All posts by samanthabellinger

Little Miss Piggy

I’m walking downtown with a family on a warm, humid fall evening to check out pig night (that is what my family affectionately calls the night before Hog Day).   We round the corner. Three men are loading whole pigs into the back of a golf cart.

One hog is already in the bed wrapped in plastic. The second is in mid-air – being tossed from the back of a trailer into the cart.  It flies almost gracefully and lands with a thud on top of the first pig.  I watch the process as I mosey on by – wondering if my northern husband is shocked by this nonchalant handling of dead pig carcasses that seems so normal.

The driver, a gray haired man with a trim frame, notices us watching and greets our group with a drawn out “Hoooowdy, Hoooow y’all doooing?”  His speech is slow and full with the thick southern accent customary of my home state.

Our group responds with hellos and an exchange of customary pleasantries.  One of our group mumbles something and gestures towards the pigs.

The old man declares, “Oh yeah. Little miss piggies here. They gonna be delicious.”  With that he speeds off.

I watch him drive over to the cookers area to deliver the pigs to some of the cooks competing in the overnight BBQ cook-off.

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The cook-off area is packed full of a dozen or so Pig Masters with barrel smokers, big trucks, and pop-up tents to cover their make-shift kitchens.  The small parking lot is transformed by their preparations.

A man uses a blow torch to prepare his charcoal.

Smoke billows into the air, rising up over the small parking lot clouding the effect of the street light and creating an eerie haze.

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Another man smothers the hog with a secret blend of seasonings and closes the lid to start the night-long cooking process.  As the lid closes the smoke rushes outward and envelopes me in a blanket of pork-scented smoke.  It is heavenly.

This mouth-watering process will continue long into the night.  Barbequing the whole hog is time consuming.  It cooks slowly, producing delectable aromas one succulent drip at a time.  In the morning the meat will fall off the bone, ready for the taste test.

That old man is right… those little piggies are gonna be delicious. I can’t wait til morning!

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Stay tuned for more on the Hog Day festivities and the food it celebrates.

Horror Movie? Or an Average Saturday?

What would be the start to a horror movie is an average Saturday in the woods with my husband.

A man and a woman start off in in late afternoon for one last drive through the trails. Their side by side climbs up rocky terrain and through bramble bushes. They go deeper and deeper into the woods. The canopy thickens filtering out the waning sunlight.

Then they have to stop suddenly.  There is a fallen tree dangerously overhanging the trail and completely blocking their egress.

She checks her phone. There is no cell service and her GPS isn’t working. What to do?!

The man hops out of the vehicle and pulls something out of the trailer bed behind her. She hears an engine fire up and turns with a start just in time to see him wielding a chainsaw….

And that is where it becomes my life.

Me: “Of course you have your chainsaw” … mind you I’m completely unfazed by the fact that he brought it along.
Carl: “Well duuuhh” said with a fake incredulous look, a pfff sound, and a deliberately sassy shake of the head.

I just laugh and watch him practically skip with joy towards the downed tree.

Then I spend the next 30 minutes watching him clear a path, throwing brush, and cussing at the larger limbs.

It is pure entertainment.

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15 minutes into the clearing….

Carl (with a smirk): “George Clooney’s musk”
Me: “What?
Carl: “That is what oak smells like – Oak smells like George Clooney’s musk”
Me: “hmmm….sexy. George Clooney’s musk, chain saw, and man glitter my favs! (For those laymen out there not familiar with lumbersexual terminology, man glitter is sawdust)

We both crack up and then continue to smile to ourselves as he keeps going.

5 minutes later and 20 minutes into the process…

Carl: ‘This is where we are coming after the zombie apocalypse”
Me: “We aren’t staying in our home on the lake?”
Carl: “No, there are too many people.”
My thoughts: umm… we live in the middle of nowhere, on an island, and at least an hour from town.  Not to mention all of the neighboring homes are seasonal. We have about 3 neighbors in the winter!
What I said: “Really?!”
Carl: Yeah.  “John doesn’t know it yet but we are totally coming here.”
Me: rolls eyes. “Ok love. I’m just glad to know you’ll be prepared to keep us safe.”

Carl goes back to hurling logs down the hill and cussing as they smash into trees with an impressive thud.   I proceed to think about how well prepared we will be if civilization collapses (with or without the zombies).  It is a surprisingly comforting thought (especially with the current political race in the US).

