Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Life is like a dance

It seems that Ecuador and I have reached that point in our relationship when we're starting to see each other's flaws. I'm still head over heels in love with this country but people not turning up as promised is one cultural habit that drives me crazy sometimes. I can deal with the customary lateness but I find the no-shows much harder to adjust to. Ecuadorians have explained to me that in their culture, it's considered polite to say yes to an invitation, even when you have no intention of going. Therefore, expecting apology or an explanation for this kind of behavior is pointless and for friendship's sake, it's usually better not to ask why. In turn, I've tried to make it clear that where I come from, we appreciate honesty but I'm still met with bewilderment every time I bluntly turn down an invite or call to say that I'm not going to make it. 

The other day, a friend and I had made plans to go salsa dancing together. We texted during the day and agreed on a time to meet outside the salsoteka. I arrived five minutes late and then waited for another twenty minutes before deciding to go in by myself. My friend never showed and I never found out why. In the end it doesn't matter because that night, I had the perfect dance. 

I was already on the dance floor when I noticed a guy, whose name I do not recall, standing nearby watching me intently. As soon as I felt his presence, I knew that we would dance and when the song ended, he reached out a hand and invited me to dance the next one with him. 

Most dancers understand that you need a bit of time to get into the rhythm with a new partner. It takes a couple of minutes to learn how the other person moves and how to follow their lead without bumping heads or stepping on toes. Yet Mr Perfect dance partner and I only needed a second. One, two, three and our steps were already synchronized, as if we had always danced all of our dances together. His gestures were gentle yet I instinctively knew where he wanted me to go and when he wanted me to turn. When he dipped me, I let go. I knew he wouldn't let me fall. Every now and then he released my hand to do spins of his own and a couple of beats later, we came back together, perfectly in tune. We danced, we laughed, we sang and our bodies melted into one as we completely lost ourselves to the moment. One dance followed the next and at the end of the night, I lent forward and planted a big kiss on his cheek. Thank you, perfect stranger, for bringing out the latina in me.


Salsoteka Lavoe is one of my favorite places in the world and yet I hadn't been back there since I came back to Quito. As I walked out, I realized that I haven't really been happy in that time either. I've had my fun, yes, and I've laughed a lot but until that night, I hadn't felt that extreme high, that euphoria that comes from whirling around to the sound of Latin music. 

I could have chosen to go home when my friend didn't show up and I could have spent the night being bitter and upset about it. But then I would have missed out on all the fun and the truth is that a lot can be forgiven with a dance. This time, I chose to love life - flaws and all. That's not necessarily an easy choice to make and there are certainly challenges. For instance, my computer recently crashed and then my phone stopped working and let's face it, my new home is a building site covered in dust. Every day I miss my family and every night I miss the person that used to sleep next to me. It's only been a couple of months since I started over and even though I'm developing new routines, new friendships and new feelings, my heart is all over the place. Impatience being my middle name, it really is a wonder that I dance salsa at all, considering how long it took me to learn.

I keep looking for inner stillness but sometimes, it is only in the rapid movements of a dance that I can find some peace. Never mind the occasional head bump or stepping on toes. At least now I'm back on the dance floor and you know what they say: Take one step in tune and the rest will follow... 

Dancer's pose at Playa Negra

Friday, August 4, 2017

Moving in and out and on

Your motherboard is broken. There's nothing we can do. 
The technician hands me back my laptop and signals to the next person in line to step forward. I drag my feet out of the store and walk home feeling disappointed. I bought this fancy computer only a year ago and despite my loving care, it has already let me down. My heart sunk, I realize that I have no idea how to solve this problem on my own. I know nothing about computers and I have no money to buy a new one. So I start asking around and to my surprise, I find plenty of people willing to help. After a couple of detours, my laptop is now safely on its way to Switzerland, where it will hopefully be repaired and then returned to me as good as new. All paid for by my warranty. 

My best friend has gone to Europe for a while, taking my laptop with her. This is the second time in as many months that she and I have been apart for more than just a few days. We met in Montanita last year and since then, we've been pretty much inseparable. There's separation anxiety for sure but at the same time, the distance offers us a chance to explore our own identities. Who are we, when not one part of this solid friendship? Can we function with no motherboard? What things are we capable of on our own, without the constant support of another half?

