Recently, I visited the place that was my very first home (for ten years) for the first time since 2001. It was a very moving, emotional, and exciting time, and I find it hard to believe that I spent so much time away from there.
Most people don’t take fourteen years to go back home. And while I called New Jersey “home” in the interim, I have always considered the Philippines my real home. What else would you call the place you grew up?
Before leaving the Philippines for the U.S., I think I already became the person I am today through my experiences there. So many of my beliefs and values were formed there, in my first ten years of life. I have held on to the kindness, patience, determination, hard-working attitude, and yearning for simplicity that I think are engrained in Filipinos. Going home did not only allow me to return to my roots, but it also proved to me that much of who I am is because of where I came from. And I am so, so proud of that.
I know that I became a totally different person than I would have if I never moved, but I still feel so deeply connected to my country and the people there. Everything came back so fast. I remember what it was like to shower with a bucket and a water heater, and to look around and see families living in shacks alongside the road. I remember what it’s like to see cockroaches and small lizards everywhere, and even what the local markets smell like. Those feelings and images and smells have never escaped me entirely, but they were nothing more than blurred memories until just a few weeks ago.
In this short amount of time, one thing has become very clear to me about the definition of home: I will never have just one. There’s a Pico Iyer quotes that goes like this: “Home is not just the place where you happen to be born. It’s the place where you become yourself.”
Somehow, I am lucky enough to be able to say that that both parts of that quote describe the same place for me. I am also lucky enough to say that I am who I am thanks to more than just one or two places. In the last few weeks, I’ve learned that I have called many places “home” in my twenty-three years of life, and as a result of that, the very definition of “home” is constantly changing for me.
The home that I was born in is the Philippines, but the home that I grew up in was across the world in New Jersey. The home where I built an entirely new, separate life was in New York where I went to college, and the home that stole my heart was Sevilla. Now, I’m breathing the air in a country that is my current home: South Korea.
With each change of home, I have felt this growth in myself, and each place has made me a better person in its own way. Through constant movement, I am learning more and more about the different corners of our world and the people in it, and it makes me hope that everyone could also have many places to call “home.”
I wake up every day and tell myself that I am lucky. Probably the luckiest. And I should have posted this blog when I wrote it a month ago. But I’m lucky, not perfect.
2014 was a weird one.
January was spent doing a lot of reading, a lot of research, a lot of writing, and a lot of asking myself why I decided to write an honors thesis. This first month gave no insight as to how interesting the year would be.
I spent February through April reminding myself that life is short and so is college. It was the time it took me to get over a three year relationship, and also to lose a friend.
I spent the month of May doing whatever I wanted whenever I wanted. Like indulging in ice cream, drinking lots of beer, and kissing a cute boy or two.
June through August were three months of wandering a new city, adjusting to the life of a college grad, and discovering a pure hatred for cubicles.
September was a month of beginnings, where I explored a new job, a new relationship, and a few new hobbies.
In October and November, I spent a lot of time thinking about trust and people and what it means to put the two together. In the end, I found that the process of learning never ends, and that it’s okay to feel things, especially pain.
And here we are now, in December. I’ve just spent the last two weeks traveling through Central America, and I came home to discover that once again, an entire year has come and gone.
It’s always a unique feeling to be in the last few days of the year, stuck between reminiscing the last twelve months and trying to imagine the next. Time moves fast, and we grow exponentially lucky with each passing second. I hope to remember that for the rest of my life. And I hope that I can look back on each year and find my own seasons within the months, instead of what the calendar tells me.
2014—Things I Did And What I Learned From Them:
I said goodbye to my first love. It was eleven months ago and I still think it was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. I learned how to love the fact that love for someone or something can continue even when it’s over.
I wrote a 200-page honors thesis. It wasn’t easy, but I loved it. And because I loved it, it was worth it.
I took up new hobbies and gained new skills. All it took was time.
I graduated college. We used to think it was cool to not do homework and be lazy in high school, but now I believe that learning is the best decision you will ever make.
I lost a friend over a disagreement and failure to understand each other. Not all friendships are meant to last, but all are meant to learn from.
I interviewed someone who inspires me. Dan Layus and I had a conversation about heartbreak in the most loving way because things are so good. “How could they be so good that it breaks my heart?”
