Andre Sólo, Personal Development, Travel

The End of a Beautiful Relationship

It feels weird to post this. I used to make fun of blogs because of this. Who the heck shares their whole personal life online? Do they think anyone cares?

It turns out sometimes people do care. About a year before I quit my job and started traveling, it was clear that a blog was both the best way to chronicle the journey and a good start to a life as a professional writer. Rogue Priest has been both, and for some reason it’s caught on. Every day hundreds of people read what I’ve written here, and some of you have become regulars, acquaintances, even friends.

Still, there are topics that feel weird to put out in public. Like relationships. I don’t care too much about my own privacy: if something in my life makes an interesting story, I’m happy to share it. But with a relationship, my comfort alone isn’t enough. The other party has to sign off too.

My girlfriend of the past year—let’s call her Anita—did sign off originally. After we met in New Orleans she asked if she could come along on the last 80 miles of my Mississippi bike ride, all the way to the end of the road and, it seemed when we got down there, the edge of the world itself.

The road to the end of the Mississippi. Photo by André.

The road to the end of the Mississippi. Photo by André.

Those three days not only cemented my respect for Anita, they sparked the beginning of a passionate relationship. The trip meant a lot to us both, and Anita was happy for me to blog about it. She even wrote her own account that I published here on Rogue Priest. I asked how to credit her, and she said to use her full name. We added a link to her professional website.

It was the first of many times that Anita appeared on this blog. With her permission, I wrote about our travels together and occasionally shared her guest posts. This had an unexpected effect: readers loved her. If this blog is the story of my journey, then its main character suddenly had a love interest, and people liked that. (So much so that when I continued on to Texas, Anita already had a standing invitation to visit from my kayak mentor—before I’d even met him.)

And that’s why I feel I should probably make this public: I’m single now. Anita and I broke up several weeks ago, peacefully but sadly. This isn’t something I would normally announce to the world, but since she’s unlikely to appear in any more posts I figured some explanation is in order.

I think it’s fair to say that the last year with Anita was, to date, the great love of my life. Of course, I’m a terrible judge. Like most people I think every love is the great love of my life. But usually I can see through that afterwards, whereas even now, looking back, I still view this relationship as different. It was the happiest I’ve ever been.

That’s not to say it was the easiest relationship. Not by far. My previous girlfriend in Minnesota was loving, encouraging, easy to get along with, and an unrelenting supporter of my work and journey. We didn’t argue much and when we did I felt heard. With Anita, on the other hand, we butted heads constantly: two stubborn, dominant, independent people who are used to getting our way. But I was happy. Perhaps, just like I quit a stable career to travel the world, I just do better with a relationship that challenges me.

I don’t really know what’s next for the Rogue Priest as far as love is concerned. I recently read Niall Doherty’s wonderful Cargo Ship Diaries, in which he writes that he refuses to start a long term relationship until he’s done traveling. I can see the allure: the first leg of my journey, up until I met Anita, was a free-wheeling period of short flings. It was fun. I guess I could go back to that—after all, I wouldn’t be the first adventurer to sleep my way across a couple continents.

But the truth is I believe in love. I believe in enduring, meaningful love.

In a different book, The Alchemist, Paulo Coelho writes that true love is a love that will wait, that will withstand even the long journey to follow one’s dreams. For a time I chased Coelho’s vision of abiding love. But truthfully, I’m not sure I want a love that will “wait.” I’m not sure that’s even healthy. I really dream of the woman who will be at my side while I adventure, the two of us adventuring together. Sometimes it’s her journey, sometimes it’s mine, sometimes we might even go apart: but what we both want is to wander, and to have a wandering companion.

I have faith—a wounded, messy drop of faith—that somewhere out there I can find a love like that. A love that spans the world.

Until then, my only project is to make myself into the man she deserves.

So, there you have it. An oddly personal post about events that most people wouldn’t even discuss on their Facebook page. But I think it’s right to record these things. I write about all sorts of people I meet on my quest, often very candidly, and it’s only fair to turn the camera on myself once in a while.

Thanks for reading. And “Anita,” if you’re still subscribed to these posts: this song’s for you. I’ll never forget you, baby.

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Adventure, The Heroic Life

To adventure is more than a quest for love

Picture by Javier Eduardo Piragauta Mora

This is the story of why love isn’t always enough.

It’s no secret that I’ve found a happy relationship. She’s a fellow traveler and very independent. She revealed her adventuresome nature on an 80 mile bike expedition and since then we’ve run away like bandits.

