Welcome Back!

IMG_1412Welcome back! As you can see, it’s taken me more than three years to get back to writing here. I could make a million excuses but I’ll boil it down to just these two:

1) The last post I wrote was extremely emotional. It was a mind- and heart-dump of colossal proportions. After that one, I felt spent, empty, and worn out. Hence, no blogging.
2) My “theme” (AKA layout) got completely screwed up after a WordPress update. I asked a few “experts” to look into fixing it for me, but no one was able to find this ridiculously small problem. This technical difficulty, paired with excuse number one, made me frustrated enough to procrastinate the writing part. I brainstormed MANY ideas for posts but could never get down to the writing. Then, just last week, I used a service called Fiverr (fiverr.com) and paid just $5 to have my theme problem identified and fixed. Then I tweaked a few things that I knew how to do myself and VOILA! Here we are! Back in business!!!

I want to say a huge “thank you” to all the people who wrote, both publicly and privately, about my last post. Your outpouring of support, empathy, and encouragement got me through what would turn into a pretty challenging time. Lots has happened since May of 2012, both good and bad. That’s the way life works, though, so now it’s time to reflect, regroup, and start sharing again. I am looking forward to getting back to traveling, to pushing myself, and to really living once more.

So, as a teaser, here are some of the topics I have in mind:
1) Transitions: tourist to expat; married to single; homeowner to homeless in the USA; young-ish to middle-aged. Too many transitions to mention here!
2) Challenges of living in a foreign country, in particular in Indonesia/ Bali: language; making friends; cultural ignorance; visas and doing business; distance from “home;” starting over.
3) Building a business alone from scratch.
4) My cats (had to get that one in here!)
5) My feet – because they have also starred on m Facebook page and have influenced a great deal of this journey.
6) Tropical diseases: skin conditions; mosquito-borne ailments. You know, just to keep it real and disgusting.
7) Health care.
8) My latest travel adventures: last weekend was in Bali, but I will travel to Japan at the end of June for work/ pleasure. That will be quite a trip, I think!

I hope you will continue to follow my adventure as it takes a different turn. My friends both far and near are an incredible lifeline. Every day you help me scare away the lonely monster and find the courage and strength to persevere. Thank you again for your continued care and support!

Posted in aging, Bali, blogging, English teaching, growth, Heather Boylan, Indonesia, lessons, marriage, marriage separation, mid-life crisis, reality, reality check, scared shitless, southeast asia, teaching English, travel, travel writing, writing | Leave a comment

A Melancholy Celebration of Twenty Years of Marriage

A few times in my life I’ve had a pit in my stomach; a feeling that things were about to change in ways I couldn’t dream of, with experiences I couldn’t fathom. When Tom left Nha Trang, Vietnam last May after we celebrated our nineteenth wedding anniversary, I had this kind of feeling.

No, it wasn’t just my traveler’s belly, though that was part of it. I was indeed very sick. But I CRIED tears of heart-sickness and dread when he left. He doesn’t know this, but I had a suspicion that my (and our) life was about to change. A lot. And I was terrified.

I traipsed around Vietnam a little longer than I needed to, basically sight-seeing and killing time until my first teacher training gig in Bintan, Indonesia. Traveling solo has become comfortable to me in the prior two years, and Vietnam was feeling familiar: safe, but still fun and boundary-stretching.

When I got to Indonesia something happened inside of me. For one thing, I couldn’t believe I was there, volunteering to do what I loved, with a receptive, dynamic group of young teachers who hung on every word and theory I threw their way. But there was something about Indonesian hospitality that FLOORED me. Bintan is a sleepy little town. The locals often said, “hello” to me, which didn’t mean “what can I sell you?” This was a new thing – after being a tourist for months in the summer of 2010 and again in May and half of June, 2011, I was, by contrast, almost an honorary community member in Bintan – the only bule (Indonesian word for tourist) not staying at the DoubleTree or ClubMed. And I was doing something for the community.

Aren't We a Handsome Group?

Tana Toraja also blew my mind. My hostess there, Merda, showed me so many different parts of her community; explained to me so many things that I’d need to know about Indonesian culture, customs, people, etc. And her sense of humor kept me laughing for hours of long, winding car rides through the lovely hills of Sulawesi. Training ninety teachers was more of a challenge than I imagined I’d experience there, but it was – thankfully – a success.

