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Argentina Musings Snapshot Travel

A Snapshot of…Patagonia, Part II (And a Chat with Fear)

November 19, 2015

"Fear is good. Like self-doubt, fear is an indicator. Fear tells us what we have to do. Remember one rule of thumb: the more scared we are of a work or calling, the more sure we can be that we have to do it.”
- Steven Pressfield

[Continued from Part I]

That night, I met Tony at my hostel. From Wisconsin, he had just arrived and was itching to see Fitz Roy straight away. I told him about the weather forecast, and he merely shrugged. He was going no matter what. When he invited me to join him, I realized that it wasn't the fog that was holding me back. To be honest, I was intimidated by all of the stories I was hearing from other hostel guests about the last hour of the hike - ice and rocks, straight uphill, wind and snow, slippery, exhausting, scary.
Was I in good enough shape? Would I hold back whomever I was with? Would I disappoint myself?

So I told Tony that I would hike the first portion with him and turn around at Lago Capri, which is about 2 hours into the 4-5 to the summit. The next morning, the weather was mild as we set out on the trek. When we reached Lago Capri, Tony asked if I was going to continue.

"I don't have any gloves." We had both heard the top of the mountain included crawling and using your hands to maneuver the ice and rocks.

"I have an extra pair," he said.

"But I don't want to slow you down." Another excuse.

"It will be nice to have someone to hike with for once; it's been awhile."

I had run out of excuses. The weather was actually quite nice, he had extra layers with him and he wanted a partner. And then it dawned on me. Here before me, knocking on my door, was that little bugger called Fear.

Anytime Fear arrives, I know that there is some opportunity - though not always obvious - for personal growth, however big or small. But I think what we gain from this visit all depends on how we greet Fear when it comes a knockin'.

The default, and the easier way, of dealing with fear is to meet it with brute force and blindly push through it. To just put your head down, close your eyes and hope for the best; coming out the other side with pride and perhaps an attitude of "I just kicked Fear's ass." But if you simply push Fear out the door it came in, without even looking at it, you will never understand its origin or purpose. Where is it coming from and what is it trying to teach you?

The other way is to greet Fear at the door, invite it in and ask it why it has arrived. It is in understanding why it is there that you will likely uncover that opportunity for growth. Because Fear has likely arrived to teach you something about yourself - your insecurities, beliefs, expectations; what you are projecting or what you are avoiding. Providing you an opportunity to chip away at your fears, revealing a more confident and authentic you. 

Now, I'm talking about fears that are more threats to our ego than our life. If I were climbing Mt. Everest, for example, Fear is more than welcome to let himself in, make himself comfortable - hell, he can light up a cigarette and put his feet on the couch if he wants - and tell me about the possibilities of frostbite, avalanche and high altitude pulmonary edema. No, I'm talking about things like a fear of failure, a fear of standing out (or not being noticed), a fear of judgement or criticism. For me, it was the fear of failing the climb, not being in good enough shape or that my age may have started impacting my fitness level. As ridiculous as this might sound to others, it was indeed what was coming up for me.

So once I identified the fear, I asked myself:
What is the worst that could happen?

In this instance, for me it was having to turn around and head back down the mountain, feeling out of shape or not tough enough. That was it. A fear of feeling out of shape and weak was going to stop me from seeing one of the most iconic views in Patagonia!

The next question was:
What is the best that could happen?


So I found myself following Tony to the summit to see Fitz Roy and complete the 20K hike. I don't think there was a moment of silence as we chatted the whole way until we reached the last stretch. That last hour was indeed challenging - the ice and snow, the steep incline on the rocks and the altitude had my legs and my lungs working hard.

It. Was. Exhilarating.

I loved every second of it. The feeling of my legs burning, but keeping them moving regardless. Slowing down and drawing out my breath to keep my heart rate in check. The complete concentration as I had to carefully place every step I took. Feeling exhausted, but filled with adrenaline knowing the top was coming and the views would make it all worth it. Keeping pace with Tony and being able to share the triumph of our journey together at the top.

I had sat with Fear, had a chat and then showed it to the door as I realized that I was stronger than I remembered. It wasn't a new revelation, but one that I believe we get the opportunity to be reminded of again and again. It will certainly come back in one form or another, and I will again invite it in. Because I know that no matter what, it comes bearing unexpected gifts that I will benefit from.


The summit was freezing cold and snowing, as Tony and I waited for the clouds to part so we could get a peak at Fitz Roy. We huddled against a big rock to protect us from the wind and waited. We took some pictures and waited. We put on another layer and waited. Once my fingers and toes were frozen, I decided to start my descent and Tony continued to wait for the clouds to part.

