Life lesson: Always be willing to prove yourself wrong

“We forgot to bring sunscreen”, I said. “Don’t worry, it’s Ireland, we’ll be grant”, my friend answered. It turned out, we weren’t, and we got extremely sunburnt. But this came after I cried on the side of a mountain. 

When I say mountain, I mean a little lump of rock with a rocky point. It’s the baby mountain ‘real mountains’ make fun of. But for me, back in 2013, it was a mountain. It was right around the time I started to dabble in running and fell in love with hiking. But the mountains? Those were still a foreign concept to me. 

Going up the mountain

The rocky top of the Sugarloaf went steep up, and I had to use my hands to pull myself up the last bit. Looking back, it was fun; at the moment, I was scared out of my wits. Mountains were still new to me, and at that time, I was still afraid of everything. But the view from the top made it all worth it. 

But then we had to go down… 

My friend, ever the adventurer, suggested taking another path down. Not the standard route everyone else took, but the one with loose rocks scattered on the slopes. It wasn’t long before I was so terrified I had tears in my eyes. 

I kept losing my footing and balance, slipping and wobbling on the rocks on the way down, always feeling like I had no grip. My friend had to coach me down. I may or may not have stayed up there if she didn’t. 

In the end, we got back down with a hideous sunburn. On top of that, we were utterly dehydrated because we ran out of water. 

Looking back, I can’t help but wonder how far I’ve come. When I look at photos from that hike, I see a scared, insecure girl. Nowadays, I’m still insecure, but I also found a lust for adventure. I’ve run half marathons, triathlons and I’m bouldering a lot. If you had told me that day on the mountain what I would do someday, I wouldn’t have believed you. 

Sometimes I still don’t believe it. I look at all the things I do, all the sports things I want to do and I’m amazed. I still think like 14-year old me and say: ‘but I suck at sports’. 

I guess the bottom line here is don’t believe anything you hear. Especially when you say it to yourself, you will surprise yourself, and you will find a strength inside you, you didn’t know you had. You will do things you didn’t think you could, and you’ll develop a lust for adventure you never held possible. 

That is the one life-lessons you need to remember: Always be willing to prove yourself wrong. 

This year: I will travel

This year I want to travel. Travel a lot. Sure I’ve done that the past few years too, but this year it’s different. I am tired of being a tourist, of being some white girl who goes to fancy restaurants in some Asian country. I want to emerge myself in the culture.

When I think of travel this year, I see myself going on adventures. Climb outdoor, have a backpack on my back with everything I’m taking with me and camera in hand. I want to document cultures, invoke wanderlust in people and make them dream through my eyes and lens.

I was never an adventurous spirit. I am an introvert who’s perfect afternoon is on the sofa with a book with endless amounts of my favourite tea. Most of my comfort consists of having my favourite things around. The comfort of home is my woollen blanket under which I write this.

That’s precisely why I want to be uncomfortable this year. I tried the comfort zone, and it has gotten me as far as the end of the sofa. Ok, and to the UK and back. That’s where my love of the outdoors started. There I started running, started hiking and even climbed my first bit of rock. I got my hiking boots there and my beloved backpack. And then I went back home to the Netherlands.

The outdoors is different here. Flat. And my heart longs for the mountains. It wants rocks, forests so old it makes you feel small. Dramatic skies that feel like you’ve left earth and entered a place new to ever human imaginable. I long for outdoors that makes me feel like a new person who can do anything every single day.

For the past five years, I have let myself be ruled by fear. By ‘I can’t do this’, by fear of what others would say, and by financial fear. See that’s the thing about fear. It’s so goddamn easy. “Hey want to go and climb?” “Oh no, I don’t think I can do that, I’m not strong enough.” (true story by the way). It’s often the first response when asked to do something new. No, and some excuse. It’s time to call bullshit on this. Time to let go of the fear. Time to stop letting fear being the first reaction to anything and everything.

It will be hard. And I can tell you there won’t be a day that it will be easy. But I hope that it will get easier.

As I am writing this, I’m writing this I’m setting intentions for 2018. I want to be fearless, take risks and push outside of my comfort zone. I want things that 18 years old me never dreamed of doing. I want to write about my adventures and make an adventure to write about. I want to climb real mountains, hike a part of the Chinese wall, and never let fear stop me.

