City of Light

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Paris.

I had an entire post written about it.

I strung together words about the welcoming people I met and places I visited in the city by the Seine.

I wrote about the art and the cathedrals and the sculptures.

I  described the details of my enchanting evening in Saint-Germain. I wrote about the dinner I shared with new friends. The ambiance was palpable; the conversation, the food, the music… a night I shall never forget. I even got all poetic and whipped out my iPhone during dinner and typed a note about how I felt the ghost of Hemingway swirl around me in the cigarette smoke.

Corny iPhone writing aside, I fell in love with Paris that night.

I also wrote about the warnings I received back in the States before leaving for France.

The French hate Americans.

Parisians are rude.

Pretentious. Stuffy. Arrogant.

Tell them you’re from Canada.

I listened to the warnings and stored them in their proper place, the little file in my brain called “People Are Entitled to Their Opinions, Now Go Out and Form Your Own, Guy.”

But that all changed. No need to make up that complicated story about how my Mexican parents immigrated to Vancouver when I was a baby.

Now, most of my friends on Facebook have a Blue, White and Red filter over their profile pictures. Slacktivism at its finest. But who can blame them? We can all relate to the suffering caused by the senseless atrocities committed on the evening of November 13th. For Americans, the feelings were all too familiar. The disbelief and shock, the tension endured as we waited for news of another attack to break on our television sets.

I was lucky. I boarded a plane to Morocco the evening before 129 innocent people were slain in the coordinated attacks. My hostel, in the heart of Gare du Nord, was a five minute walk from the restaurant La Petit Cambodge, where fourteen people lost their lives. A new friend, Pauline (Popo to her inner circle), a vivacious Parisian with a personality that dwarfs the Eiffel Tower, was at the Stad de France with her boyfriend when the bombs went off. I feared the worst when I first heard the news. I relay my proximity to the massacres of Friday the 13th not for sympathy or some twisted badge of honor. I simply want to explain that I was deeply troubled by the events that place that night. I had friends there. I was worried and scared and disgusted.

Ironically, I found myself in the middle of a very Muslim nation, albeit a very liberal region, when the world first learned of what was going on in Paris. As you can imagine, the warnings from back home quickly changed tune. Anti-Muslim rhetoric flooded my social media accounts at a remarkable pace. People I respect and love wrote words filled with hate, fear and anger the obvious motivators of their prejudice. Once again, I was disgusted.

This site is not meant to be a political or religious platform. It was created as a space to collect my thoughts and experiences as I travel. A place for family and friends to be entertained by my words. To inspire a laugh and perhaps plant a seed of motivation for others to venture out and gain their own perspectives. The lens in which we view others, others being different societies and their respective cultures and customs, should be calibrated through our own personal experiences. This is the aim of my journey.

I have not been on the road for long. But I have been abroad long enough to gather that most humans are strikingly similar. Regardless of creed or nationality, gender or social standing, most people simply want to be happy. Through random acts of violence, terrorists aim to propagate fear and hatred.  They aim to divide us through our self-righteous reactions and emotions. When we help them spread their hate, they win.

If, Antoine Leiris, a man who lost his wife on that fateful night can refuse to hate, so can we. I’ll leave you with his words:

YOU WILL NOT HAVE MY HATRED

Friday night, you took an exceptional life — the love of my life, the mother of my son — but you will not have my hatred. I don’t know who you are and I don’t want to know, you are dead souls. If this God, for whom you kill blindly, made us in his image, every bullet in the body of my wife would have been one more wound in his heart.

So, no, I will not grant you the gift of my hatred. You’re asking for it, but responding to hatred with anger is falling victim to the same ignorance that has made you what you are. You want me to be scared, to view my countrymen with mistrust, to sacrifice my liberty for my security. You lost. 

I saw her this morning. Finally, after nights and days of waiting. She was just as beautiful as when she left on Friday night, just as beautiful as when I fell hopelessly in love over 12 years ago. Of course I am devastated by this pain, I give you this little victory, but the pain will be short-lived. I know that she will be with us every day and that we will find ourselves again in this paradise of free love to which you have no access.

