Tag Archives: adventure

The Long Journey Home

My flip-flops and my backpack… 22 months later.

As I sit here on the floor of Abu Dhabi International Airport already a bit jet-lagged but with 18 of my 35-hour total flight time to go, I can’t help but reflect on the last two years I’ve spent living outside of the United States of America.

The first of dozens of international flights since 2010.

I would be lying if I said that I had planned this all from the beginning.  When I left the U.S. in 2010, I assumed I had sold my traithlon bike and my surfboard to buy a ticket to visit my South African boyfriend, not travel around the globe.  But life has a funny way of showing you that not everything can be planned.

Exhibit A: Our puppy, Major. Totally unplanned.

And then I extended my 90-day visa for an additional 90 days purely to stay a little longer in South Africa, not to move to Thailand.  But again, life has a funny way of working.

Motorbiking it around Phuket, Thailand.

Thailand had begun as an idea, a solution for Morgan and I to be able to work/live in the same country while still seeing a bit of the world outside of the United States or South Africa.  What it became was an experience neither of us would trade for the world.  We were English teachers, backpackers, muay thai fighters, hot yoga groupies, scooter-riders, chili-eaters, mountain climbers and the list goes on.

Did I mention how much I loved the little monkeys that were my K1 Watermelon kindergarten class?

And then a decision had to be made: stay in Thailand for at least another year… or go?

Morgan and I both loved our year in Thailand for any number of reasons: friendly people, good jobs, great friends, AMAZING food, awesome hobbies and ridiculously cool experiences.  But for some reason, we both came to the conclusion that we weren’t ready for our lives to be that simple yet, that sorted.  (Idiotic logic, right?)

But I still believe that we made the right decision and away we went, back to Africa.  By this time, however, I had already been hired to start work for African Impact in Mozambique.

Escolinha de Boa Esperanca: the African Impact preschool in Vilanculos, Mozambique.

I had always dreamed of doing community development work in Africa and after three months of online job hunting while still living in Phuket, there it was: my dream job in the small beach town of Vilanculos, Mozambique.  On several occasions, I remember thinking that I was seeing ‘Africa’ for the first time.

Children’s Day at Bernard’s Orphanage in Vilanculos.

And then every community development workers’ nightmare came true: the Office of Immigration in Vilanculos decided to continuously reinterpret their understanding of what volunteer tourism is and what African Impact does as a company, hence my transfer to African Impact projects in St. Lucia, South Africa.

Building a tire course playground at a creche in Khula Township, just outside of St. Lucia.

I missed the project in Mozambique terribly, but I think I even surprised myself by landing on my own two feet in a new country and in a new position, especially when considering this had all come about with 12-hours notice.  I think this was my turning point – when I realized that maybe everything does happen for a reason.  Life is often sink or swim and I was determined to swim no matter what.  And I swam like hell.

How many people can you fit in a 16-passenger van? As a passenger who has counted, I can confidently say 29 people.

As I’ve sat here in my final moments abroad, I’ve struggled to find the right words to sum it all up – to possibly explain to someone how the past two years have not only changed my life, but changed the kind of person I was then to the person I am now.  And what I think of to say is this:

It doesn’t matter where you go or how much money you have or where you’re from – it matters how open you are to embracing the full experience.  The smells, the sounds, the people, the culture, the philosophy, the heart of what it means to be a global citizen.

And as I’ve stated in the ‘About Me’ section of my blog since my very first days blogging about this 22-month long adventure:  I’m far from being the most experienced traveler, but I’ve found that flip-flops and a backpack can take you just about anywhere.

Thank you to anyone reading this who I’ve met over the last two years, whether in Thailand, Bali, Mozambique or South Africa.  You’ve taught me what it means to be family even when you’re far from the family you’ve always known.  And a very special thanks to Lulu and Tex, my South African parents.



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Outdoor Markets and Elephant Rides

The photo-friendly stealer of bananas.

Our year in Thailand ended with one last stop that Morgan and I both agreed we couldn’t leave the country without making: a trip to Chiang Mai.

To put simply, Chaing Mai was an organic experience.  It’s the polar opposite of everything that is Bangkok or Phuket and in that respect, it was one last fantastic breath of fresh air in Thailand.  Instead of rowdy beach-goers, there were hippies.  Instead of cheaply manufactured trinkets in the markets, there were handmade crafts.   Instead of fifty baht for a meal, we paid twenty-five.

