My Welcome to New Zealand Begins in the South Island’s Otago Peninsula

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It is true; there are more sheep than people. If you can’t sleep, you will never run out of sheep to count and these sheep don’t have to be purely a figment of your imagination. They are on every hillside I laid eyes on. If my excitement was bound into a bubble that bubble would’ve burst as I flew over rolling green hills that didn’t end until they either dropped into the crisp blue sea or turned into snow-capped mountains. I could taste the clean crisp air through my small oval airplane window. The greens were true greens and all the blues were rich, true blues. To say New Zealand is clean and beautiful wouldn’t do justice to these majestic pieces of land so small in comparison to its giant land mass neighbor Australia.

The Otago peninsula is home to cooler weather beaches, penguins, fur seals, albatross, sheep of course, Larnach Castle, and eye catching beauty in every direction you look. Cold or warm temps, I am a lover and enjoyer of the beach so along the coast is where I spent the majority of my time. I was able to stay in a home that overlooked the sound in Port Chalmers. A five-minute walk down the steep hill my home was perched on led to a running/bike path along water. It was my motivation to jog every day. Of course, I was there in the winter so they were jogs that only lasted as long as my frozen nose and cheeks could take. The air in the winter has an Arctic bite. I woke up early enough most mornings to see the lavender to violet beauty the sunrise was and most nights watched the sunset with the same level of astonishment. Only God himself could create a beauty of this magnitude.

One of my favorite beaches was Anderson’s beach with waves that broke clean and very few people. I searched and searched this beach for the penguins that come up from the sea and nest in the hillside bushes at night but it was to no avail. This was one of my goals while visiting all the beaches, to see a penguin in its natural habitat. It was one of my cold weather travel encouragements, and as those who have traveled for longer periods of time know you need some encouraging moments of astonishment that leave you in remembrance that this is the very reason for embarking on this venture. I was having several moments of things not falling into place and missing my friends and family. I was near the beach searching for penguins once again on a crisp sunny day and talking to God about my life and what to do next. My frustration was pretty high and I just told God, “Look, I just need to know that you are still here with me, that You still want me to go forward with this. It’s been weeks and the single thing I wanted to see in this cold climate and have been searching for daily was a penguin. I haven’t even been given that. If You are still in this with me if You are still here, please show me a penguin. I walked about ten steps forward and it was within three minutes, if that, there, right before my eyes was a penguin. My eyes welled with tears. God answered. This penguin looked at me with the same peace-filled gaze I was giving him. As I walked closer he wasn’t jarred in the least. He widened his belly, sat on his feet and got ready for his nap under a bush. I just stood there and watched for about fifteen minutes thanking God for His presence and just hearing me. This moment was such a comfort I won’t even attempt to put into words.

Otago peninsula, you are glorious.

A Quick Moment in Phuket and Time for Reflection

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As I landed in Phuket I felt a sense of deep relief as I knew rest and refuge for my soul was just around the corner. I am so thankful for everything I’ve been able to experience thus far however, I am ready to slow down. I am looking forward to waking up and having time to journal about devotionals and readings on a daily basis, having time to just be and listen to what God is trying to tell me and where He is leading me next. I’m only spending two days in Phuket and then off to a new location for an entire month. I so need this.

As I sit on the beach in Phuket, I realize it’s not so much that feel like I’ve had any epiphanies about myself over the last two months, it’s more that I’ve just had confirmation about things I already knew. One being, I enjoy traveling slow. Traveling to new locations every few days is exhausting and, yes, I get to say that I’ve been to this specific place but the places I feel a connection to are the places I was able to spend time in, create relationships usually beyond one conversation, and not have my mind filled with a to do list before I leave because my time is so short. Also, I love not being worried about getting the great Instagram worthy photos. Those are great and I absolutely love it when I get one but to be honest many of pictures you see on Instagram do look that beautiful from the angle they were taken; what you don’t see are the dozens of people standing in line waiting for you to hurry up and take the picture of yourself over the ledge. These locations are usually the most touristy and cost a lot of money to get to because you have to buy a tour with dozens of other people to get there. Which brings me to my next received confirmation. I’m not that into guided tours. Especially if it’s in large groups. I do love guided tour groups revolved around things I just wouldn’t be able to by myself like taking a boat to swim with giant manta rays or riding an elephant, but if it’s something I can do on my own or with a friend or two I’d rather go that route.

