Then + Now: Our Story

Many of you have been asking us a lot of questions lately, like: What’s next? Where are you going to live? What are you going to do for jobs? Are you going to travel again? Aren’t you sick of wearing the same clothes?

Before I talk about where we’re going, I’m going to talk about where we’ve been.

We left Portland 14 months ago on September 27, 2014 after selling our house, our cars and most of our belongings. Our goal was to unclutter our lives in an effort to downsize, minimize and simplify. To live a life untethered.

Getting a Parkinson’s diagnosis will do that to you, you know. Nudge you to take stock of your life and to really think about what matters. To prioritize your goals and dreams.

For us, travel came out on top.

We’ve always talked about wanting to travel the world. We weren’t sure what it would look like, or when it would happen, but it was always something we dreamed about doing together. We talked about it a lot, but there wasn’t ever a perfect opportunity to make it happen. Of course, life doesn’t work that way, does it. The gift of travel wasn’t going to fall into our laps. We needed to make it happen.

The Parkinson’s diagnosis almost four years ago was a major catalyst in making our dream a reality, although back then we didn’t look at it that way. Grief can cloud one’s vision, and life became really emotional and complicated. A couple of years later Harry’s job was eliminated, an event that propelled us into action. I had spent four years working at my wonderful (but totally stressful and highly dysfunctional) high-poverty school and I was more than ready for a plane ticket to South America. It was time for us to travel. #seizetheday

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We said “goodbye for now” to our wonderful community in Portland, the place we’ve both called home (separately and together) for 20 years. We road tripped across the US in our “new” tricked out mini-van named Moby for six weeks, visiting National Parks in Nevada, Arizona, Utah and New Mexico.

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We spent another six weeks visiting friends and family near and far, from Michigan to Maine, Virginia to Florida, and many states in between.


In three months we drove 10,000 miles.

On January 13th, 2015, we flew to Buenos Aires, Argentina on a one-way ticket using frequent flier miles. We didn’t really have a plan… except really, that WAS the plan.

To let go of expectations. To slow down. To explore new cultures and places. To be present with one another. To be vulnerable. To let go of planning, let time stand still, live day by day.

Over the course of 10 months we spent time in Argentina, Chile, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador and Colombia. We traveled mostly by bus, taking the slow road to places unknown to us. We tried new foods, experienced new cultures and witnessed poverty unlike any we had seen. We hiked in phenomenal places, we clapped along to traditional music and we walked along beautiful beaches. We met wonderful people, connected with locals and learned to communicate using a different language. We experienced highs and lows, gratitude and fear, curiosity and compassion.


We also really got to know this thing called Parkinson’s. No longer hiding in the shadows of our busy lives in Portland, Harry’s PD became an ever-present character in our journey, a third wheel, an uninvited guest to our party. Fully exposed and real, we talked about it often, analyzing symptoms while trying to predict how his body would function on any given day (which isn’t possible, you know). We celebrated amazing hikes in the Andes, swore at frustrating walks down the street, and laughed when he fell out of a cab in Quito. We learned to be flexible and adapt our daily plans as necessary, to move slowly and to be grateful for all the little things. And big things. Like walking across rivers and jumping off the roof of our hostel into the Caribbean down below.


Additionally, we experienced something else. Something really amazing and beautiful.

Let’s call it icing on our South America cake.

The two of us connected in a way that feels real and honest and powerful. Being together, side-by-side for 14 months, has brought us closer than we’ve ever been, literally and emotionally. Relying on one another when situations got tricky, counting on each other when we needed to most, and knowing that we had each other’s backs all the time has taken us to a new level in our relationship.

And just in time, too.

The future is unknown in so many ways, but together we know we have the strength, humor and resilience to handle whatever comes our way with grace. Well, it might be a messy kind of grace, but we’ll be in it together.


You asked what’s next.

