36 Hours in Moab


In effort to disappear from the snow-globe reality of resort life, we scurried to the desert in search of a change of scenery, of pace, and a stay from the grind of hospitality and thankless non-tippers whose children trip over each other at the feet of frazzled ski instructors. We were four single women to bask in a little extra sun and revel in rust-dirt covered clothes.

In the alpine environment, we are shielded, walled in from the long expanse, but, in the desert, sight extends for miles, and I find it unnerving. There is something that rattles me about open space – it feels exposed and vulnerable. As if you wanted to run but there’s nowhere to hide, and this must say something about my current state of being.


I always bring the same Edward Abbey novel to Moab and never read it. It’s become a strange tradition – its presence sits in the front seat of my car as an ode to an, albeit problematic, idol. A man who never minced words, gruff as they may be, and whose dedication to a landscape outlived himself. Dust to dust, ashes to ashes, landscape endures and we become a part of it.

We waited out the rain at the campsite in our car with headlamps and Unita beers. Feet crouched up against the dash, layered in camp clothes, I sipped slowly and resolutely. When the rain tapered, we started a fire amidst the drizzle and fanned the flames fervently, content with our work. We grilled sausages and used our pocket knives to spread mustard across toast, the fat and cheese dripping from our fingers that we sucked with pleasure. No one around to notice if it was lady-like or not.


In the morning, we unashamedly ate donuts and drank left over beer. We pulled ourselves up the slab towards Delicate Arch and reveled in its formation. We walked along the tourist-laden streets and ate breakfast. Finally, we admitted that it was time to head back to our jobs and drove away from our chosen isolation.

There’s much more stumbling around my mind about public lands and pleasure and the desert with all of its uncomfortable symbolism. It hasn’t surfaced yet. Only that something in me feels wild every time I visit this place. Something feels unshackled, unfettered, and strange thoughts freely make themselves at home within me. I return feeling content in my loneliness, not necessarily hopeful about our land but committed to it.


Moab makes me question myself and, for this reason, I continue to return.


New York, New York: the Poetry of Alone

New York is half theory, half harsh realism. It is, like most of this great American experiment, symbolic and we feed off of its significance. These bright lights and inner idealism juxtaposed with its gritty resolve and “to-hell-with-it” attitude complete the paradox of the American dream: simultaneously everywhere and nowhere. This is not to mythologize the city or drool over its glimmering façade like a bumbling tourist. I come here namely to disappear, lessen the weight of my “being” by slipping into the nameless crowd. I relish that am a “nobody,” and  wear it like a badge of honor.


What do you hold onto, and what are you willing to lose, to risk? I wanted back my glowing forms abounding and went searching for them. I watch the egalitarian morning light creep through the decaying subway platform, and it feels nostalgic. Alone, I find myself wandering the halls of museums like an addict desperate for poignancy in a way that only a city can infect. It is like the painting I hovered in front of at the MoMA. Dripping in bright, near neon colors, the woman looks distant and unappeased. I feel the colors, and they are heavy. I will not trade this saturation for stability but the temptation remains. Let me drown in the beauty.


I find New York best navigated alone, not in loneliness but hopefulness. I count the meter and rhythm of my steps amid the turning leaves of Central Park, feeling the measured gait of my leather boots as they tap cobblestone. There is something about moving your body, controlled and graceful at the rarest times, in the poetics of public spaces, thinking of Bachelard, thinking about all the thoughts that our bodies are capable of holding simultaneously. Thinking, in the least cliche manner I can, of how we are chock full of the multitudes of memories. Sometimes, “aloneness” can be a synonym for “deliciousness” or “deepness” or “I am just fine and let me show you.” I sit on the worn stools of the “1860’s French” decorated bar in Williamsburg alone and ravenously tilt oyster shells towards my mouth; I slowly suck the leftover ocean brine from the shells and savor the taste of the sea mixed with lemon and horseradish. I take a sip from the cocktail before me and hint a smile with the edges of my lips. It tastes just as good alone as it does in pairs. Alone in the city affords the ability to turn inward for affirmation and to be delivered from constantly counting the abacus of other’s desire for you. For a moment, I did not care.