For me, this is very special: a woman who roams like I do. When we’re knee-deep in mud, or packed with 18 people in a 12-person van, I look over at her, waiting for the flare—the anger, the what-are-we-doing? Instead, there’s my fellow adventurer, chin set, hair up and no sign of anything but determination to beat this challenge.

I’m honored that she’s with me. My time with Jessica gives me a new faith in love.

Yet the reaction I get from others expects more than that: that love itself is the journey. That falling in love is, somehow, everything I set out to search for.

I don’t believe that.

I believe in a life of seeking challenge and attempting impossible tasks. Adventure is not just a pastime until I find love. Adventure is an end in itself, a vehicle to reshape a life.

I guess I can understand why people view love as the greatest adventure. It’s frightening and thrilling, and if you don’t go out trekking through unknown lands then love is much easier to relate to. But for someone who does both, love and adventure look very different.

And different types of adventure are not interchangeable. You can find true love and still fail to overcome your drinking problem; you can lose a marathon and still help change children’s lives. The purpose of one quest is not the purpose of them all.

My purpose is most certainly to explore. To explore myth, to explore the globe, and to dig deep wherever I go. It is to pursue the heroic life.

The heroic life is the choice to use travel as a practice to change lives, starting with your own.

For some, love will be the ultimate treasure found in that journey. But to many others, love will be the temptation holding them back.

That’s because adventure, in the sense of physical, out-in-the-world adventure, is the most transformative practice I know—but it is not the most alluring. It’s much easier to sell comfort and safety, or even mere thrill-seeking, than it is to sell real adventure.

Love, on the other hand, sells itself. We are built to seek love, and told it is pure—but love is just one treasure, one of many wondrous treasures.

So the adventurer has to choose sometimes: do you want to adventure, or do you want love? And if you choose love, what will you give up?

I believe one can have both, but that’s because I believe in true love—love that abides. If you have a quest, true love will not require you to give it up, not to delay it, not to reduce your dream in size or in scope. Your true love will bless you, and send you to finish your great quest. You will both understand that you will be together again.

It is right to take risks for love. But it is also right to risk love itself. True love will not give you up.

One day there will be bands of people pursuing the heroic life together: private journeys on a shared quest. Each of them is on a journey to find (to choose) their purpose in life. And some will find, and choose, Love.

Their fellows will sit down and celebrate with them, will let them go, will let them settle down without objection. And their fellows will go away, still wandering, still in search.

Because there is more to find than love.

Lift yourself up, oh adventurer, and look to the sky: is there not something higher than the heart beside you?

To many, the answer is no: even just finding one heart, one kindred heart, is so much more than many people ever achieve.

But the heroic life dreams bigger, dreams too big, dangerously big. To live the heroic life is to attempt inconceivable things. The moment the journeyman contemplates a normal goal, an admirable goal, his hopes are set too low.

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Adventure, Dominican Republic, Spotlight, The Great Adventure, Travel

How would you like to be part of a tale of love?

This is Jessica’s take on our first two weeks running away.

“How would you like to be part of a tale of love?”

This is what I was planning to say if anyone opened the door. It was June 27 and Drew and I were just walking by this mansion on St. Charles Avenue. We had spent the past few days talking about “hypothetically” going to the Dominican Republic for two months to live on the beach and work and be together, and today was our decision deadline. It had been a rough afternoon: he wanted me to go, I wanted him to understand I couldn’t go. We were exhausted, and were walking to Fresh Market to get sushi. I told Drew we should stay in New Orleans together. He looked up at the beautiful house and said, “I’ll stay if we can live there.” He didn’t think I would knock on the door.

I climbed the stairs and rang the bell. While we waited for someone to answer, I pondered what I could possibly say to them.

A tale of love. It didn’t work out that way. No one answered the door. We knew we weren’t staying in our sweet New Orleans together. We ate our sushi. But late that night I gave in. All my anxiety about running away together, about not going to my familiar and comfortable New York with my old friends—it was all outweighed by the horrible sinking sadness I felt at the thought of Drew getting on his bike and me getting on a plane and that being the end of our adventure.

Jessica

Nothing Left to Fight About

So here we are. I think we argued constantly for the last week before we left. We fought about money and time and whether we wanted air conditioning in our house. [Drew’s note: air conditioning is not bueno!] By the time we got on our 6 a.m. flight out of New Orleans on July 4th, I hoped there was nothing left to argue about. When we got upgraded to business class from Atlanta to Santo Domingo, things started looking up.