We spent our first week back in the US with my aunt Nancy in south Florida; my parents came down from Michigan to spend the week with us. We had a wonderful time together soaking up the hot sun and making happy hour count every day. Thanks, mom and dad!


We spent a few days in northern Florida with Aunt Susan and Uncle Bill, then a few days with Sarah, Steve and Mia in Gainsville. We’ll visit friends in Savannah, Asheville, and Charlottesville before heading up to Alexandria.

We’ll spend the winter holidays on the east coast with Harry’s family and my brother and his kids. Then we’ll house sit for Harry’s cousin in Alexandria for a month or so, we’ll drive up to New England if the weather permits, and we’ll spend some time in Michigan with my parents. Eventually we’ll cruise on out to Portland, hopefully visiting our Colorado friends along the way.

We’ve had numerous offers to house sit in different places around the country and we’re considering all our options. Maybe, wherever we are, we’ll just dive in and practice the day-by-day mentality we’ve come to perfect while being in South America.

There are several factors that determine where we’ll end up for the next period of time: quality of life, cost of living, job prospects, family + friends, health care for Harry and soccer for me. We strive to continue the stress-free lifestyle that we’ve been enjoying this last year. We’re seeking jobs that will balance our desire to make a difference in our community with the slow-paced quality of life we’ve come to appreciate.

We’re still writing the playbook.

Thanks for coming along on the ride with us. We appreciate all your love and support!


Colombia: Medellin + Guatapé

We left the coffee region of Salento with Liz and Alex and took a bus seven hours north to Medellin. We spent a few more fun days together and then said goodbye to each other, knowing that we’d be reunited again in a week’s time in northern Colombia.

Medellin: City of Eternal Spring

One of the first things we did in Medellin was to go on a Free Walking Tour. This has become a habit of ours because we’ve found the tours to be quite informative, and this one didn’t disappoint. We spent four hours with our guide who passionately painted a picture of Medellin over the past 30 years.

The first question our guide asked us was, “How many of your parents are nervous because you decided to travel around Medellin and Colombia?” There was a lot of laughter as practically everyone nodded their heads yes.

In reality, great strides have been taken in all of Colombia during the past 10 years to increase safety. Rest assured, Medellin is no longer Pablo Escobar’s Medellin. Ten years ago the violence-weary people of Medellin voted in a new mayor, Sergio Fajardo, whose platform was called “social urbanism”. Action accompanied his words and he immediately began improving security, education and public infrastructure. His efforts supported and built on initiatives that were already underway in the city.

In recent years the homicide rate has plunged. Libraries, parks and schools have been built to improve lower income neighborhoods. A cable car connecting the poor neighborhoods on the hill with the city center is intended as a gateway for opportunity and equality. City parks were created in places where violence once dominated. Colombia’s most famous artist, Fernando Botero, donated 23 of his over-sized sculptures for a renovated plaza in downtown Medellin, Botero’s hometown.

The world took notice.

In 2012, the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy recognized Medellín’s efforts with the “Sustainable Transportation Award.”

In 2013 the Wall Street Journal crowned Medellin “Innovative City of the Year”.

Medellin continues to grow and flourish; it’s a city full of promise. While you still need to be on the lookout for pick-pocketers, for the most part designated areas of the city are safe. We walked around quite a bit and I’ve never seen so many curious stares. Locals love having visitors come to their city, a place that was unsafe for so many years.


Let’s talk about all of the beautiful people living in Medellin. I mentioned in my last post “It’s Colombia, Not Columbia” how cosmetic surgery is popular in this country, and no more so than in Medellin. ‘Paisas’ (people from Medellin) are known around the country to be very vain, and we saw it in both women and men. Both genders are fashion-forward and well-groomed with perfect hair and nails. And yes, the women have noticeable curves in all the right places. For the first time in South America we saw women with blond highlights in their long, dark hair. We found the Paisas beautiful enough to rival the ‘Porteños’ (people from Buenos Aires). But don’t worry — Harry and I fit right in with our daily uniform of quick-dry travel pants, faded tee shirts, baseball cap and pony tail.