The Gorgeous Landscape Around Tana Toraja

In Bintan and Toraja I asked my new friends where to travel in Indonesia. I was going to stay until early August which gave me a month of time to see other parts of the country. I wanted to go to Bali, but I didn’t think I’d like it very much. Lombok looked appealing; Sumatra and Lake Toba were on my radar; the Kimodo dragons and Flores were in the tentative plan as well. But I didn’t have a plan for more than a week after arriving in Bali. Time and time again, when I said I only wanted to stay in Bali for a week, people said that they thought I would love it there and want to stay longer. Heh!

Bali – specifically Kuta – and the friendly people I met there; the Hindu religion; the Balinese culture; the raunchy tourist scene – it all just kind of took me away from reality. Going back to the US became less and less of a priority, and I extended my stay. I left Bali for some short trips to the Gili Islands, Nusa Lembongan, and Jogjakarta, but for the most part I hung out with a group of new very close friends – Indonesian and international – that I met right on the beach in Kuta.

Rika and Some Friendly Soldiers

The first time I left Bali was one of the saddest days of my life. I remembered feeling like this in 2005 when I left Costa Rica after a five-week trip that had first awakened my thirst for solo travel. I felt like I was leaving a HUGE part of myself behind – I had so much unfinished “business” there. I was SICK with grief.

I came home and within a week was on a plane back to Bali. I’ve written about this in my blog already.

All of this leads up to the question, “What about Tom?” It’s a good question, and it’s the relevant one here. I’m sure many of you have wondered about this and been too polite (or scared?!?) to ask.

Before I start the difficult part of this story, I have to preface by saying that the twenty years of marriage Tom and I now celebrate have been full of incredibly happy times – a half-lifetime of amazing adventures that will always be bright spots in my mental scrapbook.

Too Many Good Captions for This One...

We have lived in some incredible places; made scores of caring friends; traveled to many corners of the earth; and laughed and cried together at life’s absurdities and tragedies. We shared two amazing dogs

Puck and Sadie

and a crazy cat.


Together, in Eldorado Canyon, we learned to rock climb. We learned how to snowboard together at Winter Park, eventually making careers out of the sport.

We made good and bad financial decisions together; we had countless fun nights “out on the town” in cities around the US and the world; and we celebrated many birthdays and anniversaries together.

But what most people don’t know is that Tom and I struggled in our relationship for a long time. In a way we were taught our whole lives, we kept that struggle, for the most part, private – our closest friends had some idea of what was going on, but for the most part friends and family were in the dark.

Happy on the Outside in Cancun

We tried marriage counseling in 2000 (twelve years ago!!!) in Summit County. I will tell you honestly that that “counselor” did more damage to my psyche in a few short meetings than I could have possibly imagined. She “sided” with Tom, citing my “depression” as “reason” for most of our problems. I think Tom was as surprised by this as I was; it definitely impeded our progress.

After one particularly difficult session with her our marriage counseling was over. I vowed never to do it again, and I stubbornly kept my word.

We maintained peace in our relationship, self-medicating with alcohol and basically disconnecting from one another. During this time I also received treatment for depression, anxiety, and ADD from a brilliant psychiatrist whom I would later travel nearly 100 miles from Denver to see.

Meanwhile, Tom and I basically led separate lives when I got a job at a college in Denver and he remained in Summit County. I came home on the weekends and we spent time together as “friends.” We laughed together; we could hang out and enjoy each other’s company for hours; we have almost identical outlooks on politics, values, and just about any other polarity issue a couple could debate. But the “spark” that we both needed had left our relationship years prior and we knew it. We both lived in a kind of personal sad space about this fact for a LONG time.

Probably Just Daydreaming, but Maybe a Little Sad

We attempted to fill those sad spaces with moves; travel; hockey games and other spectator sports; and more travel. We did things together; we did things apart. We plodded through a couple of marriage “self-help” books together. We both grew, but definitely NOT together.  We had some amazing times together, and we had some horrible times together. Thankfully the horrible times were few, and most of them were behind closed doors. When we pushed each other as far as we knew the other would go it got ugly.

In a way, I think I hoped Tom would leave me – that my behavior would be so incomprehensibly terrible that he would just walk out one day and our marriage would be “over.” Though I can’t say I ever really behaved in such a way that he – honorable man who he is – would ever leave in this way, I certainly tested him. And he tested me…

When I started traveling alone for longer periods of time in summer of 2010, I spread my wings in a way I hadn’t in years. It felt GREAT to push my personal boundaries through solo travel. I found reserves of energy, power, and strength I’d forgotten. On my own.

