Did it for the Gram

Hi friends! I created a new Instagram specifically for my traveling/writing adventures.
Check it out if you wanna keep up ✈️

@fromthissideofthesun

#fromthissideofthesun

 

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Hi friends! I’m Kara, the face behind @fromthissideofthesun. I’ve traveled to over 40 countries (most of them solo) and want to share those adventures & stories with you! 🌎 Here’s a little more about me: • I’m the author of two poetry books & recently earned my MFA in Creative Writing 📚 • I started my blog back in 2015, after buying a one way ticket to Spain ✈️ • I’m a mental health advocate, and also suffer from anxiety, depression, and excoriation disorder 🤍 • I love to eat my way through new cities, and always say yes to dessert 🍦 • After undergoing surgery to get a pacemaker in 2016, I’ve learned to truly appreciate my health. I have since climbed Machu Picchu, completed a full marathon & several half marathons, and recently took up boxing 🥊 • I LOVE connecting with new people, so whether we are in the same city or not- let’s be friends! I’m always looking to swap book recommendations, travel tips, and chat about life ✨ • #fromthissideofthesun #travel #wanderlust #travelblogger #solotravel #femaletravel #womenwhowander #womenwhowanderco #womenwhowanderlust #femaletravel #femaletravelbloggers #sheisnotlost #wearetravelgirls #femmewanderers #independentwomen #girlpower #girlpowertravel #womenwanderer #explore #girlonthego #damestravel #femmetravel #travelgram #travelphotography #travelinspiration #travelpreneur #traveling #traveltheworld

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Finding My Balance in Ecuador

Something I constantly struggle with is finding balance in my life. When I visited Ecuador in January, I had an itinerary drafted. I knew, as a weekend warrior trip, that I couldn’t make it to the world-famous Galapagos Islands. But I knew that I wanted to visit the equator (of course!) and chase thrills in Baños, Ecuador’s adventure capital.

Still, you’re never really prepared for what could happen on a trip. What could potentially go wrong, and all the things that could go right: the people you never expected to meet, adventures you hadn’t accounted for in your plans, connections made that now will forever cement you to that moment or place or person.

One thing I’ve always struggled with in my life is balance. This trip was filled with small discoveries in just that: early mornings alone before a late night out accompanied by new friends; the rush of a fast swing over a town far below to quiet moments writing on an overnight bus; indulging at a cafe after hiking underneath waterfalls & standing breathless at the tops of mountains. The blending of two languages, feet between two hemispheres. Always learning. Always challenged. Always grateful.

I flew in and out of Guayaquil just because it was cheaper, but I’m so glad I did because it allowed me the opportunity to see a city I otherwise wouldn’t have.

Highlights in Guayaquil:

Malecón 2000- expansive boardwalk overlooking the Guayas River

Parque Seminario- THERE ARE SO MANY IGUANAS IN THIS PARK. If you want to see one, go here. It’s bizarre.

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Torre del Reloj- (Torre Morisca) iconic clock tower

La Perla- giant Ferris wheel right on the shore of the Malecón

Las Penas- sprawling colorful houses built into a hillside. I loved this view:

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Then to Baños!

Highlights in Baños:

La Casa del Arbol- Swing at the end of the world. No doubt the most famous tourist attraction.

 

There are actually a couple swings here at this location, so make sure to keep walking for the one you want!

Columpio Fantasias de Volar- a mechanical swing, like a roller coaster. A great thrill and unique view of the city all at once. There’s a video of me screaming like a little girl, which I will spare all of you.

Parque Palomino Flores- The main park at the city centre

El Pailon Del Diablo- also known as “Devil’s Cauldron,” an impressive waterfall. Here’s me hiking the path down:

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Cascada Cabellera de la Virgen & Termas de la Virgen- a waterfall & hot springs to bathe in? Sign me up.

Cascada Manto de la Novia- this was an experience like no other- a cable car ride over this waterfall is not for the faint of heart!

I tried canelazo, a hot alcoholic cinnamon beverage, and it was delightful.