Two days after she left, I moved out of the apartment that we've been sharing and last night was my first night in my new home. My third home in Quito - my third time lucky. It's still under construction and a bit of a mess but then again, so am I. It's also beautiful and bright and I love it because it's mine. A friend helped me move and he was amazed by the fact that everything I own now fits into two tiny suitcases and a couple of handbags. Moving my things from one place to the other took less than half an hour and as soon as my friend drove off, I reached for my phone. I had literally been alone for one minute before I texted my former roommates to tell them that I missed them.

This was the second time that I moved out of the place that was my first home in Quito and this time I know for sure that I won't be going back. It was a home and it was fun while it lasted but it's time to move on. I enjoyed the parties and the drama as much as anyone but I can't take the constant noise anymore. I'm also tired of being the only one who ever takes out the trash, puts away the dishes and cleans the stove. Still, I can't even count the number of times that my friends and I collapsed in tears or laughter in the living room and the memories made in that house will definitely last a lifetime.

Living alone certainly has its advantages. Having my own space for the first time in over a year has brought back memories of my second home in Quito, a haunted house far up in the north. It had five bedrooms but even so, there was nowhere to hide from mischievous roommates and malicious ghosts. On top of that, there were constant rave parties that made my first home seem like a sanctuary. But I also made friends for life up in the north and I fell in and out of love - twice. Last weekend I went out with one of my roommates from that house and despite her young age, I have so much to learn from her about life. She teaches me to live right on the edge, to go with the flow and to always expect the unexpected. 

I know I said earlier that on this second round of my adventure, I would focus on finding myself (whatever that means) but I've come to realize that the only way to do that is in relation to others. It's amazing how we can feel so incredibly powerful on the top of a mountain and yet so unbelievably vulnerable in the middle of a crowd. That's the paradox of life, isn't it? The fact that staying where we feel uncomfortable is what eventually will make us more courageous. The only way to conquer that fear is by facing it, hence the only way for me to dare to trust someone again is simply by believing that what I hear is the truth, no matter how many times I've been lied to. 

Life is always under construction and sometimes a bit messy but it is also beautiful and bright. So let's open up the windows and let the light in. Let's mess things up and allow them to get complicated. Let's linger in that uncomfortable vulnerability for just a little bit longer. My new apartment is mine but it is also yours so let's open the door and let more people in. Let's all hold hands and jump together. (No, not off the roof this time, I promise). What I mean is, let's take a giant leap into the unknown, even though there's no warranty and no guarantee that we won't break a leg or a heart or a motherboard. It's worth it anyway, just to find out where we land.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Searching and learning

Her hand in mine, my hand in his. Eyes closed, knees touching. Collective inhales and exhales. Vibrations. Tingling sensations. Magic moving all around the room. We have just completed an hour and a half of yoga and dancing at Flow Hot Yoga in Cumbaya and the endorphins linger in our bodies. We finish by singing OM and saluting the light in one another. Namaste. I open my eyes and look over at my friends who are glowing in the dark, sparkling even, like the rare diamonds that they are. 

Ever since I came back to Quito I've had such a craving for honesty and genuine connections. I want everything around me and inside of me to be pure and clean, which is why this seems like the perfect time to start a vegan diet. Watching the documentary What the Health has also convinced me that plant-based food is the best option that I can serve my body and so far, I feel great. I've been sort of vegetarian for a long time but I want to take it one step further and leave out all animal products. Even so, I still prefer to call myself "flexitarian" because I don't believe in too strict rules when it comes to eating. I need to be able to enjoy a bit of cheese and chocolate every now and then, otherwise life is just too sad. Also, being flexible makes things easier when you're living in a country like Ecuador where vegan options are somewhat limited. 

On this second round of my adventure, I'm also on a misson to find out who I can really trust. I'm endlessly grateful for my amazing tribe of people around the world and so excited about the new ones coming in. Unfortunately, however, this truth-seeking journey began with me finding out about a betrayal from yet another person that I thought was my friend. But maybe that's just how it goes. Maybe it's like with the light and the dark - we wouldn't be able to recognize the truth if it wasn't for the lies? 