Within 10 minutes of my descent down the very steep and slippery decline, I met John, from Canada - who suggested we descend together given it was a bit treacherous. I was thrilled to find another hiking partner who was clearly more experienced than I was. We had a chat on the way down and once we got through the challenging part, we stopped in a little hut and pulled a snack from our packs. Tony met us there and the three of us descended together as the weather got more beautiful the further down the mountain we got.

That night, we all celebrated with wine and dinner. Joined by Liz and Molly we played cards and other games late into the night. It was by far one of the highlights of my journey thus far!

Coffee: none
Food: primarily cooked at hostel
Accomodations: Calafate, America del Sur Hostel; El Chalten, Patagonia Hostel 



Musings Travel

Rebranding Hostels

November 5, 2015

I'm pretty sure the majority of my friends fell over when I told them I was staying in hostels. Not only is it a stark contrast to my previous professional life of flying business class and staying in 5 star hotels around the world, but their perspective of hostels is exactly the view I shared before I set off on this journey.

The first time I ever stayed in anything close to a hostel was just three years ago. My friend Danielle and I went to Portugal for a week to a surf school in Peniche. It was more like a house share, where Dani and I had a bedroom and bathroom on the top floor and we shared the house with two German brothers who had a room and bathroom on the first floor. Given our days were so long at surf school, we didn't spend much time there and therefore it didn't feel much like shared space.

As we settled in, somehow it came up in conversation that I had never stayed in shared accommodations before. Dani was floored! In New Zealand and Australia, it is a rite of passage to do some overseas travel either before university ("gap year") or after ("OE/overseas experience"), and given the limited funds they have at that age, hostels are the primary option. The same is true for many European countries.

Knowing about the gap year, I had always viewed hostels as a place where 18-22 year olds rule. I imagined it to be like the cheap lawn seats at a Dave Matthews concert, where all the kids are falling over drunk, being all loud and obnoxious, making out and throwing up on each other. I outgrew that scene a long time ago and started paying more money for the good seats.

So without any gap year or long-term OE experience, I skipped right to paying more for my accommodations when I traveled, attempting to avoid the drunk kids and the inevitable noise and mess they would bring with them.

But when you are planning a trip around the world, want it to last 6 months, and no longer have a paycheck - you have to evaluate cheaper options. So while I started in an AirBnB in Buenos Aires, I knew that I would be moving onto hostels fairly quickly.

I started looking at reviews online and quickly could pick out the places that fed my perspective of them, and those that looked 'respectable'. TripAdvisor and HostelWorld have user reviews that tell you about the vibe, noise levels, cleanliness, location, etc. And you can decipher what type of crowd stays there by the reviews themselves and what the guests write about. ("Near all the night clubs bro!" "Sweeeeet rec room with beers and a ping pong table!" = NO)

Aside from one unpleasant experience in a stop-over city, my experiences at hostels have been incredibly positive. I've done both shared and private rooms. They have been clean and comfortable, social but tranquil. Some have even been nicer than hotels I've stayed in.

And the people? Well, they are not what I had pictured. They are not loud, obnoxious kids looking to get bombed. They are professionals, students, drifters and teachers of all kinds. They are people who don't want to wait until they are retired to travel. They don't want to wait until their friend is ready to go with them, or until they find a significant other. They took a few months off. They took a year off. They took two years off. They are tired of the rat race. They are looking for a change. They want to step outside their comfort zone. They want a break from their routine. They want to explore. They want to meet new people. They want to gain new perspective. They want to experience other cultures. They want to experience themselves in a new context. They want to savor Mother Nature's creations. They want to be inspired.

They are...just like me.

I have met some amazing people in the hostels I've stayed in that have led me to incredible adventures and great fun. My perspective has completely changed. And while I don't suggest a hostel is the best option for every type of journey - if you choose wisely, it could lead to some unexpected and memorable experiences.

Musings Travel

To Each Her Own Story

October 1, 2015

For centuries, humans have turned to stories as a means of escape, connection and inspiration, to pass on teachings and tradition, to share information and to mobilize social movements. From fables, folklore and fairytales to poems, novels, memoirs, movies and documentaries - we all have certain stories we connect with, stories that touch us, move us or speak to us.

I ultimately chose a profession that allows me to relish in my own love of story. Branding in the corporate world means understanding what a company stands for, what their purpose is, what makes them unique and then telling their story in the most authentic way possible. And as much as I love defining and creating brands as a professional - I equally love getting to know the story of a brand as a consumer.

I feel the same way about people. We each have our own story - where we've been and where we want to go, our history and our purpose. And I'm drawn to people's stories for all the same reasons as above - to be moved or inspired, to learn, gain new perspective and to connect.