Lastly, was Quito. I took the a bus to get there (Ecuador Hop, similar to what I’d used in Peru- highly recommend!) to get there, and we stopped to view Cotopaxi (volcano) and Quilotoa, a water-filled caldera on the way.

Quito highlights include:

Ciudad Mitad del Mundo- “Middle of the World” This is the monument & plaza marking the equator.

Mitad del Mundo- It’s a bit confusing, but this is where the actual latitude and longitude lines are. If you go to Museo de Sitio Intiñan, you’ll find tons of science experiments you can do & learn neat facts about the equator.

TelefériQo- gondola lift with amazing views at the top! I loved being able to see the city down below. Plus, they have swings at the top that make for really neat photoshoots 🙂

Plaza de la Independencia- a cute plaza lined with cafes and shops, the central square.

El Panecillo- hilltop statue. It was gorgeous lit up at night- don’t just take my word for it:

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I was here the shortest amount of time, but obviously there’s no shortage of museums, cathedrals, basilicas, plazas, and wonderful cafes to experience.

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Some new friends in Baños!

Thank you, Ecuador 🇪🇨

Also, I took home an unknown souvenir. I got SO SICK you guys. Day later, I passed out after getting off the bus on my way to work. I couldn’t eat anything. I turned down free dessert at our staff meeting– that’s how you know it’s real.

I have no idea how I got it. I was always very cautious of drinking bottled water, only eating thoroughly cooked food, and fruit that you could peel to open, etc.

Anyway, as someone who has been to over 40 countries and can count on one hand the amount of times I’ve gotten food poisoning or sick, I consider myself #BLESSED.

Hope you’re all finding balance in the world, wherever you are,

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A Decade Under the Influence

[Titled after the Taking Back Sunday song I listened to in my teenage years? Maybe.]

Here we are- at the end of a tumultuous decade. There isn’t a way to describe it all, really. Beautifully hard, bittersweet. My timeline and newsfeeds are overpouring with side-by-side photos, recaps of the past ten years: accomplishments, losses, pain, love, suffering, obstacles, growth, change. I’m no stranger to it all, as I think back on 2009-2019. I am more conscious of time, how I move forward through it, how much stares back at me in the rearview mirror…

Some defining moments:

• Earned my B.A. & M.F.A. degrees
I started at Susquehanna University my freshman year and transferred to Westminster College in the fall of 2009. I graduated in May 2012. I was part of Mortar Board, PRSSA, the Holcad Newspaper, Scrawl literary magazine, Campus Programming Council, Sigma Tau Delta International English Society, Alpha Gamma Delta sorority, and other organizations.
After six years out of school and months of consideration, I began my MFA at Carlow University in January 2018 and graduated this past December 2019. The two residencies at Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland, were among the highlights of my time as a graduate student.

• Moved to Pittsburgh & into my own apartment
I moved to Pittsburgh (“the big small city”) in the summer of 2012 and lived for two years in a house with a few of my good friends before moving into my own little apartment, where I have made my home for the past five years. I’ve sunbathed on my roof, I’ve decorated my apartment with secondhand store gems, and I’ve burned meals. I took a bus for the first time, made it my mission to try all the new restaurants/breweries, learned that I love French fries on my salad, kayaked the three rivers in the summer, and fell in love with late night city lights. But I also grew tired of the never-ending sports talk and the dull grayness of this Steel City, how suffocating its boundaries can be.

•  Bought a one-way flight to Spain & traveled Europe for six months
In 2013, after working a job that left me burned out and at rock bottom, I bought a one way ticket to Barcelona, Spain. Through the help of Workaway, I lived with the most amazing family for three months in Blanes, and then spent the other couple months traveling all across Europe. It was the most thrilling thing I have ever done, and the thing I am most proud of, to this day. I learned how to rely on myself. How to love myself despite failure or faults or fear. How to feel the world around me, and see where I belonged in all of it.

