Thank you to everyone who came out and supported my first novel at Café 349 in Shawville, Québec today! It was so nice for me to chat with some new and familiar faces about books, publishing, and summers in Norway Bay.
One thing I find hard about self-publishing, is that I am required to do all of the book promotion and marketing myself. This means that I have to sell myself and my work. As a shy and humble person, it is quite a challenge for me to ‘knock on doors’ and self-promote. Luckily, I have an enormous support network of friends and family who have helped me along the way. I have been touched and overwhelmed by all of the ongoing support you have provided for me.
Thank you to everyone from Norway Bay, Shawville, and the Pontiac who came to my book signing. Special thank you to Ruth Smiley Hahn at Café 349 for providing me with the opportunity to promote my work.
“To travel is to discover that everyone is wrong about other countries.”
– Aldous Huxley
After spending 9 months living and working in Manizales, Colombia, as a teacher at a private bilingual school, I took advantage of my summer holiday to explore the country for five weeks before returning to Canada.
While I’ve traveled solo before, I felt incredibly grateful to have company this time. My parents, my brother Brian, and my friend, Ashley (who I travelled with for 3.5 weeks), joined for various segments of the trip.
Although traveling with someone else requires some negotiation and compromise (Mom slept in a yurt!), a travel companion, especially someone you love, allows for deepening of relationships, shared memories, and opportunities to explore places you wouldn’t venture to on your own.
At first, when Ashley and I decided to embark on a South American adventure together, we planned to cover a typical tourist route: meet in Cartagena. Fly to Bogotá. Fly to Lima. Hike Machu Picchu. Visit Lake Titicaca. Bus to La Paz. Tour the Salt Flats in Bolivia. AMAZING. However, once we began our research, we felt like we were designing a trip for the sake of checking items off a bucket list. Too much time on overnight busses and racing from one place to the next. Not the adventure either of us had in mind.
We wanted to travel more slowly, allowing ourselves to stumble upon hidden gems. So we decided to spend the time we had together exclusively in Colombia. For me, this was a special chance to really get to know the country I’d been living in, before returning back home to Canada.
One of the gifts of travel is that it opens your eyes to many new possibilities for adventure and discovery. Travel also teaches you many lessons and I wrote about what I learned from teaching and traveling in Colombia here. My summer in Colombia certainly left me with a yearning to come back and explore more!
Check out this map of my five-week adventure, beginning in Bogotá. If you’re visiting Colombia for the first time, I’d recommend adding a few days in Medellin. (With it’s trendy cafés, progressive transit system, and eclectic arts scene, it was one of my favourite places in Colombia.)
A picture says a thousand words...
Here’s a taste of my five-week adventure in Colombia in photos!
Tayrona National Natural Park
These are the places that we visited on a 3-day tour of La Guajira. We joined the tour in Riohacha and traveled northeast to Faro, Punta Gallinas, the northernmost tip of South America.
Stage 2 of our trip was the transition from the coast back to the mountains. We flew with Avianca from Riohacha to Bucaramanga (via Bogotá). I don’t have any pictures of our time in Bucaramanga…we spent most of it at the mall!
San Gil & Barichara
Thank you to Mom, Dad, Brian, and, of course, Ashley, for joining me on this amazing adventure!
We all learned that Colombia is an extremely diverse country with a warm & vibrant culture…no longer the Colombia of Narcos (drugs, violence & Pablo Escobar). I feel so lucky to have been able to discover this beautiful country con mi familia y una amiga increíble.
As a writer, I spend a lot of time in coffee shops. On average, I visit a café at least once per day, and usually do the tour of my local faves on weekends. This means, I likely spend $30-40 CAD per week on coffee, which is more than I budget for my phone, transportation, and sometimes entertainment (and I wonder why my only assets are my MacBook Pro, my Canon Rebel, and a couple of cute Anthropologie dresses).
For me, coffee is more than a daily dose of caffeine. It’s a reunion with friends I haven’t seen in years, or a regular catch-up with the people I see every day. It’s the motivation to teach a 6am spin class or go for a morning run when all I want to do is hit snooze and roll over. It’s a source of inspiration for grad school papers, blog posts, and writing my first novel.