10 minutes later and 30 minutes in…

Carl: “Ta Da! All done”

I look up. There is a visible tunnel cleared. It looks structurally sound.

Me: “Good job love.”
Carl (smirking): “Thanks. I think I deserve a beer for that.”
Me: “yes, yes you do.”  I hand him a beer with a mixture of amusement and relief.

He hops into the side by side and we are on our way down the hill.

As we pull up to camp I breathe a sigh of relief. I realize how differently that could’ve gone if I was out in the woods with anyone else.   It’s a good thing I married a lumberjack dare-devil!

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A thank you

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In this post I want to thank Julia, a co-worker and professor.  She unknowingly helped propel me to my future path.

Julia graciously let me audit her grant writing course last semester. The first assignment was to write a grant narrative for a theoretical personal grant of $50,000. It had to be used to fund your dream career. I wrote about travel. I outlined exactly how I’d become a travel writer & photographer. I created a budget, the steps I’d take, and all of my qualifications for the job. I spent hours perfecting my narrative. It filled me with such joy that it didn’t feel like work.

I turned in this assignment a few weeks before I flew to India to visit my sister. Once I went off on my own and started traveling solo, I had a number of breakthroughs. I came back to the states knowing I couldn’t just sit around waiting for another job in a different museum.

That wasn’t what I wanted in life. I wanted a life where I had the flexibility and freedom to work anywhere in the world. So how was I going to do that? I needed to take action.

Fast forward 7 months. Today I’m embarking the journey towards my dream. I’m leaving my job  in pursuit of a life as a digital nomad.

And I have to thank Julia for that.

The Real Indian Experience: Driving a Tuk Tuk

The Real Indian Experience: Driving a Tuk Tuk
By Samantha Bellinger

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“You want a real Indian Experience?”

I momentarily hesitate. Then cautiously say “sure.” My drawn out speech and the skepticism in my voice betrays my wariness of his offer.

My tuk tuk driver pulls over, pats the front seat and invites me to come up front with them. He assures me I’ll be safe. I throw my bag into the back and climb up front. We whisk back into traffic, horn blaring. We weave in and out of cars, motorbikes, and other tuk tuks. I’m tense. It is certainly an experience – like a real life Mario cart game.

He tells me to relax and act like I should be there. Once I finally relax he puts my hands on the handle bars and says “you drive.” I protest.

Me: “I don’t think that is a good idea.”
Him: “It’s OK. You look like Indian Woman in the dark. No problem.”

Mind you I’m a pale white woman dressed in a Kurti and leggings. He is suggesting that because it is dark, people will see my Kurti and assume I am an Indian National. Apparently, he thinks no one will notice my pale skin, which is nearly luminescent in the moonlight.

I give him an incredulous look. He persists.

“Really, it’s Ok. In India licenses don’t matter. If police stop us, you talk to them. Tell them you have no license. It will be OK. No problem.”

I image what that conversation would look like and run through my best impressions of a dumb tourist. Can I really convince a cop I was dumb enough to think that this is even remotely legal?

At this point a wave of reckless adventure washes over me. I think “Why not?! What is the worst that can happen? I die in a tuk tuk accident in the middle of India? At least I’d die doing something I love (traveling, not driving). Plus it’d be a cool death story for my family to tell.”

My racing thoughts come to a close and with a huge grin I agree to drive. He shows me where the accelerator on the handle bars is located & how it works. He lets me take over but keeps his hands on the handle bars and foot on the break, ready to take over in a moment’s notice. It is exactly like driving a 4-wheeler. Not hard at all. I zoom along having the time of my life.

When we come up to stopped traffic or a round-about, I return control to him. On the straight-aways I drive. It goes on like this until we are about to turn onto the road my hotel is on. He has me resume my passenger status and tells me I’m a good tuk tuk driver but I go too slowly.

I’ll take that as a compliment.

 

*The driver’s name and location has been intentionally left out to protect his identity. I thank him for the “real Indian experience.”

Samantha Bellinger is an adventurous traveler who makes a habit of seeking out unique local experiences while traveling abroad. She hails from Vermont and has traveled all over the world. If you have suggestions of unique experiences she should try, contact her!

An Unexpected Teacher

Common area at Zostel in Jaipur, India.
Common area at my hostel, Zostel Jaipur, in Jaipur, India.