I’ve been so busy these last couple months I haven’t had a clear mind to really just be with God without the busyness soon distracting me. I’m continually hoping and praying one of the reasons for this journey is to provide clarity on where my life is going next. I left a job I wasn’t in love with, sold everything, and said farewell to so many loved ones not just to travel the world, but to also find what I can add to it. I have asked God for a revelation about this time and time again. Time and time again He provides the next stepping stone of what He wants me to do next, but never the whole picture. There are moments when I hear nothing but silence and feel nothing but inaction on God’s part and I can be brought to utter frustration. It reminds me of Habakkuk. Not that I am surrounded by a world I feel is falling apart due to evil, although I’m not saying this isn’t happening; it’s just not my point right now, but that I have had extended dialog with God about various areas of my life and many times I see inaction and wonder why. My testament to walking by faith and not by sight is being built mightily. What I love about Habakkuk is although he had moments of complete frustration and not understanding God’s inaction or timing he didn’t run from God as Jonah did. He poured his frustration into prayer, over and over again. I will choose to continue in this way.

As I lay on the beach in Phuket, I look back and can see all the things in my life I grew tired of and knew it was time for me to move on, but I also see all the good I was able to pour into some of these heavy tasks. I am thankful God used me and worked through me in these moments and lie in anticipation of what He will have for me next. As impatient as I get for the story or my life to hurry up and unfold I remember that the purpose of my life isn’t for me or my story at all. This is all God’s story and Him revealing who He is to the world, and I get to be a small piece of the puzzle.

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Chiang Mai, Thailand – A Bustling City Nestled Amongst the Mountains Holding True to Its Roots

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Northern Thailand, with its lush greenery and multiple rivers flowing through, has seemingly kept so much of itself untouched and untamed. Just below these mountain tops lies a bustling city alive with markets, activities, and so many delicious cafes and authentic restaurants it’s difficult to choose which one to go to. My time in Chiang Mai and the northern region of Thailand was memorable and I left still knowing there was so much more to experience and explore.

Through advice from a friend who lives in southern Thailand I decided to stay in the Old City part of Chiang Mai. This area is rich in history and is still surrounded by the old moats and crumbling city wall ruins. These moats and walls were built, I believe in the 1200s, to keep out neighboring countries prone to invade, primarily Burma. Now, it lends itself to keeping people like me from getting too lost while wandering the many small streets lined with shops and vendors. While staying in this area everything I needed and more was within a 5 minute walk and laundry could be dropped off right across the street. The walls are built in a square to surround the city in about a mile or two radius, I could be wrong on the distance. This area of Thailand has as many temples as Bali does, but these temples are Buddhist as opposed to Hindu and the structure and artistic design is very different and unique.

Every afternoon the locals would bring their produce, meats, and cooked foods into the city to sell fresh on a daily basis. Many of the shops would have a multitude of things you could get from that one small shop. Often times I could buy a meal, rent a scooter if I chose, and buy some groceries all in the same tiny shop; maybe even get my laundry done or buy a tour. At night, there were plenty of things to do and over all I felt safe walking the inner city streets of Chiang Mai by myself. Everyone I met had a helpful and friendly demeanor and there was always a tuk-tuk at the corner ready to give you a ride if you were done walking for the evening. The streets are filled with tuk-tuks, little motorized carriages, and I took many. It’s an inexpensive and fun way to get around and see the rest of the city outside the Old City walls. Every Sunday evening there is a big night market that includes everything all the other markets hold, clothes, crafts, foods, etc, but adds music, performances and is just on a much bigger more crowded scale. Be ready to be around a whole lot of people if you decide to go. Also seeing an authentic Muy-thai boxing event is a worth it event.

