Greener on Which Side?

You’re probably already well-acquainted with the “grass is always greener on the other side” feeling, aren’t you? And you’ve probably already had a few run-ins with its more sleazy counterpart — the feeling that the greener grass wasn’t quite as green as you’d formerly thought, correct?
It’s the naturally indoctrinated mindset that if we just escape this brown, prickly life of ours and hop the fence to trot off to some adventure on fresher pastures, that life will somehow automatically become fantastically fulfilling for us. The sign above the gate reads, “I just can’t wait to get away from this life, outa this town, and go somewhere better. Then I’ll be happy.”
By now, though, the world has long since discovered that skipping out on what’s around us doesn’t fix everything, because discontentment and unhappiness are prescriptions worn on the eyes of the mind and heart, and that’s a perspective that would go with you no matter where you went. (In simple terms, what we try to get away from is usually inside us, not around us.)

Now, now. Don’t get me wrong. Before you come running at me with your portable pitchforks and travel-sized torches, let me assure you I have nothing against traveling, in the least. Rather, I promote it. It’s good for you. I think everybody should do it. Adventure is a legitimate need of the soul for a healthy lifestyle.

The reality though is that sometimes the grass is greener over the hill; but because humans have that pesky yet oftentimes so necessarily useful capacity to acclimate, even if we walked on the greener grass, we’d usually quite quickly forget about it and start daydreaming about another side, where surely there must be even greener grass.
Movement and progress are always good of course, because complacency is like the old stale cheese that you forgot in the back of your refrigerator but decided to leave there because it wasn’t really in the way; but a lack of the capability to appreciate where we are will always prompt us to feel that what we have is never good enough, leading to what I’d think is an unhealthy type of discontentment.

But which one is it then? Are we supposed to always long for more, or are we supposed to be content with what we have?


Perhaps the real question resonates more to this note: How do we prepare for greener grass?

One of the best ways, I think, to travel for the experience of beautiful things is by first learning how to appreciate the world you already have around you. As Marcel Proust articulates it, “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.”

Beautiful. Sniff. Just….beautiful. Pure gold, right there.

I’d guess that type of appreciation helps to cultivate the balance between a healthy contentment for what we have and a vibrant yearning for more.
Mind you, again — it’s appreciation, not apathy. One is the conscious intentionality to put the iPhone facedown and really pause to breathe in the soothing petrichor of the first real day of spring after a cimmerian winter; the other is like the stale cheese.

In the end, not to sound cliché or anything, but I actually believe that thankfulness — a genuinely deliberate mentality to cultivate gratitude in your mind daily for the things we generally take for granted — is one of the first best steps towards truly “living in the moment,” as so many of us like to talk about but really have no idea how to do. Once you start nurturing a personal sense of wonder for the world already around you, everything you experience in the other pastures — every smell, every sight, every touch, every taste, every sound — is increasingly enriched and made all that much more delightful.

It makes you a beautiful person from the inside out. None of that exhausting pressure of trying to live up to a seemingly-unattainable image or standard you have for yourself. It’s something people see without your effort to show it, and it usually begins to rub off on them too.



Sentimentally Significant


It’s why I love the movie The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe so immeasurably much. Aside from being based on one of the greatest books in history, there’s an attention to a specific type of detail that I value in particular, especially since it’s lacked in most other movies.

Wonder and sentimentality.

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There are so many scenes that focus for an instant solely on the characters’ faces and their expressions; and deliberate time is placed into slowly developing a moment up into something special.

Value is placed on the little beautiful things.

I’m not sure what’s so legitimately great about that yet; but there must be something to it for how impacting it is.

I apply it to life, though. It’s worth taking the time and energy to slow down and notice the small beautiful things that are usually too easy to take for granted. For instance, the way dandelions glow in the moonlight, or how a rainbow appears on a spiderweb if you look at it just right in the sun.

Or how exorbitantly beautiful a girl’s eyes are, the closer you look.

In specific scenes, within a movie, these things feel important, but it seems that sometimes the only way to make our own scenes feel important in real life is by posting them all over Facebook. We feel that our actions and special moments are only validated if other people know about them and care. Problem is that not everybody can always know about them, and most don’t care. Even if they did, though, so what? How much value does a “Like” or a comment or a trophy or cheering crowd really have, in the end? You’d think we should have learned by now that our significance is not determined by what other people think.

