If the photo is really really professional looking, then the photography credit goes to Paul Woo.
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“A ship in harbor is safe, but that is not what ships are built for.” – John A. Shedd
You’re going to miss the pre-orientation before everything would almost go to hell with omicron, and then the actual orientation being in the middle of your random shift as official COVID-19 screeners for the NYE Ball Drop in Times Square; desperate times call for desperate measures, and as long as we can lay our hands on these mythical gold standard rapid PCR tests and test negative we’d be cleared to travel. And forging ahead onto 6am flights the next morning out to an island we’ve all never been, we quell our acid reflux of the dry hot pot from the night before and bounce ourselves onto the priority lane so we won’t miss our connecting flight that was about to depart on island time anyway.
You’re going to miss the freedom in the first hour of a new adventure, already missing it before it was over, while you aimlessly wander around ghost town vibes of a shuttered Caribbean capital knowing that nobody you know really knows where you are.
You’re going to miss live music at sunset and before curfew, the rooftop dinner at the only hotel in the city, ordering everything on the menu and half-heartedly saving a plate for one of your own as he lives up to his reputation of the Bad News Brian with flights, taking a bottle of wine back to your suite and downing it within minutes despite the otherwise turtle pace of “We’re Not Really Strangers”, playing music as we patiently stay up and witness a series of your last arrival’s misadventures at an empty taxi stand, then celebrating his eventual deliverance before heading to bed only to wake up to a bunch of unfortunate updates . . .
You’ll miss the best fried fish sandwich you may have ever placed in your mouth, then heading over to the source for seconds and discovering your bias how it was made by the hand of your own people and speaking in 4 different tongues at once, ordering a bunch more because we support our own, revisiting all the sites you had walked by yesterday and then having one more round of rooftop drinks before setting off into the unknown with an unknown driver, the impromptu stops on the road for a mountaintop church, the impromptu lessons on horticulture, and the impromptu shots of locally made rum as you make it to your destination more pleased than you would have expected considering the otherwise unfortunate circumstances, and collecting every little moment and synchronicity in a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants caper unfolding in real time.
You’re going to miss appreciating more how the sweet is never as sweet as the sour, with the hope of a replacement skipper to arrive and the first sighting of your home for the next week, picking and setting up your rooms with way less drama this time around because everyone essentially is now almost getting their own private rooms for half the cost, and then having a BBQ al fresco dinner right in the nick of time right before curfew.
You may not miss the awakening to dismay, as if you were a deflated balloon returning back to square one when finding out that your happy and asymptomatic replacement skipper would head to quarantine hotel after testing positive for COVID-19, but you will still miss your very own original skipper from 3 months ago stopping by in person to say hello, receiving thanks for dropping off some gifts for us and informing one of our yachts from the prior trip was sitting right next to us in the marina, and then hope rebuilt by kismet when we would meet another skipper and chef at the marina (who just happened to be sailing with their kids nearby) and how they would agree to take us after one of their friends vouched for us when we dined at one of their restaurants earlier in the marina. You’ll then miss the tiny hands relative to grand conversations late into the night and having one of your own open up to strangers in a way they have never done so before, before falling asleep to an uncertain morning.
You’re going to miss waking up to the light of a new dawn when the third time’s the charm and your new skipper and chef would test negative on both a rapid antigen and PCR, hitting all hands on decks immediately to sail downwind the wild open oceans, feeling the wind at your back for a trip that now appears to be manifesting itself with the right energy and the right signs, the urgency of making it to Rodney Bay in time before the port health office closes that would have left you otherwise stranded in Quarantine Bay, rushing to the office to get stamped and cleared in with your negative PCR tests and proof of full vaccination, the joy of getting your wristbands that made up for your Yacht Week ones, the afternoon coffee to celebrate, the James Bond style mission taking a dinghy out at night for provisional shopping, and your first properly homecooked meal of the trip as you try to belie your surprise how circumstances would make a 180 turn so quickly from the day before, especially as the instruments come out for a night of music under the stars.
You’re going to miss waking up to the gorgeous views of the Pitons revealing themselves along the coastline, spraying an open bottle of champagne for the main event of the week as they loom before you like majestic diamonds on the waves, trying to control yourself as we collectively soon changed into matching swimsuits just for that shot you’ve waited months to take, and then jumping into the deep blue waters for the first time, swimming yourself to abandon, before haggling down and purchasing fresh live lobsters from local fisherman and enjoying them by the reverie of sunset.
But most of all, you’re going to miss the silent reveries on the water while staring up at a night sky full of stars, before drifting off and not knowing what kind of dreams you’d still have if you were already living in one.
You’re going to miss waking up to a delightful breakfast spread and morning coffee, setting off on a dinghy to Sugar Beach to reset your gut and set off on your only workout of the trip. While you may not miss the arduous uphill climbs, taking a wrong fork in the road, debating whether you’d really want to summit the Pitons, and the dismay over what people would call a “waterfall” these days (nothing personal; I blame climate change), you will miss showering away that sweat under the falls, the slow hike along the coastline trying to pick out which one was your yacht, making your greetings to the locals, and the curious exploration of another tiny town before eating a local Creole lunch, picking up more provisional items and the quick sail to “the most beautiful bay in the Caribbean” so you can make it in time to be reunited with a monsooner who at first thought she was merely crashing our orientation 3 months ago, but really was planting the seed to join us anyway at this eleventh hour.
But you won’t miss the mosquitos that fed on us later that night. They were awful.
You’re going to miss raising the roof (literally) to an open deck, licking your wounds to that pesky bloodsucker that tried to keep you up all night, lazily making your way to the spa life at the bay resort, the endless photos at the beach across the bay, inhaling local seafood for lunch, and then bidding au revoir to a double rainbow behind us, sailing out back towards the Pitons for one more look by sunset — and this time they look grander than ever underneath more double rainbows and epic monsoons as the soft mist lands against your face as if dreams became waking life — before retiring in the waters next to Pigeon Island for another night underneath the stars.