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By far the most memorable experience I had in Thailand was visiting, learning to care for, and riding bare-back, the elephants. The Asian elephant has been used in Thailand for hundreds and hundreds of years as a way for transportation, farming, and fighting in war. You will see elephant figurines and paintings mostly due to the fact that the elephant is recognized by many here as highly intelligent, strong, hard-working, loyal, and a huge help and asset to the survival of Thailand for centuries. For many here elephants are to be appreciated and respected. With that said I feel it is just as important to be aware that due to many factors, tourism being a big one, elephants are now often mistreated and abused. There are many elephant tours and sanctuaries claiming that they are good to or saving the elephants when in fact they are not and if educated even a little you will be able to tell before giving your money to a group. I never had a desire to learn about elephants or create an awareness about their treatment until I met one and she gave me a hug. My heart melted. It was then I realized they create strong bonds and have heartfelt emotions. Elephants feel love, joy, grief, compassion, trauma, stress, and in times of stress they give each other hugs. She must have known I was having an emotional morning because while the other elephants were doing occasional naughty things she was so gentle with me and seemed so patient even when I was stumbling to do things correctly for her. I am convinced she was just an emotionally intuitive creature, as most women are.

There were only three of us who did a little research and chose this smaller elephant camp. There were only four elephants on this large property that included a river flowing through it on the bottom portion of this giant land that stretched as far as my eyes could see with mountains in the background. Each elephant had its own keeper, a mahout. The mahout for the elephant I cared for had a special relationship with his elephant, it was obvious. They were friends and it showed. I was able to feed giant sugarcane stalks to my elephant to build a good vibe, then we just kind of hung out while she smelled me and we just got used to each other. Then I mustered up enough bravery to climb up onto her neck. She lifted her leg to give me a boost. Yes, it is a trained thing to do but I took forever and she waited with no impatience. I learned the motions to slowly guide her and we trekked for about half an hour down to the river. She then got down on one knee so I could get off without completely injuring myself. She gave me a good ride and took me through these scenic lands, so in appreciation I gave her a bath in the river. Sure, she can bath herself but who doesn’t like getting a sponge bath and someone else cleaning behind their ears. Bathing her took a while. She is huge and I did both sides, haha. We then hung out in the river and I was rinsing off and finishing up. Apparently, she was so appreciative she wanted to give me a bath too. She took water into her trunk and sprayed me. More than once. It is possible she knew I needed a good laugh as well. After all the fun she helped me get back on her neck and we were one our way back up to the top for lunch. We then had to say our goodbyes.

A couple things to know about elephants if you are looking into having an experience with one. They sleep a lot, not for long periods of time but shorts naps many, many times throughout the day. If you are going to an elephant camp and the camp allows for more than two short 30 minute rides per day than the elephant probably is not getting enough sleep or the kind of sleep they need. They work in spurts and a true sanctuary allows a short time with people once maybe twice per day and the rest the elephant will sleep and exercise on its own. If it is used for farming they will also work in spurts and eat and sleep in spurts. Another thing to know is the baskets on their back hurt. Having a human or two on their strong muscle-filled necks is equivalent to wearing a necklace, but those rigid giant baskets with seats used for riding tours are not good for their backs and actually hurt. I saw many camps who had these on the elephants giving ride after ride for hours on end. It was heartbreaking to see. Also it is good to pay attention to the relationship between the mahout and the elephant. If a mahout has more than one elephant, often it is not a good sign. If the mahout walks around with a big metal thing that looks like a hook that is probably how the elephant was trained and it likely was trained in an abusive manor.

Another must see in this northern region is the famous white temple. Guided tours aren’t my favorite thing to do but this temple is a ways north near the border of Thailand and while up there seeing the “golden triangle” is another accomplishment and something just kind of cool to say you did. The Golden Triangle is the border location where Thailand, Laos, and Myanmar meet via intersecting calm rivers. There is a small island in the center of this border that is unowned by any country, I don’t advise getting out of a boat and stepping foot on this patch of land. It is known to be the place that criminal activity can happen and no law enforcement can enforce and accountability for anything that happens there. The Golden Triangle is also one of the world’s largest and the center for drug trafficking. Largely in part due to the amount of opium that can grow here. This tiny area produces 25% of the entire world’s opium, usually then made into heroin. A guided river tour is advised and I wouldn’t take it upon yourself to wonder off alone. I briefly stepped foot in Laos but it was through the guided tour.

All of this and I feel it is all only the tip of the iceberg to all the wonders northern Thailand holds. There is much more to be educated about, see, and experience in this enchanted part of the world.