Coffee has also been an integral part of the conversations that have changed my life: first dates, painful breakups, job interviews, and crucial advice from friends or family.
While coffee is a regular part of my daily life, I never really considered the complex story behind the coffee I consume.
However, after visiting the Tio Conejo coffee farm this past weekend, I learned that behind every cup of coffee there’s a struggle to build stronger, healthier, more sustainable communities. There’s an effort to be part of the full circle of life by giving back to the land and being able to pass on history, traditions and culture to the next generation.
At every step in the production process, there’s labour, sweat, and pain, as well as hope, innovation, and social change. After a day at the coffee farm, it was clear to me that producing a high-quality cup of coffee means a lot more than profiting from a commodity crop on the world market.
Stages in Coffee Production
Cultivating Nutrient-Dense Soil
Here’s where I come in! I’d be a completely different person without my morning brew. Thank you, coffee farmers, for all of the work that you to do to improve my quality of life…by helping me wake up in the morning, inspiring my writing, supporting engaging conversations with friends and families, and warming my insides on a cold winter day.
If you are in the Manizales area, or if you are a coffee roaster, café owner, barista, or curious consumer, I’d recommend taking a trip to Tio Conejo to learn about the origins of coffee and the story of where your coffee comes from. (When I was there, I met a couple from Black Dog Coffee in West Virginia who made the trip to Colombia to learn about the farm that produces the beans they roast for their customers!!)
For more info about Tio Conejo, check out this awesome video:
But I have very few pictures of London itself. In fact, I don’t have a single photo of the places cinco minutos de mi casa (five minutes from my house) that I saw every day and developed a connection with.
No photos of the old Victorian buildings.
Or of the cobblestone alleyways.
Or of the artsy cafés & bars (where I’d go to write my blog, inspired that Oscar Wilde may have once sat down to write in the same places).
Or of the designer consignment stores, like the one where I bought a funky shirt-dress for five pounds, which my students decided was a hideous fashion blunder and claimed made me look like a cupcake/sumo wrestler.
Or of the many electronic shops on Tottenham Court Road that I walked by every day but never stepped inside.
Maybe I didn’t take as many pictures at “home” because it’s harder to look at the parts of my life that go deeper than tourist shots. I started to see a London that captured all of the joys and heartaches that come with living.
In my neighbourhood of Fitzrovia, I developed strategies for coping with struggles at work, like rainy runs in Regent’s Park, or a Turkish Wrap at the Camden Lock Market, as well as rituals for celebrating success, like pints at the neighbourhood pub, or spontaneous dance parties followed by late-night Korean food.
I learned to feel the pulse and beat of the city (“Do you hear that sound? It’s London, calling…”, an old man whispered to me after last call at a pub he’d been frequenting every night for the last 40 years).
I discovered the most efficient routes for navigating public transit (don’t fall asleep on the last train from Clapham Junction and avoid night buses at all costs!) and the etiquette for using it (avoid eye contact, keep to yourself, become as stressed out as possible, and most importantly, “mind the gap”).
My relationship with London was definitely love-hate. It inspired me to live wildly and deliberately. It broke me down and drained my bank account. It’s a city that brought out the best and worst in me. It’s left me with a hopeful yearning that, perhaps, if we’re lucky, our stars will eventually align and we might have another shot at each other sometime in the future.
My passionate affair with London pushed me to those moments of agony and ecstasy that sometimes get lost in the monotonous grind of daily life. Ultimately, it forced me to grow and become stronger than I was before because I wouldn’t have survived if I’d stayed the same. That’s what the best relationships do: they change you.
My relationship with Manizales, Colombia, is still fresh–I moved here in October 2015. So, it’s too soon to know which parts of it will stay in my heart and which parts I’ll want to leave behind. But with all of its cafés, vibrant culture, and easy access to the outdoors, I can easily see how it’s been voted as Colombia’s best city to live in.
In light of my regret about not documenting my life in London, here are some photos of places in my new neighbourhood in Manizales: spots that are all cinco minutos de mi casa. I’m still in tourist mode, though, so let’s see how intimately I come to know them in the future.