I lived in a new city, and I learned that you can build a home anywhere.
I discovered a new love for running and mountains. There is something about the natural world that can make you feel more at home than four walls ever could.
I worked in an industry that I don’t really want to be in at all. I learned to learn what I don’t like. And that cubicles are the bane of my existence.
I welcomed a new life to the world, my first nephew, and remembered that life is precious.
I went to a TED conference. Ideas and people are more powerful than money.
I watched the sun rise and set as much as I could. This continues to teach me to never, ever take the familiar for granted.
I went bungee jumping. It was this surreal moment, in which I felt an unmistakeable combination of fear, adrenaline, and peace, all at once. During the free fall, I learned that this unnamed feeling is one that I need to chase forever.
I visited 2 new countries, 4 new states, 15 new cities. The world is big, and I will never get enough of it.
All in all, this year was one of discovery, and testing myself emotionally. While I learned plenty about myself, I also learned that there is much, much more to learn.
We miss being abroad. We’d re-live all of these moments in a hot sec:
1. The bus driving away with our backpacks and passports on it. And us engaging in a bus chase with a taxi.
2. Leaving our passports in the first hostel we stayed in in Nicaragua.
3. Christine chased a Nicaraguan kid down the street in attempt to get her camera back. It didn’t work, but she tried.
4. Getting dropped off in a dust cloud in the middle of a highway in Liberia. Bienvenidos a Costa Rica, ladies.
5. A woman breastfeeding next to Kerianne on the bus.
6. Our entire border crossing day. We thought that salted peanuts might be our last meal on this earth.
7. Our rafting guide throwing Christine in the river Balsa and dragging her along using her paddle.
8. Peeling and eating hard boiled eggs on the bus to Manuel Antonio. And on the bus to Puerto Viejo.
9. Being recognized at lunch by a bystander at the club the previous night. He told us things we didn’t know happened.
10. We ran into a couple from Washington, D.C. three times, in three different cities, in a span of five days.
Things that didn’t make the list, but are on the same level of ridiculous:
Christine packed two left flip flops for this trip.
We used bug spray as perfume.
When Kerianne wears 4 different neon colors of clothing at the same time.
The time the iCloud burst and none of our alarms went off.
When Kerianne put an apple on Christine’s butt and said, “Apple bottom.”
Evey single time we washed our clothes and hung them up to dry…they never dried. Ever.
Kerianne didn’t have a footstrap to do the superman zipline, and her legs had to be held in the air by one of the guides. All the way across the Cloud Forest.
Kerianne bought a water bottle at the airport right before boarding the plane, and then they asked her to throw it away before getting on the plane. She was not happy.
Our tent neighbor in Arenal asked us to “please stop laughing.” WHO SAYS THAT?
Lots of love and wonder,
KB & codea
Being back from our Central America trip doesn’t mean we have to stop blogging about it right?! Here are some preeetty funny, insightful, silly, and ridiculous things that we said during our time abroad. We hope you laugh, think, wonder, and wander while reading them. Also, enjoy the picture below, for it is priceless.
KB: Do you ever go through Instagram and think, “Wow that’s awesome”?
On the last day of the trip
CO: Wait you have a bar of soap?
KB: I don’t even remember which knob is for hot water. Is it the left one?
KB: How do people live their life in one place?
CO: Let’s check if there’s hot water.
CO: I just spilled beer in my hammock. And my bathing suit is absorbing it.
KB: What are you doing for New Years?
CO: I don’t even know where I’m sleeping tonight.
Entering our hostel dorm:
KB: Is there a light?
CO: There’s a lizard.
KB sees an apple next to Christine, who is laying on her stomach. KB picks up the apple. KB puts the apple on Christine’s butt, and proclaims it: Apple bottom.
CO: I got chocolate all up in my garganta.
KB: I just wanna let you be and watch you burn.
While consuming chocolate drinks, KB and CO simultaneously say:
KB: We’re about to be so hyper.
CO: This isn’t as chocolatey as I wanted.
CO: My abs hurt so bad…I’ve never said those words before.
KB: What time is it?
CO: It’s almost happy hour.
CO: I never wanna be phased by travel.
KB: Travel matures you.
KB: We have to wake up at the asscrack of dawn.