A Trip to Gili Trawangan and Nusa Lembongan

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After our unexpected camping trip in Amed my friend and I were so excited to take a fast boat to Gili Trawangan and enjoy a more tropical paradise escape in accommodations that included air conditioning and hot showers. The Gili islands are known to have clear turquoise waters and great snorkeling. Many from around the world come to these islands on holiday to swim and, what I soon found out in Gili Trawangan, party. I did not know the latter of the two until we arrived. The Gili islands are tiny islands located off the coast of Lombok. Lombok is a predominantly Muslim country so it was a bit of a surprise to me to find out that drugs on the Gili islands are legal. As I’m sure you’ve put two and two together now, many people on holiday choose these tropical islands for that reason.

We took an island taxi, which is a horse and carriage to our stay in a quaint little cottage style bed and breakfast. It was very cute and private with great flora around it and a pool. When I got into the room it had to be close to 100 degrees F. It was insanely hot as it is hot and humid on the islands. I came to soon discover the air-conditioning was broken. I talked with the guy in charge of the place and he had someone come out to fix it, thank goodness. It was fixed by the evening. That evening after exploring the island a bit I came back to my now cool room to take a hot shower and wash all the sweat off me after a long hot, humid day. As I waited and waited for the shower to get hot I realize there just in no hot water. Cold showers for the next couple of nights it is. Late one night as my friend and I were returning from a late night out I put the key in the gate to enter into our cottage area. “The locks are changed.” I look at her and say. She didn’t believe me and thought I was just having trouble with the door. I explained to her again “No, you don’t understand it’s a different lock. This is not the lock for this key.” She tried the key as well but still wasn’t comprehending the someone really did change the locks on us. A neighbor came over and tried. She came to the same conclusion. We walked around the perimeter of the building, calling with no good way in, calling out our property managers name. Finally, his wife came to the gate and let us in. I said to her someone changed the locks. She giggled and confirmed her husband did in fact change the locks while we were out. Like I said, drugs on these islands are legal and shrooms are the drug of choice. Needless to say, we stayed at a different place just a block down the road for the rest of our trip. These experiences make for unforgettable memorable moments.

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The Gili islands are nice but a short stay will suffice. Gili Trawongan is by far the most crowded and touristy of the three. It is small enough that you can go for an easy bike ride around the whole island. There is a small part you do have to walk your bike through sand. Gili Meno and Gili Air are smaller and much less populated but also go to them very aware that there are going to be limited things to do there. There are a few places to eat and mostly just fun more secluded places to relax, enjoy a beach and snorkel or swim. You can also take a boat between these islands which is what I did. After 5 days in the Gili islands we were ready to move on… to Nusa Lembongan.

Only a few short days on Nusa Lembongan was just not enough. This island is more known for its surf breaks, it is a bit less touristy and a bit more outdoorsy. With the help from a newly made friend in Uluwatu I got a beachfront room with a hot shower. My first hot shower in a while and I was over the moon. We had a great view from our balcony of the popular surf breaks and were steps away from the beach. It was paradise and I wish I would’ve planned to stay on this island longer. The breaks a pretty far out so it’s perfect for stand-up paddling which I did. And we also took a canoe down a quiet very still river which was relaxing and picturesque. However, my favorite moment on my entire journey thus far was taking a boat from Nusa Lembongan to the coast of Nusa Penida and swimming in the deep sea with giant manta rays. I have never had an underwater experience so exhilarating. The boat captain didn’t make us wear life jackets or hold onto a raft and stay on top of the water and just look, he let us loose. I put on my fins and mask and dove in. It was at first terrifying to see such huge creatures gliding by doing circles around me. There were dozens of these creatures in the water and they ranged from 10 to 16ft wide. They were huge! As soon as I got used to seeing the size of them I was able to enjoy the magic of what was happening. Every time I turn around I would see another one gracefully glide by. I was sure not to touch them because though they are docile animals they are still wild animals and I would not want one to think it had to protect itself in any way.