We need it to be determined by something, though, right?

Something pure and objective and eternal and loving….

I still like finding and creating special moments in life though, sometimes alone and sometimes with others. They’re like the chocolate chips in your cookies . It just makes life so much more delicious.

Today, this is my favourite song. It’s even more delightful if you sit outside and watch the butterflies whilst you listen to it.



I woke up at five fifteen yesterday morning, ate some fresh pineapple, and then rode to the bus stop with my cousin in his sleek, super-awesome Range Rover. Seriously, that car is a batmobile.

I rode the bus to the station, and as I walked around searching for my next bus stop, I realised how much I looked like a foreign tourist with my backpack, camo shorts, and flip-flops. Oh, the shame.

After a mild hour-and-a-half ride from San Jose to Esparza, near the coast, I met up with a fantastic friend from Montana who happens to be living in Costa Rica too. He introduced me to the lovely host family he’s staying with, and it only took me two days to learn all their names. Yeah! Record speed!

Breakfast was followed by a day ambling along the coast, complete with the hot sunny beaches, palm trees, sea birds, fresh coconut water, and of course a swim in the Pacific ocean. We even met a Jehovah’s Witness from Germany who tried to convert us.
After the tide tried to steal our phones and wallets from the sand, we headed back to the house and spent the rest of our time on a neighbour’s porch chillin’ late into the balmy night in a true Latino style.

The heat woke me up the next morning — and basically threatened to put me back to sleep for the rest of the day.

Right before leaving, I asked the lady of the house if I could pray for her hand. She had carpel tunnel syndrome and was having to take pain killers. I prayed about four or five times, with the pain lessening each time I prayed. On the last try, her eyes got really wide and she said she felt a lot of heat coming out of my hands. Had to have been the Holy Spirit, ’cause I didn’t feel anything.

Since my aunt happened to be in a nearby town that very afternoon, I got on another bus to find her. She had driven for her three cousins (all of them sisters) because they were coming to help a Catholic priest set up his church for Easter week. I was spontaneously recruited to help as soon as I arrived. Apparently they were all good friends, because, afterward, we all went into the parish and sat in his back patio, joking and laughing and drinking coffee.

The day gradually ended as we drove back home to the mountains. We left just as the sun was spilling fire and gold all over the Pacific horizon. There were six of us in the car: my aunt, the three sisters, one other lady, and me. They talked for the entire two hours, all at the same time. It was no bother to me, though. I was stuffed in the back reading the last couple chapters of my legal fiction novel by the light of the car behind us. The early crescent moon and Venus peaked out conspicuously from the sky just after the sun went down, like little siblings sneaking into their older brother’s bedroom when he’s away.

The purpose of life after all is to live it, to taste experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear for newer and for richer experience. –Eleanor Roosevelt

Home and Onward

I almost forgot to mention that we finally did make it back to Costa Rica from our venture through South America. I’ve actually been here for over a week now.

It’s been delicious for my soul, being home. Whilst we were away, I found myself missing everybody here in ways that I had never quite missed them before. Since this was the first time I’d ever been on a trip of this sort, I suppose it entailed new emotions and experiences; and overall it made me appreciate my people even more deeply.

Our trip was necessarily great. Even though I wouldn’t know how to start summarising the extent of my experiences, I can still glance back with a grin of success: We were transformed. Really transformed. I feel that I’ve been impacted permanently, in many different ways. There were so many things that are normally only ever talked about that I got to experience directly in real life. I faced some prominent fears and personal limitations — and I overcame them. Essentially, I lived one of my biggest dreams. (That doesn’t mean, of course, that the dream is finished; my love for travel has only been further impassioned.)
Not to mention, of course, we learned a heap of “do’s” and “do not’s” concerning various aspects of traveling, particularly “do not’s” for when it comes to crossing borders.  I’ll say no more about that.

This post, therefore, will conclude and end my narrative for our South America backpacking trip (a narrative which only truly was just a glimpse of our full adventure.) Now this blog will again become a dwelling for my ramblings and musings.

The house I call home. (Photo credit to my sister, Haley.)

