Tag Archives: Travel

Not Living Abroad.

I guess I can’t actually write about “living abroad” for a while. When I arrived in Trinidad I was harshly reminded that I am not, in fact, living here. Yet.

Before Friday, my passport had five stamps from Trinidad and Tobago. Those five times through immigration were easy – they asked what I was doing and how long I was staying; I gave them Kevan’s name and my return date. This time, however, something threw up red flags for them. Perhaps because I said Kevan was my fiancé instead of my boyfriend. Maybe because I checked the “study” box in addition to the “visiting friends and family” box, they needed to know more. It could be that the attendant was just a very thorough person. Or maybe they’re reluctant about Americans since Trump and Clinton are the two major presidential candidates. Regardless of the reason, the woman asked me questions for twenty minutes, wrote down my whole life story, and then told me that I couldn’t enter the country unless I had a ticket to leave. So I sat in the middle of the floor near immigration and cried as I made an expensive phone call to Kevan on my U.S. phone (thanks Dad for keeping me on your plan until I got here, it really helped out) and bought a plane ticket for both of us to go to Barbados in two months.

An hour and a half after the plan landed, I finally left the airport, with my bags still thankfully waiting for me. At midnight after a full day of travel it felt pretty traumatizing, but now it feels like less than a hiccup. It’s especially a non-problem because – pro tip that was really just luck – the airline with which I had booked the tickets had a 24 hour refund policy. Though we do intend to go to Barbados at the end of October, cancelling the tickets without penalty was a happy ending since we can get multi-city, round-trip tickets at a better price.

Two takeaways I have learned from this event:
Keep the story simple to avoid suspicion/manymany questions (“I’m visiting my fiancé for two months” instead of “I’m visiting my fiancé for two months while I work on a scholarship project and the scholarship is from my university and I’m working with this person in your country and yes I can show you an e-mail from him and no I don’t have any certificate for the scholarship available to look at and . . .”).
When we go to Barbados and Guadaloupe, I will be sure to have either a work visa or a ticket to go somewhere else to avoid all this trouble. Apparently you can get stay as a visitor for six months (for $100TTD, or approximately $15USD), so if I don’t have a work visa by then perhaps I’ll do the extension and just buy my ticket to go back to Illinois in April for the wedding.

As an answer to a question, Trinidad does not do fiancé(e) visas. I will most likely apply for residency after Kevan and I are married, but we’ll see how the work visa thing goes.

 

Sorting through every single thing I own

I leave in a little over two months. In addition to school and work and wedding planning, I need to organize the daunting amount of possessions that I own to decide what’s being discarded, sold, and taken with me.

Four years ago I had a different packing experience as I prepared to study in France for a year. I wasn’t about to pay extra for a second suitcase, so I really worked to limit what I brought. I even cut my hair so that I wouldn’t feel the need to bring a hair dryer or straightener. I packed light enough that I even had enough room to stuff a pillow in my suitcase, which turned out to be an excellent decision as it was much more comfortable to have that than the pillow that had been left for me that had been who-knows-where. I wore my five-ish outfits into the ground and returned with a suitcase that was only half full because many of my things were too disgusting to bring back.

Although I lived happily 10 months abroad without all of the material items by which I am currently surrounded, the idea of giving up these things for good is difficult.

Several days ago I had a burst of motivation and decided to go through all of the clothes I own. I even made little labels (ripped up pieces of paper with sharpie on them, how organized) for my different categories: Clothes to bring to Trinidad, clothes to last the rest of the summer, clothes to leave at my mom’s house (winter things for when I visit), clothes to discard, and clothes for the garage sale that my mom and I have been meaning to have for years.

After a quick overhaul of my dresser and closet, the piles were done. The Trinidad pile could have easily filled too large suitcases, and I still have to fit in books, shoes, and whatever else. I dug through it, lamentingly removed a few things, and looked again. It could have filled one and a half large suitcases.

Let me tell you an uninteresting story about my stuff. I’ve left some things in Trinidad on previous visits, so I already have clothes there. And if I’m honest with myself, I probably have nearly enough clothes there as it is.

Did you ever read any Little House on the Prairie books? While bumpily traveling out west in a covered wagon, sisters Mary and Laura Ingalls shared one tin cup. Laura had two dresses; a Sunday dress and a working dress. For Christmas one year, Laura was given a rag doll that was one of her most treasured possessions (and maybe the only real toy she ever had). There’s something in a simple, comparatively stuff-less life that appeals to us. When I was discerning religious life, one of the greatest calls for me was poverty: living with few material things and taking excellent care of the things we do have.

I DON’T NEED ALL THIS STUFF. It’s in all caps because I’m trying to convince myself, too.

This move is going to be an amazing exercise in detachment from things.