We landed in Santo Domingo with plenty of time to get to the bus to Las Terrenas, a town in the northeast that a friend had told us had “a few things going on.” We walked around, shouting over the constant roar of motorbikes in the street. We had a good but expensive dinner in town and a cheap but terrible night of sleep in our hot, buggy hotel. In the morning we got on a gua gua to Las Galeras, two hours further out on the peninsula and rumored to be quieter than Terrenas.

It’s definitely quieter. There’s a street and two beaches and a few places to eat, most of which we can’t afford. There are three dive shops and lots of guys offering rides on their motoconchos (motorcycle taxis). We looked at a half a dozen hotels before we found the best one in town, Hotel La Playita, which has a swimming pool and a sweet Spanish manager named Argentina.

La Playita Hotel, where we live.

La Playita Hotel, where we live.

On Saturday we started looking for somewhere to live. By the end of the day, we’d seen eleven houses, including one where the bathroom was IN the bedroom and another which was fully furnished—including some dude and his clothes. We saw a beautiful guesthouse behind a French lady’s villa, but she wanted more than double what we wanted to pay.

“It’s the low season,” we reminded her.

“I don’t care,” she retorted. “I’m not a business person. I live here.” We left.

We liked a two-story house near the beach. It was in a resort that was closed for the summer while the Canadian owner was away; she had left the resort and her dog, Leika, in the hands of 24-year-old Ruth (locally pronounced “hoot”), who sat in the empty restaurant all day in case someone came in. We skyped with the owner and negotiated her down to US $650 for the month—a little more than we wanted to pay, but worth it, we thought, for the privacy, two rooms, and proximity to the beach.

Bad choice. The wifi didn’t work, the lightbulbs were all burnt out, and the couch was so filthy that Drew resolutely refused to sit on it. The next afternoon, we were back on skype with Ms. Canada, trying to get our money back (which we did—most of it.) That night, we hustled back to La Playita and Argentina, and that’s where we live, at least for now.

Hand Us the Bill

Our first full week was full of adventures, misadventures, some highs and some lows. We figured out how to get water: preferably NOT from a guy called Wino who drives around in a pickup truck with “Supermercado Numero Uno” painted on the side. Numero Uno apparently stole a cell phone from an Italian guest at our hotel. And we tried to take Spanish classes from a terrible teacher named Armando, who gave us a textbook with his face on the cover and spent way too long teaching us the names of genitals in Spanish.

[Drew’s note: he drew a nipple on the whiteboard.]

Within a 10 minute walk from home there is one beautiful beach, where we swam, drank a coconut, and met some cool Israeli travelers; and one less beautiful beach, where we stumbled around in seaweed. A hike along a muddy horse trail covered in rotten mangoes deposited us at the most startlingly beautiful (and empty) beach we’ve ever seen, Playa Colorada.

The house where this happened.

The house where it all started. Jess really did knock on the door.

We’ve been unable to meet the local Peace Corps chica despite stalking her relentlessly for two weeks. We have, however, met a handful of other local characters.

Alejandro and Raisa run a small eatery on our street. They never seem to have what we want, but someone always runs across the street or across town to get it for us. Alejandro always has an offer: a cheap house, a cheap motorbike, and, most recently, the pleasure of his company on our travels. “I want to hang out with him,” Drew says, “but I’m afraid somehow the situation is going to end up with him handing us a bill.”

“Jessica’s mom” is a Haitian woman who runs a fruit stand with a sign that says God protects this business. We don’t know her name, but the first day we met her she was in a store yelling “Jessica!” I kept turning around until I realized the toddler with her was also named Jessica. Now whenever she sees me she yells, “HOLA, JESSICA!”

Pucho sold us some rusted bikes with busted gears. Tomeo is a bald and rotund Spanish man, jovial but world-weary, who I think has the potential to be BFF’s with Drew, as soon as they can get a language in common. Adrian, a high energy five-year-old, might as well be our shadow; Martina, who’s Italian, speaks not a lick of Spanish but doesn’t let that stop her from talking your ear off; and then there’s “Se Vende” the motoconcho driver. He couldn’t get us as a fare so now, every time he sees us, he tries to convince Drew that he should BUY his motorbike.

Food options are limited. We call our favorite restaurant Darny Mart after the friendly owner who sometimes makes eggplant. It’s a nice change from the daily monotony of rice and beans and chicken. When Darny’s not around, the woman who works there eyes us with such hate that it makes the hot sauce turn cold. On those days we escape to Manuel’s panadería where there’s something resembling pizza and, occasionally, chicken on a grill outside. There are a lot of places serving fish, which is not surprising since we’re five steps from the ocean. What is surprising is that a seafood dinner is usually twice the price of chicken.

