Chapter 17: Bittersweet

Note: I began writing this post back in January. Since then I’ve come back to it many times, but my emotions and my adventures have kept me from posting until now. The world today, five months later, is more different than I could have imagined. This fact alone makes me cherish more than ever the experiences I detail here. I am so glad I had the opportunity to travel the world with this incredible group of humans in 2020. My heart goes out to everyone who’s had their life interrupted by COVID-19. While this world pandemic has disrupted my life in ways I don’t yet know, no matter what the future of travel looks like as a result, I’m so glad to have gotten out there and started this adventure when I had the chance.

Leaving Istanbul and flying to Cape Town I knew I had a big month ahead. I was excited and felt ready, confident after all I’d juggled over the course of the year that I could manage the adventure before me. December would be the last month of Remote Year. I had to make the most of the last four weeks with my tramily, Bourdain. I was also anticipating the arrival of my parents. They would be visiting for three weeks and I would have the opportunity to introduce them to Sam. We’d all spend the holidays together and somehow I’d manage to balance my time with them and my time with Bourdain, bringing the two worlds together when I could. I had heard wonderful things about Cape Town and I was ready to do and see everything, splurging a bit in my last month of this bucket list year.

We were met at the airport by the Cape Town city team. They drove us to our apartment building, which was brand new and actually still under construction. The apartment itself was nice, but very small. Sam and I were living with Andy and the three of us would be sharing a bathroom. The internet didn’t work well when we got there and our bedroom got hardly any connection, data or wifi. We soon found out there was no laundry in the building. The facilities hadn’t been completed yet. We were told they should be ready in a few days. Sam was admittedly disappointed with our living arrangement and I had to remind him that he had been lucky, finding himself randomly assigned to some of the nicest apartments all year long. I was optimistic about our situation and excited for the month, so there was no way I was letting the little things get me down.

The view from our apartment terrace

In the months since August and Kuala Lumpur I had let my daily routine fall by the wayside. I knew in order to juggle a month full of activities, work and high emotions, I’d have to find balance and commit myself to some sort of regular schedule. On our first full day in Cape Town I woke up, grabbed my bed of nails and spent the first 20 minutes of my day focusing on a gratitude exercise. After that I brewed myself some coffee and sat down to journal. I would start each day with 30 minutes to an hour of “me time” to journal, blog, write postcards or take care of personal tasks. Once that was done, I’d head out to the patio for some strength training, light cardio and stretching. I loved having an outdoor area where I could get out my jump rope, stretch band and mat and focus on my physical routine. Once finished I’d put on a bathing suit and lay out while listening to a podcast or meditation. Once that was done I’d shower and listen to the news while getting ready and making breakfast. Throughout the month I committed myself fairly steadily to this routine, making time for these activities at least four days per week.

When I left home at the end of 2018 I’d set a goal to hike as much as possible throughout the year. I started strong in Peru with my regular trips through the Andes, but obviously that plan had been derailed at the end of February when I broke my foot. Once I was out of my walking boot it took two and a half months for me to dig out my hiking boots, but even then I’d never really gotten back to it the way I’d wanted. Cape Town is a fabulous place for hiking and the city team there initiated weekly hikes called “Peak of the Week”. I was excited to get back into shape with regular hikes. Between the hikes organized by Remote Year and those planned with my parents and friends, I managed to hike one to two times per week throughout the five weeks I was there. Aside from hiking I stayed active with biking and walking tours and nights out dancing. After several months of sedentary rest and too much food, it felt good to get moving again.

A moment’s rest while hiking Kasteelsport

I don’t even know where to start in describing my time in Cape Town. I packed five weeks full of activities and social engagements, doing and seeing as much as I could. I learned about the local culture with tours of khayelitsha, the closest township, and Bo Kaap, the Cape Malay neighborhood we were living in. I learned about the local arts and crafts scenes at the First Thursday art walk and the Old Biscuit Mill weekend market. I learned about apartheid at Robben Island and in talking to locals. I enjoyed the local entertainment at a rugby tournament, the botanical garden and wine tasting.  I tasted local food at a cooking class, several braais (barbecues) and at Marco’s African Restaurant. I took in the natural beauty with a weekend drive along the garden route, a visit to Cape Point, trips to the beach and my weekly hikes. I got friendly with the local animals, seeing way too many ostriches and giraffes; spotting kudu, zebras and elephants from afar; and petting a cheetah at a wildlife sanctuary. And perhaps the highlight was my first skydive on the last day of the year. A symbolic leap of faith as I said goodbye to what had been the most adventurous year of my life.