It was nothing short of amazing.

Best shower I had in Thailand! For 1,000 baht/night, Sri Pat Guesthouse offers a pool, free wifi, comfy beds and a hot, full-pressure shower. Great location to both weekend markets, too.

One of Thailand's market treasures: cheesy baby accessories.

Speaking of babies, Morgan and I sat on a bench in the Chaing Mai Zoo and watched as this little guy fell asleep after a busy afternoon of entertaining zoo visitors.

Morgan still talks about this pooch on a daily basis. 'Dee Dee' is a piano-playing puppy who, by the time we saw her play, literally laid her little head down on top of her keyboard, too tired to continue. Before heading off to bed, she put her front paws in the wai position to say goodnight.

What an elephant looks like from the top! This is also the universal elephant gesture when requesting food from passengers. We must have fed him at least 50 bananas during our trek.

End of trek photo taken by the mahout. Can you say GREEN?

Cotton weaving done by the women of the Karon Hill Tribe during our hike through the mountains north of Chiang Mai.

One of many bamboo bridges we crossed during our trek.

The best use for bamboo? River rafting! Morgan, a French couple and I sped down a freezing but exhilarating river with only a man standing and steering with a bamboo stick behind us. Best. river ride. ever.

And just as suddenly as it began, our adventure in Chiang Mai ended... on a purple overnight train to Bangkok.

Sa wat dee ka, Thailand…

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My 10 Favorite Things About Phuket

It’s official.  After living 12 months on my island in the sun, our year in Phuket came to an end Thursday when Morgan and I left on a flight to Chiang Mai.

And while I’m excited to be exploring northern Thailand, I’ve also been reminiscing about my days in Phuket.  The possibilities of what to do and where to go and what to eat on the island are endless, but here is a list of the 10 things that made my year truly unforgettable.

10.  Living in a Holiday Destination

My abuelos visited in February 2012.

Phuket is fantastic not just for the beaches and cheap massages, but also because people love to visit for those very reasons!  Over the course of our year on the island, Morgan’s parents visited (*see earlier post, Tex and Lulu Come to Thailand), Morgan’s brother and his girlfriend visited, my good friend Maddy visited (*see earlier post, Arrivals and Departures) and my Abuela and Abuelo visited (*see Mis Abuelos: 77-Year-Old Globetrotters).

9. Riding a Motorbike

The motorbike and the mustache.

To be completely honest, the thought of learning to ride a motorbike in the province with the highest road wreck mortality rate in Thailand was not appealing.  Nonetheless, I was soon won over by the same reasons people probably fall in love with motorcycles: wind whipping your hair, zipping around cars and easily maneuvering through traffic, nothing between you and the wide open road.  Maybe it’s a little less romantic on a Honda Scoopy than on a Harley Davidson, but Phuket isn’t a Harley type of town anyway.

8. Phuket Indy Market

The place to be on a Thursday night in Phuket.

Like many places in Asia, Phuket has a number of outdoor markets, some big and others small.  While Phuket’s Weekend Market is very well known for its size and variety of goods, the Phuket Indy Market is less well known, even to those who live nearby.  Nestled right in the heart of Phuket Town, the market boasts secondhand clothing, handmade crafts, leatherwork and artwork.  You can find the usual market food along the backside of the market and as you eat, you can listen to high-school age bands that come out to perform on the soi.  One of Phuket Town’s many treats.

7. Thai Holidays

Morgan and I releasing our krathong at Saphan Hin on Loi Krathong.

As proud as I am to be an American and to celebrate the generally commercialized holidays that I grew up with, I must admit that Thailand has amazing holiday celebrations.  Whether getting soaked during Songkran (*see my Videos tab), watching people slide swords through their cheeks during the Phuket Vegetarian Festival or setting your krathong on the water to release bad spirits on Loi Krathong (*see my post Loi Loi Krathong), you will be amazed by how much Buddhist culture remains on an island typically known only for its tourism.

6. Kata Hot Yoga 

The free tank top I was given for completing my 30-day challenge.