However, I can’t go without at least mentioning the topic implied by the second half of this post’s title. As it happened similarly with Chrystel, I was presented with the “Now what?” interrogation upon returning.
You see, I’m at that notorious age and position where I’m facing the daunting question of what I’m going to do with my life.
It’s daunting, but I’m undaunted.
Sure, perhaps I have my mild melodramatic moments (very, very short moments,) but I’m honestly not anxious about it. Reason number one is that I know God has plans for me, and He’ll let me know what they are, in due time, if I’m keen to listen. Reason number two  is that I’m very much a live-in-the-moment type of person. People often ask me what I want to do with my life (as if I hadn’t even started yet — what a notion,) and whether I say it or not, I always think to myself, “This is my life; I am already doing it.” At least on a small scale, I’m doing what I want to do, and I hope to do more of it, more deeply, more effectively, always learning and always open to progress. Then, whether it’s college, or work, or perhaps another backpacking trip, I know I’ll make it there gradually and promptly. I do prepare for the future, because preparing is important, but I don’t want to get entangled in a notion of only ever preparing — getting caught in that mentality of, “When I finish highschool, then I’ll really be where I want to be….when I finish college, then my life will begin….when I get that job, then I’ll really be living….when I get married, then I’ll be fulfilled….when I retire, then I’ll be happy….” because I’d arrive at that point and realise I’d spent my entire life putting myself off, waiting for my circumstances to be convenient before I allowed myself to live freely, and fully.

I always find myself saying, “You don’t have to go to college to be successful in life.” In reality, that simply depends on your definition of success. If I find that my success or my dream lies untouched on the other side of a flowing river of university education, then I’ll cross it. Nevertheless, I’ve come to realise that rather than prioritizing a focus on what I want to do, it’s more important to know what kind of person I want to be.

Live now, not later, I think.

Credit to Bethany Appelhans

Credit to Bethany Appelhans


It’s one title with multiple meanings.
We’re nearly approaching our day to leave and head home, so that’s a prominently present reality in our minds; simultaneously as prominent, in these past few days, was the notion of certain failure in a couple of areas. To be more specific, I mean that Chrystel and I were recently both faced with a sense of failure in some of things we had wanted to accomplish or live out. It was worse knowing that it came now so close to the end.
It’s  almost a given, though, isn’t it? –failure when trying new things and endeavouring for great goals. It’s not necessarily required; it’s just a part of life.
That’s why I’ve come to feel that I should neither be so surprised nor so hard on myself when it does happen. Too often, we despair or condemn ourselves when we commit a mistake, as if we’ve forgotten that we’re human and that it’s a natural part of our existence. I was taught that it at least demonstrates that you’re extending yourself beyond your limits and stretching your comfort zone (when it’s fueled by something other than stupidity, of course.)

The most important thing to remember, though, is that we are not defined by our mistakes — or even our accomplishments, for that matter. Your identity still remains intact if you remember why it is that you really matter in life. (You matter because God loves you, to state the simple obvious.)
We concluded that our focus should not be on the mistakes, but on how we deal with them and what we do about them. It can be okay as long as we take responsibility and ownership for our errors. At the very least, we know that’s what our parents will care more about when we get back.

I guess that’s another good meaning for this title. Leaving failure. You leave it behind after dealing with it rather than holding onto the memory and letting it affect you. Grace and forgiveness are really what make it possible anyway. With that, and with not giving up, it usually turns out all right in the end. Keeping hope is massively important; and the reality is that God will always be there to help bring things to complete restoration.

In the end, it wasn’t as dramatically disastrous as we had felt it was in the moment (another good thing to keep in mind.)
Incidentally, here’s the other huge thing I learned: When something bad or difficult happens, and a girl goes into a mood of utter despair and everything is gloom and doom, oftentimes all that’s necessary is to let her talk on and on and vent it all out. You keep your mouth shut and simply nod your head and say an occasional “M-hm. I understand.” Then, once she’s done, you can rest in peace and stop fearing for your life. I’m speaking very generally, of course….

Traipsing Around – Part 9: Transformation

Both transformation and revelation, actually.
Those have been the most characterizing realities of this past month in Santa Marta.
Gracious me. Yes, an entire month. A month of living in the mountains with little electricity and no running water. A month of sweating day and night from the inescapable heat. A month of constant warfare against billions of mosquitoes. (In fact, I’m sure by now I’ve been bit by nearly every species of insect in the Colombian jungle.)
There’s so much more to be said for that month though. It was also a month of both peace and adventure. A month of waking up every day to the pure, glorious green of nature. A month of getting to know some very special and very unique people. And of course, it was a month of knowing God deeper — for real, not just in the cliche sense.