Since the beginning of my journey, I have met loads of other travelers and the conversations with them always start the same way:
Where are you from? How long are you traveling for? Where have you been? Where do you go from here? What has been your favorite stop so far? What do you do back home? What are you going to do when you get back?

You might think that the repetitive questions would get old quickly. But while I may tire of my own voice telling my story, I never get tired of having this conversation. Because the fact is, while the questions are all the same - the answers always bring forth a new story. Each person brings a unique reason for traveling, a different background, their perspectives on various locations, their experiences - their ups, their downs - and their dreams of life after their journey.

So I thought I would share the stories of just a few people I've connected with to date. Perhaps I will do this fairly regularly, but for now:

Diego, from Argentina. Diego is from Buenos Aires, and while he was on holiday in Tilcara a few years ago, he fell in love with it. He started talking to the owner of the hostel where he was staying, who happened to be in the market to sell. Very soon after, he left his job in the city and bought the hostel. I don't know what it looked like before he was there, but he turned the hostel into an incredibly creative, art-filled sanctuary. With locally crafted items, vintage toys, murals and funky decor - the hostel is so unique and cozy. He even restored an old VW-Scooby-Doo-type-van that sits on the lawn and is a room option for the traveler who wants more of a camping-like experience. I loved his story because he took a chance, leaving his secure job at a hotel chain to build something he could call his own, that allows him to express his creativity and reflects his personality. (Ladies, he was also very nice to look at and he called me Nee-coley, the witch. At first self conscious of my pointy nose, he clarified that he thought I was enchanting. Hola Diego...)

Marion, from France. Marion flew to southern Argentina without ever speaking Spanish before and hitchhiked her way north to Tilcara, where I met her. My quick Google Maps calculation says that's about 2,500 miles for a direct route, which I'm sure she did not take. She had been traveling for about 5 months and was fluent in Spanish when we met. I connected with her story because she was traveling solo, of course. But even more so because I admired her courage, I shared in her intense love for travel and I was inspired by her success in picking up a new language through total immersion.

Mat, from Australia. Mat leads expeditions all over the world for high school students ("outward bound"- type programs). He had been traveling for 2 years! Throughout his travel stories, he mentioned every continent except Antarctica (though I wouldn't doubt he's been there). More recently, he bought a van in Chile and has been driving all around South America in it. There are some amazing routes in South America that you can certainly see traveling by bus - but being able to take your time, stop where you want and even set up camp in some of the beautiful parks is priceless. I met him in Mendoza along with his friend, Liz from Denver, who flew out to journey with him. We spent the day biking around the wineries and sipping vino. I connected with Liz on many levels personally and was inspired by how Mat turned his work into the lifestyle that he dreamed of.

Random couple, met in Purmamarca. After hiking the Hills of 7 Colors, I sat down to grab a bite to eat. A man and a woman walked into the cafe and I noticed they were selling something. It is not uncommon in Argentina for vendors to walk into a restaurant or cafe trying to sell their goods, though my typical response is "No, gracias". But as they approached me, I saw they had some interesting photos in hand so I decided to listen. Turns out, they are both photographers and they planned to take some time off to bike around South America together for a couple of months. When their holiday time was up, they didn't want to go home. So they started selling their photos in a postcard format with various inspirational quotes* on them, in order to fund 4-5 more months of travel. Another brilliant example of combing work, creativity and personal passion to live the life you dream of.


It's interesting to look at the stories that you most connect with and the people that you really enjoy spending time with. I think you find that they are a reflection of yourself - what you want from life and/or what you aspire to be.

I've clearly got a theme going on here.

Musings Travel

Words to Live By

September 1, 2015

Resfeber (res-fe-ber) noun 1. The restless race of the traveller’s heart before the journey begins, when anxiety and anticipation are tangled together. Origin: Swedish

I'm not sure when or where I saw this word for the first time; though it was most likely from one of the travel blogs that I follow. I remember thinking, 'who the hell has anxiety before going on holiday?!' All I ever felt was the anticipation side of that equation. And it was usually tangled with excitement, and perhaps relief if I had been particularly busy. But anxiety? 

Who are those people?

And then the day came when I was staring at the departure gate at Logan Airport to start a six month journey around the world.

As an avid and frequent traveler, it kills me to admit it. But yes - the anxiety started to creep in. I was starting in a big city and spending three months in a part of the world where I didn't speak the language. I only had confirmed plans for the first 10 days and while I had a general route, I didn't have any other flights or hotels booked so as to remain completely flexible. I left a steady paycheck and a job where I was well respected and on a continued upward path.