We are just two, my son and me, but we are stronger than all the armies in the world. I don’t have any more time to devote to you, I have to join Melvil who is waking up from his nap. He is barely 17-months-old. He will eat his meals as usual, and then we are going to play as usual, and for his whole life this little boy will threaten you by being happy and free. Because no, you will not have his hatred either.

 

 

 

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Lift Off

Annnnnd I’m off!

This post comes to you from the land of fog, black tea and Yorkshire Pudding, which I recently discovered isn’t pudding at all.

‘ello London!

My first foray in Europe landed me in Heathrow Airport on a dreary April morning. As the sun rose, I peered out of the enormous airport window in the direction of London, I could sense the great Western city on the horizon. So close. I’ll be back, I thought.

I was right.

As I hopped on the train from Gatwick to London proper yesterday, I felt like Harry Potter on his way to Hogwarts. Embarrassing, I know. To my dismay they did not hand out any Chocolate Frogs or Bertie Bott’s Every Flavor Beans.

So here’s the plan:

3 days in London

3 days in Paris

3 days in Morocco for a surfing safari

After Morocco I fly to Granada, Spain for my first Workaway experience.

I plan to spend a month in Granada and then it’s back to the UK where I have been invited to pass the holidays with my friend and his family in Scotland.

I will be accompanied by Sir Fraser O’Neil of Scotland for the first leg of my trip. Fraz is a great friend from high school, more of a brother really. Fraser was a regular guest in our family home and practically lived in our living room for months at a time. Fortunately for him, my mother always loved the guy, entitling him to unlimited stay on our couch and an all-you-can-eat-pass in her kitchen. Our fraternal bond is personified by a derogatory banter that can prove a bit much for the unacquainted pedestrian.

Example:

After getting lost in the city for hours in search of me and our hostel, Fraser burst into the room, bags in hand, and exclaimed,

“There’s my bloody Wetback! How the hell are ya brother!!?”

“Oh Jesus!” shrieked Chris, a mellow backpacker hailing from Canada that had been napping on his top bunk and apparently wasn’t used to be woken by such blatant racial slurs.

Let the adventures begin.

PS: I lied to you, this post actually comes to you from Paris, France. I have been here for only 24 hours but the City of Lights has been quite impressive thus far. More to come….

 

 

DCIM101GOPRO
DCIM101GOPRO

 

Scrubbing Toilets and Stamping Passports

I feel your pain sister.
I feel your pain sister.

 

How often do you scrub your toilet?

I hardly ever do.

Something about that little toilet brush just grosses me out.

The poor guy lives behind my toilet, sitting there all day, just waiting to get dipped in poopy water.

No thanks.

Luckily, my roommate doesn’t seem to mind using him.

But what if grabbing that little poop stick and scrubbing my Mexican heart away had larger implications? What if cleaning toilets meant I could live in places like Barcelona or Bali or Rio de Janeiro for close to nothing? Well then pass the latex gloves and prepare your bum for some clean porcelain my foreign friends, I’m about to get down in the bathroom.

And that’s exactly what I’ll be doing.

Hopefully the toilet scrubbing will be minimal, but I’m prepared for anything.

Workway.info is a website that connects individuals with families and facilities that are interested in hosting work volunteers in exchange for room and board. Since hosts are not technically paying their volunteers, no work visas are required. There are tens of thousands of workaway hosts hailing from every region of the world. Each host offers a unique experience based on their needs, here are some examples of hosts I’ve come across in the last few months:

  • A surf camp/hostel in Peru in need of a bartender
  • A family in Barcelona looking for an au pair to assist with their two young (and adorable) daughters
  • Another surf camp in the Spanish Canary Islands in need of a surf instructor and social media guru
  • A hotel on the Greek island of Aegina searching for a receptionist
  • A hostel in Thailand requiring the services of an English instructor
  • An olive farm in Italy searching for extra hands during the harvest

As you can see, the work is varied and the opportunities are endless. Most hosts offer a room and at least one meal a day in exchange for 20 -25 hours of work per week. The rest of the time is yours. Not only are you saving loads of money on lodging and food(the most costly expenses while traveling), but workways offer the opportunity to make connections with your hosts and experience the true essence of your destination. Most travelers on vacation rarely stray off the beaten tourist paths. In return, they pay high dollar for fancy hotels, tours and watered down experiences.