You’re going to miss the second to last dinghy ride out to Pigeon Island so you can drop off and say your first goodbye to one of your own, a quick photoshoot on a manmade causeway, and the high energy dance and karaoke party as we got revved up for the incoming crashing of the open sea on our way back to Martinique.
And while you won’t miss the near vomiting in your mouth for 5 hours of Inception-like theatrics in rough seas, you will miss the brief storms that washed worries away as we finally docked by Saint-Anne, the happy smiles of a family reunited, the last opportunity for a swim and dives before it got too cold, the live music over an early dinner by sunset in the foreground, and one final dinghy roundtrip to a charming and somehow fully booked colonial town you could gallivant and feast upon.
You’re going to miss the final sail back to the base marina, the penultimate round of drinks onboard, the attempt to finish off as much of your groceries as you can, waking up to one last breakfast by the sea, counting down the minutes before they finally kick you off this boat, the hugs goodbye to your skipper and chef over promises to sail with them again, the dash to your cab off to a very early arrival to the airport, the roundtrip undertaking to pick up a winter jacket you had forgotten at the first hotel, one of you almost losing and retrieving your phone in the cab, befriending a DJ at the airport who recognizes your group from the shirt one of us had been wearing, the 45 minute flight together to a butterfly-shaped island, getting stuck in traffic with a feisty passive aggressive taxi driver, settling into a charming AirBnB, and ending the trip with how you began it: aimlessly wandering around ghost town vibes of a shuttered Caribbean capital and again knowing that nobody you know really knows where you are.
You’re going to miss the last dinner together outside and again ordering everything on the menu, the happy discovery that this place serves your favorite travel bad habit, inviting over your new friend you had just made in a different country to join in the carousing of sharing stories right before curfew, celebrating the unanimous negative testing for COVID-19 so you can all be cleared to return home, waking up for a surreal brief cup of coffee to the morning haze, taking in stride a stressed out cab driver not wanting be on island time, trying to perfect the outcome of your first espresso vending machine experience, and window shopping airport lounges in Miami Airport before we finally said our goodbyes to the trip — but not each other — as our separate flights would take us back to where we started . . . and ironically closer to each other than ever before.
Because we would know after a trip like this, where despite the looming specter of an external uncontrollable plague force that threatens everyday to cow us into inaction, would instead only serve to remind ourselves what would be possible when we dedicate ourselves in the pursuit of a true adventure . . .
. . . one that dares us to live truth in dreams we’ve always dreamed of.
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You’re going to miss …
…the moment you were invited to come on your first Yacht Week (YW), realized how opposite it would be from a typical monsoon, and then decided not to pass judgement unless you tried it at least once (or twice). You’ll then miss all the introduction e-mails, pre-orientations, trying to find 8 decent looking swimsuits, more orientations, wondering how to pack regular clothes with a week of elegant costuming and no suitcase, keeping track of all the chat groups, trip updates, new apps, feeling disorientated by who’s saying what, and yet a burgeoning anticipation of what could possibly happen in a week with 34 seemingly both random and hand-picked strangers sailing the Tyrrhenian Sea.
. . . But deep down, we secretly knew the universe was up to something.
You’re going to miss …the anxiety of packing for your first trip since the pandemic, paired with the sudden travel declaration changes in the EU, tripled by the chaotic weather patterns right before you left, and oh yes more anxiety of whether you’d even arrive at all, to finally reach the odd revelatory feeling of witnessing dominoes fall into place when you defeated insurmountable odds as the Red Sea seemingly parted before you. And through it all, you’ll miss the gradual appreciation for the growing message threads that would tie us together, mirroring your own yearning for a novelty that had been eclipsed by the pandemic; threads that drew from wandering hearts of wonder, as we took our initial steps towards liberation knowing sweet is never as sweet without the sour.
You’re going to miss …landing at your final destination and seeing faces you only had known from Zoom calls, breaking the ice in shared cabs, not sure how to turn down maggot-infused cheese and giving in anyway, exchanging plates of food with a group of complete strangers for your first group dinner in a foreign country in months, the taste of fresh gelato after as you walked up and down a single boulevard of unbroken dreams and new promises, feeling both lost and found as camaraderie built in a noisy suite at the after-after party before you passed out in your last stationary bed on land for the week.
You actually might not miss the flash floods that overwhelmed the roads the next day while waiting to be checked in as you fought off panicked sewer roaches the size of your palm to rescue your luggage, while considering prematurely inflating your floaties to escape …that was not fun. But the brightest rainbows come only after a storm, and you will miss the first walk down the aisle of yachts as the weather cleared, dodging awkwardness as you picked your coffin ..ahem room.. for the week, filled up the cabinets of your new home, celebrating the birthday of the most sober birthday girl in the world, before getting dressed for your first night out to meet the rest of TYW fleet. You’ll also miss what was supposed to be a wholesome night became something entirely alternative with …lots of whipped cream … as you then returned back to the marina with no time wasted to party more, all the while making sure we’d be united in setting our boundaries for the days to come.
You’re going to miss …waking up to footsteps on the deck above you as your skipper prepared for first sail, then really waking up to the Lion King theme blasted from the stereo, before ascending to the open sea, and embracing the long awaited feeling of physical, emotional, and spiritual freedom as a sun-kissed wind enveloped your naked skin for the first time. You’re going to miss the first dive into open waters, swimming (or learning to swim) with your new friends, spending way too long and feeling like your arms were going to fall off from inflating floaties for the first time, tasting freshly curated meals onboard as land approached, and feeling a new kind of alive as you watched the La Maddalena archipelago growing larger before you.
You’ll probably get nostalgic over docking at all-day cafés that rarely understood the concept of iced coffee, the 18th-century town exploration, your first e-bike ride of unknown destination, and tending to monsooners’ injuries as you begin the habit of picking them up after they fall. You’ll even miss how you got dressed in an outfit entirely made of sequins for a dockside disco party only to bring the party back for a yacht against yacht dance-off, after which, you first discovered the illuminating sensation of chatting until sunrise.