When you find yourself at a crossroad

Pembrokeshire coastal path, Wicklow Way, the entire coastal path, or the three peaks. I’ve never been much of an adventurer or a camper, so this came as a surprise: I want to go hiking for weeks or months. 

Ever since I lived in Wales right along the Pembrokeshire coastal path, I’ve been dying to hike it. To me, it seemed like the ultimate freedom. My, hiking boots and a cliff with the roaring sea below. This was before movies like ‘Wild’ or ‘Into the wild’ were even on my radar. This was also when I was still overweight and had little to no endurance. It seemed like a faraway dream. One I never forgot. 

Right now, I seem to find myself at a point in my life where I need to decide whether I’m going to do a trail like that. And if I am, it may be now or never. No, I’m not dramatic, just realistic. 

Being on my way to 32, there is pressure from all angles of life. Friends are getting married, popping babies and buying houses. And while I’m happy for them and a part of me longs for that too, I can feel adventure pulling. It’s tugging my sleeve and asking me to pay attention to that feeling of growing wanderlust. 

Lately, I’ve remembered the feelings of those first hikes in the UK. The ground under my feet, the landscape was flashing by when I was on the train. I remember the promise I made myself to hike that trail, the guidebook I bought now living on the bookshelf. 

One thing I keep asking myself is ‘how bad do I want it?’. Do I want to do that hike, go on that adventure and see where it leads me? I do, but part of me is terrified that it will change me and that I will not return the same person. Another part of me is excited to finally become a travel writer and photographer. To be an adventurer. Something 14-year old me never thought I could be. 

Maybe that’s why I took up climbing in September. Part of me longs for it so bad; it got hooked on something that started out as an extra exercise to support my runs. But the more I climb, the more I long for real rock under my hands. For the fresh mountain air, for the silence of nature that is never silent.

I’m at a crossroad I don’t want to be on. A crossroad where clear signs are telling me the way I should be going. And while my foot is turning towards the signs, my gaze is looking at that path less travelled by. I keep wondering ‘what if?’

What if?

Travel alone to find your writer’s voice

The plan was to hop bookshops, cafes and write. So far, I have a sore shoulder, a headache, no books and not a word was written.

There is something magical about writing. The magic of creating something that wasn’t there before. To shape something that takes readers away with tools that everyone uses every day. It makes you feel like a wizard. But in reality, writing is hard work. Creating magic puts pressure on you that is not easily lifted. In fact, drinking tea becomes more important than why you came to the cafe in the first place: to write. If you’re reading this, it means that I succeeded: I wrote. But here comes the funny part though: is it magic or not?

When I first started writing as a teenager, I wrote because I felt I saw the world differently. I had stories in my head, and I shared them unfiltered. I wasn’t afraid if it was good enough, or if other people would care. I just wrote. In many ways that feel got ruined not only by adulthood, but by social media, and peer pressure, I would even go as far as to say that it’s the reason why I stopped writing.

Ok. You got me, not really. I write for a living. I’m a content creator, a storyteller and a blogger. I write every day. I get paid with writing, and that helps me to keep the lights on. According to Stephen King, that makes me a writer: someone pays me to string words together. But that’s all I write. I know I can hear you gasp in horror: I only write during work time. There I said it, and I don’t like it.

See, I fear the blank page. I fear that no one gives an actual shit about what I have to say. I fear that I am not good enough and I fear that I just plain suck as a writer. I mean, dear stranger of the internet whom I have never met, we’re friends, right?

So in many ways, I long back to the uncensored 14-year-old who was always writing. How to get that girl back? Here comes the tricky part that we all already know: just write. Just sit your ass down in a chair and write. And that is why on a cold October afternoon in Dublin I find myself on a sofa that I’m afraid I’ll never get out of. And I’m writing. There is something magical about this city that makes me feel comfortable enough to take the gamble and write. I can borrow the magic of the city not to have to conjure it up on my own.

And while I’m swooning over the accent, hugging guys from Amnesty international that I’ll never see again and indulging in bookshops. I’m wondering: is travelling alone the way to get the magic back?