So you’re not making any money?

You can imagine how many times I’ve heard that one. No, I will not be getting paid. But utilizing workaways throughout my travels will allow me to optimize my savings and have experiences I could have never dreamed of back in the States. Take my friend Jessica for example, she quit her job in Los Angeles back in June, jumped on a plane and has been workawaying her way across Europe. You should see the girl’s Facebook page. So far she’s worked on an alpaca farm in France, spent five weeks on a Greek island working in a hotel, visited Paris and Barcelona and is currently building houses out of straw and clay in Romania. Her next stop will be in Mexico when Dos Equis hires her as the Most Interesting Woman in the World. Okay, I made that last one up but I’m sure she’ll be doing something awesome.

Keep your eyes peeled Jessica, I’m coming right behind you.

 

Pinch Your Pennies

I am a cheapskate.

Everyone knows it.

In Spanish, someone who is notoriously stingy with their money is often called a codo.

Codo also happens to be the Spanish word for elbow.

Every time my grandfather sees me the jerk points at his elbow and laughs.

I'm going to send my grandpa a post card when I get to Greece. The back will read:
I’m going to send my grandpa a postcard when I get to Greece, the back will read: “Who’s laughing now old man?”

But hey, I’ll take some good-natured ribbing from my abuelito if it means I get to stay abroad for an extra month or two.

Once I committed to my trip, in an effort to save as much money possible, I took my thriftiness to new heights, or lows, by utilizing three steps outlined in Rolf Potts’ book, Vagabonding.

Step One: Stop Expansion

There’s nothing like a new pair of shoes. Put some new Oxfords on my feet and I’ll be whistling all day, feeling like the Mexican Don Draper. But dress shoes aren’t cheap my friends, and I already have four pair under my bed. Insert step one. I had to stop adding to the collection of things I already owned, and in most cases, neglected. I had a closet full of clothes and shoes I never wore. According to my last count, I own 37 hats. THIRTY SEVEN. Once I had that embarrassing number in my head, it was slightly easier to tell myself, “No, Aaron. You do not need that new snapback.”

I think I need a new surf board. Nope.

Those jeans are nice, you don’t have that shade of denim. Forget about it.

I was amazed at how much extra money I was able to put into my savings account when I stopped making unnecessary purchases. The next step on Mr. Potts’  list escalates the intensity of frugality, and has proven the most difficult initiative for me to stick by…

Step Two: Rein in Your Routine

A tightwad by nature, refraining from spending hundreds of dollars on new stuff was relatively easy. I’ve always been one who preferred to use my dollars on experiences rather than physical objects. Consequently, the pain of the rein became noticeable when I was forced to make sacrifices in my routines and social life. I gave myself a daily food allowance and tried to stick to it, by any means necessary. Suddenly, I was declining dinner invitations from friends.  If I did go, I’d make sure to eat at home first and stick to the appetizer menu. I even brought a Subway sandwich to a restaurant after convincing myself that if I did this every week I’d save hundreds of dollars before leaving to Europe. I don’t think I’ll ever live that one down.

Bi-weekly haircuts became monthly cuts. Movies? If it wasn’t on NetFlix, I wasn’t seeing it. When the music festival season came around, it seemed like all of my favorite bands were playing every weekend and all of my friends had tickets.

Florence and the Machine, Chet Faker AND the Black Keys? I get it… they rocked last night. Yes, I watched your 260 second SnapChat story… dick.

But before I became a total Scrooge and got a visit from the Ghost of Christmas Past, I reminded myself of the end goal. Traveling takes money, and saving money takes sacrifice. Altering your lifestyle is not an easy endeavor, but small adjustments can pay large dividends.

Step Three: Reduce Clutter

When I pulled into the parking lot of the police station my heart was racing. I was almost certain that no one had followed me, but I scanned the area for suspicious vehicles just in case. This is the last time I sell anything on Craigslist, I thought.