• Traveled to 43 countries & countless cities
Though my wanderlust had begun long ago, that journey in Spain (or Catalonia, rather) kick-started what would be a nearly nonstop travel addiction. I have traveled extensively both domestically and internationally, since 2011. 43 countries in total, and 5 continents. And nope, I have no plans of ever stopping!

• Started my blog
Because of these adventures, I wanted to create a home for the stories, photos, and memories to live. I admittedly have a terrible memory, so I wanted to do this for myself, but also as a way to share these experiences with friends and family both near and far. Thus, this blog was born in 2015.

• Ran races, including first full marathon
In between 2014-2015, I fell in love with running. What began as a small challenge for myself grew larger like wildfire until I was running multiple half-marathons and even completed my first full marathon, just six months after I received my pacemaker.

• Got a pacemaker 

Which, oh yeah- I got a pacemaker in March of 2016, after some health issues. It came as a shock, since I was healthier than I’d ever been. But it was also fuel. Fuel to keep living a life riding the edge, to not wait until the next month/year or until I had more money and things were more convenient. Fuel to cherish this body I’ve been given and not waste any more time doing the things I want to do while I am still physically capable of them.

• Published two books & many poems

I published my first chapbook, Next to Everything that is Breakable, in 2017. Not long after, my second chapbook, The Shedding before the Swell, was published in the fall of 2018. Two book launches were celebrated, surrounded by ones I love most. Many poems were also written, sent out to journals and literary magazines, rejected, accepted, edited, published, revised, and reborn. I gave dozens of public readings. I attended a handful of writing conferences (Conversations & Connections, AWP, Sigma Tau Delta, etc.) and even won some awards. I started my author website and Twitter. Above all, I was able to cement my passion in something concrete, and from that foundation, build a community around it.

• Became an aunt to two adorable girls
My sweet Cora was born in 2015, and my fiery Ellie was born in 2018. They are as different as night and day, and their relationship as siblings reminds me so much of my brother and I when we were young. Watching them grow up, evolve into their own selves, and see their wonder for life and learning has captured my heart in a way I hadn’t felt before. (Although it’s still weird to me sometimes that my brother is a dad!) I cherish this family.

• Found Level Red Boxing
When my body decided it needed a break from running, I found boxing. As a woman who travels alone, I’d originally been looking for self-defense, but when I took my first class at this place, I was hooked. This gym has become my second home, and the members and instructors have become some of my closest friends. They push me every single time, and help me feel strong at every level.

• Left a toxic working environment
My first job was a hostess at a family restaurant and my second was being part of the general maintenance crew at PennDOT. During my college years, I worked in the Admissions Office and gave tours to prospective students, which I truly enjoyed. I’ve always been passionate about higher education and have loved working in the field, so after graduation, I started my career in Admissions at a for-profit college. In 2013, I finally left that toxic (and ultimately unethical) job to work in Administration at another thriving University where diversity, inclusion, innovation, hard work, and heart are the core values.

• Diagnosed w/ MDD, anxiety, & excoriation (dermatillomania) disorder

While I knew deep down I was struggling with my mental health, and always have, I was officially diagnosed toward the latter part of the decade. I began taking medication and started therapy. Everything comes in waves, still. And I suppose it always will. But I am learning to stay grounded and not be swept away with the first wave. Dermatillomania, however, was something very new to me, and difficult to accept. I try to continue to be transparent about each and every one of these struggles because not only is it important to end the stigma around mental health, but because you really never know who is suffering in silence. We all have our demons and downfalls. We all suffer. We are human. The more I am open when it is easiest for me to close off the world, the more it helps those around me know I need support. And this, my friends, is exactly what I’ve learned more than anything. I need love. I need support. I need connectivity. We all do. I have been nothing without those around me, caring for me and guiding me, always.

• Joined The Madwomen in the Attic workshop community & became co-curator of the reading series

I love the Madwomen in the Attic. With every fiber of my being. If you follow me on any social media, you’ve no doubt heard of this wonderful group of women writers. I was honored to start co-curating their reading series back in 2017 and am lucky to be the emcee. This has given me the chance to hear new voices, meet new poets, and stay involved in the community.