After I heard the news, I walked away from what had once been sisterhood and friendship and made sure to carefully close the door. This, in turn, has led me to ponder some rather uncomfortable questions: Do I let people in too easily or, do I push them out too fast? Do I need to be more careful or more empathetic? Are there times when we should forgive and forget, even when we can't possibly understand? Maybe I need to learn how to exist in a garden that is growing wild, instead of trying so hard to get rid of all the weeds? 

Once again, I find myself quoting my favorite author Elizabeth Gilbert, who desribes this process so much more beautifully than I ever could: 
If you're brave enough to leave behind everything familiar and comforting and set out on a truth seeking journey, either externally or internally, and if you are truly willing to regard everything that happens to you on that journey as a clue and if you accept everyone you meet along the way as a teacher and if you are prepared most of all, to face and forgive some very difficult realities about yourself, the truth will not be withheld from you. 
So that's where I am right now. At end of one adventure and the start of another, or maybe somewhere in between. Always searching, always learning, always trying to do better. Thinking about all the things I didn't know a year ago and wondering where I'll be a year from now. Above all, appreciative of this ever changing world and thankful for each experience that has something valuable to teach me.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Out with the old, in with the new

I have a new hobby - I've started listening to podcasts. Years after the rest of you, I know. I never really understood what was so great about them until recently when I got stuck at an airport for hours on end and needed a new kind of entertainment. My favorite so far is Rachel Brathen's podcast From The Heart: Conversations with Yoga Girl. In one of the first episodes, she talks about her painful past and how she managed to manifest the dream life she leads today. This resonated with me so much that ever since I got back to Quito and resumed my meditation practice, I've been trying to shift my focus towards the kind of future that I want to create. 

Meanwhile, I seem to have developed an absolute zero tolerance for bullshit or anything that isn't 100 percent honest and true. We all try so hard in this life and trying to pretend that everything is okay when it's not is exhausting. I simply cannot deal with any more well meant advice about the importance of positive thinking. "Good energy" here and "good vibes" there. Give me a break! Please. By all means, if your life is fantastic right now, do enjoy it but remember that we never really know what anyone else is going through. So let's be kind and also, let's be real.

That being said, there is something about meditating and manifesting that I do believe in. For example, long before I even came to Ecuador for the first time, I knew that I wanted to work at the language institute where I'm currently employed. I always saw myself working there and even though it didn't happen immediately nor the way I had imagined it, that is where I eventually ended up. Today, I went back to work with new classes and new students to look forward to and although I miss the previous ones, I believe this change is good. It's a new challenge and I'm happy to take it on. 

I've also managed to find a new apartment. I no longer feel at home where I was living before so I started dreaming of having a lovely little space of my own. And this week, the perfect place manifested itself, without too much effort on my part. I found it in a new, modern building that has everything I need and more - including a security guard and a terrace where I can practice my yoga outside in the sun. On top of that, it's close to work, shops, restaurants, the movie theater and best of all - the park. 

Now if only I could figure out how get a new heart to replace the one that broke, all would be shiny. Then again, who says I can't? I still feel lost but step by step, I'm starting to believe in miracles again. After all, I did manage to find gluten free pasta at the grocery store the other day and that means anything is possible. Seriously. I spent all of last year craving pasta but had to do with dry rice noodles since Ecuadorians really don't have a clue about celiac disease. Then I go away for one month and suddenly organic quinoa spaghetti appears on the shelves. Thank you Supermaxi

Do miracles happen every day? No. Do they happen exactly at the time we wish for them? No. But they can happen and I'm in the right place for it. Ecuador is the most magical country in the world and I can't imagine being anywhere else. One of the main reasons why I decided to come back here was because I didn't want to give up on what I've worked so hard for and what is now mine. I didn't come here for anyone else and I refuse to leave because of someone. It was a strange feeling, landing in Quito again one year after I first arrived. Sure, I was excited then too but I was also a stranger, a foreigner, a visitor. This time, the mountains were calling my name and I responded. I was home. 

So here's to new beginnings, new adventures and new attempts at manifesting miracles, magic and just a little bit of madness. Are you with me? 

I believe in the good things coming, coming, coming...

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Bom Dia - Happy Day

It's winter in São Paulo. Or so the Brazilians say while they stare at me walking around in my short-sleeved shirts and little shorts. After all, blue skies and 23 degrees is not winter for a Finnish girl. It's very much summer and that means enjoying every single ray of sunshine as if it were the last.