So as I walked through the security gates, the other side of the resfeber equation was speaking to me with words of fear. Did I do the right thing? Am I going to want to turn around in 6 weeks? Will I miss my bed, my kitchen, my morning coffee? Will I crave my routine that I so badly wanted to escape?

I've always been a travel bug, but this was another level.

Holy shit, I'm really doing this.

I remember the day I decided on the idea. It was last September and I was having brunch with two friends. Theresa had recently divorced and Chris was fighting cancer for the third time. Both were clearly dealing with a rollercoaster of emotions, but both were incredibly positive and full of life. (The type of people I love surrounding myself with.) Personally, I was really enjoying my work but I was burning out. I often thought about what was next for me, with dreams of leaving the corporate world and pursuing my passions. But I just didn't have the time to actually figure out exactly how or what. I loved being home near friends and family, but I didn't exactly have much love for Boston. Since I returned from living in London years ago, I felt unsettled there. 

So as we typically do when the three of us get together - we talked about some deep shit. We talked about life and really living it authentically - being honest with yourself and everyone around you about who you are and what you want. To stop living inside the lines of others' expectations and going for what you really want. Chris called it "living life on purpose". I loved that. 

Theresa and I spoke about leaving the rat race of our jobs to travel and get some headspace to figure out what was next. When Chris heard that, she simply said "why not?" She reminded us that life is meant to be lived, not to be dreamed about and put on the shelf for later.

We talked about how travel expands your mind and the world you operate in; how experiences are so much more interesting than material things; how meeting people from other walks of life teaches you not only about how others live but about your self. It shatters your assumptions and biases. It births new perceptions.

That was the day I decided I was going to leave my job and travel.

I decided to live my life on purpose, to just go for it. To live authentically. Not worry that others may think I'm crazy for leaving a stable, lucrative job where I was good at what I did and got amazing opportunities like living in London and traveling to places like Milan, Paris, San Fran, Hong Kong and Tokyo; wondering why I wasn't searching for a partner, establishing roots and getting the white picket fence; concerned that I was pausing my retirement contributions;  concerned that I was traveling alone; concerned about what I would do when I got back.

It's amazing how much the things above (note: others' concerns) weighed on me. It was harder to tell my family, friends, my boss and my colleagues knowing that they would share all of these fears. But I realized at some point that these were their fears - not mine.   

Now here I am, boarding a plane to Buenos Aires with a one way ticket and nothing but time. The anxiety creeping up is a projection of other's fears and it was nudged out by my excitement and inner knowing that this is exactly what I should be doing.

Chris passed away about 3 months before I left. Her words still sit with me: "Live life on purpose." Now those are words to live by.



What’s With The Name?

August 31, 2015

The name Seeking Emeralds was inspired by a story in one of my favorite books by Paulo Coehlo, The Alchemist. This book has so many messages weaved throughout that I love. But here's one excerpt that prompted the name:

"The man told of a story of a miner who had abandoned everything to mine for emeralds. He worked for a certain river for five years and examined hundreds of thousands of stones looking for an emerald. The miner was about to give it all up right at the point when, if he were to examine one more stone, he would find his emerald.

He had sacrificed everything for his Personal Legend and the old man got involved by transforming himself into a stone that rolled up to the miner's foot. The miner with all of his frustration of his five fruitless years picked up the stone and threw it aside. He had thrown it with such force that it broke the stone it fell against. And there embedded in the broken stone was the most beautiful emerald in the world."

It is is a story about having the courage to just go for it.
It's about choosing to be brave over being comfortable.
It's about choosing what's right for you versus what is easy.
It's about seeking out what feeds you instead of giving in to what is expected of you.

Giving up would have been the easy way out for the miner. He could have called it a day and gone back to his daily routine, his comfortable life. But he would have missed out on uncovering the most beautiful emerald in the world, the thing that he knew was his "Personal Legend" (his dream, his calling, his soul purpose, or whatever word you are comfortable with).

I learned from author and speaker, Brene Brown, that the root of the word courage is cor - the Latin word for heart. In one of its earliest forms, the word courage meant "to tell the story of who you are with your whole heart." In other words - to be true to one self, to be radically authentic with abandon. It isn't easy to do in such a competitive, hyper-critical world. It takes courage to go against what is expected of you and open yourself up to criticism and judgment. But the rewards are oh so sweet.

This blog is about my journey mining for emeralds. And maybe inspiring you to seek out yours.  

So, what calls to you, to your heart? How far do your dreams stretch? Do you feed them or did you abandon them long ago? You don't need to give up everything like the miner or quit your job to travel the world. Perhaps it's taking that cooking class you've always wanted to, studying photography, leaving a confining relationship, starting that business, changing careers, or learning to surf.

Whatever your emerald is, get after it.