In the end, a city is only a conglomerate of communities and steel and the symbolism we inject into it. My friend from Brooklyn and I lodge ourselves into the crevices of the pullout couch and sip bierzo from stemless wine glasses. We are at the point where the ethereal feeling begins to set in. The conversation is quiet and aimless; it wanders like the thoughts that tread their way across our minds. We need nothing from each other and, yet, the other’s presence is invaluable. These tiny gifts of solitude secretly saunter in and out, and we reach for them as they pass by.

A Primer in Hospitality in Sembalun

After 18-hours of trans-Pacific flights, it is the dead of night in Jakarta, and I am sprawled out across the bright white linen sheets of the closest relatively higher-end resort style hotels I could find near the airport. In hindsight, I wouldn’t have stayed there but the alluring of a safe bet in an unknown city at midnight was the deciding factor to the tune of an additional $40. After stumbling, bleary-eyed, half awake, and starving, out from the terminal into the oppressively suffocating humidity and convincing the shuttle driver with generous hand motions that I had a reservation, I took a substantially hot shower and attempted to doze before leaving for my 5 am Lion Air flight to the island of Lombok just west of Java.

I laid down to sleep on the sinking, spongy mattress when my phone bleated at me, and I groggily read the words, stomaching sinking to toes:

I’m so sorry, but I’m not going to make it there. 


By no fault of her own, my travel companion was stuck in South Africa, and I would be heading to the remote village beneath the mythical volcano wholly alone. Perhaps, in theory, I had grandiosely welcomed the idea of roaming Indonesian villages alone, of the wistful looks from people who commented on my bravery as a solo traveler across the ocean, but singularity in transportation was different than solitude in a place riddled with the unknown, substantiated only by my imagination. Visiting Indonesia on a whim to climb a 3,500 m volcano, flying the opposite direction of the countries I had grown accustomed to, was certainly a frightening endeavor even with the thought of companionship, the thought of completing these things alone was enough to let me allow the international phone number for United Airlines ring three times: I could turn around. I could fly back home if I wanted to. Tate’s name continually popped up on my messenger app, buzzing with confirmation: You have to go. You have to. We’ve mapped everything out. Get on the plane. The Socratic maxim, paradox, of traveling: “All I know is that I know nothing.” Revel, revelation, in the unknown.

I lugged my bags to the check in desk of Lion Air, in the balmy 3:30 AM smog, tongue-tied my way through the cross-cultural communication of tickets, and shouldered my red Osprey 60L through the thatched roofs of the Jakarta airport, thick bamboo beams covered with woven leaves and twine while colorful noodle vendors lined the mauve and taupe mosaic floors. I was not hungry.

Get on the plane, get on the plane, get on the plane – my mantra, meditation, charge, the swirling confirmation that this was the cusp of my desires. I herd my way through the barrage of on-boarding passengers, little regard given to safety checks and loading procedures. I am the only female passenger traveling alone, and I sink into the cracked, faded maroon leathered seats from the ’80’s and pray for sleep to come, or to at least be asleep in the event of a failed engine or mechanical issue.


In venturing into the unknown, the “other,” it may be agreed upon that boarding the plane is the most difficult part – leaving comfort for uncertainty. I knew the tenor, rhythm, of life in Colorado; existence in Lombok was a vague, gauzy field of images researched on AirBnb and blips of email conversation with my hosts. Indonesia, quite literally, felt other-worldly: exiting the plane in the warm daylight, sweet humidity, and the float of palm trees. I am sweating and searching for a way through wifi to let Mo, my homestay host, know that I had arrived. Despite not knowing what Mo looked like, and desperately hoping he was there as my one ride to the remote village 2.5 hours through lush forest, I trudge past the throng of taxi drivers badgering me about my destination and look trustingly around the crowd; surely, Mo would recognize my hair.

Like clockwork, a lanky man with a kind face, gently approaches me: “Are you Haley?” Relief overwhelms – to be called by name in the heart of the uncertain. Mo is slightly older than I am, with a wife and children in Mataram, who acts as a local representative between homestays and a Lombok travel organization. As we wait for a separate travel group to continue on with his uncle, I slouch on the stoop and carefully peel contact lenses from their containers to my eyes. A little girl watches me with curiosity, darts and flits near me, with a shy smile, scurries behind her mother when I wave. This is the beginning of the immense kindness and hospitality I experienced while traversing the island.

