Today, I woke up in Lisbon. I’ve been here since July 6th. Lisbon is my hub, my point of departure as I race toward my goal of traveling to 35 countries before my 35th birthday. But Lisbon is also one of my favorite cities in the world, a place where I would (not so) secretly love to live one day. I love the people, the language, the food, and the fact that literally everything is passion fruit-flavored. Lisbon is my perfect escape. This morning, when I woke up, I realized that today is my last day in Lisbon, and I got very sad. I head back to the States tomorrow, back to real life, to work, to responsibilities. Lisbon has represented summer and freedom and catharsis, and I was not ready to let go of Lisbon. Then, just as soon as the sad thoughts entered my mind, I thought of the quote, “Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened.”
If you will allow me a moment of transparency, I would like to share with you that my spring was pretty rough. From February to about May, I was in different stages of the same heartbreak, and that was a paralyzing place. I stopped creating. No blog posts. No YouTube videos. The ache was overpowering. (Just a little bit of foreshadowing, because I know some of you are deeply concerned right now. I am currently fine, and I have charged the whole experience to “the Game”.) On top of matters of the heart, I was also dealing with professional stress. (Some of you know where I work. Some of you work with me. Yes, our place of employment was stressing me all the way out.) As spring ended, I just remember feeling tremendous anxiety. I was suffocating.
I decided to get away for the summer. I had a handful of frequent flyer miles burning a hole in my pocket, and so I decided to spend the summer in one of my favorite places in the world. Lisbon. I left the U.S. on June 24th, but I didn’t come straight to Lisbon. My first stop was Madrid, Spain. Whenever you hear me talk about Spain, I call it “la tierra de mi alma”—my soul’s homeland. I have felt a deep connection to Spain ever since I studied abroad there when I was 19. I was only in Madrid for a day, but I had the chance to eat some of my favorite foods, visit some familiar places, and remember why I loved the country so much in the first place. From Madrid, I went to Vienna, Austria. Vienna was new and different. I captured some beautiful photos and ate a vegan schnitzel that (with only slight hyperbole) may have changed my entire life (Shout out to Swing Kitchen). From Vienna, I went to Tel Aviv, Israel. I ate delicious street food and took a tour over to Jerusalem to walk where Jesus walked. Crossed into Palestine and visited the town of Bethlehem. I took a dip in the Dead Sea, and I was inspired to start filming again. From Tel Aviv, I visited Athens, Greece. It is really difficult to find the words to express how deeply and completely I loved Athens. The city exceeded every one of my expectations, and I would go back a thousand times. From Athens, I traveled to Brussels, Belgium, a city that does not receive its just due. I had THE most amazing frites (fries), waffles, and chocolate that I had ever experienced. And I filmed more videos.
After Madrid and Vienna and Tel Aviv and Jerusalem and Athens and Brussels, I landed here in Lisbon. This is my eighth trip to Lisbon, and the second time that I have stayed for roughly a month. So I wasn’t looking to be a tourist. I was looking to relax, to create, and to enjoy just being in a place that I love. I have had a book idea rolling around in my head for the past six years. It is based on my time living in the Dominican Republic, the experiences and adventures that taught me what it really meant to be Dominican and the lessons that I learned about life, love, and home. I have had this idea in my head for six full years, but I just never had the time or the space or the discipline to just sit down and write it. I decided that I wanted to try my hand at writing the book this summer. I was in one of my favorite places, surrounded by things that inspired me, and I felt my creative juices returning.
So I went to a café that my friend Raquel told me about, the Copenhagen Coffee Lab and Bakery. I went there every day at 8:00 am, and I sat there until 7:00 pm and just wrote and wrote and wrote. Writing the story took me back in time. Back to another one of my favorite places. Back to amazing experiences with some of my favorite people. When I was writing, I didn’t think about heartbreak or stress or anxiety. The writing itself was cathartic. Writing was my solace. Writing brought me back to myself.
About two weeks into my stay in Lisbon, I headed to Cape Verde for a week. Cape Verde is a country about 400 miles off the coast of West Africa. It has been on my radar since 2011, when I was first studying Portuguese and noticed a handsome young Cape Verdean man named “Marcos” in our Portuguese textbook. (This is a true story. Every travel motivation is not deep. Lol) So I headed to the island of Sal, one of Cape Verde’s 10 islands, and was just as smitten with the beaches and the food and the people as I had been with Marcos. The motto in Cape Verde is “No Stress”. How amazing, how a propos, how completely and utterly necessary.
I left Cape Verde, under silent protest, and headed back to Lisbon, and back to the Copenhagen Coffee Lab and Bakery. Every day, I sat and I wrote. I looked inside myself, and I let the words come out on the page. I also spent time with my friend Raquel. We went to grad school together in California, and she lives here in Lisbon. I call Raquel my “A1 from Day 1”, because she was the very first person that I met in grad school and the very best friend that I had through the entire process. Talking to Raquel always brings laughter, support, and authenticity. I can be a lot to handle. So I’ve been told (Some of you make it a point to tell me this over and over again). But Raquel never makes me feel like I’m “too much”. In fact, if anything, she gives me the space to be even bigger and even more than I already am. Everyone needs a friend like that.
Although I took time to enjoy meaningful moments, I also committed myself to sitting down at that table and writing and writing and writing. This past Sunday, I finished writing. When I put all the writing together, I had compiled 15 chapters, 327 pages, and about 115,000 words. The first thing I did was print a copy of the manuscript, because I wanted to hold it in my hands, to know that it was real, to know that I had finally accomplished the thing that had been out of my reach for the past six years.
I completed the manuscript four days before I was scheduled to leave, and so I found myself with some free time. I dusted off my iMovie software and made my first YouTube video since February. I wiped the cobwebs off my blog and started sharing again. I scheduled an AirBnb photoshoot to showcase my love for Lisbon. I am no longer heartbroken or stressed or anxious. I am happy and inspired and proud. I am also motivated to push forward toward the next thing.
So this morning, when I woke up and got sad because it was my last day in Lisbon, I couldn’t stay sad for long. I am coming home better than I was before I left. With amazing memories from Madrid and Vienna and Tel Aviv and Jerusalem and Athens and Brussels and Cape Verde and Lisbon. With a 327-page manuscript to edit and shop around to literary agents. With a few new YouTube videos in the pipeline and a renewed commitment to this blog.
Summer did this. Travel did this. I did this.
So I won’t cry because it’s over. I will smile because it happened. ❤