• Lost a lot of loved ones, learned how to survive my grief

My grandfather, a man I loved so dearly, passed away on Valentines Day in 2017. I have said goodbye to classmates, former friends, and extended family both in death and distance. I grappled with the fact that not everyone who enters your life is meant to stay, and that friendships don’t always outlast what you think they will. And that it’s okay- sometimes they aren’t meant to. I’ve watched friends become strangers and strangers become friends. I have entered and left two very serious long-term relationships, both which absolutely broke me at the time. I learned that heartbreak is incredibly physical. And that I can survive it. I have learned how strong I am- that I am, and always was, whole on my own. That I love the person I am becoming and every scar she used to try to cover up. That the essence of a woman’s worth is not equated to who she’s with, if anyone, or motherhood or beauty or any other ridiculous notion society pushes. I have written some of my strongest pieces after emerging from the fires that tried to engulf me and learned to become the flame- hence the current working title of my manuscript, Ember. Nothing can ever really extinguish us. We don’t have to have it figured out. We just have to keep going.

• Met some of the BEST humans & strengthened old connections
This needs no explanation. Through my travels, my education, my work and recreational endeavors, I have met some of the most fascinating, kind-hearted, talented, and brilliant souls. People who make early mornings more alive, who make long drives and running errands adventurous, and who make being lost feel like you’re right at home. They have carried me through so many seasons of my life. You guys- you are my home. Thank you, and Happy New Year, wherever in this world you may be reading this.

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A Taste of the Pura Vida Life

YOU GUYS….I’d had Costa Rica on my bucket list for a while, but wanted to wait until I was able to take more vacation days so that I could spend longer there.  I knew there was so much to see and explore, and I wanted to take advantage of all of it! Finally though, after obsessively checking flight prices, I decided to just take the leap and go with the short time I had. Jungle, coastlines, extreme sports/adventures, biodiversity- you name it, I knew there was so much to discover about the #puravida way.

Now that I have returned, I can say Costa Rica was not only worth the hype it gets, but also one of my FAVORITE trips to date, especially because of the incredible people I met. (Oh, and the whole run-in with the police is an entertaining story, too.) Let’s back up, though–

I flew into San José and stayed one night in the city. I met an amazing older woman, Lynn, at my hostel. She was in her sixties, divorced, with two grown daughters, in better shape than me, and had been traveling C.R. for over a month. It isn’t often that you meet an older woman traveling solo (let alone staying in hostels) and I instantly was inspired by her story. She was #goals for multiple reasons.

Our hostel was located right near the National Museum of Costa Rica (shown below). A huge fan of street art, I spent the first afternoon wandering around, admiring the murals:

And the early evening relaxing in a hammock at the hostel with a beer after dinner:

The next day, I met up with Cassandra (from Haiti, living in N.Y.), who was also staying at my hostel, and we caught a city bus to Irazú Volcano. Look at this crater! The color is just unbelievable.

This is also where we met Alex and Kayo- two friends/coworkers from Nashville who were traveling together, and Jerdy, another solo traveler from the Netherlands. We were a fast group of friends. On the bus back to San José, we decided to take a detour and get off at Cartago.

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Posing in front of the Templo Inconcluso de Santiago Apóstol.

This is where it became evident that sometimes it’s more about who you are with than where you are. The five of us shared dinner together, so many laughs, and too many stories. Check out some of the sights we saw wandering the town below: La Negrita, the Black Madonna shrine at Our Lady of the Angels Basilica, Santiago Apostól Parish Ruins, etc.

Alex and Kayo, who had rented a car, decided to switch up their travel plans and drive to La Fortuna the next morning with me, so I got to spend more time with them. Jerdy came for the ride as well.

This is where shit gets fun- somewhere near Sarapiqui, along highway 4, we’re cut off by a police SUV, apparently for crossing a yellow line. We were shocked, and a little scared. And then, a little suspicious…

They tried to fine us $500, but with Jerdy’s Spanish and expert persuading, we ended up being able to give them a $20 bill and driving away. Alex’s grip was more focused on the wheel after that, for sure.