Medellin: Futbol!

I was so excited when the owner of our hostel invited us to a soccer game with him! Medellin has two professional teams, known as “Medellin” and “Nationals”. Harry and I went with Andreas to watch Medellin play against a team from northern Colombia. It was such a treat because he drove us to the stadium in his car — no crowded buses to navigate!

You might remember that I also went to a professional game in Buenos Aires. My two experiences were so much fun! They were also very similar for three reasons: 1) The fans were really loud and passionate, singing and chanting the entire game. The energy was high and the crowds were intense. 2) In my opinion, the soccer wasn’t that impressive (shhh, don’t tell anyone I said that) because all of the really talented players end up playing professionally in Europe or in the US. 3) The government didn’t allow fans of the opposing team into the stadium, so the cheering was all one-sided…. which is a very, very odd thing to experience.

It was a tournament game, and Medellin ended up losing in penalty kicks. You could have heard a pin drop since there wasn’t anyone there to cheer for the other team. Medellin fans quietly grabbed their things and walked out the gate. It was eerily quiet.

Regardless of the loss, we still had a blast and going to the game will always be an awesome memory.


El Peñon de Guatapé: A Really Big Rock 

Harry, Alex, Liz and I ventured to a cute little town called Guatapé, only two hours by bus outside Medellin. En route we stopped to walk up a Really Big Rock. A National Monument, this monolithic formation is 650 feet tall and somehow supports a staircase built into a crack in its side, looking similar to a zipper.

In the 1970’s the area was dammed for hydro-electric power, creating a beautiful landscape consisting of finger lakes and islands. Unfortunately the water was really low, a reminder of how dry Colombia is right now.

Seven hundred and forty (740!) steps later we reached the top and were granted views of the dramatic scenery below.

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Guatapé: Color Capital of Colombia

Guatape is the sweetest little town that you ever did see. Every building is covered in vibrant wall art known as ‘zócalos’, a tradition unique to Guatapé. Each zócalo is distinct and reflects the interests and personality of the owner. Walking up and down the cobblestone streets was a feast for the eyes.


This brightly colored moto-taxi was total awesomeness. The fact that it was really bumpy and incredibly loud made it that much better. I felt like a Colombian Rainbow Princess. Shazam!


Hey look, it’s Adrian! We’ve spent chunks of time with this fun Australian in both Peru and Ecuador so it was only fitting that we’d run into him in Colombia as well. We have a special connection with this guy because we volunteered for two weeks together at the Hilo Rojo School.

We shared some big hugs and laughs and invited him to join the four of us up north for a week of beaches, deserts and four-wheel drives. It was our mission to travel to the northern most point in South American, and we wanted Adrian to be along on the adventure.


Up Next: Cartagena, the Caribbean and the northern-most point in South America

Colombia: Popayan, Salento + Valle de Cocora

For months we’d been hearing from other travelers about how much Colombia has to offer. We took notes, did some research, and were eager to explore this lesser-traveled destination in South America because guess what? Colombia ain’t what it used to be!

Las Lajas Sanctuary 

Most towns located at a border crossing leave much to be desired and are simply locations one strives to move through as quickly as possible. However, Colombia boasts one the the most exquisite churches I’ve ever seen just a handful of miles across the border from Ecuador.

Las Lajas Sanctuary was built in Gothic Revival style between 1916 – 1949. The church was inspired by a miracle said to have taken place in the canyon 150 years earlier. It rises 330 feet high from the bottom of the canyon and is connected to the opposite side of the canyon by a 160 foot tall bridge. The rock face that the church is connected to is also the wall inside the sanctuary. It’s truly extraordinary! This iconic church brings visitors from near and far. If you’re ever in the area you simply must visit Las Lajas.


This picture really shows off the extraordinary engineering and design. Can you see the river running down below? Exceptional!