A one-way flight to the Caribbean

This is the point in my life where I begin looking for a one-way flight to Trinidad. Who knew.

This is the dream that a lot of people dream about. Many blog posts and articles pop up on facebook that have titles like, “How I quit my job to travel the world!” or “I sold everything I own and moved to <random cool location> and found a job there.” And it’s exciting, and you think to yourself, why don’t I just do that? But you don’t, and I don’t, and it’s probably because the idea sounds great, but the reality is that it will cost a lot of money, and travel bloggers are thing but it’s maybe not your thing, and you’re not sure you could even get a job if you go to this place, and what about all the paperwork you’ll have to do to live and work somewhere else assuming you do find a job, and there’s the fact that you don’t know anybody there, plus how long are you going to stay and how many family gatherings and weddings (or – as much as you might not want to think about it – funerals) are you going to miss?

One of these fears has already been taken care of for me. I’m not moving to Trinidad on a whim, I’m moving there to be with Kevan, who conveniently has a very full network of family and friends and family-friends who are all fun and welcoming and supportive. On that same note, I have a place to stay: I’ll be living with Kevan’s grandmother to start off (who lives just up the road from Kevan – also convenient), and although I’m going to give her money for rent, it’ll be much less than if I were to actually rent an apartment there. Kevan tells me that she is excited to have me and has been telling him about the food she’s going to cook for me.

While this knowledge is extremely comforting, the rest of my fears are quite present.
What if I can’t get a job that pays enough to support myself and also to work to pay back my student loans? Average salaries there are much less than the U.S., but the cost of living is comparable.
What about traveling back to see friends and family? All the people close to me are scattered around the country, so with one trip per year I’d likely only see a few people, and that’s if it’s really well planned.

While I do not have a job, my first two months there will be spent traveling and working on a project for a scholarship that I won. That’s another thing that has fallen into place really well, because I can job search while doing that, and it’ll be easier to job search from there than from here. I am also fortunate that I’ll have Kevan’s family and friends looking for a job for me too.

I thought my fears rant was going to be much longer. I actually typed a few and then deleted them because it felt silly. One was weddings – I have four close friends whose weddings I really, really want to attend. However, none of them are engaged yet, and based off of the current state of things they’ll likely get married far apart from each other, so it won’t be unreasonable to attend all of them. Another is paperwork, but ultimately that will be just a pain and not a showstopper.

Overall, I’m pumped for this adventure. I’m grateful that I have this opportunity, and that so many things are falling into place for this to happen. I know that I have a lot of surprises ahead of me. I’ll have many opportunities to learn and overcome challenges. There will be times when I’ll be frustrated or confused, but I’m hopeful that those moments will be greatly outnumbered by the happy and fulfilling moments. I’m excited to see how everything plays out.

 

 

Missed Buses

I had an overnight layover in Miami on my way back from Trinidad (I stayed in a hotel instead of the airport which was nice and totally worth it). My flight from Miami to Chicago the next day was delayed, and it was looking like I was going to miss the bus back to Champaign. I was upset at the added hurdle because it’s already a long day of traveling, and in addition to the bus to Champaign I would still need to take another bus and then walk to get to my apartment.

At 10:05am I was on the phone with Peoria Charter while waiting for my bag in the airport 10 minutes before my bus was supposed to leave. The next bus to Champaign that had any openings left at 10:30 that evening, but there was a 12:50pm bus that I could take to Peoria. “Great, let’s do that.” I hung up the phone and my bag appeared on the conveyor belt. My original bus was scheduled to leave in 5 minutes.

I thought about running out there while calling the lady back, hopping on it and being on my way, but the idea of getting picked up in Peoria by my mom and letting her feed me had already won me over.

I had two hours to wait for the bus, and while I was waiting there was an announcement that there would be a Catholic Mass in the interfaith chapel in the airport. Oh yes, that is for me. I didn’t even know that the airport had an interfaith chapel, but I went there and the Mass was lovely.

I got on the bus to go to Peoria and a woman sat down next to me. I asked her where she was from, and she said “No English only French,” so I asked spoke with her in (extremely rusty) French. I still don’t actually know where she was from, except that she was born in the Congo and her father is a university professor somewhere and she was going to Bloomington to see her sister. She was confused about her stop so I asked the driver some questions for her and she used my phone to call her sister.

My mother picked me up in Peoria and fed me a big salad for dinner, which was just great since I’d spent over 24 hours eating things like chips and granola bars and cookies. Also we had wine.

This morning my mom and I went to my grandparents house and had an early lunch there before my mom drove me back to Champaign, dropping me conveniently at my doorstep.