I might also say that for a while, it was one of the most difficult stages of our trip so far. Both Chrystel and I each faced our own challenges, and I’m sure we both felt things we’d never felt before. At one point, Chrystel had told me that this year as whole, for her, has been the most difficult year of her life, and that it was culminated in this trip.
No worries, however. We’ve both learned immensely from the things we’ve gone through; and I’ll confidently say we’re overcoming our challenges.
Before embarking on our expedition, Chrystel also told us that if there was one thing she wanted to see, even if nothing else happened, it was that we would all be changed by the time we went back home. She wanted to see us grow and grow closer to God. That, I think, has been accomplished already.

Speaking of which, the notion of returning home is now finally becoming more of a reality than a fantasy. We’re back in Bogota for about a week; and even though we’re not quite yet done here, it is nearly time to head north towards Costa Rica.

Wonderment (TA-Pt: 8)

Humans have that innate nature of complacency or capacity for growing accustomed to things, which can be both beneficial and undesirable, I think. Beneficial, when dealing with difficult circumstances. Undesirable when it comes to appreciating aspects of life. We grow used to things and subconsciously set standards, especially when it comes to how amazing or incredible we think something is. It’s too easy to get caught up in always looking for the next best thing or something greater than what you last saw, not appreciating the things that are already there.
Better, I think, than always looking for something amazing or seeking to show people something amazing (despite the fact that those are worthwhile efforts) would be the endeavour to give them the ability to appreciate and to wonder and to be amazed at the small and seemingly-insignificant things in life. Everybody experiences the world subjectively anyway; so just because you’ve gotten bored of one thing that you used to think was beautiful or magnificent, it doesn’t mean that the thing has actually lost its beauty or magnificence. (As it is, what would be the purpose of something beautiful if people weren’t there to appreciate it?)
Restore to people their ability to wonder and marvel at the world. That’s a gift that cannot be held or touched, and it’s more valuable than almost all others because it allows people to love even more deeply the things that they can hold or touch or see or smell or hear or feel.

In any case, would you like to know something absurd? Ironically, the very instant I was about to get into the bus that would take us to the little town below Machu Picchu, I lost my camera. It literally just disappeared. I have no clue what happened to it. One instant, I was sitting on the sofa in the hostel fiddling with it and wrapping the strap around my toes, and the next instant, as we walked outside, I no longer had it; and as much as I searched and searched and searched, I could not find it.
It was just as well in the end, I guess. I had to settle with the reality that I wouldn’t be getting any photos of one of the most outstanding places we visited; but I think it was probably better that way for me, since I could focus more on being present in the place and moment, without having the distraction of trying to make things look good on camera. Fortunately, though, Sam and Chrystel still had their cameras, and they took a few pictures whilst we were there.

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The seven-hour bus ride back to Cusco was miserable, and the twenty-hours from there to Lima were even worse. We did travel through gorgeous landscape, though. However, at one point as we rode through the mountains, our bus crashed into a truck that also crashed into two other trucks. Thankfully, almost nobody got hurt, and nothing worse came of it except arriving later than we expected.

We’ve spent the last couple of days in Lima, trying to be real tourists for once — basically just relaxing, enjoying ourselves, finding good food, and simply making the best of our last few days together. Sam flies out tomorrow back to Canada to tend to his life at home. Once he leaves, it will be a sad and lonely journey as Chrystel and I make our way back up north without him. He has always been the life our little trio-party. We’re trying not to think about it too much.

Therefore, Chrystel and I have recently just decided that we’ll return first to Santa Marta, back to Pedro Nel’s little farm and stay with him for a while. (It’s a straight three-day bus ride to Cali, and then about another two days or so to Santa Marta. Not really looking forward to that very much.)
After Santa Marta, we’ll probably return to Bogota and quite likely stay until mid-November. After that, we’ll finally be able to return home.

Even though we do still have heaps of traveling to do, we’ve finally been perceiving the end of our journey approaching us. As you could probably imagine, it’s a conglomeration of emotions and thoughts ranging from the eager joy of soon returning to those at home, to the solemn conclusion of one of the most adventurous times of our lives.

