Today, I start the year stewing in a sauce of sadness. 2019 begins as the year in which I leave the city of my dreams and strike out again on a semi-nomadic existence. When I left the US on January 2, 2015, four years ago, there was no way I could have imagined the adventures I would experience, the fascinating and interesting people I would become friends with, or the strong gorgeous men I would fall in love with. I saw new places that stunned me, bored me, and even scared me, but always excited me with newness and possibilities. I kind of love possibilities.
I never imagined, many more years ago, when I first left the 50-mile circumference of where I grew up and moved to Minneapolis, my first big city, that I would one day see giant cities like Shanghai, Osaka and Tokyo. Or that I would live in skyscrapered metropolises such as Kuala Lumpur and Seoul. There is no way I could have foreseen that someday, I would stroll leisurely through large Latin American cities like Medellin, Bogota, Panama City, and Lima, or that I would stay in historic European cities like Paris, London, Berlin, Vienna, and Edinburgh. Who could have predicted that I would camp in the desserts and forests of Zambia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Namibia, and South Africa, or that I would live by the ocean and put my feet in the sand of the Pacific in Costa Rica, wade in the frigid Indian Ocean in South Africa and the same warm gentle Indian Ocean of Bali, or the green/blue seas of the Caribbean in Cartagena and Cuba. I even watched the sun set over the Atlantic from Lisbon. I could not have pictured myself spending Thanksgiving in Thailand, or Christmas in Machu Pichu, or Christmas in Bali, or Thanksgiving in Berlin (two times!)
All of this is even more amazing when I realize that I stayed in Costa Rica for the better part of 15 months, and I have lived in Berlin for more than 18 months. I spent the short time in between on an epic adventure of travel and exploration the likes of which I will probably never experience again. It was a time of intense growth, new experiences and an igniting of the flame of adventurous spirit deep inside me that will never go out.
Despite that spirit, I desperately love being settled and snuggled into my couch here in Berlin. I love having this beautiful tribe surrounding me. There are people I can call on to support me and who know that they will be supported by me. I love waving to the guy who makes my Döner Kebaps, and the guy I buy my wine from as I walk down the street. I love walking into the cafe and having them bring my flat white before I even order it. It’s my favorite thing to settle into the cozy place on the corner where the owner brings me my menu, but doesn’t actually hand it to me, because he knows I will order the house Rioja, every single time.
Living in my neighborhood, in my district, in my vast city works for me. I am despondent to be leaving. My emotions are constantly raw and on edge. I cry at the drop of a hat. I have always been the emotional type, but now, these next weeks, I expect lots of tears and lots of processing, mixed in with all the pleasures and joys of this city that has stolen my heart. I plan to keep fitting in every fun, interesting, intriguing, naughty, genuine and satisfying thing I can fit in, until the very last moment. I told Stefan that I had purchased my tickets for departure, and he was shocked that it was so soon, but I already know the list of things I still want to do with him before I leave. I want need to have so many memories to sustain me until I come back.
I look around this flat and see all the things I have accumulated. When it first started to happen; adding actual “things” to my life gave me heartburn and made me nervous, but then it just became normal. Now it’s the downsizing that gives me heartburn and makes me nervous. Today I see the huge task in front of me to downsize my life, yet again, back to one or two suitcases and a backpack. Even that, is more than I had for my year of crazy travel. During that year I lived out of one medium sized suitcase. I had my uniform of clothing, (tank top, skirt and flip flops,) a few small personal comfort items, half my normal cosmetics, and travel sized everything. Though I have done this three other times in my life (leaving NY, leaving my husband, leaving Costa Rica) and I know that things mean nothing, it still feels a bit daunting. I have lived with so little and been the happiest I have ever been. But here, in my comfort, I have grown complacent. I have grown “normal.” I have become settled.
I’ll need much of this stuff again, because I plan to come back. My friend has offered the use of her cellar to store what I need to leave behind, the things I’ll need to begin my life here again, when the time comes. I ordered plastic storage boxes from Amazon yesterday to begin the process. So many things will have to go! Where did I get so many skin care products and lotions? How did I accumulate so many pairs of panties? Why did I buy a blender? And since I spent two Christmases here, I have a whole set of ornaments and decorations! But I know how to be brutal and it’s easy for me to remember that stuff is just stuff.
Leaving here is a temporary solution to an adult problem. Taxes and Visas make living abroad a much more daunting life plan than most North Americans can picture. Until I lived in Costa Rica, I didn’t even understand what a visa was, never having had to deal with one to travel anywhere before. Even when I learned about them, it was due to the difficulties my Costa Rican friends had in obtaining a Visa to visit the US. Kenya was the first place I ever had to purchase a Tourist Visa, (it was $50.)
As I work through these feelings and emotions, and physical tasks, everything seems so complex. I have so many happy memories and I am constantly adding more, yet I am sad for those things and people and places I will be leaving behind. And yet, slowly, steadily, I feel the flames of the adventurous spirit inside me starting to ignite again, the burning slowly getting hotter. I remember how I feel when I am completely outside my comfort zone, on a plane, alone, heading someplace new, striking out on a new phase, purposefully writing a new chapter in the book of my life. I think about how great being scared can be, how alive it can make me feel, how the nervous fluttering in my belly is usually a sign that I am growing, getting stronger, braver, more experienced. I can’t be sad that I will get to experience all of that again.
My plan is not to go to all new places. This needs to be a year of saving and living small, lightly, and economically, so lots of transportation costs are not in the budget. But even though the places will not be entirely new, (I expect to spend most of my time in my favorite South American city, Medellin,) the experiences I have will be. The neighborhoods, the people, the places I go, the food I eat, it will all start another new adventure. I look forward to knowing the language of the world around me again, though I will miss the thrumming white noise of the German language surrounding me.
The spark is still small. I don’t want to go. Berlin is the home of my heart. Not many of us are fortunate enough to find, this late in life, a new place; a place that suits perfectly, not just a place we are born to, or work in, but a place that holds our souls. But I know I am an adventurer. I am a free-spirit. I connect to people and places. I absorb the heart of the streets where my feet land. I am me anywhere, and now that I have truly discovered who ME is over this past few years, nothing can take that away. This is the gift Berlin has given me, and I will carry it with me going forward, into new and exciting adventures. And when I am ready, I will come back and share with Berlin again, the next woman I have become.