“Robert” seemed normal enough during our first phone conversation. We scheduled a time and location for him to come and see the first item of clutter I had elected to sell… my 100th Anniversary Harley Davidson. When Robert called me the next day to confirm the meeting, it was from a different number. Red flag.

Robert pulled up to the restaurant parking lot thirty minutes late in a black Chevy Tahoe that had no license plates. He seemed nervous and his knowledge about motorcycles was almost non-existent. He circled the bike, took a blurry picture of the fuel tank and never even asked to hear the engine. The red flags were flying like a Mexico vs. USA World Cup match.

“I love the bike bro, I want it. Can I give you a deposit now and bring the rest of the cash tomorrow when I pick it up?”

“Sure man, sounds good.” As soon as I heard the words leave my mouth I regretted them, but I’ve always been a sucker for crisp, hundred dollar bills.

Damn-it. 

I couldn’t figure out the hustle, but I knew this dude was going to try and make my bike his for the seven hundred dollar deposit. I called my Dad the next morning and told him the story.

“Why would you take that deposit?” He prodded.

Salt in the wound. As my old man was making me feel like a ten year old, a text came through from Robert the Scammer, “Hey Aaron. I have to work late tonight, so I was thinking you could drop the bike off here and I’ll get you a ride home. Don’t worry, I have the money all ready for you.” Shit. So his scam is murder. Awesome.

But I didn’t want to die and I sure as hell wasn’t going to let some cholo run off with my travel money, so my pops and I devised a plan and I text Robert a response, “Hey Robert, I won’t be able to drop the bike off to you. I have to meet my Dad to grab the title. He works in Huntington Beach as a police officer (lie). I was planning to have you meet me at the station after his shift and he can give me a lift home.” Boom.

Six hours went by without a response. Maybe he’ll cut his losses and reward me the seven hundred for outsmarting him. A hustler’s tip of the cap, I thought. Just as I was basking in the glory of my newly found street knowledge, good ol’ Bobby threw me a curve ball and replied, “Okay sounds good, just send me the address.”

When Robert showed up to the police station with a backpack full of small bills, I was ready for anything. As I counted the money, my eyes scanned the bushes nearby, ready for an ambush. “You’re fine,” whispered my dad, “just make sure it’s all there.” It was. I handed over the keys and watched Robert’s friend ride away on my beloved Harley. Much ado about nothing.

In hindsight, I’ve realized that selling an expensive vehicle in a parking lot to a guy from the internet was not the best idea, but I certainly let my paranoia run wild. Perhaps the paranoia was a manifestation of my reluctance to part with the material things in my life. The last charge of consumerism that courses through my American veins.

I loved that bike, but not as much as I think I did.

In his writings about Minimalism, Mark Manson describes the psychological phenomenon known as loss aversion, wherein, “humans feel the pain of losing something to be much greater than the pleasure of having it.”

Over a span of three years, I rode my Harley a grand total of two thousand miles. Translation: a few rides a month down Pacific Coast Highway. I had to pull the bike out once a month just to clean the dust off. But when I took my bike out for one last spin down the coast, I was suddenly Jax Teller from Sons of Anarchy. The chrome pipes glistened in the California sun and the engine sounded better than it ever had. What was I thinking? I needed this Harley, it was part of who I was.

Identities are quickly formed around the things we own. Naturally, reducing the things I own has caused some discomfort… even pain. But the feeling is also freeing. In two months time I’ll be boarding a plane with everything I need strapped to my back. No anchors, no clutter.

I’m off to see what I can do about those thirty seven hats.

This is an actual picture of me riding my bike for the last time
This is an actual picture of me riding my bike for the last time

The Power of the F-Bomb

Ralphie

My brother says I shouldn’t curse in my writing.

I told the little bro I’d do my best, but this one requires an F-bomb or two.

The first question people ask when I tell them about my plans to quit my job and travel abroad is usually something like:

What inspired you to do this?  

or

Whaaaaat? Why?

or

You’re an idiot.

Thanks Dad.