In almost every story the protagonist meets a teacher, guide, or mentor that dispenses wisdom at a pivotal moment of the journey.  The teacher provides advice and points the character in the right direction.

There are a few people that I’ve met who could be qualified for the role of the teacher.

One in particular encounter sticks out. Probably because it was the least expected.

I was sitting in a hostel common area in Jaipur, India when I struck up a conversation with a fellow traveler. He was a middle-aged man who had just spent two weeks out in a remote village. He was sharing his experiences and explained he was able to maintain this lifestyle because he had a remote job. My response was “I wish I could do that”. He just paused, gave me a strange look with a half-crooked smile and said, “everyone says that to me like it isn’t possible, but you really can do it. It isn’t that hard.” It caught me off guard. I wasn’t expecting someone to call me out on my unspoken excuses.

It was a wake-up call. A slap in the face really. I’d been telling myself remote work wasn’t possible because I was in a non-tech line of work and fearful that there wasn’t reliable work out there. I thought I would be chained to a single location for the rest of my life without the freedom travel whenever I wanted.

That was 7 months ago and I haven’t been able to stop thinking about that conversation. The fateful words of my fellow traveler have propelled me forward. They were the kick-start I needed to overcome an unspoken (and unreasonable) barrier.

So to my unexpected teacher… wherever you are… thanks for the introspective push in the right direction.

One hell yeah at a time

I finally did it. I’m leaving my job. I put in my notice a week and a half ago. I’m done on the 23rd of September.

HELL YEAH!!!! Hell fucking yeah!!!!

That was my exact reaction. I was giddy AF. Have you ever seen me do an hour-long happy dance? I tell you it was epic. I drove out of the parking lot at the end of the day with my music blaring, dancing in my seat, and singing at the top of my lungs.

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Then I spent an entire week on vacation. It has been a HUGE relief to be away from that toxic environment. I am so relieved that I’m getting out of there. But somehow I still spent my nights lying in bed unable to sleep. If I did sleep it was filled with nightmares and restless dreaming.

The thing that kept me up the most? Not feeling prepared. Do I have a solid plan for the future? No. Not really…. alright, my plan just isn’t as detailed as I’d like. OK fine you caught me… I have a 12-page plan. But that still doesn’t feel like enough. If you know me, I’m obsessive with detailed planning. It takes me weeks, months or even years to be ready to make a big decision. So changing the course of my career warrants at least a 30-page research paper, right? (I’m kidding… sort of)

My nerdiness aside… I’ve been contemplating leaving this job for the past 2-3 years. (Who wouldn’t with a certifiably crazy boss?!?) But that doesn’t mean I feel prepared now that the time is finally here. There are still many unknowns. Some of those unknowns scare me and some of them excite me.

Needless to say, I’ve been on an emotional roller coaster. I’m thrilled, relieved and terrified all at the same time. It is a mix of anticipation and anxiety. I can’t wait to embark on my new adventure but I’m nervous about the future.

Despite all the ups and downs, I keep having moments of extreme calm. A peaceful certainty that sweeps over me. I know that this is the right decision. I have to leave. No doubt about it. I have to save myself.

Every time I start to slip into worry mode, I make a declaration. I choose to be excited about the future. I choose to joyfully anticipate the unknown. I choose to happily kick ass in all of my new adventures. I choose to do numerous happy dances. I choose to sing at the top of my lungs even if it bothers the neighbors. I choose to scream “hell yeah” when I’m happy AF.

So here is to choosing a joyful life and saving myself one “hell yeah” moment at a time.

Hello and Goodbye

Labeled for resuse
Labeled for resuse

I’m preparing myself to say a few goodbyes and hellos in the coming month. So let’s raise a proverbial glass to all those hellos and goodbyes that will come so soon.

Goodbye to a toxic work environment
Goodbye to a crazy boss worthy of a telenovella
Goodbye to fear-inducing circumstances
Goodbye to waking up dreading the day ahead

Hello to happiness
Hello to new opportunities
Hello to waking up excited to face the day
Hello to spending more time with my future four-legged co-workers

Hello future. I think I’m ready for you.

Hello world!

Welcome to Gutsy Gurl Travel!  This is the world travel blog of gutsy gurl Samantha. Stay tuned for inspirational adventure stories, helpful tips and advice for international travel.