Fun With Self-Portraits at The Great Wall

I came back to Colorado for one more winter, working at Beaver Creek with reckless abandon in order to save up for more Asian adventures the following summer. Tom and I co-existed peacefully – even got along. It was a good winter…

I Even Got to Be a Beaver Creek Poster Girl

When I fell in love with Indonesia and its people, I realized that while I LOVE Tom with all my heart and soul and always will, I have to love MYSELF more.  The thing missing from “us” hasn’t been “us” at all – it’s been “me.”

Throughout my life I’ve looked to outward sources for gratification, love, affection, and even for how I should feel about myself. Any “normal” adolescent or young adult learns that this outward gratification is not what we truly need to grow and self-actualize.

But I kind of lost myself during this time.  I was definitely lost in my career; I was lost in depression and anxiety; and I drifted through my life, more as a spectator than “actor.”

When I returned to Denver last fall – first for a week, then for six weeks, Tom and I had many, many conversations about our relationship. He shared with me that a counselor he’d seen a few summers ago told him that, in her opinion, if he left me that I would kill myself. (Can you see how counselors have consistently fucked with our minds?) This was at the same time I was basically daring him to leave me. He (and I, deep inside) knew that we needed to separate then, but his fear of my self-destruction and my fear of being alone prevented us from acting on this need.

Meanwhile, we were, in a very different way, subconsciously acting on this need by emotionally detaching even more, and creating long physical separations through solo travel. Admittedly, my solo travel was more extensive, but Tom did plenty on his own – and certainly didn’t mind so much when I was gone. As we grew within ourselves through these separations, we grew more and more apart. What had been a double-track path in the same direction now became a true fork in the road, each of us choosing to travel in our own separate direction.

Finally, last fall we made the IMPOSSIBLE decision to free each other by “officially” separating.

Shortly after this huge life change I plunged into the deepest depression I’d felt in YEARS. It was a dark time for me. While, again, I needed to keep it together on the surface to finish a job I’d taken on and to get ready to “move” to Bali, I was gutted inside. I know Tom was as well, though he seemed to take it better than I did. And I was the one who had chosen to move!

Maybe I chose to move 8000 miles from Denver in an attempt to run away from my life and the realities I find painful. I have definitely had to do less “facing reality” (i.e. questions about our relationship from colleagues, friends, and family) than Tom has in the last six months. I am proud of him for so many reasons – but mostly for the integrity, strength and courage he has shown in this situation.

But what I’ve realized in my time away is that our painful realities travel right there with us. They’re like ticks – hitchhikers that suck our blood and hang on, feeding on our souls until we burn them off.

While I’ve definitely grown on my own here in Bali, my demons continue to haunt me. I’m also struggling to listen to my inner voice which is remarkably correct 99% of the time, but which I question CONSTANTLY with negative self-talk and criticism. I’m learning how to tell that voice to simmer the hell down, and killing those demons with joy. I’m finally starting to find the inner peace I’ve sought.

I have craved the catharsis of “coming clean” about a “hidden” part of this story for a long time. It’s my hope that by sharing more with those of you who have cared about me and my escapades enough to read along and wonder will find an interesting new dimension to my adventure.

Of course, there is a lot more to this story than I’ve explained here. For now this is what’s important to share.

Do I miss Tom? Of course. I miss the familiarity of having a best friend by my side every day. I miss the ease and comfort of hanging out with the only person who has ever really understood me – and loved me anyways:) I miss his humor; his calmness; his organizational skills; I even miss the things about him that used to drive me crazy.

But we know that being together right now is not the best thing for either one of us.

This story has always been about bravely exploring the word – finding my life’s true purpose and meaning while making a positive dent SOMEWHERE. But it’s really been – and will continue to be – about bravely confronting and re-connecting with my heart and soul.

To Tom: I love you and I always will. You’re my rock. Thank you for being in my life for the last 22 years; and thank you for letting me go, and for having the courage to free yourself. I look forward to growing old together as the best of friends – still sharing life’s challenges and joys as we always have. You are an incredible person who I feel lucky and blessed to know and love. xo -Heather

Always and Forever...

Posted in aging, Asia, Bali, blogging, growth, Heather Boylan, Indonesia, Lake Toba, learning curve, lessons, marriage, marriage separation, mid-life crisis, reality, scared shitless, snowboard instructor, southeast asia, Sumatra, travel, travel writing, traveling with Heather, travelwithheather, Uncategorized, writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 33 Comments

The Motorbike, Re-Framed and Conquered (Kind of)

So, those of you who have followed my travels the last few years have read a lot about motorbikes.