No, I’d never done hot yoga before moving to Phuket.  Yes, I too used to be one of those narrow-minded people who believed that yoga was for people who couldn’t do ‘real’ sports.  Yes, we were wrong.  (*See my posts, The 30-day Challenge and Been There, Done That, Got the T-Shirt)

5. Green Curry

One of dozens of green curries that I sampled while living in Phuket.

If this needs an explanation, then you’ve never eaten a Thai green curry.

4. Beaches

Kata Noi - my favorite beach.

As a Floridian, I consider myself somewhat of a connoisseur of beaches.  I’ve seen beaches in Florida, North Carolina, California, Cuba, Mexico, South Africa, Thailand and Indonesia.  In my opinion, Thailand’s beaches are some of the most beautiful in the world.  If you don’t believe me, ask one of the nearly two million people that come to visit Phuket each year.

3. Phuket Town

On the corner where I buy pork skewers and sticky rice after school.

Writing this one makes my heart hurt a little bit.  Morgan and I lived in Phuket Town throughout the entire time we were in Phuket.  While most foreign teachers opt to live closer to the beach, my heart was always in Phuket Town.  The food stalls, the Sino-Portuguese architecture, the culture, the community – Phuket Town has it all.

2. My K1 Watermelon Kids

The picture truly captures the essence of my K1 class.

Simply put, these kids were what I woke up for in the morning during my year in Phuket.  To see more about them, just scan over my blog.    I’ve written blog posts about their field trips, posted videos of their performances and included anecdotes from their funniest moments in class.  I was so lucky to have them.

1. My Friends

Last dinner with friends at Sala Mexicali in Phuket.

Is any adventure really complete without good friends?

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365 Days as a Globetrotter

Me and my backpack (that I bought sophomore year!) in Bangkok

Happy anniversary to me and my backpack!

One year ago today, I left the West Palm Beach airport headed to Durban, South Africa.  I’d graduated from UNC in May, worked at Seacamp from then until October and for about a week at the end of October, I wondered whether to accept a job at Seacamp or to head into the corporate world.

…And naturally, I boarded a plane to Africa.

My plan, or what I had of one, was to see Morgan and stay the three months in South Africa that my visitor’s visa would allow.  Twelve months later, here I am with Morgan in our apartment in Phuket, Thailand getting takeout for dinner and thinking about how it is that I got here.

The following are some initial thoughts:
-Morgan was working in Durban and we hadn’t seen each other for nearly 10 months.  A visit was slightly overdue.
-As a Cuban/Japanese/Irish/second-generation American, maybe I was meant to feel fairly comfortable in any part of the world.
-I’d never been to Asia.
-I quit my nanny job in South Africa.  ‘Communists’/’boorish Americans’ do things like that.
-South Africa has somewhere between a 25%-33% unemployment rate meaning unless I had a PhD or 5+ years work experience in a particular field, as a foreigner, I wasn’t about to be hired (hence the nanny job).
-Morgan was at a break-point in his eTV career and wanted to travel.
-We were both looking for adventure…and needed to find a country where we could both get jobs.
-I wanted to still be near the beach.

So after I’d spent five months in South Africa, we left for Thailand.  Seven months later, I’m in my second semester as a kindergarten teacher in Phuket.  I’m practicing bikram yoga daily (or trying to) and exploring the country by motorbike, bus or rented car as often as possible.  I know a few Thai phrases (mostly that pertain to defecating in the toilet due to the nature of my work) and I can confidently say that I live in a country with some of the best food in the world.

That’s not to say I don’t miss my family and friends back home.  I often wish I could see my little brother pitch at his JV baseball games or visit my sister at her new apartment in Gainesville.  Or that I was in Key West for Fantasy Fest.

But from my past 365 consecutive days of living outside the US (and maybe another 365 non-consecutive days from previous travels), I’m slowly coming to learn that you can make a life for yourself  just about anywhere.  Just pack up, pick up and go!  That being said, appreciate who you are and where you come from.  Most importantly, make the journey worth it.

Here’s to another five months in Thailand!  After that is yet to be determined, but surely another grand adventure.

I'm still telling Tales of an Aspiring Globetrotter.

(See ‘My Old Blog’ under Other Places to Find Kassie to read about my earlier days of globetrotting.)

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