The truth is, there is no simple answer. There wasn’t one book read or conversation had that I can point to as the defining moment. The death of my mother certainly shifted my perspective. My recent trip to Europe opened my eyes to a sea of possibilities and alternate lifestyles. Reading books like this or blogs like that provided motivation and information.

But mostly, it was a lack of inspiration that forced me into action. 

Over the last couple of years, complacency slowly crept its way into my life and before I knew it, I was fully immersed. I had a good job and money in the bank. My apartment had an ocean view and cool sh… stuff was starting to accumulate in my garage. I had full benefits and a full refrigerator. Please don’t misinterpret me, I am grateful for my blessings. But was I happy? Not really. Was I growing as a man and challenging myself by taking risks and trying new things? No way Jose. As an educator, I believe in the importance of continual education and a devotion to lifelong learning. I can recall times in my life when my brain was like a sponge. I would stay up at night with stacks of history books piled around me, trying to satisfy my unquenchable curiosity about the world and the people that inhabit it, past and present.

Now, I just liked to Netflix and Chill.

Mark Manson, a former dating guru turned Entrepreneur/ Writer/Psychologist/All Around Bad Ass has a principle that I started applying to my life when I began feeling the effects of complacency. To the chagrin of my little brother, he calls it:

The Law of Fuck Yes or No 

Originally served as dating advice, “The Law of “Fuck Yes or No” states that when you want to get involved with someone new, in whatever capacity, they must inspire you to say “Fuck Yes” in order for you to proceed with them.”

Are you interested in going on another date with Ruth? Do you want to pursue a relationship with Sally Mae? Would you like to sleep with Virgil? I’m not sure why all of my examples sound like senior citizens, but if the answer isn’t a resounding Fuck Yes, then you’re wasting your time, and theirs. Like Mark says, “the best sex is “Fuck Yes” sex — i.e., both people are shouting “Fuck Yes” as they hop between the sheets together.” Life is too short to settle, it should be too sweet for maybes and grey areas. I don’t know about you, but I don’t like anything lukewarm.

The principle is rather straight forward and can be applied to anything. When I began asking myself Fuck Yes or No about certain areas in my life, it was clear that I needed to make some changes.

Since the Dodgers weren’t calling me to be their new shortstop any time soon, I began seriously considering my options. I knew that I wanted to get back in the classroom… eventually. There might be no higher calling or privilege than molding young minds. Perhaps I had taken the responsibility for granted during my student teaching, I will not repeat that mistake. I applied for my California teaching credential and should be receiving it any day now. Fuck yes.

But I also had another dream, I wanted to travel. I wanted to see the world, immerse myself in new cultures and customs and meet smiling faces along the way. I want to be able to teach the groms sitting in my history class from first hand experience. To tell them, “Yes, I’ve been there and it is a beautiful culture” or “yup, I went last summer and the place smells like shit. Seriously, don’t go there.” So I asked myself, do you want to quit your job and travel the world before you start teaching again?

You know the answer to that one.

Next I’ll show you how I’m making it happen, stay tuned!

Euronly Live Twice

I kind of feel like a cheater posting old material but I wanted to provide some semblance of a background for my upcoming trip. The following post comes from my old blog, Mytransistorsister, and was written after my first visit to Europe back in April. Although the trip lasted only a fortnight, I knew then, as I know now, that I returned to the States a different man. It served as a great impetus of change in my life, propelling me towards roads less traveled. The post has some tips for first time travelers(apparently two weeks in Europe made me an expert ha!) and even cooler pictures. Thanks for reading and stay tuned for some new stuff coming your way-  Aaron

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As I sit in my living room back in the States, I am surrounded by crumbled up piles of Kleenex, jet-lagged and sick as a dog. But the cold I caught overseas and 36 hours of grueling traveling back home could only distract me from my post-vacation blues for so long. The trip of a lifetime is over and it’s finally sinking in. My insides ache to be back in Barcelona eating paella and lisping my c’s. I close my eyes and think of the people I met, the food I tasted, the languages I butchered and I can’t help but smile.

In January, I went on a rant about New Year’s Resolutions but ended up making one anyway. My 2015 resolution was to travel and as I wipe the snot from my leaky nose and stare at this luggage that I don’t want to unpack, I can smile and say ‘mission accomplished.’

