our next step should be. While we were still on our travels, my husband got a call for a job in Rome and it was a hard one to turn down. We discussed it at length and, as I do, I thought about it even longer. But the answer was ultimately, yes.

Fifth time back, but still love pictures in front of the Colosseum
When you decide to take a year off, you think that you have so much time. Surely, a sabbatical would allow you to accomplish everything you wished you had time to do: write a book, learn Spanish, visit all of Central and South America, catch up with old friends, spend time with family, find a miracle vet to cure my cat’s cancer, discover a new home, uncover my calling, reorganize everything I have ever owned and still have time to do yoga, a couple marathons and maybe learn croquet. (Just kidding about the croquet part, but you get the point). It doesn’t work that way. I made headway in a little of all of the above, but, as you can imagine, I did not complete any of the above.

I am not exactly fluent, but 4 weeks of Spanish is a good start
I will admit that I hoped it would be the eat-pray-love year that would turn my entire life around and lead us to a whole new reality: a new city, a new job, a new career, a new calling... a type of prize for having taken a leap of faith and trusting in life and fate. But maybe fate handing us back our old life is the prize. And maybe it is not our old life at all, but the newness we were craving. I hope so.

So despite everything that we tried to do, I am back in Rome for the fifth time. And the truth is, I am happy about it. I have proven that no matter what I do,  Rome will never be out of my system.

All roads lead to Rome. I couldn’t put it better myself.

I keep throwing coins in the Trevi Fountain. That must be the problem!

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Peruvian Surprises

El Parque del Amor in Lima, very Gaudi like
Peru was probably the greatest surprise of our trip. Unlike Chile, I had no inner attraction calling me to visit, and unlike Colombia, I had no preconceived, albeit wrong, judgement detracting me. I had seen the ubiquitous postcards of lush Machu Picchu and grazing lamas just like everyone else and had thought: sure, it would be a nice place to go. However, my rebellious Aquarian nature (I’ll blame it on astrology) always makes me skeptical of fads. Machu Picchu seemed like the latest booming one.

Machu Picchu- you've undoubtedly see this shot before
Regardless, we couldn’t go to Peru without going to the Lost City of the Incas, and we made it the last stop in our trip. I should clarify that, although it was nice and symbolic to end our trip on a “high note” with the infamous Cusco 11,000 feet elevation, Machu Picchu was also our last stop because logistically it had to be. This part of the trip was by far, the most convoluted and difficult to plan. One of my next posts will be on just the tricks we wish we had known when planning our Machu Picchu adventure, because it is scarily easy to miss out on much of that experience and we very nearly did.

Aside from Machu Picchu though, Peru has so much to offer, and to contradict one of my earlier statements, even though we didn’t want to miss out on Machu Picchu while in the country, Peru is still worth a trip even without including this wonder of the world. Peru kept us guessing at every turn. There were so many things that we did expect from it and were awed by.

Sand dunes outside of Huacachina Oasis
One of the first surprises for us was that Lima is in a desert. You drive just a few miles outside of the city and hit sand dunes. I had no idea. This Middle Eastern looking landscape is a far cry from the lush valleys and green hills you see in those famous Machu Picchu postcards. But coastal, northern and southern Peru are comprised of three deserts, the Sechura, the Coastal and Atacama deserts, that stretch all the way down to Chile. In fact, according to one site I read, Lima is the second largest desert capital city after Cairo.

Another surprise is that Peru really lived up to everything people told us about it. Machu Picchu really was magical. And the food really was extraordinary. Throughout our travels, as we explained our itinerary which ended with Peru, people, without fail, would say, “Oh, you are going to eat so well in Peru!” The first, second and third time, we smiled and said, “Ah yes, ceviche. We love ceviche.” But the enthusiasm of friends and strangers alike on Peru’s gastronomy had us very curious indeed by the time we got to Lima.

Cebicheria Rosita - everything you dreamed about when thinking ceviche
Of course, as with any hype, we expected to be let down, but our first meal had us hollering Amen to all the chants that Peruvian food is heaven. Restaurant Cebicheria Rosita had the best ceviche we ever tasted, and it wasn't just the ceviche. We tried Arroz con mariscos a la LimeƱa (seafood rice), Chicharron de calamar (deep fried calamari), Leche de tigre (citrus marinade) … all amazing. It was probably the best meal we had in any of our Central or South American trips.

Chupe de camarones
I also discovered another dish called chupe, a type of seafood stew, that was one of the most diverse sets of ingredients I ever had: shrimp, evaporated milk, one sunny side up egg, a local type of mint, rice, corn, cheese, potatoes, green peas, tomato paste, a lot of other things and a bunch of spices. It was a completely surprising taste that reminded me of a mix of Thai, Caribbean and Latin food all at once. If I didn’t think it would take me 30 hours to make and come out tasting like play-dough, I would make this dish at least once a week.

Huacachina Oasis
Peru also provided us with the chance to see a real oasis, Huacachina, and to climb a sand dune to watch the sunset. It offered us the opportunity to go off-roading in a natural reserve where the desert literally stopped dead and plunged into the Pacific Ocean.

Paracas Natural Reserve
It gave us the possibility to spend the night in a trailer park; its status as not-quite a hotel, an eco-park they called it, allowed for it to be the only accommodation on the reserve. Hundreds of flamingos (again not what I would expect), hundreds of thousands of pelicans, and other colorful birds flew around the coast line or small lakes that had somehow formed within the desert.

We got to go to a small fishing village, Pucasana, hidden among sand dunes, where we were definitely the only tourists. We found a winery that was like stepping out of the desert and through a worm hole to another part of the world where the hills are rolling, the land is lush, and the soil is fertile. After driving for hours on highways with only sand in sight, it was like discovering life on Mars. Peru is fascinating like that.

Tacama Winery, offering another type of oasis amidst the desert surroundings
As promised, my next post will talk more on Cusco and Machu Picchu, the two being true highlights of our trip, but I was happy that we had also scheduled in an extra week before even getting to Cusco. Though Lima had its charms, (the aforementioned food, its very grand and beautiful main square i.e Plaza Mayor, the Kennedy park which is a refuge for stray cats, Miraflores’s uppity elegance along the coast and Barranco’s mellow hippy-ness a little further south), 2-3 days was ample time there and we quickly reorganized ourselves to see more than just the capital. This extra week, which many tourists may not factor in, let us discover so much more about Peru, and its truly surprising nature. We never knew what to expect and it always turned out to be a good surprise.


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