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Popayan: The White City

When we said goodbye to Liz and Alex at the Llulu Llama Hostel in Isinlivi, Ecuador, we knew we’d meet up with them a few days later in Popayan, Colombia. It was fun reuniting with them and we spent a few days exploring the “white city” together.

One of the first things we noticed in Colombia was how nice the people were. Everyday, common exchanges with vendors or restaurant staff suddenly turned into a delightfully effusive verbal dance with multiple pleasantries exchanged. We quickly learned that it’s actually bad manners to just say a solitary “hello”.  A more extensive flowery greeting is appropriate and actually expected.

While we’ve indulged in many cups of sweet, juicy mangoes sold on street corners throughout South America, it was the vendors in Popayan who added a twist to this delicious fruit: they squeezed fresh lime juice and sprinkled salt over the mangoes, making this natural snack a really zippy treat. Yum!


Salento: Coffee Region

Embarking on a seven hour bus journey with friends sitting next to you is definitely the way to go! Everyone was on their best behavior, no one got (really) grouchy despite being crammed into the back of the bus, and there were plenty of snacks and stories to go around.


The coffee region of Colombia is simply beautiful. Green rolling hills, windy country roads and lush vegetation make this a visually pleasing and relaxing location. Salento is an adorable colonial town with brightly painted buildings set against a hilly green backdrop. Horses and their riders amble down the cobblestone streets, gentlemen walk around wearing sombreros and ponchos, and fresh coffee can be had on every corner.


Don Elias Coffee Plantation

One hot afternoon we walked for 45 minutes down a very long and dusty road to visit Don Elias, a small, family-run, organic coffee plantation. Don Elias’s grandson gave us a tour and he shared the inside scoop on his grandfather. Apparently, Don Elias used to drink up to 20 cups of coffee every day, but once his doctor intervened he dropped it down to “only” seven cups a day. Can you imagine?

We learned quite a bit that day. They use companion cropping to deter pests and encourage pollination. For example, banana trees and pineapple plants are interwoven among the coffee plants. The harvesting is very labor intensive as it’s all done by hand. We observed how they process the beans on old-school machinery. The tour ended with a strong cup of piping hot black coffee, just the way Harry likes it. We also got to meet the rugged Don Elias who, in his white sombrero, sure looked like a coffee cowboy to me.

Instead of walking back into town, we scrunched our hot-and-sweaty bodies into the back of an old U.S. army jeep and bounced our way on the dirt road back to the hostel. Always an adventure!


Valle de Cocora: Home of the Wax Palms

One day we hiked in the Valle de Cocora, a protected area not far from Salento. We started the trek in a lush valley, walking through pastures where happy cows lazily grazed. We crossed a river several times using rickety bridges that caused us to cheer each time we all made it to the other side.

As we hiked up and out of the cloud forest we finally saw what we were looking for: the Wax Palm, Colombia’s national tree. Its long and slender trunk can grow up to almost 200 feet. The palms created a dramatic sight against the blue sky. We spent time laying on our backs, staring up at the pretty fronds outlined by the bright sun.


When we finished hiking we grabbed a ride back on one of Salento’s unique “Willys MB” jeeps. Originally used in the U.S. Army, a bunch of jeeps were brought to Colombia after WWII. They are well-maintained and serve as the perfect vehicle to navigate some of the unpaved roads in the region. As there were only a handful of seats, Liz, Alex and I stood up on the back bumper and hung on for the 30 minute ride back to Salento. Yahoo!


Tejo: A Game With Explosives

While futbol is the most popular sport in Colombia (duh!), its most traditional sport is called Tejo. This highly unusual game involves launching heavy, rock-like projectiles at a target surrounded by explosives. We had a great time playing this crazy game while we were in Salento. To see what tejo is all about, check out Anthony Bourdain’s short video. I think I know the perfect family-friendly activity to play at our next annual July 4th shindig in Michigan….


Coming up next: Medellin and Guatapé