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After swimming with the mantas, we took the boat to Crystal Bay and Mangrove Bay, other areas off the coast of the Nusa islands. I have been snorkeling in and all over Hawaii for 7 years now and I have never seen the untouched variety of coral and fish that I saw in Crystal Bay. It is still so alive and flourishing. I saw fish in colors I have never seen on fish before and the coral was like something I had only before seen in pictures and on the discovery channel. Beautiful doesn’t justice to how immensely invigorating and exotic this small piece of God’s great creation really is. I want to come back to the Nusa islands and do this all again. I have a feeling it would be a new a different experience every time.

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International Travel Beginnings in Airports and the Uluwatu area of Bali Indonesia

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Arriving to Bali was a thirty-seven-hour event full of learnings and experiences that made me quickly realize how covered in grace I was. I’ve done limited international travel and never attempted the budget travel airlines until now. For anyone traveling internationally, if the airline has an option to purchase baggage allowance as you are booking, purchase it! And purchase enough. I thought that like the major none budget airlines I would just pay for my baggage at the airports but soon found out that the fees at the airport for those who don’t prepay are astronomical. My large checked bag would’ve been almost $500 just for the first flight. I had 2 more flights to go! Long story short the woman at the service desk pulled a few strings and let me check my baggage for $160 then at the next airport grace and mercy flooded down again and I only had to pay $70 instead of almost $400. There was a moment I wasn’t sure I was going to be getting on even the first flight, and in hindsight the experience allowed for me to not have any other option but to receive grace and multiple huge favors from complete strangers. There are people who want to help and want to see you succeed whether in large or small feats.

As I got off the plane with just about everything I own in my two suitcases, I saw a couple wave me down, I assumed they were the couple there to pick me up and take me to my first place to stay in the Uluwatu area of Bali. I suddenly realized I had no clue who these people were; I am completely unfamiliar with where I am, and here I am, standing with everything I own, needing a ride, and forced to trust them enough to get in the back of their truck. Yes, I was on edge, and yes, I prayed for safety. Talk about stepping outside of my comfort zone. I am naturally pretty weary of people until I get to know them and see them as trustworthy. My first experiences were filled with huge language barriers, not knowing much about where I am and despite all that compete strangers showing me an abundance of patience and a sincere desire to help.

One of the major hurdles in Bali is transportation. Yes, in comparison to the United States things are much much cheaper. However, even what seems to be small expenses add up quickly. By far the most affordable way to travel is by a motor bike or scooter. The traffic and just the way people drive in Bali terrifies me. The rules of the road are there are very few rules of the road. People on various types of transportation honk endlessly and enter oncoming traffic as they zoom passed each other. I will say there seems to be very few accidents however for the most part, so far, I’m more comfortable paying for rides to where I need to get. I’ve also walked miles every day.

I’ve walked and gotten rides to several beaches around Uluwatu and they are just breathtaking. My favorite is probably Nyang Nyang. It’s more local and much less crowded then the more popular surf beaches which are filled with travelers in search of amazing, thrilling waves. While in Indonesia one of the moments I really take pleasure in is drinking their fresh fruit juices. I cannot emphasize enough how delicious a tall glass of local papaya juice, or watermelon juice is. The local cuisine is phenomenal and for the most part pretty healthy which just adds to the flavor of paradise I’ve experienced near Uluwatu and South Kuta.

Next I am trading in my first world amenities (air conditioning, and warm showers) and leaving the more popular touristy area to head into a much more secluded and local area rich in Balinese culture and tradition.

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Thought-filled Tastes of Reality as I Leave Molokai

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It’s my last morning on Molokai and I’ve got a million thoughts and emotions racing through my mind. Most of my thoughts encompass how different I feel like my life appears from everyone else but how I’m probably more similar to everyone around me when it comes to wants, needs, wishes, and desires than it appears. I’ve got one more week in Hawaii and one more island to explore then I’m off on my international travel venture that I’ve decided to take. I’ve heard how excited so many are for me and how they too wish they could’ve done something like this and I’ll be honest; I think doing something like this when looking from the outside has an overly glamorized appearance. When in reality the only reason I’m doing this is because this is where God has me. Nothing else fell into place in my life the way I thought it would in the timing I thought it would happen in but this opportunity did; so here I am. And I am confident that this is exactly what I am supposed to be doing. Don’t get me wrong, I’m anticipating moments of great adventure and mind-blowing happenings, but also I am very aware of all the work, budgeting, not showering when I want to, planes trips, airports, and tiring days that quickly turn into nights that traveling is. I am positive there are going to be moments when I just want to be in my own home in my own room, snuggled in my own bed but I sold all those things so that’s not happening anytime soon, haha!

