The Summer of 16 Hotels

southern arizona prairie by Katariina Fagering

Larry couldn’t take living in our poorly constructed caravan any longer so he gutted it and hired two amazing craftsmen to rebuild it. While they were busy with the rebuild, we kept moving and traveled for six weeks across five states, staying in 16 different hotels. We drove through gorgeous scenery in New Mexico and Colorado, paddle boarded in Austin, swam at Barton Springs, caught up with old friends in Portland, Houston and Santa Fe, and slept at too many Hampton Inn’s.

IMG_1164  by Katariina Fagering

I’ve discovered that although Hampton Inn’s are a soft, comforting, consistent place to lay your head, it comes with a sort of “soma” sedation effect. The sheets are soft, the staff is very friendly and in the morning they serve waffles. But built into this seductive comfort is disconnection from the diverse and inconsistent world that exists outside those walls. All of this doesn’t really matter very much except that it has a sneaky effect of putting us to sleep to what is possible. It dulls my creativity and makes it hard to get back to the woman who connects deeply with trees, the stars and birds. It hints of A Brave New World by Audis Huxley and The Matrix, if you know what I mean.

I was talking to a new friend, Athena Steen (a natural builder and extraordinary woman), one evening about the relief and softening I felt sitting under the stars¬†outside one of her straw bale casitas. She shared with me her belief that all buildings carry the energy of the people who built them and those that have slept within those rooms. I concur that sleeping in a straw bale home is healing and vastly different than my Matrix-like experience of a Hampton Inn. The sheets may be clean and the waffles tasty but on the subtle level something isn’t right.

In nature we see immense diversity that requires all the disparate pieces and parts to survive. This creates a healthy ecosystem where life thrives. The more diverse the healthier it is. I don’t desire to live life in padded comfort; instead I crave the crackling energy that exists on the edges of diverging cultures, and belief systems. This is where I feel most alive and yet I am still seduced by the Hampton Inn’s and Starbucks of the world.


As humans we crave and seek out consistency out of fear of change. We induce an illusion of stasis so that it doesn’t feel like there is change or even movement. This is why Starbucks is so popular; you can get the same Carmel Macchiato in Hong Kong as you can in Seattle. It is always soothingly consistent. The same goes for McDonalds, Hampton Inn and every strip mall across the states. I can pull off the highway and find a Subway, Chipotle, Taco Bell or Chili’s and even the design and often the layout of the mall will look the same from Indio to Albuquerque. This is all part of the illusion of stasis.

It’s brilliant psychological marketing! It’s so embedded in me that after four months without drinking coffee when I see the Starbucks logo¬†I still get a surge of desire for a “Grande Mocha.” The corporate siren on their logo calls to me to come in and order a big cup of soothing consistency, despite the fact that I never really liked their coffee much. I did, however, love the aroma, the music, the soft cushy chairs and art on the walls.

the couch

not a Starbucks couch

I recently heard the creator of Orange is the New Black, Jenji Kohan, describe the States as a mosaic. She stated that we are not the melting pot that we claim to be but instead we are a mosaic of cultures, economic states, races, etc. What she is interested in is the places where the mosaic is disrupted and people from extremely different lifestyles are forced to mix. In Orange is the New Black, that intersection is a woman’s prison.

I experienced something similar in the military. As a white girl raised in a Washington State suburb, I was suddenly working alongside people from incredibly different backgrounds. I was thrust into a diverse world of contrasting colors, religions, sexual orientations, and socio-economic backgrounds. The experience was at the same time exciting and disorientating.

waters edge

waters edge

On the edge where the mosaics blend is a juicy place to exist; it forces one to expand their perceptions of what is appropriate, what is the “right” way to interact, communicate, and exist. I wish I could report that I handled it with eloquence, but the truth is I fell flat on my face many times. I experienced the pain of living in the juicy edges of existence as I was forced to expand my sense of reality and yet this is where I most want to live: on the edges where the mosaics blend.