Originally published as Sole Sister Spotlight: Julienne of Morena Travels
What were your earliest travel memories?
What’s your travel style? It depends on the destination – for example, I would do places like Laos and Costa Rica as nature/adventure experiences, while a place like New York would be have me exploring different neighbourhoods and checking out the “scene”. As I get older, I become less of a budget traveller. I want to experience a city as my local counterparts would, not as a scrimping student (which I was five years ago… I like to think I graduated, haha!). Which doesn’t mean I’d blow hundreds of dollars on Michelin star restaurants and 5 star hotels. I just feel like I have worked enough to not have to share bathrooms with strangers and treat myself to yummy food.
Sometimes I research exhaustively to find a good hole-in-the-wall, but (and fellow foodies will sympathize), this can be debilitating. I have found myself walking around hungry for hours on end on more than one occasion, infuriating my travel buddies with my paralysing indecision on where to eat.
I like learning new skills in the places I visit, like languages (Spanish, mainly), surfing (I’m still struggling with this one), or dancing (for me, this is essential for enjoying some places, like learning Sevillanas at Feria de Abril in Andalucia or salsa in Latin America).
Do you have any travel traditions or habits that are constant anywhere you go?
Spontaneously meeting people are the highlights of my trips. When my sister and I were in Valencia last summer, we went out to the plaza where they were holding a big public party. We were enjoying the open-air atmosphere when a group of Valencianos sent their best English speaker to talk to us and invited us to move to the seaside where all the Valencianos partied until sunrise. We chatted to them for a bit and decided to be spontaneous:
“How are we going?” we asked.
“By car,” they said.
“Can we take our car?”
They were surprised, and said, “sure, why not, let’s take yours.”
We showed them where we parked – they couldn’t hide their shock and amusement when they saw that we had left our rented Volkswagen in the middle of the old town centre, where it was apparently illegal to park, and that we had not been fined at all. I gave my new friend Carlos the keys, and we drove to the “discoteca” by the bay where we danced to reggaeton, merengue, etc. for the rest of the night with our new friends.
Who were the most interesting/memorable people you’ve met during your travels?
On the plane from Hong Kong to Manila, which made an emergency landing in Clark airfield because the Manila runway was “broken”: I had been crying because my ex-boyfriend and I fought that day, and he backed out of the trip last minute, forcing me to fly alone. I thought my day couldn’t get any worse when the pilot announced that we had to spend the night at Clark before taking another flight to Manila at 6am. I ended up at the waiting lounge beside a tall, well dressed and good-looking British-Chinese fellow who turned out to be a celebrity appearing on more than four different shows on TV, and constantly on magazine covers. Less than a year later, after keeping in touch, he hired me to co-write his fine art photography-meets-wildlife conservation book which is due to be published in November 2015!
On the plane from Hong Kong to Kuala Lumpur, where I was transiting to London: A New-York based Canadian Jewish lawyer who could speak five languages (English, French, Spanish, Chinese, and Yiddish).
In Siargao: A New York hedge-fund Harvard boy recovering from the dissolution of a long and painful engagement, taking a break before moving to an LA-based position where he now lives on the Santa Monica beachfront. He was a water polo player taking up surfing for a month before doing a trekking stint through Nepal, where he helped establish a charity to rebuild and feed villagers. Oh, and his dad is an astrophysicist.
Any romantic encounters on the road?
That’s one secret I’ll never tell… But of course! Haha! There was that one summer fling in Barcelona with a younger guy: stubborn, full of character, fiercely Catalan, never left Europe in his life, didn’t understand when I ate raw fish, had a deep, booming voice, picked me up in a roaring monster of a motorbike (I felt sooo bad girl), gave me a helmet, and we took off to the mountains one day, his beach house the next, the park another day… We met on the street one night when I was having a temper tantrum; my girlfriends were trying to calm me down about something, while two unattractive and pesky boys were heckling us and I was screaming at them: “leave me alone!!!!”
“Speak Spanish because you are in Spain,” says one in Spanish. My head burst into flames in anger. Then suddenly: “¿Necesitas ayuda?” (Do you need help?) Says someone. My friends and I look up to see a tall, beautiful angel of a man. We were speechless for a few seconds there.
“Yyyeeeeessssss… please…. h-help her…” one of my girlfriends finally musters, staring at him wide-eyed, motioning at me in what seemed like slow motion. It was like someone threw a bucket of ice cold water on my fiery anger and I was also staring at him stupefied, blabbering nonsensical Spanish which he somehow understood. And that’s how it began…
Worst thing about traveling?
VISAS. My worst experience was with the UK, when they changed their visa procedure and it took abominably long to get a visa that I had to pay extra to expedite it, in the end burning something ridiculous like US$322 for one measly visa to one arrogant country. Never. Again. (Actually, I love the UK).
How has traveling changed you?
It has made me independent, coloured my personality, taught me new things, made me more open-minded, given me confidence and pride in who I am, taught me to appreciate myself… too many to count.
Do you have any “bad travel habits”?
BUDGETING. I’m bad at saving and I’m just generally bad with money. I also make really stupid and impulsive decisions without thinking, like buying wrong plane tickets and having to rebook 2-3 times, true story. I resolve to start using my head a little bit more, loathe as I am to look at numbers and calculations.
I’M ALWAYS LATE FOR FLIGHTS. Usually I make it in the nick of time, but on the rare occasion, I miss my plane/train/whatever and that is a total waste of time and money. This I have to change. So I have to start arriving at airports and stations earlier.
CLOSE-MINDEDNESS. Sometimes I dismiss people because I can be judgmental. And I hate it when people make assumptions about me and don’t give me a chance or make an effort. So I shouldn’t do it either.
What are your most underwhelming and overwhelming experiences?
Better than expected: Bali. I thought it might be a commercialised and over-touristed island, similar to the unfortunate state of affairs in Boracay. But I was wrong. Bali has soul.
Not as great as I expected: China. The old monuments in Beijing are powerful landmarks, there’s history, there’s natural beauty… but for me it’s marred by pollution and the sheer number of Chinese people pushing at you from what feels like all angles. I just don’t feel charmed by or at peace in this country.
Would you give up your career to travel?
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Sending you some sunshine from the Philippines,