Live Inspired: first impressions in El Salvador

• In partnership with John Reamer and Associates

The shrill, happy notes reverberated through Plaza Libertad, drawing a crowd of a couple dozen, and me — invited by the music and the gleaming red upright bass.

A woman, wearing a bright pink apron and holding a matching ladle, spooned atol — a sweet corn drink — into styrofoam cups to serve. Two other women had staked out territory in front of the little five-piece band and were dancing as though it was their jobs (it might have been; they later worked the crowd for tips). 

I whipped out my iPhone, as I always do, with a wave of reluctance. The nature of my job, these days, is to record what’s around me, but documenting other people in other places, especially as a white person, isn’t always popular. I’ve often stopped photographing because I absorb the glares around me. In more than a handful of cases, I’ve actually gotten visceral rebukes.

But on this glorious Friday afternoon, as I eyed the assembly, all I caught were smiles.

Playlist: U.S.A. summer feels

There might be no stronger keeper of memories than music — even more than photos and stories, songs have a way of sending me back, viscerally, to specific moments in time, to an almost palpable state of mind.

SO: one of the things I want to do more of moving forward is creating playlists based on place and my time moving through them. I’m starting with my nearly four-month cruise through the States (plus a week in Canada!).

It was a hell of a journey being in my native country — even my former adopted home, Minneapolis — as a nomad, this time. It was both familiar and strange; comforting and challenging; indulgent and driving.

Live Inspired: the hours before takeoff

• In partnership with John Reamer and Associates

Every time, it’s the same.

On the night before I make a new, big move, I don’t sleep.

Before that point, I think about my plans ahead very differently. Now, over a year into this wild, nomadic existence, there is an element of normalcy in what I do — plunging myself into the unknown, alone — even though at times it feels totally insane.

I know I’ll fall into my flow. I know I’ll fall in love. The constant move, more than anything else now, is the new order.

But in those hours before the next leg begins, a particular feeling takes over — some blend of excitement, anticipation and anxiety — and my pulse raises, my stomach turns.

Live Inspired: ruined travel plans — a perfect surprise

• In partnership with John Reamer and Associates

Down by the pebble-strewn shore, the river looked as still as a lake, transforming from waterway to a long, glass mirror as the afternoon rendered into evening.

It was one of those glorious days when the air feels neither too hot nor too cold, and the Mississippi reflects the deep, cloudless sky, the lush green shore and, somehow, the very exuberance of one of the summer’s best offerings.

On the first full day of the next leg of my journey through Central America, I was enjoying it to the fullest — but I was not in El Salvador, where I had planned for months to be on this date (Tuesday of this week). I was nowhere close. In fact, I was back in Minneapolis, stranded in the U.S. after one of the most hellacious travel disruptions of my life.

And it was pretty damn great.

Why I’m going to El Salvador

After three months in the U.S., I’m continuing my travels in Central America. The next long-term destination? El Salvador. Here’s why I wanted to go.

On April 12, somewhere in between my cold brew and lunch, I found myself in an odd position: crying in a bathroom at the Contemporary Arts Center in Cincinnati. 

A year earlier, I would have never been able to imagine myself here because, well, I didn’t even have the groundwork for the tears. And yet here I was, wedged between a couple of industrial-sized toilet paper rolls and a hand dryer, slobbering into my clay-caked jacket sleeve.

I had just participated in an exhibit meant to challenge the collective U.S. consciousness about our history in El Salvador, as part of a performing arts festival I had stumbled into. 

First, there was a short film on El Mozote, a sleepy village near the Honduras border and the site of the horrific 1981 massacre by U.S.-trained-and-funded Salvadoran troops during the country’s civil war. When the film was over, I was instructed to walk into an adjacent room. 

There, strewn across the floor, were tubs of red clay and ripe orange-and-yellow mangoes, culminating in a tumbling mass in the middle of the room, where a young woman sat on an upside-down crate armed with a tall stack of paper. 

Each sheet bore a single name.

Taking my hand, she sliced a knife through a bit of the mango she held and gave it to me to eat. She pressed red clay into my wrist. Then she handed me a piece of paper from the stack. 

Maria Santos Claros Marquez, it read.

Live Inspired: An ode to slow travel

• In partnership with John Reamer and Associates

At sunset in Panajachel, Guatemala, a line of snack stalls abutted the Lake Atitlán.

Each one offered beers, swaddled with napkin bibs, and fresh ceviches with their own little twist. Living there for over a month, I could have tried them all. But walking by every night, I chose the same one — not because I was uninterested in trying something different, but because being a regular just felt good.

Live Inspired: Why I love being a solo female traveler

• In partnership with John Reamer and Associates

Traveling with others can be a lot of fun, and let’s be honest, it’s definitely the most popular way to travel. But solo travel, especially solo female travel, has become trendy for a reason and it’s not just the great selfie ops (selfies are actually really hard to take solo, I’ve learned).

I get a lot of questions about my solo female traveller lifestyle — whether I get lonely or bored or feel uncomfortable a lot.

Those answers? All a resounding “no!”

Traveling alone isn’t a consolation prize; for me, it’s actually the pinnacle. Whether you’re taking a weekend trip within the U.S. or wandering across a continent, solo excursions can be incredibly refreshing and stimulating. Going alone has taught me a ton about myself, about my independence and what I’m capable of.

Once you start, it can be addicting. Here’s some of why I love moving through the world alone.

Live Inspired: an emotional return to Minneapolis

• In partnership with John Reamer and Associates

Last Wednesday, I landed in Minneapolis for the first time in a year.

And the first emotion I could identify upon my return to my adopted home of eight years was “weird.”

Obviously, I was more than excited to see friends and former colleagues, for a three-week summer stint on the precipice of returning to Central America.

But as the plane from Montréal, my previous stop, descended into the Twin Cities, I could only think of the last time I was in that air space. 

It was June 28, 2018, and I was leaving everything I knew, bound for everything I didn’t. I was ready for this move, I thought. Weeks earlier, I had sold all my belongings — the things acquired over 32 years of life — left my job at the Star Tribune, said a tearful goodbye to the house that claimed so many memories, bid farewells to friends of a lifetime. I did so with so many dreams, with so much motivation. I’ve never felt regret. 

But in that moment, in a left-side window seat in the back of the plane, I was struggling to breathe.