São Paulo is a humongous city and notoriously dangerous. Naturally, I spent my first night here getting lost on the way back from the grocery store. Silly me had walked out of the hostel without a map or an address and my phone didn't work. All the streets looked the same and it was pitch dark. Nobody spoke English and nothing made sense. My legs were tired and my eyes could barely keep open due to jet lag and sleepless nights. Yet somehow, after walking around in circles for about two hours, I found my way back. Apparently, it takes getting lost somewhere along the dark streets of a foreign country to make you find that little compass of light inside yourself. And if you let it, that glimmer of hope can become something to grab and hold on to, praying that it will lead you in the right direction. 

Safe and sound at the hostel, I made myself a nice cup of tea and chatted with the staff and other guests. There is something rather spectacular about the way traveling alone makes us connect so quickly and so intensely to others. The next day, a Brazilian friend came to pick me up and when he asked for me, the receptionist responded with a cheerful: Oh yeah, I know her! As if he had always known me. As if he had always known that I was coming and that we would meet. As if our lives had somehow always been intertwined. 

A couple of days later I was strolling around on the streets of São Paulo as if they were my own. As if I had always lived there. As if my feet (and Google Maps) somehow understood where to go without too much effort. My favorite neighborhood looked like an open-air museum of art, completely covered in graffiti. If your life feels grey, Vila Madalena is the place to go and immerse yourself in color. 

Batman Square in Vila Madalena
By the way, did you know that the Brazilians clap their hands when they watch the sun go down? Every night, every sunset. There may be an applause at sunrise as well; I wouldn't know. I never managed to get up early enough to find out. 

Sunset in São Paulo
And then there was Rio. Oh, Rio. A city so radiant, so vibrant and so grandiose it deserves a post and a parade of its own. It's no wonder that this is the host of one of the seven wonders of the world. It's the city of a thousand lights and a thousand colors. Beautiful beaches, caipirinha craziness and a thousand other cliches.

On my last night in Rio, a couple of new friends invited me to come out with them but I was tired after hiking up hills to see statues and drinking too many caipirinhas on the beach so I opted for jomo - the joy of missing out. Staying at the hostel that night turned out to be a lucky decision as my friends told me later that they had been robbed. Their taxi had stopped at a traffic light when suddenly a man drove up on a motorbike, pointed a gun at them and took everything of value. Except, of course, the most valuable thing of all - their lives.

So yes, Rio is a city where you wake up and feel alive. Not safe, but alive. And that's really something.

Rio de Janeiro
Christ the Redeemer

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

The higher you climb, the harder you fall

The ground looks dirty and disgusting. That's my first thought. Birds have poked at the garbage bags and spread out empty yogurt pots and stale pieces of bread all over the pavement. There is a stagnant smell and it looks like someone threw up by the door last night. 

What if I hit one of the electric wires? Or that sharp-looking thing sticking out from the wall. That's my second thought. Although wait a minute - what does it matter if I scratch my leg on the way down when my whole body will be entirely smashed a couple of seconds later anyway? 

I'm up on our roof terrace, where normally I chill in one of the hammocks, sunbathe, meditate or enjoy a barbecue with friends. Today is different though. I'm standing right on the edge, sobbing hysterically and preparing to cut off my fake wings and take a fatal leap towards the concrete five stories down. 

How in the world did I end up here?

I'll tell you how. This is what happens when you find out that the one person that you believe in more than anything else in the world has been lying to you for longer than you ever imagined that anyone could keep a secret. And an ugly secret at that. One that goes against all your beautiful beliefs and turns you into something that you never wanted to be. One that makes you question everything and everyone and makes you fear that you will never trust anything or anyone ever again. 

What I should have done, when I found myself completely lost on the other side of the world, is ask for help. I should have asked for a map, a guidebook and someone to help me pack the right things and make sure I drink enough water. I didn't do any of that. Instead, I jumped onto the back of another wanderer and begged him to carry me. Unfortunately, I had no idea that he, too, was a wounder soldier and in no way equipped to handle the heavy weight that I was dragging around. I wasn't his to save. Yet he happily obliged, heaving me up on his broad shoulders and off we went. We walked together for a while, blissfully unaware that we were actually approaching an erupting volcano. Notwithstanding, as soon as the burning lava hit us, my knight in shining armor dropped me and ran for the other hills. So there I was, left alone to fight a fucking natural disaster. 