CO: I love the asscrack of dawn. It’s my favorite asscrack.
CO: If you wanna go somewhere, ya fucking go.
CO: What’s your favorite thing from this meal?
KB: I’m eating friend plantains and a meatball on a stick right now.
KB: I’ve never brushed my teeth under the stars before!
When CO couldn’t finish her plantain:
KB: No plantain left behind.
CO: I feel like we’re crashing a party right now…
Hostess of restaurant: Do you guys mind sitting in the front of the restaurant? This is a private event.
CO: I wish I could Instagram what my leg feels like.
This is the last month in which I can say “My dad died last year.” Yup, I’ve thought about that. Usually we count down towards the future in anticipation of something, but I know it has been eighteen months or a year and a half since my dad unexpectedly died; and in one month, it will be farther in my life’s rearview.
Isn’t it strange how we keep track of things according to time? I think so. Only when I stop to count do I realize how long it has actually been. Seriously…think about everything that’s happened in your life in the past year and a half. Pretty crazy, right? I’m utterly amazed at how far I’ve come. I could not have guessed that a year and a half later, I’d be sitting here, on a bus from Puerto Viejo to San José, Costa Rica. I couldn’t have told you that I’d continue moving forward – I mean, of course my only direction would be forward, but in that moment of death on June 7, 2013, my world stood still. I couldn’t have told you that my life of movement was just beginning.
Constant movement is my thing. My job requires it. My personal life requires it. I require it. And it is during this movement that I am reminded of my dad. I see him in the sunsets, I see him in the stars, I see him in the passing landscape, I see him in fellow travelers, and I see him in my adventures.
One can never anticipate death’s effects. It simply affects you – any time, any place, and while doing absolutely anything. You know what I thought of before bungee jumping 470 feet into the lush, green mountains of Monteverde? My dad. I blocked out everything else, even Christine shouting “I love you, man” and the guys counting down 5-4-3-2-1. It was Monteverde, my dad and me.
This makes me wonder if I chase that adventure high to feel him or, if in doing so, I am honoring him. I guess it could be both. In experiencing death, I realized I needed to be experiencing life. Again and again, I talk about time. Do we have enough? Or are we not using it wisely? My dad’s life being cut short jolted me alive. I could always be doing more.
I’ve been recognized for my energy – I multitask and am constantly moving. It’s been good and bad in dealing with death. A year and a half later, I am still moving forward and, consequently, am still shocked at how fast I do so. These moments of reflection make time stand still again – I’m back at the hospital, standing next to my dad. And losing him creeps back into my mind again. So I keep moving. Healthy? Ehhhh, not necessarily. Working? Yeah, pretty much.
I keep moving until I’m standing at the edge of a cable car platform, staring down upon the greenery below. And then I jump, spiraling downwards and rebounding upwards. My world literally turned upside down and when I was pulled upright, I was breathing deep because I felt so deeply. I was overwhelmed with emotion. When the cable car returned to solid ground, a fellow bungee jumper noticed that I looked more alive, and damn did I feel more alive.
The adventure highs I experience when I travel help me to feel my grief. I think they provoke it. In feeling alive, I feel pain. Opposing emotions brought together in the stillness of these moments force me to feel, to grieve. It is because of him that I continue to move forward, to experience and to travel. I am seeing him, feeling him, and honoring him whether he is physically a year and a half away from me or he is spiritually in the very moment closest to me. For me, my dad’s death has cemented my pursuit of movement, travel and newness. What I didn’t realize, however, is that his death has also affected my gratitude for reflection in times of stillness, even when I’ve tried my hardest to propel myself through them.
We’re not sure if our brains have the capacity to talk about the last two weeks right now. It’s been one adventure after another. In a nutshell, this is what the last 14 days entailed:
1. Volcano boarding down Cerro Negro in León, Nicaragua.
2. Watching a sea turtle nest, and relocating its eggs. #SaveTheSeaTurtles #PoacherNoPoaching
3. A two-hour course of zip lining, rock climbing, scaling rocks, and rappelling in Rincón de la Vieja, Costa Rica.
4. Horseback riding to a 40-foot waterfall, and then jumping off of it.
5. Mud bathing, rinsing off in the river, and then relaxing in a natural hot spring.
6. Rappelling over four waterfalls from 45-165 feet.
7. Whitewater rafting the Balsa River and jumping off small cliffs along the way.
8. Getting a tour of the Monteverde Cheese Factory from the granddaughter of one of its founders, the people who named the town Monteverde.
