Next departure: May 16

Good morning!  I'm a complete hot mess this AM because I didn't get down to sleep until close to 3.  It was a late night... booking flights! aka my happiest place (next to traveling itself) :D It's now official, and I'm excited to finally announce my next adventure.  9 weeks, 4 countries (formerly 6 weeks, 7 countries) + 3 intentionally lengthy layovers in Taipei, Seoul, and Seattle.  Trip breakdown is as follows:

Week 1: Amsterdam and surrounding South Holland area. flying to Tel Aviv from here.
Week 2: Writing, yoga, and touring retreat with Pink Pangea in Tel Aviv. I planned my entire trip around this.  It was supposed to be two weeks long originally but the first week (a separate retreat) got cancelled.  This allowed me to modify my plans dramatically and I'm much happier with the end result!
Weeks 3-5: Philippines!  A big part of my trip that's very close to my heart, where I'll be taking the opportunity to meet my extended family for the first time.  More on that further down.
Weeks 6-9: Japan.  What was originally a 21-hour layover at NRT has become a month-long excursion from Okinawa to Tokyo.  And the more Lonely Planet research I do, the more I think this won't be my last and I'm not even there yet.  Oh boy.  I can't even.

This trip, which I haven't named yet (but I will) will be my first international solo trip and the longest trip I've ever taken in my life.  Since I went to Europe for the first time last October, I fantasize about the nomadic life on the daily.  I haven't quite wrapped my head around the fact that 'travel writer' is an actual job title and it really is possible to be a citizen of the world.  When I was younger I dreamed of being able to call myself an expat and work abroad.  The more I travel, the more I realize it's the movement that I'm addicted to.  It's in moving trains and departing planes.  I can't tell you what that means about my future at this point, and honestly I don't want to make any reservations (of this kind anyway).  I'm incredibly blessed and fortunate to have the opportunity to do this, right now at this time in my life, and it can't be a more perfect time.  In every way, shape, and form, this is happening now for a reason the universe has only given me a taste of, and I'm a pretty intuitive person.  I think about the magic I'm about to discover on this trip and I'm giddy all over.  International travel: my long lost love!

I decided to fly to Amsterdam mostly for better value to travel to Tel Aviv.  The flight from Calgary is quite expensive with multiple layovers and not-so-convenient flying times.  From Europe, however, there are numerous budget options that fly directly into Tel Aviv multiple times a day.  My original plan was to fly into Germany and take a train from Munich through Eastern Europe to Istanbul.  I scrapped that plan when I found out the first half of my retreat got cancelled.  While the sights would have been breathtaking, it would be a lot of travel very quickly.  I fell in love with Amsterdam last October when I went there with my ex.  It was the last stop on our trip and he didn't care for the city much, but it was the perfect ending to our not-so-perfect trip (no trips are, don't get me wrong).  I'm flying in right at the end of tulip season so unfortunately I'm missing Keukenhof 2016 by literally a day.  This broke my heart when I realized it - I understand the seat sale now - since I love flowers with a pretty big chunk of my heart.  I'll be staying in Bollenstreek, the dune-and-bulb region of South Holland where wild tulip fields run amass.  Get ready for my poorly-executed selfies as I trudge through state-owned farms like the proud tourist I am.  Following a day or two of that, I'll take a few more days exploring South Holland before I head back to the city bound for the Holy Land.  

In my perfect world, I wanna say this retreat in Tel Aviv is for work.  For professional development, networking, and so that I don't lose the barre body I'm currently working on every day.  Of course it's personal too though, it always is when it comes to me and my writing.  I have a pretty clear idea of where I want to go with it and I think this retreat will be a very important grounder for me.  It'll give me perspective while encouraging my own vision.  Like much of the rest of this trip, I don't exactly know what to expect but I know that whatever I find will be exactly what I need.

 From a few months ago when I was ironing out initial plans. So much happier with my new itinerary, beyond measure :)

From a few months ago when I was ironing out initial plans. So much happier with my new itinerary, beyond measure :)

This will be my first time going home to dig up and discover my roots and I'm so excited to be going a) at my age and where I am in my life right now, and b) alone.  My parents took me when I was a year old and obviously I don't remember anything.  The joke my whole life has been that I hated it because I was crying in every picture.  Half of my family lives in North America now, so I won't get to see my whole family, but I still have more aunts, uncles, cousins, nieces, and nephews than I can keep track of - and I know I'll meet even more when I get there!  (This is a very typical Filipino experience, btw.) My father has crossed over and my parents weren't together before he passed either, so I'll be splitting my time with my mom's and dad's sides of the family respectively.  There's been a notable divide between myself and my dad's side of the family since he passed away and it means a lot to me to be connecting with his side of my lineage, and to be able to be that human physical link to him to my aunts and uncles.  I'm really looking forward to the experience of being able to see where both my parents grew up and how it shaped them as people.  How their circumstances motivated them to make the choices that they made and how they made them.  The older I get, it gets easier to understand my parents in the way it gets slightly easier to navigate a new foreign city the more you travel overall.  You get the hang of it, but it's still very challenging.  My parents and I have had a lot of barriers between us to understanding each other and culture is just one of them.  I don't hold this against them anymore now that I get that.  I've lived my entire life in Canada from birth.  Because of that, I'll be visiting the Philippines from the perspective of a tourist, which will allow me to be objective.  Yet I can only imagine how this experience will change me, likely for the better, picking up the missing piece to truly understanding where I come from as well as in an entire country where everyone looks like me from the outside.  My associations won't be defined by what I do or how I think, and instead they just will be.  maryofthetower is not just a random twitter handle.  'of the tower' is the English translation of dela Torre, Spanish, the result of more than 300 years of Spanish rule.  There's a story behind the fact that my last name isn't even in Tagalog, and why it's still in Spanish in its original form after my family came to North America.  These are things I can't even begin to wrap my head around from a faraway continent where from appearances, I'm still labelled as an ethnic minority, even though I only speak Canadian English and I can't tell you shit about Filipino history without first consulting Google.  This is not a slight on my generation or my upbringing, nor the reverse on what I might be missing.  I'm happy with the woman I turned out to be.  I'm merely looking to enrich my understanding of the way I was made to see the world, why my eyes are brown and where my spotted, map-shaped birthmark came from.  Oh, and the beaches.  I've heard amazing things about the beaches. ;)

I don't know what to say about Japan besides that I have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to experience the country for a full month and so I'm taking it.  I may get another chance one day and I'll most likely seize it then too.  I'm starting on Okinawa Island for its beauty and to witness the happiest people in Asia live their lives.  The rest is pretty open, aside from the fact that I'm traveling as far as Tokyo and I'm going to summit Mount Fuji.  I'll allow the skeleton of the Japan portion run the course of its growth.  I'm confident with whatever form it eventually decides to take.  I'm open to suggestions though, so if you have ideas on where to visit while I'm there you can leave them in the comments below.  (I don't have enough time to do the 88 temple circuit but it's become a bucket list item of mine! I told you there would be a next time ;))

And then I'm flying home!  It's gonna be an amazing trip and the next 38 days are gonna fly by.  I'll be posting updates here throughout with my trip preparations, findings and gushings and wanderlusted musings.  Then before I know it it'll be mid-May and then there's no going back!  I can't wait :D