Chasing a dream

We came to a stop right as we were exiting the roundabout. It was the start of my big UK adventure, and it started with a broken car an hour away from our destination.

The car was packed to the brim with boxes of stuff that I felt I needed to bring. Anything from books, to craft supplies, pens, clothes and even a sewing machine. Fifteen moving boxes in total and let’s not talk about all the loose crap stuffed in between.

If anything, I’m far from a minimalist, and this was made painfully clear as we stood there with our car broken down. Someone came to rescue us, but because of the weight of the car, the cable snapped. It stranded us in the middle of roundabout number two.

In hindsight, some good things happened because the car broke down. My dad had to stay longer and got to see more of the countryside. He got to see me settle into my new life in Wales.

It also prolonged the goodbye making it harder by the day.

But we did some great stuff. We went to see St. Davids Cathedral, the St. Davids Bishop’s Palace next to it and we went to the beach. The beach was special as it turned out to be one of my favourite places in Wales. I even cycled there on my Dutch bike.

This year it was six years ago that I moved to the UK to chase a dream I never got to find. Moving out there was not all it was cracked up to be. I fought for it, though, took a job in the big city, moved out there on my own. But I never found my happy place there.

The only time I did was when I was up in the countryside hiking some mountain.

This year also marks the fourth year of being back in the Netherlands. It’s always a bittersweet reminder. Four years ago, I decided spontaneously to go back home. Just as spontaneous as I did when I decided moved out there in the first place.

Now, all those years later, I would have done things differently for sure. I know more, I acquired more skills, and I know better what makes me happy. But would I have changed moving to the UK? No, I wouldn’t.

At the time, all I wanted to do was get out of the Netherlands and move to another country. Chase those big dreams and making them happen. And I did, I went out there, I chased the dreams and came back home with my tail between my legs.

Yes, the fact that I came back does make me feel like I failed in some way. In others, I was brave enough to recognize a situation that wasn’t working for me anymore.

Failure or not. It was an experience that is all mine, something I’ve done and that no one can take away from me anymore. And I’m better for it.

Asia smells differently

We had just gotten out of our hotel in Bangkok, and all I could smell was this overwhelming stench. Asia took some getting used to at first, but what struck me most was that everything smelled differently.

Our hotel was in China town, exiting on the famous street with all the street food carts. Not even 10 minutes into Asia and I had already encountered Durian. I had heard of it before, but I couldn’t imagine what it would smell like. Rotting dirty feet would be a great way to describe it. And the food carts stocked them abundantly.

On our first night in Bangkok, we booked a street food tour. Together with a guide, we explored all the different street foods in the area. Some tasty, others not so much. Upon request, we tried Durian as well. It’s one of those things you have to try when you’re in Asia.

I was a little hesitant – it really stank! My ex took a bite and shook his head in disgust. Not for him. But I was surprised when I took a bite. It was actually really nice. It reminded me of camembert, the French cheese I love so much. The look on my ex’s face when I asked for another piece was one for the books.

Now that we knew what it was, the smell of Durian became familiar. I was no longer looking for something that was rotting in a ditch; it was just Durian.

Because the air is hot and humid in Asia, everything feels different. When we travelled to Indonesia and Singapore, I had the same thing: getting used to the different smells took me a while.

I guess since we’re so used to a particular kind of smell, we get so used to it that we almost don’t smell it anymore. If I travel within the Netherlands, Amsterdam doesn’t smell that much different than Groningen does. It’s familiar and safe. And even before you can see where you are, you know you’re somewhere, you know.

Coming to Asia was different. The was a cultural shock the first few days. It was hot, humid, traffic was different, it was busy, and it smelled. However, once I had gotten used to the smell, it was okay. It just took me a few days to get used to it, but then I enjoyed the tropical scent in the air. And of course the sent of food.

If there’s anything they’re good at in Asia, it’s food and eating. Some of the best things I had was during my travels in Asia. And I don’t mean insects and things. I mean classic Thai and Indonesian dishes.

This year I hope to go back to Asia, to see more, and to try more of the foods there. I never thought I would say this, but I’ve grown fond of Asia.