I have learned that the best trait one can develop while on the road is flexibility; when you get to where you’re going is of little importance – your host drives you to the most remote beaches to climb rock formations to watch the turqoise-y teal water crash upon itself into explosions of foam like a cosmic, giant bubble bath, brings your to his family’s home in Mataram for a long nap and a spicy broth with homemade noodles, and purchases you a pineapple shaved and cut into the form of a popsicle before beginning the trek up the switchbacks to Sembalun, these are the important matters. The waves lapped the sand, lapped each other, exploded into a myriad of directions, like a field of foam that wove within itself, water shined blue like shimmering eyes from which I couldn’t look away. Here I stand, grasping for the descriptors. Feeling, feeling, feeling, viewing. How the hell did I get here?


We wind up the mountain and lush overgrowth and speak about American politics, Colorado, and Geography. Mo studied geology at University and longingly thinks of the Rockies. “Where should I visit in the States?” he asks me. Nowhere right now, I want to respond. We pull over to the side of the pass, letting a large flatbed truck loaded with stone whip around us as we peer over the rail down towards Sembalun, which rests in the middle of a valley of velvety green formations. We descend into the village and towards the Rinjani Getaway. I am shown to my “room” by the family, which is actually a separate guest house where two large, relatively soft, beds are made up in bright pinks and greens on the cold, brown tile. A large Persian rug designates the meal area in an adjacent room and the low hum of water consistently pouring into the bucket shower area lulls me to sleep amongst crickets. I am briefly woken to the call to prayer, resounding resolutely, like a sure and certain faith, outside the lining of my window, but I drift back to sleep soundly. In the morning, I am awakened by Igaina. The rest of the family will venture to the beach (it is Idul Fitri, after all) but she will stay behind to make me breakfast and attend to the house. Ziki loads me onto the back of his motorbike and rides me through the hills of the small Indonesian mountain town, eager to tell the folklore and history of every lookout and structure.

That night, I wander along a single path road to the Rinjani Garden hostel only to find that because it is the holidays, there are no staff members around. I sit calculating how I will procure dinner in my head in a town seemingly devoid of restaurants before the matriarch of the family that fills the common spaces declares that I will eat dinner with them. Children scurry across the yard, run up to me with an eager how are you, and scurry away. Their mothers force them into the chairs next to me: Practice your English! I let them run away to play. I bounce around broken-English and Indonesian conversations with aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents. The family is sweet, jovial, and the flow of Bintang indicates that they have accepted as one of their own. I crawl into bed hardly despondent of being “alone” but thankful for the immense amounts of hospitality I have stumbled my way into. Rinjani looms in the background, beckoning for the next day.


Trust is that which propels you towards a hidden village in the shadow of volcanoes at the end of Ramadan, towards a family that accepts you as one of their own in a moment of celebration and who forces you onto the back of a motorbike to see these hidden treasures of locality. Eat what is placed before you without question. Revel in the unique hospitality. Never mind that you are called “Barbie” multiple times; never mind that the solitude closes in heavy in the evenings upon you. These are the steps to the edge of the world, edge of desire, edge of that which we have always known but never taken the steps to verify.

Heartbreak & Hunger in The Golden City

When you left, life before felt like a surrealist dream – struggling to separate the strands of what was you and I. Things got jumbled: sweaters, dressers, certain types of music, record players, family members and feelings. Memories of the love were like the ocean, a rolling, mass of a thing that continually ebbed towards me, frightening while beckoning. I could sink in it, the memories of you and the sadness. I could, if I wanted.

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Sometimes things end, sometimes they come to a screeching, radical halt. The hunger overwhelms and impulse plane ticket results in daily routines in another section of the country. How do we hunger for food and for people? How do these words that I crave satisfy me?

 For a while I had satiated myself with cliché self-help quotations I found online, but they’re like sugar, temporarily satisfying and perpetually dissolving, never real sustenance for the heaviness, for the hunger. The plane shakes in its atmospheric path and I stare blankly at the “Exit/Salida” sign. I was not going to run away.

I wanted this trip; it was all I wanted. But not like this. Not like this. Or… Maybe exactly like this. It was hard to say. But as I enacted the familiar stance of the headphone-shrouding slouch, pulling the seat buckle across the lap in route recognition.