My time on Molokai was spent with a close friend of mine. This was good for two reasons. First, we talked about where I am in life and all the good and bad that comes with it. It was a time of great talks and lots of processing. Second, as usual we had a blast together exploring Molokai. We are known to take on adventurous situations together and this time on Molokai did not disappoint. Some of the most beautiful beaches in Hawaii are on Molokai but very difficult to get to and a vehicle that is raised and made for taking on rugged terrain is necessary. Many times there is literally no one else on these beaches or at the very most, just a few. These beaches are still filled with shells waiting to be found and haven’t been over-picked by the masses. Most of the larger more sandy beaches are on the west side of this more remote island but there are beautiful beaches all over.

We went hiking up in the mountains on Molokai were the climate quickly changes to a much cooler and wetter one in some parts of the mountains but on the dryer side you can feel scorched with heat. There are deer everywhere. Residence from other islands come here for hunting pretty regularly. There aren’t many places to rent but a great place to camp, and hunters do.

On the east end of Molokai there is the more well-known Halawa valley and waterfall to explore. I recommend spending an entire day to do this. Make sure you contact someone for a tour to hike to the falls or residence of this area may not take to kindly to you venturing back here by yourself. There is private property that you have to pass to get to the falls. And this fall is beautiful.

One of my favorite experiences is just being able to fly over the north part of Molokai coming from Maui in a smaller 8 seat commuter plane. I have never seen such breath-taking views. There are so many hidden waterfalls that I’m guessing no one has even been to because of where they are and you can only see from the air. The steep, jagged and very green mountains and sea cliffs are like nothing else I’ve seen in the world.

My time on Molokai was a beautiful one and I am sad to leave, but excited for my next stop and last leg in Hawaii, the big island…

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Exploring Maui

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Leaving Oahu to explore Maui wasn’t a difficult thing to convince myself to do at all. Maui has a little more of a laid back vibe, less, traffic, and fewer people, not to mention a few very good friends I got to spend some quality time with. I started my trip taking the long windy drive to Hana which I wrote about previously, spent lots of time in Wailuku and Paia, then headed to Makawao, Haiku, and finally Wailea. On this trip I felt overwhelmed by the constant blessings that just kept rolling in. It was my first venture out of Oahu on this grand travel undertaking and things just fell into place with blessings sprinkled all over along the way.

Wailuku is a smaller town with agriculture land tucked into the mountains and a quaint town center and a few boutique style stores, a great trendy coffee shop called Wailuku Coffee Co., and my favorite find, a hole in the wall juice and healthy eats shop “The Farmacy”. I stopped in The Farmacy almost daily for one of their delicious smoothies and their sandwiches did not disappoint either. Exploring the Iao Valley is a must in Wailuku. It’s an easy hike with a beautiful river flowing through calmly enough for you to take a dip and lush greenery everywhere you turn. It’s a state monument with some historical significance as well. Be sure to take a few minutes and read up on the Iao needle and King Kamehameha I defeated Maui at this location.

While in Wailuku visiting Paia is a must. Another picturesque town with wooden signs, known to be a spot for hippies hang out. It has more and possibly trendier boutiques to shop in and a few great places to eat but what I love most about Paia are the beaches. They are pretty perfect when it’s not too windy with perfect yellow sand and clean turquoise waters.

My favorite part of Maui is Paniolo country aka Makawao that sprawls into Haiku on one side and Kula at a higher elevation. This town even has a small museum dedicated to the towns cowboy history and the shops in the town reflect that the paniolo culture stills runs thick. The general store has some of the best chili at only $4 for a small bowl and the beef in it is local grass-fed beef. You can sit on the front steps and enjoy. They too have cute boutiques and coffee shops my favorite being “Sip Me”. Another place with great coffee and healthy eats. What stood out here was I could by a jar of mac nut milk and other milks and juices to take home. Haiku has farm and ranch lands as far as the eye can see and Kula houses a beautiful lavender farm I could spend hours walking and eating lavender infused chocolate.