My first motorbike non-experience in Asia was when I was required to sign a vow that I wouldn’t touch one (in any way!) while working for Cross-Cultural Solutions in Bangkok, Thailand. This was a no-brainer to my fresh American-in-Asia sensibilities. I watched them out the window of my comfortably chauffeured car and wondered how ANYONE in Bangkok lived after one minute on a motorbike.

I easily wrote off the motorbike as a kind of transportation I would never set foot (or behind) upon.

Then I went to Cambodia for a few weeks. Again – motorbikes everywhere. Here I first saw six people and their daily ration of rice and other food on one bike. I tried SO hard to get a photo, but from my comfortable bus seat  it was impossible. I was in awe, but still not even slightly interested in a motorbike. Or motorbike taxi.

In Vietnam the sheer chaos of even crossing the street on foot was overwhelming. Add a motorbike or motorbike taxi to that? Certainly not.

Same thing in China. Motorbikes (and push bikes) everywhere. Not a chance I would ride one.

Then I came back to the US and rode a snowboard at mach-40 for a full winter – 100 days; 1 million vertical feet! No problem. Actually, it was quite a bit easier after having learned how to “flow” through street traffic in Asia.

Back to Vietnam the following May. The constant chorus of, “Lady! You need motorbike!” in Saigon didn’t even tempt me.

Fast forward three weeks when I’m pretty “done” traveling Vietnam. Including the two weeks I’d traveled there the previous summer, six weeks in Vietnam was too much for me.

So I visited a place I’d not really been interested in before: Dalat.

Dalat is a mountain community with great respite from the Vietnam heat. I was actually cold there. People wear North Face jackets – and hats and gloves – year round in Dalat. And it’s stunningly beautiful.

In Dalat the motorbike tour is kind of a rite of passage. You can read about mine here.

This is when my mind started to open to the idea of the motorbike. Not as a means of regular transportation for myself, but rather, maybe as something I would ride on, behind someone, more than once. Maybe.

Fast forward to Bintan, Indonesia, about one month later. After we had a LONG discussion about motorbike safety and lack thereof in Indonesia, my host Dina and I did 90 kmh on a bike together to witness a sea turtle release. Let’s just say she’s a FABULOUS driver and I wasn’t scared for a second. Just pretend about the “not being scared” part. She is a great driver but I was scared out of my mind. But we survived. And we got to watch those wonderful little critters find their way into the ocean. Amazing.

Tana Toraja, Indonesia was yet another place I was ADMONISHED to never get on a motorbike. My host there, Merda, is a wise, caring woman whose father positively forbade her to ever ride one in her life. And although he is now an angel in heaven, she has never been on a motorbike. And made me promise to not ride one.

Alas, I sprained my ankle BADLY in Tana Toraja.

My Technicolor Cankle

And even two weeks later, when I arrived for my “decompression” vacation in Bali (you know, cuz when a girl works for two weeks after six weeks of vacation, she has earned it!), I could barely walk.

Here is where this motorbike saga changes color like my ankle. “Lady, you need transport?!?” takes on a whole new meaning when clearly, you do.

Limping down Poppies 1, I was such a target. If you haven’t been to Bali, Poppies 1 can only be described as a complete cluster-f#@k. Stall-style shops, mini-markets, a McDonald’s, surf shops, salons, travel agents, hotels – all manner of ways for tourists to part with their money – line this narrow, impossibly two-way “street.” My hotel was at the end of this lane furthest from the beach – about a 1km walk. Through “the gauntlet” of shops and touts. And motorbike taxi drivers.

Luckily, I met my Indonesian beach “family” within days of my arrival in Bali. I was the regular on the back of someone’s motorbike wherever I needed to go. “You need a ride back to your hotel?”

“Um, yes?!?”

“Okay, we go.”

And off we went. To the hotel. Ride back to the beach the next day. For lunch. For dinner. You name it – I was on the back of a bike.

Limping down the street – an “extended” member of my beach family would see me. “Sister – you go to the beach? We go!”

I seriously might have walked fewer than 1000 steps my whole first few weeks in Bali.

I got more comfortable with the idea of being on the back of a motorbike as I became more familiar with its necessity. Nina from Switzerland and I went on a grand motorbike adventure on Nusa Lembongan, and I hired a motorbike guide in Jogjakarta who made my time there more than just fun.

Sorry, Mom. No helmets here on Nusa Lembongan

And when I returned to the US in the fall I vowed that I would learn to ride one on my own. I mean – why not learn in my own environment/ traffic and then take those skills back to Bali with me?