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Always an adventure! HA

But, we made it there! First on our list was to visit La Fortuna waterfall. I thought about ditching the boys once I found this friend:

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Kidding. I could never. We became a family so quickly! These intentional, unbreakable bonds that form when you’re on the road, away from home, soaking in moments. And to be able to stumble out of the wooded path into this clearing, where the water rushed down, was a sight I loved sharing with them.

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La Fortuna waterfall was gorgeous, no doubt. And Alex is a fantastic photographer.

We all dove in- well, maybe not dove, because the water was absolutely frigid, but you couldn’t not experience it!

We spent the rest of the day at a water hole where tons of locals hung out and did the rope swing. I was impressed by their talent! I, for one, knew my nonathletic self and also got my fill of the cool water. Later that evening, we connected after the hike with a guide, Daniel, who took us to a local hot springs. It was honestly amazing, being able to slide down the rocks like a gigantic waterslide, traverse underwater caves, drink whiskey from the bottle, and talk about life under only the moonlight and the soft glow of a lamp, hung on shore.

The next day I had booked a tour to Arenal National Park, where we hiked Arenal Volcano and walked across the hanging bridges. It was otherworldly. We may or may not have been slightly hungover from our late night. But we powered through, admiring the beauty of rainbow trees and watching for monkeys swinging through the branches. Just scrolling through the collage below, you can tell, it was easy to disconnect, and feel connected here…

I’ve been traveling for almost a decade now, and I have met a lot of people as a solo traveler. And as anyone who travels frequently or long term can attest to, there are friends you make that do become like your family. These guys carved out their own…the way we instantly felt as ease with one another, made each other laugh, let stories flow as swift as that water rushing into the natural pool below- some things are natural.

And some natural things, like the lushness of the jungle, rugged beaches, towering volcanoes, or the biodiversity in Costa Rica, are just unreal. I loved this country, and I can’t wait to return someday. I want to soak a little longer in the simple life, the pure life. There is meaning here. Until then-

 Pura vida!

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For Women Who Roar

FWWRI have always been drawn to the fearless, unapologetic, strong women who roar: the ones that seek out adventures on their own, who carve their own path with their experiences, who shape the world with their ideas, and shake it with their voices.

I am honored to have a poem included here in this #MeToo e-Book- such an important project giving a voice to women everywhere.

 

Keep roaring,

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The Getaway

By now, I’m sure most of you have seen the picturesque, tiny Getaway cabins on Instagram or Facebook. Ads for them are nearly everywhere, and their large bedside windows make for incredible photoshoots, I must admit.

My friend Candice and I had been interested in renting one, and we finally found a weekend in September that worked with both of our crazy schedules.

We drove to Lisbon, OH and checked out what it was all about. When we first entered the cabin, there was a cute note left on the table inside, complimentary s’mores, and a small guidebook. A cute personal touch!

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Here was our cabin, “Clyde” and the stretch of open field next to the long drive down to it:

It was equipped with every basic supply we needed- minus food. See here for the entire list of items. On our last night, we enjoyed some homemade wine and more s’mores.

On Saturday, we drove along Little Beaver Creek and then stumbled upon the (very odd, tbh) Leetonia Beehive Coke Ovens Park:

And on Sunday, we hit the Johnny Appleseed Festival in Lisbon, where I enjoyed the BEST apple dumpling of my entire 29 years:

We also went paddleboarding at Lake Milton State Park, dined at The Courthouse Inn & Restaurant/Love Cafe (an absolute must if you’re in town!), saw an amazing sunset, and visited the World’s Largest Teapot on the way back to Pittsburgh.

I have never felt so Instagram-ish in my life. I leave you with two of my favorite shots:

Our only disappointment with this experience is that the cabins aren’t as remote as they appear to be- you’re actually among a group of other cabins, in a campground-like setting. Still, it’s worth the experience. Have you tried it?

Until the next getaway,

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