Under the Stars

Despite the stress of trying to live and work in what is basically a glorified hotel room, we laugh constantly. This town is hilarious and ridiculous and sad and awesome. We have it pretty good: for US $385 a month, our apartment includes a pool, (almost) daily maid service, laundry, all the coffee we can drink. We also have Argentina and her husband, José, watching out for us when we lock ourselves out of our room or need a vegetable peeler or suddenly have an inch of water all over the bathroom floor.

We still don’t know what the hell we’re going to do in 6 weeks, when we fly back to New Orleans and Drew has a birthday and our paths diverge once again. But for now, we’re breathing clean air and looking at the stars and swimming in the ocean and being grateful that we’re able to live our dreams and be on this crazy adventure.

Jessica is a location-independent market research consultant. For twelve years, Jessica has designed and executed research programs for clients including top academic institutions, Fortune 500 companies, and grassroots community groups.

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Adventure, Dominican Republic, The Great Adventure, The Heroic Life, Travel

The Change In Plans

Jessica and Drew

So much has changed in only a week.

The crossing of the Mississippi was successful. After many well-intentioned warnings, it was almost comically easy: I can’t imagine a more pleasant kayak trip. I can say that Jessica was as tough and capable a partner as one could hope for. She has my heart.

And that’s the thing.

As any reader should know, I finished my time in New Orleans and tuned my bike for 700 more miles. Those 700 will take me to Corpus Christi, Texas where I’ll train on sea kayaks until I can paddle the Gulf of Mexico.

Saturday morning the Giant was all loaded up. At the morning send-off party I popped the champagne, put my arm around Jessica, and made the announcement:

“There’s been a change in plans.”

Jessica and I are running away to the Caribbean.

Taking Risks for Love

I will still bike to Texas, paddle Mexico, walk to South America. But Jessica and I haven’t had enough of each other. So we’re both taking a risk.

For me it means delaying the next stage of my Adventure; for her it means cancelling a summer in New York. We’ll spend the next two months together in the Dominican Republic, in a small village on the beach.

Is this crazy? That’s certainly the word we both use. We’re nervous. I don’t really know if this is the beginning or the end. But together we’ll explore deserted beaches, scramble up waterfalls, motorbike through mountain towns. I’ll learn to cut coconuts with a machete, and maybe we will be happy.

It is right to take risks for love.

This is temporary. In August we’ll fly back to New Orleans—hopefully with a clearer picture of what we want for our future—and I’ll resume my trip from exactly where I left off. The Adventure will go on.

Perspective

At many points, when the going was hard or temptation reared her head, my friends have said it’s okay if I don’t complete the Adventure. I’m sure that many of you share that sentiment, too—it’s meant in the kindest way, and I appreciate that.

But I care.

I care whether I complete the Adventure. It’s not optional to me. It’s woven in my nature, it’s assigned by my highest self.

There will be a day when I limp, drift, raft, stumble, bike, run, or race the last 18 steps and my heart will be complete. I will know I lived a story and I will know who I am and what I must do. Until that day, I take a step forward, a cautious step forward.

And here’s what so few people know: I care about completing the Adventure, but I don’t care how long it takes.

Running away for love is not, to me, a delay in the Adventure. It is the Adventure.

We had joked about this idea for weeks, always a joke. But then reading, researching, looking at what it would take. I told Jessica we had to make a decision. She said no, I can’t do it, I can’t just run away for love. So I packed my bike.

The next day she held me and breathed: let’s do it. “We have to do it.”

And so we do. Set my bow at the storm, let us sail this ocean again. Let us sail the ocean of fear and trembling, because what else is there? Only islands, islands in the storm.

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Adventure, New Orleans, The Great Adventure, The Heroic Life

The view from her window is just like Vietnam

I’ve never been to Vietnam. But I see from her window. Layers of tropic plants bright as noon with a cloud-stained sky. Past the trees, the white porch of a French mansion. The French were here, once; the French were there, once.

She has no curtains. Any French colonel could see us nude. But the colonel is away. He has not been home in some time.

This street is forgotten. It’s the last road to the Zone, the place where the sidewalk ends. Only memories live here, and ghouls, santurists and painters.

This one is a painter.

Strange noises break the hum. A squeak, the clash of a shutter. Once this was a swamp. Then came the wealthy. We feast on their leavings, like the rats who never left.

I look at her in that sunlight. It’s a cold white light, a half-spring half-rain light. Her den smells like linseed. She has 80 grand of furniture, made by her own hands. She’s not selling.

She looks at me and smiles. I know you, I think.