I wrapped my denim jacket around my shoulders covered in goose bumps and felt the extra edges of skin around my ribs. It had been a hard winter but no matter. I was here to eat, not to punish my body like I had before. I look out to the left to see the snow capped Sierras; I furiously make notes of the ridge-lines and route markings. These are what I want, I think. In the midst of lamentation, I planned to grasp onto celebration, to get that special kind of feeling when the clouds break and the aircraft hovers serenely and slowly over the horizon, giving clarity to civilization. This is what it feels like: ascending to the clouds, descending into momentary clarity, and then back into the fog. I thought of the audacity of loneliness. We hunger for people; we desire deep companionship. I cannot write this out of my DNA. I cannot purge this appetite for you. I look at the sea as we land: I could get lost in there. For months now, I have been counting it’s impending loss.


In the Golden City, we searched like frantic, dehydrated persons for nature, art, food, and conversation that would fill us up again.

First there is the necessity to consume coffee, making my way to the Mission and commandeering a community table in the sun outside of Ritual Coffee Roasters. Sun bearing down on my translucent shoulders, I write. I pause to take a sip. I want to dunk my phone into my coffee. It is a warm Friday morning, and the wind lilts and carries flecks of plant life past the brim of my cup – the particles dancing in the caramel colored haze. You can measure out my travels through cups of coffee drank, meals eaten, and books read.

I am sick of pontificating. I want to “be.” Nothing physical happened but it aches. Our hunger for others, for love, wounds us and binds us, and I am caught in the perpetual in-between. I don’t think it’s natural for us to leave, a friend tells me. I tell her that I would think I might get used to pain by this time. Ongoing, ongoing, ongoing, change and uncertainty bear the most congenial consistency. I’m sorry if I smothered you.

Monika arrives to pull me into reality. Her reckless confidence and loyalty to our friendship provides a home to shelter in. She is one well acquainted with hunger. We wander around Valencia Street, amidst art-deco hipsters and disheveled addicts, with one goal: to eat. We find ourselves in the line at Tartine, consuming three large tarts, lemon, coconut cream, and blueberry oat, as the table next to us wide-eyes our eating capability. The bites linger on my tongue, the sweetness dissolves, settles down into me. After weeks of lost appetite, eating feels like healing. How could you ever be sad when these exist? Monika twirls the fork in the remaining crumbs. Tears teeter and she nods her head. The sun bleeds in the backdrop of the city as Monika dangles an American Spirit out the window. We are headed to Mission Chinese, the famed pop-up kitchen in the unassuming window front of “Lung Shan Restaurant” where they play Tupac with red floodlights and bottles of sake.

A bottle of sake to myself, tea fragrance rice, beef tartar lettuce cups laced with roe and stingingly spicy, cumin lamb larb, and traditional sesame chicken. Damn, that’s an order, the waiter laughs. The conversation is convivial and sweet. We talk about the food, about their lives in Santa Cruz, about the girl one of them is meeting at this event, about the city. We go to an event at a club. I make the mistake of ordering a drink and am told there is a $20 minimum. Soon the club is sweaty, spinning, busting at the seams with remixed top 20 songs. I step outside, gasping for air. Confidence on the dance floor has dissipated into sadness – momentary freedom shackled by the memory. I drunkenly attempt to riddle out a text message about longing, missing, but Monika follows suit before I can send. Erase it. She says. It only leaves when you stop feeding it. I grip onto her arm, slowly curling fingers around, to get to the car four blocks away. Laying my head on the edge of the toilet, I remember how much I hate drunkenness. I do not throw up, avoiding ruining tonight’s perfect Chinese meal, but I feel as though I could purge all of this from my body, this ocean of sadness whirling.

I wake up hungry. I am always hungry, and I cannot stop the longing. We drive from the Outer Mission to the Sunset District. The greens in Golden Gate Park glisten; I want to languish in their lush overgrowth.



Impressionism: the ways in which I had come to view reality that clouded with memory, nostalgia, and desire. I was busy separating the strands so that I could see. We wander until we find that which makes us wonder. I wander, wonder, the halls of memory, and I long for the smells that bring these images back to life. How is a city you’ve never lived in nostalgic? How is it that food has a way of satisfying emotional needs that we may never find closure in? These are the questions I ask myself in the golden light. Memory, like light, after all, plays tricks.