9. Hiking the forest at night and seeing tarantulas, ant colonies, vipers, kinkajous, sleeping birds, and katydids.
10. Ziplining, Tarzan swinging, superman-ing, and bungee jumping in the Cloud Forest.
11. Kayaking and snorkeling in Manuel Antonio.
12. Playing with monkeys at a Jaguar Rescue Center in Puerto Viejo.
13. Learning how to make chocolate on a cacao plantation. And eating all of it.
14. Sleeping in hammocks.
15. Exploring a new country with nothing but a backpack and each other.
We received travel vouchers for successfully completing our Peer Mentor internships with API, and we used them to purchase our flights. We booked them in October after continuously searching for flights to anywhere. We decided on Costa Rica because we had heard wonderful things from #hAPI study abroad students – we added Nicaragua in because, why not?
So, we embarked on a two-week journey to Nicaragua and Costa Rica with an intensely researched, yet loose itinerary. You can only research so much about a place – especially in Central America – before learning that you just have to ask around to find what you need. We wanted a backpacker lifestyle. We wanted spontaneity. We wanted adventure.
When we told family and friends about our plans, they were shocked at how long our trip would be. “Two weeks, woah! That’s pretty long.” We already knew it wouldn’t be long enough. These qualms were confirmed upon meeting other travelers and backpackers who had been traveling for three weeks, one month, three months, eight months, eighteen months. When asked how long we were traveling for, we shamefully responded with “only two weeks…” For a traveler, this is a tease. Two weeks is barely enough time to get to know one place, much less a few cities spanning two countries. We knew it, but we jumped at the opportunity anyway. Travel is worth it no matter how long.
Back home, two weeks away seems long; but while traveling, it seems short. When I studied in Spain for a year, I felt it wasn’t enough time, but people’s wide-eyed reactions proved different – “A year! That’s so long!”
Time is relative, and it’s all about perspective. Well, everything is relative, and everything is all about perspective. Travel confirms this over and over again. It wakes you up, shakes your senses alive. It puts you in your place, brings gratitude to the forefront. It challenges you, pushes you past your perceived boundaries. Outward movement aligns with inward reflection. Time passes in a much different way when you are conscious of your surroundings and of how you react to them. It is a continuous learning period. Time traveling is time growing.
Stories are some of the most inspiring moments while on the road. It’s not like it was in college, where everyone had more or less the same trajectory up until the previous night, when they may have gone out to a different bar. It’s not like it was while abroad, where other students had more or less the same reason to be living in a foreign country. It’s completely different and unassuming. You start from square one with questions, and open your ears to the most intriguing stories. You can assume nothing and expect everything.
This is why I am in love with movement. This is why I want a life of travel and adventure. Because I could not live my life in just one place. There are too many buses to catch, too many sunsets to watch, too many cities to appreciate, too many local dishes to taste, too many stories to hear, too many languages to learn and too many people to meet. I want to move forward in life appreciating the time I have to travel, to move and to change, because time is truly all we have.
With wonder and wander,
KB + codea
Why do you wear pants in 90 degree weather?
Why are we the only ones sweating?
How do you know when to cross the street?
Why can’t you open cab doors from the inside?
How do you feel about foreigners?
Why does it say ‘alto’ instead of ‘para’ on the stop signs?
Do you just play American music when you see us walk into your establishment?
Do kids have bedtimes?
What do the different numbers of car beeps mean?
How did you figure out that you could fit 4 people on one bike?
How do dogs know when to cross the road?
Are you sure it’s safe to just get in and out of cars while they’re still moving?
Do people actually have this for breakfast?
If you have any answers, please let us know.
The moment you set an alarm for 4:30am, you deserve an interesting day. We got nothing short of that on the day we crossed the border from Nicaragua to Costa Rica.
Here’s our attempt at describing what was the longest, sketchiest, most entertaining Cross The Border Day.
When we climbed out of our bunks at 4 am to shower, we discovered that the shower was occupied by a couple in the shower, doing what couples do in the shower at 4 am.