My dear friend Jay was easily coerced into teaching me to ride. Bikes are a new passion for him, so I knew he would be happy to share. I spent a couple of MINUTES on his Vespa and had a nearly HORRIBLE experience (thanks to my nerves, not his patient teaching). I walked away, defeated, thinking that, perhaps, riding a motorbike on my own was not for me.

Fast forward again, five months into my living and working in Bali. Yes, I have friends with motorbikes that will take me places. Yes, I have a ride in a chauffeured car to my work 15 km away from where I live. But neither of these things gives me ANY freedom to come and go as I’m used to. I’m getting stir-crazy, restless, and am starting to feel a bit, well, childish and helpless.

I MUST learn to ride a motorbike. Alone. In Kuta traffic.

I started slowly. My cherished friend Valerie showed me how hers worked, and I set off for a few timid passes around her courtyard. I ventured onto the narrow, broken street where she lives, trying to stay upright and not look like a COMPLETE rookie. To any local it was completely obvious that I was a beginner, and I was petrified. It was embarrassing.

I then started borrowing a motorbike in the wee hours of the morning when there was no traffic, and riding around my little neighborhood in Kuta. My tour involved a lot of left turns and few right turns (I don’t like turning to the right – can’t make sense of that one!) Eventually my route got larger and larger, and actually incorporated some small broken streets and right turns. I actually might have gotten up to 35-40 kmh in my early morning rides.

Then Ani, a colleague from Dhyana Pura University, told me that “any time I wanted to” she would come down to Kuta and take me out for a ride. “Really?” I asked.

“Really,” she said.

It was like a dare…

OMG has she taken me for a ride!

The first Sunday morning she arrived at the end of my narrow, broken road at 10 am and we rode all the way to the university and then some. “I have some challenges for you!” she said, as we wound down the narrow streets of Dalung, the town where the college is located, and where she lives. Her street isn’t paved. “No problem!” she said, “Just do, don’t think!” (This is perhaps her greatest nugget of wisdom!)

By the time we arrived at her house for a rest, I was a puddle of sweat. I’d dressed like Indonesians do to ride – fully covered with “real” shoes, jeans, long-sleeved shirt, and – of course – the helmet. This attire has SO many benefits (no sun exposure, limitation of possible road rash, disguising the bule – tourist – from police) but it’s HOT. I gulped down two glasses of water, and we were off again, back down to Kuta. In traffic. Ugh.

Ani is a patient teacher, but she’s not slow on the bike. Watching her eight-year-old daughter, either in front or in back of her on the motorbike – flapping her arms in the breeze, eating candy and freeing the wrappers in the wind, or nearly falling off, asleep – is enough to understand how much a part of Indonesian life the motorbike is.

I have followed Ani and her faithful sidekick, Gracie, on three consecutive Sundays now, on tours that challenged EVERY riding skill I thought I might have (or didn’t have!) We have traveled in traffic; out of traffic. Between GIANT tour buses; on broken curbs. At all speeds (even up to 65-70 kmh!). Yesterday we went almost 140 km on a day trip to Padang Bay, Bali – the tour boat landing point for most trips to the Gili Islands. It was exhilarating, exhausting, and exciting!

I have had a flat tire (fixed for less than $5 on the side of the road). I have learned where to position myself in traffic; that running red lights is REQUIRED to not get hit from behind; that one steers through curves with the body, not the handlebars; and that the only rule of the road in Indonesia – CLEARLY – is don’t run into what’s in front of you.  Oh, and don’t be afraid to use your horn.

I got pulled over by the police, who were surprised (even kind of delighted, in a macabre way) that I had an Indonesian driver’s license. I was just psyched that I didn’t have to pay them off after paying so much for that license…

Interestingly, as my motorbike skills increase, I feel the Indonesian language muscle in my brain relax and receive. Coincidence? Who knows.

I have now clocked probably 350 km on the motorbike. Am I an expert? Far from it. Can I navigate most any situation? We’ll see.

All I know is that today on my commute home from work I was not at all surprised by anything that happened.

And that every day, after every safe ride, I say a little prayer of thanks for my safety and well-being on the motorbike. And I mean it.

Posted in Asia, Bali, blogging, butterflies in stomach, English teachers abroad, Heather Boylan, Indonesia, learning curve, motorbike, reality, scared shitless, southeast asia, teacher education, teachers who travel, teaching English, traveling with Heather, travelwithheather, Uncategorized, writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments