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Here It Is, The Big 20.

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As the start of a project which will last 10 years, a fact intimidating enough on its own, this undertaking will also be one of the biggest commitments I’ve made in my life thus-far.

To plan it out, in true Max fashion, I Googled a list of the top things that people wish they had remembered or recorded about their twenties. This research has morphed into the subspecies of this living, breathing thing that I have claimed as my own. And it really is mine— by the time I’m done, it will be 10 years old, and recalling myself at 10, it’s not easy to nurture a demanding creature for so long. Knowing myself, I’ll want to look back at something short & sweet; reading an article somehow summarizing the 365 or 366 days of that year, or a slideshow of all the big things through my eyes.

People have told me many times that your twenties are a time to get to know yourself & always wear sunscreen, and one of the things I already know about myself is that I won’t want to shoot now— nor look back at later— dozens of days of footage from my so-called Golden Years. So what I can assure is a sense of adventure which I will pursue vigorously; never a dull moment or update shall pass under these fingers. Though I will certainly have mostly dull moments. I do sleep a lot.

This will be a test of my patience, willpower, strength, self-confidence, and memory. So without any further ado, here is my first update on life things, comprised solely of my birthday, yesterday. It happened on a sunny Saturday in Mindo, Ecuador.

A 30-gram bar from Mindo’s Ecuadorean chocolate factory.

We woke up at 8:30, and then went to El Quetzal to eat breakfast, doing the 10am chocolate tour and probably annoying the heck out of our poor guide. Impressively, he speaks five languages! I bought a bunch of Mindo Chocolate bars to review later on, as well, so keep an eye our for those. The miel de cacao that they have you taste is super interesting; it is the pulp of the cacao fruit boiled until it thickens to a honey-like consistency. I know which one I would choose for my afternoon tea.
Miel de Cacao, or Cocoa Honey.

Miel de Cacao, or Cocoa Honey.

We went back to the hostel after that, preparing for our big day out, me going “Canyoning” and Jillian hiking to the cascadas. She & I actually didn’t end up meeting up again until later on, but that had to do with a lack of cell service and communication on both ends. It didn’t end up mattering anyway, though. I left basically immediately for the Canyoning, and met Paulina and Katty, two awesome Ecuadorean girls who don’t speak English, in Mindo on vacation for the long weekend (Ecuadorean Independence Day is on Monday). Together we survived canyoning, which is basically just hiking up part of a mountain and then rappelling back down while a waterfall pelts you from above. Not bad, and very short.
A guy I met last night is the guide for it, so he assuaged my fears regarding the rickety structure, as well as bringing my cell phone back to the bottom of the mountain. It ended up dry, unlike the rest of me.
Katty on her way down the canyon, right before I take the figurative leap and literal plunge.

Katty on her way down the canyon, right before I take the figurative leap and literal plunge.

From there the girls & I, all thoroughly soaked, hopped in the back of the truck which took us to the tubing place where my new savior fixed my Claro chip, which by that time hadn’t worked in about two weeks. I worried for a bit over whether Jillian, who was supposed to meet me there at three, an hour and a half from then, would mind if I just went with the girls. I made a decision and went, and it was loco. We got soaked and cold all over again, but it was certainly worth the $6, and honestly better than the canyoning which was $15. Plus, our guide, Victor, was awesome, and it turns out that by night he’s a DJ at a local bar that we went to later that night, Cañabrava.

Katty & Paulina, who captured my phone and took pictures while I salsa’d.

The four of us went for lunch at a local place down the road from the river, and talked about our lives and travels and complaints regarding the day. He walked us back to the tubing place afterwards, and there the girls took hot showers. Oh, how I miss hot showers. I walked back to my hostel and showered in lukewarm water, and then met up with Paulina while Katty slept in the covered back of their truck. We went for a smoothie and to collect the sweatshirt I left at the bar last night, and then we went to El Quetzal again, to get me my birthday brownie. Their brownies are tops, by the way.
The aforementioned life-altering brownie, alongside my first affogato.

The aforementioned life-altering brownie, alongside my first affogato.

Parting ways, I finally met up with my friend Jillian again, as well as the American girls we met last night. The four of us ate dinner at a most interesting quinoa-centric restaurant, which was stupendous, and I indulged in a house made passion fruit-basil sorbet. When we returned to the hostel, it was to prepare for a night out dancing! Our first stop was Cañabrava, the club at which our new friend was DJing. It was nice, but we were literally in the spotlight, with our table being closest both to the door and the dance floor.
Also, I was carded for the first time ever outside of the US, the admittedly valid excuse being the fact that it was Independence Day weekend and there was a chance the police would enter the bar and check all ID’s. Overall the bar was decent, but my three American friends received the obligatory goodbye cheek kisses and returned to the hostel, deterred by the $3 entrance fee and exhausted from the day’s hike. The rest of us continued to augment my Spanish vocabulary with kitschy Ecuadorean slang, walking the block to our other stop of the night: Salsateca.

Me dancing with my friend’s cousin, Carlos, who looks exactly like Belgian artist Stromae and is possibly one of the most fun salsa partners I’ve ever had— he’s all spins & smiles!

The bar-slash-nightclub is owned by the aunt of the friend who took us there, and it was an absolute blast. It turned out to be best place I could have imagined spending the last few hour of my birthday, plus a bit more. I danced with the friend who took me there, as well as his cousin. I was on my feet dancing probably two-thirds of the time we spent there, going through two bottles of water and absolutely drenching myself in sweat. By 1:30 I was exhausted, so my friend walked me home, where I indulged in a nice warm shower (finally!) and the most comfortable bed I have slept in for weeks. Thank you so much to Mindo and its often-transient citizens for giving me the best 20th birthday I could have imagined. Nay, the best birthday I’ve ever had. I’ll be back very soon for more exploits.

With that birthday celebration finished, in no particular order, here are my ten goals of the year during which I am in possession of twenty years of age. As I accomplish each one, I’ll link to the post about its completion.

Goals for age 20:

  1. Run a 5k.
  2. Travel to the Dominican Republic.
  3. Graduate from University.
  4. Visit Cuba for a few weeks.
  5. Become a Salsera.
  6. Write & Publish my first novel.
  7. Truly consider myself fluent in Spanish.
  8. Fill my chocolate review book (~100 pages of entries).
  9. Memorize a good pancake recipe.
  10. Start making my own chocolate, from the bean to the bar.

Update August 2016: Well, 7/10 ain’t bad, but I’ll work on getting a perfect 10/10 this year, and hold off on two of the three unaccomplished goals for a bit. Hey, maybe I’ll even accomplish some of my long-term goals by accident this year.

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