You’re going to miss …the next morning’s northward drift towards new countries, approaching the unique natural coastlines of Corsica, snorkeling to shore with fresh sea urchins in hand, cliff-diving into a lagoon, the unraveling of a timeless seaport as you dock in the marina of Bonifacio and the group fights another to hijack an entire train to the top of the citadel.
You’re also be sure to reminisce over long walks through the antiquing town and cemeteries with no plan other than bringing back a semblance of a monsoon, before the following dinner and afterparty where we’d be bringing down the house with endless bottle service. You’ll then miss returning for our first group card-game during which arms were cleaned and truths, connections, and shades of attractions would be established and remodeled. And then you might remember witnessing some toxic masculine rage from afar while thanking your lucky stars you didn’t have to worry about anyone like that in your crew.
You’re going to miss …waking up (nahhhzavenya) to a day entirely on open water, the epic atmosphere of competing amongst 21 yachts sailing side by side during the Regatta, which led to an injury requiring you to care for another fellow monsooner with a yet unnamed medicine bag that hadn’t been used in nearly 7 years. You’ll miss docking at an inlet near Maddalena for a day-long festival of swimming down a tunnel of blow-up pizzas, lobsters, eggplants, and llamas, crossing onto other yachts to meet those you may have noticed but were too preoccupied to approach, both synchronized and unsynchronized diving, devouring another delicious dinner with your yacht before returning to the festivities, getting down to bhangra, rescuing your life-jacket adorned friends from the water and other yachts, teaching your friends how to swim, enjoying music and chats beneath the stars, and falsely believing you could finally go to bed early for once, only to have a shooting star tell you “not today.”
And when you look back on that night afterwards, you will realize we are just a culmination of the tiniest decisions — dare I say seemingly random meteor shower moments — that had felt at the time as if they neither would matter nor add up . . . until they do.
You’re going to miss …being woken up (pass me those caffeine pills?) to pose for a long-planned black swimsuit shoot with the entire group, before arriving in Poltu Qualtu for an entire day at the beach club where “The Spy Who Loved Me” was filmed. You’ll miss flipping your circadian rhythms with the DJ’s tempo, this time underneath a garish sun while balancing friends and glasses on body parts in ways you didn’t think possible, followed by hours of intimate questions over hookah, and an impromptu concert where everyone huddled around one monsooner like a Sofar by Sea, singing Hallelujah in harmony as people on the dock joined in and cheered (with a touch of envy). What followed after was the repeat of a card game with a group getting to know one another just a little bit better, where newer, more intimate truths were divulged. Or maybe you wish you could forget this part (But I won’t).
You’re going to miss …waking up roping the yachts together for the epic circle raft YW is known for, the last dives in unison at the drop of “Peanut Butter Jelly,” the odyssey of floaties in one final run, the impromptu last minute makeshift wound-dressing that MacGyver’s your way into the water of your first and last floating festival, joining our yachts together again for a Mexican fiesta onboard before sailing among the super yachts of the Rolex Cup, learning Queen B was somewhere in attendance, and docking in Porto Cervo for a free day of cafés, shopping, and a serendipity that lead to wakeboarding on a million dollar yacht.
And while you’ll certainly miss Beyonce, you’ll sadly also be unable to miss the lamest seemingly never-ending dinner you’ve ever been to at an otherwise swanky nightclub, when you realized you wouldn’t even have done dinner at a nightclub back home…yeah, that was dumb. But then again, you’ll still miss the liberation of leaving the party earlier than all the rest, to return home and chat into the wee hours of the morning over cigars and under lightning-streaked skies.
You’re going to miss …staying up for sunrise again, before sleeping in afterwards through a storm that threatened to throw you from your seabed and hoping you wouldn’t wake up underwater, somehow arriving back at your base marina with the frenzy of squaring away last minute items, repacking, atoning for your sins, and going out for one last gelato in town before returning to dress all in white (which you’d surely stain) for the closing party.
And while you may have missed the background hum of violins building up to the final party, you will definitely miss everything about this night of mayhem as unfolded in real-time: the dancing inside the brightest-lit nightclub you’ve ever been to, the final group photos, a symphony of murmurs that cushioned the DJ’s beats, the pirouetting circles in unison, the furtive glances across the room, the catharsis of sea winds that dried sweat and tears as the Perseids twinkled above, and the brief words exchanged between embraces that meant something; a whisper of truth in our ears.
This is where I’ll break the fourth wall and say I’m going to miss the moment (yes I remember everything) of being immediately picked up when I fell and hit my head on a rock wall, nurtured back to lifeby a group of once-strangers I could call a family especially after the loss of my own during the pandemic.
I’m going to go all in here and say I’m really, really, really going to miss even the idea itself of being taken care of by a family— a concept which had been elusive to me since childhood; you have no idea how much that meant to me. What an odd feeling I didn’t know I had needed. Thank you.
You’re going to miss …the romanticism of looking back on the “last night” even before it was over for a group who bonded so quickly and so much, seeing the threads that bound chance and possibility unravel through a multitude of the tiniest leaps of faith, held together by the underlying support we had for one another, and the literal ‘dancing in the rain’ in between it all. You’ll miss the cab ride back to the marina calling out to people not even in the car with you before the last after-after party where even our once playfully main competitor (the Swiss Boat) carried their speakers to us for the first time. You’ll then miss bringing the house down together with one unifying denouement where every underlying plot-line the past week would converge into a single moment as if we were all in some 90s prom movie or a particular music video, compelled to recognize a dance of letting go and becoming part of the refrain around you, with no expectations or security of what the next “tbd” step would be.
And you’ll miss how a single night could release a lifetime of self-doubt as if it were a cloudburst in the sky, or how a single night could melt away the chains of insecurities as they passed through us like fleeting waves sent off into the ocean eternal, finally guiding us to recognize that we may be worth the realization of our own personal legends and to dare to live the life that we’ve always wanted. And just like those teen movies or a nostalgia-laden music video, we learned that while we may have playfully chanted “all I need — is your love tonight,” the irony was that we actually never needed it …because we already had each other’s all along.
You’re going to miss …realizing how life isn’t a journey or a rush to a particular conclusion: It’s a dance, and it’s important for us to recognize that before we’re missing these moments imprinted in our minds. But even then, a feeling will stay with you long after the laughter dies down, the rain and tear drops fall, that last sunrise from the marina, that last sunset from the airport, and when you say your goodbyes and “see you again.” Your heart will continue to pine after the emotion that moves you still, like some sort of land-sickness long after you’ve left the sea. For regardless of whether the following reunions the weeks after would conjure up the spirit of what we had or what could have been, you’re going to miss returning home knowing that very moment a needle has shifted, where once familiar things gain new dimensions.
It is therefore now only up to you to keep this momentum going, knowing that the very people you will miss most of all may have arrived inadvertently into your life this week not only “to have the best week ever,” but also to renew each other’s sense of purpose and possibility, beating ceaselessly against the memories of a past we’d certainly never want to forget, and dreams of a future. . . .
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You’re going to miss the feeling of being born again, the old habits of dusting off old passports, filling out documents, packing, unpacking, and repacking. You’ll even miss the anticipation of another PCR up your nose because you’ll do anything just to taste deliverance again. You’ll miss playing the game of matching faces from a picture to those in person, the thrill of new connections after a year and a half of being denied them.
You’re going to miss choking up when blessed with the clearance to fly, feeling that first international flight ticket in your hands, looking outside your window and seeing a different country under the same sky. You’ll miss the first car ride into a new city, already running into people on the street, the initial hellos on a beach looking while into the Mediterranean Sea, feeling the warm June breeze in your hair and at your back, knowing that the trip just started and a new chapter in your life with these new souls was just beginning.
You’re going to miss the first meal together outside along a narrow street by the water, fighting jetlag just so you can get to know the person next to you. You’ll miss foregoing sleep just to feel alive — as if time was already running out since we’ve lost nearly a year and a half of these opportunities, and especially when discovering one after another that nearly everyone in the group had something in common; a self-selection amongst ourselves to walk away from similar circumstances just to cross paths here and now as if this had been crossroads long overdue.
You’ll definitely miss outdoor brunches at your new favorite café.
You’ll miss driving off for our first road trip – first to a mosque by a salt lake and then for an impromptu scavenger hunt in a remote hilltop village just for that one photo you’ve always seen but never knew where it came from – before enjoying a traditional dinner outside with live music.
You’re going to miss the morning drive to a new city, the excitement of getting to live in the high-rise apartment of your dreams, the kindness of the restaurant owner making the case for plant based, and the leisurely walk around old town with your first time down Ledra Street.
You’ll miss wondering whether you could cross a contentious border between 2 nations in the world’s last divided capital city, the subsequent shock of being able to especially when both sides of the looking glass were as confused as you are, the quiet awe of being transported to another world so quickly, feeling not fully sure whether you’re really supposed to be here, the relief of being able to cross back over without an issue, and the pleasant surprise of having a free rapid test at your convenience only a few minutes away.
You’ll miss the stupor of sharing a private spa with your fellow travelers only a few floors below, before treating ourselves to room service with a view.
You’ll even miss pushing yourself afterwards for a 20 minute night at your new favorite lounge for the next 4 nights and learning to know, literally, that we can carry one another on our backs after a night like this.
You might even miss the longest road trip starting with a drive to a harbor town before reaching an enigmatic random overseas territory, and honoring both stops with back to back drinks by the water.
You’ll also miss playing volleyball with new strangers, soaking up the sun in your own personal cabana, and impromptu group karaoke in a theater over 3000 years old.
You’ll miss taking walks among ancient Roman ruins overlooking the dramatic coastline backdrop, fending off the negatively curious, the search for Aphrodite’s birthplace by the sea, coming upon a 20 year old shipwreck, and the dinner by the docks before convalescing with numerous stories on the car ride home and spending one more night continuing the stories at that special café in old town.
While you might not miss being turned away at another border crossing the next morning, you’re definitely going to miss finding hope in a second chance, strategizing how it’s possible to both play by the rules and get away with breaking them, and the reframing of a hiccup into the unexpected gift of spending more time in nature witnessing natural rock bridges and sea caves juxtaposed with unnaturally empty beach clubs as you celebrate a birthday by the sea. You’ll even miss almost driving away almost forgetting one of your own, before the final rally cry and the war of attrition to visit 5 different venues on the first weekend of their reopening.
You’re going to miss watching sunrise on the 14th floor, and the grueling hangover the next morning, the slow crawl to getting your rapid tests for your return flights home, the struggle to find breakfast while half awake, and then yet the adrenaline returning when you cross over to exploit a legal loophole to get to a destination that was denied to you only a day earlier.
You’re going to miss the shock at a makeshift plan working out better than you could have imagined, the unexpected surprise of discovering that the strangers who made it happen at the last minute would also make great friends, and getting to freely explore an abandoned ghost city you’ve read about for years in articles and books and never once think that you’d get to visit in person, let alone be one of the first in the world to visit since its sudden desertion 47 years ago.
You’re going to miss the unexpected surprise at finding well-preserved ruins of a Byzantine city and an isolated monastery nobody else in your social circles would have ever heard of before, deciphering a simple word game to the name of a club you just formed on the final drive back to Nicosia, the kenopsia of true freedom on empty streets while shopping on both sides of the border, and the kindness of the waitstaff to accommodate us without reservations. You’ll then miss choosing ice cream over tattoos, milking the last of the jacuzzi together one more time, the final drinks together, the hugs coming all too quicker than anticipated, and the tears that began to well up in front of strangers turned friends turned family you want to keep saying hello to but all you could do now is say goodbye.
Because the only meaningful goodbyes are the ones with you know you’ve just started writing your story with: This is no final goodbye.
This is a family reborn.
As if the pandemic that we’ve just survived could be reframed as the collective trauma we had needed to find one another in Cyprus . . .
. . . we knew we were already missing one another before we said hello.
6 days ago on my birthday, I was having dinner with a few friends who simply wanted to catch up before a possible 2nd NYC lockdown; none of them knowing that it was my birthday at the time. I was okay with that; I guess as you get older — especially during a worldwide pandemic — you don’t need to be reminded anymore that everyday should be a celebration of life and we should just be grateful for the company.
That’s when I got the late night dinner-interrupting phone call from the NYC Marathon Medical Director asking I could at the last minute organize a ragtag crack squad of medical volunteers for a never-done-before pandemic-proofed Macy’s Thanksgiving Day (Virtual) Parade by the next day. I said yes without hesitating.
Within hours, the 45 of us — whether from the annual NYC marathon or via a random DM on Instagram — rallied together as strangers and colleagues for a common purpose. As if the universe was dancing to the familiar tune of irony, it felt like the past 5 days have become that delayed birthday celebration I was supposed to have all along.
And with this experience already becoming another memory, I’m grateful for another birthday I’ll never forget, as if I have been celebrating the past 5 days with so many wonderful souls that make this city what it is, who remind me what’s worth living for in a year like 2020. So on a day like Thanksgiving, in a year like no other, all I can say is: Thank you, thank you, thank you. Without you, this could never have been.
New Year’s Eve
To my badass NYE medical team:
It’s become nearly cliché these days to pen one more diatribe against 2020, especially on the Eve of a New Year. But allow me to express bittersweetness when tearing myself over how this will be the only time we’ll ever work something like this again, let alone if these state of affairs weren’t as dreadful the many of us would never have even met in the first place. The sweet is never as sweet without the sour.
I’d still much prefer that we didn’t have to suffer during these uncertain times, whether it’s secondary to a pandemic or toxic individualism. However if we must play the hand we’re dealt, then alas let me at least affirm the profound privilege I’ve derived from this year to have gotten to know and worked with all of you.
Many of us met less than a month ago, whether by referrals or a message on social media. And yet without so much as a first name and first impression, we rallied as strangers at the last minute to become haphazardly assembled ragtag crack squad without any blueprints from years past. We flew by the seat of our pants when somehow asked to be *the* medical screening for both the NYC Thanksgiving Day Parade and the NYE Ball Drop in Times Square while the world watched amidst a worldwide public health crisis. You took on new roles and skills without a moment’s notice. Y’all were flexible, adaptable, and did this all with a smile, whether it was 4:30am in the morning or if the donuts slowed us down. And all this within 4 weeks: We pulled it off, twice.
Therefore, thank you all for being my resolve to stay in this fight, and thank you for helping demonstrate to this damaged world there remains good people out there who are willing to shoulder a horrible year through to the end. Although I again wish that we all could have worked together under better circumstances (annual NYC Marathon anyone?), I nonetheless will be eternally grateful how our trajectories collided. If our last week together is how 2020 wants to bid us farewell with, then I’m already blessed for that much. Better us than never.
Looking forward to better times. Stay in touch. We’ll work together again someday.
- At time of posting in NYC, it was 13 °C -
Humidity: 73% | Wind Speed: 8km/hr | Cloud Cover: clear
You’re going to miss waking up to a morning that feels differently from any morning you’ve woken up to in at least the past 6 months — the promise of a life changing adventure finally manifesting — before drifting to a seemingly abandoned part of Manhattan to begin your trip and assuming this will be your last decent breakfast for quite awhile, your entire life then loaded onto an Uber XL that takes you south into New Jersey and closer towards your new home away from home, orienting yourself to your first ever RV experience, packing all the compartments as if you had just moved to a new apartment, setting off to the music of José Gonzalez into the open roads, the first taste of unfiltered freedom relative to the 6 prior months of lockdown, acclimating to many tons of machinery and mobile parts, placing the lives of complete strangers in your hands, stopping briefly for random lunch spot in eastern Pennsylvania to meet with a mutual friend you had just gotten to know 2 weeks prior, taking your first group photo with your RV before setting off again into further country roads, the stretch of lands becoming longer as the sun begins to set on your first day away from home, witnessing cheap plates falling to the floor in slow motion, feasting upon the first burger of countless more on the trip, and settling in at an overcrowded RV park in Ohio while figuring out how to plug in for the night.
You’re going to miss waking up to new ceilings in new beds, feeling unsure where you were before recollecting your thoughts that you truly are far from home, the smell of an open propane stove and instant coffee, watching the sun rise as the rest of your group slowly emerge from their own uncomfortable slumbers, the challenge of the first RV dump (but you won’t miss the smell), driving out of the crowded parks for a stop at Brandywine Falls, quick rest stops for snacks and coffee, the next mishap when a liner rips off on the driver side in Indiana only to be told by the RV company to simply snip it off in Illinois, your first sight of the Chicago skyline, the confusion over where you could park such a hunk of machinery, the reunion of a brotherly friend and a loyal monsooner from previous trips, outdoor dining and gourmet burgers, the sweet Italian ices on the campus of your friend’s alma mater, jumping into Lake Michigan, feeling like a tourist again as you’re driven around parts of Gotham City you can’t believe you still haven’t seen, the premature hugs goodbye, setting off 90 more minutes into Wisconsin and pouring rain before meeting up with the next monsooner to join the trip (whom you last saw over a year ago in Budapest).
You’re going to miss forcing yourself to start a morning workout routine, continuing to adhere to outdoor dining (because pandemic duh), the discombobulating visuals down Wisconsin Dells, taking a breath in to eat all the cheese, grocery shopping at La Crosse, the long drive into and through South Dakota while bringing up past loves and missed connections, picking up another monsooner (whom you last saw in Tanzania exactly a year ago) at Sioux Falls airport, settling in a quaint RV park to enjoy your first homecooked meal of the trip, finally cracking open the whiskey, and meeting a happy-go-lucky RV repairman as he fixes up your new home with such carefree joy that for a moment you forget that you used to rely upon the kindness of strangers.