I complain a lot to Kevan about the fact that we live so far away from each other. I tell him that it sucks and I am so ready to not live 2,500 miles apart anymore. I want to be frustrated at God for setting us up for a prolonged long-distance relationship, though I guess I know better than that. I tell myself that God probably wants to teach me something by it, but of course I won’t know for five or ten years what it is. At least in the meantime I can try to remember that it’s not always terrible to get from here to there, and missing a bus might not mean the end of the world, and maybe my original plan, even a small one, isn’t the best plan in the end.

Tobago Adventure Day

On the second day of the Tobago trip, we drove around the entire island and stopped at a TON of places along the way.

Quick note: Rather than add captions to half of these photos, I’ll just tell you now that a lot of these pictures were taken by Keeshan! You can read about some of his outdoor adventures on Trail Pace.

12371039_10156345289665402_6221399198500670375_oOur first stop was Argyle waterfall. There was a mandatory admission fee that included a guide if we wanted one, so we chose to have one since we were paying for it either way. We definitely didn’t need one in terms of the trail since it was very clear where we were supposed to go, but it was awesome to learn about some of the local plants and birds.  The only bird I remember is the blue crowned motmot which is quite pretty and, as you may have guessed, has a blue crown. The guide mostly told us about trees, but he also showed us a ground provision called tania or tanya. I guess it’s not commonly used since I’ve never heard of it before, but I’d love to try to cook some. One think I really like about Trinidad and Tobago is the fact that there are so many different fruits and vegetables that grow here that I’d never really heard of or tried before.

The guide told us that the waterfall had 17 levels, but we only went up to level four. As you can see, each level change was a little trek all on its own.

1039648_10156345290115402_4907468493427857554_o12375039_10156345290030402_4125641601421356706_o

1064802_10156345291640402_5161321816323446801_oAnother highlight of the Argyle waterfall was that a stray dog loyally followed us the whole way, even up the really steep parts. Apparently in T&T stray dogs are called “potongs.”

 

 

 

After Argyle we went to Flagstaff Hill for lunch. I don’t know if the hill is second or third or any tallest ranked hill in Tobago, but Kevan said that at least I could put that it is the Northeastest most hill. So there you go.

Fun highlight: There was a radio tower that you could just walk up to and climb if you had the inclination. (I’m sure that wasn’t they intention, but hey, it was there.) Look how far up Kevan climbed!DSCN0535

Look I climbed really high too!DSCN0536

Haha just kidding no I did not.DSCN0537

 

DSCN0538Anyway, we ate lunch on a very sunken in bench and looked out over the bush. “Bush” loosely means “wildly growing plants.” Example one: When I have something compostable like an orange peel, Kevan says to throw it “into the bush,” where the bush is grass cuttings and plants in his yard. Example two: We go on hikes “through the bush” where the bush is all of the plants and trees that are growing naturally. Example three: His grandma said that her grandchildren grew “like bush.”

DSCN0546We went to Pirate’s Bay and walked down some very slippery steps to the beach. We snorkeled there and it was awesome. Snorkeling is becoming one of my new favorite things, though I’ve technically only gone three ish times for real.  Growing up in a completely land-locked area, my main experiences with water were swimming pools, which of course lack waves and are chlorinated. I tried snorkeling once last year and did a bad job. That was try #1. Breathing around the salt water in the tube made my throat scratchy, and being far from where I could touch the bottom was scary.  This year we had two really good snorkeling outings in Tobago. I’m more Pirates Bayconfident in the water this year, I think as a result of an accumulation of many little swimming experiences and practice. This year, having the snorkel wasn’t scary anymore, and it made me more confident to swim out farther. When you snorkel you are just floating on your stomach, face down with the tube sticking up out of the water. It’s much easier than swimming because your position is very natural and you don’t have to fight to keep yourself or your head up. I am still far from being a good snorkeler, but I’d like to keep doing it.

As the day went on I lost track of where we went. Where is this? I do not know.886927_10156345223985402_3376668435051890804_o

 

Fort something, which had two cannons and a gazebo.DSCN0562

When the sun is out, everything has the most beautiful colors.DSCN0566 DSCN0540

 

12371155_10156345300180402_5597429645858008953_oI don’t remember the name of this waterfall either. We walked across a field with goats to get to this little hike.

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And we’ll end with some boats.

DSCN0577 DSCN0572

I don’t remember exactly what we did that evening, but I think it involved eating leftovers and going to bed at around 8:30. A full day of activities will do that to you. I find it kind of funny that we only really have days like these when we visit new places. Okay, it makes sense that if we lived in Tobago, we could have done all of these things over the course of many days. But 1) would we have? and 2) is that better? When you live somewhere, you have the tendency to think that you have all the time in the world to do a thing/visit a place. But suddenly you’re moving somewhere else because of a job or school, and you never did that thing. (Or perhaps you live your whole life in that place and then you’re 70 and thinking about how you never did that thing and now you’re too old.) In conclusion, do the things.