We watched the sunrise over Lake Nicaragua, and hailed a cab to catch our bus. The cab driver starts blasting Candy Shop by 50 Cent. At 6 am.
We rode the “chicken bus” to Rivas. In Nicaragua, “chicken buses” are basically school buses that pick people up along the street until the bus is full. It also served as a paper route of some sort: we stopped to buy newspapers that we dropped off at another stop. People got on to sell food, vitamins, medicine, pills, etc., and then got off a few stops later. Those few hours definitely gave us a taste of the commuting lifestyle in Nicaragua.
In Rivas, we found ourselves surrounded by a bunch of taxi drivers and bus operators asking us where we needed to go and offering us rides. One taxi driver, Jordi, basically said, “I’ll drive you to the border for $20.” We, as risk-takers and cheap recent college grads, decided that his offer sounded like a great option. So we hopped in his cab and made our way to the frontera. As we snacked on salted peanuts, I swear I thought they would be our last meal on this earth.
Turns out we might live to see another meal. When we got to the border, Jordi basically passed us off to a dude named Julio. In the rush of the moment, we paid Jordi partly in cordobas (Nicaraguan currency) and partly in dollars. He gave Julio our backpacks and the only directions he gave us were: “Don’t take your money out here” and “Follow Julio, he will take you to cross the border.” We looked at each other and held on to our daypacks for dear life and began following Julio, a small dark man wearing a lime green and white striped Aeropostale polo. The next few minutes are unclear to both of us, but we think we walked through what looked like a street with stores on the right side, a wall on the left, and people just standing around all over. Julio asked for our passports to fill out paperwork, and we both got ready to chase after him in case he decided to make a run for it. Thankfully that didn’t happen. Whew.
We walked through a little gate, and Julio took us to two different ticket windows and told us to give three different people different amounts of money. This is where KB and codea totally fail at almost everything. We don’t know what we paid for, we don’t know how much we really gave, and we don’t know much, period. We found ourselves in what looked like a parking lot/bus terminal/dead end. After a few minutes, we were sitting under a tree with Julio, where he told us we would wait until the bus came. We shared our salted peanuts with Julio, but what we really wanted was beer. It was 9 am.
When the bus came, we said goodbye to Julio and thanked him. We tipped him with all the cordobas we had left, and a few dollars. To this day, we don’t really know who he was or what he did, but our lives were in his hands and hey, we’re alive and well. So thanks Julio, for getting us to Costa Rica.
So there we were, finally on a bus to Liberia, Costa Rica! Just as we got comfortable, the bus stopped and we were back to being lost, but we followed the crowd. We took our belongings and went through security and immigration. Back to the bus. Kerianne sat next to a mother breastfeeding her child, and I next to a not-so-great-smelling human. It was just as awesome as it sounds.
The bus ride ended as quickly as it began. They played Thor and just as we were getting into it, the bus stopped and they called for passengers getting off in Liberia. We were the only two to stand up. We got off the bus and found ourselves in the middle of a highway, dirt and dust swirling around us, blinding our eyes. Kerianne had to climb into the bottom of the bus to dig our backpacks out because, of course, they were buried all the way in the back. And taxi drivers were bombarding us with questions about where we were going. With tears in our eyes from the dust cloud that welcomed us to Costa Rica, we picked a taxi and had him drop us off at a bus station.
We stopped at one bus station before realizing it was the wrong one. When we finally got off at the right bus station, we bought tickets to Tamarindo, and headed straight for the little restaurant we spotted in the terminal. We sat down and had no words to discuss the last few hours. We ordered empanadas and batidos and before we knew it, we were on the next bus of the day.
We laughed really hard for a long time on the bus to Tamarindo, trying to figure out how we got where we were. Still no explanation.
In Tamarindo, we checked into our hostel and headed straight to the beach to grab a beer with a fellow traveler we met on the way.
The rest is history. Our night began with beers on the beach while watching the sunset, and the next few hours involved several shots of chili guaro, Cuba libres, gambling at the casino, more shots with more strangers, dancing, and celebrating some guy’s birthday. Welcome to Costa Rica.
From Nicaraguan sunrises to Costa Rican sunsets, and lots of adventures in between,
codea + KB