During my trip I was unexpectedly able to spend a day enjoying The Fairmont Kea Lani in Wailea with its beautiful pools and cabanas then in the evening I was graciously invited to a pupus, cocktails, and spa evening at The Grand Wailea. And if you know anything about this hotel you know that when they hold and event it’s quite grand. We sipped on chocolate martinis while eating sushi and other pupus (appetizers) then headed down to get facials, massages, and all kinds of algae pool dips good for your skin; and all complimentary! What an amazing relaxing blessing and to watch the sunset from this hotel was a real treat.

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The Heart in Hana

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A place with giant white crosses built on mountain tops in the midst of shear drop off cliffs and cascading waterfalls as tall as the eye can see left me wondering how in the world anyone got the crosses up to these places and the dedication, risk, and perseverance it must have taken.  I’ve lived in Hawaii for over six years now and I’ve wanted to make it to Hana the entire six years. The windy road is, I believe, over 60 miles and averages about 10 near hairpin turns per mile with areas of drop off cliffs and room for only one vehicle. Not many have a desire to travel this road often and I was curious to find out for myself if the trip would be as nauseating and anxiety filled as some have made it out to be. I set out on this adventure with a good friend who lives in Maui. We packed a weekends worth of things, a cooler for the ride, and we were off.

I think most will tell you half the fun is stopping at all the hidden gems along the way, so that’s what we did. I have never seen so many waterfalls in my life. It seemed like there was a new one every few turns. There was something enchanting about this part of Hawaii in particular. If you decide to take this drive take your time, start out early, do a couple hikes and a couple beaches along the way. This will also help if you are prone to car sickness; which my friend is. And the fruit and banana bread stands are worth the stop.

Our first night we decided to rent a place from VRBO. It was a cottage tucked back on some agriculture land with a coffee farm next to it and a deck with a beautiful view of the land. I’m not sure there could be a more perfect way to start this stay in Hana. It was only available for one night and we had such an amazing drive up we knew one night wouldn’t be enough to enjoy all Hana has to offer, so we booked another night at Travaasa, a pretty lavish resort in Hana with an ocean view, and it was a treat. When we pulled into the parking area for the hotel there on a mountain top right in front of us was another cross. I would get a feeling that filled my soul with a sense of peace every time I saw another one on a new mountain peak. And I’m hopeful that with the amount of work and effort it must’ve taken to get these crosses up there, they felt the same way and it was a constant reminder for them of God’s presence in their lives and it was shared amongst this community of people. It was also a constant reminder for me that God is on these adventures with me leading the way.

While in Hana we ventured out to more waterfalls via hikes, trudged through magnificent bamboo forests that went on and on, ducked our heads through lava tubes, and when our feet were too tired to walk anymore we laid on various red and black sand beaches. And when I say black sand I mean I have never seen such true black sand. Usually when I’ve gone to black sand beaches in the past to me it looked more like a darker dirtier sand, not black sand. But one beach in particular we saw from up above as we were enjoying the view and it was a perfect little bay with pitch black sand. So of course we made our way down.

We didn’t want to spend a bunch of money on food and in this area there is just no need to. We ate banana bread and drank locally grown coffee for breakfast or went to a take out window that had great egg sandwiches or eggs any way you like them. For lunch and dinner there are great food trucks to try. One in particular made what was my favorite meal of the trip. I love Huli Huli chicken and this was by far the best Huli Huli chicken I’ve had, Huli Huli chicken at Koki beach. That’s what the signs said and we followed. The kindest couple sets up shop every day under a tent at Koki beach and they get to making these delicious meals. Everything was so good! I’m not a huge mac salad lover but this mac salad changed my mind and was the best mac salad I’ve had and the chicken was out of this world. The portions are generous too. I was stuffed. This place is a must while in Hana.

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I truly loved this trip and every moment of exploration. Hana is a place where most only go for a night or two but I could easily stay for a week and still not get in all the sights to be seen.