As I reflect on my travels, there are a few things I would have done differently and other preparations I am thankful I made.

1. First things first: Just go man. Travel. Save your pennies and do it.

I shouldn’t have to sell you on this but it took this guy 28 years to leave North America so… ya never know. Something special happens to you as soon as you’re on that plane. As I looked out of my window and gazed upon the Atlantic beneath me, anything seemed possible. Exposure to new people and their rich cultures throughout my trip cemented this new perspective. Back at home, it’s so easy to fall into the rut of monotonous routine. Creativity is hampered and options seem limited. Sometimes you just need to rise above it all and look at life from a new angle, and 30,000 feet seems to be the perfect height.

2. Do your research.

After flooding social media with posts about my upcoming trip (sorry guys), I got a message from an old friend who had recently returned from a European adventure of his own. My pal recommended that I go and buy Rick Steves travel books and I’m glad I heeded his advice. Well, I kind of listened. I hit my local library and rented a Rick Steves book from every country I would be visiting. What can I say? I’m cheap. Apparently you can rent up to fifty books at a time from the library, who knew?

Not only did the books offer great general information regarding the cities I would be visiting, Mr. Steves books guided me through popular and lesser known sites with ease. The books even offered advice regarding special deals and discounts, saving me both time and money.

Yup. That's a Rick Steves book in big Fraz's hand. It was our bible in Rome.
Yup. That’s a Rick Steves book in big Fraz’s hand. It was our bible in Rome.

3. Pack light: Less is more

I get it, it’s Europe, you want to look good and to some extent you’re right. Nothing screams American tourist like a baseball cap and shorts. Leave the yoga pants and hoodies at home and bring some collared shirts. But I definitely didn’t need the three pair of shoes I brought in my backpack. The more shit you bring the more stress you’ll have when you’re moving from hostel to hostel or going through airport security. The most important things you need to bring don’t even take up any space in your bag… a smile and an open mind. Plans will get fucked up, you will miss connection flights, and you’ll lose things. We somehow managed to lose our friend for twelve hours in England. Stay loose, it’s all part of the adventure. In the end, I did pretty well in this department. I lost a grand total of one sock, a pair of flip flops, and my six-pack (thanks Italy).

4. Enhance your experience: Stay in hostels

I must admit, I was a bit skeptical when I heard that my friends wanted to stay in hostels throughout our trip. Looking back, it is the best thing we could have done. Sure, sharing a bathroom with strangers is never fun and you get the occasional weirdo in your room. But the juice is definitely worth the squeeze. Not only are they cheap, but hostels offer you the opportunity to meet some really awesome people and have shared experiences that you never could have planned back at home. On a whim, I threw on my finest, caught a night bus to Monaco and gambled in the Casino Monte Carlo with two American girls studying abroad (shout out to my Seminoles)! We lost all of our money, but it is an experience I’ll never forget. In Rome, I danced the night away at a toga party with a bunch of German tourists. My German was limited to ‘hello’ and a couple of swear words so I didn’t bother to tell them that toga parties are actually Greek.

5. Embrace the local culture

Before leaving for my trip, I  heard a lot of chatter about European’s and their disdain for Americans, especially in France. Fortunately, I never experienced anything of the sort. Perhaps it was dumb luck, or maybe it was my willingness to ‘do as the Romans do.’ In Barcelona, I studied up on the history of Catalunya and did my best to lisp my c’s. My thank you’s in Spanish quickly went from “gracias” to “grathias.” You might feel like a total dork, and even though most Europeans speak some English, they seemed to appreciate the effort. If all else fails, just tell them you’re from California. It never failed, whether I was in Italy or Scotland, Monaco or France. Everyone loves the Golden State.

But it’s all over now. Back to reality. It hurts to be back, but that new perspective I alluded to also left with me a sense of gratitude. I am so fortunate to hail from the United States of America. I am lucky to call California home. I will never take my coffee maker for granted again (a dude can only drink so many espressos). God bless Chipotle.

Cheers mates. Here’s to getting those passports stamped.

Safe travels.

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