And that, my friends, is how I ended up on the roof. 

I slowly lift one foot to step forward, over the edge. I sway. Suddenly, the wind blows and a higher power forces me to stumble backwards. The same guardian spirit takes my hand and gently guides me down the stairs on trembling legs. I crawl back into our apartment where I lay shaking on the floor until, hours later, my roommate finds me. Angel that she is, she sits with me for ages holding my head, stroking my hair and whispering in a soothing voice. I eventually calm down enough to reach out a hand and say: 
This is too much. I can't take it anymore. Please help. 
Things happened pretty fast after that. The first step was to physically distance myself from everything that was causing me pain. I fled back to the safe quarters of my childhood home, where I surrounded myself with the people that I have always known and trusted and loved. Once I could rest assure that they would still be there when I woke up, I finally dared to fall asleep for the first time in weeks. Wrapped up in this secure cocoon of comfort, I slowly started to breathe and think and even laugh again. 

The next step was to place myself back on the therapist's couch. We all have a responsibility to save ourselves and do the work we need to do in order to spread light and not darkness to those around us. Dealing with my deepest darkest despair and my most destructive thoughts has been a humbling yet empowering experience. I still have a desire to brighten the paths for myself and others; I just needed someone to help me change the batteries of my torch. 

The scars remain on the inside but I have healed and let go. I have regained my strength and taken my power back. My torch is lit and I finally feel ready to go back and continue this amazing adventure that I started exactly one year ago today. This time around, I intend to keep my feet on the ground, focusing less on looking for love and more on finding myself. I want to travel to new places, meet new people and learn new things. I hope to once again believe in what I know to be true and I wish to appreciate and be grateful for everything and everyone that comes my way. 

Round two - bring it on. 

Friday, June 2, 2017

Thank you for my wings, Ecuador

Should I stay or should I go? That is the question that I have been debating over and over again in my head for the past two weeks. People keep asking me what is next and I don't know what to say because I really have no idea. My original plan was to go to Finland for a few weeks to see my family and then return to Ecuador. However, things have changed recently and life almost never goes as planned anyway, does it? The truth is that I'm struggling with being in Quito right now. There are too many memories surrounding me here and too many ghosts wandering the streets and sometimes I just don't feel strong enough to face them on my own. But here is the good news - I am not alone. I have created a powerful network of people (here and around the world) that support me no matter what. So, after many long conversations with friends and a great deal of soul-searching, I have decided to stay. At least for now, this is my home and this is where I belong. I took a big risk coming here in the first place and one year later, I have absolutely no regrets. It has all been worth it and the rewards are endless.

In one of the first blog posts that I wrote before taking off on this adventure, I said that I was terrified of falling but maybe, just maybe, I would learn how to fly. Little did I know then that Ecuador is the place where wings are made. Barely had I landed in South America before I found myself gliding above the Pacific Ocean in a parachute, feeling freer and happier than ever before. Since then, I have climbed mountains and volcanoes. I have faced my fears and learned how to overcome them. I have found balance. I have learned how to listen to my intuition and to follow the signs along the way (although I still get lost sometimes). I have learned that it is okay to crash, as long as you get back up and try again. I have learned how to ask for help and to trust others to be there and catch me when I fall. I have learned how to let go of things that weigh me down and to let the wind take me where I need to go. I have learned how to believe in miracles again and to see that everything, absolutely everything happens for a reason. 
But I was always coming here. I thought about one of my favorite Sufi poems, which says that God long ago drew a circle in the sand exactly around the spot where you are standing right now. I was never not coming here. This was never not going to happen. (Elisabeth Gilbert)

In the same blog post, I also quoted my yoga teacher, who always encouraged me to take the leap and trust that the net will be there. Although maybe I don't need a safety net anymore. Ecuador has taught me how to fly and I'm ready to spread my wings now. I am going away for one month but I will keep this country and the connections that I have made here in my heart the entire time. In order to travel light, I have packed my suitcase with nothing but memories of how much I have loved and how much I have been loved. 

My next stop will be Finland for two weeks and then I have a very exciting location coming up before returning to Ecuador. I am so ready and so very much looking forward to it all. Let's fly!