You’re going to miss starting your morning looking for a spot to fill up your tires and the even sweeter surprise at finding out that such a service is free, heading further west and coming across an immense statue appropriately named “Dignity,” the nervous in-and-take-out operation at Taco John before arriving into Badlands National Park, satisfying a guilty pleasure by stopping at a decommissioned nuclear missile silo, feeding feisty prairie dogs, taking in a stupendous view over infinite layered rock formations, steep canyons and towering spires, going on the trip’s first hike that included a randomly placed ladder that suspiciously looks as if it was put up for Instagram, driving through the unforgettable scenery of Highway 240, the anxiety at seeing the mass gatherings in the town of Wall and deciding to pass straight through, ignoring the spitting contests, trying to make the most of Mount Rushmore away from the crowds, the vanilla skies above during golden hour, and settling in another crowded RV park so you can capitalize on an early morning’s drive further west.
You’re going to miss the school trip-like bus ride to the private grounds of Crazy Horse, feeling confused how it doesn’t receive more attention than the comparatively diminutive Mount Rushmore, the history lessons and re-imagination of it, the long detour to lay bare eyes on an enigmatic rock monolith and Spielberg’s choice where aliens would make first contact with humans, the unforgettable and jaw dropping Wyoming drive to the music of Aaron Copland, your first time seeing the Grand Tetons, and feeling as if all your problems could wash away while staring up at this infinite night axis of stars.
You’re going to miss the pick-up operation for gourmet coffee and bagels in town, the struggle-bus of finding a not so crowded hiking spot to park your RV away from the masses, the mile long hike for a 3 mile hike, the satisfaction of having the Grand Tetons be your eyes’ desktop background for the entirety of the experience nevertheless, the nap at Lake Taggart and listening to the rustling of leaves with closed eyes, taking group photos in front of Snake River Overlook, feeling like a local at Dornan’s Pizza by getting a little tipsy staring at the Tetons, the aimless wandering in circles around the tiny town of Jackson, a quick gas station supply run, and even accidentally running the washer twice so you could have an excuse setting up a modern art installation of damp clothes inside the RV.
You’re going to miss ordering ahead and not being disappointed by the best breakfast of the trip, driving north into an adult playground and giving up on internet for the day, checking off a sight that sounds and looks as reliable as its name, busting past Yellowstone traffic for a scenic hike past multi-technicolor geological phenomena, the 1.5 mile hike towards Mystic Falls, holding up a line behind you just for a gaze, and the satisfying a-ha moment when we finally found the quintessential shot of the Lower Falls in Yellowstone that barely could make up for the 2 hour traffic jam afterwards just to reach our campgrounds in Montana (no, we won’t miss that).
You’re going to miss that odd little feeling walking through a random town for breakfast, the surprise at seeing support for BLM everywhere in an otherwise notoriously conservative Montanan city, the hilarity of finding a poorly written and colorfully misinformed note for blocking a parking space while waiting too long for said breakfast, picking up much needed pick-me-up alcohol, finally arriving to a campground before dusk, catching up on overdue workouts during the golden hour, reuniting with an old friend who had similarly crashed a monsoon 7 years prior in Iceland, putting together the surprisingly wholesome and satisfying outdoor BBQ at the last minute once again thanks to his recommendation, and the howling over whiskey and card games that lasted long into the darkness of twilight.
You’re going to miss first seeing the iconic shot of Glacier National Park while driving along Lake MacDonald, the twinge of disappointment (and yet also somehow a little relief) that we couldn’t drive any further for one more hike we didn’t quite need, the pleasant pastime instead of skipping rocks along the lake, finding peace in random creeks and riverbeds, just noticing interminable iterations of “Africa,” the lunch-that-was-worth-the-wait (and in more ways than one) at Kalispell, a brief nod at Lake Coeur d’Alene in Idaho, changing the itinerary mid-trip for an extra night in Seattle without giving up on the North Cascades in Washington, and desperately finishing all the leftover patties with one more outdoor BBQ for our last night in the RV.
You’re going to miss waking up to your last morning in your mobile home, unsure whether you’ll truly miss the RV life and the anticipation of sleeping in a real bed, then driving off northwest into North Cascades National Park unsure whether you’ll ever get sick of these highway views, diving into the crisp waters of Lake Diablo and shamelessly asking for your next annual profile picture, feeling the heat of the desert sun at a random rest stop, bidding a temporary goodbye to one of your compatriots and entrusting her to the care of her godmother, seeing Seattle for the first time knowing you just pulled off a cross country of a lifetime and became the first official adventure group of strangers to safely make it across America without any symptoms — ocean to ocean — amidst a pandemic that had once made safe adventure travel seem nearly impossible.
You’re going to miss packing up the RV and the initial farewells to your home away from home for the past 10 days, then to forget all about the RV minutes later when seeing your luxury apartment stay, taking photos of the sunset over the Seattle mountain ranges and skylines, the cool night walk downtown, seeing a monsooner’s first time trying Vietnamese pho, a subsequent beer run while dodging all the things that go bump in the night, the cool ocean air on the rooftop, sleeping in sooner than you had expected simply because the sight of a real bed seemed just too good to wait on, waking up too early, the relief at seeing your RV untouched in an abandoned lot despite 4 cop cars surrounding it (and the follow up relief finding out they were there for something else), the one final hurrah of a drive around Seattle at dawn, tearfully and formally dropping off the RV to the music of The Doors, eating your sorrows away with breakfast biscuits and donuts, trying all the coffee you can hold with two hands, dancing your way to the top of the Space Needle, the initial hugs goodbye to 4 monsooners while welcoming another 3, the lazy afternoon off, kayaking your way around life and the bay, and finishing your day with more outdoor dining, new friends, celebratory beers, and more rooftop drinking with a follower-turned-new-friend from social media, before beginning the second part of the road trip down the Pacific Coast Highway.