I can’t say the words. What if they’re a lie? I would never lie to a woman but I do lie to myself. What if the words, the dreams are wrong?

I lean back on the bed. In June she goes north; in June I go south. As with all good romance, we are under the threat of destruction. But one doesn’t promise the other.

She mumbles. Maybe “I know you.” I didn’t hear. I hold her hand and I breathe, sweetly drumming, sweetly drumming. One day we’ll be too old for ghost mansions. She’ll have kids and a more reliable man. I’ll have stories and an empty bed. Her great-grandkids will forget her name. Stories get forgotten, too.

Every wave recedes to the ocean, even the Flood, even the Flood.

It all goes to the ocean in the end.

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Personal Development

I was afraid and I kissed her

She looked out the window and I was scared. We had flirted good and well but she doesn’t date co-workers. Here we were in her apartment, the pot smoke thick, the small talk thin.

She was stoned but she knew what she was doing. Come see the view on the porch. Winter in Minneapolis. Balconies aren’t for winter, they’re for summer and trapping boys.

So the question: do I kiss her and how? Every man knows this moment. She did her part and led you somewhere you can make a move, because she’s into you. Or maybe she’s not into you, so why are you on her porch? Because she actually shows guests the view in winter.

What if you kiss her and you weren’t supposed to? Then are you a rapist? Rapists are the worst! Or will it be like a sitcom and you’ll both make an excuse to get out of there and then you’re friends for two seasons and then you elope.

There is no one to tell you what to do and the clues are a joke. You just have to move.

So I moved.

We ran out of conversation and I pushed her against the wall and looked her in the eyes and our lips were together. It probably seemed very romantic and confident because I moved slow. But I moved slow because I was afraid.

She moved with me. She kissed back. Then we were kissing, we worked together on that kiss.

“Fulfilment,” Gustav Klimt

Balconies aren’t for winter and I was already caught, so we moved inside. There was a couch, the floor, some other furniture. I told her in advance that I didn’t want a relationship, because I’m a gentleman and that’s what gentlemen do in the age of liberation. She might have stopped, but I was no longer afraid. The chemistry was proven, she was in it just like I was.

(Fun fact: There are three types of women who don’t date coworkers, and all three of them will date a coworker.)

That time it worked out. Other times I failed. I went for the kiss once in Mexico and she jumped away like I had teeth mites. It’s not the rejection, it’s the uncertainty—the sense that you should know.

Most men hate this moment. I used to hate it. Because no one is going to tell you what to do, and it’s safer just to be be lonely and sad. Lonely is free. No one fails at lonely.

I don’t know if women have this same moment. Actually that’s not true—I know lesbians sometimes do, because I sort of lived with one and he had game. (He later transitioned to being male.) He had way better game than me. People don’t exactly go to bed at night wishing they’ll wake up as a trans boy—most trans boys don’t wish that—but if it came with game like that I would consider the offer.

But woman, man, trans, any human being has these moments. It might not be the kiss. It might be demanding a promotion or some respect. It might be anything.

You want to make a move and you’re scared as hell. You don’t know which choice will rip your heart out and eat it faster. No one can tell you what to do because they’re scared too.

Everybody wants to know how they can adventure without leaving their home town. There are a million ways to adventure and it starts with moments like this. Adventure doesn’t come knocking, the wizard doesn’t put a mark on your door, I’m sorry. It starts when you say it starts.

Here is the good news.

Every single time you move it gets easier.

That’s what I’ve learned. Any given time you make a move you might fail. But every time you make a move, the next move is easier.

Ask for a promotion and it’s easier to be the only one dancing. Whisper “Do you want to fuck?” and it’s easier to ask for a promotion. Sometimes you’ll fail but soon you’ll fail with grace. People dig grace. They come back to the graceful.

(What happened with the Mexican woman? We became friends. She wrote me a really nice note during the holidays last month. I tried to respond in Spanish. She once apologized for being “so rude” that night, which is very Mexicana of her. You don’t have to apologize for not kissing people.)

Good things don’t come to those who wait, good things come to those who tear through stacks of bad things like it’s a box of Cap’n Crunch looking for the prize at the bottom.

Push someone against the wall and kiss them.

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Favorites, Poetry

Who Once We Were

Duty

I believe we have a duty to the children:

Not just the children we raise,

The children we meet,

The orphans;

But to the children who once we were

Who Dreamed so many great things for Who They Would Become.

When you rise,

Do your job,

Greet the world,

Do you make that Dreaming spirit proud?

Or have you neglected

the first child

you ever loved?

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