And now a great morning view of the countryside

The day my parents arrived, a week after our arrival, I invited them to our apartment and cooked them lunch. It was so great to see them after almost eight months apart and I could tell at once they were happy with their accommodation, relaxed and excited for the weeks ahead. We caught up over lunch and then Sam came home from the office to meet them for the first time. I had told them before their arrival that they wouldn’t see me every day. I had to work and would want to make the most of this time with my friends as well, since our days were numbered. They knew when they showed up that I would be balancing a lot and were very respectful of my time and availability. Despite that, I found myself wanting to explore with them and spend as much time as possible together. We signed up for a bunch of Remote Year activities and planned a weekend adventure along the garden route. We spent Christmas Eve together at their flat and booked Christmas lunch at a nice restaurant. On their last evening, which was New Year’s Eve, we met them at Marco’s African Place for one last meal. It was so hard to say goodbye! My dad shared how pleasantly surprised he was that we’d gotten to spend so much time together. It was more than he’d expected. For me, three weeks felt like so much longer, yet I still wasn’t ready to see them go. This time spent together changed our relationship forever. I now have a greater respect and appreciation for my parents and I believe they feel the same way about me. We got along great, truly enjoyed each other’s company and had fun exploring a new place together. And I’m so glad that they got to meet Sam and that he could share in our adventure.

Adventuring and sightseeing with mom and dad

Throughout the month we continued to have issues with our apartment. While Sam was in the US for work, I had to report a leak in our bedroom ceiling. This meant there were people in and out of the apartment for a few days, a ton of cement dust coating all of my clothing and possessions in the bedroom and a nasty fight with RY over who would pay for my laundry, as the facilities in the building still weren’t ready for use. They’d offered to move us to a new apartment while they were working on the ceiling, but the thought of moving all of Sam’s and my stuff up four flights of stairs singlehandedly just stressed me out more. While I had a great month in so many ways, this was one of several challenges that tested my patience and sense of self security. After traveling a year with the same group of people, I was both sick of the group dynamics and sad to say goodbye. I was both excited and nervous for the prospect of leaving it all behind and traveling alone with Sam in the months ahead. Christmas night we had a big party with our Remote Year family and after too many drinks, my emotions and the many feelings I associated with our group and my place within it took over and I started a fight with Sam. We spent the next day apart, both seriously questioning whether we were ready to commit to the next few months of travel together. I did some soul searching that day to figure out where my emotions were coming from. Here’s what I realized. A year of travel had bred in me some insecurities that I hadn’t anticipated. Constantly being outside my comfort zone, struggling to find work, trying to find my place with a new group of friends, trying to be a good partner and also trying to keep my own independence had worn me down and shook my confidence in myself. When I had a chance to reflect I realized I wanted to work on things with Sam, without the pressures of our group. While traveling alone we would have time to talk and focus on building a healthier relationship. I wouldn’t have anyone to compare myself to and we wouldn’t have the constant pressures to go out and do things with others. I realized I was really ready for a slower pace and the time and space to focus on my own goals and my relationship with my partner. I knew Mauritius would be the perfect place to start this process.

Our program ended on December 28 and the morning after our farewell party, people started to take their leave. We stayed in Cape Town for another two and a half weeks and there were others around, but slowly more and more people went their separate ways. Sam and I moved into a hotel and started to get a taste of what solo travel would be like. It was nice to ease into things, still seeing friends here and there, but also just relaxing and enjoying our time alone. We were still in a now familiar city, but without as many organized activities to attend. We made time to say our final farewells to those friends who were still around and then on January 14, we packed our bags and hopped on a flight to Mauritius. I cried as we took off, saying goodbye to another chapter of my life, but as we landed, I looked anxiously out the window at the beautiful new adventure that lay ahead. After a year with my digital nomad training wheels on, I could now confidently take them off and continue my travels without the help and support they had provided. I knew this was just the end of the beginning and was ready to see what all lay ahead.     

2 thoughts on “Chapter 17: Bittersweet

  1. love this! i know this was the month you were supposed to be in Chi! sending well wishes to you and Sam. Excited to reunite wherever and whenever in the world that may be

    Liked by 1 person

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