I traveled very little between 2008 and 2016.

The first and only paid vacation I’ve taken ended in an illegally encouraged resignation from my little office of five in the form of a duress. Needless to say, I felt the weight of my leisurely time off like a burnt end and heavy cough.

The ugliest and abstract truth of this disappointment: the photographs I took on this trip were ultimately used against me as evidence to prove my salary unworthy among capitalists. Endless weekends, passionate work and brutal dedication I embodied quickly went out of focus.

Extreme lows lead to my present career as a freelancing photojournalist, warranting flexible weeks and a consistently slim wallet.

Soon, my first taste of free work in the company of close friends was booked in Las Vegas, Nevada. Dehydrated and determined, I lost half a roll of film to the groomsmens’ ballsacks and ass cracks in the Bellagio. I climbed on top of the VooDoo Lounge and captured commitment, family and sheer love and I was proud of the wild, illegal inappropriate stills I brought home to share.

Whether I was seeking commission or experience, I started treating every gallery, series or session with passion, positivity and creative composure. I decided neither my purpose, nor job, would be bound by the standards of corporate. The ladder I climbed and goals I obtained were no longer linear but devious, unplanned and satisfying.

I learned to live graciously and presently on the lowest budget; I relearned validity and truth.

And then I left town.

With all my beaten and broken equipment, I started 2016 in every direction out of Chicago. I landed in Mississippi, Texas, Tennessee, Wisconsin, Kentucky, New York, Colorado again and eventually, Central America.

So, here is how I saw Panama: How it looked, felt, tasted.

Here is the beauty I found in between concrete and wild fruit. Here is a regal bit of my heart and upmost gratitude for the ability to travel the world and tell you about it.

Monkeys woke me up in the night and iguanas welcomed me to their island. Stray cats and dogs accompanied long and short walks down the beach. Mangos claimed our home, and taxi drivers returned untouched wallets. Salt met my mouth in high tide and around the rim of passion fruit margaritas in the taco fronted speak easy cloaking Americans playing trivia.

I breathed frankincense, stretched toward the Sun like I could touch it and cooled off at night in the rain.

I drank the water, spoke inaudible spanish and got food poisoning. I took my first bike ride after being patched into FWOD was on a cruiser found at the Selina Hostel. Our efficient little GoPro perched tightly mounted to my wrist, under the water and above on the 40 minute boat ride off the coast when film or a DSLR seemed unfit.

I bloomed.

While backpacking, we found no illuminated marquee inside the transit terminal. There was no comfort zone nearing the equator, crossing the channel on a charter bus going 60 mph on wet roads in the middle of the night. I remember being relieved by the sound of a baby crying. The bus stops between the capital and Pedasi ranged from gas stations, unaccompanied benches and viaducts, but every arrival marked victory.

“Wherever you go, there you are,” no longer haunted me like the arrogant man who once spoke them in my direction. There I was in my fullest being met by irreproachable beauty, nature, life and avid exploration.

My rude awakening and self recognition came at the expense of an identity my mother, father and elders expected of me. I am no workweek; I have no salary. My white vest is ripped and stained with sweat.

The gross thanklessness I received when deemed valueless pressed at my chest long enough for me to still be writing about it years later, but the hospitable heat found in the photographs I took reminded me I am living a dream even if I feel I can’t hardly afford it.

Vacationing is not about the souvenirs you bring home. Travel is not about tourism. Leaving your home to exist elsewhere broadens the mind and nurtures the heart.

Discomfort calls for growth, and out of one chapter, I find myself writing the next, carrying $300 in my pocket on a magic school bus heading South.

Photo story: here.

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