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The Prayerful Beginnings

And there I sat, amongst at least a couple dozen women but feeling utterly singled out. It felt as if the speaker was speaking directly to me, to my soul that had felt dormant for months, maybe years. I suddenly had a flash back to that funny commercial of the man sitting in his t-shirt and underwear on his worn in couch eating Cheetos with the crumbs piling up on his rounded-out belly.  The man on the TV pointing directly at him telling him to get off the couch, put the Cheetos down, and go exercise, go live. As I sat on the floor hearing this person tell me to “choose life”, I knew it was just the confirmation I needed at that very moment. I was determined to forge ahead and choose life.

I have been working in corporate America for almost 10 years now. Right out of college I knew I needed to get a foothold into a career that would pay off my student loans and build a foundation of financial stability. After all, isn’t that the American dream? Go to college, get a respectable good paying job, get married, have children, buy a house, and be in a position of being independent and self- sufficient. I don’t think any of those things are bad, and many people do have a significant sense of purpose and fulfillment in them. I too felt a certain sense of accomplishment from graduating college, getting into a reputable career that paid decent money, and purchasing my own house that literally had a white picket fence. What I have accomplished up to this point were all things that were within my control, and I did it! I felt good. But what do you do when the things that are outside of your control don’t fall into place the way you always assumed they would? When you are left with expectations that just weren’t met; when the life you thought you would have, the life you expected either never happened or it just fell apart before your very eyes?

To add on to the fact that I haven’t started a family, after 10 years in a career that I haven’t loved for the past 6, the heaviness from the lack of fulfillment started to bare its weight. I rarely found much solace in friends who could share in this same experience. When I would look around me I didn’t see many if any women my age is this specific situation. Most of my friends are well into a marriage or relationship and/or have children who naturally shift one’s life path and priorities. What I did come to realize is even though my life looked very different from most there is still a uniting common thread between so many and that is having expectations that haven’t been met and the feeling of disappointment that comes from it. What do you do when you find yourself in this place? When the life you are living is so different than the life you so badly wanted. Well I still don’t have an all-encompassing answer, but I prayed.

God, what am I supposed to be doing; am I still in the right place? I can’t see Your plan at all, sometimes I can’t even hear Your voice. My life just isn’t making sense to me. Is there something that I missed along the way? I have this guttural yearning, this unquenched desire, a feeling, that there could be so much more to my life and I’ve barely scratched the surface. I’ve been surviving and having fun in moments, but unsure if I’ve really lived for years now. I’ve been in such a monotonous routine on a daily basis. You haven’t given me a family yet to pour into so what is it You want me to do? What do You have for me? Please tell me if I am completely off in my desires and they stem from any selfish sense of entitlement. Is it wrong of me to want more? To crave something deeper?  I want to be able to completely surrender to Your will, even if it brings more difficulties than I think I can bare, or it leaves me without my deepest wants. After all, I am not owed anything. On top of that I have already been blessed with more than I deserve. I realize all these things. Regardless, here I am desperately searching for more.

Am I alone in this? Has anyone else felt like they weren’t choosing to live their life but rather they were waking up every morning feeling like they were on auto pilot? And I don’t just mean some mornings, I mean MOST mornings. I was overcome with the realization that some mornings my soul never even really woke up, like I was completing my daily routine half asleep, with eyes only half open and that was just so I wouldn’t trip.

I have prayed so many prayers similar to this over the past few years and then, one day, I received what I saw as an answer. We had heard rumors that the company was going to close its doors in Hawaii for months and finally one day we all got called into meetings with or managers at the same time and were told our office is officially closing its doors in 9 months. We had an option of applying and taking a job in a handful of states on the mainland or we could severe ties with the company. Any time I considered following my career that I no longer loved, leaving the place I lived and I fell in love with to move back to the mainland, well the very thought repelled me greatly. I cringed; I couldn’t handle even thinking of continuing my life in this zombie-like status. It felt safe but it just didn’t feel right. What a surreal experience, to realize that I felt safer taking the risky route and it was riskier and more unsettling taking the safe one. I knew I was being prompted to not take the safe route. I was being asked to let it all go, take the risk, and follow a path not yet revealed. Step by step, enter into the unknown. I decided to sell everything I owned in Hawaii; I bought my first plane ticket, squeezed my friends and family tight and left. I was off to see and experience the world, and find my way, along the way.

Here we go God, it’s just me and You. Please hold my hand tightly; I’m following Your lead.

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Photos by Sunny Golden Photography