You’re going to miss the morning light guiding you to one more round of hugs goodbyes, the brewing anticipation of the next phase of freedom roads, walking over in the crisp daylight of ocean breezes emanating with the promise of liberation, the excitement at seeing your presumed cozy ride for the next week, packing life in a much smaller space, following through on the insistence of a friend back home to try homemade crumpets and the insistence of a follower on social media to venture to the true original Starbucks Roastery to try the best blends for the coffee-addict, the deflation of your short-lived dream of a morning when you find that your car would malfunction a little too early, desperately trying to keep it afloat with tire pressure sensors only to be prematurely told it needed to be exchanged at the shop, the phone calls to nearly every single tier of customer service to get a better deal, being offerred instead a much roomier vehicle that yielded much less character, remembering to manage your expectations as you headed off 3 hours later than anticipated onto a vehicular ferry, being shepherded across the water to another land of forests, the endless tunnel of leaves and up a mountain to witness breathtaking vistas along an appropriately named ridge, nuzzling a curious deer, laying eyes upon a foreign country for the first time in 6 months and yet feeling held back from crossing another border, the discussion over spoons and a change of itinerary for a someone who worked so tirelessly to get this far, heading back down to a well run, quaint, classic, nostalgic motel in a seemingly empty town by the sea only to soon run into your old friend from both medical school and residency and convincing him over another bowl of Vietnamese pho to join our group for the next 2 days.
You’re going to miss waking up to another unfamiliar ceiling in another unfamiliar town, the quiet morning chat before one more goodbye outside a coffee shop, the sight of a travel companion “recede on the plain till you see their specks dispersing,” feeling as if the too-huge world was vaulting us past the feeling of good-bye, and yet leaning “forward to the next crazy venture beneath the skies,” gliding through stormy mists amongst another valley of trees, an impromptu coffee house during the drive, a quick bathroom break at a pilgrimage sight for Twilight fans, the surreal backdrop of Rialto Beach hoping not to get struck by lightning, the magical wonderland-like awe of seeing a rainforest in North America, the shimmering green of moss growing on wood as if they were the very part of the tree trunks all along, the towering giants that give you hope that the planet could still stay beautiful, the drive out to witness another epic scenery along a post-apocalyptic beach, indulging in chrysalism and yet still braving through cold wetness as you fight hangriness, the confusion over where to meet as you lose signal by a scenic lake, the laughter over inadvertently stumbling upon a sight (“another tree?”) you had just nixed off minutes earlier, the very American diet at a very American roadside restaurant, the insecurity over who was going to finish the food and packing it anyway, paying respects to Kurt Cobain and understanding a glimpse of his childhood that led to the music and his struggles, the eerie pall while driving around a seemingly abandoned nuclear power plant and its massive cooling towers with nobody around to tell you to scram, taking this moment all in before setting off for a well-run, charming American motel in Westport and calling it for the night early for tomorrow’s longest drive.
You’re going to miss the soft mist of rain on your face at 6am in the morning, waiting for the rest of the group to mentally prepare themselves for the trip’s longest drive at 600 miles in one day, saying goodbye again to a travel companion and his dog you’ve gotten to know well the past 36 hours, bearing witness to a monsooner drawing enough strength from her past to brave the whole day’s drive on her own, crossing a bridge into Oregon and the “Goonies” hometown, the beautiful coastline and delightful coastal towns, the “Planet of the Apes” like beach of Cannon, meeting a follower on your social media who drove all the way from her home in Seattle with her daughter just to say hi, playfully hiding a note for another one of your social media followers to look for the next day, pushing south under the maw of the storms at the appropriately themed sights of Devil’s Punchbowl and Thor’s Well, all the thick chowder, the wet hikes, and countless episodes of Esther Perel as if you were starting your own podcast book club, the sight of sand dunes along the ocean, the azure golden streaks of an epic coastal sunset, the final rally into Northern California and seeing the ghostly trunks of massive redwoods for the first time underneath infinite night, the oddity of seeing dead towns half-open during a pandemic, and making the best out of an unfortunate miscommunication when someone’s first day at his job causes you to all pack in one room instead of two.
You’re going to miss feeling well rested after the trip’s longest drive the day before, the morning workout as everyone else starts to get ready, another coffee stop before heading into the oblivion of the world’s oldest and tallest trees, the first drive down the Avenue of the Giants and deliberately turning off the music to take it all in, the silence of the area every time we pull off to the side of the road for another gander, turning our car around for another run knowing it’ll be too long before you return, the group photos inside trees, on top of trees, through a tree, swinging on a tree, and any which way you can love a tree, the disappointment at finding a famous but tiny glass beach made for ants, searching for reliable lunch spots, sharing a bottle of wine in the back of the van, the foreboding signs of California’s worst wildfires up ahead, taking a deep breath and barreling forth into the inevitable underneath smoke-filled skies through winding coastal roads that lead you across the Golden Gate Bridge into the winding roller coaster hills of San Francisco, immediately feeling the dodginess of changed neighborhoods in changed times only to ironically scare everyone off when a first impression of our group was of us trying to break into our own vehicle because we locked ourselves out, calling AAA for help, reconnecting with a college friend you haven’t seen in 11 years, reuniting with another monsooner (whom you last saw in Sydney nearly 3 years ago), coordinating both an outdoor spot for dinner and a jailbreak situation, accomplishing both at the same time when you finally get your van back knowing that all this time the worst thing that can happen on a trip like this with folks like these is a good story.
You’re going to miss waking up to the nostalgia of smoke that oddly takes you back to some of your most memorable trips in South Asia and the Middle East, the joy at discovering that your van remained untouched despite the prior night of shenanigans, beginning a morning with tarts and croissants, the pleasantly short drive to Monterey and its charming boardwalk, ogling at the otters living their best life on the bay, the realization you were finally nearing the trip’s end when you take all the photos you’d want by the iconic Bixby Creek Bridge, filling up gas and emptying your bladders at a charming rest stop, the perfect encapsulating outdoor lunch at Nephente that satisfies all your expectations for the Big Sur, the understanding of having to turn your vehicle around to respect the limitation of traveling during both a pandemic and the state’s worst history of wildfires, and the punishing drive through less-than-stellar stretches of towns and oil rig fields to make it just in time for your larger-than-expected welcoming party in Los Angeles over Korean BBQ, soju, and makegoli, while feeling a overwhelming sustained wave of catharsis coming in your direction (instead of from you, for once) as the presence of your arrival seems to be for many their first time socializing in months amidst their second lockdown.