Traipsing Around – Part 7: Lima

After nearly four days on a bus, without once taking a shower, changing my clothes, or even brushing my teeth, we finally made it from Bogota to Lima. When you’ve traversed straight through three countries by bus, you really start becoming very familiar with your immediate surroundings — and especially what positions are most comfortable for sleeping. For instance, there’s the Only-Slightly-Painful-Curl-Up-Into-a-Ball-Position, with your feet hanging out into the aisle and your nose all squashed up in the seat. Or even the Not-So-Painful-But-No-So-Comfortable-Sleep-on-Your-Back-Even-Though-the-Seat-Doesn’t-Lean-All-the-Way-Down-Position.

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Anyway, Lima is pleasant; and the scenery along the way was spectacular.
We did have our undesirable circumstances, though. There was a bit of trouble crossing one of the boarders; and when we arrived at our destination yesterday, tired, hungry, and dirty, we discovered that Sam’s bag had been lost along the way at some point.
Therefore, we stayed at a hostel yesternight to rest, and also to wait to see if Sam’s bag could be found by today. We’re resolutely believing that it will be returned to us.
This afternoon, then, we’ll take another bus, for a quick twenty-hour ride to Cusco; and then from Cusco, it’s either bus, train, foot, or maybe all three to Aguas Calientes, where we can begin our ascent to Machu Picchu.


Traipsing Around – Part 6: More Great Unknown

Just like that bus terminal back in Panama, Bogota seems to be the place we always return to and stay for heaps of time. It’s fine by me, though, because the people we’ve met here and the experiences we’ve had with them have surpassed my expectations — and I’m a person of high expectations.

Nonetheless, we still have time left and places to reach before this trip is over. Tomorrow we head out again into a lot of variables and personally uncharted territory. As far as we know, we’ll take a ten-hour bus from Bogota south to Cali; and from there, another bus for about three days all the way to Lima, Peru. From Lima, it’s just another hop, skip, and who knows how long of a bus ride to Cuzco. We have an unrelenting resolve to reach Cuzco and climb Machu Picchu before Sam has to return to Canada.

It’s going to be a matter of raw backpacking again, sleeping wherever we find a dry, comfortable place, and figuring things out as we go along. The last phase of our journey with the three of us together, heading into a great unknown.




Traipsing Around – Part 5: The Jungles of Santa Marta

I think I’ve officially reached that point at which I’ve now starting looking like a hobo, or a homeless hippie. You know you’ve been backpacking for a long time when you can chew on your own mustache.

I guess that hasn’t really mattered as much though, especially since we’d spent the last two weeks in the rainforest mountains of Santa Marta. The degree of beauty and splendour there is immeasurably outstanding. Rosita’s husband, Pedro Nel, has a plot of land there that he’s been working on. It’s where we were staying, and ever since we arrived our days had been filled with productivity and fun and all sorts of adventure.
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For instance:

Pedro Nel has a massive vision for what his property can be used for, part of which includes a self-sustaining farm with a building for hosting visitors or missionaries or even just living in from time to time. We were helping him with cleaning up the area and putting up a chicken coop, among other things:

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This is Hermano Pedro. He was already there helping out with the construction. This guy is seventy-three, and he still hikes all over the mountains, works all day, and climbs up to put onto rooftops:


This is the little house where we were staying. We collected all our water in tanks from the river, and we had only just recently installed electricity.

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We also hiked all over the mountains and thoroughly got lost more than once:

Getting Lost

Here are a couple pictures of the giant mutant monster centipede thing that we found in the bathroom:

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From the beginning of our trip, the three of us knew that it wasn’t going to be a matter of just reaching a certain point and heading back. Our goal is every day, every place, every person. Nevertheless, with that still in mind, we’ve decided upon a location we want to reach before we turn back and head home. You see, Sam has to be in Canada again at least by the middle of October, so we want a particular spot to arrive at before his time runs out. After having been inspired by some other backpackers we’d met earlier on, we concluded that Machu Picchu would be that place.

Therefore, yesterday was our last day in Santa Marta before head back by bus to Bogota. We’re going to stay here in Bogota again for just a couple of days to spend a little more time with our friends and visit a bit. After that, we’ll continue to take more buses down through Ecuador and into Peru.