You’re going to miss sleeping in the most comfortable bed of the trip but confused why you wouldn’t sleep longer, only to find out later you were destined for an early morning outdoor breakfast at the hotel so that you could have a heart-to-heart with a fellow monsooner on her last day of trip followed by a long lost friend in a stranger whose story has yet to be finished, the endless rounds of coffee to keep up with the emotions and prolonged emotional hugs goodbye, the brief late morning respite before driving out to switch out your vehicle for something smaller, meeting up at a charming café with one of your followers on social media so gracious and memorable in her hospitality you can’t help but want to give LA another chance, picking up one of your other monsooners from her own emotional reunions there, still bidding good riddens to a city you know you’ll never otherwise stay for if it weren’t for the people there, the endless loops of traffic just to leave the urban sprawl and back into the freedom of open roads, skirting past the wildfires just so not to get in the way of essential services, getting over your awkwardness to engage in impromptu singing lessons along the way, the joy at discovering your note you had left 3 days and more than 700 miles north ago was found by the right people, returning to the city of recent shenanigans, and resting up one final night on a real bed before beginning the long journey back to where it all began.
You’re going to miss the mad dash to return your last rental of the trip only to find the rental office closed, thanking your lucky stars you booked your hotel located pretty much within the train station itself that even if you would force yourself into the rental garage under another car’s swipe and get your car dropped off within 10 minutes of your train’s departure you can make it onboard with 5 minutes to spare, the relief knowing you might no longer have anything else to worry about for the rest of the trip, making your bed for the next 3 days in the romantic isolation of your own private lie-flat bed onboard a moving train, the novelty in exploring all the corridors that are possible onboard while also on an IG Live with your fellow monsooner just down the hall, ordering food and eating around the clock as if you were on a cruise, the carefree endless hours staring at the world go by in the observation car, the eerie sentiments of having an entirely empty train to yourself at night and yet still manage to befriend the entire staff and other passengers, the office you set up the next morning over unexpectedly good coffee with great views, wincing at the thought that you will miss this even before it’s all over, a rush to pick up preordered food for the train car at a random station stop just for the street cred of saying you did, the self-aware hopelessness of seeing nature destroy itself more than it needed to because of a single errant cigarette, a serendipitous boulder that blocks your train tracks which leads to an inadvertent retrieval of a guitar in town for the train conductor and the impromptu 3 hour concert outside a station featuring your talented artist-in-residence monsooner, inadvertently seeing this story then become national news hours later, and the surreal comedown to such an unexpected finale to a trip with an equally unexpected, serendipitous, fortuitous reception of indirect feedback on how to travel even better.
You’re going to miss how despite a 7 hour delay you somehow still made it to the layover train in Chicago, getting upgraded for free thanks to the kindness of strangers, finally making movie night happen, watching your favorite travel story again but this time through the eyes of others, waking up to a final gradually fading morning that brings the ending to you, seeing one of your monsooners effortlessly run a makeshift nail salon on the train and filming a music video to the trip’s most played song that distracts everyone from the inevitable, the emotional semi-surprise when a monsooner you last saw 2 weeks ago in Seattle greets you on the platform, angling for one more encore back to where you held the trip orientation 22 days prior, and then one last reunion with another monsooner — whom you also last saw in Seattle 2 weeks ago — as such would be the softening of the final blow of farewell.
And beyond the negative confirmatory COVID-19 testing in the 14 days afterwards as well as the absence of any sort of symptoms among every single monsooner and friend we’ve met during our trip more than 14 days since we’ve returned, you’re also going to miss the absolute trust and safety we had put into each other’s hands — even when we all began as total strangers — since the very beginning.
You’re going to miss even moments in the future where we’ll one day look at one another and ask: “Did we really do all that?”
Yes we did.
Because more than anything else you will miss our hugs goodbye that would feel a little differently in a year like 2020; our prolonged longing for genuine human touch and finally receiving them after an experience like this will remind us that amidst all the horrors that this year has wrought upon our livelihoods, mental health, loved ones, and even our sense of identity, we all will come out of this stronger, more adaptable, more resilient, and infinitely grateful for the privilege of having stayed alive. Grateful for the privilege of imagining a bold future of freedom beyond borders. Grateful for being able to say the worst thing that could bear to let happen on a trip is a good story.
TLDR: The Monsoon Diaries has always been at the intersection of ethical healthcare + travel for a global community. As we continue to provide updates on the ground for COVID-19, we also must take steps to rebuilding a future and life of responsible and affordable travel after COVID-19. This is one of those first steps. RSVP here.
As we continue to endure COVID-19 and yearn for the return of interpersonal connections again, this worldwide challenge of a generation may be our very next collective formative experience; a hardship that both reminds us to be grateful for the life we had before and encourages us to build a better one for the future. We owe ourselves that much.
Pandemic or no pandemic, we thus stay the course with a tradition: Next Wednesday we plan to commemorate not only my own 10 year anniversary of life, but also the half-year anniversary since 18 strangers met on November 27, 2019 and began a life-changing 8-day trip across 6 destinations in the country that started it all: Egypt.
We will also premiere the long awaited short film recapping the trip, directed and edited by the masterful Raubern Totanes, as well as with the assistance of our brilliant Creative Director, Diana Klatt. Raubern’s film embodies the unique nature of what it is like to travel with us, lights a fire in us to anticipate the day when we can all travel again, and acknowledges how the tiniest of decisions could lead to a worldwide thing.
We thus invite you to join us next Wednesday for not only the reunion but also have the opportunity to ask myself and other fellow travelers about our adventures, stories, the pandemic itself, as well as how we will travel safely, responsibly, and affordably again after COVID-19.